MIDI controller keyboards have become increasingly popular to help expedite the workflow of music producers. The ability to produce a real-time response and a natural analog feel for the various features of a DAW provides ample motivation for purchasing a separate piece of hardware.
The versatility of a 49-key configuration allows it to maintain a position as one of the more favored MIDI controller configurations. However, the number of arrangements and brands of MIDI keyboards make selecting one a DAUNTING task.
That’s why we put together a comprehensive buyer’s guide to help you know what the various features mean and which are more important for what task.
But before that, we listed down the best 49 key MIDI controllers currently on the market to help get your search underway!
Top 5 Picks: Best 49 Key MIDI Controller Keyboards
1. Akai MPK 249
RELATED: Akai MPK 249: A Complete Review
Unless you are looking to shell out some serious cash, the Akai MPK 249 is arguably one of the BEST all-around performing MIDI controllers out there. Keep in mind that Novation may provide a bit more value, but that is in a large part due to the fact that it is also almost half the price.
Still, the Akai offers some of the best features out of any product on our list. First, this 49-key MIDI controller provides one of the better keybeds reviewed.
The keys themselves are full-sized and feel sturdy enough. Moreover, they are semi-weighted and feature solid velocity-sensitive keys that are comparable to competitors costing hundreds more.
On top of that, the DAW integration and litany of possible control configurations will make your head spin. However, all of those control features can come at somewhat of a cost.
Specifically, if you are looking to custom map the controls (and with this many controls, why wouldn’t you?), you’ll have to spend a considerable amount of time with them. Unfortunately, that time can occasionally be for naught as the recording function may not register the changes due to the finicky encoders of this 49-key MIDI.
- An exceptionally robust and high-quality display
- A dizzying number of possible control configurations
- Some of the best and most expansive DAW control and integration
- Can easily connect with USB cable
- The most expensive controller on our list
- Can take a while to custom map the functions
- The encoders can be a bit hit or miss
2. Novation Launchkey 49 MK2
It is a little-known secret in the music production industry that Novation has become a veritable king of value. The brand manages to accomplish this by providing some of the best features found on MIDI controllers for a fraction of the cost.
This has led to the Novation Launchkey series in particular, becoming one of the more lauded MIDI controllers on the market today. First, the Novation Launchkey 49 MK2 comes with a fairly impressive touchpad at this price point.
Aside from providing 16 pads, they are also lighted with a wider RGB range than most budget MIDI controller touchpads. However, they are also somewhat small compared to competitors’ pads and arranged in a line rather than a square.
Another issue with the touchpads (that also seem to plague the keys) is hit-or-miss velocity-sensitive pads. Basically, you’ll have to slam the keys to get a loud sound, and a soft volume is just as difficult to triangulate.
Moreover, the keys use a synth action and feel flimsy — a trend that seems to permeate the product as a whole.
Despite its flaws, this is still the best 49-key MIDI we recommend when it comes to overall value.
- Comes with a lighted MIDI Pad with 16 pads
- One of the less expensive MIDI controllers on our list
- One of the easiest to custom map
- Unrefined velocity-sensitive keys and pads
- Synth-action keys will not appeal to most users
- The keys and construction feel flimsy
3. M Audio Oxygen 49 MK IV
M-Audio offered an impressive MIDI keyboard controller to compete with the Akai 249 when they released their Axiom model. The Code lineup has taken up that reign as M-Audio now attempts to enter the more budget-friendly market with the Oxygen series.
Unfortunately, the Oxygen series at present is a bit underwhelming. For one, the keys use a synth-action that is not especially responsive — either in terms of the feel or velocity sensitivity.
Moreover, this is not truly a MIDI controller as it does not feature a MIDI output, making it entirely reliant on a computer mouse or smart device — and even the smart devices are limited to Apple products, though that is NOT unusual.
Still, if you are a producer that regularly travels to outside studios or even performs live, then you will surely appreciate the portability of the Oxygen 49 MK IV.
In fact, this is both the smallest and lightest 49-key MIDI controller we reviewed and is significantly lighter than most of its competitors. It also features solid DAW mapping with DirectLink, but you will first need to download the appropriate DAW drivers from M-Audio’s website.
For frequent travelers, this is the best 49-key MIDI for on-the-go music production!
- One of the least expensive MIDI controllers on our list
- The smallest and lightest 49-key MIDI controller on our list
- DirectLink offers easy mapping, with proper driver download
- Synth-action keys will not appeal to most users
- The dim and sparse display is not impressive
- Does not feature a MIDI output
4. Alesis VI49
Alesis is a brand that is trying to compete with Akai and Audio M but just cannot seem to get everything right to mount legitimate competition.
Specifically, it seems like they divvy up the various features over different products such that if in a single package, the Alesis would be one of the best MIDI keyboards available. As it stands, it always feels like a missed opportunity.
For instance, the Alesis VI 49 comes in two different configurations, each boasting its own advantages and disadvantages. However, both products suffer from a complete absence of sliders, one of the more standard types of controls found on pretty much every reputable MIDI controller.
However, the version we decided to focus on makes use of an impressive 4.3” full-color high-resolution display screen. This screen blows even the Akai out of the water and features numerous display formats to keep track of all of your current DAW settings.
Unfortunately, changing many of those settings will be a pain since you have to scroll through many of the control options rather than change them with a single analog.
- Offers a bevy of software for easy setup
- Features power adapter and MIDI outputs
- Provides the most impressive display on our list
- One of the more expensive MIDI controllers on our list
- Few easily manipulated controls
- Keys feel cheap, and pads are hit or miss
5. Nektar Impact LX 49+
Our final 49-key MIDI controller is definitely designed with the consumer seeking the best price in mind. However, it should be expected that you will sacrifice some quality when you look for a deal, but the Nektar Impact LX 49+ is actually surprisingly capable despite being the least expensive MIDI keyboard we reviewed.
For one, less expensive MIDI controllers are often noted for being a bit finicky when it comes to auto-mapping the controls onto various DAWs. This is especially relevant if the user is employing an older version of the DAW or outdated computer software or hardware.
Thankfully, the Nektar not only sets up easily with most arrangements, but it is also even fairly easy to customize the control mapping — something that’s not found all too often.
However, like a number of the lower-priced MIDI keyboards on our list, the Nektar provides these features at such a low cost by skimping on the keybed. In this case, pretty much everything about the keys is less than ideal.
The synth action keys feel artificial, which is only matched by the flimsy keys’ poor feel, which are dubious velocity-sensitive keys.
- The least expensive controller on our list
- Offers a robust number of control arrangements
- Software is easily integrated and customized
- Synth-action keys will not appeal to most users
- The drivers are subpar and will lose connectivity
- The keys feel cheap
- Poor velocity-sensitive keys
Guide on Choosing the Best 49 Key MIDI Keyboards
Software and DAWs
More than anything else, the modern MIDI controller’s recording software integration is arguably the most important factor.
That is not to suggest other factors are irrelevant, but without an internal databank, a controller relies on the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) more than many other pieces of music production hardware.
However, a MIDI controller’s software capabilities include more than simply being able to work with a given DAW — though that is definitely a vital aspect.
The way the controller maps, encodes its controls and even updates its drivers can influence whether it will offer an easy experience or a frustrating one.
Some MIDI controllers are almost designed to be used with a specific DAW, and a few outright are designed to be used with a given DAW, often including it as a bundle with the 49-key MIDI controller itself.
However, that does not mean that you are simply stuck with using the DAW offered.
The best MIDI controllers are compatible with most professional DAWs on the market, and some might even offer incredible flexibility for indie DAWs or lesser-used models.
Just keep in mind: If a MIDI keyboard comes with a DAW package, it will likely work BEST with that DAW and may present issues when using a different DAW.
Most MIDI controllers come with the files necessary to automatically map the functions and keys directly onto your DAW. However, that map’s quality and intuitive sense can range from effortless to thoughtless, ultimately making using the MIDI controller a PLEASURE or a PAIN.
Different MIDI controllers may map differently from one DAW to the next to make matters more complicated.
While it can be difficult to determine ahead of time whether or not the MIDI controller will map its functions to the DAW in a way that works best for you, the inclusion of multiple DAW mapping configurations can at least provide a sense of comfort that one option is likely to satisfy.
As difficult as it may be to figure out whether or not the controller will properly map its functions onto your preferred DAW, it is infinitely more difficult (if not outright impossible) to know how those functions are encoded before testing them out.
Basically, once the DAW and the MIDI controller are synchronized, how accurate are the actual analog controls on the controller when used to alter the mapped function of the DAW?
Some MIDI controllers may offer an excellent map of the DAW’s functions, but their actual controls do a poor job of controlling them easily, which can lead to a host of FRUSTRATIONS — though not outright failures in most cases.
The quality of software integration actually has little to nothing to do with how the MIDI controller interacts with your DAW.
Instead, the drivers of your MIDI keyboard controllers are what allow the controller to be recognized by the operating system of the device on which your Digital Audio Workstation is housed.
Basically, how well your MIDI keyboard controller plays with Windows, OS X, Linux, iOS, and any other operating system your device might use.
While most people will only really need to worry about Windows or OS X, a MIDI controller that provides drivers with greater operating system flexibility also generally produces a better quality driver in the first place.
Keep in mind, as operating systems update, you will want your MIDI keyboard controller’s drivers to update as well, depending on the changes made to the OS.
This factor can either be all-important or completely irrelevant, depending on the user in question.
People who are used to using a keyboard and who have actual experience with an analog piano are likely to place prime importance on the quality of a MIDI controller keybed.
However, those without significant experience (or who never learned music development with a keyboard and mouse before ever touching a keybed) are less likely to require the highest levels of quality — especially considering an adequately robust proficiency with the DAW can account for the tactile control of a top-quality keybed.
The ACTION of the keybed refers to how close to an analog piano the keys of the MIDI keyboard feel when played. Generally, the closer to a true piano the keys feel, the more expensive the MIDI controller.
In fact, there are even a few MIDI controllers that utilize various technologies to mimic as accurately as possible the feel of a true piano.
However, those MIDI controllers are often some of the MOST EXPENSIVE available.
Whereas the professional versions can be multiple thousands of dollars, even the least expensive ones generally hover close to the $1000 mark.
This is the lowest quality key action and is most likely to be found on the least expensive MIDI controllers.
Although, it is actually becoming relatively infrequent that a manufacturer will make a MIDI keyboard controller with this key action.
In fact, there are far more MIDI controllers with at least semi-weighted keys or better — even at budget prices.
Though, the synth keys will generally come with the least expensive products. Semi-weighted keys are by far the most common type of key action in the MIDI keyboard market.
However, just because this key action is the new standard does not mean that the products are of poor quality or that they will fall within a lower budget.
On the contrary, some of the most advanced and expensive MIDI controllers will still only provide a semi-weighted key action.
In fairness, unless the user has developed a moderate degree of proficiency with pianist techniques, semi-weighted keys are generally more than adequate to accomplish their tasks.
Fully-Weighted Key Action
While not completely replicating the genuine feel of an analog piano, a fully-weighted key action comes exceedingly close.
In this instance, the keys will utilize a spring or even a modified hammer design to replicate the feel of playing the piano.
However, even within the fully-weighted key action market, not all keybeds are equal.
The brand’s specific architecture of the key action can vary drastically such that one key action feels nearly identical to a true piano while another key action feels responsive without actually emulating the action’s feel with precise accuracy.
It is important to note that fully-weighted key actions that use hammers are generally more accurate representations of a real piano than those that use springs.
This is the pinnacle of digital keybed actions.
Not only do the keys use a hammer to provide a fully-weighted action, but the resistance of the hammer will be more or less dependent on which octave the key sits on the keybed.
Specifically, the key action for keys playing bass notes should feel HEAVIER than the key action for treble notes. Of course, unless you demand an exact replica of a real piano’s key action, you likely will not be able to justify the significant cost of this type of key action.
Moreover, graded hammer key actions are generally reserved for keybeds with a full 88 keys — the least common number of keys found on a MIDI controller.
The velocity of the keys refers to how sensitive the key action is to the force applied to it. For a traditional piano, the strength of the stroke can produce a wide range of volumes and timbres. However, it does require a fair amount of proficiency to achieve myriad results with any consistency.
For MIDI controllers, this is one of the areas where quality and price can often match up more closely than with the other features.
Budget MIDI controllers are more likely to have poorly scaled or accurate velocity registers — even if the controller boasts a wide range of velocity curves.
The feel of a keybed refers explicitly to the tactile feel of the keys, which is determined by its shape, weight, and material.
This factor is arguably the LEAST important when it comes to the keybed, as it does not actually affect the player’s ability to control the sound. However, for certain music producers, a poor quality feel of the keys may cause a distraction, affecting their ability to play.
Still, there are points where the keys’ feel may produce legitimate concerns. For instance, within the key profile, or the shape of the key, a dipped profile is generally preferred as it provides a more durable key.
On the other hand, a diving board profile can feel insubstantial and be more prone to break over time. However, the waterfall profile is often used as it allows the fingers to easily slide off the keys.
Sliders can technically be used the same way as knobs — and even for the same functions depending on how you map them.
The most common use is for faders, track volume control, and EQ settings. Although few experienced music producers have the same exact configuration as others.
Still, for quality, the length, feel, and action of the slider all weigh into its quality. For instance, longer sliders offer a wider range of precision and refinement in terms of control.
Moreover, motorized sliders will move the image on the DAW when shifted, but the DAW will actually move the analog slider when using a mouse.
In terms of their function, arpeggiators are actually a VST or plugin that is applied by the DAW to the track.
However, many MIDI controllers offer various arpeggiator controls to adjust the effect, chord structure, rhythm, etc., without having to return to the mouse and keyboard to make tweaks.
In this regard, the quality of the controls is generally less determined by the actual analog feel and more by the quality of the drivers in the MIDI controller itself.
A quality arpeggiator on your MIDI controller can increase your workflow and make subtle adjustments on the fly a breeze and a pleasure.
Depending on the MIDI controller, the buttons can carry a whole host of effects. In fact, the basic buttons of a controller are often some of the most customized controls — excluding transport buttons.
The need for quality buttons will likely hinge more on your experience level than anything else.
For instance, assuming the button features a durable enough design to be pressed repeatedly without wearing down the activation, a non-slip or rubberized surface is about all that is required.
However, some people may have different preferences on the size or texture of the buttons but rarely does that end up being the deciding factor.
Pedals can be a take it or leave it kind of control for a MIDI controller. For one, they are ultimately an analog port from a piano which often leaves non-pianists ignoring them altogether.
Keep in mind that a MIDI controller pedal need not follow the dampening or sustaining effect of a piano pedal, but unless you are used to a pedal control in the first place, you are liable simply to stick with the board. In terms of quality, a MIDI controller pedal should feel somewhat robust.
It does not need to actually be heavy, but since you will be pressing it with your foot, potentially while standing, you definitely want it to be able to handle far more pressure and force than the other controls. Easier mapping is also a bonus if you intend to customize its functionality.
Hopefully, our comprehensive buyer’s guide provides you with more than enough information to fully understand what makes MIDI controller keyboards tick, what makes one feature better than another, and which features are most relevant, depending on your level of experience.
Remember that the software components are arguably the most important, especially considering that the MIDI controller does not produce sound nor generally include a voice bank.
Moreover, the responsiveness of the various controls, whether keys, pads, knobs, or anything else, will heavily impact the ease and speed you can craft music.
Finally, we feel confident that you can find a solid option for a 49-key MIDI controller within our list.
Whether you need a MIDI controller that can provide a full suite of custom options or are simply looking for a plug-and-play budget item, one of those entries could easily be the best 49-key MIDI controller for you.
Still, if you are looking for the best all-around value, it is hard to argue with the Novation Launchkey 49 MK2’s price and combination of features.
However, if you are simply looking for the best performing product, the Akai MPK 249 is a significant investment but can grow with you to the highest levels of skill and experience.
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