Top 10 Beginner Keyboards in 2021
Updated: Apr 24, 2021
Before we begin, and to prevent repetition, do note that ALL keyboards in this list allow you to use headphones for quiet practice, comes with a metronome to help you keep time, a music rest for your sheet music, can be powered with either batteries or a wall socket. Also, unless mentioned otherwise, every keyboard in this list has USB MIDI capability.
Basic Entry-level Keyboards
The keyboards in this category is the bare minimum keyboards you should get. Anything less than these keyboards will leave you disappointed and it will not be worth the money at all.
The CT-S200 is a slim & stylish keyboard that comes with 61 standard full size keys but the keys are not touch-sensitive. Casio designed this 7lbs keyboard to be ultra-portable with a carry handle that doubles-up as a music rest.
The Casiotone CT-S200 comes with 400 tones ranging from pianos, electric pianos, synth and ethnic instruments. The keyboard also comes with 77 rhythms across most genres such as pop, rock, jazz & world music for you to play along with. The Dance Music Mode on the CasioTones lets you imagine yourself being a DJ on a mixing console, triggering beats and adding effects and voice phrases in real time.
The CasioTone CT-S200 is the cheapest keyboard on this list to come with a USB MIDI port for you to connect to apps, such as Casio’s own Chordana app, on your tablet, phone or computer to learn and play along with. You get a pair of 2W speakers, which is sufficiently loud and clear for playing at home.
The CT-S200 is also the only keyboard in this series where you have a choice of three colours — Black, White or Red. At this price point, this keyboard is an excellent choice as your first keyboard, the only downside being the non-touch sensitive keys and the slightly dated sound engine. If these are deal breakers for you, keep scrolling.
Listen for the sound:
Also known as the YPT-270 in some markets, the PSR-E273 comes with 61 full size keys which are not touch-sensitive just like the CasioTone CT-S200. There is a large LCD screen on the PSR-E273 and the improved user interface makes for easy navigation and selection of voices and rhythms.
You get 401 sounds from every imaginable real world instrument from Yamaha’s renowned AWM sample library. There are also 143 accompaniment rhythm styles for you to play along with. The sound quality on the PSR-E273 is better than the CasioTones due to the different reverbs and choruses on the sound chip. The rhythms are also better programmed and have a more contemporary arrangement when compared to the CasioTones. The speaker system is 25% more powerful than those found on the CasioTone CT-S200 but it is bulkier and heavier than the CasioTones and is definitely not as portable.
One downside of the PSR-E273 is there is no way to save user settings, you would have to set up from scratch for each song you want to play. The Yamaha PSR-E273 also does not have any MIDI capability and that may be a deal-breaker for those who want to connect their keyboard to a mobile app to learn songs.
In my opinion, if you do not need the ultra-portability or the vibrant colours of the CasioTone or foresee using the MIDI feature on your keyboard, the Yamaha PSR-E273 gives much better value than the extra $10 it costs over the CasioTone CT-S200.
Listen for the sound:
The CasioTone CT-S300 has the same 400 tones, 77 rhythms and features in the same ultra-portable form factor as the CT-S200. But with the CasioTone CT-S300, you get touch-sensitive keys which is a feature both the CT-S200 & the Yamaha PSR-E273 don't have.
The CT-S300 also gets a pair of 2.5W speakers just like the Yamaha PSR-E273 and this is 25% more powerful than the speakers on the CasioTone CT-S200. To top it all, you get a pitch bend wheel on the CT-S300 that makes playing acoustic instruments such as saxophones, guitars & harmonicas significantly more expressive.
Listen for the sound:
Best Value for Money Keyboards
The keyboards in this category are in the sweet spot when it comes to price versus features and quality. Where if possible, you get significantly more just stretching your budget by a little bit.
A competent keyboard that you can actually gig with, the Casio CT-X700 comes with 61 full size touch-sensitive keys, 600 tones, including loads of various acoustic & electric pianos and a massive 195 rhythm accompaniments covering every imaginable music genre. If 195 rhythms isn’t enough, you have the ability to load up to 10 additional rhythms that you can download from the internet.
The sound quality on the CT-X700 is noticeably more realistic than the keyboards in my basic entry level category. You can also record up to 5 of your own songs on the CT-X700. Each of your recorded songs can contain up to 6 separate tracks. You get the ability to layer 2 voices or split different voices across the keyboard to get a richer timbre.
With 20 reverbs and 10 chorus effects, you can personalise the tones to your heart’s content. The built-in Step-Up Lesson from Casio is also useful for beginners. The CT-X700 allows you to save up to 32 user sound and rhythm presets for quick recall.
However, while you can layer and split voices across the keyboard, you cannot adjust the volume mix of the different parts. Also, while the competition in this price point offers a built in digital to analog audio interface, the CT-X700 USB port only transmits MIDI. If these are not deal breakers for you, I wholeheartedly recommend the Casio CT-X700 as the Beginner Keyboard that gives you the biggest bang for your buck.
Listen for the sound:
Launched by Yamaha a few months ago, the PSR-E373 takes a huge evolutionary leap forward by offering sound quality, features & functions that even Yamaha’s higher priced models don’t have. For a little less than $200, Yamaha has jam-packed a massive 622 voices into the PSR-E373, including 11 New Super Articulation Lite voices, which is technology trickled down from Yamaha’s $5,000 keyboards. You can shape these sounds with 38 user definable Digital Signal Processors, a feature not found in any other keyboards in this price range. The sounds can also be layered as well as split across the keyboard with a single touch of a button.
The Yamaha PSR-E373 also packs a whopping 205 rhythm accompaniment styles that are the best programmed rhythm styles in the industry. If the built-in styles isn’t enough, you can load an additional 10 user styles downloaded from the internet. As this keyboard is targeted at beginners, Yamaha has included their Keys to Success lessons system to get you started as well.
One of the biggest selling points of the PSR-E373 is the USB port that transmits both MIDI as well as audio data which no one else in the industry can do this at this price. Coupled with Yamaha’s Rec’N’Share app, you can effortlessly record your playing on your mobile phone and share on social media or instant messaging with just a few clicks. The PSR-E373 is also the most user-friendly keyboard in this list — which may be important for beginners.
You may want to note, however, that the PSR-E373 can only store 9 user presets compared to the cheaper Casio CT-X700 which can store 32. This is a limiting factor for a keyboard that has so many configurable parameters. Furthermore, the built-in song recorder on the PSR-E373 can only record up to 2 tracks per song compared to the Casio CT-X700 which can record up to 6 tracks.
Listen for the sound:
For those who intend to play more serious piano music with their keyboards, you can opt for the Yamaha PSR-EW310, which is the 76-keys version of the PSR-E373. The PSR-EW310 is completely identical to the PSR-E373 except for 3 things. For an extra $70 more, you get 15 more keys and as a result the keyboard is also wider and slightly heavier.
Key-Lighting Keyboards for Beginners
This category is devoted to the key-lighting technology on keyboards. For those who have absolutely no knowledge of where each key is and would like visual cues to help you find the notes on the keyboard, key-lighting system keyboards can do just that.
From Casio, we have the CasioTone LK-S250 keyboard with key-lighting system with the same 61 full size touch-sensitive keys as the CasioTone CT-S300 in this list. The LK-S250 also comes with 400 tones and 77 rhythms just like the entire CasioTone range. However, the pitch bend wheel found on the CT-S300 is not available on the LK-S250 but it comes with a mic input for you to plug in a dynamic microphone to sing along with.
On the LK-S250, you can turn off the guiding lights on the keys when you no longer need them. I think it is a good value that for an extra $20 more than the CT-S300, you lose the pitch bend wheel but gain a key-lighting guide system as well as a microphone input.
Listen for sound:
The Yamaha EZ300 is essentially the PSR-E373 keyboard but with a key-lighting system. You get all the beautiful 622 voices, 205 rhythms, 38 digital signal processors and a USB audio interface from the PSR-E373 but with keys that can light up and guide you to play the correct notes. The EZ300 has 202 songs for you to play along with compared to the PSR-E373 which has just 154 songs.
In my opinion, Yamaha’s built-in lesson feature is far more useful with a key-lighting system. These lights can be turned off once you no longer need these musical training wheels. With regard to colour, I much prefer the unique silver-white chassis of the EZ300 over the boring black colour of the PSR-E373. The key-lighting system adds an extra $50 to the price of the PSR-E373 and if you are a beginner, this is worth it.
Premium Beginner Keyboards
This category consists of keyboards with features that you don't necessarily need as a beginner, but will come into play when you become a better player — at a higher price, of course.
For slightly less than $300, you get a 61 keys pro-level keyboard with features not found anywhere else at this price point such as 800 tones which can be layered, split and edited with 100 different DSPs and more than 50 reverbs, choruses and delays, a pitch bend wheel and a button for triggering modulation & portamento.
You get 235 rhythm accompaniments as well as the ability to create an infinite number of user rhythms using the onboard rhythm creator. You also get a very powerful full-fledged 17 tracks song recorder that allows over-dubbing, punch-in, punch-out and event level editing.
The 12W speaker system on the Casio CT-X3000 is significantly more powerful than the rest of the keyboards in this list. To store all the detailed changes you made to your sound and rhythms, there are 128 user preset slots. The CT-X3000 can also store 100 of your own musical phrases to spice up your real-time performance using phrase pads. To get features such as these on a Yamaha, you have to pay up to 3 times the price.
However, the user interface is not user-friendly at all and the menu-diving using the dated LCD screen design is unnecessarily convoluted. This is the price you pay for the most advanced keyboard in this list but at a low price.
Listen for sound:
For those who hanker after a Yamaha keyboard more powerful than the PSR-E373 but is still extremely user friendly, Yamaha has the PSR-E463. This 61 keys touch- sensitive keyboard comes with 758 voices which can be layered and split, 235 rhythm accompaniment styles, more than 10 DSPs and 25 reverbs and choruses.
One big selling point of the PSR-E463 is the Groove Creator. This feature is essentially the more polished version of the Dance Music Mode found in CasioTones. The Yamaha PSR-E463 also has a quick sampling feature, allowing you to map your own downloaded or recorded sounds onto every key on the keyboard. Another major plus point for the PSR-E463 are the assignable Live Control Knobs. You can map various DSPs to the control knobs and tweak the values on the fly to shape your sounds in real-time.
Even though the PSR-E463 has the same price tag as the Casio CT-X3000, the PSR-E463 doesn't have a Style Creator, and doesn't have an advanced song recorder. You can only record up to 6 tracks per song versus the 17 tracks on the Casio CT-X3000. Further, you only get 32 user slots for saving your sound settings versus the Casio which gives you 128 registration memory slots.
One advantage the PSR-E463 has over the Casio is the built-in audio interface. The USB port of the PSR-E463 transmits and receives both MIDI and digital audio data to and from your connected devices whereas the Casio USB port can handle MIDI data.
Listen for sound:
I hope you find my updated Top 10 Keyboards for Beginners under $300 to be useful in your buying choice. Do click on the links provided for the latest prices and updated information.