Best Budget MIDI Keyboard Controllers – Under $100

cheap midi keyboards


Looking for advice on the best budget MIDI keyboard controllers? Here, we feature the highest-rated ones in the sub $100 price range, along with expert tips to help you get the perfect keyboard for your setup.

As retail sites get populated with OEM and unknown brand MIDI controllers, more established manufacturers have started offering budget lines to fill in the need for high quality, full featured MIDI Controllers at prices a hobbyist or beginner can afford.

These days, even affordable MIDI controllers have full features and can fill in the need for backup or touring gear. Others are capable of controlling older hardware synths with 5-pin MIDI. On the upper end of the budget range, some even have assignable controls and pads.

There’s an interesting twist in this edition: Arturia’s MiniLab MkII took the highest rated spot from Arturia’s MicroLab – Arturia is definitely the dominant brand in the sub $100 price range!

The Best Budget MIDI Keyboard Controllers – 2024

Author & Contributors

Arturia MicroLab

93
GEARANK
93 out of 100. Incorporating 325+ ratings and reviews.
$79.00
Arturia
Arturia MicroLab 25-Key MIDI Controller Keyboard

Cons

  • Limited controls
  • Touch strip is not everyone's cup of tea

Pros

  • Compact and portable
  • Rugged build
  • Compatible with different class compliant devices
  • Touch strips for pitch bend and modulation

Arturia's Microlab is a compact, budget-friendly 25-key controller with some extra controls on the side. These extra controls include two Touch Strips that allow for expressive real time control like pitchbend and modulation. And the strips can also be used for preset browsing.

Compared to its bigger siblings, it doesn't have knobs and the buttons provided are sparse. So those who are looking for knobs, buttons and more tweaking options will have to look elsewhere.

More importantly, it carries all these features while maintaining a small size that doesn't take much space.

Build quality is surprisingly rugged for the price and the included software bundles get you up and running fast.

Compatibility is good, it connects with anything from tablets to other class-compliant devices. Its low power consumption enables it to work even with mobile devices without external power. The Arturia MicroLab is a portable MIDI keyboard option for on-the-go musicians and producers.

Specifications

  • Keys: 25 Velocity Sensitive Synth action, Mini-keys
  • Pads: None
  • Controls: 2 x Touch Strips (pitchbend, modulation, preset browsing)
  • Octaves: -4 to +4
  • Bundled Software: Bitwig 8-Track, Arturia Analog Lab Lite, UVI Grand Piano Model D
  • Power: USB bus power
  • Connectivity: USB
  • Control Hardware Directly: No
  • Compatibility: OS X 10.10 or later, 64-bit , Windows 7 SP1 or later, 64-bit
  • Dimensions: 21.9" x 5.4" x 1.6"
  • Weight: 3 lbs.

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
MusicRadar Jon Musgrave 90/100
MusicTech Dave Gale 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Arturia MiniLab MkII

94
GEARANK
94 out of 100. Incorporating 3550+ ratings and reviews.
$79.00
Arturia
Arturia MiniLab MkII Review - 25 Slim-key MIDI Controller Keyboard
At publication time this was the Best MIDI Keyboard on a Budget - Under $100.

Cons

  • Knobs feel cheap
  • Touch strips feel like a compromise
  • Pads are a bit small

Pros

  • Great value for money
  • Lots of encoders and pads
  • Synth action keys feel great
  •  

Arturia's entry into the affordable 25-key MIDI controller arena got a facelift in 2016. This MkII has an updated layout and smaller footprint than its predecessor.

Build-wise, the MiniLab MkII feels solid. Even though this usb midi controller keyboard is made of plastic, I didn't feel any excess plastic residue and everything feels solid with no internal rattle when I shake it. The keys are finished nicely and the resistance is just right for synth action. There were some keys that were fractions of an inch higher or lower than the others but it's not really a major issue. The knobs felt a bit flimsy to the touch but the potentiometer rotation is smooth and consistent across all knobs. The pads felt a bit small but I rarely use them. Still, if you like making beats on pads, the layout and size might not be the best especially for harder hitters.

Arturia MiniLab MkII Touch Strips
In place of a regular mod and pitch wheel are two touch strips.

What I don't like about the Minilab MkII is the fact that I had to settle with touch strips instead of pitch and mod wheels. I would have preferred even a smaller integration of the two wheels as long as it's mechanical. The strips work fine but I do feel it lacking in precision especially when my left hand's fingers are calloused from guitar playing.

The unit was plug and play and my Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) - Presonus Studio One - instantly recognized it as a new device. Arturia provides a bundled software suite that automatically maps to the encoders and pads. Manual mapping for other software synths and samplers is also easy to do. I already have a software synth by Arturia called "Pigments" and the MIDI Controller works excellently with it. Other software like Native Instruments Kontakt also integrates well with it.

Overall, the Arturia MiniLab MkII is a good MIDI keyboard controller and is nearly peerless at this price point. There are some places where Arturia chose to cut costs but everything else looks and feels solid. Even years after its release, the MiniLab MkII is still popular and can be seen gracing the desks of prolific and talented musicians all over the world.

Specifications

  • Keys: 25 note velocity-sensitive keys
  • Pads: 8 velocity & pressure sensitive pads with RGB backlighting (2 x Banks)
  • Controls: Pitch Bend and Modulation Touch Strips, Assignable 8 pads & 16 Knobs, Octave Buttons, Shift, System
  • Octaves: Not Specified
  • Bundled Software: Ableton Live Lite, UVI Grand Piano, Analog Lab Lite
  • Power: USB powered
  • Connectivity: USB, Sustain pedal jack
  • Control Hardware Directly: No
  • Compatibility:USB/MIDI class compliant
  • Dimensions: 14" x 8.7" x 2"
  • Weight: 3.3 lbs.

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
MusicRadar Computer Music 90/100
Gearank Raphael Pulgar 93/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

M-WAVE SMK 25

92
GEARANK
92 out of 100. Incorporating 550+ ratings and reviews.
$89.99
M-Wave
M-WAVE SMK25 25-Key USB MIDI Keyboard Controller

Cons

  • Limited range
  • Lacks aftertouch on the keys

Pros

  • Low latency
  • Plug and Play
  • Sturdy build
  • Includes essential controls

The M-WAVE SMK 25 MIDI keyboard stands out with its vibrant colors, compact size, and lightweight design, making it highly portable without sacrificing style. Despite its lightness, it feels sturdy and durable, balancing soft touch with real instrument feel with its keys. Setting it up is a breeze—just connect it to your iPad via USB, with no complex configurations or additional drivers required.

With 25 keys, this keyboard is ideal for experimenting with melodies, chords, and beats, making it perfect for learning music production software like Logic Pro. Additionally, it offers essential controls like pitch bend, modulation wheels, and octave shifting, providing excellent value for both beginners and pros. However, it's important to note that its limited range, with only 25 keys, may feel restrictive for advanced players, and it lacks advanced features found in larger MIDI controllers. Additionally, it is missing aftertouch on the keys, which limits expressive playing.

The M-WAVE SMK 25 is a solid choice for beginners and those seeking a portable MIDI keyboard. However, consider other options if you require more keys or advanced features.

Specifications

  • Keys: 25 velocity sensitive keys
  • Pads: 8 RGB backlit pads with velocity-sensitivity & aftertouch
  • Controls: 8 assignable 360 degree encoders, Capacitive touch-strips pitch bend & modulation control
  • Octaves: not specified
  • Bundled Software: none
  • Power: Battery Powered
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth and USB
  • Compatibility: Windows/Mac/iOS/Android
  • Dimensions: 321 x 178 x 46mm
  • Weight: 750g

Nektar SE49

90
GEARANK
90 out of 100. Incorporating 1300+ ratings and reviews.
$89.99
Nektar
Nektar SE49 49-Key MIDI Keyboard Controller

Cons

  • Keys are stiffer than usual
  • With 49 keys it takes up a bit more space

Pros

  • 49 full-size keys with tactile feel
  • 4 velocity options
  • Mod and Pitchbend Wheels
  • Streamlined design

The SE49 is the larger 49-key sibling of the 25-key SE25, great for a pianist user who prefer having more keys. It features specially designed full-size keys that provide tactile feedback, this time with more notes to play with. This means that it is longer and takes up a bit more space, but it is still reasonably portable.

It has 4 different velocity curves that go from soft to hard. The feel of the keys and the ability to choose its touch response (velocity curve) makes the SE49 easy to setup to match your preferred playing feel. Note that the keys are a bit stiffer than the usual synth keys, this can be good or bad, depending on your preference. The bundled software is also quite good.

It has a streamlined profile with just a few extra controls on the left side. Speaking of extra, it is equipped with two wheels for real time modulation and pitch bend control.

The Nektar SE49 is the best MIDI keyboard for people who want a MIDI controller with great feel, full size keys and simple controls.

Specifications

  • Keys: 49 Synth-action keys wit 4 velocity curves
  • Pads: None
  • Controls: Pitch Bend and Modulation Wheels, Octave and Transpose Buttons, Volume Fader
  • Octaves: -4 to +4
  • Bundled Software: Bitwig Studio 8-track
  • Power: USB bus power
  • Connectivity: 1 x USB Type B, 1 x Sustain Pedal Input
  • Control Hardware Directly: No
  • Compatibility: Windows and Mac OS X 10.10 or later, 64-bit , Windows 7 SP1 or later, 64-bit
  • Dimensions: 31.69" x 7.75" x 2.5"
  • Weight: 4.85 lbs.

Rating Source Highlight

Website Source *Rating Value
Audio Mentor Reuben Chng 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Akai Professional MPK Mini MK III

94
GEARANK
94 out of 100. Incorporating 8200+ ratings and reviews.
$99.00
Akai Professional
Akai Professional MPK Mini MK III 25-key MIDI Keyboard Controller

Cons

  • Keys might be too small for some
  • Thumbstick can be hit or miss

Pros

  • Responsive and dynamic keys
  • Great build quality and functionality
  • Very intuitive
  • OLED display a nice bonus

The Akai Professional MPK Mini MK III is a compact MIDI keyboard controller with a solid build, responsive keybed, and excellent performance. Its new keybed design offers a playable feel, and the continuous rotary knobs provide precise control. The super tactile pads and OLED display deliver excellent velocity, pressure sensitivity, and real-time controller data feedback.

This MIDI controller comes with a software bundle including Air instruments and MPC Beats software, enhancing its value for music production. Its compact and portable design makes it ideal for musicians on the move, fitting easily into a backpack or laptop bag. The velocity-sensitive pads are excellent for drum programming, finger drumming, and triggering samples, and the OLED display provides useful real-time feedback.

While the mini keys and built-in thumbstick may not appeal to all users, the Akai MPK Mini MK III remains a versatile and budget-friendly MIDI controller with impressive features. It's a top-tier choice for beginners and on-the-go musicians, offering a solid performance and a feature set that rivals larger budget keyboards. Consider your specific needs and preferences to decide if it's the right fit for your setup.

Specifications

  • Keys: 25 Velocity Sensitive Slim-Keys
  • Pads: 8 RGB Pads
  • Controls: 16 Encoders, Octave +/-, Sustain, Volume
  • Octaves: +/- 4
  • Bundled Software: Analog Lab Lite, Ableton Live Lite and UVI Grand Piano
  • Power: USB Bus Powered
  • Connectivity: USB, Sustain Pedal
  • Compatibility: OS X 10.7 or Later, Windows 7 or later
  • Dimensions: 14" x 2" x 8.7"
  • Weight: 3.3 lbs.

Things to Consider when Buying a Cheap MIDI Keyboard

Key Size, Weight & Action

There are several factors to consider when looking for the best cheap MIDI keyboard controller, and the first one is key size.

If you are looking for a portable MIDI controller to lay down your ideas, a keyboard controller with smaller keys and build is an ideal choice, thankfully there are quite a variety of them in the entry level market.

If you plan to compose for a final project or play live, then you'll probably have to extend your budget to get ones with more features and full-sized keys.

The number and type of keys that you need will also depend on your playstyle, as well as the space in which you're planning to use the controller. If you are used to using two hands, a 37 or 49 key controller will suffice. Popular MIDI keyboards like the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol series come in different keybed configuration, but note that they get pricier as the number of keys increase.

When looking for a cheap midi controller, your options are often limited to small units. Thankfully, a 25-key MIDI controller is good enough if you plan on using them for playing or recording lead, bass and drum lines. Additionally, they are more compact and lightweight which makes them portable enough to bring around. Note that most cheap MIDI keyboards are normally limited to 25 keys. Most of the best 25 key midi controller keyboards are affordable, but there are some models that command premium price tags.

Since you are on a budget, the best MIDI keyboards under a $100 come with synth style or semi-weighted keys which have less resistance. As long as they have velocity response, they will provide you a more natural performance.

If you need more realistic piano style action, then you'll need to consider more expensive 61-key or 88-key controllers.

Software Integration

Before we talk about integration, lets quickly answer the question What is MIDI. MIDI is a protocol used by musical devices to communicate with each other. So for it to work, your software has to be MIDI compatible. MIDI mapping can be a tedious task whenever you set up your controller, but technology has made this easier with better compatibility and detection and automatic mapping. Another important point to consider is that some keyboard controllers are designed to integrate better with a specific DAW. Thankfully, these DAW specific controllers are also designed to work with other DAWs, albeit with some configuration work required. Most controllers are designed to let you customize your own MIDI mapping by re-assigning controls at your convenience and preference. The best cheap MIDI keyboards will let you conveniently control your DAW.

Transport Controls

These buttons are used for triggering essential DAW controls like record, pause and play on your keyboard. Since they transmit MIDI data to your DAW, they give you the same level of control without having to reach for your computer keyboard, touchpad, touchscreen or mouse.

Knobs, Pads and Other Controls

In addition to transport controls, most MIDI budget keyboards have extra handy controls, such as knobs, modulation and pitch wheels, and sometimes faders. They can be assigned or automatically mapped to give you more options when it comes to mixing or editing parameters in your DAW. An example of this would be assigning a knob to tweak a synth’s filter. This is very handy when it comes to composing or editing real-time for live performances. The best small midi keyboard controllers should have all the essential controls, while retaining an intuitive layout.

Power Supply

Most MIDI keyboard controllers come with USB connectivity, which allows you to connect your controller to a PC, Mac or any other computing device. This is sort of a concern when it comes to draining your device's battery more quickly unless your device is plugged into a power source. It’s more of a concern with iPads, which provide 100mA instead of the common 500mA found in a USB 2.0 slot. In this case, a USB hub or an external power adapter is used to supply power directly to your controller.

USB MIDI vs 5-Pin MIDI

Some MIDI controllers still come with at least one 5-Pin MIDI input and one output. These are useful if you have any vintage equipment that you want to control with a modern MIDI keyboard. Most MIDI keyboards come with USB slots since they are compatible with most devices. As mentioned above, the advantage of USB is that it can draw power from a PC or Mac when connected, compared to 5-Pin MIDI slots where you need a separate power supply for the controller. In some cases, controllers can have both connectors. Unless you are going to control hardware synths directly, without a computer in the loop, then you won't need a keyboard with MIDI output. Understanding which cables to use is a big part of How to use MIDI keyboard controllers.

Best Budget MIDI Keyboard Selection Methodology

The first edition was published in 2018. The current edition was published on June 10, 2024

We began by looking at all the sub $100 MIDI controller keyboards available from major US retailers and placed the 18 most promising on our short-list for closer examination. Then we collected relevant reviews, ratings and forum discussions about each one and processed that data with the Gearank Algorithm to produce the rating scores out of 100 that you see above - over 45,800 sources were analyzed during this process, an increase of more than 42% over the previous edition. We used the resultant ratings to select the highest rated models to recommend above. For more information about our methods please read How Gearank Works.

Some popular MIDI keyboards didn't rate high enough to make it to this guide, but they are worth mentioning. This includes the Akai LPK25, Alesis Q49, Novation Launchkey Mini, Akai MPK Mini MK3, and the M-Audio Keystation Mini 32.

About the Author and Contributors

Here are the key people and sources involved in this guide's production - click on linked names for information about their music industry backgrounds.

Lead Author & Researcher

I use my Arturia MiniLab MKII with sample libraries like NI Miroslav Philharmonik 2, Kontakt, Toontrack Superior Drummer 3, Toontrack EZKeys, and Spitfire Audio. I also use it to control virtual instruments like Absynth, Roland ZENOLOGY, and a few other smaller VST instruments.

Contributors

Jerry Borillo: Product research.
Alden Acosta: Product research.
Alexander Briones: Supplemental writing and Editing
Jason Horton: Editing and Illustrating.

Media / Image Credit

Main/Top Image: Created by Gearank.com photographs of the Nektar SE49, MidiPlus X2 Mini, Nektar SE25 and Arturia MicroLab.

The individual product images were sourced from websites, promotional materials or supporting documentation provided by their respective manufacturers except for the MiniLab MkII Touch Strips photo which was taken by the author.

11 thoughts on “Best Budget MIDI Keyboard Controllers – Under $100”

    1. All of the keyboards above are MIDI capable.

      Are you referring to the fact that 5-pin MIDI ports have gone out of fashion?

  1. This is great but I wish you would do a best under $300 article, preferably only with 61 or more keys for those of us who are not just guitar players looking to trigger a few loops and very limited samples or riff, i.e truly “play.”

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