8 Best Budget MIDI Controllers in 2021

If you produce electronic music and you don't want to break the bank on equipment, then you've come to the right place. We're looking at the 8 best budget MIDI controllers in 2021 in this article. There are some gems on our list, so you're certain to find one that suits your needs.

There is a wide range of options when it comes to this product. MIDI controllers are available in a variety of forms, with many different specifications. Everything from the tactility of the product to its compactness has to be considered before you make a purchase. You'll find a wide selection of products on our list that will appeal to a variety of producers and budgets.

It can be challenging to know what to look for, so we have provided a detailed buyer's guide below to go with our MIDI controller reviews.

In this article, you'll find some awesome products that will prove that for a budget price you can get great gear these days. Let's begin with our top ten list.

1.  Korg nanoKONTROL2 Slim-Line USB Control Surface

Our first product is one of the most streamlined pieces of gear on the market. The Kontrol 2 Slim-line USB Control Surface controller from Korg has been downsized to offer everything you need in a compact form.

With its smaller size, the Kontrol 2 might appear to be cluttered with buttons and knobs. But once you have the functionality down, you'll find that it's not only easy-to-use, but it's also a smart space-saving solution.

The Kontrol 2 offers eight channels with a set of dedicated transport controls. Korg has also designed it to be compatible with the majority of DAWs that are currently available.

Each channel has a knob, a fader, and three switches to control your panning. You've also got other buttons for volume, mute, and solo.

It's bus-powered and uses an efficient, dual-function connection point for the power and MIDI signal sending. You can map it however you like for use with a software synthesizer too.

It's a superb, little unit that is very versatile and a breeze to use once you've got used to it.

Pros:
+ Eight channels.
+ Good DAW remote.
+ Affordable.

Why We Liked It - KORG is a company that can be trusted when it comes to digital music gear, in our opinion. This MIDI controller is perfect proof of why. It's compact and portable, while still being loaded with lots of handy features. You can control all aspects of your DAW with it, and once you're accustomed to it, then it's simple to use.

2.  Novation Launchkey 49 Mk2 USB Keyboard Controller for Ableton Live

 

The Novation Launchkey Mk2 is another compact model. Although it has been developed for use with Ableton Live, it's widely compatible with all major DAWs. If you do use it with Ableton Live, then you'll find it a breeze to map, and it will generally make your production smoother and more efficient.

It presents a sensible solution for those who need a MIDI piano for their home studio set-up but are shopping on a lower budget.

The Launchkey Mk2 is a traditional MIDI controller with a keyboard and piano at its heart. It serves up 49 velocity-sensitive keys, which give users artistic license to perform with dynamics.

In addition to the keys, there are 16 velocity-sensitive RGB pads to handle your drum patterns. It's also got eight knobs to fine-tune a range of parameters, eight-channel sliders, and dedicated navigation controls.

The keys also have a pitch-bend and modulation wheel to use during recordings.

The Launchkey is well-manufactured, bus-powered, and has connections to hook up an extra sustain pedal, as well.

Pros:
+ Keys, pads, knobs, sliders, and wheels.
+ Well-made.
+ Great value for money.

Why We Liked It - The Launchkey Mk2 gives users freedom and can handle practically any application if the price is on the higher side. If you're shopping on a budget, Novation makes a 25 key version that still provides the same pads, navigation, and wheels. The only thing missing is the separate sliders, as they've been downsized to one and they need channel selecting to use.

3.  Arturia KeyStep Controller Sequencer

Next up, we have the Arturia KeyStep Controller Sequencer. It's a polyphonic, piano-key style, step controller, which is great for handling your MIDI sequencing needs.

It features 32 streamlined keys that allow for polyphonic step sequencing. The keys can be transposed up and down the octave.

This sequencer has two separate modes of play; one is for chords, and the other is a built-in arpeggio function. There are eight different settings to choose from, including incremental, up, down, and random.

It offers pitch-bend and modulation control in the form of two responsive touchpad ribbons. On top of that, you get your all-important navigation and transport buttons to control your DAW remotely.

It has a CV/Gate output (mod, gate, pitch) for an analog hook-up, MIDI in and out, as well as synchronized input and output options. It does, however, require a power adapter, which you can easily buy separately.

Pros:
+ Polyphonic step-sequencer.
+ 32 keys.
+ Built-in arpeggiator.
+ Versatile I/O.

Why We Liked It - The Arturia KeyStep Controller is a well-manufactured, advanced step-sequencer. It has a lot of functions, and the arpeggio settings are fun and offer real scope for experimentation. A superb budget choice, in our opinion.

4.  Arturia MiniLab MkII 25 Slim-Key Controller

The MiniLab MkII Slim-Key is another budget MIDI controller from Arturia that's well worth a look at. Being compact makes it a highly portable option for producers to take on the road or for pop-up performances.

It features 25, highly responsive, mini keys that record playing styles accurately. They are subject to two capacitive touch sensors, which can modulate notes, as well as pitch-bend.

The 16 rotary encoders are fully assignable. You can use two of them as click switches. There are 16 pressure pads that are velocity-sensitive and separated into two banks of 8 for sequencing. They are RGB backlit and provide visual cues during use.

The sequencer comes with several presets, and with 21 fully mapped keyboard instruments. It comes with a complimentary copy of Ableton Live Lite and Analog Lab Lite, both of which include 500 synthesized sounds. There is also a free grand piano VST (UVI Grand Piano).

Pros:
+ Keys, pads, rotary dials, capacitive touchpads.
+ Fully assignable.
+ Free software.

Why We Liked It - The Arturia KeyStep Controller Sequencer may be compact, but it still packs a big punch. There's so much that you can do with this product it's impossible to list it all. This controller also comes with a bundle of very useful software, which makes it a fantastic budget choice. It's also ideal for beginners who want everything in a single package.

5.  Korg Midi Controller (NANOKEY-ST)

Next up is another small controller that's highly portable and even runs on AAA batteries.

The Korg Midi Controller is incredibly lightweight. It also has an easy-to-navigate layout, which a beginner can get to grips with quickly, in our opinion. You can use it wired through the USB port or run via Bluetooth, making it one of the best iPad/iOS options.

The layout consists of a 25-key keyboard that allows for easy step-by-step recording. The keys illuminate during use thanks to back-lighting. That means you can control it in dark environments, such as a club. They're programmed with a unique Scale Guide function that highlights recommended scale notes, making it ideal for beginners, or those with little knowledge of music theory.

The keys are clunkier than some of the more traditional models we've reviewed. The larger size contributes to better durability, however, which will increase the lifespan of this awesome little unit. Some users dislike the audible sound the keys produce, but we don't think they negatively impact this superb controller.

At the center is a large touchpad for one finger synthesizer control. The Korg Midi Controller also has soft velocity-sensitive pads, and eight fully assignable knobs, making it versatile enough for any DAW plug-in application or even DJ performance use.

Pros:
+ Highly portable.
+ Mixed mediums.
+ iOS compatible.

Why We Liked It - The Korg Midi Controller is a very durable piece of kit. The sturdy buttons are essential for ensuring that durability. As it's a modern model, it takes a little getting used to, but once you do, you'll be impressed with how efficient it is. It comes with a mix of mediums within its array of controllers. There's even a code to unlock a couple of Korg Gadget LE app extras, which we think is a great extra.

6.  Novation Launch Control XL MIDI USB Ableton Live Controller

This controller is another innovation model from Novation. The Launch Control XL seamlessly integrates with Ableton Live, which many of you will use. It's also full-assignable, which makes it compatible with lots of other DAWs too.

It is a bus-powered model, which installs instantly without a driver. It is also iOS compatible, which is perfect for anyone who uses an Apple device.

The color-coded layout is easy to use. It features 16 multi-colored buttons, along with key mixer controls.

There are 24 rotary pots with 300-degree motion, allowing for fine tweaking. Each pot has a multi-color indicator LED. You can also easily tailor the color mapping. Everything can be customized. It's a truly versatile little unit.

There are eight added fader-style controls for navigation, as well as eight extra assignable pads, in addition to the 16 primary sets.

While it can function as a stand-alone product, this controller is designed to be used with Novation's Launchpad S.  Combined, you'll be offered absolute freedom in terms of control. If you use the products together, it will allow you to trigger clips, use entire drum-racks, and combine extra units for a mega-expansion.

Pros:
+ Good pot adjustability.
+ Range of mediums.
+ iOS compatible.

Why We Liked It - This Novation controller is another versatile piece of kit that gives users a huge amount of options when it comes to audio production. We also think it's ideal for anyone who uses an Apple device because of its iOS compatibility. A great unit, in our opinion.

7.  Akai Professional MPK Mini Play

Next, we have a product from Akai, which is compact and yet packed with a huge array of options. The Mini Play's traditional design features 25 velocity-sensitive keyboard synth-action keys.

With an in-built set of speakers, it works as a standalone device, allowing you to toy with an idea when the mood strikes you. It has 128 sampled sounds and 10 onboard drum kits to choose from. To enhance its portability, it runs on batteries. You can also plug in your headphones to it, allowing you to use it wherever you are.

In addition to its keyboard core, it has two banks of MPC-style pads, providing 16 total triggers. They have note repeat and full-level functionality.

There are also two banks of dials as well, which offer eight total effects adjustments that can be mapped on your DAW. In the stand-alone mode, they are predesignated to act as chorus, reverb, filter, EQ, and envelope controls.

The Mini Play comes with a range of software goodies such as Splice, Loopcloud, and Serato Studio.

Pros:
+ Good mixture of controls.
+ Works without hookup.
+ Extensive built-in library of sample sounds

Why We Liked It - We like that The Mini Play K has stand-alone capabilities. It's good for anyone who wants a portable controller that can be used anywhere you want. The software that it comes with is another big plus. A fantastic little product, in our opinion.

8. Nektar, 49-Key (Impact GX49)

Finally, here's an option from Nektar, developed for use with its own software, but not exclusively.

It's a well-crafted, 49 key generic MIDI controller, making it perfect for beginners. The keys have a fuller form, and the key-bed is calibrated in a sophisticated way to stay true to the characteristics of the producer's style.

You can choose between 4 different velocity settings. Three of these settings are preset, while the fourth one can be adjusted to your needs. The keys can be transposed, and there are two wheels for modulation and pitch-bending.

The Nektar has 8 transport and navigation buttons, as well as a large dial that allows it to remote control your DAW via the Nektar integration software. There's a port for a foot-operated switch or pedal. Furthermore, this is another bus-powered option. It has wide compatibility and works with Windows, OSX, Linux, and iOS devices.

Pros:
+ 49 well-calibrated, velocity-sensitive keys.
+ Transport and navigation controls.
+ Widely compatible.

Why We Liked It - It's a well-engineered MIDI controller that retails for a very affordable price, and it also offers fully assignable freedom in a traditional, no-fuss format.

Budget MIDI Controller Buyers Guide

To ensure that you purchase the best MIDI controller, then consider this short - yet helpful - buyer's guide. It should answer all the questions you might have about this useful piece of equipment.

Let's begin with a crucial question.

What to Look For in a Budget MIDI Controller?

To be perfectly honest, what you will look for will depend on your needs, as well as your working style. For example, sliders can be a great feature for some, while others much prefer a rotary option. Consider what types of controls you like and then start looking for products that have these components.

Those who are familiar with pianos and keyboards will prefer a traditional MIDI controller over a modern trigger pad option, although both are easy once you get the hang of them.

There are a few questions you should ask yourself when you're shopping for a MIDI controller.

Is This Unit USB Bus-Powered?

Bus-powered MIDI controllers are an easy addition to a small home studio setup.

If you work with a DAW on a PC or Mac, then bus-powered controllers make the most sense.

However, bus power does have its limitations, and you will want to ensure you have a higher-output USB connection.

Will This Controller Work With my Phone?

If you write on the go or use a lot of apps, then you will probably need an iOS-compatible MIDI controller.

If you have another look at our reviews, you'll see that we've highlighted the controllers that are capable of working with a phone.

App-based VST and effects racks are starting to compete with their PC and Mac-based counterparts in recent years, so iOS compatibility may be something to consider.

Is a Power Unit Required?

This ties into the USB question we've already covered, but it bears repeating as you'd be surprised by how many models sell power cables separately.

We've made sure to give you a heads-up with today's top picks.

Is the Keyboard Velocity Sensitive?

We would argue that both keyboard and pad velocity response is one of the most important specs to look for.

Producing digital music has the risk of sounding too synthetic. This is because when a musician plays, they play with expression. These dynamics are difficult to reproduce without the response a velocity-sensitive trigger can give.

Software Accessories

Lastly, most MIDI remote controls will come with a few bonus pieces of software. We advise that you research what you're getting in advance. Why? Because some software will add significant value to the product, whereas another might be filler, which you won't end up using.

Are Budget MIDI Controllers Reliable?

As with most consumer electronics, you get what you pay for. Then again, there are a large number of MIDI controllers on the market for accessible prices that are reliable.

You shouldn't expect too much if you spend below the $100 mark. Some might offer velocity-sensitive triggers, but the accuracy of the sensitivity won't be on par with a pricier product.

If your budget can stretch to between $150 and $200, then there are some impressive models and great deals to be had in terms of software accessories.

Why are Some MIDI Controllers so Cheap?

There are two different methods a manufacturer uses to produce a low price MIDI controller.

Some manufacturers sacrifice construction quality to cut costs. This is not good, in our opinion. You'll be hands-on with your controller so you want to make sure that it's built to last.

The buttons are the parts that are the most likely to break, which is often the case with electronic devices. This is because they receive the most wear and tear. You need to look for a durable model made from quality materials.

The other way manufacturers cut costs is to reduce the circuitry and functions. While there are many complex MIDI remote options on the market, the map-assignable nature of MIDI devices, and your DAWs, means that you can function on far fewer controls than you might think.

We recommend that you choose a durable product over one with lots of functions that you likely won't need.

Conclusion

What to go for boils down to a balance of personal preference and, of course, the tasks that you'll be doing with the controller. Beat-makers and musicians will prioritize a whole different set of parameters when it comes to the controls, with one favoring pads, and the other preferring traditional keys.

The tactile qualities that different mediums offer give a more realistic, physical quality to the DAW navigation, but it's important to consider your needs if your funds are low.

A solidly constructed mini MIDI keyboard, with some navigation buttons and an assignable, will give you pretty good access to the bare necessities. You should be sensible and choose a functional, durable controller over one with all the bells and whistles, as these are often poorly constructed.

We hope that today's reviews and guide section will have given you some insight and a nudge in the right direction.

Expert Tip

If you plan on making music from scratch and want a sensible, low-cost solution, we highly recommend the Akai MPK miniplay model. It fits the bill as a great standalone with a lot of scope for experimentation.

Did you Know

The first MIDI controllers were invented in the early 1980s. They began as synthesizers and moved rapidly into step-sequencing. The first universal protocol MIDI device was conceived in 1983.

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