In our opinion, 49 keys on a MIDI keyboard is best for the average studio or most performers on stage. It isn’t too little and it isn’t too much — in terms of statistics, it is the most owned key count in the entire music equipment realm. There’s a lot of upside to a 49 count: you can use both hands sufficiently, it doesn’t take up too much space in your studio or on stage, and tend to be in the middle in terms of price range. On top of it all, many companies now provide software bundles in the packages as well, so if you’re in need of some music software, VST, FX and more, you’re in an even better position to grab a MIDI keyboard.
I’ve heard of a lot of people liking the 25-key or even mini route for various reasons, so if you’re interested in saving money check out our best 25 key midi keyboard article. However, you’re here for a reason and if 49 keys is your thing, we’ve found the best 49 key midi keyboard controllers and will highlight our favorite as well as others to take into consideration.
The best 49 key midi keyboard controller
The Novation Launchkey 49
After much debate and research, we’ve decided to go with the Novation Launchkey as the best 49-key MIDI keyboard controller. The price, overall stability\build and key\pad quality, as well as the assignable knobs and buttons for functionality is way too solid vs. competitors. Novation music is becoming one of our favorite brands and they continue to improve upon their tool-belt with the Launchkey models of MIDI keyboards. Aside from the well-made keys and 16 velocity-sensitive pads, if you’re looking for a 49 key MIDI keyboard there are other functions a controller must have. Although you could ultimately get away with not having them, this keyboard has a pitch and mod wheel, 8 assignable faders, one master fader, 8 assignable buttons, an octave up/down and more. All of these assignable buttons and faders can be mapped with major DAWs, especially Ableton Live (I’d hope so, it comes with it), Logic Pro, FL Studio, Reason and Cubase. The keys are synth-styled, having pretty good quality just behind the semi-weighted keyboards that cost an extra $100-$200 — it is feasible. We love this 49 key MIDI keyboard.
Another huge plus with the Novation Launchkey 49 is the software bundle that comes with the package. Although a lot of us have our DAW, VST’s and supplemental programs set up for our studio already, it’s never a bad thing and we feel you can never have too many tools. This is even more important if you don’t have a preferred program to make music in yet. What usually bugs us is a company’s incorporation of software bundles to jack up the price of a MIDI keyboard, but with the Launchkey being around only a few hundred dollars retail we can’t complain. It comes with Ableton Live Lite, Loopmasters sample pack, V-Station and Bass Station soft synths, and their beloved Launchpad and Launchkey synth apps — better yet is these are all compatible with Mac and PC.
All in all, the Novation Launchkey 49 is our pick for best 49 key MIDI keyboard controller. If you decide to grab one, it’ll be a great investment in terms of being easy on your wallet, lasting you quite a few years of music making, and you’ll be happy with the overall build and functionality of the controller. There are of course better MIDI keyboards out there, but for a higher price tag, which we’ve listed below.
If you do want a few more keys and prefer to compare and contrast some price tags, be sure to read our 61 key MIDI keyboard guide as well. Otherwise, below are a few more 49-key controllers we recommend checking out if the Launchkey isn’t for you.
Other 49 key MIDI keyboards to look at
If you’re on a budget and don’t necessarily need pads on your MIDI keyboard, take a look at this one. It supplies you with the necessary functions a 49 key MIDI keyboard controller needs without a lot of flash and software bundles, being friendly on your wallet and giving you the raw keyboard addition to your studio.
The M-Audio Oxygen 49 includes 8 assignable knobs, 9 sliders, a dedicated transport and track select buttons for custom sound mapping. To add on, it has ‘DirectLink mode’ which provides instant mapping to DAW functions. It is bus powered, has a sustain input and allows you to use 4 velocity curves and 3 fixed velocity settings, compatible with all major DAWs. Grab this if you want to save money and don’t need pads attached to your MIDI keyboard.
The Novation Impulse is one of Novation’s older models of MIDI keyboards, but it’s extremely solid in terms of key-make: they are ultra-responsive, semi-weighted and have a nice feel to them. It maps well with most DAWs out there and also has the standard assignable buttons and knobs: 8 knobs, 9 faders, 9 buttons, a mod and pitch bend wheel. Their built-in Automap 4 control software helps make it easier to link the keyboard with your DAW and plug-ins if you need the help.
The Impulse 49 also comes with a solid software bundle of Ableton Live Lite, their Bass Station synth as seen in the Launchkey as well as the Loopmasters sample pack. The only down side would be the smaller pads but if you want the software and a Novation-made keyboard that’s a step above the Alesis check this one out. It won our best MIDI controller for Logic award.
M-Audio Axiom AIR
This is a very solid make by M-Audio music gear and since we’re big fans of their equipment we wanted to add this one in. As it is the same price as the Impulse, we need to compare the two and let you decide which one you’d prefer. It has 12 pads as opposed to 8 and comes with Pro Tools Express and Ignite creation software instead of Ableton Live Lite.
The keys are also synth-action, being a bit more springy than keys that are semi-weighted. These are more preferred for synth-type of producers as the keys bounce back up more quickly allowing you to play in a faster manner. The M-Audio Axiom AIR 49 has 8 rotary knobs, 8 faders with function buttons and the standard pitch bend and mod wheels. You can also use a custom velocity curve for playing and the sustain and expression pedals are a huge plus if you will be using them. A very solid 49 key MIDI keyboard.
We’ve always been huge fans of Akai Professional equipment, but because of the price we couldn’t choose this one as the “best” since the Novation is half the cost. However, if you do have the money and want a better build overall and nicer quality drum pads, not to mention an array of software included in this one as well (a better bundle than any other keyboard in our opinion), we recommend getting an Akai MPK249 (the higher model made it as the verdict in our 61 key controller guide).
This is an upgrade of their MPK49 MIDI keyboard that has been extremely popular since it’s release. This has a lot of capabilities, including 16 velocity-sensitive, RGB backlit pads, 8 assignable knobs, faders and buttons for a total of 36 combination, sustain and expression pedal inputs, great mapping with popular DAW. Another huge plus and something that may be a giveaway if you’re looking for software is their bundle: Hybrid 3.0 synth, Ableton Live Lite, SONiVOX Twist 2.0, and MPC Eseentials. A must have if you can afford it.
Check out our in-depth review of the Akai MPK249 MIDI keyboard.
Novation SL MKII
This thing is crazy, as it should be for 5 bills. This is the highest we’ve seen a 49 key MIDI keyboard go and we’ll explain why: It has a giant 144-character LCD screen for extra visual aid, includes their Automap 3 PRO control software for easy integration with the major DAWs, and the key-make is just great — velocity-sensitive, semi-weighted with aftertouch (assignable). It has expression and sustain pedal inputs, MIDI in and out ports, as well as USB powered. It comes with Ableton Live Lite, Novation’s Bass station synth, Loopmasters sample pack and ‘Mike the Drummer’ sample pack.
The Novation SL MkII 49 weighs about 12 pounds. The reason this is so expensive is because the build is beastly (keys are ‘italian made’) and it also comes with an X-Y control pad if you you’re into that sort of thing. 8 enconders, 8 pots, 8 sliders, 8 drum pads — the works. I’ve read some reviews that the pads aren’t too ideal in terms of make and are a bit smaller in terms of positioning, but they work as intended. If you’ve got the dough, you’re in for a treat.
For more info on other options, check out our top 10 best MIDI keyboards post.
This is one of our other favorite MIDI keyboards in terms of being budget-friendly. Alesis music equipment has shown us that they can really compete within the MIDI keyboard market as this also includes the standard assignable buttons, knobs, as well as decent-quality pads. The Alesis VI49 has 16 velocity-sensitive RGB backlit drum pads, full-sized semi-weighted keys with aftertouch, 12 assignable knobs and 36 buttons, as well as pitch bend and mod wheels too.
Since you’re spending only $200, you’re sacrificing a few things: the lack of software bundle (although it does come with Ableton Live Lite, an essential program if you don’t have a preferred DAW yet), and a bit lower quality pads and keys. This one came close to being our pick for the best, one of the reasons being it hasn’t been out for very long so we aren’t too sure in terms of long-term stability. However, definitely give this one a look if you’re on a budget.
Read our full review of the Alesis VI49 MIDI keyboard.