Need help picking equipment (midi keyboard w/ pads vs. buy pads separately)


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I want to start producing my own music. I already own Ableton Lite and basic equipment for recording guitar (tube amp, recording interface, Shure SM57). But since I listen to a lot of metal with a keyboard element (Neurosis, Cult of Luna) as well as industrial/noise (Street Sects) and electronic (Nils Frahm), I'd like to bring synths and beats into my music.

My budget is around $300-350. Since I don't already own a DAW controller, I suspect that it would be best to buy some sort of midi controller. But I'm having a hard time deciding between the options.

Part of the issue is that I'm not sure whether 49 keys will suffice for my purposes or whether I'll miss having less than 61 keys. It would be preferable to have more keys so that I have the option to play some piano pieces.

The bigger issue is that I'm not sure whether I'm better off trying to get everything in one (a midi keyboard with built-in pads) or buying a keyboard and pads separately, investing more in pads and spending the rest of my money on whichever midi controller has the best feeling keybed.

There are a dizzying array of all-in-one options:
  • Akai MPK249 (over budget new, but someone is selling one used on Facebook for $250)
  • Alesis V
  • Arturia KeyLab Essential
  • Arturia KeyLab MKII (over budget new, but maybe within budget used)
  • Nektar Impact LX
  • M-Audio Oxygen
  • Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol (lacks pads, but perhaps the best option if I buy pads separately?)
  • Nektar Impact LX
  • Nektar Panorama T4
  • Novation Launchkey
And the main contenders for pads seem to be:
  • Akai MPD218
  • Korg PadKontrol (seems to be discontinued but maybe available secondhand/used)
  • Maschine Mikro MK2 (seems to be discontinued but maybe available secondhand/used)
  • Maschine Mikro MK3 (but I've heard that the MK2 is actually better)
  • Maschine MK2 Groove Production Studio (over budget new, but maybe within budget secondhand/used)
  • M-Audio Trigger Finger Pro (seems to be discontinued but maybe available secondhand/used)
I'm leaning toward the Akai MPK249 if I can talk a seller down to $200.

On the other hand, since I've heard mixed things about the pads on the Akai MPK249, and I've heard amazing things about the PadKontrol, Maschine Mikro MK2, and Maschine MK2 Groove Production Studio, I'm wondering if I should try to find one of those used instead. But if I did that, what midi controller would I get for keys/DAW control?

What would you do in my situation?
 
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If you are intending to play continuous pieces of music then keyboard feel will probably or rather should be at the top of your list.

I had an Arturia Essential, my advice on that model is to forget it, the other Arturia gets very mixed reviews from actual users.

NI has good feel but only the S model, that said MIDI is flaky with them as they are primarily intended to be used with their own VSTs and software.

I have tried the Nektar and Novation keys but passed on them.

Not tried the Akai but they do have good reviews.

Another to add to your list is a Roland A500/800, I had one and liked the feel of the keybed but swapped it for a DP as I wanted a hammer action.

As you probably have gathered by now, separate units would be my way to go if I was in your position, blowing the budget on a good quality keyboard that will last.
 
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Part of the issue is that I'm not sure whether 49 keys will suffice for my purposes or whether I'll miss having less than 61 keys. It would be preferable to have more keys so that I have the option to play some piano pieces.
If the ONLY reason you care about more than 49 keys is to play piano pieces, be aware that playing piano is not going to feel very piano-like on any of the low-cost 61s and you may not be happy playing piano on them anyway, in which case you might as well stick with the 49. A nice budget 49 is the Samson Graphite 49.
 
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For a piano like action perhaps increasing your budget will help you in the long term the downside is that the cost of them is quite high.

A studiologic SL 73 will give Fatar TP/100 hammer action (c$500).

A Yamaha P121 digital piano ($6000 will give you hammer action plus inbuilt instrument voices, amp and speakers for a portable unit. Mine integrates well with my iPad apps.

I am aware that I am suggesting you blow the budget but if you do you will have a good quality keyboard with 73 keys and one which should last you for many years. Having 73 hammer action keys will give you much better piano playing flexibility than a 61 or 49 key controller with semi weighted or synth action keys will.
 

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