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Review: My Amazing Cheap Casio Has Incredible Sounds

Casio CT-S500

$379 USD

Casio is a brand we commonly associate with affordable calculators and wristwatches. Those who grew up in the 1980s would remember Casio’s cheap yet cheerful Casiotone keyboards. Fast forward 30 years later and Casio seems to have cracked the code in making a $300 keyboard with professional-level sound samples, effects, and features that are actually good enough for musicians to busk or gig with.


I am going to dive deep and evaluate the key action, sound quality, tone selection, features, and functionality of Casio’s affordable prosumer CT-S500 keyboard in order to help you make a better buying decision.


Key Action

The CT-S500 inherits the exact same key action as the CT-S1 Casio released last year and that is a good choice. These 61 synth-action keys, with 4 adjustable touch sensitivity levels, are better than keyboards from competing brands and, to be honest, the best you can get at this price point right now.

The touch response of the keys is firm and tightly sprung giving it a semi-weighted feel perfect for playing piano tones. The keytops are lightly textured with a matte surface, similar to ebony & ivory keys on acoustic pianos, providing greater confidence as they are less slippery when your fingertips get sweaty.

Sadly its kind of disappointing because unlike the CT-S1 there is no red felt strip at the key pivots to keep out dust and dampen key noise


If you prefer a keyboard with 88 weighted hammer action keys instead of synth-action keys, you can check it out here.


You can also check out my beginner piano app. As well as some beginner video courses and course materials available for you. At the same time, you check out this free 25 Piano lesson as well. You might be interested in this recommended list of digital keyboards as well.


Sound Quality and Tone Selection

While last year’s Casio CT-S1 sounds great, many users complained that it only had 61 tones. It is a pleasure to inform you that the great acoustic pianos, electric pianos, and organ sounds from the CT-S1 are also found on the CT-S500.

This time, Casio included a staggering 800 tones in the CT-S500. These 800 tones are sorted into categories allowing you to quickly scroll through the groups before selecting a tone in the category. The acoustic and electric pianos, organs, and synth instruments are excellent and sound as good if not better than a couple of keyboards that cost twice as much. However, the strings, reed, brass & pad instruments could do with better sound processing from the factory.


For nostalgia, you can find numerous iconic legacy Casio keyboard tones from the 1980s. You can layer up to 2 voices and split sounds across the keyboard.

Finally, the CT-S500 gets an upgraded 100 Active DSP combinations in addition to the usual reverb, delay, and chorus effects.

These Active DSP effects are actually preset combinations of up to 4 of the 29 DSP modules, allowing you to personalize the onboard tones at a deeper level than what was previously possible.

3 assignable live control knobs are available to tweak your DSP settings in real-time and a pitch bend wheel is also available for you to add realism to acoustic instruments.

A dedicated volume mixer screen also makes it really intuitive to balance the loudness of each instrument layer.


If you do not need 800 sounds but prefer 600 really solid tones you check out here for cheaper alternatives.


Sampler

If the 800 onboard sounds and drum kits are not your cup of tea, the CT-S500 comes with a basic sampler allowing you to assign any sounds from a USB stick or from your mobile devices using the audio-in jack of the keyboard. You can pitch your samples across the keyboard for playing a melody or you can record them as multiple one-shot samples on a drum kit.


On paper, the sampler is a nice addition. In reality, the actual use case of the sampled sounds is limited as samples are saved onto middle C and there are no sampling tools to trim, stretch, pad, slice, or re-pitch samples.


Rhythm Accompaniment

Casio frowns at anyone who calls the CT-S500 an arranger keyboard in order to pander to music snobs who point their noses up in disdain at keyboards with accompaniment functionality.


That is quite a shame because there is a massive market for keyboards with arranger functionality outside of the US and rhythm accompaniments make playing music more accessible to many who just want to have fun playing polished tunes with less effort.


Nonetheless, the CT-S500 comes with 243 rhythms covering diverse music genres. Each rhythm comes with 2 accompaniment variations as well as an intro and ending. I was disappointed that the accompaniment parts cannot be turned on/off, which a similarly priced competition can nor can you tweak the volume of each accompaniment track.


If you cannot find an onboard rhythm that suits your tune, the keyboard lets you load up to 50 user rhythms available on the internet. While Casio’s programmers have improved their rhythm programming skills, in my opinion, Casio’s accompaniments just are not as well programmed as the competitors. It is also a shame that user rhythms cannot be created on the CT-S500.


If this is not your cup of tea, I have another Casio keyboard that is 10% cheaper yet it can create and edit user rhythms, turn on/off parts as well as tweak the volume mix of the rhythm accompaniment tracks which the CT-S500 cannot do.


User Registration

With 800 configurable tones, hundreds of effects, and rhythms, we need a way to save these combinations for quick recall. Fortunately, the CT-S500 has 16 memory banks for you to save up to 64 users presets. Casio could have made it better by allowing us to name these user presets. To be honest, I need to use a notebook to jot down which memory bank my combinations are which is kind of a hassle.


You can find a keyboard that allows you to individually name all your user registrations if you feel like this is something you prefer.


MIDI Recorder

The CT-S500 gets a more user-friendly MIDI song recorder compared to earlier models. For those who just want to quickly record their musical ideas, there is an Easy Recording mode that records all of your playing in real-time.

For building more complex musical performances, experienced musicians can record up to 6 individual tracks for simultaneous playback. However, for a less frustrating multi-track recording experience you should just hook the keyboard to your laptop or smartphone and use a DAW instead.


Here’s the irony. Casio has another cheaper keyboard that can record songs with up to 17 multi-tracks versus the 6-tracks limitation on the CT-S500 which you can find it here.


You can also check out my beginner piano app. As well as some beginner video courses and course materials available for you. At the same time, you check out this free 25 Piano lesson as well. You might be interested in this recommended list of digital keyboards as well.


User Interface

Due to its compact form factor. there is limited real estate on the front panel of the keyboard. To get around this limitation, Casio built a context-aware interface with their large LCD screen. The “Home” screen can be customized to suit how you use your keyboard.

Whether you use it more as a rhythm arranger, just for playing tones, or as a MIDI controller, the 5 buttons below the “Home” screen can be freely remapped to almost any function and any feature combination you often use. This context-aware LCD screen allows Casio to remove most of the buttons found on their previous models for a cleaner, minimalist, and contemporary look while keeping a compact form factor.


In my opinion, Casio may have taken the minimalistic approach a little too far.

Operations that took a quick one-button press on previous Casio keyboards now need multiple button presses to access. However, I can understand that Casio’s market research has determined that form is more important than function.


Speaker System

Do not be fooled by the speakers powered by a pair of 2.5 watts amplifiers on the CT-S500. Casio has tweaked the EQ and created various openings and a bass reflex port on the keyboard for better sound projection. Even at half volume, the sound output can get uncomfortably loud.

If loud is what you want, this keyboard fits the bill. However, I noticed that Casio tried to get a clearer tone by bumping up the treble frequencies. The brighter tone at a high volume may cause some people to get fatigued after a short practice session.


I personally prefer the speakers on another keyboard at the same price that has a pair of 6 watts amplifiers versus the 2.5 watts on this keyboard you can check it out here


Connectivity

Casio easily beats the competition when it comes to the sheer number of connectivity options. Other than the usual headphone, sustain pedal, audio-in, and stereo ¼” output ports, you can also find an additional pedal input jack to trigger registration sequence change, the rhythm starts, fills, and arpeggiator hold features.

While there is a USB MIDI port to connect to your smartphone, laptop, or USB stick, I do wish the USB port transmitted digital audio which the competition can.

Also, the CT-S500 came with a micro USB port. It should have been a USB-C port instead.

Wireless Bluetooth MIDI & audio is an extremely convenient feature allowing me to do away with clunky cables when streaming backing tracks from my smartphone. It would have been great if the USB port had both MIDI and audio capabilities so I do not have to use an external audio interface.

There’s a similarly priced keyboard that allows you to transmit digital audio directly via USB to your music production software without the need for an external audio interface and also has a microphone input for you to sing along with. You can find it here.


Here I have recommendations for speakers, headphones, microphones, and other connectivity devices which you might be looking for.


Portability

In my opinion, the biggest selling point of these Casiotone keyboards is their portability. There isn’t another keyboard out there by any manufacturer that sounds this good, is this powerful yet can be easily carried around. An integrated carry handle, buttons for attaching a guitar strap, battery operated and a 10lb weight gives this keyboard unrivaled portability.

You can, of course, use a power adaptor if you prefer to power off an electrical outlet. If you do not need ultra-portability, this other keyboard might be better for you


Conclusion

I hope that this review has helped you in making an informed purchase of the Casio CT-S500. Do check out the links provided in this article to get the latest prices and updates on the Casio CT-S500. To find out more about the world of keyboards and pianos, do read more articles on this blog to find the most suitable and perfect instrument for your needs.



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