Recommend a Synth/Controller for ~$200


I'm looking for a Synth/Controller for around $200. I've never gotten much into stuff like this before so I don't really know what I'm looking for. I know that I want something to use with EZDrummer. I also want something with a large library of organs and synths. What do you recommend?


Scott, this totally depends on what you need to do!

The first thing you need to do is determine how many keys you actually need. The most common are 25, 49, 61, 76, and 88. 88 is how many keys a real piano has. 61 is typical for most "standard" synthesizers. Fewer than that become difficult to play two-handed, and involve a lot of transposing to get the range you need, but there has been an emphasis on "desktop" controllers in recent years that make the smaller footprint and lower price attractive to all the wannabe producers (not to mention most of them can't play anyway, so they don't need but a couple of keys for what they do).

Next, you need to determine how many "controls" you need. A "controller" keyboard is one that doesn't have it's own sounds and is used simply to input MIDI values. Those values can be sent by the Keys as "Note Messages" and that's what the basic ones do. When you start adding sliders and knobs, those are typically "Assignable Controllers" that allow you to have those knobs and sliders control various aspects of your DAW. For example, you can move Slider 1, and that could be set up to adjust the Volume of Track 1 in your software.

So if you need or want that feature, it's very important to find a controller that's compatible with your software - many controlles now come with "maps" that have a preset that you can use to control Logic, or Pro Tools, etc. They usually have a number of preset maps and some user ones you can create your own with. Likewise most software has the ability to map control messages sent from the keyboard (literally called Controller Messages, or Control Change values (CC#)). So sometimes, if your software supports it, any controller will work, but with other software, it may be necessary to have the ability to map from the controller (and/or have some presets available). Finally, in some cases you can choose whether you map from the controller or software and it may not matter as long as both support it.

Having onboard sounds pretty much makes it a "synthesizer", though synths can have assignable controls as well and send controller values.

That's not going to happen in your price range (think more like a grand) so your best option would be to look for a controller that comes with some free plug ins or a sound library that you can install (check compatibility with your DAW and OS!).

In recent years, companies have taken advantage of the wannabe producer set and made things more and more cheaply, and throw in "freebies" that aren't really worth anything (often demo versions trying to get you to upgrade or "teasers" as it were).

We used to have some first generation M-Audio Oxygen 61s at 3 workstations and I just retired them after about 7 years of students banging on them. But the 2nd generation and 3rd generation ones we bought later had to be put to pasture earlier! They just don't make them like they used to!!!

So in that price range, a lot of them are just cheaply made.

If you don't need a lot of keys, and want more sounds, I'd look at something like the Arturia Keylab. It focuses on a lot of vintage synth style sounds, but there are probably plenty to work with.

Another route however is to spend money on a plug-in suite of synths (the market has gotten tight there so it's a "you get what you pay for" market so pretty much anything the same price will be of the same general quality, just focusing on different sounds) and then just get a controller with no software.

BTW, most of them that say "bundled software" - the software bundle is usually that for the controller itself so you can assign parameters and edit the presets on the keyboard using your computer - not sounds. Again, you often get some demo or "lite" versions of other software, but in recent years they've become less and less usable.

Watch out for "mini-keys" - some of the smaller/cheaper controllers don't have full size keys - especially those with less than 49 keys.

We have 20 M-Audio 61 Keystations - those are basically nothing but keys and no knobs/faders. If you pick it up by one corner, the whole thing flexes and twists! I'd be afraid of the durability on something like that.

I have a Roland A-800 Pro ($400) that I used live and it held up for consistent friday and saturday night gigs (with a few weekdays) - but came with no sounds - only the software that lets you assign it (which works really well albeit rudimentary interface).

This can be a money pit - it's kind of like you could buy an interface, or a mic-pre and DA converter. Or, gain in an amp, or gain pedal on the floor. Which way you go depends on your needs and the depth of your wallet.

Oh, also, since you're talking about drums - you can play them with the keys on the controller (though may need to transpose to access the right sounds) but many people like having pads instead. The Alesis VI25 has pads in the same price range as the Arturia, but no sounds (AFAICT).

So, at that price range - it's a lot of trade-offs - more keys means less (no) other features. More sounds means less keys. Pads may mean fewer keys and no sounds, and so on.

Honestly, to get something that would more likely work for you, you'd need to be looking more in the Arturia Keylab 49 range ($350) or Alesis VX49 or Arturia Keylab 61 ($400). Otherwise, get the best "plain" controller for $200 (Roland A300 or Alesis VI49 at a touch above $200) and wait and buy plug-ins for Synth/Organ sounds in the future (or spend money on them separately).

Don't buy anything Berhinger, and I would stay away from M-Audio based on my most recent experiences with them. But there's a reason the Roland 32 keys cost as much as the "we got into the market because we saw there was money to be made" brands that have 49 or more keys!

You know, I'm on the southside so if you ever want to talk let me know.



Student of Life
Gold Supporting Member
I just got a Novation Launchkey 49 and it's the one I choose after comparing everything in its class. Well made and works great

Novation Launchkey 49, 49-key USB/iOS MIDI Keyboard Controller with Synth-weighted Keys


I've got an Oxygen 24 which gets used 80% of the time, a Keystation 66 which I use live, and an Akai APC mini I use to launch Ableton loops. None of the midi controllers come with sounds, those are called synths. Midi controllers just control software sounds.

I agree with the Novation suggestion. I should've got an all in one solution. Although I like the fact that my MacBook, APC mini and Oxygen all fit into a backpack.


Dang Twangler
I have an M-Audio Axiom 49. The keys feel good, and it has drums pads, transport controls, and assignable buttons and faders. No issues with it. Solid.

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