Review: The Korg XE20
Updated: Aug 19, 2020
The Korg XE20, released in July 2020, is Korg's new digital ensemble piano that promises a full concert experience in the comforts of your own home. Korg, a Japanese brand that changed the scene by producing their digital pianos in their homeland, is one that stands out from the other brands. With the release of the XE20, many of their loyal followers are excited to see what they have come up with.
At 25lbs, the portable Korg XE20 feels solid, compact and well-made. While it may not be as compact as Casio’s PX-S series, it is way slimmer and lighter than Yamaha’s DGX-660 which weighs twice as much. Although almost everything is made from hard plastic, it doesn’t look cheap because of the matte and lightly textured finishing. The buttons have a similar layout to those found on the Korg EK-50 & i3 but they are significantly smaller and material seems different, these buttons have a bit of a wiggle to them. Time will tell if the buttons can withstand daily wear and tear. The XE20 also has 88 shiny, glossy, fingerprint magnet plastic keys from the B2 which is something that I don't really like, but the key bed and action of the keyboard is better than most competing brand. The graded hammer action keys are quiet, smooth and have a nice graduation from heavy to light.
The LCD screen is big and bright but is let down by the low resolution and dated orange backlight colour. While the screen conveys most of the essential information, the low resolution means that Korg cannot put more information on the screen and fully utilise the entire screen. I would love to see what are the 4 voices in the layers at a glance, but this information isn’t readily available.
The 18W speakers on the Korg XE20 are full-bodied, loud, clear and distortion-free, and it sounds way better than arranger pianos from competing brands. Normally, I would use headphones when I play my keyboards and pianos because the sound from the headphones are much better than the built-in speakers. In this case, these speakers sound better than the sound from the headphones. If you would like to further amplify the sound of the keyboard, there are also separate stereo L/R ¼” outputs for connecting to a PA system. However, these speakers have fabric covers that tend to attract dust and pet fur which means that you have to constantly use lint rollers to remove the dust on the covers. Also, due to the powerful speakers of the XE20, you can only power the XE20 with an electrical outlet. There is no option for battery power.
The keyboard and style sets are the biggest advantage of Korg arrangers. I absolutely love the dual sound engine on the XE20. From the 120 note polyphony piano sound engine, you get 2 of the best piano samples from Korg — the German & Italian pianos which are rich, detailed and resonant. There are also quick access buttons on the left of the Korg XE20 which can immediately recall the German and Italian pianos as well as switch to keyboard sets and style sets. Although the sounds are from the EK-50, the Italian programmers have reworked the effects on the style and keyboard sets so that they sound really really good with the in-built speakers right out of the box. In addition, from the other sound engine derived from Korg’s EK-50, you get more than 700 voices.
The styles found in the Korg XE20 are also better than those on the Casio arranger pianos. While Yamaha still holds the top position in terms of style programming, the styles on the XE20 are almost comparable to those found on the Yamaha PSR keyboards. In addition, each style on the XE20 comes with 4 variations, 2 rhythm fills, 2 intros, 2 endings. This is double that is normally found on the competition.
However, it is a pity this sound engine only supports 64 notes of polyphony. and does not come with a pitch bend or a modulation wheel or joystick. This is quite a shame as many of the voices would have shined much brighter with a modulation and pitch bend. I had secretly hoped that these features can be assigned to the pedal, unfortunately, that is not the case.
The Korg XE20 comes with 40 user registration slots to save your custom voice and style settings. While not as many as those found on the Casio PX-S3000, it is more than those found on Yamaha’s DGX-660. It also comes with a 12-track recorder with some quirks and limitations, you can only record when an accompaniment is running and even then, only in real-time, also, if you want to record just piano playing, you have to put the styles volume to 0 while recording with a style playing. Nonetheless, you can still punch-in and punch-out when recording with no step sequencing at all.
Korg includes a damper pedal with the XE20. The damper pedal is the same as the one that comes with the Korg B2 and is small and lightweight, but it does not support half-pedaling. You have to purchase an optional pedal or the triple pedal unit if you want the half pedal feature. Something to keep in mind is that as the included pedal uses the exact same proprietary connector as the Korg B2, you cannot use third party pedals with this connector. You also get to connect an external expression or sustain pedal in addition to the proprietary but it cannot be used to trigger rhythm fills, change registration and trigger pitch bend or modulation.
As for connectivity, you do get a class compliant USB MIDI which is great for using with the free software and free 3 months lessons that Korg provides with this piano. You can also attach a USB flash drive for playback of WAV / MP3 and loading styles & MIDI songs from other compatible keyboards. You also get a 3.5mm audio-in port.
If you do not need to be portable with your XE20, you can opt for the XE20-SP which comes with a customised furniture stand and triple pedals.
I hope that this article has provided you with useful information about the XE20 and thus, enabled you to make a better, informed decision about getting one. Do check out the other articles on this blog to find the most suitable instrument to suit your needs and objectives.