Buying the cheapest possible keyboard with light-weighted keys may not be the best idea even for a complete beginner. If your main goal is to play or learn to play the piano, you’d definitely want an instrument with fully-weighted keys (I’ll explain why in a bit).
So, in this article, we’re going to look at the 5 best digital pianos under $500 that have a full set of 88 fully weighted hammer-action keys.
With the advent of digital pianos, it has become easier than ever to start learning to play the piano.
You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on an acoustic upright (that’s like a heavy piece of furniture) and all the maintenance costs that come with it (tuning, repair).
Nowadays, digital pianos come very close to recreating the “real thing, ” and offer a number of important features not available on a traditional instrument.
And while the advantages of an acoustic piano are still valid today, more and more people are choosing a digital alternative.
There’s a huge variety of instruments to fit any skill level, budget, and space.
But what makes a good keyboard for those just starting their musical journey?
I do believe that one can start learning on any keyboard (cheap or expensive, with 61 or 88 keys etc.) if he or she really wants to.
- I’ve divided the whole market of budget-end keyboards into two parts:
- Keyboards Under 300$
- Keyboards (Digital Pianos) Under 500$
This segment consists of relatively cheap portable keyboards, which often have lots of built-in sounds, songs, rhythms and other so-called “bells and whistles” but not very realistic piano sound and touch.
Such keyboards most commonly have 61 or 76 non-weighted or semi-weighted keys which don’t feel anything like a real piano. So it isn’t a good choice for those who want to develop proper finger strength and technique.
The quality of piano tones is usually average; the dynamic range is very limited, partly due to the action-type.
At the same time, these portable keyboards are perfect for anyone on a budget who doesn’t know whether they’re going to stick with playing and just wants to get a taste of what it is like to play keyboard.
For that reason, it’s a very popular choice for kids and young adults.
The main difference from the 300$ segment is that for $350-500 you can actually get a keyboard with a full range of 88 hammer-action keys, which replicate the action found on an acoustic piano.
Therefore, these keyboards are much more suitable for learning and playing piano.
Apart from hammer-action keys, they also usually have better quality samples with more dynamic range, which results in a much more realistic piano sound.
From this point on, a keyboard can rightly be called a digital piano.
These entry-level digital pianos are perfect for beginning piano students who mainly need an instrument for playing piano rather than for music making, entertainment, etc.
So don’t expect these keyboards to have hundreds of built-in sounds, rhythms and fancy features like 17-track recorder or on-screen score/lyrics display.
Some digital pianos offer both authentic piano playing experience and lots of features for learning and music production, but they are a little bit pricier and usually cost $650+ (Yamaha DGX-660, Casio CGP-700, etc.)
Today we’re going to talk about the second segment (under 500$) of entry-level keyboards and the best 5 models that deliver the most value for players.
Not all keyboards this price range have fully-weighted keys. In fact, there’re keyboards that cost 400-500$ and have semi-weighted keys.
But I purposely didn’t include those keyboards in this list.
You may ask:
The answer is simple:
If you want to get a realistic piano playing experience, you’ll definitely want a keyboard with fully-weighted keys.
As I said, it feels much more like 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.
On the other hand, if you have a limited budget or built-in sounds/extra features are more important to you than realistic piano sound and feel, take a look at the portable keyboards under 300$, which usually have 61 or 76 semi-weighted keys.
Before moving on to the list itself, I want to explain the most common terms and features you’ll encounter so you know exactly what you’re getting and what those fancy words actually mean.
Modern acoustic pianos have 88 keys. Most keyboards and digital pianos have 88, 76, or 61 keys.
76 keys are enough to play most (99%) modern pieces. Some advanced pieces require a full set of 88 keys.
There are 3 most common types of actions:
1) Non-weighted – most organs, synths and entry-level keyboards are not weighted.
2) Semi-weighted – common action for budget portable keyboards (usually cost <300$). Spring-loaded 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 found inside a piano.
If your main goal is to play piano that you’ll definitely want a keyboard with hammer action keys. It’s the only type of action that feels close to 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.
Touch-sensitivity (also called velocity-sensitivity or touch-response) is a very important feature of any keyboard or digital piano, which means 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.
The polyphony is the number of notes a digital piano can produce at the same time.
Most of the contemporary digital pianos are equipped with 64, 128, 192 or 256-note polyphony.
You may wonder how it is possible to have 32, 64, or even 128 notes playing at the same time, if there are only 88 keys and we never play them all together.
First of all, many of today’s digital pianos use stereo samples, which sometimes require two notes for each key played.
Another thing is that the use of the sustain pedal, sound effects (Reverb, Chorus), Dual mode (layering) and even the metronome tick sound take 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 a backing track.
You’ll hardly ever need all the 192 or 256 voices of polyphony at a time, but there are cases when you can reach 64 or even 128 note limit, especially if you like to layer several sounds and create multi-track recordings.
It’s desirable to have at least 64 notes of polyphony.
Along with the “standard” keyboard mode, digital pianos usually offer additional modes for using two instrumen sounds at the same time or playing four hands.
Here are the most popular modes that digital pianos offer nowadays:
1) Split – 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 (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 sounds.
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.
Duet Play is particularly useful when you use it with your teacher or tutor who will be able to play you some tunes on one side of the keyboard, and you’ll be able to follow along on the other playing the exact same notes.
Some digital pianos allows you to turn off the left or right hand part (track) of a song (built-in or downloaded from the Internet) and practice it while listening to the playback of the other part.
Pianos that have this function usually have a multi-track MIDI recorder.
MIDI recorder allows you to record and playback your own performances right onboard.
Multi-track recording (2 and more tracks) allows you to record several musical parts on 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.
MIDI-recording is not the recording of the actual sound of the instrument. Here, we’re recoding the MIDI data (a sequence of notes, their length, velocity and other parameters).
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 the song in C major without actually learning it in a 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, hearing it as 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 your piano’s pitch finely to that of other instruments or music (old piano, tape).
Also called USB to Host terminal. This jack can be used to connect a computer or a tablet (using special adapter) to exchange songs/files, and MIDI data.
There are actually many other apps that can expand the functionality of a digital piano in terms of learning, composing, recording, editing, notation creation, etc., depending on the kind of software you use.
Some brands offer their own free apps designed for certain models. Such apps usually enable you to control all the settings and functions of the instrument using an intuitive on-screen interface.
Now let’s finally look at the list of 5 best beginner keyboards with weighted keys. First, take a look at the comparison table below.
Comparison table of the 5 best beginner keyboards with weighted keys
- Hammer-Action Weighted Keys
- Touch Sensitivity
- Tone Generator
- Built-in Tones
- Lesson Function
- MIDI Recorder
- USB Type B
- 3 types, OFF
- Multi-dimensional Morphing AiR
- 128 notes
- 18 (5 pianos)
- Layer, Split (Bass only), Duo
- 60 songs
- 8W + 8W
- 24.5 lbs
- 3 types, OFF
- 128 notes
- 12 (2 pianos)
- Layer, Split, Duo
- Transpose only
- 10W + 10W
- 26 lbs
When compiling this list, we were looking for the following criteria:
1) Casio Privia PX-160 – Best value keyboard in this price range
The Casio PX-160 is probably the most expensive keyboard on this list, but for good reason.
The piano offers an amazing value for the price. In fact, this keyboard can compete even with higher-priced keyboards like the Yamaha P-115, or the Roland FP-30.
So what is so good about this piano?
First, the PX-160 is equipped with the Casio’s famous Tri-sensor Hammer Action keyboard II.
It’s the only keyboard in this price range that utilizes 3-sensor detection system and has simulated Ebony & Ivory key surfaces.
The triple sensor detection technology allows for faster note repetition, while the Ivory & Ebony textures provide a good grip on the keys and absorb moisture when your fingers become a bit sweaty.
Sound is another area where the PX-160 shines.
Its Multi-dimensional Morphing AiR Sound Source delivers full natural sound sampled from a 9 foot grand piano. The improved 16W speaker system and 128-note polyphony also contribute to the quality of sound.
Along with 5 piano tones, there’re 13 other instrument sounds, which I really enjoyed playing. You’ll hardly be able to find such high-quality sounds in this price range.
Everything from an electric piano to a pipe organ sounded very authentic to my ears, which is quite surprising to see on a budget-end piano.
When it comes to features, the PX-160 will not disappoint you either.
The PX-160 is the only piano in the list that has 2-track MIDI recorder, which will allow you to separately record your right- and left-hand part to different tracks and then play them back as one song.
The keyboard also offers standard features such as metronome, transpose and tuning function, dual mode, duet play function, etc.
The PX-160’s split mode only works with the Bass sound in the low-range of the keyboard, while you can select any other sound for the right-hand section.
There are 60 built-in songs that you can use to separately practice right- and left-hand parts by turning one of the parts off. On top of that, the piano allows to load 10 User Songs into the internal memory and use them in the same way.
2) Alesis Recital Pro – A Pro version of the popular Recital model
Alesis brand is not as well-known as Yamaha or Casio, but you’ll inevitably come across a few models as you’re getting more familiar with the market of entry-level keyboards.
Although the Alesis Recital has been around for a while, the Pro version, which comes with 88 fully-weighted keys, was released just a few months ago.
Aside from the new action and a redesigned cabinet, the Recital Pro also got a bunch of additional instrument sounds and a small display which makes it much easier to navigate the machine.
I really liked the piano tone on the keyboard. It sounds pretty convincing and has a nice warm character to it.
Thanks to the powerful 20W speakers you get a wide dynamic range, which allows you to be more expressive with your playing.
The hammer action of the Recital Pro seems like a good weighted action. It’s nothing special but does its job well. Like most of the keyboards in this price range, the Recital’s keys are made of plastic and have a glossy finish on them.
While, to me, the Casio PX-160 has the best action at this price point, the rest of the keyboards on this list feel pretty similar to each other, and I can’t say the Alesis’s action is inferior to them.
The only thing is that Alesis’s keyboard doesn’t have graded effect, which means the keys feel the same across the whole keyboard range.
In total, the keyboard has 12 instrument sounds and a nice set of features which any beginner would appreciate. It includes a metronome, transpose function, Split, Layer, and Dual mode, 1-track MIDI recorder and more.
Unfortunately, the Alesis doesn’t have built-in songs to practice, and you can’t load your songs into the keyboard either.
The Recital Pro is the only digital piano on this list (and probably on the market) that has a compartment for batteries, which means you can use the keyboard outdoors when there’s no power outlet around. And for some, it can be a great advantage.
3) Yamaha P-45 – Most affordable Yamaha piano with weighted keys
The Yamaha P-45 is the most basic model in the P line and Yamaha’s only digital piano under 500$.
It’s also probably the most popular keyboard for beginners. And I’m not surprised.
Yamaha is a well-known brand with an excellent reputation which has been making high-quality digital musical instruments for years, add to this an affordable price, and the P-45 becomes one of the leaders in its class.
But of course, the famous brand and good price aren’t the only things the P-45 has to offer. The keyboard features a full set of 88 Graded Hammer Standard (GHS) keys, also found on the P-115 (next model up).
The AWM stereo sampling technology used on the P-45 ensures you get a rich, natural piano sound as well as 8 other beautiful voices.
The piano features 64-note polyphony and it’s not something to be excited about but is enough in most situations.
The lack of a Split Mode and Line Out jacks doesn’t seem to be a big downside for a beginner either.
But if you’re planning to use your keyboard as a performing instrument, dedicated Line Outputs would be a nice feature to have.
The lack of an onboard MIDI recorder is another thing to consider. Unfortunately, in this price range, only the Casio PX-160 and the Alesis Recital Pro have that feature.
On the other hand, you can always use the P-45’s USB type B port to connect it to a computer create multi-track MIDI recordings as well as do many other things (learning, notation creation, music production, etc.) using various music apps.
4) Casio CDP-135 – Another budget-friendly keyboard from the Japanese brand
Casio has just updated its CDP series range with two new digital pianos, and the CDP-135 is one of them.
The keyboard would be a great alternative to the PX-160 for those who want to keep their budget as low as possible.
The piano boasts graded hammer action keyboard, but unlike the PX-160, it uses 2-sensor technology and doesn’t have Ivory & Ebony textures on the keys.
The CDP-135 uses the Dual-element AHL sound source that Casio employs on their portable keyboard workstations (WK, CTK series), which is inferior to the AiR sound source in terms of sound realism and polyphony.
The piano has 64 notes of polyphony and 10 instrument sounds including 3 pianos, 3 electric pianos, 2 organs, strings, and harpsichord.
Compared to the PX-160, the CDP-135 appears more basic not only in sound and touch but also in features.
The instrument doesn’t have a MIDI recorder or split function. Unfortunately, the PX-160 also doesn’t have the Duet Play function, which would provide an easy way for students to play duets with their teachers or copy and practice during lessons.
The good news is that Casio has kept a USB port as well as standard features like metronome, transpose, and layering function.
Wrapping up, the CDP-135 is a great keyboard for the money to start out with. It has some nice sounds and features and doesn’t seem to be lacking something.
5) Korg B1 – Stylish piano with powerful sound and minimal features
Finally, the last piano we’re looking at is the KORG B1.
Korg has recently released a few great digital pianos with stylish design and highly authentic piano sound and feel, including the B1, the B1SP, the C1 Air and the G1 Air.
The B1 is the most basic piano among those models, though it also has some nice upgrades.
At the heart of the B1 is the Stereo PCM tone generator, which along with 120-note polyphony and 18W speakers deliver rich sound with very good dynamic range.
The speakers deserve a special mention with their Motional Feedback (MFB) technology, which helps reproduce low frequencies more accurately.
The piano features 88 full sized keys with Korg’s NH (Natural Hammer) action. I liked the action of the B1 slightly more than that of the Recital Pro as well as the P-45 and the CDP-135.
But to my fingers, it feels not as good as the PX-160 action with its Ivory textured keys.
Another advantage of the B1 is that it comes with a piano-style metal sustain pedal unlike the other keyboards on the list, which come with those cheap box-like footswitches.
In terms of features, Korg has kept the B1 very basic. Partner (Duo) Mode, metronome, transpose and tuning function are the only things the keyboard offers.
There’s no recording function and more importantly no USB port, which makes it impossible to send and receive MIDI data and use the B1 as a MIDI controller.
And this is probably the main disadvantage of this instrument because all the other keyboards on this list are equipped with a USB port.
For the majority of beginners, the lack of MIDI connectivity won’t probably be a huge con, but it would be a nice feature to have considering how many things you can do once you connect to the computer.
Keyboards not included on the list (why?)
So there you have it, folks! I think for those who dream to learn to play the piano, the key is to make that first step. And you’ve made the right decision opting for a keyboard with fully-weighted keys.
We hope the list helps you pick the best keyboard according to your needs and budget.
To us, the Casio PX-160 delivers the most value in this price range and is amazing in all aspects including the realistic sound and touch as well as a diverse set of features.
But the other keyboards are also great instruments maybe with a little less features but more attractive price. So it all comes down to your own situation and preferences.
In case you feel that we left out some other great keyboards with weighted keys under 500$, don’t hesitate to let us know.