4 Best 88-key Pianos with Arranger Features
Updated: Sep 9, 2020
Undoubtedly, 88-key arranger pianos offer the best of both worlds — you get 88 full-sized, weighted piano keys, and the fun and instant playability from hundreds of sounds and accompaniment rhythms from the arranger feature in an all-in-one package. In this article, I will be reviewing and comparing four of the best 88-key digital pianos with arranger features, namely the controversial Casio PX-S3000, the stalwart Yamaha DGX-660, the new kid on the block Korg XE20, and the wallet-friendly Casio CDP-S350. We'll be going through the pros and cons of each piano and at the end of this article, you would be able to determine which piano is best suited for your budget and usage.
Best Arranger Piano #1
With 88 full-sized, matte-textured, graded hammer action keys, there will not be any hindrances in playing fast classical musical passages. The key noises on these pianos found in this list are also very quiet. Key action and key weighting is often a personal preference depending on how heavy or light you want your keys to be. As all the digital pianos featured on this article have arranger features, the other non-piano voices found in this piano express better with a less heavy key action.
That being said, the Casio PX-S3000 has the lightest keys compared to the other pianos in this article. In addition, the Casio PX-S3000 also has 96 user registration slots, 192 notes of polyphony, 280 styles (with only two variations per style and lack of style manipulation function) and 700 voices (although the same amount as the voices found on the Casio CDP-S350, the PX-S3000 has a much better sound engine). Because of the higher price tag on the PX-S3000, the main piano voice is highly configurable with parameters such as string and damper resonance, and key noises which is missing in the CDP-S350. You can also layer and split the voices across the keyboard and you can also adjust the volume mix of each layer. The PX-S3000 supports a triple-pedal system for soft, sostenuto and damper, and it also has the ability to connect to an expression pedal which is great for controlling dynamics in organs, strings and most acoustic instruments.
You can also change registration presets and trigger rhythm fills using the assignable pedals which is essential for arranger style playing. Furthermore, it also provides two live control knobs which can be assigned to many parameters and effects. The usual multi-tracks song recording as MIDI data comes with the PX-S3000, with the additional features that can record audio directly to a USB drive for easy sharing with others and a wireless Bluetooth connectivity.
However, the quirk is that you can send bluetooth audio from your mobile devices to the PX-S3000 speakers but the keyboard cannot transmit your playing to external bluetooth speakers, which would be a great feature for buskers using portable bluetooth amplifiers for an absolutely wire-free setup. Like all the pianos on this list, it comes with a headphone jack and it also can be used as a MIDI controller for music production with a DAW. As a bonus, it can also be used well with the Casio Chordana Play for Piano app on both iOS and Android devices. It is also very portable and can be operated via an electrical socket or with batteries.
However, even though the Casio PX-S3000 has loads of potential and power under the hood, its 3-line LCD screen and the need to go through multiple menus to get to often used functions makes it really not user-friendly. As for the speakers, Casio has decided to go hipster and decided that form takes precedence over function.
The speakers on the Casio pianos are one of the biggest casualties of the compact form factor. Also, like all the other pianos on this list, it does not come with a built-in USB audio interface for transmitting audio directly to a DAW.
Best Arranger Piano #2
Similar to the Casio PX-S3000, the Casio CDP-S350 also has matte-textured graded hammer action keys which has a more a balanced feel which is very well suited for arranger pianos. Also similar to the previous piano, the CDP-S350 comes with 200 styles with 2 variation per style and the absence of style manipulation functions. The Casio CDP-S350 also supports a triple-pedal system for soft, sostenuto and damper.
There is also a headphone jack and a pretty straightforward user interface as it is the most affordable and has the least functionality than the other pianos in this list. It is also very portable and can be operated via an electrical socket or with batteries. The CDP-S350 can also record multi-track songs as MIDI data as well. The piano is also suitable to use with the Casio Chordana Play for Piano app that is able to work on both iOS and Android devices.
However, the CDP-S350's 700 voices where some acoustic instruments are a hit and miss, and the non-configurable string and damper resonance and key noises makes it pale in comparison to the PX-S3000. Although the voices can be layered and split across the keyboard, the volume mix of each layer cannot be adjusted on the CDP-S350. In addition, it has the lowest note of polyphony at only 64. This is fine for beginners, but it would definitely not be beneficial in the long run. It also does not come with any pitch bend or modulation wheels. Moreover, lowest in the list, it also only comes with 32 user pre-slots.
Best Arranger Piano #3
The Yamaha DGX-660 boasts of 88-full sized graded hammer action keys, however, they are made of shiny plastic which can either feel sticky or slippery to the touch depending on how sweaty your fingers get after extended practice. The keys are the heaviest on this list and it also sounds the quietest due to its much larger and heavier construction with thicker dampening. It also boasts of 32 user slots, 192 notes of polyphony and 205 styles which comes with only two variation styles. There is also the presence of the pitch bend wheel and a headphone jack that is shared with the output port of the headphones.
The DGX-660’s piano room feature is a unique & convenient way to quickly adjust all the piano related parameters such as damper resonance, reverb & lid position using the large LCD display. Adding on to the large LCD, the interface also has large tactile buttons and pretty much all the features accessible without the need of a user manual. Personally, Yamaha’s acoustic instrument voices such as saxophone, guitar & harmonica sound better than the competition.
The Yamaha DGX has one the weakest amplification but it makes up for it by the sheer size and number of speakers. The DGX-660 has four built-in speakers whereas all the pianos in this list have just two. It can also record multi-track songs as MIDI data and record audio directly to a USB drive for easy sharing with others. Uniquely to the DGX is the microphone input which makes it great as a home entertainment powerhouse. The microphone feature is pretty sophisticated with effects like reverb, chorus, a multi-band EQ and even a compressor.
However, the Yamaha DGX-660 has only 554 voices, which is the fewest number of sounds in this list. Also, only 151 of those voices are of the highest quality. The remaining 388 voices are from Yamaha’s XGLite parts bin so that downloaded MIDI files sound better. Yamaha’s legendary AWM pure CF grand piano sample doesn't disappoint but it is a far cry from their most recent binaural sampled CFX piano sound. Furthermore, Yamaha continues to intentionally cripple the advanced chord detection mode on most of the arranger keyboards and pianos. Moreover, the Yamaha DGX-660 is massively heavy at 46lbs and weighs twice as much as the more portable Korg & Casio pianos in this list. There is also no specific Yamaha app that comes with the purchase of the DGX.
Best Arranger Piano #4
Boasting of 88-full sized, graded hammer shiny plastic keys is the Korg XE20. The keys are also one of the more balanced one on this list with a quiet noise. The Korg XE20 tops the list with 705 different voices including the deep sampled German and Italian pianos lifted from the Korg B2. While the pianos sound good, the lack of configurable string and damper resonance may be a deal breaker for those wanting to tweak the nuance of their piano sound. There are many great electric piano and synth voices but out of the box, the acoustic instrument voices don’t sound as good as the competition. A big advantage of the Korg XE20 is the ability to have up to three instrument layers to get really rich and huge combinations.
Unique to the XE20, it has two sound engines from the Korg B2 & EK-50 inside it. As such, the polyphony depends on which sound engine you are using, totalling up to 184 notes of polyphony. As like all the pianos in the list, the Korg supports a triple-pedal system for soft, sostenuto and damper and, it has the ability to connect an expression pedal like the PX-S3000. You also get 280 styles on this piano which makes it the leader on this list. As it inherits the Korg EK-50 features and layout, It is extremely powerful and versatile in the control and manipulation of the style section. XE20 also comes with four variations for each style and two intro and endings. The accompaniment parts can be dynamically turned on and off on the fly and the volume mix of the accompaniment can be easily adjusted with the fewest button presses. There is also 40 user registration slots and a headphone jack.
The XE20 is also more suited to a professional environment with their dedicated ¼” L/R stereo outputs with 18W amplified speakers. As for user interface, the Korg XE20 has the most powerful and user empowering user interface. You can turn on and off voices, rhythm parts and volume mix all on the fly with nice tactile buttons and without going into any menu system. It can also be operated with an electrical socket or with batteries. XE20 owners also get registration codes for three months subscription to the Skoove learning platform, Korg Gadget LE and Korg Module. Lastly, the XE20 is able to record multi-track songs as MIDI data as well.
However, the only unfortunate thing about the XE20 is that it does not come with any pitch bend or modulation wheels.
All these four digital pianos with arranger features have their pros and cons, and what would be best suited for you might not be for another. I hope that this article has been useful in providing you with information to make a more informed decision. I've also provided links in this article for the latest prices on these pianos. Do check out the other articles on this blog!
Additionally, check this link out for steps on how to learn to play the keyboard from me!