Alesis Recital Review: Best 88-Key Beginner Keyboard?

Alesis Recital Review

Alesis isn’t a household name when it comes to the digital piano industry, but they’ve made a name for themselves in the realm of digital audio.

While their current product line consists of audio interfaces, speakers, and electronic drum kits, we’re going to focus on their digital pianos and keyboards.

The name Alesis isn’t synonymous with ‘high pedigree’, but they’ve made a niche for themselves targeting the entry-level market.

With their products, they aim to offer more for your money when compared to their competitors.

That said, there’s a reason Alesis isn’t as well known, and it’s not just that they’re new to the scene. Quantity doesn’t equal quality, and while experiences are subjective, I’ve never found Alesis’ keyboards to be particularly good.

When Alesis released their new line of keyboards, I was a little worried. Unweighted keys are a lot easier to get right, as semi-weighted keys add a layer of mechanical complexity. Add the Alesis Recital’s budget cost to the mix, and I became even more skeptical.

Alesis Recital front main

I’ll say this though – the Alesis Recital has the advantage of being one of the few budget keyboards with semi-weighted keys.

Not many keyboards in this price bracket can make that claim, so it’s particularly enticing for people looking for a budget practice option.

That’s not as positive a start to our review as usual, but we’re not here to judge the Alesis Recital based on my prior experiences.

Let’s dive into the review and discuss how the Alesis Recital stacks up as one of the cheapest 88-key beginner keyboards.

Below you can check the availability and current price of the Alesis Recital in your region:

US: ( What Retailer to Buy From )
Sweetwater Amazon B&H Photo Video
UK & Europe:
Amazon UK

Design

Note: In November of 2019, Alesis released a 61-key version of the Alesis Recital. The keyboards are very similar, except the Alesis 61 has 5 more sounds.

Here’s a quick rundown on the specifications of the Alesis Recital 88 vs 61.

 

As you’ll see from the comparison table below, the Alesis Recital seems to be a lot bulkier than other budget keyboards below $300.

Part of that is due to the weighted nature of the keybed (more on that in the Keyboard section of the review). If you’re planning on purchasing a portable option, this is not the way to go.

Alesis Recital unboxing

The actual body construction of the Recital is basic and what made it even more unfortunate is that it’s less than satisfactory.

While the quality of construction doesn’t have anything to do with the keyboard and sound quality, I bet all of us don’t want a lackluster product.

The body might be heavy, but this doesn’t share the same build quality as other digital pianos like the Yamaha P-series.

The body creaks when I’m moving it around, and this even happens when you play the keys hard while standing up. The sound isn’t overbearing, especially during play, but it’s noticeable, and it does get on my nerves when I turn down the volume.

The Recital is available in black and now in white finish.

 

You should also note that the semi-glossy, faux-metal style surface at the upper front panel is a fingerprint magnet, so try to hit the buttons accurately whenever possible.

The cheap build quality extends to the buttons and knobs. The buttons are “clicky,” but not in a premium, Korg Grandstage way. If you’ve used toy keyboards before, these might give a similar feeling.

Alesis Recital controls

The knobs also lack resistance, making precise changes hard to do. This isn’t a problem if you don’t intend on performing much, but I still think it’s a missed opportunity, especially given the powerful dual 10W speakers.

Negatives aside, the buttons have dedicated backlights, a nice intuitive feature that helps make things more straightforward. You’ll always know what sound or effect is active.

The lackluster build quality doesn’t affect the music rest either. Despite being made of plastic, it’s surprisingly sturdy and attaches well to the back of the chassis.

Alesis Recital design

Finally, let’s talk about the control scheme. In a world where many manufacturers turn to button and key combinations, it’s unfortunate that Alesis falls into the same trap.

If you intend to change settings like touch sensitivity or reverb depth, you’ll need to press and release the Metronome and Lesson buttons simultaneously. Then, you need to hit the corresponding keys across the keyboard to change your settings.

To know what each of the keys control, you’ll need to direct your attention to the user guide. Every time this happens, it’s a major inconvenience, especially once these controls get linked to important features like metronome tempo.

Alesis Recital side view

The upgraded Recital Pro from Alesis improves on this, going with a little LCD screen and encoder buttons for navigation. I understand that this is a common problem for most budget digital pianos, but I’ll call these problems out as I see them.

Keyboard

Semi-weighted keys are generally hard to evaluate. Unlike weighted piano-style keys or unweighted synth-action keys, we don’t have a solid point of reference to work with, so we need analogies to get our point across.

As a point of reference, I like my semi-weighted keys to have the best of both worlds. Hammer-action weighted keys are the best way to play piano parts, as they emulate the actuation of hammers striking strings.

The best semi-weighted keys (such as those on the Novation Impulse) emulate this feel with a subtle, soft ‘switching’ feel at the actuation point, which is a tactile way for performers to know where they are.

Alesis Recital keys

Unweighted keys might be synonymous with cost-saving measures, but they excel at organ and synthesizer parts, which occasionally utilize glides, which are hard to play on heavy, weighted keybeds.

Semi-weighted keys, such as those on the Nord Stage 3 Compact, are preferred by some players since they enable players to play into the keys while keeping the agility of lighter unweighted keys.

Both the Novation Impulse and Nord Stage 3 are tough contenders to match, but those are my golden standards and main points of comparison.

Unfortunately, the Alesis Recital doesn’t match up to the competition, and I personally consider these to be quite low on my list of semi-weighted keys.

Alesis Recital keyboard

My biggest complaint is that there’s a certain degree of ‘mush’, which makes me avoid playing into the keys.

The best way to describe this is that there seems to be some resistance or cushioning at the deep end of keypresses, and it doesn’t exactly feel natural either.

This strange feeling is a downer for me because, before that point, the keys come close to nailing what I seek in semi-weighted keys. They have a bounce on their return and there’s a nice ‘lightness’ initially, which is nice. It’s sad that the quality doesn’t follow through all the way.

Alesis Recital side keyboard

The biggest redeeming factor of these keys is their dynamic response. Despite some difficulties early on, once I adapted to the keys, I found myself playing parts accurately enough, with good enough control to go from soft to loud parts without much difficulty.

Also, I’ll praise Alesis for including 88 keys on the Recital. Most budget keyboards cut down the key count, giving only 61, which is fine for beginners but won’t cover more advanced pieces.

As they are, I don’t think these are the ideal keys for beginners. The key feel hits the uncanny valley of being too unreal, whilst still requiring a good bit of time to get used to.

I dislike recommending keys like this to newcomers if the end goal is to learn the real piano. The problem here is the adaptations needed to play the Alesis Recital well.

Experienced players will need to change how they strike the keys to accommodate the actuation points, and beginners may end up building incorrect muscle memory, a detriment in the long haul.

I’d recommend a well-reviewed unweighted keyboard over this, as the weightless keys don’t force you into specific playstyles that aren’t applicable to other instruments.

Of course, if you really want realistic feeling keys, check out our list of digital pianos for less than $500 for our recommendations. These fully weighted keys are designed to match the feel of real acoustic pianos and are the way to go.

Sound

The Alesis Recital’s best aspect is probably its sound. While you only have 5 sounds to work with, they’re all clean and clear, and that’s ideal for beginners.

Having good sounds are a must, as you need to hear your playing dynamics and any potential mistakes you might have made.

Alesis Recital front top

The default piano sound is decently sampled and delivers a good amount of dynamic variation through multisampling. Part of this could be attributed to the impressive stereo 10W speakers, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

The piano sound falls slightly behind when compared to better budget keyboards like Yamaha’s NP-32, but they’re perfectly fine for practicing.

grand piano

While the perfectionist in me would say that it’s a bit ‘hollow’ with thin mid frequencies, that’s a minor complaint that most beginners won’t need to worry about.

The piano tone does have a shorter sustain tail than I’d like though, and it’s particularly obvious if you decide to listen through headphones. However, this is another nitpick that beginners likely won’t notice, and it’s not really a negative either, it’s just something to consider.

instrument sounds

Apart from the piano tone, you also get an Electric Piano, Organ, Synth, and Bass sound.

All these sounds are generally usable, and I’m most impressed with the Synth sound, which is a lot better than the tacked-on synth sound you’d find on other budget keyboards.

If you know about synthesizers, these have a ‘virus’ warmth to them and are quite pleasing.

The bass sound is also nice to have, as it allows you to practice left- and right-handed splits with walking bass.

I will note that there’s no string ensemble, which is unfortunate. As many will know, the classic piano/strings combo is common in any pianist’s arsenal. If you’re a fan of ballads, you might need to look elsewhere.

Overall, sounds on the Alesis Recital are fine. While there isn’t a lot of variety, the sounds will get you through most practice sessions without much issue.


Effects

The Alesis Recital comes with a Reverb and a Chorus effect, and they’re a good way of adding space and spice to your playing.

In total, you get:

  • 3 Reverb Algorithms
  • 2 Delay Algorithms
  • 5 Choruses
  • Pedal Resonance

The reverb effects and the choruses are probably what will see the most use.

piano reverb effect

Reverb effects allow sounds to be placed in simulated spaces, such as a room or hall. The 4th and 5th Reverb effects also correspond to delays, though they aren’t tempo-synced and cannot have their timings modified.

Choruses give each sound a detuned, wide feel and are commonly used in conjunction with electric piano.

I like the 1st and 2nd levels of chorus, as they’re very subtle on the speakers. That’s ideal for most cases, and the choruses work best on the synth and electric piano sounds.

Finally, pedal resonance simulates how notes reverberate when the sustain pedal is pressed down. The manual claims this introduces rich harmonics and unique sound characteristics from real acoustic pianos, but I didn’t really hear this when I activated it.

Remember that the short sustain times means you don’t necessarily hear the effect for long times like you would on more premium digital pianos.


Polyphony

Alesis Recital Polyphony

What is Polyphony?
Polyphony is the number of notes a digital piano can produce at the same time.

Most of the contemporary digital pianos are equipped with 64, 128, 192 or 256-note polyphony.

You may wonder how it is possible to have 32, 64, or even 128 notes playing at the same time, if there are only 88 keys and we never play them all at once.

First of all, many of today’s digital pianos use stereo samples, which sometimes require two or even more notes for each key played.

Furthermore, using the sustain pedal, sound effects (Reverb, Chorus), dual-mode (layering), and even the metronome ticking sound takes up additional notes of polyphony.

For example, when you depress the sustain pedal, the earliest played notes continue to sound while you’re adding new ones and the piano needs more memory to keep all the notes sounding.

Another example of polyphony consumption is when you’re playing along with a song playback (can also be your own recorded performance) or auto-accompaniment.

In this case, the piano will need polyphony not only for the notes you’re playing but also for the backing track.

When you reach the polyphony cap, the piano starts to drop the earliest played notes to free up memory for new notes, which in turn affects the quality and fullness of the sound.

You’ll rarely need all 192 or 256 voices of polyphony at once, but there are cases when you can reach 64 or even 128 note limits, especially if you like to layer several sounds and create multi-track recordings.

It’s desirable to have at least 64 notes of polyphony.

The Alesis Recital has 128 notes of maximum polyphony. This is a high amount, especially amongst budget keyboards.

For reference, most budget keyboards have a polyphony count of 64 notes at best, so I’ll give props to Alesis.


Speakers

The Alesis Recital has dual 10W speakers (more than other keyboards at this price point) and these are powerful wattages that can theoretically fill out even medium-sized rooms without the need for external speakers.

However, I wouldn’t necessarily push the speakers that hard. While they sound great at reasonable volumes, they tend to distort when pushed too hard. While they can go loud, good sound quality diminishes.

Alesis Recital speakers

If you want to perform in front of an audience, I suggest getting an external amplifier.

Around usual volumes, the Recital sounds clean, yet there’s a bit of “behind the scenes” equalization being done to tune the speaker output. This means the sounds are clean and avoid the muddiness that most budget pianos suffer from.

Features

The Alesis Recital is light on features, but it does come with most of the essentials you’d want from a practice keyboard.

Alesis Recital keyboard

 


Modes

Layer and Split mode are included and will likely be used by people who want to dive into the world of keyboard-based performances.

Layer mode allows you to trigger two sounds simultaneously with each key press and can be used to add a sense of richness to your playing. This is engaged by pressing two voice buttons at the same time. An octave will separate both sounds by default.

dual mode layering

Split mode splits the keyboard into two halves. The split point is easily set too, just hold down the Split mode button and press the key you want to be the split point. It’s straightforward and takes advantage of the bass sound.

split mode

A Lesson mode is included and splits the keyboard into two halves of equal octave ranges.

This is designed for a teacher to sit alongside their student and facilitates easy demonstrations and teaching. It’s a nice feature to have if you intend to have lessons.

duet mode lesson mode


Functions

The Recital is light on extras, but it has a good selection of functions you can change

These include:

  • TRANSPOSITION. You can either move up or down a full octave in 1 semitone increments to adapt to unfamiliar key signatures.
  • METRONOME. A standard metronome is also included to facilitate practice. The metronome volume, tempo and time signature can be adjusted.
  • TOUCH SENSITIVITY. 3 different intensities are included, and an OFF option is also provided for fixed velocity.

Note, there is no option to change master tuning from the default 440Hz. Still, I don’t mind this since beginners should get used to the standard 12-tone equal temperament tuning system.

Connectivity

The Alesis Recital has a few of the standard connectivity options, but there’s also an unconventional inclusion as well.

Alesis Recital ports jacks

A Sustain Pedal jack is necessary for plugging in a damper pedal, and this is an absolute must for piano practice. Sadly, the keyboard itself doesn’t come with a damper pedal, which is unfortunate.

Stereo outputs are included, and while they’re marked as ‘Line Outputs,’ they’re in the form of RCA connectors, which feels a bit outdated, especially with most amplifiers operating with industry standard TRS jacks.

While you can always work with converters, this seems cumbersome. Instead, you can work with the TRS headphone output. While the main use will be to avoid disturbing your roommates when practicing, this can also serve as an output that connects to your amplifier or PA setup.

usb type b MIDI

Finally, a USB to Host port with USB Type B is provided. You can use this to utilize the Alesis Recital as a MIDI keyboard for Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) control. This is surprisingly robust, with multiple MIDI channels selectable from the internal firmware, but we won’t cover that in this review.

Check out our MIDI Connection Guide to learn how to connect the piano to different devices and what you can do once connected.

Notably, you’re missing an auxiliary stereo minijack, which would enable you to practice to backing tracks or songs from your smartphone. This is unfortunate, as that feature is standard for most keyboards and digital pianos.

Bluetooth is also absent, so you will need to get creative if you want to practice with accompaniment.

Accessories

Alesis Recital accessories

The Alesis Recital is light on the accessories and you will need to shell out a bit more cash to complete your practice package.


Pedal

I didn’t find any bundles on Amazon or Sweetwater that included a sustain pedal, so you’ll probably need to purchase one separately to get some actual practice done.

Since the Recital doesn’t support half-pedaling, you can get by with pretty much any sustain pedal out there.

Nektar NP-2

Nektar NP-2 sustain pedal

Our general recommendation is the Nektar NP-2, which is a cheap, well-built sustain pedal that avoids the increasingly common footswitch shape while still feeling good.


Stand

The Alesis Recital doesn’t come with a stand either, but that is expected. The good news is that it will work with most generic X- and Z-style stands, such as an affordable and sturdy RockJam Xfinity Double-X stand.

Rockjam Xfinity stand


Headphones

Alesis Recital Headphones

Headphones come in very handy when you want to practice in private, focusing solely on your playing and not disturbing others nearby.

Moreover, a good pair of headphones will provide a clearer and more detailed sound compared to the onboard speakers.

Check out this guide to learn how to choose the best-sounding headphones for your keyboard.

Summary

Alesis Recital Review

Pros
  • Very affordable
  • Full-sized 88-key keyboard
  • Decent sounds and speakers
  • 128-note polyphony
  • Can run on batteries
Cons
  • Keys aren’t that good despite being semi-weighted
  • Questionable build quality
  • Very limited sound selection

At first glance, the Alesis Recital seems like a no brainier. No other option at this price point gives you 88-keys and good sounds. When you add semi-weighted keys to the mix, it seems like the best option.

However, the keys are the weakest part of the Recital. This makes it an instrument I can’t recommend in good conscience.

If you remember what I noted in the discussion about the keybed, I said these keys might end up resulting in beginners learning some bad habits, and I stick by that.

The strange ‘mushiness’ took some getting used to. Even then, I felt like I wasn’t nailing down my usual practice chops the way I like.

While learning dynamics and key-recognition can be achieved with the Recital, nailing down the right playstyle is equally valuable, and the Recital doesn’t really do that for me. You’d get a better, more transferrable experience with realistic weighted keys or even simplistic unweighted keys.

The lackluster build quality is also something to note. While it could be an issue isolated to my test unit, I’ve seen people complaining online, which means the issues might be more widespread.

Hopefully, Alesis can step up quality control in future releases.

I say that because apart from these complaints, the Alesis Recital gets quite a lot right. 5 sounds seem like very little, but they sound great, and 10W speakers are unheard of at this price point.

A few improvements here and there and Alesis might have a winner on their hands.

As it is now though, I’d just suggest considering other, more reliable options such as those we covered in our sub-$300 article.

These might seem less flashy than the Recital, but they’re solid choices for beginners and will allow you to build up the right fundamentals to set you down the path of becoming a professional musician.

Below you can check the availability and current price of the Alesis Recital in your region:

US: ( What Retailer to Buy From )
Sweetwater Amazon B&H Photo Video
UK & Europe:
Amazon UK

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