In our previous blog post we reviewed the best microphones for recording drums, and today we’ll be covering some of the best usb midi keyboard controllers for home studio recording.
A USB midi keyboard is a great choice for both professional and beginner music producers or musicians alike. Acoustic and digital pianos are limited when it comes to sounds. That’s the great advantage of using midi, you’re unlimited when it comes to sounds and samples.
Most musicians these days are a 1-man-band that is why a midi controller is a good choice for them because they can play a lot of different instruments with 1 or a few controllers.
However, there are a lot of USB keyboards out there. So it can be really tough to filter through all the fluff to get what you desire. In this post, I’ve filtered all the fluff for you and will only review 3 of the best cheap and affordable midi keyboards to make it easy for you to choose one.
Also note that these are not sorted in any particular order.
1. Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII
This is a 25-Key ultra portable USB MIDI drum pad and keyboard controller with joystick. It is powered by usb connection via the computer and comes with free virtual instrument download packages.
The MPK Mini MKII comes with 25 synth action mini keys and 8 velocity sensitive rubber drum pads with two banks, and eight assignable control knobs. It is portable, requires no software drivers or external power adapter for operation.
The Akai MPK Mini also comes with the following software: Akai Pro MPC Essentials, SONiVOX Wobble 2, AIR Hybrid 3 and Preset Editor Software.
The truth about this midi controller software is that it’s not plug and play like the manufacturer promises. Installing the software can be a tedious job. Don’t buy this expecting to use the software that comes with it, but it’s a great musical instrument.
For music producers, make sure you find out if the software (DAW) you’re using does support this keyboard. Also don’t expect a true acoustic piano feel because you’ll be disappointed (not to say it’s too bad, no).
Overall it’s a great piece of gear, I highly recommend it for musical purposes, it is shockingly affordable and cheap.
2. M-Audio Keystation 49 II USB MIDI Keyboard Controller
The Keystation 49 II is a 49 full size keyboard great for composing digital music and playing virtual instruments.
You don’t need an external adapter for power, it is powered by USB connection to computer with features to fully control music software without reaching for mouse. The Keystation 49 II, unlike other midi keyboards, it is built like a digital piano with semi-weighted velocity sensitive keys.
So the keys do have an acoustic piano feel, not like a real piano but for the price, it’s really close. The keyboard also comes with 1/4-inch sustain-pedal input for expressive performance.
Other features include SONiVOX Eighty-Eight Ensemble which is a world class virtual piano instrument, and you also get Ableton Live Lite – one of the world’s most popular performance and production programs.
Most people get disappointed because they expect to get a real piano feel. With the Keystation it can be hard to detect any difference in force between loud and soft playing. Yes the keyboard is semi-weighted but not like professional digital pianos.
The included software is not as great as advertised as well. The keyboard doesn’t feel real as well, it’s like plastic and seems like they used cheap material to build it. It can also be hard to play fast on this keyboard coz the keys are a bit heavy compared to an acoustic piano.
Overall, it’s an awesome keyboard and I highly recommend it for home studio recording. It is worth the price and as always, you get what you pay for.
3. Alesis V49 MIDI Keyboard & Drum Pad Controller
The Alesis V49 is a great building block for music producer needing to control plug-ins and virtual instruments. It is a 49 full-sized keyboard and comes with square-front keys with adjustable sensitivity.
It is USB powered with sustain pedal input. There’s built-in 8 LED-backlit drum trigger pads that respond to both velocity and pressure, 4 assignable knobs, 4 assignable buttons, Pitch and Mod wheels.
The new V series has velocity-sensitive keys instead of weighted keys, allowing virtual instruments like leads, synths, strings etc. to be played with ease.
The Alesis V49 also comes with Software Preset/Parameter utility that makes setup a snap and includes free downloads for Ableton Live Lite 9 and Xpand!2 by AIR Music Tech.
As someone who’s been playing piano for a while, I can tell you that the action on this keyboard is not as good as advertised. Achieving dynamic expression is not that easy with this keyboard because the velocity can be all over the place for no reason.
The drum pads miss a hit sometimes and require you to tap it twice, which makes it an awful instrument for live performance. Finally the software that comes with it is not that great, it’s basic stuff that might be useful for newbies but pro musicians will find it useless.
Overall it’s a great keyboard that I recommend for music producers and musicians alike. It’s definitely worth the price.
I hope this list makes it easy for you to choose the best USB MIDI controller for your needs. Also feel free to post your questions below in the comments section or share your views about the topic.