49-Key MIDI controllers are the perfect solution for laying down keyboard parts in your DAW. They provide you with enough keys to move up and down the octaves but don't take up large amounts of space in your studio.
The problem is, there is an abundance of recommendable options to choose from. Therefore, I’ve narrowed it down to the seven best 49-Key MIDI keyboards so that you can decide which features and qualities best suit your requirements.
Best 49-Key MIDI Controllers
Table of Contents
- Best 49-Key MIDI Controllers
- 49-Key MIDI Controllers: Common Controls
- Other Standout Qualities of 49-Key MIDI Controllers
The Novation Launchkey 49 Mk3 is the perfect creative hub for controlling all aspects of your chosen DAW. Its intuitive design incorporates all of the most popular features of its predecessors, with some newly added perks further improving its performance.
This 49-key MIDI keyboard is best suited to Ableton Live, but if you prefer Logic or Protools, don't worry, it's compatible with all major DAWs. It features the classic fader, knob, and touch-pad design that has made Novation a popular choice for producers and musicians for many years.
On top of the classic features, there’s the addition of eight onboard Scale Modes. Whether you’re familiar with music theory or not, these modes give you the platform to experiment with an array of scales, integrating them into your productions.
To use the Scale Modes, you simply play in a melody or riff, and then choose the scale you want to transpose the notes to. There’s the common major and minor pentatonic scales. And if you’re feeling less conventional, you can select Mixolydian or Dorian modes.
Alongside the newly added Scale Modes, you also get Chord Modes, Mutate, and an Arpeggiator. Chord Modes transforms the MK3’s pads and keys from single notes to harmonies so that every note you play creates a chord. Mutate re-arranges your melodies into new musical ideas.
With larger and more sensitive touchpads, the Novation Launchkey is highly playable. It has a pitch bend and modulation built-in, the keys are velocity-sensitive, and you also get a variety of free VST plugins with the keyboard.
If you’re looking for an affordable 49-key MIDI controller, the M-Audio Keystation 49 is a quality option. It boasts full-sized expressive keys and comes with a bundle of instrument software to enhance your songwriting and productions.
Sometimes, simplicity is the best way when it comes to MIDI keyboards. M-Audio has designed the Keystation 49 MK3 in a minimalist way, but this doesn’t mean it can’t compete with more complex models.
When the keyboard is connected to your PC or MAC via USB, you can use it to control just about every aspect of your digital audio workstation. There are octave, pitch, and modulation controls positioned to the left of the keys, which can be assigned to whatever function you require.
The streamlined controls are complemented by dedicated transport cursors, so you can use the keyboard as a mouse if you so wish. There's also a sustain pedal input and an Advanced button which activates a host of other MIDI control possibilities.
Additionally, this lightweight and mobile M-Audio keyboard can be connected to an iPad or iPhone and used with Garageband, via an Apple Camera Connector.
3. Alesis V49
With the Alesis V49, you get full-sized synth-action keys that are ideal for triggering VSTs and digital effects. This compact controller also has right LED pads that are pressure-sensitive so that you can play synth loops and rhythmic patterns with ease.
Along with the LED pads, four control knobs can be custom assigned within your DAW. These could be mapped to control filters, wet/dry amounts, or any other automatable function.
Not only do the touch-sensitive pads and assignable controllers serve a purpose in the studio, but they are also valuable additions in a live setting. If you intend to use your keyboard on-stage, these features are great for real-time processing.
The Alesis 49-key MIDI controller has pitch and modulation wheels too. You can also quickly transpose up or down to another key using the dedicated button, giving you access to the full range of a piano when required.
In terms of software compatibility, the Alesis V49 can be used in conjunction with any well-known DAW. You get a copy of Ableton Live Lite with the keyboard and a USB cable to hook it straight up to your device.
The Nektar Impact GX49 is a smart MIDI controller that will slot nicely onto your desktop. Perfect for home-studio setups, this 49-key USB keyboard features all of the necessary controls required for recording digital audio.
With a selection of 7 programmable buttons, the GX49 can be used to adjust any parameters within your DAW. Whether you need to quickly arm or disarm a track for recording, turn on a particular plugin or turn on the looper, this keyboard will get the job done.
Another noteworthy attribute of the Nektar Impakt GX49 is its ability to assign each of the seven buttons to two MIDI messages. Put more simply, this means you can record dual MIDI outputs simultaneously.
If you choose to purchase the additional USB camera connection kit, you can also use this 40-key MIDI keyboard to control music apps on your iPad or iPhone. This is a highly useful feature if you’re spending time in a remote location and still want to record your ideas.
No matter what your preferred choice of DAW is, the GX49 is compatible. If you’re yet to decide on software to use for recordings, you can utilize the free inclusion of Bitwig, which is a simplistic 8-Track DAW. Bitwig is a great introduction to the world of DAWs.
To cap off this affordable MIDI keyboard you get the usual controls – a responsive pitch bend wheel and modulation wheel. There’s also an assignable footswitch input which is great for adding expression to the 49 keys.
The Akai Professional MPK249 is a detailed MIDI keyboard that boasts an array of useful abilities. The MPK range is hugely popular amongst producers both in professional settings and home studios, thanks to their intuitive designs and high performance.
I’m very fond of the addition of illuminated MPC-style pads, which, when combined with the 49-note aftertouch keybed, make for a responsive and interactive way to record MIDI tracks.
The keys are semi-weighted so that you can transfer playing techniques from a genuine piano straight over to the MPK249, or use it to record VST synths with equal effectiveness. The aftertouch aspect means that you can retrospectively add vibrato or any modulation of your choice, without disrupting the flow of your playing.
There’s a multitude of assignable faders that can be used to control any aspect of automation within your recording software. You also get a sustain footswitch and expression pedal input, alongside the standard pitch and modulation wheels.
Also included with the Akai Professional MPK249 is Akai Professional VIP3 software. This newly updated version builds upon the Virtual Instrument Player software, allowing you to load up your favorite VST plugins, either as a standalone or as a part of your DAW.
With its striking aesthetics and solid build, the Keylab mkII 49 is a brilliant option from Arturia. This 49-key MIDI controller blurs the lines between a studio keyboard and an on-stage instrument.
Constructed from durable aluminum, the KeyLab mkII 49 is built for musicians and producers who like to take their studio on their travels. The exquisite aftertouch-sensitive keys are highly responsive, even for more technical pianists or keyboardists.
The 16 RGB backlit pads provide you with ample assignable triggers, and are perfect for programming drum samples into your songs, or figuring out the rhythm while the other tracks are playing.
As if 16 pads aren’t enough, Arturia has also crammed an additional nine large faders and nine rotary encoders for extra mapping options. If your productions are often made up of a large number of tracks and effects channels, this keyboard gives you the option of programming all of them to external control.
Arturia has generously included an extensive software bundle with the Keylab mkII 49, which includes Analog Lab 4. Alternatively, you can simply hook it up to any DAW of your choice.
If you enjoy adding expressive keys to your productions, the five expression control inputs will come in useful. Multiple outputs can be used for live performances.
You might be familiar with Native Instruments and their comprehensive range of top-end VST plugins, but they are also a reputable manufacturer of MIDI keyboards. The Komplete Kontrol A49 is an intuitive hub for all of your production needs.
The onboard OLED display provides you with a visual navigation system where you can toggle through and adjust the various settings. The 49-key semi-weighted keybed is expressive and responsive, and the addition of 8 touch-sensitive rotary knobs is useful for mapping to controls.
The advantage of choosing a Native Instruments MIDI keyboard is that it is highly compatible with their various plugins and Kontakt Instruments. You can select any of the presets using the keyboard’s touch-sensitive control knobs.
As you’d expect, the keyboard has pitch-bend and modulation wheels on the left side of the keybed. There's also a loop button that can be used to quickly repeat a section and a record trigger button for convenient capturing of MIDI tracks.
Komplete Instruments & Effects software bundle is included with the keyboard, giving you access to some legendary pianos, synths, and effects units. Finally, there's the Smart Play feature which anticipates the key that you are playing in and transposes any wrong notes into the correct pitch.
49-Key MIDI Controllers: Common Controls
Most 49-key MIDI keyboards have at least a handful of parameters that can be mapped with a DAW and used to trigger or adjust different controls. Although the number of parameters varies from model to model, there is a staple trio that you can expect to see. Let’s take a look at what purpose each of these serve.
Pitch Bend & Modulation
Pitch bend and modulation wheels are included on pretty much every 49-key MIDI keyboard. These can be assigned to any purpose within your DAW, and the responsive, slider-like action is great for gradually opening or closing filters.
The primary function of a pitch bend wheel is to bend the note that you are playing up by a tone, or somewhere in between. Much like bending a string on a guitar, it produces an interesting effect.
The loop function is very useful for times when you are trying to figure out the perfect melody to go with a chord sequence, or the perfect drum beat to accompany a bassline. Simply pushing the loop button will trigger your software to repeat the selected section until you turn it off.
Quantize buttons essentially drag all of the recorded audio that you’ve played in on a MIDI keyboard, and make sure that it is in time. Within most DAWs, you can choose the note length that you would like the audio to be quantized to, for example, ¼ notes or ½ notes.
Other Standout Qualities of 49-Key MIDI Controllers
Having 49 keys at your disposal already allows you to move through four octaves. Many MIDI controllers also include octave switches, which can be used to instantly jump up or down in pitch.
When you’re using a MIDI keyboard for production or composing, being able to quickly switch to the octave of your choice makes it much easier to find the exact timbre that you’re looking for.
It also allows you to access the full octave range of an instrument, such as a piano. Full-sized pianos have 88 keys, so having an octave switch makes it possible to reach the highest and lowest notes of the instrument when you load up a piano patch.
Having 49 weighted keys also makes a significant difference to the playability of your MIDI controller. This provides an authentic piano-like feel and affords you more control over the velocity and dynamics of your playing.
Some MIDI controllers have semi-weighted keys, which are a happy medium between unresponsive keys and weighted keys.
When you’re composing or producing using a MIDI keyboard, you might stumble across a particular sound which you’d like to save to recall at a later date. User preset slots are spaces within the MIDI controller’s memory especially for saving sounds of your choice.
This feature is linked to the connectivity of the MIDI controller. It has a USB connector slot, you can link it up to your recording software and build your compositions in the sequencer while saving any sounds that take your fancy.
Having a good quality MIDI keyboard is essential. 49-keys is the perfect amount for producing interesting synth lines and keyboard parts. Bear in mind, however, that the more playable the keyboard is, the harder you will find it to leave the studio and stop recording!