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How We Decided
  • 59 Models Considered
  • 48 Hours Spent
  • 2 Experts Interviewed
  • 211 Consumers Consulted
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    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Shopping Guide for Best Digital Keyboards

    The best digital keyboards on the market deliver high-quality sound with weighted keys that simulate the expressivity of a real piano.

    Many manufacturers claim their products replicate the sound of an upright or grand, but some models are truer to their acoustic predecessors than others.

    If you’re looking to buy a digital keyboard, you’ve come to the right place!

    At BestReviews, we perform extensive research and interview experts in order to determine the best of the best.

    We never accept free products; we use our own funds to purchase the same off-the-shelf products that you do.

    After we’ve put them through their paces in the BestReviews lab, we donate the products to charity.

    Please read on to learn more about digital keyboards. And when you’re ready to make a purchase, we invite you to refer to the above product matrix for a description of the top five digital keyboards on today’s market.

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    Using a digital keyboard, an amateur musician can create music that would ordinarily be a challenge for professional composers and instrumentalists. What’s more, the price of these instruments has fallen dramatically in recent years.

    Traditional or Experimental Use: You Decide

    When shopping for a digital keyboard, there are essentially two paths you can take.

    Some people seek an instrument that duplicates the performance of a traditional keyboard, such as a piano or organ. Others seek a multifunctional synthesizer primarily for personal entertainment.

    • A digital keyboard with 88 weighted keys and sustain pedals is ideal for student rehearsal.

    • A small synthesizer with fewer spring-loaded keys is generally better for recreational use.

    The idea is to match the user with the right type of instrument.

    Missy
    EXPERT CONSULTANT

    Missy holds degrees in music education and psychology. She is a certified K-12 music teacher with 18 years of experience in Michigan public schools. In her spare time, Missy performs with an eclectic mid-Michigan band called The Honeybadgers.


    Missy  |  Music Teacher, Musician
    Comparison

    Digital Synthesizer Advantages

    Modern digital synthesizers have removed much of the “work” from musical performance. Here are a few examples:

    • With the press of a button, you can launch a sophisticated rhythm track complete with bass variations, drum fills, and intro/outro options.

    • On some keyboards, you can press a button that automatically adds the appropriate chords to a single-note performance.

    • Keyboards often include digitally sampled voices that can mimic a saxophone, string orchestra, or horn section instantly.
    DID YOU KNOW?

    Today’s digital synthesizers use pre-recorded sounds, whereas the analog synthesizers of the past manipulated electrical signals to create sound.

    Comparison

    Traditional Keyboard Advantages

    Other digital keyboards may not be as flashy or versatile as synthesizers, but they serve a different purpose.

    Many music students do not enjoy easy access to traditional pianos or other keyboard instruments. One affordable solution is to purchase a digital keyboard that duplicates the action and touch of a real piano, including weighted keys and all three sustain pedals.

    • Some models have additional voices, such as “organ,” “strings,” and “brass.” A few incorporate the same digital voices as synthesizers.

    • These instruments may not include rhythm tracks or automatic chord programs, but they work well as in-home rehearsal instruments for both students and those interested in pursuing music at the professional level.

    Pianos usually have three pedals: the soft pedal, the sostenuto pedal, and the sustaining (or damper) pedal.

    Staff
    BestReviews

    Action

    Traditional piano keys are mechanical levers. The performer depresses a key that engages an internal hinge and hammer. The hammer strikes the piano's tuned wires, creating a note. A cloth damper then presses on the string and ends the vibration. This design puts weight on the keys, and piano students eventually develop a performance technique based on that weight.

    A digital piano doesn't have hammers, so it relies on internal technology to simulate the action of an acoustic instrument. Poor action can cause a player to use heavy finger force just to get a sound out. Good action feels and sounds like an acoustic instrument without excessive finger force.

    EXPERT TIP

    Weighted keys are an important feature for performers, but they’re not essential for the casual player. However, rehearsing with weighted keys makes the transition to a traditional piano much easier.


    Missy  | Music Teacher, Musician
    Action

    Williams Allegro 88-Key Digital Piano

    The Williams Allegro has weighted keys that attempt to simulate the sound of an upright, rather than a grand, piano. The price is low, but the action lacks somewhat because of it. Players find it necessary to hit the keys harder than they would a real upright. If you're not looking to wow audiences with trills and fast musical passages, this could be a sufficient choice for you.

    If you’re looking for a lower-priced instrument that’s suitable for both beginner and intermediate pianists, the Korg SP170s could be the right choice for you.

    Staff
    BestReviews
    Action

    Casio PX850 Privia 88-Key Digital Piano

    The Casio PX859 recreates the sound of a grand with its Tri-sensor scaled hammer action keyboard. Adding to its authenticity is the fact that you can lift the lid of the Casio, further simulating the grand sound. Users are generally satisfied with the sound quality, but some report a distracting key-clacking sound that appears after several weeks of use.

    Action

    Roland F-140 Digital Piano

    The Roland F-140 features a patented SuperNATURAL Piano Engine that delivers a wide range of realistic sounds. The action of this model was intended to be an improvement over Roland's FP4F and RD300NX, but it ends up being about the same as the previous models. Nevertheless, Roland does a good job re-creating the sound of a grand for an admirable price. Some owners have noted that the keys make a distracting clacking sound after a few weeks of use, but we didn’t find this to be an issue with the vast majority of owners.

    Action

    Yamaha ARIUS YDP-181 Electronic Piano with Bench

    Yamaha's ARIUS YDP-181 features a graded hammer keyboard with realistic action that allows for the articulation of trills and other fast musical passages. The action is weighted and sometimes actually feels stiffer than a real piano — a pleasant surprise to those who have become accustomed to mushy plastic keys. This keyboard is not easily portable, but its sophisticated musical action would be suitable for both amateur and professional performers.

    EXPERT TIP

    A grand piano has a horizontal frame and strings, and the strings extend away from the keyboard. An upright piano has a vertical frame and strings and is therefore more compact.


    Missy  | Music Teacher, Musician

    Touch Sensitivity

    Touch sensitivity takes the concept of “action” one step further. A touch-sensitive keyboard allows the player to convey the emotion of the music by depressing keys with varying amounts of pressure and velocity. Many digital keyboards have special sensors that measure the amount of pressure and speed performers place on each key. A lighter touch often results in a softer tone, while a heavy or fast touch creates a louder note with a faster “attack.” This is a useful feature during performance, since part of what makes music interesting to the listener is a change in dynamics.

    Touch sensitivity

    Williams Allegro 88-Key Digital Piano

    From key to key, the touch of the Williams Allegro satisfies basic musical requirements but is somewhat inconsistent. Players can still create music with expression, but they might find themselves focusing on finger pressure more than they would with other models. The organ and string voices are less affected by this inconsistency, making it a fair choice for those who want to play around with non-piano sounds. The instrument comes with a basic sustain pedal, but no soft or sostenuto pedals, which probably wouldn't be a problem for most amateurs.

    Are you considering buying a digital keyboard so you or another piano student can practice at home? Some students find it difficult to practice on a digital keyboard at home and a traditional piano at school or lessons. Buying a digital keyboard with weighted keys can help make this transition easier.
    Touch sensitivity

    Casio PX850 Privia 88-Key Digital Piano, Brown

    The Casio PX859 Privia offers three levels of touch sensitivity. The advanced AiR sound system (Acoustic and intelligent Resonator) does a good job creating longer natural decays for greater expression. The keys are meant to feel similar under the fingers to the ebony and ivory of a real grand, but some users disagree with this claim. The instrument comes with three built-in pedals – damper, soft, and sostenuto – which is an advantage over keyboards with only one pedal and contributes to the instrument's artistry. Overall, this piano is a sufficient mid-quality product that encourages expressivity in beginners, intermediates, and professionals alike.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    The soft pedal softens a note. The sostenuto pedal, the least-used of the three, sustains selected notes. The sustaining (or damper) pedal is the most commonly used and sustains all the damped strings.

    Touch sensitivity

    Roland F-140 Digital Piano

    The keys of the Roland F-140 offers five levels of touch sensitivity for a greater-than-average degree of musical expression. The keys of this piano have a more authentic feel than some of its competitors. The Roland's SuperNATURAL engine successfully delivers a wide range of tone colors and timbres depending on the velocity at which each key is struck. This model includes three pedals – damper, soft, and sostenuto – which add to the player's vocabulary of expressivity. In general, customers are satisfied with this keyboard and most others in the Roland line.

    Touch sensitivity

    Yamaha ARIUS YDP-181 Electronic Piano with Bench

    The Yamaha ARIUS YDP-181's designated TOUCH button allows users to choose between hard, medium, and soft settings. TOUCH can also be turned off for organ playing and other stylings. The keyboard comes with three traditional pedal functions – damper, sostenuto, and soft – for added freedom of expression and also includes a half-pedal capability that simulates the action of a real human foot. This instrument yields a degree of artistic expression that is suitable for beginners and professionals alike.

    The Yamaha keyboard comes with three traditional pedal functions – damper, sostenuto, and soft – for added freedom of expression.

    Staff
    BestReviews

    Features

    Some digital keyboard manufacturers like to pack as many additional features as possible into their high-end models, but shoppers should avoid the temptation to upgrade without cause.

    There are additional features that enhance or improve performance, but there are also add-ons that casual users don’t need. Composers may want to create and store original tracks, for example, but most players, rehearsing the work of others, will not.

    Below are some additional features student musicians and casual players should look for when shopping for a digital keyboard.

    EXPERT TIP

    Having the option of 500+ digital voices may be enticing, but it is not always worth the upgrade from the standard 100+ voices found on most synthesizers today.


    Missy  | Music Teacher, Musician
    Features

    Sustain Pedals

    An important element of performance is the ability to sustain a note or chord for a long time or close it off immediately.

    Traditional pianos accomplish this through the use of several foot-operated sustain pedals. These pedals move the dampening board closer or further from the piano's strings.

    Many digital keyboards designed for rehearsal offer all three sustain pedals, but others offer only one pedal as an add-on feature.

    In an ideal world, all rehearsal pianos would include all three sustain pedals, as dynamics are considered part of the musical piece itself.

    Staff
    BestReviews
    Features

    Outgoing Ports

    Digital keyboards should have the capability to communicate with the outside world through external ports. The two most important features to look for are an external headphone/amplifier jack and a MIDI connector.

    The onboard speakers on most digital keyboards, even on the higher end, can only produce a limited amount of sound, so the synthesizer needs the ability to connect with a mixing board or powered amplifier rated for keyboards.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    MIDI is an older digital technology which allows digital instruments to communicate with each other and with a compatible computer.

    Features

    Pitch Bend Controller

    One very useful addition, especially in terms of performance, is a pitch bend controller. Usually found on the left side of the keyboard, a pitch bend wheel is a spring-loaded switch that can “bend” a note several tones above or below its original setting.

    Using a pitch bend wheel on an electronic keyboard often improves the authenticity of a voice’s sound.

    Many professional players deliberately bend notes during solo performances to add a different feel, like a blues note or a jazz trill.

    Staff
    BestReviews

    Polyphony

    A keyboard's polyphonic capacity reflects the number of pitches that can be held and/or sustained at the same time. Once a keyboard reaches its polyphonic maximum, the pitches begin to cancel each other out. In general, the higher the polyphony, the better.

    Polyphony

    Williams Allegro 88-Key Digital Piano

    The Williams Allegro offers 32-voice polyphony, the lowest level available. This lower level, combined with the presence of only a damper pedal, limits the expressivity of the instrument somewhat. The Williams also offers a menu of eight different tone choices – a smaller offering than some models but still fun for kids and amateur composers who want to play around with sound. With many positive customer reviews under its belt, this budget instrument is a good choice for those who seek a basic, functioning piano.

    EXPERT TIP

    Having a sustain option is a good idea for even casual musicians, since many voices sound more natural or fuller when sustained.


    Missy  | Music Teacher, Musician
    Polyphony

    Yamaha ARIUS YDP-181 Electronic Piano with Bench

    The Yamaha ARIUS YDP-181 offers 128-voice polyphony, allowing for a satisfying level of expression in sustained and legato passages. It offers a menu of 14 different tone choices. These features, combined with the stiffer and more realistic touch of the keys, make the Yamaha one of the most gratifying instruments to play in terms of artistic expression and performance quality.

    Polyphony

    Roland F-140 Digital Piano

    Roland's F-140 features satisfying polyphony that allows for good expression and a robust sound, especially when the sustain pedal is applied. Its menu of 305 different tone choices includes a fun array of timbres with which amateurs and curious students can experiment.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    A keyboard is not designed to duplicate the mechanics of a saxophone or trumpet or strings. However, a keyboard with touch-sensitive keys is better able to allow a string section to build slowly or a trumpet to belt out quick, sharp notes.

    Polyphony

    Casio PX850 Privia 88-Key Digital Piano

    The Casio PX859 Privia offers excellent 256-voice polyphony. This high number of sustainable voices allows for great expressivity and is especially gratifying for intermediate students who wish to focus on honing their artistic expression. Its menu of 18 different tone choices is sufficient for most amateurs, although a recording composer might wish for more choices.

    The Yamaha ARIUS YDP-181 offers 128-voice polyphony, allowing for a satisfying level of expression in sustained and legato passages.

    Staff
    BestReviews

    Price

    Digital pianos range in price from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Higher-priced models claim to have better action and touch sensitivity and are targeted at serious and professional musicians.

    Price

    Williams Allegro 88-Key Digital Piano

    The Williams Allegro is one of our cheapest models. Considering that you get 88 keys for $399, this piano is a decent choice for beginner students and others who aren't picky about tone quality and expression. It does not come with a stand; buyers must purchase one separately or use a desk or table at home. In the long run, serious students may find they wish to replace the Williams with something that captures the musical nuances that come with advanced piano study, but it's a sufficient workhorse for a beginner.

    It’s easy for beginners to feel overwhelmed when they first start taking piano lessons. After all, there’s so much to learn: rhythm, note reading, posture, physical coordination. Find a teacher who is patient enough to go slowly. Sometimes, a beginner needs to be taught the same thing many times before it “sticks.” This is normal.
    Price

    Casio PX850 Privia 88-Key Digital Piano

    At a cost of $949, the Casio PX859 Privia's greatest strength is its 256-voice polyphony. Tone quality approaches that of a grand and offers a unique lid-lifting capability not seen in most models at this price point. This keyboard is heavy and comes in a cabinet made of average materials that would fit in with the décor of most homes.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    Under ideal conditions, a digital keyboardist can approximate the playing style of a particular instrument. But no one can duplicate the signature sound of a performer like Charlie Parker or Louis Armstrong with digital technology.

    Price

    Roland F-140 Digital Piano

    At a cost of $1199, the Roland F-140-WH Digital Piano is neither the cheapest nor the most expensive model out there. Although Roland's model makes no great strides over its previous models, the product is a solid one with an excellent capacity for musical expression. If you don't mind a heavier keyboard (96 lbs) and the sleek, contemporary cabinet in which it is housed, this could be the right choice for you.

    Price

    Yamaha ARIUS YDP-181 Electronic Piano with Bench

    At $1699, the Yamaha ARIUS YDP-181 is the most expensive of the top models, but it is no doubt worth the investment. For the price, you get a sturdy cabinet keyboard from a reputable company with a tradition of excellence, as well as a matching bench. The Yamaha's action and touch sensitivity surpass that of the other models, delivering a satisfying, grand-like experience for all who play it. 128-voice polyphony and a smaller library of tone choices could be a slight negative for some, but overall the instrument is extremely dependable one, offering excellent sound rendering and the capacity for a joyful, realistic performance experience.

    A traditional upright piano for $50 may sound like a bargain. But don’t forget about the associated delivery, installation, and tuning charges. These expenses can add up quickly.

    Staff
    BestReviews

    Notes on Amplification

    When used as an in-home rehearsal instrument or recreational synthesizer, volume is not usually a major consideration. The onboard speakers should deliver enough power to fill a small room with sound.

    However, there are times when a home digital keyboard may have to fill some much larger shoes. Under these conditions, even the most expensive synthesizer speakers could be drowned out by other instruments or lost in the expanse of an auditorium. This calls for serious amplification.

    Below are some ways to get it.

    EXPERT TIP

    Digital samples are added to a single processing chip in a synthesizer, so when a keyboardist selects a voice such as “violin,” the base soundwave is actually an authentic reproduction of a real violin.


    Missy  | Music Teacher, Musician
    Amplification

    Plug into a powered bass or keyboard amplifier

    It is important to remember that an electronic keyboard is a charged instrument, which means it already has electrical power running through it. An electric guitar, on the other hand, has no power of its own until it’s plugged into an amp

     A charged instrument can easily overpower an amplifier designed for an electric guitar. A bass amplifier or a special keyboard amplifier is designed to handle a much more powerful load, so a keyboard player needs to make sure the keyboard's volume output is reduced to avoid a blow-out.

    You could buy a professional wireless system with a transmitter plugged into the instrument and a receiver on the amplifier, but these systems are expensive and difficult to find.

    Staff
    BestReviews
    Amplification

    Feed the keyboard into a mixing board or pre-amp

    A safer solution for keyboard amplification is to plug the synthesizer into a mixing board first and then adjust the channel to the proper balance. This is a workable solution for church and performance halls where the player can hear other musicians and the keyboard through monitors or PA speakers. An experienced sound mixer should be able to monitor the keyboard's channel and keep everything in balance.

    Amplification

    Use a wireless lavalier microphone

    There are times when a wired instrument can be a safety hazard to others or a small sound system has no available channels. One low-tech solution is to attach a wireless lavalier microphone to one of the keyboard's external speakers and mix it into an existing channel with a wireless receiver. The keyboard and player can be positioned anywhere within the microphone's range, and the sound can be balanced through the mixing board.

    EXPERT TIP

    One of the first things beginning piano students learn is how to locate middle C. On a full-size piano, middle C sits close to the middle of the keyboard.


    Missy  | Music Teacher, Musician

    Pros and Cons of Digital Keyboards

    Digital keyboards run anywhere from less than $100 for an entry-level Casiotone to $3,000+ for a professional-grade Korg synthesizer. As such, it’s important for shoppers to understand the pros and the cons of digital keyboards at all price points.

    Pros:

    • A digital keyboard is easier to transport than a traditional piano or organ. Even the lightest practice pianos weigh several hundred pounds and are not designed for portability. A music student can install a digital keyboard in a small apartment or bedroom with minimal assistance.
    DID YOU KNOW?

    Sometimes the difference between a $500 practice keyboard and a $1,500 digital piano is largely cosmetic. But other times, the differences really do affect performance quality.

    • Digital keyboards rarely require maintenance. The electronic components of a synthesizer are not designed to go out of tune due to atmospheric conditions or rough handling.
      If a digital keyboard does need to be tuned to another instrument, it's only a matter of turning one knob or adjusting a setting.
    • Synthesizers can make amateur musicians sound nearly professional. Traditional piano or organ lessons stress the fundamentals of music along with performance, which some may find frustratingly slow.
      Modern synthesizers, on the other hand, encourage beginners to experiment with rhythm tracks and voices first. Chords can be added automatically, as well as bass accompaniments and other advanced musical support.
    EXPERT TIP

    Traditional acoustic pianos require regular maintenance and tuning to remain in proper condition. Digital pianos don’t require tuning.


    Missy  | Music Teacher, Musician

    Cons:

    • Many digital keyboards do not duplicate the action or touch of an actual piano or organ. A lot of smaller synthesizers use lightweight plastic keys that are spring-loaded for easier playing. The keys themselves may be smaller in size than traditional keys, and there may not be 88 of them.
      Making the transition from a lightweight digital keyboard to a traditional instrument is often a challenge.

    • Most digital keyboards only synthesize the voices of instruments; they don’t fully recreate them. Although the original sound source may have been a real instrument, digitizing and synthesizing that sound for a keyboard affects its characteristics.
      Listeners are not necessarily going to mistake a digital saxophone or trumpet for the real thing.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    Synthesizers allow for self-taught “one-finger wonders” to perform recreationally without much formal training at all.

    Yamaha ARIUS YDP-181 Electronic Piano with Bench

    BEST OF THE BEST

    The Yamaha Arius stands out as the clear winner of our Best of the Best award. The instrument's weighted keys are a delight to play, and the sensitivity settings and half-pedal option set the stage for true artistry. The instrument does not produce the annoying “clacking” sound of some of our other models, and the cabinet is by far the sturdiest and most aesthetically pleasing for the home. This instrument is ideal for all skill levels and comes from a reputable company with a long history of customer satisfaction. This instrument earns our highest recommendation as the best digital keyboard on the market.

    The Yamaha's action and touch sensitivity surpass that of the other models, delivering a satisfying, grand-like experience for all who play it, setting the stage for true artistry.

    Staff
    BestReviews
    If you’re an adult looking to take beginning piano lessons, you can easily find age-appropriate material from the likes of Faber, Bastien, and other popular sheet music publishers.

    FAQ

    Q. My son just started taking piano lessons. Do I need to buy a practice keyboard with 88 weighted keys?

    A. Ordinarily, you would want to match the rehearsal instrument with the performance instrument as much as possible. If your son’s instructor uses a traditional piano with weighted keys, then investing in a similar digital keyboard would be ideal. However, these instruments can be very expensive. For the short term, a younger player just learning the fundamentals of music can practice scales and basic melodies on a smaller keyboard with fewer keys.

    Q. How do digital keyboards duplicate the sounds of so many instruments so well? If I close my eyes, I swear there's a real sax player in the room.

    A. Synthesizing authentic instrumental voices was a major problem with earlier generations of digital keyboards. The few voices featured on these instruments sounded very little like the real thing. But the invention of digital-sampling software revolutionized the industry. Sound engineers recorded real musicians performing on real instruments under laboratory conditions.

    Q. Why does my new electronic keyboard sound so tinny? I like to play it for fun, but the sound isn't very good.

    A. This is a common problem with entry-level digital keyboards. The low cost of a voice-sampling chip makes it possible for manufacturers to include hundreds of decent instrumental sounds, but the onboard speakers haven't been upgraded as well. The top synthesized sound generator is still going to sound tinny or distorted when played through a low-quality speaker.

    The best solution is to look for an outgoing RCA or headphone jack and run the keyboard through an auxiliary input in a home stereo system, or use a bass or keyboard amplifier.

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