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5 best cheap USB controller keyboards

If you’ve got a laptop or a home PC and you want to get into music-making on the cheap, alongside an audio interface, the main thing you’ll need is a basic controller keyboard. These offer traditional piano-style keyboards and some level of control over your software (after all, the computer mouse is not the most expressive of instruments).

Below we round-up the cheapest controller keyboards on the market and offer an overview of what they can offer you…

 Akai LPK25

Ultra-compact and able to be slipped into a backpack (or indeed a pocket, if you’re a wizard), the Akai LPK25 offers 25 mini keys that are velocity sensitive, meaning you can play hard or soft and your software will understand. They’re pretty small, but if you’re just laying down basslines or simple melodies while on the bus, they should do the trick fine. If, however, you intend to perform a recital of Rachmaninoff’s 3rd piano concerto, you may want to look for something a little larger. Other features include octave up and down buttons for versatility, and an in-built arpeggiator for generating complex melodies from simple chords.

Acorn Masterkey 25

Acorn are a new name in the world of computer music-making but they’ve released some well specc’ed budget keyboard controllers that hit just the right price point with all the basic features you need. The Acorn Masterkey 25 (alongside it’s brothers, the Masterkey 49 and Masterkey 61) offers larger keys than the LPK25 and they feel a bit more responsive. However, it won’t fit in your pocket (unless you are in fact a wizard, in which case what are you doing buying controller keyboards?). It has 4 pots for tweaking software parameters such as filter cutoff on the fly, a fader for e.g. controlling master volume, and a pitch bend and modulation wheel for adding expression to your playing. The kicker, though, is that it comes bundled with Presonus Studio One Artist sequencing software – a cut-down version of Presonus Studio One Producer, but nevertheless great software at this price.

M-Audio Keystation mini 32

M-Audio (previously known as Midiman) have been making computer music widgets since such things existed, so they know a bit about what works and what doesn’t. The Keystation mini 32 is a similar size to the LPK25 (well, slightly bigger) but features 32 velocity sensitive keys instead of 25. Although it only has one knob, this can be assigned to any parameter, so if you don’t mind twiddling only one knob at a time, you should be OK. One feature that makes it stand aside from the rest, though, is that it can be used to control an iPad – useful if you own one (though not if you don’t).

Akai MPK Mini

Another über-portable option, the Akai MPK Mini offers a wider range of control than the keyboards above, but comes at a slightly higher price. Akai are known for their MPC drum machines, so you get some nice pad controllers with pretty lights behind them and it also features eight low profile controller knobs giving you a lot of control over your software and an arpeggiator for instant trancey melody patterns.

M-Audio Keyrig 49

Another M-Audio offering, but aimed at a slightly different potential customer, the Keyrig 49 has more keys than the options above but pretty basic control over software (you’ll have to do with a mod wheel, pitch bend, and single data slider). However, it does come bundled with Keyrig software, which gives you a load of standard sounds right out of the box. It also includes a lite version of Ableton Live – easy-to-use sequencing, performance and arrangement software.

To summarise…

All of the above will let you control your software – the decision you need to make is how much control you need, and how portable you need it to be. For a full list of controller keyboards, check the Red Dog Music site. Happy hunting!

About The Author

Red Dog Music

Dawsons Music is delighted to announce that the Red Dog Music brand is now part of the Dawsons family. This is an exciting opportunity to bring both communities together and create a stronger, wider network of people passionate about music gear. We both share a common heritage to support musicians throughout the UK and Dawsons want to support Red Dog Music customers in their continued musical journey.

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