There are many keyboards to choose from these days to suit any budget. So which one do you choose? If you are a new to piano what is the best beginner electric piano keyboard for your budget? If you are looking to upgrade your current piano, what is the best electric piano keyboard at the moment?
I’ll aim to help with your decision with the following article and briefly provide you with a piano buying guide.
Piano Keyboard Buying Guide.
I wrote briefly in another article about buying a piano and the benfeits between an acoustic piano or digitial. Acoustic pianos are excellent and although expensive, they generally sound great, play well and are an ornamental feature in a room. But for many, especially if you are a beginner, they are a costly investment and require maintenance with regular tuning.
I’m assuming you are looking to buy a digital piano, which are more economical, portable with good storage options.
The technology has improved immensely in the last 10 years. You get a lot for your money these days wth the quality of sounds and the instruments themselves improving all the time.
What’s your budget?
Have an idea on budget and, as with anything, you get what you pay for. If you are a beginner, you can get a decent starting instrument for under £100, but if you are looking to the long term, maybe look to invest more to avoid an upgrade too soon in the future. There are also options to rent a piano or pay using interest free credit, so consider these when deciding your budget.
With the improving technology, piano values will depreciate, but you can use this to your advantage.The second hand market on EBAY and similar is extensive as well as stores selling used instruments. You may be able to pick up a better quality instrument on your budget, by opting for second hand.
Try before you buy.
Even if you make the decison to buy online, go to a store and try playing a few pianos. Look online to find a good piano store as there are fewer than you think. They are scattered around and lots of the stores tend to be large with most of the well known piano brands available. So while there a few stores these days, be prepared to travel a little.
With your budget in mind and a decison made whether to buy new or secondhand, try out a few keyboards. Look for the well known established brands – Korg, Casio, Alesis, Yamaha, Roland, Nord for example. Ask in the stores for the opinion of the sales person as part of your research.
Try as many brands and keyboards as you can. Even try those that you consider to be out of your budget, so you get a feel for the reason they are more expensive.
The reasons tend to be the sound quality with upgraded speakers, touch responsive keys, whether the keyboard has the maximin 88 keys and the overall build quality of the instrument. Like anyting, you get a feel when something is cheap.
How many sounds are available?
Digital piano keyboards also ten to be versatile these days with many having dozens of instrument sounds. This can be fun initially, but can also be a distraction. My personal Yamaha Clavinova piano has many sounds, but I tend to stick with the various acoustic piano sounds.
As I write, I am currently looking to upgrade my piano (I will reveal my choice at the end) and the quality of the acoustic piano sounds is imperative to me. The number and quality of different acoustic sounding pianos is what I hone in to. The other sounds are fun, but more of a gimmick.
Learning tools and Connectivity.
Learning tools are a common addition on many instruments these days. A built in metonome is quite standard and some instruments have lights on the keys as a guide when learning a piece – a useful addition. Some keyboards, as with my current Yamaha, have a built in screen which displays musical tabulature of a song you are learning or listening to. It also displays the music from your own recordings.
A song you are learning can very often be slowed down with the tempo function.
Digital pianos can sometimes be connected to the internet these days via USB and some offer Bluetooth for wireless connectivity to your tablet.
Keyboard action and touch sensitivity.
If you’ve played an acoustic piano before, you will be aware of the physical characteristics of striking a key. When you hit a key a hammer hits a series of strings inside the instrument. If you hit the key very gently, you will hear very little or no sound. If you hit it hard you, will hear more volume. There is a resistance to this process and it is known as weighted action.
Some digital pianos mimic this weighted action and as a beginner, it’s a important consideration to learn on an instrument with weighted keys or a simulation of weighted keys. More expensive keyboard models will mimic acoustic piano weighted keys more accuratley and give the player a more realistic experience.
Some keyboards mimic the dynamics of volume by the striking of keys and this is known as touch sensitivty. Some models even allow you to adjust this or turn it off. The more closely a digital piano simulates the piano whether that be the physical action, wooden keys or sampling/simulation of sound, the more expensive they tend to be.
It’s worth mentioning Polyphony which refers to the number of notes that can be produced at once. Look for a keyboard that has a minimum of 32 note Polyphony.
With the above in mind, I’ve selected a few pianos in certain price ranges that are worth considering. These are simply my own opinions and I welcome any feedback – positive or negative. I’ll aslo show you my choice of new piano at the end, which is a high end, cabinet digital piano.
Alesis Melody 61 MK II £99.99
My first review is a keyboard package aimed at beginners of all ages.
It’s a great value package as the keyboard comes with a stand, a stool, a set of headphones and microphone for singing along to your favourite tunes.
The lightweight 61 keys are not full size, but to be honest, not too far off. A beginner will still find playing the keyboard a challenge and wouldn’t take long to adjust to a full size keyboard later on.
The keyboard has built in speakers which are adequate for the price. There are 200 sounds included with easy intuitive access to each. For this price, the sounds are ok and fun, but don’t expect concert HD quality. Sounds include acoustic & electric pianos, strings, woodwind, brass, guitars, synth and drums. Sounds can be combined in “Layer mode”.
Your playing can be accompanied by a built-in rhythm section with 128 to choose from. These can be adjusted with the tempo function. The keyboard also has a drum machine with the percussion symbols under the keyboard.
The keyboard includes 10 buit in songs to listen to or learn. The songs can be learned slowly and built up by getting the rythm together, then following the piece and finally playing ensemble with the piece in the backgraound. The 10 songs should keep you going for some time.
There’s a record mode, which will record the piano piece you are playing including any vocals from the microphone.
They keyboard has a powerpack included, but for added portability has the flexibilty of batteries. The 3kg weight also means it can be transported easily.
All in all this is a great value packaage for the beginner with the sounds, build quality and specs being a high standard for this price range.
Yamaha PSR F51 portable keyboard. £79.
This is a good entry level keyboard that wont break the bank. Yamaha have been making excellent, acoustic and digital pianos as well as portable keyboards for years. I myself have owned a Yamaha Clavinova since 2006, so I can attest to their build quality and sound. The keyboard comes with 66 keys and 120 voices, some of which are dual such as piano and strings.
There are backing tracks in various styles which will keep you busy for some time. There are 30 built in songs.
It is portable weighing 3.4KG and the dimensions will allow it to fir it the car or under the bed!
It qualifies for the minimun polyphony with 32 notes. The face of it is not the most appealing design and you may at first glance think the speakers wont perform, but the 8cm speakers are amplified by 2.5 watts. If that’s too loud, there is a build in headphone jack.
Learning aids include a built in Metronome, and a DUO feature that will allow teacher and student to play together. The tempo can be adjusted to also aid learning and the keybaord also offers a transposing function. But more than that, Yamaha have teamed up with a learning app called Flowkey. Check out a demo here at their website. As a Yamaha customer you get 3 months subscription free of charge.
The sounds are very good for the price, but bare in mind it doesnt have weighted keys, so doesnt have the feel of a traditional piano. But if you are a beginner, and dont want to spend more than £100, this a great starting instrument.
Yamaha NP-12 Piaggero Slimline Home Keyboard. £166.
I mentioned in the piano guide above the distraction of too many voicings. If you are lookingfor a high quality electric piano keybaord with quality piano and organ sounds without any gimicks the Yamaha NP-12 is a great choice.
It’s more expesnive than other entry level keyboards already mentioned, but there is a step up in quality for the price. There are 61 touch sensitive keys with non weighted keys. So you will get some realsim with an acoustic piano with the touch sensitivity.
The keybaord offers a simplistic framework and functionality offering 10 high quality sounds including acoustic & electric pianos, organs, harpsochords and strings. It’s portable weighing just 4.6 kg and it’s dimensions mean it can easily be folded away for storage or can be transported. It comes with a power pack, but also has the option of batteries.
The sounds from the two 2,5 watt amplified speakers is impressive. Two sounds can be added together and to top this off the digital reverb can be adjusted. If the speakersare not enough the headphone/output port can be connected to external amplification.
For this price, you would expect standard features such as tempo adjustment, a metronome and the ability to transpose the instrument to a differnet key and these are certainly included. It also has a USB port for connecting to a computer or tablet.
One negative is it doesn’t include a pedal. This is extra and would be required if you are looking to learn the piano seriously.
Casio CT-X3000 £259.
Casio have been around since the late 1940’s and are a huge brand. I grew up in the 80s in the Japanese Electronic consumer boom and Casio were big in calculators, watches, cameras and mini computers at the time. They also had toy keboards which were ahead of their time, but until a few years ago, I always thought of Casio as a provider of toy keyboards
They still have those keyboards available and I’ve nothing against them. Anything to get a child interested in music and away from the TV, video games or tablets is good with me and as a father I understand how difficult this can be. But Casio have a huge range of keyboards and digital pianos these days to cater for many levels of pianist and something for every budget.
It’s a very competititve market and Casio have the technology and brand to compete. Take a look at their flagship digitial piano – the CP 500 BP Celviano here costing around £3600 as I write. An amazing piece of technolgy and beautiful instrument.
For the basis of this review I’ve looked at a portable keyboard in their relatively new CTX range. There are 4 to choose from – the CT X700, X800, X3000 and X5000.
The CT-X3000 has 61 full size, touch sensitvie (but not weighted) keys with 800 tones which is huge for this price. They are reproduced through a sound source known as AiX, which also allows you to customise the sounds with reverb, chorus, delay and various Equalisers. The polyphony is 64 notes, which is ample.
Combine this with a huge library of 235 rhythms accross many genres and this keybaord represents an impressive piece of kit. The sound is delivered through two large speakers powered by two 6W ampilifiers and is excellent quality for this price. The speakers are housed in red headlights, that are striiking and may not be to everyone’s taste.
The CT-X3000 offers a recording function as you would expect, but it is enhanced with a 17 track MIDI sequencer. This was reserved for high end equipemt several years ago. 10 of your own compositions can be saved in the in-built memory or stored externall by plugging a flash drive into the USB port.
The keyboard has 30 built in songs, with a lesson function. Other standard features include a metronome and the ability to transpose. Something you dont always see on a keybaord in this price range is a pitchbend stick,
The keyboard comes with a power supply (batteries also an option), but no pedal or footswitch – personally an annoyance for me. There are audio input jacks together with the USB ports so you can connect the instrument externally or add an MP3 player for accompanyment.
it is portable, but quite heavy at almost 7kg.
The CT-X3000 is a solid built keybaord that and scream quality for this price. Casio have come a long way from their toy keybaords in the 80s. Be sure to give it a try if this is in your budget range.