Best Beginner Keyboards Under $300 (In-depth Comparison)

Best Beginner Keyboards Under $300

Learning to play a musical instrument requires a lot of practice, and having your own instrument is a must.

choosing a keyboard price value

Lacking the ideal 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.

While it’s the craftsman that truly matters and not the tools, you’ll still need to practice your skills, and that’s where digital pianos come in.

A few decades back, acoustic pianos were the only choice for budding musicians looking to master a new instrument. These were expensive and came with overhead costs of tuning and maintenance, adding up to quite a significant cost.

With advancements in modern technology, a digital piano can serve as a viable alternative for an upright acoustic piano.

Hammer-action technology means you get the feel of an actual piano, and well-sampled sounds combined with clean amplified speakers make the experience even more authentic.

There’s only one issue here – you get what you pay for.

While instruments like the Nord Grand and Yamaha CLP-695GP are insanely close to the real deal, they’re expensive and not exactly suitable for novices who are just trying things out.

beginner piano keyboard

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.)

man learning piano

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)
Keyboards/Digital Pianos Under 500$


Under 500$Under 300$

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.

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 mean 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.

In this article, we’ll be focusing on the sub-$300 keyboards that give you the best bang for your buck.

boy playing the keyboard

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.

Even if you do decide to go with this option, I’d recommend upgrading as soon as you’re willing to commit to mastering the piano.

That said, these are still decent enough options for practicing. In fact, if you can supplement your daily practice with occasional runs on a real acoustic piano (possibly during your lessons), then you should be fine.

Before proceeding with the guide, I’d like to cover the main terms and features you’ll need to know when picking a digital piano or keyboard.

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.

KeysAction TypesTouch sensitivityPolyphonyModesLesson FunctionMIDI recorderAudio RecorderAccompaniment Transpose, Tuning USB type A USB type B

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.

how many keys acoustic piano

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.

hammer action

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 digital piano

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.

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.

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.

split mode
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.

dual mode layering
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.

duo mode duet play

lesson function

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.

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).

audio wav recording

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

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.

transpose tuning

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).

usb type A to device

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.

usb type B to HOST

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.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the best digital pianos under $300 for beginners.

Best Beginner Keyboards Under $300

  • Model
  • Keys
    Modern 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 Keyboard
    Some 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 Keys
    There 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 mechanizm 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 resistaince similar to the acoustic piano action.
  • Touch Sensitivity
    The 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
  • Polyphony
    The 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
  • Modes
    1) 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) - devides 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 Function
    The 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 Recorder
    Allows 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 Accompaniment
    Auto accompaniment function will enrich your playing with a full backing band (rhythm, bass, harmony) making you performance a fully-fledged song.
  • Transpose,Tuning
    1) 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.
  • Metronome
    A 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 B
    This 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 Connectivity
    Allows 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 Operation
    Dedicated 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.
  • Speakers
  • Weight
  • Roland GO:KEYS
  • 61
  • 3 types, Off
  • N/A
  • 128 notes
  • 554
  • (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)
  • Yamaha PSR-EW300
  • 76
  • 3 types, Off
  • AWM Stereo Sampling
  • 48 notes
  • 574
  • Dual, Split, Duo
  • 154 songs
  • 2-track, 5 songs
  • 165 styles
  • 2.5W + 2.5W
  • 13.7 lbs (6.2 kg)
  • Casio CTX-700
  • 61
  • 3 types, Off
  • AiX Sound Source
  • 48 notes
  • 600
  • 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 NP-32 / NP-12Excellent Piano Sound In a No-frills Package

Yamaha NP-32 NP-12 review


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.

The highlights of this keyboard are its excellent sounds, something Yamaha always seems to get right.

The pianos are sampled from a Yamaha grand, and are undeniably the best sounding tones you can get for the price.

While I obviously wouldn’t say it compares with Yamaha’s high-end keyboards, the Advanced Wave Memory stereo sampling used here is still well done.

Yamaha concert grands have a very clean sound, with distinct lows and bright highs, and this keyboard does the same.

The main difference between the sounds here and those on Yamaha’s own P and YDP series is the lowered multisample count, but what you’re getting is miles above the competition at this price point.

The keyboard also has a 64-note maximum polyphony, which is good enough for playing most songs.

The NP series is clearly the best in its class in terms of piano sound quality (just don’t expect the same level of detail on the other included sounds, as the non-piano sounds are particularly weak).

The sounds are then routed through the two on the front panel. These are surprisingly loud and will be more than sufficient to cover your practice and performances.

The main issue with the NP-series is the keys. They look like the weighted keys you’d find on higher-end true digital pianos, but once you start playing, the illusion shatters.

Yamaha NP-12 & NP-32 review

Yamaha’s Graded Soft Touch keys aren’t the best, though they’re the only graded keys on the list. While Yamaha says the keys are semi-weighted, they are very light, though they are indeed velocity sensitive.

The keys are modelled to look like those on a real piano, but this adds bulk, which in turn results in a slightly more sluggish experience in which the keys react a tiny bit slower than I’d like.

The keys are also 1 mm smaller than actual piano keys, though this is a negligible difference.

While online demos show off the excellent dynamics of the keyboard, I found myself needing to play with extra care to get the desired tonality, something I didn’t need to do for the other keyboards on the list.

While I’m willing to chalk this up to personal preference, I do think it’s worth considering.

As 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 is important, as it gives access to Yamaha’s applications, such as Digital Piano Controller, which offers lessons and a graphical interface for easier control.

This port also let you integrate the NP-series into your Digital Audio Workstation environment.

Finally, a neat feature of the NP-32 is its ability to be powered with 6 AA batteries. While I’d always use the wall mains instead, it’s a nice feature to have, especially since the NP-series is extremely lightweight and portable.

yamaha np-32 gigs

Overall, I’d say the NP-32 and NP-12 are excellent keyboards if you’re alright with a simple, no-fat experience. I certainly will recommend the NP-series for its terrific sounds, which are its strongest asset.

I wouldn’t let the lack of extra features put you off here. Less distractions mean you’re more likely to focus. If you’re looking for a practice keyboard that simply sounds good, this is hard to beat.

Of the two, I recommend getting the 76-key NP-32 over its smaller counterpart.

A larger key range is always more desirable and it shows.

If you want something similar, but with weighted keys, consider the Yamaha P-45, which we’ve covered in our sub-$500 keyboard article.

Pros
  • Simple “acoustic-like” look
  • Graded keys
  • Excellent piano sounds
  • No distractions
Cons
  • Unweighted keys aren’t terrific
  • No extra features

2) Roland GO:KEYS Innovative Keyboard with Ivory Feel Keys and Powerful Performer Features

Roland GO:KEYS review


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.

roland go:keys live performing

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, that allows you to begin with a drumbeat, then slowly adding in elements like chords and bass to form a complete song.

roland go keys controls

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.

roland go keys back logo

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 are 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.

The features may not be relevant to novices (and might even be a distraction), but once you’re an intermediate player with the basics nailed down, the Roland Go:Keys is an excellent source of inspiration and a good introduction to the world of looping and song-writing.

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.

roland go piano

Roland GO:PIANO (GO-61P)

This includes modelled 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.

Pros
  • 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
Cons
  • Piano sounds can be improved
  • No metronome onboard
  • Easy to get distracted
  • Might be more suitable for intermediate keyboard players

3) Alesis RecitalThe Best Entry-Level Keyboard with 88 Keys on the Market

Alesis Recital review


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.

Alesis Recital keyboard

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.

Alesis Recital front panel

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.

Alesis Recital Connectors

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.

Alesis Recital Scoove Subscription

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.

Overall, the Alesis Recital is the best (if not the only) option if you’re looking for an 88-key keyboard for less than $300 and it performs adequately.

I personally wouldn’t get this as my practice keyboard, but I focus heavily on feel and sound, which are the only parts where the Recital falters.

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.

Pros
  • Easily the best keys in this selection
  • 88-key full-size keyboard
  • Simple uncluttered front panel
  • 128-note polyphony
  • Powerful speakers
Cons
  • Sounds are a bit weak
  • Keybed has uneven velocity sensitivity
  • Only 5 built-in tones

4) Yamaha PSR-EW300 / PSR-E363A Full-Fledged Arranger Keyboard That Offers Much More Than Just Piano

Yamaha PSR-EW300 review


We’re covering two keyboards here, but they are functionally identical except for the key count. The PSR-EW300 has 76 keys and the PSR-E363 has 61 keys.

We’re entering the realm of budget arranger keyboards now, and this is an unusual field to cover. In general, budget arranger keyboards don’t pretend to be actual pianos, having none of the fancy weighted keys or detailed samples.

These keyboards are somewhat accurately described as toy-like, and some of the earlier low-end Yamaha PSR models definitely deserve this criticism.

However, you do get a lot of extra sounds and features.

Yamaha PSR-E363 on a stand

The PSR-EW300 comes with 574 sounds, and these come courtesy of Yamaha’s AWM Stereo Sampling sound engine, which is also what powers the previously discussed NP-32.

What differentiates the two is quantity over quality. All the sounds are slightly less detailed and feel less natural.

Take the piano on the NP-32, for example; we praised the higher amount of multisample layers which made the playing experience a lot more enjoyable and natural. However, the piano sound on the PSR-EW300 is noticeably less nuanced.

While the keys are velocity sensitive and differentiate between soft and hard keypresses, the triggered sounds tend to have less variations. For example, you might be hearing the same sound being triggered at different volumes.

You also get the accompaniment function featured on arranger keyboards such as the PSR-EW300.

This means you can technically play full songs with a drumbeat (variation and fills included) and genre-specific chord accompaniments.

Much like the Roland Go:Keys, this is a lot of fun, if also less flexible. The large screen also helps you navigate through menus easily.

Yamaha PSR-EW300

So, what’s the main difference between the practice and arranger keyboards. You get lower quality sounds but a few extras that make up for it.

How does the PSR-EW300 play? Surprisingly well. The keys are not spectacular by any means, and they fall flat on satisfying our main criteria for practice keyboards.

However, we’re at a price point where we can’t demand too much.

Some piano tutors actually recommend unweighted keys over the semi-weighted keys when budget is a concern, since you’ll need to exaggerate dynamics, which can be a good habit to get into early on.

That’s where the Yamaha PSR series excels. The PSR-EW300’s sounds aren’t spectacular, but they’re good enough for practice purposes. The piano sounds, while less detailed, still allow you to hear enough to fix your mistakes (uneven dynamics and outright wrong notes).

Yamaha PSR-E363 arranger keyboard

Speaking of hearing, the 48-note polyphony enables you to hear sounds cutting off during play.

48 notes are not a lot to work with, and if you’re playing more complex pieces combined with the accompaniment mode or layered sounds, you’ll probably hear some notes getting lost in the mix. Even so, if you’re only using a single piano sound, it should be fine.

The dual 2.5W speakers are surprisingly clean, even when pushed to a high volume.

I’ve had a student try this in a miniature band setup (Cajon, electric guitar, and electric bass), and the sounds were audible even without the use of a keyboard amp. That’s great!

The extra features here include dual, split, and duo mode, transpose and custom tunings, a built-in metronome, a USB Type B port (with USB Audio Interface functionality), a 2-track MIDI recorder, and the ability to be powered by 6 AA batteries.

The duo mode may be especially important for parents. If you’re hoping to have your child home-tutored by a piano instructor, duo mode allows the keyboard to split into two halves of identical octave rages.

This lets the instructor sit alongside the student to demonstrate directly without the need for extraneous movement.

Also, the PSR series includes Yamaha’s Education System, and players can self-teach themselves with guided lessons straight off the keyboard. While I haven’t tried them out, they’ve been around for a long time and I’ve heard good things about them.

Sadly, there’s no sustain pedal here. As usual, refer to our miniguide below for recommendations.

All in all, the PSR-EW300 is an excellent choice if you’re not too particular about realism. While I’m definitely a huge proponent of quality sounds and keys, I still believe the PSR-EW300 is a great practice keyboard that can benefit beginners.

Yamaha knows what they’re doing in this regard and their budget keyboards aren’t best-sellers for no reason.

Pros
  • One of the best sounding budget arranger keyboards
  • A lot of good sounds to choose from
  • Velocity sensitivity is done well
  • 154 preset songs to practice
  • 2-track MIDI recorder
  • Auto accompaniment function (165 preset styles)
Cons
  • Unweighted keys still aren’t the best
  • 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)

5) Casio CTX-700Another Entry-Level Arranger (And a Strong Competitor to the PSR-E363)

Casio CTX-700 review


Hold up, wasn’t the PSR-EW300 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-S100 and PX-S1000, but they still need to implement the new sounds into their entry level boards.

What you do get is 600 tones though, which is just slightly higher than the 574 on the Yamaha PSR-EW300. 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.

Casio CTX-700 front panel

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 (excluding sound quality of course).

Why does this matter? If you plan to take the Trinity Electronic Keyboard Exam, the Yamaha PSR-EW300 can only be used up to the Grade 4 level, as the chord detection modes on the Yamaha EW300 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.

Casio CTX-700 screen

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.

Casio CTX-700

To hear your sounds, you’ve got dual 2.5W speakers, just like the ones on the PSR-EW300. 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-EW300.

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.

Casio CTX-700 on a stand

If you’re practicing piano, the sound quality of the samples on the PSR-EW300 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.

While I personally prefer Yamaha’s samples, your opinions might differ. Regardless, both are competent budget arranger keyboards and are viable options for practicing musicians.

Pros
  • 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-EW300
  • Has all the essential features for exams
Cons
  • 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-220The Best Beginner Keyboard with Light-Up Keys (Despite Its Age)

Yamaha EZ-220 review


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.

In terms of budget keyboards, the Yamaha EZ-220 is the best I’ve found. The only true competitor seems to be Casio’s LK-265. However, the sound quality is too poor for us to seriously consider it here.

Is the EZ-220 any better? It’s alright but not amazing by any means. It surprisingly shares a lot of similarities with the PSR-EW300.

The EZ-220 comes with 400 sounds, and they are powered by Yamaha’s AWM sound engine. While not amazing, they’re functional. Look into the PSR-EW300 section to read my thoughts about this.

Yamaha EZ-220 light up keys

Where do the light-up keys come into play? Through the Yamaha Education System. Learning songs is a lot easier when you can see which keys to press.

While it’s not for everyone, certain learners will get a good boost in learning efficiency with this feature.

Like the PSR-EW300, there are some accompaniment features. You get a total of 100 accompaniment styles, so there’s the option of spicing up practice sessions if you want.

Sadly, this keyboard is somewhat old and only has a maximum polyphony of 32 notes, so you’ll almost certainly hear sound cut-offs in the accompaniment mode.

The keyboard hasn’t seen a refresh since its release in 2012, but as I said, it’s decent enough for use.

Yamaha EZ-220 top view

The keys are unweighted but identical to those on the PSR-EW300. That means the keys are pressure-sensitive and that they differentiate between soft and hard presses.

The speakers are also stereo 2.5W speakers, which are clean and do not distort even at maximum volume. The amount of gain you can push out of these speakers is impressive for the size.

In terms of extra features, you get a built-in metronome, transposition, custom tuning, headphone outs, a foot switch jack, and a USB to Host connection that supports USB Audio and MIDI.

So is the EZ-220 worth it? If you’re a visual learner, then try it out. At this price, you can’t go wrong. Once you’ve got the basics nailed down, you can upgrade to a more premium keyboard or digital piano to further advance your knowledge.

Otherwise, go for the other options on this list. These are more modern keyboards that are more conducive to learning and practice.

Pros
  • Light-up keys are good for visual learners
  • Decent selection of sounds and accompaniment styles
Cons
  • A somewhat outdated keyboard with older technology
  • A straight downgrade when compared to the PSR-EW300
  • Light-up keys are a gimmick if you’re not going to use them

Sustain Pedals

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.

M-audio SP-2 sustain pedal

M-Audio SP-2 Sustain Pedal

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.


Final Words

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:

Best Digital Pianos Under $500 (Beginner’s Edition)

Best Digital Pianos Under $700 (Intermediate Edition)

Best Digital Pianos Under $1000 (for Home Use)

best-digital-pianos-under-1000

The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Digital Piano

Digital Piano Buying Guide

4 Comments

  1. Avatar Mike September 12, 2019
    • Lucas Welter Lucas Welter September 14, 2019
  2. Avatar Mike September 24, 2019
    • Lucas Welter Lucas Welter September 26, 2019

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