The keyboards I’m reviewing today are all-around $100. I’m going to be covering the pros and cons of each one of them.
Make sure you read until the end of the post and you may discover a feature you never knew you needed. Leave a comment below to let me know which of these keyboards is your favorite.
First, let’s compare the two keyboards with full-size keys. Yes! Full-size keys for $100.
If you want full-size keys that feel really good in a clean form factor and you’re willing to sacrifice some functions for a lower price, buy the V25 by Alesis.
This keyboard is currently $84 on Amazon. The cheapest keyboard in this comparison. It comes with a nice clean editing software to customize your device.
So how did the keys feel?
Well with the factory setting, I really needed to bang on the keys to play louder, but after I adjusted the velocity curve in the software I was very happy. The key bed is my favorite of all of the 25-key keyboards in this comparison.
The pads feel good too but it’s a little bit too easy to trigger them twice accidentally. The four assignable buttons are nice. You can assign them to transport controls in your DAW so that you can play, stop, and record, or do whatever you want.
You’ve also got four customizable knobs as well. The Alesis V25 has fewer knobs and buttons than the others in this comparison so you’ll have to pick and choose what you’re going to control.
How about the included software?
It comes with Ableton Live Lite and Xpand 2 by Air which is a nice virtual instrument with a ton of sounds! Excellent to get you started. Now the Alesis does not map Ableton controls automatically. You have to do that yourself when you set up.
By the way, Alesis also makes a mini version of this keyboard – the same features, smaller size if you don’t care for the full-size keys. But this version is still very portable. I can’t say that about our next keyboard.
Nektar Impact LX 25+
If you want lots of DAW control but you don’t use Ableton Live buy the Nektar Impact LX 25+. First of all, this is not a traveling keyboard. It’s big but it may be quite nice for live performance.
It’s got full-size keys and they feel really good but I don’t like the loud springy sound that the keys make. It makes the keys feel cheap. This keyboard has so much DAW control and I quickly got accustomed to the intuitive workflow.
I love the button that switches the knob controls from DAW control to virtual instrument control. However, the knob size and spacing are not optimal in my opinion. They’re a bit too tall and too close together.
The dock control features worked very well when I tested it with GarageBand, FL studio, and Logic. The Nektar Impact includes Bitwig eight-track, which is a light version of a nice DAW with built-in instrument sounds.
But the Impact is not Ableton friendly. Although there are configuration instructions for Ableton, I couldn’t get the knobs to work and without clip triggering it doesn’t make for a good Ableton controller. If you’re an Ableton user my next keyboard is for you.
Novation Launchkey Mini
Now let’s get to the Novation keyboard. If you’re a live looping Ableton user and want easy control for recording and triggering clips and scenes, buy the Novation Launchkey Mini.
The keys are small – similar to the Akai MPK Mini. They feel softer, squishier to the press. But they’re surprisingly expressive. You get 16 pads! More than any other keyboard I’ve reviewed.
I’m really impressed with the sensitivity and feel of the pads as well. They feel decent for finger drumming even though they’re pretty small. The Launchkey has some extra tricks up its sleeve for the pads. You can use them to trigger clips and scenes.
When I tried this in Ableton it was instantly super fun. You can launch clips and scenes and trigger clip recording. It’s so simple and great for live looping. You also get eight knobs which controls Ableton instruments and effects.
The Novation Launchkey Mini does an excellent job mapping controls automatically.
Why is this important? Well, you’re gonna spend more time making music and less time setting up and mapping your keyboard.
The downside with a Launchkey is the lack of some standard MIDI keyboard features. There’s no sustain pedal port or dedicated pitch and modulation wheels. That’s really surprising for a MIDI keyboard these days.
It comes with Ableton Live Lite, your choice of a piano by XLN Audio and Novation V Station and Bass Station plugins, which look outdated but actually sound really good!
Native Instruments M32
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – If you’re ready to dive into the deep end of virtual instruments and you need a keyboard to help you find and control sounds it doesn’t get better than the M32 by Native Instruments.
This is the keyboard many of you were waiting for! Unlike the other keyboards in this post, the M32 has 32 keys. It’s the first portable keyboard by Native Instruments with mini keys, yet it packs all the functionality of the larger A-Series keyboards.
The M32 delivers a serious collection of sounds and a good launching point for collecting a ton of amazing instruments. It comes with a wide range of excellent Native Instruments sounds and the Maschine beat making software it also includes Ableton Live Lite.
The downside is that the M32 does not have drum pads like all the other keyboards. If you need a combo keyboard pad device you need to look elsewhere. Also, the M32 is the most expensive in this round up at $130.
This keyboard comes with a small screen that gives you a window into what you’re doing on your computer. The M32 is fully integrated into Komplete Kontrol, the Native Instruments software and it makes it very easy to find and control sounds.
Arturia Minilab Mk II
We’ve got two more to go but first, if you think you need to upgrade to a more powerful keyboard with more keys the Arturia’s Keylab MKii – it’s got a ton of features and superior DAW control.
If you’re looking for a keyboard that will help you sculpt sounds and give you excellent Ableton Live control buy the Arturia Minilab Mkii.
This keyboard has solid construction and the keys are slightly larger than other mini keyboards. The Minilab includes the highly coveted Analog Lab software that gives you amazing control of vintage synths. It also includes Ableton Live Lite.
I didn’t love the pads on this keyboard but the Ableton integration was excellent.
Akai MPK Mini
Lastly, if you’re looking for a mini keyboard with excellent drum pads and a variety of performance features for any DAW buy the Akai MPK Mini.
The Akai’s drum pads have the best sensitivity of all the keyboards in this review. It has buttons to activate the arpeggiator and note repeat. These are great for playing live. The keys are okay.
It’s small and light but it feels kind of cheap. The included VIP software looked promising but didn’t work as advertised for me. If you can get it to work, it looks like it would be useful, I must mention M-Audio keyboards as well.
Even though I didn’t have one for this review, I have owned one in the past the M-Audio Oxygen 25 has full-size keys and many of the features of other keyboards in this review.
Many owners comment that the keys have a very good velocity response. If you have any questions leave them in the comments below.
Keep making the music you love.