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 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 take look at the 5 best piano keyboards for beginners that have a full set of 88 hammer-action keys and cost less than 500$.
With the advent of digital pianos, it has become easier than ever to start learning to play the piano.
You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on an acoustic upright (that’s like a heavy piece of furniture) and all the maintenance costs that come with it (tuning, repair).
Nowadays, digital pianos come very close to recreating the “real thing, ” and offer a number of important features not available on a traditional instrument.
And while the advantages of acoustic pianos are still valid today, more and more people are opting for a digital alternative.
There’s a huge variety of instruments to fit any skill level, budget, and space.
But what makes a good keyboard for those just starting their musical journey?
I do believe that one can start learning on any keyboard (cheap or expensive, with 61 or 88 keys, etc.) if he or she really wants to learn the piano.
- I’ve divided the whole market of budget-end keyboards into two parts:
- Keyboards Under 300$
- 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 piano playing, and those who just wants to get a taste of what it is like to play the 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 better 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 MIDI-recorder or on-screen score/lyrics display feature.
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 well over $500 (Yamaha DGX-660, Casio CGP-700, Korg Havian 30, etc.)
Today we’re going to talk about the second segment (under 500$) of entry-level keyboards and the best 5 models that offer the most value for your money.
Not all keyboards in 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$, which usually have 61 or 76 semi-weighted keys.
Before moving on to the list itself, I want to explain the most common terms and features you’ll likely to run into so you know exactly what you’re getting and what those fancy words actually mean.
Modern acoustic pianos have 88 keys. Most keyboards and digital pianos have 88, 76, or 61 keys.
76 keys are enough to play most (99%) modern pieces. Some advanced pieces require a full set of 88 keys.
There are 3 most common types of actions:
1) Non-weighted – most organs, synths and entry-level keyboards are not weighted.
2) Semi-weighted – common action for budget portable keyboards (usually cost <300$). Spring-loaded mechanizm adds more resistance to the keys compared to the non-weighted action. This type of action is also commonly used in stage pianos, music workstations, synths and other instruments where piano realism is not the main focus.
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 then 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 to have on any keyboard or digital piano. Having touch-sensitive keys basically 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 will 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 at once.
First of all, many of today’s digital pianos use stereo samples, which sometimes require two or even more notes for each key played.
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 the 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 instrument sounds at the same time or playing four hands.
Here are the most popular modes that digital pianos offer nowadays:
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) – 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 where he or she can play something on one side of the keyboard and you can follow along on the other side playing the exact same notes.
Some digital pianos allow 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. It only records 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 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 hearing 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 your piano’s pitch finely to that of other instruments or music (old piano, music tape).
Also known as USB to Host terminal. This port can be used to connect your digital piano to a computer or a tablet (using an 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 take a look at the 5 best digital pianos for beginners with fully-weighted keys.
Comparison table of the 5 best beginner keyboards under $500
- 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
- 3 types, OFF
- Dual-element AHL
- 64 notes
- Layer, Split
- 200 rhythms
- 8W + 8W
- 24.9 lbs
When compiling this list, we were looking for the following criteria:
1) Casio Privia PX-160 – Best value keyboard in its price range
The Casio PX-160 is probably the most expensive keyboard on this list, but for good reason.
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 a full natural sound sampled from a 9-foot concert grand piano. The improved 16W speaker system and 128-note polyphony also contribute to the quality of the 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 decent, which is quite surprising to see on a budget-friendly instrument such as the PX-160.
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 a 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 as well as dual mode and duet play function.
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 you 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 is not as well-known as Yamaha, Roland 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 year ago.
Aside from a new action and redesigned cabinet, the Recital Pro has been equipped with a bunch of new instrument sounds as well as a small display which makes it much easier to navigate the machine.
The main grand piano tone on the keyboard sounds pretty convincing and has a nice warm character to it. Other tones are also on point, although electric pianos could definitely be worked on.
Thanks to the powerful 20W speakers you get a good 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. I personally prefer a slightly heavier feel but it’s just a matter of taste rather than a necessity.
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 or, in other words, is balanced, which means the keys feel the same across the whole keyboard range.
Another downside is that the keys of the Alesis Reciatal Pro produce quite a lot of noise, especially when playing fortissimo (very loud), which is audible at low volume levels, but shouldn’t be a problem once you turn the volume up.
However, the Recital Pro is not unique in that regard, and it’s a common problem for all entry-level keyboards and digital pianos.
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 players, it can be a great advantage.
3) Yamaha P-45 – Yamaha’s best-selling beginner digital piano
The Yamaha P-45 is the most simple yet very popular model in Yamaha’s P (Portable) line of digital pianos. It’s also the only digital piano (with fully-weighted keys) in Yamaha’s arsenal that you can get for under 500$.
The Yamaha P-45 was introduced quite a few years ago but it hasn’t lost its appeal. In fact, today it’s one of the best-selling Yamaha digital pianos in the world. 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-125 (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 Out jacks 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 to a computer, which will allow you to create multi-track MIDI recordings and do many other things (learning, notation creation, music production, etc.) using various music apps.
4) Casio CDP-240 – Another budget-friendly keyboard with tons of features
Casio has recently updated its CDP line with two new digital pianos, and the CDP-240 is one of them.
Technically, it’s the same piano as the CDP-235 that was introduced about a year ago but is sold under a different name (CDP-240) as an Amazon Exclusive.
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 the Scaled Hammer Action keyboard, but unlike the PX-160, it uses 2-sensor technology and doesn’t have Ivory & Ebony textures on the keys.
When it comes to sound generation, the CDP-240 uses the Dual-element AHL sound source which Casio employs on their portable keyboard workstations (WK, CTK series).
It’s a bit inferior to the AiR sound source in terms of piano sound realism and polyphony (64 vs 128).
At the same time, the CDP-240 has a number of advantages compared to the PX-160.
The keyboard boasts 700 tones, 152 built-in songs, 200 rhythms, which means you can explore tons of different instruments, styles, and genres outside of the piano world.
Moreover, the CDP-240 has a Step Up lesson system, which will allow you to practice songs and learn notes using a built-in LCD that shows which notes to play with which hand/finger.
Other things the CDP-240 has that other keyboards on the list don’t are 6-track MIDI recorder, pitch bend wheel, Audio In jack, SD card slot, auto harmonize feature, and some sound effects.
Overall, the CDP-240 appears a more versatile instrument, which offers much more than just piano.
The PX-160, on the other hand, focuses more on providing a realistic piano experience and is relatively low on features.
5) Korg B1 – Stylish piano with powerful sound and minimal features
Finally, the last piano we’re going to look at is the Korg B1.
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 pretty wide 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. It’s a nice fully-weighted action but don’t expect too much from it. It’s definitely on the light side and feels pretty close to Yamaha’s GHS action.
If you had a chance to try their higher-end action – the RH3, the difference is pretty significant and you’ll likely notice the difference right away. But keyboards that feature the RH3 key action are also considerably more expensive, so it’s not a fair comparison to make.
If we’re talking about keyboards within the B1’s price range, I liked the action of the B1 slightly more than that of the Alesis Recital Pro, Yamaha P-45, and Casio CDP-240.
But, at the same time, to my fingers it doesn’t feel as good as the PX-160’s action with its tri-sensor mechanism, Ivory textured keys, which actually feel a bit heavier and, in my opinion, closer to the real thing.
The good thing about the B1 is that it comes with a piano-style metal sustain pedal unlike the other keyboards on the list, which come with one of 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 has to 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 type B port.
For the majority of beginners, the lack of MIDI connectivity won’t probably be a big deal, but it would be a nice feature to have considering how many things you can do once you connect the keyboard 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 has helped you pick the best keyboard according to your needs and budget.
For us, the Casio PX-160 seems to provide the most value in this price range and is an amazing keyboard to consider if you’re looking for a realistic sound and touch as well as a good set of features without crossing the $500 threshold.
But the thing is that every keyboard on this list has certain advantages/disadvantages over the other keyboards on the list.
So, in the end, it all comes down to your own needs, preferences, and budget.
I’d love yo hear your thoughts and experiences on any of the instruments on the list, or any other entry-level digital pianos that didn’t make to the list.
Also if you feel that we left out some other great keyboards with fully-weighted keys under 500$, leave a comment below and let’s have a chat 🙂