A good MIDI controller can be the best purchase you ever make as an aspiring music producer, and, luckily, they don’t need to cost a small fortune.
We have reviewed a wide range of MIDI controllers here at Higher Hz, and in this round-up, we’re looking at the best budget MIDI keyboards under $100 and under $200 you can buy in 2023.
These controllers might not reflect the best MIDI controllers overall (some do), but they do reflect the best value for money in their price range.
These are the best budget MIDI keyboards under $100 and $200:
- Akai MPK Mini Mk3
- Nektar Impact LX61+
- Arturia MiniLab 3
- Nektar SE61
- M-Audio Keystation 49 Mk3
- Novation Launchkey 37 Mk3
- Akai APC Key 25 Mk2
Akai MPK Mini Mk3
The best MIDI controller under $100
If you’ve ever read any of our MIDI controller articles, you’ll already know how much we love the MPK Mini Mk3, and that hasn’t changed. There’s a reason it’s one of the best-selling keyboard controllers on the market; it offers so much for the money, and for around $100, it’s a no-brainer.
Akai’s MPK Mini Mk3 is a keyboard controller with 25 mini keys, eight MPC pads, and eight endless rotary knobs. It’s one of the few controllers with mini keys with a keyboard that feels noticeably better than most others.
The thing that sets the MPK Mini Mk3 apart from the rest is the MPC-style pads. The pads are slightly smaller than MPC pads but have the same feel and responsiveness, which is fantastic.
Eight assignable encoders are quite a lot for such a small unit, and being endless makes them highly versatile. Along with the pads and assignable controls, this controller provides dedicated buttons for bank switching, program selection, full level, and note repeat. Note repeat is a favorite function for MPC users, and it’s nice to see it included in the MPK Mini.
Functions that don’t have dedicated buttons, like switching sounds in your DAW/virtual instruments, are made easier with a small OLED display. The display also shows real-time feedback on pitch bend and modulation levels.
As a space-saver, Akai opted for a joystick rather than pitch/mod wheels; after some use, it’s very intuitive.
You’ll also get a reasonably substantial software bundle, including the MPC Beats DAW. It’s an excellent buy for anyone.
Nektar Impact LX61+
The best all-rounder under $200
The Nektar Impact LX61+ is undoubtedly one of the best MIDI keyboard controllers under $200. It doesn’t offer the same premium feel as some 61-key controllers from high-end manufacturers, but it’s one of the best all-rounders available anywhere near the price. Well done, Nektar.
The Nektar Impact LX61+ has 61 velocity-sensitive keys and more than enough assignable controls. To make things easier, it comes with intelligent mapping for major DAWs, so you don’t have to waste any time configuring MIDI controls.
Assignable controls include nine faders, eight control knobs, and eight RGB backlit performance pads. A small display shows parameter values in real-time when tweaking effects or instruments, which creates a genuine hands-on workflow.
The sliders aren’t the same quality, in terms of feel and action, as a higher-priced controller, but they are good enough to do the job. The performance pads are surprisingly good; again, not quite premium, but better than some more expensive units.
The Impact LX61+ has a complete set of transport controls, including dedicated Mixer, Loop, and Preset buttons, so you rarely have to reach for a mouse.
It comes with the Bitwig Studio 8-Track DAW, so you can start making music straight away.
Arturia MiniLab 3
The best assignable controls on a portable controller
Adding assignable faders and a small LCD screen makes the MiniLab 3 significantly better than its predecessor. It also brings it closer to our favorite, the MPK Mini; for some users, it might even be better. This 25-key controller is a little creative powerhouse.
The MiniLab 3 is a sleek and stylish, portable MIDI keyboard controller. It has 25 mini keys that are responsive and expressive enough to play most things, from pop piano progressions to stabbing synth chords and funky chops.
Where the MiniLab 3 absolutely shines is with its assignable controls. It includes eight assignable rotary knobs and four assignable faders. The rotary knobs are great, but we rarely see faders on smaller controllers, so we love that. It has two assignable touch strips, primarily used for pitch bend and modulation.
It also features two banks of eight performance pads, which are some of the best around, outside of MPC pads.
The MiniLab 3 is one of the most feature-rich controllers on our list, with a built-in arpeggiator and Chord mode. These features are often the foundation of a new track, especially when struggling for inspiration.
Another somewhat surprising addition to the MiniLab 3 is a 5-pin MIDI In/Out port, which provides endless possibilities with external gear. Arturia has included a software bundle featuring one of the best free instrument collections on the market; Analog Lab Intro.
The best 61-key controller under $100
The Nektar SE61 isn’t a world-beater, but when you consider that it offers 61 keys for such an affordable price, it’s pretty amazing. If you’re looking for a simple keyboard controller that does the basics well on a tight budget, Nektar’s SE61 could be the one.
The Nektar SE61 is a budget-friendly keyboard controller with 61 full-size, velocity-sensitive keys. It offers four velocity sensitivity levels, making it easy to adjust the resistance based on your playing style.
Since we aren’t talking about a controller with many features, the appeal of the SE61 is how easy it is to use, and that’s sometimes the most important thing. It’s one of the best MIDI controllers for beginners.
Nektar keeps things simple by only having a few controls covering the essential functions. It has an assignable volume slider, transport controls, pitch bend, and modulation wheels.
Some functions are triggered, in part, by using the keyboard while you press a button. For example, the transport controls double as octave up/down buttons. Nektar’s DAW integration means the transport controls are ready to go right out of the box with popular DAWs.
You’ll also get a free copy of Bitwig Studio 8-Track, which has over 50 instruments and effects.
M-Audio Keystation 49 Mk3
A straightforward, budget-friendly MIDI controller
An M-Audio Keystation controller guarantees two things; a fairly low price and a simple product. The Keystation 49 Mk3 carries on the M-Audio tradition with a few simple features and a decent keyboard feel. It’s easy to use and ideal for anyone who wants more than 25-39 full-size keys on a budget.
The Keystation 49 Mk3 has 49 full-size synth-action keys. The keyboard doesn’t provide a realistic piano feel, but the synth-action keys offer a nice balance for anyone playing multiple virtual instruments; pianos, synths, organs, etc.
One of the best features of this controller is the dedicated transport control section. Not only do you get basic transport controls, but you also get cursor keys that save using a mouse so often.
You can use the volume slider to control any MIDI parameter you like. For example, you could use it to control the filter cutoff of a synth plugin, which is a clever use of limited controls.
The remaining controls are octave up/down buttons and the Advanced button, which is used to assign certain MIDI control/settings. It also has pitch bend and modulation wheels. M-Audio tends to make its pitch/mod wheels on the larger side (thicker), making it easier for beginners.
M-Audio includes a fantastic software bundle, including Ableton Live Lite and multiple virtual instruments.
Novation Launchkey 37 Mk3
The best controller under $200 for Ableton Live
Novation Launchkey controllers have come a long way, and this latest version is the best yet. The Launchkey 37 Mk3 is the best portable keyboard controller for Ableton Live. If you aren’t an Ableton user, there are better options.
Novation’s Launchkey 37 Mk3 is a portable keyboard controller with 37 full-size keys. The keys are velocity-sensitive and synth-action, and they feel good, but, for us, being full-size is the best part.
With 16 velocity-sensitive performance pads, it has more than most keyboards of a similar size. The pads are high-quality, although they are better for triggering loops than fast finger drumming.
Above the performance pads are eight assignable rotary knobs that instantly map to most major DAWs, as do the included transport controls. Despite mapping effortlessly to most popular DAWs, the Launchkey 37 Mk3 is optimized for Ableton Live.
Adding to the hands-on workflow, you get a small display for parameter feedback and some pretty robust pitch bend and modulation wheels.
It includes a few production tools that make it easier for beginners to do complex things, like the built-in arpeggiator, Scale and Chord modes and Mutate. The Mutate function rearranges your patterns like a randomizer. Ableton Live Lite and various instrument/effect plugins are included.
Akai APC Key 25 Mk2
The best cheap controller for Ableton Live
The APC Key 25 isn’t our favorite small keyboard controller from Akai Professional, but it does offer something different. If you use Ableton Live and want a high-quality controller on a tight budget, the APC Key 25 is the cheapest suitable option.
The APC Key 25 is a portable MIDI keyboard controller with a 5×8 clip-launch matrix. It has 25 mini keys, eight assignable encoders, and some dedicated buttons.
The keyboard feel is the same as the MPK Mini, and that’s very good, but the main feature of this controller is the clip-launch matrix. The 5×8 grid has 40 RGB backlit buttons that make it easy to arrange, identify, and trigger clips/scenes.
The matrix provides an intuitive way to arrange new songs or perform entire sets on stage. The APC has dedicated navigation/cursor buttons, octave buttons, and a shift button that allows you to switch clips without using a mouse.
The assignable knobs are endless, again, like the MPK Mini, which makes them far more flexible. A small display would have been perfect, but considering how much Akai had to fit into a small space, we can’t complain much.
Includes Ableton Live Lite and a collection of AIR Music Tech instrument plugins.
As you can see from these awesome controllers, a limited budget doesn’t have to limit your creativity. No matter what genre of music you make, you can get everything you need for less than $200. Remember, we’ve positioned these controllers in order of best value for money on a tight budget.