Budget MIDI Controller Buyers Guide
To ensure that you purchase the best MIDI controller, then consider this short – yet helpful – buyer’s guide. It should answer all the questions you might have about this useful piece of equipment.
Let’s begin with a crucial question.
What to Look For in a Budget MIDI Controller?
To be perfectly honest, what you will look for will depend on your needs, as well as your working style. For example, sliders can be a great feature for some, while others much prefer a rotary option. Consider what types of controls you like and then start looking for products that have these components.
Those who are familiar with pianos and keyboards will prefer a traditional MIDI controller over a modern trigger pad option, although both are easy once you get the hang of them.
There are a few questions you should ask yourself when you’re shopping for a MIDI controller.
Is This Unit USB Bus-Powered?
Bus-powered MIDI controllers are an easy addition to a small home studio setup.
If you work with a DAW on a PC or Mac, then bus-powered controllers make the most sense.
However, bus power does have its limitations, and you will want to ensure you have a higher-output USB connection.
Will This Controller Work With my Phone?
If you write on the go or use a lot of apps, then you will probably need an iOS-compatible MIDI controller.
If you have another look at our reviews, you’ll see that we’ve highlighted the controllers that are capable of working with a phone.
App-based VST and effects racks are starting to compete with their PC and Mac-based counterparts in recent years, so iOS compatibility may be something to consider.
Is a Power Unit Required?
This ties into the USB question we’ve already covered, but it bears repeating as you’d be surprised by how many models sell power cables separately.
We’ve made sure to give you a heads-up with today’s top picks.
Is the Keyboard Velocity Sensitive?
We would argue that both keyboard and pad velocity response is one of the most important specs to look for.
Producing digital music has the risk of sounding too synthetic. This is because when a musician plays, they play with expression. These dynamics are difficult to reproduce without the response a velocity-sensitive trigger can give.
Lastly, most MIDI remote controls will come with a few bonus pieces of software. We advise that you research what you’re getting in advance. Why? Because some software will add significant value to the product, whereas another might be filler, which you won’t end up using.
Are Budget MIDI Controllers Reliable?
As with most consumer electronics, you get what you pay for. Then again, there are a large number of MIDI controllers on the market for accessible prices that are reliable.
You shouldn’t expect too much if you spend below the $100 mark. Some might offer velocity-sensitive triggers, but the accuracy of the sensitivity won’t be on par with a pricier product.
If your budget can stretch to between $150 and $200, then there are some impressive models and great deals to be had in terms of software accessories.
Why are Some MIDI Controllers so Cheap?
There are two different methods a manufacturer uses to produce a low price MIDI controller.
Some manufacturers sacrifice construction quality to cut costs. This is not good, in our opinion. You’ll be hands-on with your controller so you want to make sure that it’s built to last.
The buttons are the parts that are the most likely to break, which is often the case with electronic devices. This is because they receive the most wear and tear. You need to look for a durable model made from quality materials.
The other way manufacturers cut costs is to reduce the circuitry and functions. While there are many complex MIDI remote options on the market, the map-assignable nature of MIDI devices, and your DAWs, means that you can function on far fewer controls than you might think.
We recommend that you choose a durable product over one with lots of functions that you likely won’t need.
What to go for boils down to a balance of personal preference and, of course, the tasks that you’ll be doing with the controller. Beat-makers and musicians will prioritize a whole different set of parameters when it comes to the controls, with one favoring pads, and the other preferring traditional keys.
The tactile qualities that different mediums offer give a more realistic, physical quality to the DAW navigation, but it’s important to consider your needs if your funds are low.
A solidly constructed mini MIDI keyboard, with some navigation buttons and an assignable, will give you pretty good access to the bare necessities. You should be sensible and choose a functional, durable controller over one with all the bells and whistles, as these are often poorly constructed.
We hope that today’s reviews and guide section will have given you some insight and a nudge in the right direction.
If you plan on making music from scratch and want a sensible, low-cost solution, we highly recommend the Akai MPK miniplay model. It fits the bill as a great standalone with a lot of scope for experimentation.
Did you Know
The first MIDI controllers were invented in the early 1980s. They began as synthesizers and moved rapidly into step-sequencing. The first universal protocol MIDI device was conceived in 1983.