MIDI controllers are the perfect tool to dive into music production or to up your synth game. They are available in varying sizes, from close-packed 25-key to the far more elaborate 61-key or 88-key controllers.
However, one controller size provides the versatility of more significant controller variants with the compactness of the smaller ones: the mid-range 49 key MIDI controllers. Keyboards are the most common type of MIDI controller, but not all MIDI controllers are keyboards. In recent times, MIDI controllers have become studio staples.
If you are looking for a MIDI controller that combines performance with portability, then you have come to the right place. We’ve reviewed numerous 49 key MIDI controllers and come up with our top 5 picks. Moreover, this article also discusses what you should look for when buying a 49 key MIDI controller.
Read on to find the perfect 49 key MIDI controller for you!
What Is A MIDI Controller and How It Functions?
Before we reveal our five favorite 49 key MIDI controllers, let us first discuss what this instrument is used for.
A MIDI controller lets you modulate or add sound effects to your main track. While an electronic keyboard works fine for performing and playing, a controller allows you more versatile options for music production with the addition of virtual instruments to sequence music.
A MIDI controller sends Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) data signals to a PC or synthesizer for interpretation, then the sound transmitted via the signal is played. For a MIDI controller to work, you need a connection to an electronic device like a tablet or a computer while also requiring a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). Perfect for music production, you can use the controller by assigning various musical instruments to different sections. It also allows you to add and edit features like programming drum beats, balancing the pitch, changing tone, or generating sample loops.
In simple terms, a MIDI controller lets you add personality to your tracks, making them sound much more organic rather than automated.
Major Buying Considerations
If you have stumbled upon this article in your search for buying the perfect 49 key MIDI controller, then first, you should go through our buying guide. We discuss the primary considerations you should make before purchasing any 49-key MIDI controller based on your playing experience, usage, and budget.
Depending on the key type and the control offerings, the 49-key MIDI controller can range from under $100 to over $300. At the low end of the price range, you will find most controllers offer a synth-action keyboard and only a few controls. This works well for most beginners as you can experiment without going over budget or buying a controller you cannot use to its full potential. Whereas on the high-end of the price range, you will find controllers with semi-weighted keyboards and variable controls, including pads, knobs, buttons, and faders.
As with any musical instrument, the higher your budget, the better the build quality of the controller, and for seasoned players, going with a high-end model works well in the long run as it lasts for years compared to cheaper models that need frequent updates.
3. Power Supply and Port Options
Another consideration to make is the type of port and power supply offerings from the MIDI controller.
MIDI controllers usually draw power in one of the two ways: a USB or an external supply via a 9 – 12V adapter. Suppose you want your MIDI controller to connect to a computer. In that case, USB power is the best option for you, whereas, for a hardware synth, go for external power supply compatibility.
Your controller may have varying ports, out of which MIDI and USB ports are the most common. However, some models can have additional ports that allow external piano expression and sustain pedal attachments for piano-style playing.
4. Key Weight and Size Categories
While MIDI controllers can theoretically have full-weighted keys, they are challenging to find; the more common key types for a controller are semi-weighted keys and synth-action keys, with the former featuring in more high-end models.
- If you are an experienced piano player, you are better off with semi-weighted keys that offer a good compromise between fully-weighted piano-style keys and synthesizers. They offer more authenticity and precision than scythe-action keys but are also more expensive.
- Synth-action keys are better-suited for beginners if they tend to be much more forgiving for learners. These keys give you immediate access to the sound without any resistance, as offered by semi-weighted keys. While you may compromise a little on authenticity, the controllers featuring these keys are usually much more budget-friendly.
5. Control Options and Layout
Another essential thing to look out for are control options with a MIDI controller – make sure it comes with all the controls you require like pads, faders, buttons, and knobs. Make sure that the number quality of the control feature is what you need for optimal music production. For example, you should look for eight large-sized, quick response illuminated pads that allow different color assignments to different sounds.
Moreover, the keyboard control layout is highly essential to how intuitively you will be able to use your controller. An easy-access format usually has pads on one side of the controller while featuring the knobs and faders together on the other side. If the layout is not clear, it can become a hassle to use the controller.
6. Software Compatibility
The good news is that most MIDI controllers integrate easily with major DAWs, as they come with presets or options to configure automatically. In some cases, the most you have to do is download a few files from the manufacturing company’s website, and you’re good to go.
However, it is always prudent to check beforehand if your MIDI controller is compatible with any particular software you want.
Why Should You Own a 49 Key MIDI Controller?
Four Octave Range
The essential benefit to owning a 49 key MIDI controller is the ability to play four octaves. This offers much more playing versatility as far as melodies and harmonies are concerned and still allows traditional playing style. The extra octaves (compared to the two octaves 25-key) also makes it easy to play with both hands,
Extended Control Features
Extended control features also allow you greater creativity and more control over the kind of music you want to produce. Moreover, a 49 key MIDI controller makes it easy to balance recording and playing.
This depends on how you intend to use your MIDI controller, but the 49-key is just the right size if you want to drag it out to your performances. Moreover, even if you plan to use it just in your studio, the sizing makes it easy to fit in little space without compromising on functionality and performance,
Five Best 49 Key MIDI Controllers
Now that we have discussed what to look for in a 49 Key MIDI controller and why they are such great devices to own against their size-varying counterparts, let us dive into our top 5 picks for the best ones in the market.
1. Akai MPK249
- Pro Keyboard Performance - 49 semi-weighted, velocity-sensitive full-size keys and a premium piano-style keybed for unprecedented response and natural feel
- Beat Making Essentials - 16 RGB-illuminated MPC-style pads each with 4 banks for 64 pads - the perfect solution for triggering samples, loops, one-shots, melodics and more
- Assignable Control - 24 assignable Q-Link controllers comprising 8 control knobs, faders and switches engineered for hassle-free DAW / virtual instrument mapping
- Your Studio Centerpiece - Take command of your peripheral MIDI equipment courtesy of an onboard USB-MIDI interface with 5-pin MIDI input & output
- Core MPC Tools - MPC mainstay controls included - MPC Note Repeat, arpeggiator, MPC Full Level, Tap Tempo and Time Division
When it comes to MIDI equipment, not many manufacturers can touch Akai. The true testament to their innovation and quality is that you can find an Akai in almost every seasoned producer’s gear.
The MPK249 boasts of a full-sized keyboard with semi-weighted keys, along with an extended control options range (16 pads, eight knobs, eight faders, and eight switches). You can quickly identify sounds with the pads, as they are RGB backlit. You can assign 24 functions to the knobs and faders because of the three banks. This model also has an LCD screen and excellent integration. Thanks to the USB-MIDI, the Akai MPK249 is a plugin-and-play controller.
While many other high-end controllers have similar control features and key weights, what stands out with Akai is the equipment quality. The keys feel authentic yet easy to play, whereas the controls feel robust; as noted by one happy user, “The MPK249 is the very essence of Akai, it includes the famous MPC pads and also eight faders and eight knobs. One of the main attractions is the really nice keybed that includes 49 keys with aftertouch. It’s a pleasure to play this keyboard.”
However, the MPK249 is pricey, but the build quality and product longevity really make it worth it.
2. Arturia Keylab Essential 49
- Software Includes Analog Lab software with 5000 synth sounds Includes Ableton Live Lite Includes UVI Grand Piano model D Hardware 61 keys with velocity Controllers: 1 clickable encoder, 9 encoders, 9 30mm faders, 6 transport switches, 4 command switches, 1 modulation wheel, 1 pitch bend wheel, 8 touch and pressure-sensitive pads Connectivity MIDI out, USB, Sustain pedal Functions as a universal MIDI controller Twin-line LCD screen MCU
- Most musicians need three things from a controller keyboard: powerful DAW control, software instrument integration and efficient navigation of presets
- KeyLab Essential is Arturia's newgeneration of controller keyboards that satisfy all of these requirements in an elegant, thoughtful design
- KeyLab Essential includes a full function DAW control area and a central screen section that allows instant access to the 5000+ included Analog Lab 2 presets
- All the knobs, sliders and pads you will need are available at your fingertips and 8 mappings assignations can be selected in an instant
The Arturia Keylab Essential 49 is the ultimate mid-range controller that works well for beginners thanks to its synth-action keys and numerous control features. While affordable, the controller does not skimp on quality.
The big center knob on the controller gives access to the Arturia Labs library, which allows you to turn the controller into a synth. The knobs are encoders thus, turn endlessly – which can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on your usage. Ableton Live automatically integrates with the device, whereas Logic needs manual integration.
Users love how lightweight the model is without compromising performance, which they believe is much better than its 25-key counterpart.
However, users who like to work in the dark find the white color of the model stand out and not in a good way—saying that most controllers are available in black color, which makes for a nice variation.
3. Nektar Panorama P4
- Panorama P4 49-Key USB MIDI Controller Keyboard
- The Panorama P4 is a 49-key keyboard controller instrument with an extraordinarily intuitive workflow
- Its deep integration with Bitwig Studio, Cubase, Logic Pro and Reason puts the spotlight on performance and creativity and answers a need music makers have been voicing for years
- Keyboard and pads are dynamic, sensitive and balanced carefully with a solid feel that allows for complete expression
- All of this, combined with 93 real-time controls available at any one time makes Panorama the definitive keyboard controller for Bitwig Studio, Cubase, Logic Pro & Reason
With its white base and contrasting black keys, the Nektar Panorama P4 is not only a beautiful, well-built device; it also has a long list of features – fit for its cost.
The main features include semi-weighted keys, which is something a seasoned player would really appreciate. With 12 pads, 16 encodes, ten buttons, and nine faders, the controls are as vast as they come with a MIDI controller. It has a dedicated pitch and a motorized fader. However, nothing beats the Panorama P4’s multiple DAW integration abilities. It boasts of a plug-n-play integration with numerous DAWs, minus Ableton Live.
Many users rave about its integration ease and equipment quality, “After following the instructions, the initial setup was easy, and all parameters (the ones I used so far) were mapped perfectly in Logic Pro X (down to the synths!).”
Even though great features and ease of use justify its hefty price tag, if I had to point one negative, it would be the minute difference in the aftertouch of the black and white keys, which affects playing the instrument.
4. Novation Launchkey 49 MK3
- MK2 version of Novation's 49-note USB keyboard controller for Ableton Live
- 16 velocity-sensitive RGB pads, 8 knobs, and dedicated navigation and control buttons
- Software for Mac and PC and sustain pedal 1/4 inch jack socket,7 segment 3 character LED display,pitch bend and modulation wheels,16 full-colour RGB backlit velocity sensitive drum pads
- Fully USB bus-powered and class compliant; works without drivers or power cable
- Software for Mac and PC, Including: Ableton Live Lite, XLN Audio Addictive Keys. Novation now offers a 3-Year Warranty on this and all other Novation products.
The Novation Launchkey 49 MK3 is made for use with Ableton Live, with user feedback, making it a refined iteration designed for ease of use.
The controller has 16 pressure-sensitive, colorful pads that are excellent replacements for a drum machine and very useful in assigning tracks. In addition to mod wheels and dedicated pitch, this model has eight knobs and 8+1 faders, plus a 5-pin MIDI output used for hardware synths.
Launchkey users are all-praise for its easy synchronization, “Sync’d right up with my Presonus Studio One 3 Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Plugged it into the USB port, went into the Presonus setup, and changed the ‘MIDI in’ and ‘MIDI out.’ to ‘Launchkey’ No external software or drivers required, and best of all, no additional ‘wall wart’ power supply as it runs off of USB power.”
One key point is that even though it seamlessly integrates with Ableton Live, it does not support any other DAWs. However, owing to Ableton Live’s popularity, it is an excellent fit for numerous users.
5. Alesis V49
- MIDI Keyboard with 49 full-sized, velocity sensitive square-front keys, perfect for playing Virtual Instruments
- 8 velocity- and pressure-sensitive backlit pads for beat production and clip launching
- 4 assignable knobs and 4 assignable buttons interface with your music software. Seamless, visual feedback via illuminated buttons and knobs
- Octave Up and Down buttons let you access the full keyboard range and Pitch and modulation wheels deliver expressive, creative control
- Premium Software Included - Includes Ableton Live Lite, Xpand!2 virtual instrument software by Air Music Tech and MPC Beats
If you are looking for a 49 key controller on a budget, the Alesis V49 makes a perfect case with its velocity-sensitive synth-action keys and eight backlit pads.
Alesis V49 is highly customizable, with easy integration. Custom-mapping allows for workflow ease, and the key response is pretty decent. Other control features include four buttons and knobs each – all of which are assignable.
Many users were delighted with the build quality for the price, “I was surprised initially by the build quality, the keys feel very nice, and they are grand piano size. The led lights built within the keyboard give it a very professional look which is a bonus! The drum pads aren’t 100% perfect, but they can do the job when you tweak the latency settings and the velocity. Overall, a great purchase, very satisfying.”
The synth-action keys are velocity-sensitive, but seasoned piano players would much like semi-weighted key models. However, this is an excellent budget-friendly choice for new players looking to experiment.
A 49 key MIDI controller is an excellent device for creative music production because of its extensive features, price point, and ease of movement. However, it is crucial to think about your playing style to select key weight and additional features. Another important consideration is to check for software integration.
Even though all five options in our list are great MIDI controllers, the Akai MPK249 sits above everyone else thanks to its semi-weighted keys and great control range.