5 Best Beginner Keyboards Under $199 USD
Updated: Aug 13, 2020
A keyboard is quite different from a traditional piano. A keyboard comes with hundreds of instrument voices, hundreds of rhythms and a ton of technological features to help you learn, play, and sound better.
There are many features to consider when purchasing a keyboard. Depending on your needs and preferences, there might be certain aspects of the keyboard that can be beneficial in helping you learn, while the other features could also potentially cause issues for you.
If you are a beginner with no experience, you don't want to make the mistake of spending hundreds of dollars on your keyboard and find that it isn't suitable for you.
If you are looking for a keyboard that is affordable and yet gives a good run for your money, take a look at the list below. I’ve covered the bases which matters the most, so you can get a better chance of finding what works better for you.
Beginner Keyboard #1
With a staggering 600 instrument tones bundled into the Casio CTX-700, your creativity will be limitless! This Casio keyboard also comes with a whopping 195 rhythms, and every rhythm comes with 1 intro, 1 ending and 2 variations, which is something that you can consider.
Although the Casio rhythms are not as well programmed as those found on the Yamaha keyboards, this keyboard makes up for it by its sheer quantity and variety. The Casio CT-X700 also comes with the ability to layer and split voices across the keyboard but does not allow for the adjustment of the volume in the layer mix.
What I love about this keyboard is the sheer abundance of user registration preset slots – which is the most generous amount in this price category.
The sound comes from the 5W amplified speakers that’s built in. They’re fine for a small room but the keyboard definitely sounds better with headphones. The CT-X700 also comes with a lesson feature but frankly I feel this should have been deprecated in this day and age with so many free apps out there.
The CT-X700 can be powered with 6 AA-sized batteries or a power adapter. You can plug in a pair of headphones, a sustain pedal, a USB MIDI cable and an auxiliary cable at the rear panel of the keyboard, all of which are pretty standard features for portable keyboards these days.
Overall, the pros and cons are as follows:
Beginner Keyboard #2
At $199 USD, the Yamaha PSR-E363 is one of the most expensive keyboards on this list. This is no surprise, given that the Yamaha brand does carry a premium. Just like the cheaper Casio CT-X700, the Yamaha PSR-E363 comes with 61 full sized touch sensitive keys. However, the keys on the Yamaha feel better than those on the CT-X700.
You get 48 notes of polyphony like the Casio CT-X700, but the Yamaha comes with fewer voices and rhythms even though it costs more. However, the 574 voices have an advantage when it comes to saxophones, guitars and orchestral sounds, although the pianos and electric pianos don't do as well.
The 165 accompaniment rhythms included in the E363 are 30 fewer than those on the CT-X700, but the Yamaha has better programmed styles, the rhythms sound groovier, and transitions between the intro, ending and style variations are better handled. The Casio has more contemporary and world music rhythms.
The Yamaha PSR-E363 also has the ability to layer as well as split voices across the keyboard but it has the advantage of being able to adjust the volume of the layers, something which the Casio CT-X lacks in. Compared to the CTX's 32 user registration presets, the Yamaha PSR-E363 only has 9 slots. Switching from one preset to another also takes more button presses than necessary, which can hinder sound changes.
This Yamaha has a functional but dated looking LCD. The recorder can only record 2 tracks too, as opposed to the 6-track recorder that the CTX boasts. It also has the usual reverb and chorus effects, a metronome, and an arpeggiator. Just like the CT-X, the 5W amplified speakers can get the job done but sounds better with headphones.
The Yamaha's lesson feature in the keyboard is more than a decade old and frankly is a relic of the slow internet days. Hopefully Yamaha will remove this feature from the upcoming E-300 series keyboard like what they have done for the PSR-E463, and use that space in additional storage capacity to do something more innovative.
Much like the CT-X, the PSR-E363 can be powered with batteries or a power adapter. There are also ports for a pair of headphones, a sustain pedal, a USB MIDI cable, and an auxiliary audio cable from the rear panel of the keyboard.
One feature that I absolutely love about this PSR E-363 which the other keyboards at this price range lack is the built-in audio interface. If you want to record the internal sounds of this keyboard into your computer, you do not need an external audio interface, unlike the other keyboards on this list.
To sum up this keyboard:
Beginner Keyboard #3
This $169 USD Casiotone LK-S250 aims to relive the original 1980s Casiotone nostalgia. In my opinion, the new Casiotone series are merely just repackaged Casio CTK keyboards and wish Casio had done more justice to the Casiotone brand. The flagship Casiotone LK-S250 does have a couple of useful features up its sleeves which the other keyboards here lack.
This Casiotone comes with the usual 61 full-sized touch sensitive lighted keys, complete with a 48-note polyphony. Though this keyboard is $5 cheaper than the CT-X700, you’d have to forgo quite a number of features. The keyboard uses the older AHL chip, instead of the newer AIX sound engine like that in the CT-X700. It also has far fewer sound selections too, with only 400 tones and 77 accompaniment rhythms available. Compared to the other keyboards, this Casiotone isn't able to layer or split voices across the keyboard. Not to mention, there is only one user registration memory setting as compared to 32 slots on the CT-X700 which just costs $5 more.
But the main selling point of the Casiotone LK-S250 is the key lighting system that is perfectly matched with the onboard lessons and accompanying Chordana Play app. The integrated carrying handle, ergonomics, and lighter weight of the Casiotone makes it a far more portable keyboard for your choice. Additionally, the mic input on this keyboard means that you are able to plug in a microphone and sing along as you play. You will not be able find these features in any other keyboards at this price range.
This keyboard spots an updated LCD screen but loses many functionalities in return, including the onboard song recorder. They did however include a metronome, and a rather fun and educational DJ mode into this Casiotone.
The redesigned 5.5W speakers on the Casiotone LK-S250 are unexpectedly more powerful than the other keyboards in this list. Not surprisingly, this keyboard can be powered with 6 AA batteries or with a power adapter. Much like the rest, you can plug in a pair of headphones, a sustain pedal and an auxiliary audio cable at the rear panel of the keyboard.
Unless you need the key lighting system, the microphone input, the
ultra-portability of the keyboard, the DJ mode, or even the green coloured accents of the keyboard, you are better off paying the extra five dollars for the Casio CT-X700.
Here's an overall summary of the Casiotone LK-S250:
Beginner Keyboard #4
This $99 Yamaha PSS-A50 deserves a special mention with just 37 touch sensitive mini keys. One may mistake this keyboard as a toy, but it isn't. This is a competent musical instrument and it does a lot for just $99.
The PSS-A50 comes with 40 voices and 2 drum kits though it doesn't come with built-in accompaniment rhythms. However, you can use the 138 built-in arpeggiators to achieve a similar effect. The 40 motion effects included also takes the guesswork out of all the complex technicalities of modulation filter and pitch changes.
Although the PSS A-50 does not come with a full-fledged recorder, it does have a 700-note phrase recorder which though can be limiting, it could force the musician to be more creative to work within this boundary.
The single mono speaker on the PSS-A50 is small and isn't really meant for amplifying the sounds to a room. For best results, you should plug in a pair of headphones when playing.
This keyboard does not feature a sustain pedal port, but you can simulate sustain effects with the sustain button on the panel of the keyboard. It may not be the most ideal way, but it does get the job done.
What I really like about the A50 is that you can power it with a mobile power bank or your microUSB phone charger in addition to the standard AA batteries. This truly brings portability to another level compared to other portable keyboards available in the market.
The USB MIDI port of this PSS-A50 is where its potential can be fully unleashed. Coupled with your laptop, a free DAW (digital audio workstation), and a couple of free virtual instruments, you can produce some really professional music with no additional cost.
It would have been nice if Yamaha had included a copy of their Cubase LE or even their Cubasis mobile app on Android and iOS.
Here's a summary of the Yamaha PSS-A50:
Beginner Keyboard #5
If pianocentric features are the most important aspects for you, then the $199 USD Yamaha Piaggero NP12 is a keyboard you might want to consider.
It doesn't have the bells and whistles of the earlier four Casio and Yamaha keyboards, but it does have a couple of features that piano players prefer. The NP12 has 61 piano style keys but unfortunately are not weighted which could affect the touch response of the piano when playing. However, it definitely helps in keeping the overall weight of this keyboard under 9 pounds, something that users may prefer.
With 64 notes of polyphony, you are unlikely to have dropped notes except for the most demanding classical pieces. While you only get 10 voices on the NP12 as opposed to the 600 voices on the cheaper Casio CT-X700, these 10 voices are the bread-and-butter piano, electric pianos, harpsichords and organ voices that a keyboardist really needs. These voices can also be layered for a richer timbre, allowing for a more melodic, expressive, and thicker sound. Unfortunately, the NP12 does not have any built-in rhythms but being a pianocentric keyboard, the NP12 is the only keyboard in this list that supports half pedaling; an absolute necessity for many of the classical themes.
The NP12 comes with a single-track recorder and can be powered with batteries or a power adapter. As usual, you can plug in a pair of headphones, a sustain pedal and a USB MIDI cable at the rear panel of the keyboard. Unfortunately, it's a shame that there is no auxiliary audio input for you to jam along with the backing tracks in your mobile phone.
Here's a summary of the Yamaha Piaggero NP12 :
I hope this was an informative read for all of you looking to purchase a beginner keyboard. For more interesting tips on pianos and keyboards, check out the full blog!