In the world of keyboard controllers, 49 key MIDI controllers are the new standard.
How did 49 become the new 61? No one knows, I would assume a great deal marketing and cost-effective engineering, but that’s moot, the point is that the new standard in music production is the 49 key keyboard controller.The best 49 key controllers need to posses the ergonomic qualities of their 25 key counterparts while achieving the expanded functionality of their 61 key predecessors.
Many companies have failed at making truly special 49 key keyboard controllers, but the following 5 keyboard controllers are the best of the bunch.
Alesis has gone through its ups and downs since being acquired by Akai, but that hasn’t stopped the company from making great pieces of gear. One of those great pieces of gear comes in the form of Alesis’ 49 key MIDI controller, the VI49.
Alesis’ V and VI lines are generally the same, with the VI giving a better feel and feature set than their V counterparts. As an affordable keyboard controller, the VI49 is feature rich, with a quality build. It includes a well placed velocity-sensitive drum pad bank, full-sized velocity sensitive keys, an array of knobs and 36 programmable buttons. When it comes to 49 key MIDI controllers, the VI49 is a great place to start that is immediately usable for a novice but playable for a professional.
- Keybed: 49 full-sized velocity-sensitive semi-weighted keys with aftertouch that are quite playable.
- Pitch Bend / Modulation: Oddly placed above the drum pad bank for an aesthetically pleasing design, but a bit strange for a function that has basically been in the same place on ever controller in history..
- Pads: 16 velocity-sensitive RGB backlit drum pads that also work for launch clips in Ableton Live.
- Build: Lightweight, and slim for everything that’s here.
- Knobs: 12 assignable endless encoders..
- Faders: None.
- Pedal Inputs: Sustain only.
- Octaves: Up and Down.
- Extra Features: Comes with Xpand! 2.
Novation’s LaunchKey is really their version of a beginner’s 49 key MIDI controller. The LaunchKey series is really a really simple plug-and-play solution that followed the same thought process as Akai’s MPK line launch. Novation’s Launchpad technology has little launched them to the front lines of the Ableton induced dance music epidemic.
Unlike its smaller counterpart, the Launchkey 49 makes the best use of its space with no worry of over crowding over or underperforming making it one of the best 49 key MIDI controllers available on the market today. That, and paired with its iOS device support, color coordinated Launchpads for clip control in Ableton, an
- Keybed: Synth-style velocity-sensitive 49 key keybed.
- Pitch Bend / Modulation: Both present. Both fine.
- Pads: 16 velocity-sensitive RGB backlit trigger pads.
- Build: An ergonomically slanted casing for ease of use for controls.
- Knobs: 8 knobs
- Faders: 9 faders
- Pedal Inputs: Sustain
- Octaves: Both Up and Down with transpose function.
- Extra Features: Full transport control, 2 multi-function programmable round buttons, 3 InControl buttons for DAW control, 4 GBs of Loopmasters content and Addictive Keys.
When a company comes out with an updated version of a product, but the keeps selling, promoting and manufacturing the original for the foreseeable future, that speaks volumes about the product. The craftsmanship that Akai put into their flagship keyboard controller, the MPK49 is a prime of example of the old adage, “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Yes, the 49 key MPK isn’t as feature rich or future focused as its predecessor, but it doesn’t make the original obsolete. The MPK49 has the original thick MPC drum pads unlike the 2 which includes the MPC Renaissance styled pads that are more responsive but not gonna cut it for an MPC truest. That being said, the users’ main gripe with the MPK49 is that its 12 pads need to be finessed and adjusted sometimes to get a better playability.
- Keybed: 49 semi-weighted keys with aftertouch.
- Pitch Bend / Modulation: Rubberized and backlit.
- Pads: 12 real MPC drum pads with 4 banks each.
- Build: A very durable and hard plastic.
- Knobs: 8 endless encoders with 3 banks each.
- Faders: 8 faders with 3 banks each.
- Pedal Inputs: Sustain and footswitch
- Octaves: Yes
- Extra Features: There are also 8 backlit button switch buttons that are assignable to anything you want.
M-Audio has had a spotty track record when it comes to its foray into MIDI controllers, but after years of practice, their premium keyboard controllers stack up to the competition. M-Audio’s advanced 49 key MIDI controller offering, the CTRL49, continues the trend of putting full-color screens in keyboard controllers. Aside from this new addition, the CTRL49 is packed with MIDI controller mainstays like faders, drum pads, encoders and a fully mappable transport.
Bucking against the status quo of Native Instrument’s NKS technology, M-Audio’s CTRL49 works seamlessly with its own proprietary software, VIP. VIP can load plugins, patches, and map directly to key parameters. VIP allows users to mix, match and layer sounds while also enabling an organizational system that can sort based on instrument type, artist/preset creator, timbre, name and other individualized markers.
On the downside, even after its acquisition by Avid, M-Audio still makes really bulky gear that generally a bit weighty.
- Keybed: 49 full-sized velocity-sensitive semi-weighted keys with aftertouch.
- Pitch Bend / Modulation: Both present. Both fine.
- Pads: 8 RGB backlit velocity and pressure-sensitive drum pads with roll, time division and arp functions.
- Build: This is a bit on the heavy side, but that is a specific testament to the quality of it’s build.
- Knobs: 8 endless encoders with LED indicators.
- Faders: 9 faders, with a primary master fader.
- Pedal Inputs: Sustain and Expression pedal inputs.
- Octaves: Yes.
- Extra Features: There is a full color screen, M-Audio’s NKS rival, VIP, comes standard, full transport controls, programmable buttons and more.
The Max49 may be Akai’s least successful controller to-date, but it doesn’t make the 49 key statement piece any less of a workhorse or work of art. Lying somewhere between the design of 2000s MPCs and the layout of the MPK, the Max49 is a little clunky, but a lot of power. Seemingly made for performance, or the extra heavy lifting of intricate MIDI tasks, the Max49 includes real MPC drum pads, CV outputs, a Gate function, LED indicated touch faders, a built-in sequencer and a host of other top-tier features that making this perfect from the stage to the studio.
In a striking chrome red finish, Akai’s Max49 is a showpony that was taken to pasture too soon.
- Keybed: 49 velocity-sensitive semi-weighted keys with aftertouch.
- Pitch Bend / Modulation: Sadly, the pitch bend and mod wheels are the most standard thing on this controller
- Pads: 12 Real RGB backlit MPC drum pads with Note Repeat, Full Level and the iconic MPC Swing with 4 banks each.
- Build: Solid, this could go on the road with you if need be.
- Knobs: None.
- Faders: Touch faders with LED indicators.
- Pedal Inputs: Footswitch, Sustain and Expression Pedal Inputs
- Octaves: Of course.
- Extra Features: Mackie HUI controls to completely control DAWs, built in 32 step step-sequencer, CV and Gate outputs for use with vintage synths, time controlled arpeggiator modes and more.