Best 49 Key MIDI Controller Keyboards For Studios & Gigs 2021

49 Key MIDI Keyboards Review

The 49 key MIDI keyboard controller is becoming the standard for studios and also for live shows. It has become such an excellent tool to have because it is small and portable, yet it allows you to do more than what a 25 key controller can do.

In this article, I will break down the best 49 key MIDI controllers currently available.

These controllers are a good investment if you are looking to upgrade your synth game or if you are looking to dive more into producing. The higher-end products will stay with you throughout your entire musical journey.

Quick Glance At The Best 49 Key MIDI Keyboard Controllers

IMAGE PRODUCT DETAILS  
Editor’s Pick Novation SL MK III
  • 49 Keys With Aftertouch
  • 8-Track Sequencer
  • 16 Pads
  • Most Dynamic Controller
  • Great For Gigging
Runner Up Arturia Keylab MK II
  • 49 Keys With Aftertouch
  • 16 Pads
  • 9 Encoders/Faders
  • Great Bundled Software
  • Durable
Alternative Akai MPK 249
  • 49 Keys With Aftertouch
  • 16 Pads
  • 8 Faders/Encoders
  • Great Bundled Software
Budget Nektar Panorama T4
  • 49 Keys With Aftertouch
  • One Of My Personal Favorites
  • Great With All DAWs
  • Bundled Software

Best 49 Key MIDI Keyboard Controllers

This guide covers 49 key MIDI controllers; if you want to read about all of the different MIDI keyboards, you can do so above.

Novation 49SL MkIII – Best 49 Key MIDI Controller

Launchkey Sl Mk3

The Novation 49SL MKIII is the newest product from Novation and also their most advanced.

This is designed for the studio. It doesn’t mean you can’t use it live; I just recommend it for the studio.

What I like about this product is it has a sequencer. This is currently one of the newest products on the market, so many keyboards don’t yet have some of its features.

I was very impressed with this instrument in particular. You can read my full review on this product at Novation SL MKIII review.

Overall

I believe that the SL MKIII is a massive upgrade of the MKII. This is currently the best 49 key MIDI controller for studio purposes.

  • 49 full-size, velocity-sensitive keys with aftertouch
  • Eight assignable 360 encoders for easy manipulation of DAW’s, virtual instruments, and plugins
  • It comes with Pro Tools
  • Brand new XY pad which provides additional and direct interaction with effects
  • 16 fully assignable velocity-sensitive trigger pads
  • Nine assignable faders let you control your DAW
  • Nine assignable buttons
  • Five pin MIDI in and out ports
Overall

This is currently the best 49 key MIDI controller on the market. It has exceptional functionality, great keys, & provides a great workflow.

Arturia Keylab MKII 49 – Most Durable 49 Key MIDI Controller

Arturia keylab 49 mkii

The Arturia Keylab MKII is the new version of the Keylab essential, and it is making some considerable waves in the MIDI department.

The MIDI technology is brand new, and it works flawlessly with all of the major DAW’s.

I believe this will surprise a lot of people and become a popular instrument in the coming future.

Features:
  • Included Software: Includes Analog Lab with 6500 different sounds, Ableton Live Light, and Piano V
  • Keys: 49 and 61 keys with premium quality key-beds with velocity and aftertouch
  • Drum Pads: 16 RGB backlit performance pads
  • Control Bank: 9 faders and nine rotary knobs
  • Modular Equipment Controls: 4 CV/Gate outputs, controlling pitch, gate, and modulation
  • DAW Compatibility: Can be used with all major DAW’s and comes with overlays for most DAW’s
  • Connectivity: Expression, sustain, CV/Gate, MIDI, USB, and three assignable auxiliary pedal inputs
  • Colors: Available in black and white
  • Chord Modes: 2 different customizable chord modes
  • Metal Pitch Bend And Mod Wheels
Overall

I believe the Keylab MKII is a solid choice. Arturia keyboards are built like tanks, and they are perfect for touring. This is easily one of the best 49 key MIDI controllers available because of this.

Akai Professional MPK249

Akai MPK 249

The MPK series has been at the front line for MIDI keyboards since the beginning, and the MPK249 is an example of this. It comes equipped with 49 full-size semi-weighted keys, and each key is velocity-sensitive. The drum pads are a standout feature on the Akai MPK249, and they set this keyboard apart from others.

This keyboard is also one of the best 25 key MIDI keyboards as Akai makes a 25 key model.

Software

The MPK249 comes fully equipped with Ableton live lite, which allows the user to start diving into software sounds immediately. Ableton is one of the most popular DAWS in the music world today, and any software that is compatible with it is a good thing.

The Akai MPK249 comes with 16 RGB illuminated pads, each with four banks, making a total of 64 pads that are all touch-sensitive.

Its USB-MIDI is a five-pin MIDI input & output. The MPK249 is optimized to directly connect to your Mac or PC and start working at the highest level. I have found that the MPK249 doesn’t have serious glitch problems like some of the cheaper MIDI keyboards out there.

  • 16 RGB-illuminated MPC-style pads
  • Comes with VIP3.0
  • 49 full-sized semi-weighted keys
  • USB-MIDI with 5-pin MIDI input & output
  • 24 assignable knobs, faders, and switches
  • Assignable foot-switch jack and one expression jack
  • Weight: 12.6 pounds
Overall

I can’t say enough good things about this keyboard from a studio or gigging perspective. Its extremely easy to use, high-quality, and portable.

Nektar Panorama P4

Panorama P4 49 key

The Nektar Panorama P4 is Nektar’s best MIDI keyboard. This keyboard is loaded with 12 pads with pressure and velocity sensitivity, 16 encoders, nine faders, ten assignable LED buttons.

A big feature of this MIDI controller is aftertouch on the semi-weighted keys. The keys on this keyboard feel good compared to other controllers.

Many musicians have mentioned that they are using this with the Logic DAW and that it is compatible with it. The good thing is that every DAW works really with this MIDI keyboard. Sometimes MIDI controllers can be flunky with specific DAW’s, not this one, though.

I like this product, and this is also one of the newer keyboards out there. I like the more recent developments because they typically have worked out bugs that other keyboards haven’t yet. One thing about the Panorama is that it is heavier than most at 17 pounds.

  • Aftertouch and semi-weighted keys
  • 16 encoders, nine faders, ten assignable LED buttons
  • 12 pads with velocity and pressure sensitivity
  • 17 pounds
  • Mod-wheel and pitch-wheels
Overall

I believe this is a great keyboard; however, I do prefer the T4 over the P4. If you’re digging the motorized controls, this would be your pick.

Akai Professional Advance 49

Akai Advance 49

The Akai Professional Advance 49 is a mighty keyboard for serious players. It has an extremely powerful engine, and it comes with a 4.3-inch high-resolution full-color screen with dedicated interface buttons.

This is high-end, and Akai’s nice thing is they come with great software, as noted above.

If you’re a musician looking for a keyboard for touring, we recommend the Akai Professional MPK249 because it will do everything you need and won’t be as expensive.

Let’s look at some features below:
  • Integrated 4.3-inch high-resolution full-color screen with dedicated interface buttons
  • The screen provides 1:1, real-time feedback of plugin parameters
  •  Eight large, endless, and continuously variable control knobs
  • 49 semi-weighted velocity-sensitive key-bed with aftertouch(These keys are a little stiffer, and they feel better to the touch than most controllers)
  • Virtual Instrument Player software for unprecedented virtual instrument preset management, control mapping, and multi patch creation
  • 8 velocity – and pressure-sensitive MPC pads with RGB illumination
  • Pad bank for octave, transport control, and performance buttons
  • Pitch and rubberized modulation wheels
  • Expression pedal inputs
Overall

I think that the Professional Advance 49 is solid. With this being said, I don’t know that I really would recommend it over the MPK249.

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S49 MK2

Native Instruments S49

This is extremely powerful and is a high-end MIDI controller. The quality of the Komplete Kontrol is top-notch. The key bed is a Fatar semi-weighted key-bed, and it is one of the things that makes this a standout instrument.

This MIDI keyboard controller comes with Komplete 11 select, which has some awesome software synths on it so you can immediately get started diving into sounds. One thing that the Komplete Kontrol doesn’t have is pads for launching clips or making beats.

This product is a bit more robust, requiring a more powerful MacBook or PC to run it. If you’re using a Mac or PC, you will want at minimum an intel core 2 duo with 6 GB of ram or more.

It has an excellent built-in pitch shifter that many users have left positive reviews on.

Some users have had problems with the controller not syncing with their computers and being buggy. Most of the reports are from people saying that it isn’t working with Pro Tools.

Features:
  • Pitch and mod wheels, plus touch strip for expression control
  • Fatar key-bed with 49 semi-weighted keys
  • Full VSTi support
  • Chord mode(plays chords by playing just one note)
  • Two high-res color screens
  • Weight: 15.4 pounds
  • Aftertouch
Overall

This is overall an excellent selection. It is expensive, but for some, it is perfect.

M-Audio Code 49

M-audio Code 49

The M-Audio Code 49 comes in black and white. This instrument has a very cool look and it and it has some serious power. I would say this is easily M-Audios’s most acceptable product, and it competes with some of the best on the market.

The Code 49 comes with 49 full-size velocity-sensitive keys and four assignable zones for layering and keyboard splitting. There are eight assignable 360 degrees encoders so you can see the VST’s you are using. I like this keyboard for making beats for hip-hop and electronic music.

This comes with Pro Tools, and it also comes with 16 velocity-sensitive pads for maximizing beat production. It also has an XY for HID control, and it is a unique way of controlling parameters in virtual instruments.

Features:

Novation Impulse 49

Impulse 49

The Novation Impulse 49 is loaded with features, and one of the things that stick out is the transport controls.

These buttons allow you to control your DAW with play, pause, record, rewind, fast forward, and a toggle switch.

A cool feature is the multi-function drum pads. These allow you to warp arpeggios, roll beats, and launch clips in Ableton Live. The Novation 49 comes with Automap 4, which gives you instant mapping to things needing to be controlled. It also comes with expression and sustain pedal inputs.

The Novation Impulse 49 comes with an entire DAW/plugin control surface, so you can take instant control of all of the major DAWS right from your keyboard. The only downside we could find on this instrument is the sliders feel on the cheaper end.

Let’s take a look at the specs below:
  • Automap software
  • Expression and sustain pedal inputs
  • Comes with Ableton Live Lite
  • Precision semi-weighted keyboard with aftertouch
  • Weight: 11 pounds
  • 5 pin MIDI in and out ports
  • Power: USB
Overall

I believe the Impulse is still a good option. It’s been around for a while now, and there are better choices; however, this is still high-quality.

IK Multimedia iRig Keys 

IK MultiMedia 49

The IK Multimedia iRig Keys is a reasonably new MIDI keyboard. This was built to be portable, and it works with I-phones, Ipads, Macs, and PCs.

The Irig keyboard isn’t going to give you the firepower that some of the other products will provide you, but it is suitable for being extremely portable.

This keyboard comes with a massive software bundle, so you can immediately start playing music with your instrument. It comes with touch controls, and this is something that some musicians either like or hate.

These touch controls control pitch and modulation. To use the strips, you just slide your fingers up and down, bending the pitch.

The iRig can run off batteries and or USB. I like keyboards that can use batteries just in case I break a USB cable and don’t have the time to buy a new one right away. The battery life on these is pretty good as well.

I like that the iRig comes with 8 drum pads for the musician. The drum pads enable the musician to be able to do more.

Features:
  • Fully portable, with an interface
  • Full-size velocity-sensitive keys
  • Comes with over $750 of VST’s
  • Headphone input
Overall

This is a great budget option for people with tablets, iPhones, and Androids. If you are in the market for a new tablet, check out this guide here where I break down the best tablets for music production

ROLI Seaboard RISE 49

Seaboard Rise

This instrument is crazy. I played this last year at a guitar center and spent a couple of hours messing around on it.

It doesn’t feel like a MIDI keyboard, and the keys take some adjusting to get used to it. It is fully Bluetooth compatible, making it unique because it doesn’t need a USB cable.

I have heard of defect problems with these over time. However, Rise said that this was only on the beginning models, and the kinks have been smoothed over.

This is definitely a different approach to a controller, but it’s a fun option if you want something different. I recently did a review of another Roli product that is similar. You can check out the Roli Songmaker Kit review here.

Features
  • Crafted using high-quality materials
  • hardware-software integration
  • Full MIDI compatibility with Bluetooth and USB
  • Comes with Equator, the first multi-dimensional software synthesizer
Overall

I think this good for producers who are looking to shake things up a little bit. There are others on this list that I believe there is much more user-friendly, but this has a place as well.

My Budget Picks

Below are our top budget 49 key MIDI controller picks.

Nektar Panorama T4 – Best Budget 49 Key MIDI Controller

Panorama t4

This is the successor to the Panorama P4. I think Nektar personally did a fantastic job with this product, and I believe it is truly one of the best on the market right now. I did a full review on the Panorama T4 here.

Overall

The Panorama T4 is a brand new keyboard that, in my opinion, absolutely rocks. What also makes the Panorama T4 so great is the fact that it is relatively cheap. Because of this, I would say it is the best 49 key MIDI keyboard near its price-point.

Launchkey 49 MKII

Launchkey 49

I found that the very first Novation Launchkey controllers were not very durable. Many of the faders and the pitch wheels broke off quite quickly, and the keys themselves were not what I had hoped for.

Novation has come a long way, and this is the 49 key keyboard we recommend for budget MIDI controllers.

This is explicitly made for Ableton Live to work with that daw right out of the box. The fader knobs on this product have been re-approached, and have gotten some positive feedback on them.

The Launchkey 49 comes with 16 assignable and velocity-sensitive pads. It also works great with all DAW’s, not just Ableton Live.

This is important because some products have problems with certain DAWS. The Launchkey would be a great instrument for someone just beginning to produce music and for someone who might be new to keyboards.

A Closer Look At the Launchkey 49

Novation has improved the aesthetic of their controllers as well. The Launchkey 49 II looks sleek with full-color RGB pads to match the color of your clips when using Ableton. This controller comes in at a reasonable price, and it is an improvement for Novation.

Some musicians swear by Novation. It’s all about user-friendliness and comfortability. The Launchkey 49 has a lot of different features for also being on the cheaper end.

Let’s take a look at the specs of the Launchkey below:
  • Maximum control with Ableton Live
  • 16 velocity-sensitive RGB pads, eight knobs for navigation and control
  • USB powered
  • Comes with software: Ableton Live Lite, Novation bass station, and V station
  • 8 knobs for tweaking your sounds
  • 16 RGB velocity-sensitive pads
  • Weight: 8.6 pounds
Overall

I believe this is a fantastic controller for beginner producers. It’s also suitable for producers who have a lot of experience as well. If you’re on a budget and looking for something relatively easy to use, this is your pick.

Nektar Impact LX49+

LX 49 +

The Nektar Impact will be a little bit cheaper than some of the other ones listed, and it comes with a little bit of a more reasonable feel.

However, we like this controller for someone who is just getting into MIDI controllers and not looking to spend a ton of money right away.

This has had some user reviews talking about the faders being on the cheaper side, but you will start to find this when you begin to get to the lower price range.

It comes with 8 assignable pads, and the keys are all full size. Some of the cheaper controllers will come with smaller keys, so this is a nice feature.

Roland A-49

Roland A-49

The Roland A-49 has a lovely key-bed. The topic of nice key-beds always comes up when talking about Roland keyboards. It seems like their key-beds are always quality.

Click here to check out my favorite Roland keyboards in 2021.

Something musicians talk about with this MIDI keyboard is the key-bed action feeling excellent.

The Roland A-49 comes with a D-beam controller. This is a Roland staple as it is on most of their keyboards. This is a synthesizer that allows you to play it by putting your hand over the D-beam sensor. It can make some crazy noises, and it also looks cool when you’re playing it with your hand in the air.

The Roland A-49 doesn’t come with as many features as some of the other controllers, but getting your basic needs done and being quality is good for that.

Features:
  • D-beam
  • Great synth-action keys
  • Transpose, octave, and pitch buttons
  • Very light-weight
Overall

I believe the A-49 is a great choice. It’s definitely on the cheaper end, and it’s super functional. I would recommend this as a more affordable option for musicians.

Samson Carbon 49

Carbon 49

The Samson Carbon 49 is a keyboard that is definitely more so on the budget end. This is going to give you the basic features of a controller at a lower price.

The keys are velocity-sensitive and it also has a sustain pedal input for sustaining notes. The best thing about this keyboard is that it comes bundled with some Native Instruments software, and it’s a cheap MIDI keyboard.

This controller feels a little bit cheaper and doesn’t come with any faders or drum pads. It comes with the traditional MIDI out and USB connections.

The feel of this key-bed is something many musicians are not huge fans of. This is mainly because this is meant to be an entry-level MIDI keyboard and not high-end. Entry-level controllers are suitable for being just that, entry-level.

Let’s look at some of the specs below:
  • 49 velocity-sensitive keys
  • Comes with Native Instrument’s Komplete Essential’s
  • 14 control parameters and dedicated transpose and volume buttons
  • 8.1 pounds
Overall

This keyboard is as basic as you can get. It’s cheap, it works, and it comes with some included software. 

M-Audio Keystation 49 II

MK 2 Keystation

The Keystation 49 II is a sleek and slim MIDI keyboard that doesn’t give you a ton of features, but it will provide you with the basics. It comes with 49 full-size synth-action keys that are velocity-sensitive. It doesn’t have any pads, knobs, or faders, so if you’re looking for something in that realm, this isn’t going to be your pick.

The Keystation 49 II is built for playing virtual instruments on your PC and Mac. This is extremely light, and this is one of the pluses. I would recommend this to people who don’t need a lot of features from a keyboard.

Modulation and pitch bend on the Keystation 49 II give it some excitement and allow the musician to get creative with their playing. Another plus is it comes with Ableton Live Lite for instant music production.

  • Weight: 6 pounds
  • Power: USB
  • Transport buttons
  • Modulation wheel
  • Pitch bend wheel
  • Octave buttons
  • Volume slider
  • 49 full-size velocity-sensitive keys
Overall

Overall, this is a primary controller that is decent. I would recommend others on this list over this one. If you’re looking to purchase on a budget, this would is the best 49 key MIDI controller under $100.

Things To Consider When Buying 49 Key MIDI Keyboards

Pads & Knobs
Rotary Knobs
Pads & Knob Layout & Functionality Is Important

The first 49 key MIDI controller that I owned was the original Launchkey. I liked having the 16 pads and eight knobs right next to each.

However, I was unimpressed with the durability and functionality of the knobs. They broke exceptionally quickly, and they were to the point that they were changing MIDI values without me even touching them.

One thing you should be aware of is that the knobs on controllers often feel pretty cheap. You will want to baby them as much as you possibly can. I know that seems annoying, but they are usually fragile.

Note: I broke my knobs while on tour, and it was frustrating to deal with it each night.

Pad functionality will vary significantly from controller to controller. You will want pads that work seamlessly with each DAW if possible. Also, try to stay away from places that double trigger often, as this is the most annoying thing in the world when tracking.

Keyboard Faders

The faders on your keyboard must be functional with different DAW’s and are durable. As you can see above, my first controller’s faders were not long-lasting. These faders would also change values on me and parameters while I was performing.

Make sure that if your keyboard has faders, they work. There’s no point in having faders that aren’t functional.

Type Of Keys

When deciding on which type of keyboard you want, you will want to determine what type of keys work best. There are a few different types of keys-beds that are worth mentioning here.

Synth-Action: Most MIDI keyboards are going to come with synth-action keys. This is one of the cheapest options for keys, but they do have use for MIDI keyboards. The keys are made of plastic, and they use springs instead of weights to return the keys to their original position.

Semi-Weighted: These types of keys are a mix between weighted keys and synth-action. They combine springs with light weights to return the keys to their original position.

Diagram of piano keys
Image Source: dummies.com

Conclusion

The best 49 key MIDI controller is currently the Novation SL MKIII 49. For budget picks, we recommend the Nektar Panorama T-4, 49 key MIDI controller.

5 comments
  1. If money is a not an option and you’re trying to decide between the AKAI MPK 249 and the Arturia MK2 Keylab 49 what would you pick?

    1. Hi Nathaniel,

      If money isn’t a concern, I would go with the MK2 Keylab 49. However, at that point, I would say to check out the brand new Novation SL MK3. It has a built-in sequencer and arp with great DAW control.

  2. Hey Chris,

    This is a GREAT, comprehensive analysis! I am torn on which to choose, I have the Arturia MiniLab now and like it for the DAW control. I would like to upgrade to the Arturia Keylab 49 to max my piano skills but already own the V7 collection so kind of pointless. I have the Maschine. Could the low-end Komplete Kontrol work as a DAW control for Ableton and to handle my Maschine? Or would you recommend the Novation? What about Nektarine for Ableton? I’m trying to max out at $400 or so. Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Toby! For that price point, I would suggest the Arturia Keystep Pro 37 key. This thing can control everything you need it to, it has aftertouch and it really is an advanced controller. You’ll be spending about $200 more if you go up in keys and want this same ability.

      If you want something that works well for playing the piano, I would also recommend saving up for a digital piano and using that for when you need to more keys to lay down some pianos! I use my Roland FA 08 for times like that.

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