Note: Due to rising inflation, the prices of piano keyboards have increased by 10-20%. As a result, some of the models discussed in this article may slightly exceed the budget we’ve set.
Learning to play a musical instrument requires a lot of practice, and having your own instrument is a must.
Lacking a proper setup for practice can stifle the learning process, which is something to avoid at all costs, particularly when you’re already spending money on lessons.
So what do you do?
That’s what we’re going to find out in this article!
Beginner Keyboard Pianos: What to Look For?
For absolute beginners taking their first steps into the world of piano playing, I suggest spending no more than ~$500 for your first digital piano or keyboard.
You’re just starting out and nothing feels worse than spending thousands on an instrument you eventually find out isn’t something you truly love.
The budget keyboard market is not exactly renowned for its quality offerings and it can be difficult to find reviews online that accurately represent the product.
These are geared towards beginners after all, and a beginner’s opinion may not accurately reflect how the keyboard actually performs. Fear not, though, because we’ve combed through the herd to find the best of the best.
Practice makes perfect, and while practicing on any instrument will inevitably garner results, it’s worth investing in a good platform to practice on.
Regarding the budget market for keyboards priced below $500, I’d divide it into two segments:
Portable Keyboards Under $300 (focus of this article)
Digital Pianos Under $500
For the thrifty spenders, there’s this category. First things first, this group can’t really include true digital pianos. Instead, you’re getting portable keyboards that lack the realistic keys of their more expensive counterparts.
Most of the time you’re not even getting a full 88-key keyboard either.
That’s not to say these keyboards are inferior. They often come with a lot more sounds and extra bonuses, like rhythms, accompaniments, and built in lessons.
This does come at the price of lower quality sounds (especially the pianos), but they are still good enough for basic practice.
There are also keyboards that sacrifice features and give you nothing but the absolute essentials, which will also be covered below.
The main issue here is the compromises. The lack of weighted keys means you can’t truly practice finger strength and technique, which makes these a less viable option in the long run.
So are these even an option? As you might have guessed from the title of this article, they are indeed.
These are ideal for kids and young adults who need a basic practice keyboard and will serve them well enough until they commit and can afford an upgrade (that or deciding that the piano isn’t for them).
Similarly, if you’re constantly on the go, it might be worth considering a sub-$300 keyboard.
In fact, all our featured recommendations support batteries as a power source, making them even more ideal for travelling musicians.
We’ve covered the sub-$500 keyboards previously and I still believe this is the straight up best starting point for a beginner.
The keyboards in this price range are excellent for learning on and can even serve you up to an intermediate level thanks to their features and feel.
Bumping up your price range to $500 gives you a full-size, 88-key, fully weighted keyboard that emulates how a real piano feels, making it perfect for learning how to play the piano.
This is further enhanced with the keys’ hammer action, which adds to the authenticity of the keys with a force-feedback that makes playing even more realistic.
The sounds are also well-sampled for the price. Older keyboards relied on fewer sample layers, which meant that pressing a key harder simply triggered the same sound at a louder volume – not too realistic.
Modern keyboards are much more proficient in this regard and react just as real pianos do.
Of course, adding a bit more to the price can get you a better keybed and extra features, but all the keyboards recommended in our previous article are perfectly fine for players or learners looking for a practice instrument.
In this article, we’ll be focusing on the sub-$300 keyboards that give you the best bang for your buck.
Normally, for entry-level pianos I recommend searching for the following:
- Keyboard with fully weighted keys
- Good, realistic piano samples
The former is not a commodity offered in this price range, but I focused instead on choosing the best keyboards that I consider suitable for my normal practice routines.
I’d like to reiterate that these aren’t the best option by any means, and I certainly would recommend jumping up to the $350-$500 range if possible.
Before proceeding with the guide, I’d like to cover the main terms and features you’ll need to know when picking a keyboard.
Modern acoustic pianos have 88 keys. Most keyboards and digital pianos have 88, 76, 73 or 61 keys.
73 keys are enough to play most (99%) modern pieces. Some advanced (classical) pieces require a full set of 88 keys.
There are 3 most common types of actions:
1) Non-weighted – most organs, synths and entry-level keyboards are not weighted.
2) Semi-weighted – common action for budget portable keyboards (usually cost < $300). Spring-loaded mechanism adds more resistance to the keys compared to the non-weighted action.
3) Fully weighted (hammer action) is designed to replicate the action of a real piano. It uses small hammers (rather than springs) attached to each key to recreate the mechanical movements found inside a real piano.
If your main goal is to play piano that you’ll definitely want a keyboard with hammer action keys.
It’s the key action that feels close to the real piano keys and will help you build proper finger strength and technique, making it much easier to transition to an acoustic in the future (if you decide to).
Touch sensitivity (a.k.a velocity sensitivity or touch response) is a very important feature of any keyboard or digital piano, which ensures that the volume produced by the instrument will change depending on how hard or soft you play the keys.
It’s not a big deal nowadays as almost any $150+ keyboard have touch-sensitive keys regardless of its action type.
Much more important is whether the keyboard is weighted or not. Keyboards with fully weighted action often have adjustable touch-sensitivity so you can adjust it to your playing style.
Polyphony is the number of notes a digital piano can produce at the same time.
These days, most 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 together.
First of all, many of today’s digital pianos use stereo samples, which sometimes require two 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.
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.
For an intermediate player it’s desirable to have 128 notes of polyphony or more.
Along with the standard “Single” keyboard mode, digital pianos often offer additional modes that allow you to use two instrument sounds at the same time or playing four hands.
Here are the most popular modes that digital pianos have:
1) Split Mode – divides the keyboard into two parts, allowing you to play a different instrument sound in each of them. For example, you can play guitar with your left hand and piano with your right hand at the same time.
2) Dual Mode (Layering) – allows you to layer two different sounds so that they sound simultaneously whenever you press a key. For example, you can layer strings with the piano sound or combine whatever sounds you like to get some new interesting combinations.
3) Duo Mode (a.k.a. Duet Play, Partner Mode, Twin Piano) – divides the keyboard into two halves with identical pitch ranges (two middle Cs) allowing two people to play the same notes at the same time.
Duet Play is particularly useful when you use it with your teacher or tutor who will play you some tunes on one side of the keyboard, and you’ll be able to follow along on the other side, playing the exact same notes at the same time.
Some digital pianos allows you to turn off the left- or right-hand part (track) of a song (preset or downloaded from the Internet) and practice it, playing along to the playback of the other part.
Pianos that have this function usually have a multi-track MIDI recorder.
A MIDI recorder allows you to record and play back your own performances without using any additional equipment.
Multi-track recording (2 and more tracks) allows you to record several musical parts onto separate tracks and play them back as a single song. You can also experiment with your recording by turning off some of the recorded tracks.
For example, you can record the right-hand part of the song on track 1, and the left-hand part on track two (while listening to the playback of the first track).
You can also create complex, multi-instrument recordings by recording several instrument parts onto separate tracks and playing them back together afterwards.
MIDI-recording is not the recording of the actual sound of the instrument. Here, we’re recording the MIDI data (a sequence of notes, their length, velocity and other parameters).
A built-in audio recorder will allow you to record the actual sound of the instrument (native samples) and save it to a flash drive usually in WAV format (Linear PCM, 16bit, 44.1 kHz, Stereo).
You can then share your recording on social media, upload it to SoundCloud, burn to CD, etc.
Audio recordings are more universal than MIDI ones because they provide you with a CD-quality audio file playable on most modern devices, and don’t require any additional software, and sample libraries (VSTs) to render a MIDI recording to audio.
Accompaniment function will enrich your performance, providing full backing accompaniment (rhythm, bass, harmony) that will follow your playing and make you sound like full band.
The accompaniment changes depending to what notes you play with you left hand (chords or even single notes if you don’t know full cords).
In other words, you manage your “band” with your left hand (by specifying chords) and play the main melody with your right hand.
Some instruments offer several accompaniment modes, and allow you specify chords using the full range of the keyboard.
1) Transpose function allows you to shift the overall pitch of the keyboard in semitone steps. The function is particularly useful when want to play a song in a different key but don’t want to change your fingering and learn it in a new key.
So, for example, if you know how to play a song in F major, you can transpose the pitch and play it in C major without actually learning it in the new key.
You can also transpose a song written in a difficult key (e.g., many black keys) into a different key with easier chords, but still hear it as if you were playing in the original key.
2) Tuning function allows you to shift the pitch from the standard A440 tuning in 0.1Hz or 0.2Hz steps.
You can use this function to match the piano’s pitch finely to that of another instrument or music (old piano, recording).
This port is also known as USB to Device port or USB drive port. The port can be used for connecting a flash drive to the piano to exchange files quickly and easily.
For example, you can load MIDI songs into the piano’s internal memory for playback or rehearsal (if the piano offers this option).
Alternatively, you can play back WAV and MIDI files (depends on the piano model) directly from the flash drive without loading them into the piano’s internal memory.
And finally, you can save your own performances recorded with the instrument to the flash drive as well as load them back onto the instrument when needed.
This port is often referred to as USB to Host terminal or USB to Computer port. This port is used to connect your digital piano to a computer or a smart device (using a special adapter) to exchange songs/files, and MIDI data.
This port will allow you to use the piano as a MIDI controller to control various music apps such as GarageBand, FlowKey, Playground Sessions etc.
There are actually tons of other apps that can expand the functionality of your digital piano in terms of learning, composing, recording, editing music.
Some brands offer their own free apps designed for certain piano models. Such apps usually enable you to control all the settings and functions of the instrument using an intuitive graphical interface.
These words may seem complicated at first, but having this knowledge will definitely help out in the long run, especially since it applies to all digital pianos regardless of price point.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about the best beginner keyboards under $300:
- Yamaha PSR-E373 – Arranger Keyboard That Offers Much More Than Just Piano
- Roland GO:KEYS – Innovative Keyboard with Powerful Performer Features
- Alesis Recital – The Best Entry-Level Keyboard with 88 Keys on the Market
- Yamaha NP-32 – Solid Piano Sound In a No-frills Package
- Casio CTX-700 – Another Affordable Entry-Level Arranger
Best Beginner Keyboards Under $300
- KeysModern acoustic pianos have 88 keys. Most digital pianos and keyboards have 88, 76, 73, or 61 keys.
In reality, 73 keys are enough to play most modern pieces. Some advanced pieces require a full set of 88 keys.
- Graded KeyboardSome digital pianos come with a simulated Ivory (white keys) and Ebony (black keys) key surfaces, which gives them a nice textured feel, helps absorb excessive moisture and prevents your fingers from slipping off the keys.
- Full-size KeysThere are 3 most common types of key actions:
1) Non-weighted - most organs, synths and entry-level keyboards are not weighted.
2) Semi-weighted - often used portable keyboards and workstations. Spring-loaded mechanism adds more resistance to the keys compared to the non-weighted action.
3) Fully weighted (hammer action) is designed to replicate the action of a real piano. It uses small hammers (rather than springs) attached to each key to recreate the mechanical movements and resistance similar to the acoustic piano action.
- Touch SensitivityThe volume produced by the instrument changes depending on how hard or soft you play the keys.
Touch Response, Velocity Sensitivity, Touch Sensitivity are the same thing .
Many digital pianos allow you to adjust touch sensitivity (make the keyboard more or less sensitive to the force of your keystrokes) to better suit your playing style.
- Tone Generator
- PolyphonyThe number of notes a piano can play at once.
The more polyphony the better, especially when layering several sounds or using backing tracks, etc. When you reach the polyphony cap, the piano starts to drop the earliest played notes to free up memory for the new ones, which affects the sound and its fullness.
It’s desirable to have at least 64 notes of polyphony.
- Built-in Tones
- Modes1) Split - divides the keyboard into two parts, allowing you to play a different instrument sound in each of them.
2) Dual (a.k.a. Layer Mode) - allows you to layer two different sounds so that they sound simultaneously whenever you press a key.
3) Duo (a.k.a. Duet Play, Partner Mode, Twin Piano) - divides the keyboard into two halves with identical pitch ranges (two middle Cs) allowing two people to play the same notes at the same time.
- Lesson FunctionThe ability to use built-in/user songs for practice by turning off the left- or right-hand part of a song and practicing it along with the playback of the other part.
- MIDI RecorderAllows you to record and playback your own performances.
A multi-track recorder (2 and more tracks) allows you to record several musical parts on separate tracks and play them back as a single song.
- Auto AccompanimentAuto accompaniment function will enrich your playing with a full backing band (rhythm, bass, harmony) making you performance a fully-fledged song.
- Transpose,Tuning1) Transpose function allows you to shift the overall pitch of the keyboard in semitone steps.
2) Tuning function (aka Fine Tuning, Master Tuning) allows you to shift the pitch from the standard A440 tuning in 0.1Hz or 0.2Hz steps.
- MetronomeA useful tool for practice that will help develop your rhythmic and timekeeping skills by providing a steady beat to play along with.
Some pianos allow you change the conventional click sound of the metronome to various drum rhythms.
- USB Type BThis port enables you to connect the keyboard to a computer/smart device and use it as a MIDI controller with VST plugins and music apps like GarageBand, Flowkey, Synthesia, FL Studio, etc.
- Bluetooth ConnectivityAllows you to connect your piano to a smart device wirelessly and exchange MIDI data with various music apps (e.g. GarageBand, Flowkey, Simply Piano, etc.). This can be used as an alternative to a USB type B port. Note that some pianos can only transfer Audio data via Bluetooth, others can only transfer MIDI.
Some pianos support both MIDI and Audio data via Bluetooth.
- Battery OperationDedicated 1/4" line out jacks (R, L/Mono) allow you to connect the keyboard to an external amplifier, PA system, mixer and other audio equipment.
If you're planning on performing on stage or working in a studio, it's preferable to have these ports, even though a headphone out jack can also be used in most situations.
- Yamaha PSR-E373
- 3 types, Off
- AWM Stereo Sampling
- 48 notes
- Dual, Split, Duo
- 154 songs
- 2-track, 5 songs
- 205 styles
- 2.5W + 2.5W
- 10.1 lbs (4.6 kg)
- Roland GO:KEYS
- 3 types, Off
- 128 notes
- (only preset Dual tones, e.g. Piano + Strings)
- 1-track, 99 songs
- Loop Mix Function
- (MIDI + Audio)
- 2.5W + 2.5W
- 8.6 lbs (3.9 kg)
- Alesis Recital
- 3 types, Off
- 128 notes
- Dual, Split
- 1-track, 3 songs
- Transpose only
- 10W + 10W
- 15.6 lbs (7 kg)
- Yamaha NP-32
- 3 types, Off
- AWM Stereo Sampling
- 64 notes
- 1-track, 1 song
- 6W + 6W
- 12.5 lbs (5.7 kg)
- Casio CTX-700
- 3 types, Off
- AiX Sound Source
- 48 notes
- Dual, Split, Duo
- 160 songs (Step Up Lesson function)
- 6-track, 5 songs
- 195 styles
- 2.5W + 2.5W
- 9.5 lbs (4.3 kg)
1) Yamaha PSR-E373 / PSR-EW310 – One of The Best Arranger Keyboards Out There
We’re grouping both the PSR-E373 and PSR-EW310 under the same category, and that’s because they’re essentially the same keyboard, only differing in terms of their key count. The PSR-EW310 has 76 keys, whereas the PSR-E373 has 61 keys.
The PSR-series is a budget arranger keyboard line, and they historically went with the ‘quantity over quality’ approach with sounds, which means you get a larger variety of sounds, but at the cost of sound quality.
The PSR-E373 bucks this trend, and it ends up being one of our favorite sub-$300 beginner keyboards.
While we’ve always liked the PSR-E series for its versatility, it was far from perfect. The biggest sore spot was the sound engine, which was nearly a decade old!
Some might bemoan the same old AWM Stereo Sampling sound engine, but I’ve always preferred to trust my ears over meaningless labels. The default Live! Concert Grand Piano voice is ripped from Yamaha’s PSR-EW410 (which in turn, was sourced from Yamaha’s $5000 Tyros!).
The keys are unweighted synth-action keys, which don’t attempt to recreate the feel and heft of real acoustic piano keys. However, as you read on, you’ll realize that you just can’t get weighted keys without bumping up your budget to $500.
Despite being unweighted, I have no qualms in saying that the PSR-E373 has some of the best unweighted keys I’ve played. The PSR-E373’s keys are lightweight, but their springy actions are much more firm than the competition, making them suited for precise playing.
Naturally, you get velocity sensitivity too, which allows the keyboard’s sounds to reflect your playing dynamics. This is a feature available on all instruments on this list, but bear in mind that certain keyboards (like Casio’s Casiotone CT-S100 and Yamaha’s PSR-E273) might sacrifice it to hit a lower price point.
Being an arranger keyboard means you also get access to accompaniment features, which come in the form of styles and rhythms. Skilled keyboardists can perform one-man-band-style performances by familiarizing themselves with the control scheme (this is also the basis of some official keyboard courses).
The dual 2.5W speakers are also surprisingly capable, are perfectly fine for small venue performances. However, an external amplifier and speaker combo is always recommended.
In terms of extra features, the PSR-E373 comes with dual, split and duo mode, transposition, custom master tuning, a built-in metronome, a 2-track MIDI recorder and battery support.
There’s also a USB Type B port, which includes both USB MIDI and USB Audio capabilities. The USB Audio Interface is particularly interesting, as it allows you to extend the PSR-E373’s functionality to computer-based music programs if you’re so inclined.
The duo mode might also be relevant for people with kids intending to have one-on-one lessons at home. Duo mode lets the keyboard be split into two halves of equal octave ranges, enabling the instructor to sit alongside their students, facilitating easier demonstrations.
While I’ve been very positive thus far, the PSR-E373 isn’t perfect. Regardless of how good it sounds, you’re still locked into 48-note polyphony, which is a bummer, especially since accompaniment mode uses up the same note pool.
Apart from that, the PSR-E373 still lacks advanced chord tracking modes. If you intend on pursuing arranger keyboard courses, just know that you might need to upgrade once you require key-tracking modes capable of tracking inversions.
While one could argue that beginners will get distracted, I think the quality on offer here means the PSR-E373 is still well worth every penny.
- One of the best sounding budget arranger keyboards
- Great feeling keys
- Velocity sensitivity is done well
- 2-track MIDI recorder
- Auto accompaniment function (205 preset styles)
- Unweighted keys aren’t as realistic as fully-weighted
- Some crucial omissions in accompaniment section (unusable for exams past a certain point)
- Many features and sounds that you might never use (if piano is your focus)
2) Roland GO:KEYS – Innovative Keyboard with Ivory Feel Keys and Powerful Performer Features
The Roland Go:Keys is a relative newcomer on the list, and it might seem weird that we’re recommending what’s marketed as a portable performance keyboard.
Well, Roland did do well in our list of digital pianos below $500 with their FP-10, so it really is no surprise that they’ve made this list as well.
The Go:Keys is a performance-first instrument, and it achieves this exceptionally well, especially given the low price. However, that’s not what we’re focusing on here.
The full-size keys are surprisingly good despite being unweighted, and it is synth-action done well. While these keys are way off from a real piano, they are still enjoyable to play.
The pressure sensitivity and dynamic control is good for the price and should be good enough for practice purposes. You are limited to 61 keys though, which is enough for beginners and keyboardists, though a larger board is always welcome.
Personally, I’d say the first highlight of the Go:Keys is the sound selection.
With the Go:Keys, you’re getting over 500 instrument sounds, covering pianos (both acoustic and electric), synths, bass, percussion, and so on.
These sounds aren’t tacked-on extras either, and they are just as high-quality as you’d expect from Roland.
The second highlight? The Go:Keys’ playability. This is one of the easiest keyboards to jam along with on the market, regardless of price point.
I loved Roland’s previously released JD-Xi synth for its jamming capabilities and beautiful sounds, and the Go:Keys packs a similar degree of power in an even more affordable package.
The jamming features come from the Loop Mix function, which allows you to begin with a drumbeat, then slowly adding in elements like chords and bass to form a complete song.
The 128-note polyphony ensures that sounds won’t cut off during looping. This is a ton of fun and is definitely a great way to pass the time.
Because of this, I can’t find myself fully recommending the Go:Keys. The jamming features are great, but they can serve as a distraction to newcomers and might result in a loss of focus during practice sessions.
However, if you can show self-restraint, the Go:Keys is definitely a worthwhile investment, as you’ll appreciate the extra features once you’ve reached a certain degree of proficiency.
In terms of downsides, the dual 2.5W speakers aren’t amazing. On playtesting, I was going to write this off as sounding bad, but connecting this to a keyboard amp immediately fixed the issues.
If you need to play at louder volumes, consider purchasing an external amplifier (connected through the audio out jack). At normal, home-use volumes, this works fine and is clean enough.
Another negative is the piano sounds. Compared to the NP-32, the piano sounds are relatively weak. While I wouldn’t say the sounds focus on quantity over quality, the acoustic sounds are clearly a bit worse than their synthetic counterparts.
The piano sounds are a bit less reactive to dynamics, though this is an issue common to most keyboards in this guide. The synth sounds are strong though and feel like the sounds of Roland’s other synthesizers.
The bonus features you get are a single-track MIDI recorder, Bluetooth MIDI and Audio (no other competitor offers Bluetooth connectivity), USB to Host port, 1/8” Aux audio input, headphone output, and the ability to be powered by 6 AA batteries.
You might have noticed the lack of a metronome. This isn’t too big of an issue, since the Go:Keys comes with built-in rhythms.
If you insist on using a classic metronome for practice, you can easily connect your smartphone via the Bluetooth audio function or via an external metronome through the Aux input.
Also note that a sustain pedal is not included. Refer to our short guide below for recommendations.
In conclusion, the Go:Keys is an excellent keyboard that includes an excellent array of features and a good keybed. This isn’t the best practice keyboard out there, but it works, and for me it’s the keyboard I would pick out of the whole bunch.
Even so, if you’re willing to go a bit higher in price, it might be worth considering the Roland Go:Piano.
This retails for just over the $300 mark, but it comes with a focus on piano sounds that remedies my qualms about the piano sounds.
This includes modeled string resonance and extra detail in sampling. While you lose out on the awesome looping features, you get better sounds, a built-in metronome, and a music rest that the Go:Keys lacks.
If you’re willing to take things a step further, consider the Roland FP-10. We’ve praised this digital piano time and time again, and for good reason. Though you spend significantly more, the bump in quality is certainly worth it.
- Interesting and unusual design
- Very lightweight
- Keys feel great despite being unweighted
- Wide selection of great sounding voices
- 128-note polyphony
- Jamming is a lot of fun
- Bluetooth connectivity
- Piano sounds can be improved
- No metronome onboard
- Easy to get distracted
- Might be more suitable for intermediate keyboard players
3) Alesis Recital – The Best Entry-Level Keyboard with 88 Keys on the Market
88-keys are a luxury without passing the $300 mark and it’s hard to find good full-sized keyboards. The Alesis Recital is a popular choice on Amazon, so how good is it?
Well, let’s talk about the main highlight here, the keyboard. While these keys aren’t as good as digital pianos, you get 88 semi-weighted keys.
While I’m reluctant to call these keys good, there’s no denying that they are arguably the best you can get for the price in terms of authenticity.
Sure, authenticity is still stretching the definition, but with 88 full-size keys, this keyboard is as close to the real deal as you can get below $300.
Having semi-weighted keys is also a plus in my book, but it’s hotly debated whether beginners should opt for unweighted or semi-weighted keys (assuming fully weighted keys are not an option).
So how do the keys feel? Well, not too good. While the keys are semi-weighted by definition, they aren’t as good as the semi-weighted actions found on higher end keyboards.
The keys feel like those on synthesizers, with a spring-like action that feels way off from what I’d expect from a piano. Despite that complaint, they do feel better than the other keyboards covered here and they react to dynamics very well.
The main issue I have with the Alesis Recital is the piano sound, which I consider to be quite bad. While these sounds are superior to those on the multi-feature arranger keyboards on the list (everything apart from the NP-32/12), they aren’t the best.
The sounds have a decent variety of multi-samples, which adds to the natural feel and sound natural enough in isolation. The issue comes when you start comparing the Recital with other keyboards. The pianos lack a sustain quality and fade out quickly.
It’s hard to explain the issue in words, but if you’re playing a song that has held-out chords which span multiple measures, the Recital will fail to hold notes for more than 2.5 seconds, even with the sustain pedal (not included) held down.
Recording the notes directly into my DAW of choice shows the problem. The sounds decay much quicker than other digital pianos and keyboards, which is audible on both the speakers and through the headphone out.
Is this a major issue? Not really. While practicing, you shouldn’t be bothered by this detail, barring specific songs with long drawn out parts with less notes.
Something worth noting is that the keys aren’t graded, but the lower keys naturally trigger samples at a softer volume.
This is negligible if you’re already used to practicing and understand how a real piano reacts, but newcomers might end up developing uneven dynamic habits if this is their only reference point.
Those are the only caveats I have about the Alesis Recital.
As a practice keyboard, this is definitely good enough. Multisamples mean players can hear slight nuances and realism during play, and the keys at least try to emulate real pianos, unlike the other unweighted key beds discussed in this guide.
Apart from that, the minimal feature set can be regarded as a positive as well. Practice should be just that, practice. Minimal features mean you’ll have less distractions to worry about and it’ll be easier to focus.
Let’s discuss those extra features before ending this section. You only get 5 sounds, but you can split or layer the sounds to add a bit of variation.
With 128-note polyphony, you won’t be getting sound cut-offs during play, even on classical pieces.
A metronome, USB to Host port, headphone out, and stereo RCA speaker out are included, and you can also use this with 6 D batteries on the go.
The dual 10W speakers are surprisingly less clear than the other less powerful speakers on the list, but they are adequate for practice purposes (just don’t push it too hard, as it distorts past 50%). Other qualms I have with the sound are mainly due to the samples used.
A sustain pedal is not included, so refer to the section below for our recommendations.
A feature that hasn’t been included in other competitors so far is lesson mode, and the Alesis Recital comes with a free 3-month Premium Subscription to Skoove, an online piano course well-received by most new pianists. While I haven’t tried it out, I’d consider this an excellent bonus.
If I needed to describe the Recital in a single word, it would be ‘functional.’ New players will certainly be able to develop their skills with this despite the lacklustre sounds.
Also, remember that we’re always open to upgrade options down the line, which makes this a decent enough starter keyboard.
- Easily the best keys in this selection
- 88-key full-size keyboard
- Simple uncluttered front panel
- 128-note polyphony
- Powerful speakers
- Sounds are a bit weak
- Keybed has uneven velocity sensitivity
- Only 5 built-in tones
4) Yamaha NP-32 / NP-12 – Solid Piano Sound In a No-frills Package
I’m combining both these keyboards into a single entry since they are virtually identical, only differing in terms of key count and speakers.
The NP-32 comes with 76 keys and dual 6W speakers whereas the NP-12 has 61 keys and dual 2.5W speakers.
In the PSR-E373 section, I mentioned that beginners might be better off getting a more focused experience without distractions such as accompaniment features and large sound banks.
This is even more important if you’re buying a keyboard for a young child. For people who want little to no clutter, the Yamaha NP-32 is well worth considering.
The NP-32’s highlights are its sounds, which is something Yamaha has always excelled at. The spotlighted piano sound is sampled from a Yamaha grand, and still sounds great despite being comparatively older than the newer keyboards on this list.
Yamaha’s concert grands are well known for their clean, balanced sound, and this keyboard manages to recreate that quite well given the price point.
Considering the same sound engine is used on Yamaha’s YDP-103, that’s a good sign. The primary difference is the lowered multisample count, but 64-note maximum polyphony is still nothing to scoff at.
It’s debatable whether the NP-32 sounds better compared to the PSR-E373. Personally, I’d say the PSR-E373 sounds better overall, but the NP-32 doesn’t fall far behind.
The sounds are emitted from the two speakers on the front panel, which are surprisingly loud despite their relatively low wattages. If you intend on performing at live venues, the NP-32 can work, though an amp/cab combo is still the best way to go.
Yamaha labels the NP-32’s keys as semi-weighted Graded Soft Touch keys, but I personally didn’t think they were all that different to typical unweighted synth-action keys. This is honestly a plus, as synth-action keys are much easier to get right compared to semi-weighted keybeds.
The main unique aspect of these keys are the shape. Much like the Alesis Recital, these keys are shaped like real piano keys. It’s just unfortunate that they’re not as ‘realistic’ as true semi-weighted keys.
While velocity sensitivity is present, it is quite hard to control. Due to the shape of the keys, they have a bit more weight than typical unweighted keys, but without the hammers that make weighted keys realistic.
When I played the NP-32, I needed time to adapt to the unique weight curve, which meant I needed to play extra carefully in order to get my desired tone and dynamics.
This means beginners might get used to the unique playstyle required to use the NP-32, which isn’t exactly transferable to other keyboards and pianos.
For what it’s worth, I highly recommend testing out the NP-32 before purchasing it.
In terms of extra features, you get a single-track recorder, layer mode, song playback, variable tempo metronome, custom tunings, headphone output, and a USB to Host port.
The USB to Host port only comes with USB MIDI functionality (the PSR-E373 comes with USB Audio as well). However, it does allow you to utilize Yamaha’s apps like the Digital Piano Controller, which gives you access to lessons and a graphical user interface for an alternate control scheme.
Naturally, you can also use the port to use the NP-32 into your computer-based programs.
Finally, you can also power the NP-32 off 6 AA batteries. Combine that with the lightweight build, and it’s clear that the NP-32 is designed to be very portable.
However, the weaker keys pull it down a notch. If you don’t mind practicing a bit of self-control, Yamaha’s PSR-E373 is easily the better choice. It has what I consider to be better piano sounds and superior keys, and it also comes with a ton of other features which further enhances its value.
If you’re still more partial to the NP-32’s no frills experience, perhaps consider looking into digital pianos we recommend in our sub-$500 keyboard article.
Yamaha’s P-45 improves on just about everything and is well worth the additional asking price.
Of the NP-32 and NP-12, I recommend getting the 76-key NP-32 over its smaller counterpart. More keys is always preferable.
- Simple “acoustic-like” look
- Graded keys
- Excellent piano sounds
- No distractions
- Unweighted keys aren’t terrific
- No extra features
5) Casio CTX-700 – Another Affordable Entry-Level Arranger
Hold up, wasn’t the PSR-E373 the best arranger keyboard? Well, I would recommend that one over the CTX-700, but that isn’t because it’s straight up better.
Let’s get the biggest issue out of the way here. The CTX-700 doesn’t sound that good. Despite featuring the new AiX sound engine, Yamaha’s pianos and electric pianos sound better to my ears.
Casio has caught up though, as you can read about in our reviews of the CDP-S110 and PX-S1100, but they still need to implement the new sounds into their entry-level boards.
What you do get is 600 tones though, which is slightly less than the 622 on the Yamaha PSR-E373. I’ve discussed my own views on the quality but will say that the electric pianos are the highlight, sounding beautiful without being cheesy.
The keys feel similar though, and everything I said about the Yamaha applies here as well. The main difference is that these keys are block-end piano-style keys.
Yet since they’re unweighted, there isn’t much of a difference beyond visual appearance. These keys are functional, but that’s pretty much it.
What the Casio has over the competition though is features. If you compare the keyboards side by side, you’ll find that Casio one-ups Yamaha in nearly every regard.
Why does this matter? If you plan to take the Trinity Electronic Keyboard Exam, the Yamaha PSR-E373 can only be used up to the Grade 4 level, as the chord detection modes on the PSR-E373 do not include Finger-On-Bass, which the CTX-700 has.
This is a critical feature as it allows you to have the accompaniment play chords with specified bass notes, which is required in the Grade 5 exams and above. Also, it’s just nice to have extra features.
You get 32 registration slots to save custom sounds, as opposed to the 9 found on the Yamaha. It’s also easier to switch between registrations, only requiring a single keypress as opposed to two on the Yamaha.
For accompaniments, the Casio gets dedicated intro and ending buttons, whereas the Yamaha combines the two. Even the reverb and chorus effects come with nearly double the algorithms as the Yamaha.
You get the point – Casio’s CTX-700 is an instrument that’s a lot more playable and easier to use. The larger screen further enhances this fact, allowing you to see more info at any given time.
The issue with the CTX-700 is that it doesn’t allow you to balance layered or split sounds, so you can never modify individual volumes, making layered voices a non-option.
The classic Piano/Strings layered sound can’t be done since the strings are so loud, and you can’t use the funky bass/EP split without the bass being overly loud.
This doesn’t matter much for examination purposes, but it does spoil your jamming experience at home.
To hear your sounds, you’ve got dual 2.5W speakers, just like the ones on the PSR-E373. To my ears, they’re practically identical in terms of sound quality.
There isn’t any distortion unless you push the speakers to near-max volume, so there shouldn’t be much of an issue for home-based use.
In terms of extra features, you get dual, split and duo mode, a 6-track MIDI recorder, transposition, custom tunings, a built-in metronome, a USB to Host port (no USB Audio capabilities though), and the ability to be powered by 6 AA batteries.
Again, note that there is no sustain pedal, so check out our recommendations below.
So should you get the Casio CTX-700? I’d still go with the Yamaha PSR-E373.
Why? If you’re really concerned about exams, I think you’ll probably be in line for an upgrade once you’re at the Grade 4 level, and the CTX-700 really isn’t something I see beginners using long term.
If you’re practicing piano, the sound quality of the samples on the PSR-E373 is just better than on the Casio.
However, as usual, I recommend testing things out before making your purchase. Check online demos if physical testing isn’t possible.
- New AiX Sound Source shows a definite improvement over the previous models
- 600 built-in tones
- Step Up Lesson system (160 songs to practice)
- 6-track MIDI recorder
- 195 accompaniment styles
- Certain improvements over the PSR-E373
- Has all the essential features for exams
- No way to balance layered or split sounds
- Sounds aren’t first class
- Easy to get distracted with all those sounds and features available onboard
(Bonus) Yamaha EZ-300 – The Best Beginner Keyboard with Light-Up Keys
Are light-up keys a gimmick? Maybe. However, scientific studies show that certain learners work best with visual stimuli, so light-up keys may be helpful to them.
Considering the PSR-E373 got recommended earlier on, its counterpart with light-up keys, the Yamaha EZ-300 is the one we’ll be recommending here.
While there are other options, like Casio’s LK-265 and Yamaha’s last-generation EZ-220, both use older sound engines, which make them hard to recommend.
Much like the PSR-E373, the EZ-300 comes with an upgraded sound engine featuring 622 quality sounds and rhythms, so you’re good to go in terms of sonic capabilities. Read our PSR-E373 section to learn about its capabilities.
The light up keys come into play when you want to learn songs. The Yamaha Education System uses a lesson-plan focused approach, whereas the Song Library offers a few pop songs for you to follow along to.
So, is the EZ-300 worth it? It depends on whether you’re a visual learner. Just know that the lights aren’t free. It costs less to get the base PSR-E373 model, and apart from the light-up keys, there isn’t really much difference between these two models.
- Light-up keys are good for visual learners
- Same selection of sounds and rhythm styles as on the PSR-E373
- Light-up keys are a gimmick if you’re not going to use them
- Costs more than the baseline PSR-E373 model
- Only has a 61-key version
At the sub-$300 price range, you can’t complain about cut corners. Sadly, none of our recommendations come with sustain pedals, though they all support them. As such, here are our top picks for sustain pedals.
A few things to note is that we aren’t going to focus on half dampering. Half damper pedals are useful, especially if you eventually upgrade to digital pianos that support them, but it’s negligible unless you go past $500 and it adds to the price.
My favorite budget recommendation is the M-Audio SP-2 universal sustain pedal. M-Audio is a company with a good reputation, and their products are generally well built.
The SP-2 comes with a polarity switch, which is significant because certain keyboards (like Yamaha’s) use a different polarity for their damper pedal jacks.
This means that non-universal pedals may not work. The SP-2 sidesteps this issue by having a switch that modifies polarity with a quick button press.
Of course, if you’re budget conscious, you can go with the block-style pedals, though we’re focusing on learning to play the piano here, so we’ve placed the focus on actual piano-style pedals.
That’s pretty much it regarding budget keyboards.
I would like to share the main secret to mastering the piano, and that’s commitment. It doesn’t matter that you have an expensive digital piano if you don’t practice with it.
While the cheap keyboards we’ve recommended don’t have full 88-key, fully weighted keyboards, they are still great options for beginners. Just remember to practice with the right form and technique.
I hope this list helps you take the first step on your piano journey, and feel free to let me know your thoughts about your own favorite budget keyboards for beginners.
If you eventually decide to upgrade, check out our guides for higher-end keyboards and digital pianos!
You might also like:
If after reading this review you still have doubts about what instrument to choose, take a look at our Digital Piano Buying Guide and other popular articles listed below:
The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Digital Piano
Best Digital Pianos Under $500 (Beginner’s Edition)
Best Digital Pianos Under $700 (Intermediate Edition)
Best Digital Pianos Under $1000 (for Home Use)
I wish I had read this before buying my first keyboard. after 40 years of Guitar I decided to try the piano and bought the CTX-700.I mainly decided on it because of price and sound. I couldn’t check it out physically so I took the online tour which is nothing more then a bunch of sleazy salesmen who aren’t going to tell you about the clunky lower register keys that sound on lower notes.I hate this keyboard for several reasons.not counting all the issues you raised. all those extra sounds are just a distraction to a beginner.two months and I am already looking for another piano that isn’t clunky and doesn’t have 600 sounds that are not needed.after careful looking I am now considering a yamaha p125.is this a wise choice?I have to drive 100 miles just to check out a yamaha or any keyboard.I am retired and don’t have much income. I can’t afford another mistake.#buyersremorse
Hi Mike, thanks for sharing this.
I’m really sorry about your experience with the CTX-700. That’s why it’s always a good idea to play the instrument in person before buying it. Unfortunately, that may not always be easy for people living in more remote areas, like in your case.
Either way, if you decide to drive those 100 miles to try out the P-125, I’d definitely recommend checking out some of its competitors as well. Most likely there will be other digital pianos within the same price range there that you can try out. In particular, I’d add the Kawai ES110, Roland FP-30, and Casio PX-160/PX-S1000 to your list of contenders.
I talk about all 4 of these instruments in my Best DPs Under $700 article, so feel free to check it out.
Since your CTX-700 is only 2 months old, it’s basically a new instrument, so you can probably resell it if you wanted to (probably even via eBay or Craigslist).
I hope ultimately you find the instrument that you truly enjoy playing, and I wish you all the best with your musical endeavors.
P.S. Do let us know what instrument you ended up with, this may be helpful to others who are in a similar situation.
Thanks Lucas for ” both” your replies and helpful advice.
I’ am still looking and will check back in often.
You’re very welcome, Mike.
to touch base I bought a Medeli SP4200 and love it. a much better playing experience. I don’t spend half my playtime griping anymore.I am surprised its not a big seller at the price with its play-ability and great grand piano sound. of course it’s got stiff competition in this price range and being the new kid on the block.
Hi Mike, haven’t personally played a Medeli keyboard, but it looks like you’re enjoying yours, and this is all that matters. Happy playing!
so none fo them have weighted key
wtf is this article about then ?
This article is about choosing an affordable keyboard for practice in the sub-$300 price range (I think the title makes it pretty obvious). Weighted keys are not something you find at this price point, which we made clear at the beginning of the article.
With that said, most of our other buying guides cover digital pianos with fully weighted keys, so feel free to check them out.
P.S. It doesn’t hurt to read the article first before leaving such comments. It would answer your question (and many other questions you might have).
This was so helpful. Thank you for such a thorough, easy to follow review. Best one I have read so far. Thank you very much!
Thanks, Angela! Glad to hear you got something useful out of it.
Thank you so mucho for this fantastic and complete review. Some months ago I bought an old Casio HT3000 just for having fun with my band playing dark pop song from the 80’s, with only 3/4 fingers??♀️But while my confination time I have learnt to play quite well and now I can play 8/10 songs from The Beatles, Pretenders and so on while I sing them, because I’m a singer. Now I find the sound of my old Casio is not good fior this kind of songs and I was thinking about a new keyboard. I was between Roland Go keyboard an Roland Go Piano. But now I’m considering too the Yamaha PSR EW300. An important point for me: I’m 53 years old and have an strong osteoarthritis so I need a keyboard where I can play softly. And it’s also very important to be able to record directly in my PC. Could you get me out of doubt? PLEASE?
What kind of sounds you’re most interested in? The Casio HT3000 is more of a synthesizer rather than a portable practice keyboard, so it does have more options when it comes to sound design. The Roland and Yamaha models you mentioned are all great for what they’re designed for – practice, recreational playing, some light gigging. The keys will have some resistance but they’re unweighted and relatively light. Since I’ve never played the HT3000, it’s hard for me to say how they will feel compared to your current keyboard. So, it might be a good idea to try out one of the newer keyboards with unweighted keys (such as the ones you mentioned) to see how your fingers like them.
Lucas, as regards lighted keyboards Yamaha is now offering the EZ 300 which is the same internals and features as the E373. Thanks for your great reviews.
Hey Robert, funny you mentioned that! I was just in the process of adding the new EZ-300 to the article 🙂 Thanks anyway for bringing that to my attention! (it’s hard to constantly keep up with all the updates, so occasionally some new models might slip under my radar).
Lucas, would you say the Yamaha Piaggero NP-12 or Roland GO:Piano are the best choice for a lightweight, portable practice/fun keyboard that you can toss in the car to take on vacations, to a friend’s house, or otherwise boring social events? Or is there some other option your aware of? Note this is strictly about portability and not breaking the bank, not about being beginner friendly.
Thanks in advance!
Also, being able to run on batteries is a plus so you’re not tethered to a power outlet.