As you might have gathered from our past reviews, we’re combing through our ‘Top 5’ lists, particularly recent ones focused on the budget end of the spectrum.
These keyboards are especially popular with beginners thanks to their much more affordable price tags.
The previously covered Yamaha PSR-E363 was one of the best-selling budget keyboards at the sub-$300 price point, and we ended up praising it for its large number of features and good sounds.
Since both cost about the same price, there’s an obvious question to ask.
Why wouldn’t you just get the PSR-E363 instead?
The easy answer would be to choose the one you like most, but there’s a bit more nuance than that.
The NP-32 topped our sub-$300 list for a reason. It all comes down to the laser-focus on piano sounds, as opposed to the PSR-E363’s emphasis on arranger features.
Today, we’ll run the NP-32 (and by extension, the NP-12) through our rigorous review process, and we’ll let you know why it’s one of the better choices for music newcomers.
Yamaha NP-12 vs NP-32
Before we begin, let’s cover the differences between the NP-32 and NP-12.
The NP-32 has 76 keys and dual 6W speakers, but the NP-12 has 61 keys and dual 2.5W speakers.
We used the NP-32 as the main keyboard for testing throughout our review process, and we believe it’s the superior choice.
We’ll talk more about the differences in the written review, so let’s dive straight in.
Yamaha NP-12 / NP-32 Specs
- 61/76 unweighted piano-style keys
- Touch Sensitivity (3 types, Off)
- Sound: AWM Stereo Sampling, 10 preset tones
- 64-note polyphony
- Modes: Dual (Layer)
- Effects: Reverb (4 types)
- 1-track MIDI recorder
- 20 Preset Songs (10 voice demo songs + 10 piano preset songs)
- Speakers: 2 x 2.5W – NP-12 | 2 x 6W – NP-32
- Connections: Headphone jack (1/4”), Sustain Pedal jack, USB to HOST
- W x D x H: 40.8” x 10.2” x 4.1” (103.6 x 25.9 x 10.4 cm) – NP-12 | 49” x 10.2” x 4.1” (124.5 x 25.9 x 10.4 cm) – NP-32
- 9.9 lbs (4.5 kg) – NP-12 | 12.6 lbs (5.7 kg) – NP-32
- Release Date: February 2016
- Full specs can be found on Yamaha’s official site here
Check the availability and current price of the Yamaha NP-12 / NP-32 in your region:
The NP-series’ namesake, “Piaggero”, is Italian for ‘light’, and that’s the design focus for the NP-series. Yamaha markets these as lightweight keyboards, and as you’ll soon see from the comparison tables, it really does live up to those expectations.
To put things in perspective, these keyboards are both lighter than their PSR-line counterparts of the same key count. That’s no small feat, as the PSR-E363 is already known as a portable arranger keyboard.
Here’s a quick comparison table to show you the differences between the two.
There are certainly more differences than just the key count. The NP-32 has a weaker battery life, but we can chalk that up to the higher wattage speakers.
Now, let’s focus on the design in general. I do like the look of the NP-series.
From afar, the NP-32 can pass off as a more premium digital piano. The body itself, while compact, does feature a clean front panel that doesn’t have too many buttons or printed text.
There’s also the piano-style keys, which look a lot better than they feel.
In terms of finishes, both keyboards come in black and white. I’m personally keener on the black color, though Yamaha is quite insistent on marketing the white variant.
In my opinion, the buttons and speakers stick out like a sore thumb when you opt for the white variation, which in turn, makes the NP-32 feel cheap.
The black variant, on the contrary, looks sleek and clean, which makes it the better choice in my books.
The NP-32’s limited number of controls is a blessing in disguise. For one thing, it helps reduce the top-to-bottom width, and they also avoid the unnecessary options that might be overwhelming for beginners.
In terms of looks, Yamaha has done well with the NP-32. It’s unfortunate that the controls feel flimsy.
The buttons are of the “clicky” variety, and as you probably guessed, this isn’t the same premium “clicky-ness” you’d get with premium digital pianos like the Korg Grandstage. Every keypress emits clear (and loud) feedback, but they feel as if they’re susceptible to wear and tear.
The same goes for the volume knob. It’s smooth plastic, but the actual turning of it barely gives any resistance, which means it’s difficult to make precise volume changes. These are non-issues for most beginners, as the keys and sounds are of top importance.
To close this section, I’ll give props to Yamaha for including dedicated controls for most commonly used features.
This seems trivial, but the company’s own YDP-series tends to use button-key combos that are less user-friendly than the alternative.
Summing it up, the NP-32 and NP-12 look good but fall short when it comes to the feel of the controls. However, the keys are the most important part of learning to play the piano, so let’s dive into that now.
Yamaha marks these keys as ‘piano-style keyboard’, but as with the design, this description only applies to the looks, not the feel.
Visually, these keys seem like keys off Yamaha’s digital piano line. You don’t get textured or synthetic ivory or ebony keytops, but that’s not a huge loss, and real pianos often use smooth keys too.
I do wish Yamaha used semi-weighted keys instead, but that might have increased the price beyond the accessible range.
Despite being unweighted, Yamaha does include velocity sensitivity, and it is responsive, like with the PSR-E363. You can come to grips with dynamic control, an absolute must for any pianist or keyboardist.
There are 3 different touch sensitivities (soft, medium, hard), as well as an option to turn this off. The default Medium setting is natural enough, and I never felt the need to change things up.
With that said, I do believe that the sluggish keys hurt the NP-32 / NP-12 in this regard. I’m more used to the weighted keys of fully-fledged digital pianos, but I still found the flatbed keys on the PSR-E363 usable.
The NP-32 feels like an awkward in-between, and I ended up needing to adapt my playstyle to use the built-in sounds to their maximum.
Online demos show off the superb velocity sensitivity of the NP-32, but I personally needed to pay extra attention to nail down my dynamics.
This, again, might be a non-issue for beginners. The so-called heft might not be as noticeable as I make it out to be, but I still find myself disliking that.
Regardless, there’s an argument to be made for building up finger strength and having these keys might be good for newcomers.
The keys themselves are also 1 mm narrower than real pianos, possibly another step taken to reduce the overall width of the keyboard. This is ultimately negligible, and I didn’t notice this too much during the test.
Finally, let’s talk about the ‘Graded Soft Touch’ featured on the NP-32. Theoretically, a graded keyboard means the keys at lower registers are heavier, but the higher registers are lighter.
However, on the NP-32, the effect is so subtle that I’m sometimes convinced it’s not even there. I believe there are a bit of software-side velocity modifications yet testing the USB MIDI functionality didn’t show that either.
If you’re thinking of getting the NP-32 for the graded feel, don’t. For a more realistic graded feel, I’d recommend getting Yamaha’s P121, which uses the GHS key action and is fully weighted.
The most important thing is that beginners can learn on these keys. Even a seasoned keyboardist can find value with the NP-32 as a MIDI controller. The eccentricities might take some getting used to, but they’re ultimately just minor concerns.
The solid velocity response is something Yamaha does well, and these keys are solid in that regard. As we consider dynamic control an essential part of any learning regiment, the NP-32 (and by extension, the NP-12) is a solid choice.
Sounds are where the NP-32 / NP-12 excel in their price bracket.
You might have scoffed at the lowly 10 included sounds (especially versus the 500+ sounds on the PSR-E363), but this is a matter of quality versus quantity.
The default piano sound will probably be your mainstay. At first glance, the piano sound is nearly identical to that featured on the PSR-E363, but playing it shows there’s a lot more variation to be had.
The magic here happens because of the increased number of multisamples.
While the PSR-E363 is reactive to dynamic changes (say, fortissimo to pianissimo), you can clearly hear that the same audio file is being played for most ranges, with volume being the only thing changing.
The same principles apply to the NP-32, but you can also hear a few different samples being included. This is particularly obvious when you play intense parts at a high velocity. This enhances the feel of realism, and I’m always happy to hear that.
Sure, you’re not getting sounds as detailed as full-fledged digital pianos, yet it’s still a step up over the budget keyboards you generally get at this price point.
The piano sound itself seems to be a typical Yamaha C-series concert grand, and it’s sampled decently well despite the limitations. I think it’s hard to argue that this is the best piano sound you can get at the sub-$300 price bracket.
The rest of the sounds might feel a bit less detailed, but it’s always nice to get a bit more variety to spice up your practice sessions. Highlights include the DX7-style E.Piano 1 and the tine-based E.Piano 2.
If I had to complain about something, it would be the lack of specific sounds, such as electric organs and electric bass.
The former means you don’t get to practice organ techniques such as glides and licks, which are where unweighted keyboards shine.
The lack of basses (and a split mode) means you don’t get to practice playing different sounds on the left and right hand. This isn’t as important for pianists, but many keyboardists consider split playing an important part of stage performances.
The base piano sound is important here. It surpasses my expectations. Ultimately, that’s the biggest part of why I consider the NP-32 a great beginner keyboard.
The NP-32 is basic when it comes to effects, featuring only a single reverb.
This is a bit disappointing, but a reverb is all you need for piano practice and performance.
The term ‘reverb’ is short for ‘reverberation,’ and if you know your physics, these are emulations of how a sound reacts in an enclosed space, like a room or hall.
In most musical instruments, a reverb effect is included to add a sense of space to your playing.
The sounds are often sampled near their source, which gives them a dry feel. Adding reverb allows the keyboardist to place them in spaces to suit the songs they’re playing.
The NP-32 (NP-12) comes with 4 different algorithms, including a small room, a small hall, a large concert hall, and a recital stage. These can thenbe modified in depth to change how intense the effect gets.
As with most Yamaha instruments, each voice comes with a default reverb setting, which I find well-tuned. Unless you’re chasing a specific tonality, you should be fine with the defaults.
The lack of other effects such as chorus does sting a little, but it’s a minor loss in the grand scheme of things.
The Yamaha NP-32 has 64 notes of maximum polyphony, and that’s a good amount, allowing you to play most classical and modern pieces without issue.
Polyphony is a measure of how many notes you can play simultaneously without cutting off earlier notes. As such, if you play 65 notes around the same time, the 1st note you played will stop abruptly.
Remember, you only have 73 keys maximum (61 in the NP-12), so you won’t run into much trouble.
The speakers on the NP-32 are another highlight, as they’re of a high wattage compared to the competition.
Most other keyboards below $300 come with 2 or 2.5W speakers, which are okay for home-based practice, but not much more. These speakers are fine but tend to get muddy at higher volumes and specific frequencies.
With the NP-32, I was surprised at how clean the dual 6W speakers sound. The speakers are front facing and point towards you as you play. This should discourage you from pushing the volume too much, to avoid the risk of ear damage.
These speakers are a step above the competition and are also capable of projecting its sound to a small room for performances.
While I’m not a fan of where the speakers are placed, I can’t deny that they sound awesome. I prefer front-facing speakers placed at the upper end of the front panel, as opposed to the sides of the keys. Regardless, the sound is where the NP-32 excels.
As with most no-frills digital pianos, the NP-32 is quite minimal when it comes to extra features. However, the included features are still quite helpful for any aspiring musician.
Dual Mode is the only extra play mode you get and it’s sometimes called ‘Layer Mode’ on other keyboard brands.
Dual Mode allows you to play two sounds simultaneously with each keypress and allows you to get richer sounds with minimal effort.
A common use of this mode is to layer a piano sound with orchestral strings for a ballad-style piano tone with extra harmonics. Add a bit of reverb depth, and you’ve got yourself a rich backing for some singing.
Sadly, Split Mode is not included, though without a dedicated bass voice, I guess it’s understandable. It would have been nice to get this as an extra though.
A single-track song recorder is included on the NP-32, and it’s conveniently accessible with the dedicated REC button on the front panel.
Unfortunately, you can only save 1 single recording at any time, and there’s also no way to export the song as a MIDI file either.
This is a missed opportunity, but most people today directly record their songs using the USB to Host connection, which we’ll cover in a bit.
There are a few modifiable parameters on the NP-32, and you can change these using button-key combinations. Some notable settings include:
- TRANSPOSITION. You can transpose the keyboard either up 5 semitones or down 6 semitones to adapt to unfamiliar key signatures.
- OCTAVE. You can transpose up or down 1octave to adapt to different voices to different sound registers, this can also be applied individually to each layered sound.
- METRONOME. A standard metronome is included to facilitate practice and can be used while recording.
- MASTER TUNING. The central tuning of the middle A can be modified from 414.8 Hz – 466.8Hz in 0.2 Hz increments. The default is 440 Hz.
Reverb depth and type are also included here.
The NP-32 is also quite bare-bones when it comes to connectivity options, but all the essentials are here.
A headphone jack allows you to practice without disturbing people around you. Since the NP-32 doesn’t include TRS stereo outputs, these are the outputs you’ll use to connect the NP-32 to external speakers.
A sustain pedal jack is located at the back panel, and the NP-32 supports half-pedaling! While the default package does not come with a complementary sustain pedal, your retailer might have different options. If it includes the FC3A pedal, you’re good to go.
Finally, you have a USB to Host connector provided, using USB Type B cables. This option allows you to send MIDI data via a USB connection and lets you record MIDI data to computers.
Sadly, the NP-32 lacks the USB Audio Interface features that other Yamaha keyboards have. This is quite disappointing, especially considering the high-quality samples on the NP-line of keyboards.
Something noticeably lacking is the absence of an Aux In mini TRS jack. Most keyboards include this option, letting you connect your phones or music players to the keyboard for playback via the speakers. This is a minor gripe, but I do miss it.
Again, it’s 2020, so I expect some form of connectivity via Bluetooth, but I can’t complain too much with these slightly older models, so it’s not a huge deal.
You may have guessed that the NP-32 is light on accessories. You get an AC adapter, the Manual, and a nice music rest (surprisingly high quality).
I find it somewhat mind-boggling that Yamaha didn’t include a sustain pedal with every purchase, though you can always purchase one separately.
Ideally, you’d go with Yamaha’s own FC3A to take advantage of the half-pedaling functionality, but that’s a little pricey.
Whenever we discuss sustain pedals, remember that Yamaha goes against the norms of polarity. That’s why I discourage purchasing the FC3A, as it might not work with other keyboards or digital pianos from other manufacturers.
If you can live without half-pedaling (which is not important for beginners), you can go with the Nektar NP-2, a cheap but well-built sustain pedal with a universal switch that works with any keyboard out there.
Some Chinese brands are coming up with universal sustain pedals with half-pedaling support, but we haven’t tested them out yet, and their prices imply that they’re of dubious quality. Make these purchases at your own risk.
Yamaha recommends the L3-C stand, but it’s expensive. Since we’re looking at an affordable keyboard, I recommend getting an affordable, universal X- or Y-stand, such as the previously recommended RockJam Xfinity Double-X stand.
Headphones come in very handy when you want to practice in private, focusing solely on your playing and not disturbing others nearby.
Moreover, a good pair of headphones will provide a clearer and more detailed sound compared to the onboard speakers.
Check out this guide to learn how to choose the best-sounding headphones for your keyboard.
For beginners, I consider the NP-32 a top value buy, but I’ll also admit that there area few omissions that make it feel slightly less fully-fledged than its other competitors.
Regardless, it’s a beginner keyboard, and the most important thing is that it has a good piano sound and velocity response.
This allows beginners to build up the needed skills of dynamic control and muscle memory, essential for mastering the piano.
The NP-32’s sounds are arguably the best-in-class option, which gives it a leg up over the competition. In terms of piano sounds, you’d be hard-pressed to find something better at the sub-$300 price point.
While I wouldn’t consider the NP-32 perfect, it’ll serve most players way past the beginner level.
As with most budget selections, you’ll need to investigate an upgrade in the future, but the NP-32 is a solid choice for nailing down the basics.
While the NP-12 is similar in most regards, the NP-32’s speakers are worth the extra cost. Having clean speakers makes the practice process more enjoyable. Reducing ear fatigue and allowing you to hear all frequencies is always a plus.
In conclusion, the NP-32 and NP-12 are solid beginner keyboards that impress despite their limited feature set. I’ll stand by what I said earlier, and the NP-series keyboards are easily one of the best budget keyboards you can buy as a beginner.
Check the availability and current price of the Yamaha NP-12 / NP-32 in your region: