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  • Writer's pictureNathaniel S

Roland Go: Keys 3 & Go: Keys 5


The Roland GO:KEYS 3 & GO:KEYS 5 are game changers for the budget arranger synth keyboard segment. Roland has packed their flagship ZEN-Core sound engine from their professional Fantom workstations into these lightweight portable keyboards at just 10% of the price. Roland’s previous EX series budget keyboards were really just rebranded “China” keyboards that had terrible sounds and an outdated UI. In this review, I’m going to show you 5 reasons why these keyboards are making Yamaha & Casio hot under the collar.


Sound Engine

The first reason is the sound engine. It was unheard of till now for a budget keyboard to pack 1,154 sounds inherited from their professional range that can cost up to 10 times more. Roland’s renowned ZEN-Core sound synthesis system, also found on Fantom workstations, gives the GO:KEYS 3 & 5 studio quality professional sounds ranging from detailed acoustic & electric pianos, guitars, orchestral & ethnic instruments to their modern synth and pad sounds. With a 256 note polyphony, these Roland keyboards run circles around the competition. An equivalent Yamaha or Casio keyboard has just 64 note polyphony. What is revolutionary at this price is you can expand the onboard tones with tens of thousands of studio quality professional sample packs ranging from vintage analog to hybrid tones. For as little as $5 per additional sound pack, you get as many as 32 new genre inspired multi-samples.

What sweetens the deal even more is additional new drum kits are often included in the affordable $5 expansion packs. You can either purchase and download these expansion packs from your computer to the keyboard via a USB flash drive, or you can get Roland’s Cloud Connect which includes a hardware wifi adapter allowing wireless sound & rhythm expansion using your smartphone or iPad. This eco-system of expandable sound and rhythms has obliterated all current Casio and Yamaha keyboards under $500. I can hear the diehard Yamaha & Korg fanboys screaming that Yamaha & Korg keyboards also have sound expansion capabilities. Calm down, puppies. Yes, they do - but only for their keyboards which cost twice as much as the GO:KEYS 3 & 5. Even then, the library of compatible expandable sounds and rhythms for Korg and Yamaha are small and nowhere near as diverse or massive as Roland’s Cloud ecosystem. And have I told you how much cheaper Roland’s expansion packs are compared to its competition? There are loads of free Roland expansion packs available for those who are 5 bucks short. Quality samples are only half the equation.

Effects processors are what makes sounds sparkle and shine. And again, the GO:KEYS 3 & 5 doesn’t disappoint. With 93 multi-effects such as “Superfilter”, “BitCrusher”, “Hexa-Chorus”, “Isolator” & “Lofi-Compressor”, 15 global effects and reverb environments such as “Lounge”, “Studio”, “Concert Hall” & “Cathedral”, we have never ever been more spoiled for choice. Your sonic palette is limited only by your imagination. Not only can you layer multiple sounds for a richer, lusher tone, you can also easily split these sounds across the keyboard so you can play different sounds on your right and left hand. For the impossible to play trippy synth passages, a highly configurable arpeggiator is included. Now, you must be wondering what are the differences between the GO:KEYS 3 vs the GO:KEYS 5? I’ll cover these at the end of this review. But if you’re not patient enough, check out this link for the complete specification and the best prices I’ve scoured all over the interweb for you.


Key Action

The 2nd reason is the key action. Instead of going for the usual regular synth action keys that’s found in the competition, Roland has equipped the GO:KEYS 3 & 5 with box style, semi-weighted keys mimicking a traditional piano. These keys are a great balance between a fully weighted key action, which adds a lot of weight and cost to a keyboard but is best for just playing piano & organ sounds versus the lightweight synth action keys found on the Yamaha PSR-E series keyboards. While the equivalent Casio & Yamaha keyboards come with just 3 or 4 velocity curves to tweak the touch sensitivity of the key action, you get a staggering 9 velocity curves on these Roland babies. I also prefer the lightly textured white key surfaces on the Roland keyboards versus the glossy keys on Yamaha and the over-the-top textures on Casio. But if your repertoire consists of mostly piano pieces, you are better off with an 88-key fully weighted piano keyboard and the ones I personally recommend can be found here.


Arranger

The 3rd reason these Roland keyboards are making Yamaha & Casio hot under the collar is the chord accompaniment arranger functionality. These keyboards come with 203 onboard rhythmic accompaniment styles which are significantly more contemporary than those found on Casio & Yamaha. Also each style comes with 4 variations and 2 intros & endings compared to just 2 rhythm variations found on equivalent Yamaha PSR & Casio CT-S keyboards. The GO:KEYS 3 & 5 allows you to turn on and off the bass, drum and accompaniment tracks of the styles for more musical variation which the similarly priced Casio CT-S keyboards cannot do. But what is most game-changing for these keyboards are Z-Style Packs. These are expansion rhythm style packs you can download from Roland Cloud and many of them are absolutely free. These Z-Style Packs are performance-ready, advanced auto-accompaniment tools harnessing the ZEN-Core sound engine on these keyboards. While Yamaha & Casio keyboards let you download user styles, their style library is almost non-existent and you will mostly find amateur user created ones.

Trying to add additional styles to these budget Casio & Yamaha keyboards is also nowhere near as friction-free as the Roland keyboards. Another feature on these Roland keyboards that move the needle is the Chord Sequencer. In addition to the hundreds of onboard chord sequence patterns, you can create your own unique chord sequences of up to 256 measures long. You will not find a chord sequencer on Casio keyboards and user chord sequencing is only available on Yamaha keyboards that’s 3 times the price of these Roland keyboards. While Yamaha has sneaked in a chord sequencer feature on their recently launched entry level PSR-E383 keyboard, it’s really rudimentary and not user definable. That being said, if styles are important to you and you are willing to pay 3 times more than these Roland keyboards, check out my preferred pro-series Yamaha keyboards with one of the best style expansion ecosystems and a significantly more sophisticated full color touch screen input chord sequencer.


Connectivity

Connectivity options is the 4th reason why these keyboards are making the competition sweat. Not only do you get the usual headphones and sustain pedal ports found on every keyboard these days. There are 3 USB ports. You get a USB-C MIDI & digital audio port for connecting to music learning apps and music production software on your smartphone and laptop. Two USB-A ports, one for plugging in a flash drive for file transfer and expansion and another for plugging in the wifi adaptor to wirelessly access Roland Cloud Connect. There’s Bluetooth for wireless connection to your smartphone for music apps and music streaming. The more expensive GO:KEYS 5 gets more connectivity options. You get an additional pedal input for an expression pedal or foot switch to control a whole long list of functionality including modulation, pitch bend and effects as well as Roland’s proprietary damper pedal which supports half-pedaling. There’s a dedicated auxiliary audio input port, a dedicated pair of ¼” stereo outputs for connecting to external amplification or mixing decks and a microphone input. The mic input can be routed through a myriad of mic effects, compressors and reverbs for you to sing along with. For the complete specifications of these Roland keyboards, check the link here.


Ultra Portable

The 5th reason is the ultra-portability of these keyboards. At just 9 lbs, these keyboards weigh almost nothing and the onboard speakers means you can practice on these keyboards anywhere. You can power these keyboards with 8 “AA” batteries or the included mains adaptor if you are practicing on these for an extended period of time. However, if you are looking for the most lightweight battery operated 88-keys for practicing your piano repertoire, my favorite from Korg


Wishlist

Is there anything I would have loved to see on these fabulous Roland GO:KEYS 3 & 5 keyboards? I would love an additional modulation wheel. Although the pitch bend wheel can also be assigned to trigger modulation, a dedicated wheel is appreciated. The Yamaha PSR-E473 has 2 control knobs for tweaking sounds and effects on the fly, these are not on the Roland. An equivalent Yamaha keyboard also has more granular track controls of the styles such as revoicing and turning on and off up to 8 accompaniment tracks. The Casio CT-X5000 at the same price has an onboard Style Creator which the Roland and Yamaha keyboards do not have. My biggest disappointment is that a music rest is not included in the box. If you need one for your music sheet or to prop up your iPad or smartphone, you’ll have to cough out an additional $35.


Differences

The GO:KEYS 3 costs $150 less than the GO:KEYS 5, so what are you missing out on? The 5 has dedicated ¼” stereo audio outputs and the speaker design is more advanced. The sound from the speakers on the 5 is noticeably cleaner and bassier than the sound from the speakers on the 3. With headphones, there’s no difference. The 5 has a mic input and voice effects. The 5 has an aux audio line-in, a 2nd pedal input and an additional USB port specially for the Roland Cloud Connect wifi adaptor. The 5 can accept individual wave sample expansions in addition to Style and Sound packs. And because the GO:KEYS 3 has fewer functions, the Bluetooth and metronome get dedicated buttons.


You can find out the full specifications and the best price for this together with my recommended digital pianos, keyboards, and music-learning app right here.




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