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  • Writer's pictureNathaniel S

THE Best Beginner Keyboard. Yamaha PSR-E383

As a beginner, you don’t want to spend too much on your first instrument as your interest may not last as long as you think once you realize that there is a degree of effort required to learn to play the keyboard. Yet your first keyboard should be feature packed so you can figure out what type of music you want to make? Whether you want to play solo keyboard with a piano or organ tone, or play along with lush backing tracks and rhythm accompaniments. Maybe you want to connect the keyboard to an iPad to learn with music learning apps. Or if you want to produce electronic music with your laptop using virtual instruments, your first keyboard should support you in these musical directions. And that’s where Yamaha’s latest PSR-E383 has set a very high bar in the value per dollar department making it a no-brainer for anyone who needs a budget friendly, superb sounding do-it-all first keyboard for less than what it cost to bring your family out for a nice steak dinner. I’ll review the key action, sound quality, rhythm accompaniment, features, functionality, connectivity and build quality of the PSR-E383, listing the pros & cons so you can make an informed buying choice. For more information and the best prices on keyboards check out my recommended digital pianos, keyboards, and music-learning app right here


Key Action

The key action on the PSR-E383 is identical to its predecessor - the E373 and that’s not a bad thing. For beginner keyboards under $200, this is the best synth action keys in the market. The 61 touch sensitive full-size keys are quiet, with a linear response, and the playability nearer to the key pivots while less than ideal is better than all of the competition. I had no issues articulating electric piano, guitar or synth sounds although I prefer weighted keys for playing acoustic piano pieces and waterfall keys for organ sounds. If you need to play beyond the range of 61 keys, a handy octave shift feature lets you match the musical range of 88-key keyboards. There are also 4 velocity curves to tweak the touch sensitivity of these keys to suit your playing style and skill level. What I feel will take these keys up a notch is a felt strip at the key pivots to prevent dust ingress as well as further dampen key noise which is what the competition has done. While the black keys have a matte surface which is what I prefer, the white keys are a little too glossy for my sweaty fingers in the humid tropics. It is really hard to fault this key action at this price. However, if you prefer 88 weighted keys because you want to mainly play piano pieces, check out my recommended digital pianos and keyboards.


Sound Quality

Anyone who reads just the spec sheet of the new E383 will think that it now has 28 more new sounds - 650 versus the 622 sounds of its predecessor but in practice, there are really just 16 more panel tones and 1 new Super Articulation Lite voice. Having said that, unlike the competition that gives you a gazillion sounds with just a handful of usable ones, each and every sample on the E383 is good enough for any casual gigs ranging from cell groups, to school, nursing homes and busking performances. These 650 voices include 20 drum kits and 347 XGLite voices used mainly for MIDI files and accompaniment playback. The voices can be layered and split across the keyboard and the volume of all the voice layers can be balanced - which most keyboards at this price cannot do. New in the E383 is Duo mode where the right and left side of the keyboard are split into 2 identical voices and octaves so a student can imitate a teacher’s demonstration during lessons. Most of the new tones take advantage of the additional 3 new Digital Signal Processors aka DSP and 2 new chorus effects. With a total of 41 DSPs, 17 reverb environments and 7 chorus effects, your imagination is the only limitation when it comes to shaping the onboard sounds.

I absolutely love the velocity switched samples of the Super Articulation Lite voices - usually only found in higher end keyboards. Different samples will be triggered depending on how hard you press the keys and upon pressing the articulation button. This higher level of expressiveness is what sets this keyboard apart from other similarly priced keyboards. Although there isn’t a mod wheel, pressing the “articulation” button triggers a modulation effect on the non SA-Lite voices. Nonetheless, there are 3 things related to the sound of this keyboard I am disappointed with. Firstly, this keyboard inherits the same default “Live” Concert Grand Piano sample found on the previous model instead of having better samples trickled down from Yamaha’s E400 series keyboards which was the case for the E373. Secondly, the polyphony, which is the number of voices that can sound at the same time, is still a paltry 48 notes. This is limiting when playing with a busy style accompaniment and with a dual voice layer as these gobbles up polyphony quickly - although beginners are unlikely to hit this limit. While the speakers and amplification remain the same as the predecessor, the max volume appears to have been slightly lowered in exchange for a more detailed sound via the speakers. The biggest improvement to the speakers is the metal grille versus the fabric speaker covers on the E373 which was more susceptible to damage and was a lint & pet fur magnet. If you prefer keyboards with more powerful and louder speakers, with more sounds but is heavier, check out my recommended keyboards.


Styles

One of the biggest advantages of buying an arranger keyboard is the rhythm accompaniment style feature. By just playing a couple of chords with your left hand, you can create lush backing tracks to accompany your performance. The most significant upgrade in the E383 over the predecessor is the sheer number of additional styles - 260 vs 205 in the E373. For the very first time on the E300 series, a “Freeplay” rubato style - “Ethereal Movie” - normally only found on keyboards that cost twice as much, is included. If these 260 styles are not enough, there are 10 memory slots for users to store styles they downloaded online. In addition to the “multi-finger” and “smart chord” mode when playing styles, we now get an “Auto-Play Chord” mode. This is a library of 50 chord progressions that frees up your left hand for more advanced playing with the accompaniment. It’s quite unfortunate that there’s no way for users to input their own chord progression - a feature which is far more useful. Every rhythm style accompaniment comes with an intro, an ending and 2 variations of the style with rhythm fills although quite a few of the intro and endings can get unnecessarily long. With the OTS aka “One Touch Setting”, every style will be automatically matched with the most appropriate factory preset sound and effects setting. A 200 song music database containing pre-configured tone registrations, style and tempo for familiar favorites helps you to start playing without messing with settings. In my opinion, Yamaha absolutely crushed all competition at this price to smithereens when it comes to the rhythm section. Yamaha’s rhythm programming is unparalleled and their style related functionality is so advanced, nothing else I have ever reviewed at this price comes close.


Features & Functionality

The sheer number of features & functionality on this sub-$200 keyboard simply run circles around every competitor. For a start let me applaud Yamaha for having loads of multi-functional buttons on the panel. Selecting voices and styles are really quick because there are 3 ways to do it. You can press on the “+” and “-” buttons. You can press the category button multiple times to scroll through the selection. Or you can simply punch in the assigned number of the sound or style preset. This makes it really easy to access most of the commonly used features without me having to menu dive. This is in sharp contrast to its biggest competitor, Casio. Every single person I know that plays the keyboards wants more buttons not less and Yamaha has finally heard us. In my opinion, the onboard learning features such as Yamaha’s “Keys to Success”, “3-Step Lesson”, & “Rhythm Tutor” on this keyboard are obsolete. Cheap music learning apps available on Android and iOS phones and tablets are way more interactive, visual, engaging and effective than the onboard lessons on this keyboard. You can find the music-learning app I recommend right here. 

An arpeggiator with 152 patterns is available for those who love making synth soundscapes. 26 harmony types allow you to play rich melodic chords with just one finger. A vocal suppressor cancels the vocals on audio backing tracks so you can play along. You can transpose the key of your playing when accompanying singers and tune your keyboard to play along with acoustic instruments. For the times you would rather sit back and listen to songs on your keyboard, there are 125 onboard demo songs. With so many voice and effects variations, 10 user registration memory slots lets me save my own configuration for quick settings recall. What I cannot understand is why Yamaha cannot allow us to save more registrations beyond 10 especially since registration data takes up very very little memory. To record your own performances, there’s an onboard 5 songs, 2 tracks recorder. If you want to record videos of your playing with studio quality sound on your phone to share on social media, Yamaha’s free Rec’n’Share app lets you do that. This keyboard can be powered with the included power adaptor or with 6 “AA” alkaline batteries if you are on the go. If you want a keyboard with an onboard 16 track recorder and the feature to save unlimited user registrations but costs more, check out my recommended digital pianos, and keyboards.


Connectivity

For quiet practice, there’s a ¼” headphones jack that is also an aux-out to connect to external powered amplifiers. While a ¼” jack is more robust than a 3.5mm, I wish the E383 had dedicated line-outs for a cleaner output to external speakers. There’s a 3.5mm aux-in for you to stream music from your mobile devices but this is getting irrelevant today as none of my iPad or mobile device has a 3.5mm output. The more convenient wireless Bluetooth audio streaming should be standard, which the competition has, but it’s absent here. You can use the USB port, which handles both MIDI and audio data, for connecting to music learning apps and to your laptop for desktop music production.

I was disappointed that Yamaha included an antiquated USB type-B instead of the significantly better USB type-C port found on other similarly priced keyboards. I love using wireless MIDI with music learning apps on my iPad but it is not found on the E383. The pedal input jack not only handles sustain, which is necessary for piano playing, but can trigger articulations and the arpeggiator. It’s a pity the pedal cannot be used to change user registrations, trigger rhythm variations and start/stop. You can find my recommended but more expensive keyboards with wireless bluetooth MIDI & audio, dedicated line-outs and a configurable pedal input.


Build Quality

Unlike the plasticky and cheap feel of the previous E300 series keyboards, the new materials and build construction of the E383 and the music rest feels more premium and solid. It is also noticeably more compact and 200g lighter than its predecessor. While I love the new direct UI, I cannot say the same for the button labels. The gray font on the black panel is hard to see. The worst thing is the embossed numbers on the buttons which I totally didn’t notice until days after using the keyboard.


Conclusion

Before I tell you my final thoughts, do check out my recommended digital pianos, keyboards, and music-learning app right here. In conclusion, Yamaha’s manufacturing efficiency and their century old history of making class leading instruments has spawned the best beginner keyboard as at the time of making this video. At a low $199 price, the E383 has the best sound quality, the longest and richest feature set and when you eventually upgrade - the best resale value. Nothing else really competes. If you need more keys, get the EW320 - the 76 keys version of this keyboard. If you want to use the keyboard onboard lessons, get the EZ310, the key lighting version of this keyboard. Links to all these keyboards right here. However, there are 4 things I would love to see improve on this keyboard. There should be dedicated panel buttons for transpose and octave shifts - essential for live performances. 10 registration memory slots is limited and there’s no technical reason why this cannot match Roland’s Go:Keys 256 user registrations. Dedicated line-outs with wireless MIDI and audio should really be standard even on entry level keyboards these days. Yamaha most likely do not want to cannibalize sales of their next tier keyboards. Are these deal breakers? At $199 - No.


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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