In this article I look at the best affordable MIDI controllers on the market. A MIDI controller is basically a bit of kit that generates and send MIDI information to any other bit of kit. They can include keyboards and pads for sending note pitch and velocity values, dials and sliders of various kinds, buttons and switches. They can be used to control hardware synths or pretty much anything on your computer, from your basic DAW controls to plugin and synthesiser parameters. They offer a more natural alternative to programming using a mouse and computer keyboard or controlling automation with clips and oscillators.
It’s always handy to have some form of MIDI controller on hand if you’re recording of producing at home. The good news is that they don’t have to cost the Earth. So let’s have a look at some of the best budget MIDI controllers available.
The Akai MPK Mini MKIIMPK Mini is a sweet little controller with a two-octave keyboard, eight pads and eight knobs, plus a 4-way dynamic ‘thumb-stick’. I actually have the first version without the thumb-stick and I’m slightly upset about it as it looks like it would be good to use for controlling synth parameters in a natural way. Everything else seems very similar to the original version, including the build in arpeggiator and other buttons. This is a very portable controller and as such is great for travelling (I take mine on holiday!) or working in different locations, the downside being that the keys are very small and will be odd to play if you’re used to regular sized keyboards. This is not uncommon with these types of controllers though.
The M-Audio Keystation Mini 32 IIM-Audio Keystation is a slightly cheaper but still very popular small controller. It doesn’t include all the knobs and pads that you get with the Akai but for the price it’s a good solid keyboard controller for recording melodies and chords on the fly.
The M-Audio Keystation 49 ES MK 2M-Audio Keystation 49 ES MK 2. This comes with more octaves (four altogether), pitch bend and modulation wheels and an input for a foot pedal, which is useful if you want to play it like a piano with a sustain pedal.
The Korg microKEY-25Korg microKEY-25. This one is very basic, though it does include one of those joystick controllers I need to get hold of. With only two octaves and no other controllers its uses are fairly limited but for the price it’s could be a useful addition to a portable setup.
The Behringer UMX250Behringer UMX250. Although similar to the other small controllers, this one comes with a whole bunch of software to play with, including VST effects and instruments. I also doubles up as an audio interface… Though I have to admit I’m not sure how good a job it would do as one and would probably recommend getting a dedicated interface. It’s almost worth getting just for the colour though!
The Line 6 Mobile KeysLine 6 Mobile Keys is a similar, small scale controller with 25 keys and a couple of modulation wheels. This one is build with the iMac or iPad in mind though so may not be the best choice if you have a PC setup.
The Arturia Minilab MIDI ControllerArturia Minilab MIDI Controller is a very cool looking bit of kit, in my opinion. With it’s wood effect edges it reminds me on my MicroKorg (which I love). Like the MPK Mini this one has a number of dials and pads, but also a couple of touch-sensitive modulators, which can all be assigned for whatever purposes you have. An added bonus of this controller is that it also comes with analog lab software, including 500 sounds.
The Yamaha NP31 Portable KeyboardYamaha NP31 as it is the latest version of the larger keyboard I use in my home studio. It’s standalone keyboard and I often use mine for composing and songwriting without even firing up the computer, but it is also capabable of being connected up as a MIDI device and with 76 full sized, velocity-sensitive keys it’s ideal for capturing a more expressive performance. I’ve even used it to record drums, mapped to EZ Drummer 2. I would recommend keeping an eye out for a second hand Yamaha MP-30 like I have as you will probably be able to get it for a decent price and it’s an ideal addition to a small studio.
The Line 6 Pod FBV Expressthis tutorial. The first is the Line 6 Pod FBV Express, which can be used with many Line 6 amps but also has a USB connection which lets you use it as a MIDI controller in your DAW. I have one of these and it really helps when you want to record more natural sounding expression effects than you might get using automation clips or other controllers. Especially if you are a guitarist and used to using a foot pedal. (It also includes a handy tuner).
The Behringer FCB1010Behringer FCB1010 which is basically the king of guitarists MIDI controllers. Ten switched and two expression pedals, among other things, make this very adaptable to all kinds of live and recording situations where MIDI control is used. I don’t have one. Yet. It’s on the list… 🙂
That’s all for now…
Thanks for checking out my list of budget MIDI controllers for your new home studio. I hope that you’ve found the information here useful. Please do feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments below or via the contact form. Please also give the DIY Music Facebook page a ‘like’ and follow me on Twitter to keep up to date with my latest posts, articles and tutorials.