The 4 Best MIDI Controllers Under $500

MIDI controllers are multifaceted beasts. They can be used for demoing ideas to be tracked later just as easily as they can transform your experience using music software. Rather than having to be glued to your keyboard to track your music, MIDI controllers allow you to transfer yourself away from the computer and to a physical, tactile, and instrument-like board. What differentiates these boards from simple instruments, though, is that they can also function as mixers streamlining your tracking process on a whole.

That being said, MIDI controllers come in a variety of shapes and sizes with slews of different features and price ranges to match. It can be overwhelming if you’re just now dipping your toe into the waters, so we at Reverb put a list together of the best four MIDI controllers under $500 to help you get started.

Model Best For Price
CME XKey 37 Portability. $200-$300
Nektar Panorama P4 Propellerhead Reason. $350-$500
Arturia Keylab 61 Its instrument models. $300-$400
Akai MPK249 Ableton Live. $330-$400

CME XKey 37

The CME XKey 37 is the most stripped down and portable MIDI controller on our list. With its slim, 37 full-sized key design, it only weighs about a pound and a half. Like a computer keyboard, the XKey uses a mechanism that makes each key depress uniformly no matter where you press.

It is also equipped with polyphonic aftertouch, meaning that the pressure that you apply to each key controls the effect individually. It also registers 128 levels of sensitivity so that when you play loudly and aggressively with one hand and quietly with the other, the keyboard responds dynamically. One of the coolest features of this board is its latching sustain button, which models the sustain pedal on a regular keyboard or piano.

Nektar Panorama P4

If your DAW of choice is Propellerhead Reason, the Nektar Panorama P4 is the obvious choice for your MIDI controller needs. The list of specs for this board is simply insane – it’s jam-packed with features. The highlights include 49 touch-sensitive keys, a 100mm motorized ALPS fader (in addition to nine 45mm faders), 12 velocity pads with seven individual velocity curves, and a 3.5” TFT color display.

While the list of attributes goes on and on, the main point is that this board offers so much controllability and such deep integration with Reason that you really don’t need to turn to your computer to do anything other than plug in.

Arturia Keylab 61

One of the reasons that the Arturia Keylab 61 is such an attractive MIDI controller is because it includes seamless integration with Arturia’s Analog Lab software. Analog Lab features 5000 presets from Arturia’s V-Collection software instruments, allowing the Keylab 61 to eclipse controller status and function more like a true, dynamic instrument in itself.

Models of the Moog Minimoog, Roland Jupiter 8, and ARP 2600 are just a taste of the highlights that come with Analog Lab; the software also carries grand pianos, EPs, and organs among other things. The board itself features 62 semi-weighted keys, nine faders, ten encoders, and 16 velocity-sensitive pads making it a competitive option to be paired with any DAW.

Akai MPK249

The Akai MPK249 is the all-around best choice for a professional-grade MIDI controller for under $500. If Ableton Live is your DAW of choice, this is the best possible controller you could buy at this price point. It is equipped with 49 semi-weighted, full-size keys, MPC Swing and Note Repeat function, and Q-Link assignable controls.

It also features 16 onboard MPC-style pads that expand into 64 total when using all four pad banks. There are also three banks for knobs, faders, and switches bringing that total to 24 each. This controller is truly the all-in-one solution, used as easily as a standalone controller as it is with music software.

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