Playing virtual instruments is an easy way to enrich your arrangements and sounds without having the real original instrument.
So if you’re looking for a MIDI keyboard to play virtual instruments here’s our buying advice: the 5 best keyboards midi under 100$.
Before starting a few words about what is a MIDI keyboard.
A MIDI Keyboard is a piano-style interface that is not directly able to generate sound, but instead generates electronic signals describing the actions of the musician (MIDI events), and then sends these events (via a USB cable or other connectors) to your PC or Mac.
The MIDI events generated by a MIDI Keyboard are generally used to play and command a virtual instrument, which is an additional component (plug-in) in a recording software that is able to generate and synthesise sounds.
What do we have to consider when buying a MIDI Keyboard?
Before you buy a keyboard you have to consider its main features:
- The number of keys
- The keys’ behaviour (weight, velocity, aftertouch)
- The number and type of controllers (pads, knobs, faders)
The main question you should be asking yourself when looking for the right solution is always the same: what do I need to do with my keyboard?
So lets try and better understand the characteristics we have mentioned about these controllers.
Number of keys
The number of keys that a MIDI Keyboard can offer starts from the single octave controller (12 keys) up to the full 88 keys piano.
Obviously the best choice depends on the different needs. If you are piano player you will need at least 4 octave (48 keys). If you play a MIDI Keyboard just to create simple arrangements, patterns or arpeggios using a virtual instrument, also 1 or 2 octaves could be enough.
The number of octaves can greatly influence the final price of the controller, so think about the purpose of your keyboard and your musical skills and habits.
Behavior of keys
Not all MIDI Keyboards have the same behaviour when we press a key. Depending of the features (and price) of the controller, every key could include additional sensors to get more information that better describe the actions you perform on the keyboard (velocity and aftertouch) or just better emulate a real piano (key weight) to offer a better user experience.
These different characteristics are:
- Velocity: describes the intensity of the action on the key. This feature is fundamental if you want to play a note with a different dynamic, like a soft, quiet sound rather than a loud, strong one.
- Aftertouch: describes the intensity you want to add when you are keeping a key pressed. This feature is often useful when you play a chord and you want to command a specific parameter (for example a vibrato) while you are sustaining the chord by keeping the keys pressed.
- Key weight: it emulates the real physical resistance of a piano key. It helps and improves the experience for all musicians who are used to playing on a real piano. You can choose between fully weighed, half weighed or unweighed keyboards depending on your habit to play a real piano, or your preferences on the matter.
Velocity and aftertouch are often included also in the cheaper controllers. The weighted keyboards instead are generally more expensive.
If your keyboard does not include velocity or aftertouch, you can always modify these parameters using any MIDI editor (Pianoroll) inside your DAW after you have recorded your keyboard.
The number and type of controllers
In addition to the classic piano keys, a MIDI Keyboard can include other types of controllers useful to command sounds or parameters of your virtual instrument in different ways.
Let see the common type of controls you will find:
- Knob: also referred to as ‘rotary encoder’, a knob is a rounded continuous controller that you’ll often find on a MIDI keyboard. It generates the MIDI event Control Change that could be associated to any parameter of a virtual instrument. It’s often useful to command a continuous parameter of a synth (for example a cutoff filter) or a rate of a modulation.
- Fader: much like the ones present on mixing boards, these vertical sliders consist in a continuos controller that can be used to control a track’s level in a way that resembles classic analog mixing desks. Just like knobs, they can also be used to control any other parameter of a virtual instrument, or the volume faders of out DAW’s mixer.
- Pad: it is a discrete control that it is often grouped with other pad items ( for example 4x, 8x, 16x). You usually interact with a pad controller by tapping on it to generate other Control Change MIDI events describing a simple on/off state. They are often used to control and activate percussive sounds generated by a virtual drum machine.
- Modulation wheel : it is wired range continuous controller that offers more precision to command the continuos parameters of a virtual instrument. It is generally used to modulate the pitch of the note or to create the vibrato effect.
A MIDI Keyboard is almost always connected to a computer and you’ll generally find two types of connectors that are used for the connection.
- USB cable: it is the most common solution to connect your device. It allows you to connect the MIDI keyboard directly to the computer.
- 5 din connector: till recently, this was the standard way to connect MIDI devices to a computer. It requires a specific MIDI input port to be plugged in so it would usually require an external audio sound card that has at least one MIDI input port.
Now we are ready to evaluate the better solution for our needs. Lets take a look at some interesting solutions:
Akai Professional MPK Mini MK2: price (90-100)
-25 Synth-Action keys
-4-Way joystick for dynamic pitch/modulation adjustment
-8 MPC pads with note repeat
-8 Assignable control pods for mixing, plugIn-control and thomann more
-6.3 mm jack input for sustain pedals
-Power supply via USB, power adapter not required
-Dimensions (W x D x H): 317 x 181 x 44 mm
-Weight: 748 g
-Including software package (downloads): Hybrid 3 by AIR Music Tech, SONiVOX -Wobble and Akai Pro MPC Essentials
Where can I buy it?
Arturia MiniLab MKII: price (90-100)
Arturia MiniLab MKII;
USB Controller Keyboard;
25 Mini-Keys velocity sensitive;
16 rotary encoders (2 of them are clickable);
Touchstrips for Pitchbend and Modulation;
Sustain Pedal Connection;
Dimensions: 355 x 220 x 50 mm (WxDxH),
Weight: 1.5 kg;
Where can I buy it?
M-Audio Keystation Mini 32 : price (60-100)
–32 Velocity sensitive mini keys
-Adjustable velocity over predefined curves
-1 Grippy knob
-4 Backlit buttons (Octave, Sustain, Edit)
-2 Octave buttons (Octave range thomann -4 to +4)
-Octave range can be changed via colour button (green, orange, red, flashing red)
-1 Sustain button
-4 Assignable controls (pitch +/-, Mod, knobs)
-USB bus-powered (USB cable included)
-Plug & Play
-For PC / MAC
-Compatible with Apple iPad with OS 4.3 (optional Apple Camera Connection Kit and -Core MIDI application required, thomann not included)
-Dimensions: 420 x 110 x 20 mm
-Weight: 454 g
Where can I buy it?
Korg microKEY 25: price (50-70)
-25 Mini keys with natural touch
-Pitch-Bend and Modulations joystick
-Octave shift button
-USB Bus powered
-Dimensions: (W x D x H): 395 x thomann 131 x 53 mm
-Weight: 0.65 kg
-For WIN XP/VISTA/MAC OSX
-Including Korg M1LE Software Synthesizer
Where can I buy it?
Novation Launchkey Mini MK2: price (80-100)
-16 Velocity-dependent Launch Pads Tri-colour with LEDs
-7 Function keys
-2 Performance keys
-8 Rotating control knobs
-Power supply via USB
-Compatible with Mac, PC thomann and iPad (requires Camera Connection Kit – not included)
-Dimensions (W x L x D): 325 x 175 x 43 mm
-Weight: 675 g
-Incl. Ableton Live Lite, Novation’s Soft-Synth Bass Station and V-Station as well as -Loopmasters samples
Dove posso acquistarla?