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After more than a century of existence, Yamaha retains its position as a world-class manufacturer of digital and acoustic pianos. The best Yamaha keyboards remain highly coveted among amateurs and professionals alike. This guide looks at the best Yamaha keyboard, and what to look for when buying one.
In 1887, a 36-year-old man, Torakusu Yamaha, set up a corporation – Nippon Gakki Co. Ltd. – in Hamamatsu, Japan to manufacture piano and reed organs. Just a few years ago, Yamaha had become the first Japanese person to ever craft a reed organ. His goal was simple: to bring Japanese craftsmanship to musical instruments and build world-class products.
You, of course, know this company as the present-day Yamaha Corporation, named after its famous founder. Today, Yamaha is the world's largest musical instruments manufacturer, well-known across the world for its pianos, guitars, and even drums. Another part of the company is equally famous for its motorcycles.
Despite competition from old rivals such as Casio and new players such as Kurzweil, Yamaha remains at the top of the totem pole when it comes to digital pianos and keyboards. Their product range is unparalleled, offering everything from beginner-level keyboards to pianos you'd play at Carnegie Hall.
If you're in the market for a keyboard, you really can't go wrong with Yamaha.
The question is: what kind of Yamaha keyboard should you get? What should you look for in this keyboard?
We looked at 14 different keyboards across categories to help you answer these questions. Read on to see our pick for the best Yamaha keyboard in each category, and how to buy them.
If you want quick answers, these are the best Yamaha keyboards at a glance:
- Best overall: Yamaha DGX660
- Best budget: Yamaha PSR-51
- Best keyboard: Yamaha YDP-181
About your reviewerRyan Harrell is the founder of MIDINation and an experienced producer/DJ. His first experience with electronic music production dates back to Cubase 3.0 in the summer of 1997, and he's been a fan ever since. He prefers Ableton as his primary DAW these days, though he is still partial to Cubase and Pro Tools. He lives in San Diego and freelances as a producer and part-time DJ.
The Best Yamaha Keyboard: Our Top 7 Picks
We've considered the features you should look at before deciding which keyboard to buy.
Now, let's look at the best Yamaha keyboard in each category:
Best Overall: Yamaha DGX-660
- 88 keys, 192 polyphony, and 151 voices
- Built-in digital effects
- Microphone compatibility
- USB support for recordings
- Weighted GHS keys with Pure CF Sound Engine
The Yamaha DGX-660 has the best combination of price and performance, with a weighted GHS (Graded Hammer Standard) keyboard and state-of-the-art internal software which lets it emulate the sound and feel of a traditional acoustic piano.
Modern features are also included, such as USB support, WiFi connectivity, microphone compatibility, and a wide range of built-in digital effects. These all offer you the opportunity to produce great music, heard through the keyboard’s high-quality built-in speakers.
While the DGX-660 does have a host of features that can be used to teach newbies, it is expensive to purchase for that purpose and the menus can be counterintuitive to use.
Many stores also sell this model in bundles, which often contain cheap headphones, microphones, and other accessories. This can be troublesome, especially since the keyboard itself is made by Yamaha which has a proven track record of excellent build quality.
By emulating the sound of an authentic grand piano using the Pure CF Sound Engine, you can enjoy the sound and feel of playing on a piano while still taking advantage of the keyboard’s portability and advanced features which allow it to genre blend, layer chords, and even split the keyboard into two so that two instruments—or two players—can play at the same time.
Recommended for: The Yamaha DGX-660 is an ideal keyboard for any intermediate to advanced player that wants an altogether well-rounded product. It is not the best at any one task, but does well in every category.
- Best combination of price and features
- Weighted GHS keyboard helps narrow gap between digital and acoustic
- Proven Yamaha build quality guarantees long-lasting performance
- Expensive for beginners, and cheaper equivalents from other brands exist
- Learning features can be difficult to use and understand
- Bundles can add to the cost with cheap, low-quality accessories
Best for Serious Beginners: Yamaha PSR-EW300
- Y.E.S. (Yamaha Education Suite)
- 574 voices, 165 styles, and 154 preset songs
- Touch-sensitive dynamic keys
Built with education in mind, the Yamaha PSR-EW300 is equipped with the Y.E.S. (Yamaha Education Suite) to get newbies started with comprehensive skill training and timing practice. Its light-weight touch-sensitive dynamic keys are perfect for beginners who are just beginning to learn the feel of a keyboard and might need help with proper pressure and intensity.
The PSR-EW300 has 76 keys, giving you maximum dynamic expression and the ability to receive direct tutoring from an instructor. Coupled with the keyboard’s varied selection of instrument voices and over a hundred different songs to practice with, I consider this keyboard excellent for serious beginners who are interested in learning how to play piano.
Questionable speaker quality and the need to buy an adapter separately are disadvantages that any newbie will experience. While not a big deal by itself, sound quality can play a part in determining your future interest in the hobby.
Once more familiar with the basics of keyboarding, you may feel the need to upgrade to a different model because of the dynamic keys. They are useful for learning, but GHS (Graded Hammer Standard) keys will replace them as the gold standard in further education and for serious playing due to their emulation of authentic piano keys.
Recommended for: Players who are just starting to learn how to play the keyboard can’t go wrong with purchasing this model. The affordable price and education features make it highly accessible.
- Affordable pricing for beginners
- Dedicated learning suite to allow for self-teaching
- Dynamic keys help teach pacing and intensity
- Speaker quality isn’t the best
- Dynamic keys are weaker compared to GHS keys
- The model is specifically targeted at newbies, making future upgrades a necessity
Best Yamaha Synthesizer: Yamaha MX49
- MOTIF sound engine contains over 1000 voices
- Comes with MIDI capability and full USB support
- Mobile integration with app access
- Advanced DAW and VST controller features
- Offers complete production capabilities
If you are looking for a keyboard that lets you create a high-quality piece from start to finish with just the keyboard and no extra software or hardware, the Yamaha MX49 is for you. This synthesizer can emulate vintage models from the 70s and comes with its own suite of over 1000 effects and sounds.
I had a look at the connections, and it has complete USB support for playback and recording. You can even connect to the AUX input using a stereo cable to add extra functionality to the keyboard.
Here is the kicker: the MX49 is meant to be a complete music production synthesizer. That means you use it for every step of the production process, from basic chords to layering to digital effects. This is highly useful for the on-the-go player, but it can be challenging if you have dedicated software for certain steps of the process.
For example, the keyboard only has limited integration with modern DAWs like Ableton and FL Studio. You can use the MX49 as a one-stop shop without a problem. You start encountering issues when you try to integrate the keyboard with powerful software synthesizers and DAWs.
Another drawback with this model is that the keys don’t feel very good. They aren’t bad, but they don’t leave you satisfied. In other words, they get the job done. This may not be very important, depending on what you want to use the keyboard for.
Recommended for: Without dedicated hardware and a more professional studio suite, this model is an ideal synthesizer for any player that makes heavy use of layering, splitting, DAWs, and VSTs.
- One-stop shop production capabilities
- Excellent capacity for layering sounds and producing dynamic pieces
- Combines both synthesizer and MIDI functions
- Keys aren’t the best
- Limited utility when compared to professional software synthesizers
- Integration with modern DAWs is lacking
Best for Budget Buyers: Yamaha PSRF51
- Color-coded controls
- Polyphonic sound capability
- Metronome for pacing
- 61-key keyboard
Serious players will not be satisfied with the Yamaha PSRF51. It sounds harsh, but it is true. I found this model to meet some basic standards but nothing beyond that. It is great for people who don’t know if they want to invest in a better keyboard.
Basically: The PSRF51 is for casual players or those who are only just getting introduced to the hobby. The keys aren’t good, the build quality doesn’t live up to the Yamaha brand, and the speakers leave a lot to be desired.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, what does it do right?
Well, it’s incredibly cheap. That’s the main benefit of this model. It’s an affordable starting point that lets you get a taste of what playing a keyboard is like without needing to make a major investment.
With its no-nonsense build, you’re also guaranteed ease of use. It really is as simple as turning the thing on and starting to play. Its control panel makes voice and rhythm a breeze.
You can also play it off of battery power if you don’t have access to an outlet.
Recommended for: The Yamaha PSRF51 is ideal for those who are uncertain about becoming involved with keyboarding. Quality and features are nothing to write home about, but the price point makes it perfect for introductory playing.
- Very cheap
- Incredibly easy to use
- No power outlet access required
- Keys don’t have good responsiveness
- Build quality doesn’t promise long-term performance
- Speakers and sound are low quality
Best Yamaha Organ: Yamaha REFACE YC
- Authentic organ sounds and controls (with five organ waves)
- Large switches with retro design
- Highly responsive and fast keys
This is a niche model, so you should know what you’re looking for before purchasing the Yamaha REFACE YC organ. It is a portable keyboard with only 37 keys, less than half of what you could expect from a “grand piano” keyboard model.
I gave it a go, however, and it does pretty well at what it’s trying to do. If you’re on the lookout for a keyboard that can accurately emulate the sound and tone of an organ, the REFACE YC does just that.
The keyboard—likely due to its size—is noisy to use. The speakers themselves aren’t high quality, giving your audio a tinny echo. You sacrifice quality in the pursuit of miniaturizing, unfortunately.
One of its best features is its vintage organ sounds. You can easily switch from a modern sound to one of more retro appeal, and it fits the bill pretty well on each of its five organ characters.
Lastly, the keyboard has your standard-fare USB support as well as an AUX input, so you can play the organ alongside real tracks if you want to.
Recommended for: Anyone who is seeking a more organ-like playing sound and experience from their keyboard. Its authentic organ sounds give it a niche in the keyboard industry.
- Authentic organ characters from the vintage to the modern
- Miniature size makes it easy to move
- Large switches and responsive keys
- While keys are responsive, they make a lot of noise
- Its smaller size reduces capability and function
- Tinny speakers don’t output a great-sounding piece
Best Key Quality: Yamaha P-45
- Full-size keyboard with high-quality GHS keys
- Authentic production of piano sounds
- Includes 6 different voices with 64-note polyphony
This was an impressive keyboard to try out. So many keyboards out there come with a boatload of features that may feel gimmicky to players who don’t use them. The Yamaha P-45 nips this sentiment in the bud by offering players a simple, no-frills experience. It’s a keyboard, plain and simple.
Now, that could be bad, depending on how you want to use a keyboard. If you really like digital effects, basic layering, and a whole plethora of voices, the P-45 might disappoint you.
But if all you’re looking for is a keyboard that accurately emulates the sound of an authentic piano, well, you can’t go wrong with this one.
In particular, its keys are excellent quality. You’re offered a full-size experience which gives you four different touch sensitivities, and the GHS keys themselves are very good. They feel like they’re worth a lot of money. It can be intimidating to those who are just starting out.
The sound produced is also impressive. It comes pretty close to being just like the real thing. Unfortunately, the speakers can’t keep up with the quality, which is really disappointing.
Recommended for: The no-frills, no-nonsense keyboard player. This is pure quality without any extra features or instruments. Turn on and play the piano without any fuss.
- Fantastic key quality
- Full-size keyboard allows for full range of play
- Sound quality is premium
- Intimidating to inexperienced players
- Speakers are lower quality than what the keyboard can output
- No features can be seen as a minus to some
Best Acoustic Piano Replacement: Yamaha YDP-181
- 14 voices with 192-note polyphony
- Pure CF Sound Engine with state-of-the-art sampling technology
- Damper Resonance and full pedal support
The lack of portability and the high cost of the Yamaha YDP-181 makes it ideal for players who are already talented, know the ins and outs of digital keyboards, and don’t need to move around a lot.
You are paying for quality, and quality is exactly what you receive. When I tried out the YDP-181, I was surprised by how great the weighted GHS keys felt and with the sound the keyboard produced. It was very close to an authentic piano in both touch and sound.
The build of the keyboard helps provide the illusion by emulating that stereotypical upright piano-like look. When you’re sitting on the bench in front of this keyboard, you kind of feel like you’re playing on the real thing.
So what’s bad about this keyboard?
Well, if you’re the kind to buy bundled keyboards, you should know that most stores will sell you cheap accessories. For such a premium product, it’s better to buy it all separately. Cheap accessories will just make the keyboard less than what it can be.
The speakers also aren’t as good as they could be. They’re still great and they have decent fidelity, but it can’t stand up to the quality a dedicated sound system can output.
And lastly, the price. The nature of its cost does mean it’s not an accessible product for beginners or intermediate players. You get what you pay for, though, so definitely keep an eye out for this model series if you consider yourself an advanced keyboard player.
Recommended for: Advanced players who are familiar with the full range of keyboard models. High quality and with authentic audio, the YDP-181 is great for those who know exactly what they’re looking for.
- Closely resembles an authentic piano experience
- Full-size keyboard is built with high-quality keys
- Sound quality is as good as it can be without dedicated hardware
- High cost limits accessibility
- Often sold with products that diminish the keyboard’s potential
- Despite its high-quality sound, speakers still can’t keep up
The Best Yamaha Keyboard – Buying Guide
The word “keyboard” is often misleading. Depending on what circles you hang out in, it can mean a MIDI keyboard, an acoustic piano, a digital piano, or even a synth. Your EDM producer friends likely refer to their Akai when they say “keyboard”, while your pianists friends use it for their Yamahas.
If you go by the formal definition, any instrument that has keys is, well, a keyboard.
This is a broad category and includes several sub-categories. Let's understand these better below.
Pianos, Arrangers, Controllers, and Synthesizers
If you're a beginner, one of your biggest sources of confusion is likely to be the difference between the following instruments – piano, digital piano, arranger, MIDI controller, synthesizer, and workstation.
You're not the only one. A surprising number of even experienced musicians can't readily tell you how a synthesizer differs from an arranger.
Broadly speaking, you can describe these instruments as follows:
- Acoustic piano is the traditional, physical piano you're all familiar with. An acoustic piano produces sound when a hammer strikes a string, physically. These are expensive and require high-maintenance. Yamaha makes some of the world's finest acoustic pianos, and, in fact, got its start in the late 19th century making them.
- Digital piano is the digital replication of an acoustic piano. This instrument has an onboard computer loaded with piano samples. When you press a key, the equivalent sample is played. The volume and tone of the sample changes depending on how hard or soft you hit the key.
- MIDI controller: Often also called a “MIDI keyboard”, a controller is essentially a set of keys and buttons. It doesn't make any sound of its own. Rather, you have to connect it to a synthesizer (or computer) via a MIDI or USB cable. Whatever sound you load on the synthesizer can be played back by the keyboard (provided you hook up the synth to a speaker). Thus, a MIDI controller is just a way to “control” a physical or software snythesizer.
- Synthesizer, as the name implies, is an instrument that can create or synthesize sound. You can play around with different settings, oscillators, filters, etc. to create nearly an infinite number of sounds. While most synthesizers have built-in keyboards, it isn't a necessity. More and more people have now switched entirely to software synthesizers (such as Massive and Serum) that are controlled with a MIDI keyboard.
- Arranger or workstation is a type of keyboard with a mini audio workstation. Such keyboards have built-in memory to record several tracks. You can then arrange these tracks to produce complete songs. Think of them as a physical version of a digital audio workstation (DAW).
Acoustic pianos are outside the brief of this guide. Further, as electronic producers, we aren't really equipped to review acoustic instruments.
Arrangers have little use for modern musicians. DAWs are so cheap, easy to use, and powerful that expensive arranger/workstation keyboards make little sense today. You won't want to buy one unless you absolutely can't access a DAW (rare since everyone already has a laptop).
We would include MIDI controllers in this roundup, except Yamaha doesn't make any MIDI keyboards. Of course, nothing is stopping you from using a digital piano as a MIDI controller as well.
As for synthesizers, apart from the intuitiveness a physical instrument, software synths promise way more power and flexibility than even the best Yamaha synthesizers.
Which essentially limits this roundup to Yamaha digital pianos.
So let's look at the features you should care about when you're buying a Yamaha digital piano.
What Features to Look for in Yamaha Keyboards?
While Yamaha is generally known for its quality and you can virtually pick anything from its extensive lineup, there are a few things you need to consider when buying a Yamaha keyboard:
Key Action and Weight
A keyboard is all about, well, the keys.
Whenever you hear a musician say that a keyboard “plays nice”, they probably mean that the keys feel good to touch and offer substantial responsiveness.
While the construction material of the keys is certainly important (old school acoustic pianos used to have keys made from ivory), a more important factor is the key action.
The key action describes how each key responds to the touch. Subtle things such as the speed at which the key “bounces” back after being pressed affect your playing. The closer a keyboard can mimic the feel of a traditional grand piano, the better it is.
Yamaha's keyboards offer three types of key action:
- Graded Hammer Standard (GHS): This is Yamaha's cheapest action meant for beginner to intermediate level players. GHS offers “graded” weight, i.e. lower keys are heavier while higher octave keys are lighter – just like an acoustic piano. GHS offers a good simulation of acoustic piano performance and is recommended for relative beginners.
- Graded Hammer effect or GH/GHE: This is Yamaha's premium action commonly found in intermediate to performance keyboards. The action is smoother and quieter. Keys spring back faster, making staccato playing possible. Recommended for experienced players.
- GH3: An alternate version of GH/GHE, this key action offers the same responsiveness but faster key swingback. After you press the key, you will feel its weight a second time, even before you release it completely – just like an acoustic piano. GH3 is usually found in the best Yamaha keyboards.
Cheaper keyboards might offer simple synth-action – the same found on mid-range MIDI keyboards. Synth action, as the name implies, does not offer any resistance or weight. The keys bounce back as you press them. This makes entering notes easier (which is why it's used on MIDI keyboards) but doesn't offer the responsiveness of a traditional acoustic piano.
Complementing the idea of key action is key weight.
Essentially, keys can be fully-weighted, semi-weighted or unweighted (aka synth-action).
- Fully-weighted keys have built-in weights to mimic the tightness of an acoustic piano. Just as you will have to press down harder on lower octave keys, fully-weighted keyboards are heavier in the lower ranges.
- Semi-weighted keys are similar to fully-weighted keys, except they aren't as heavy. This allows for a nice compromise between playability and authentic performance.
- Unweighted keys are basically synth-action keys. There is no heft when you press down; the keys spring back up immediately. There is no difference between higher and lower octave notes either.
Try and match up your experience with the key action. Don't buy GHE, fully-weighted keys if you've never touched a piano before – the responsiveness will be too authentic and difficult to play.
If your budget permits it, spring for GHS keys at the very least. Try to get at least semi-weighted keys as well. Avoid synth action/unweighted keys if you can, though a lot of budget Yamaha keyboards offer just that.
You obviously want to buy a Yamaha keyboard that sounds good.
For the most part, you won't be disappointed with any product from Yamaha. Even when they use cheap synth-action keys in their entry-level instruments, Yamaha's keyboards always sound good enough.
As you progress higher up the price ladder, you get keyboards that sound as good as a $20,000 grand piano.
There are a few sound-related things you should keep in mind:
Polyphony is a measure of the number of notes an instrument is capable of producing simultaneously. A monophonic instrument, for instance, can only produce one sound at a time (remember those old Nokia phone ring tones?)
Polyphony is a bare minimal requirement for any keyboard. Otherwise you won't be able to play chords or multiple notes at the same time.
Almost all modern instruments are polyphonic, except for cheap analog synths. The Minimoog is a famous example of a monophonic instrument.
Polyphony is usually measured in multiples of 4 (an instrument that can play two notes at the same time is called “duophonic”). Most modern Yamaha keyboards, even the entry-level offerings, will have a minimum of 32 note polyphony.
While adequate, 32 notes does constrain your playing style. At the very least, look for keyboards with 64 note polyphony.
The best Yamaha keyboards will usually have 128 note polyphony. This is the industry standard and is good enough for nearly everyone.
Some high-end Yamaha keyboards will offer as much as 256 note polyphony, but at that level, you're just chasing numbers. There is almost no difference in the playing experience between a 128 note polyphonic instrument, and a 256 note polyphonic instrument.
32 note polyphony should be the absolute bare minimum you should settle for. 128 is ideal. 64 note polyphony is fine, though if you can, spring for 128 notes.
All digital keyboards produce sound from a library of digital samples. Think of how you use a MIDI keyboard to play notes from a sampler.
Obviously, the quality of the samples affects the quality of the output. Better samples, sampled better make the sound more natural and authentic.
Yamaha's key sampling engine is AWM (Advanced Wave Memory). The first iteration of this engine was developed in 1987 and used PCM (Pulse Code Modulation). This engine changed the “color” of a sound depending on the force (velocity) with which the note was struck.
The AWM engine has been modified constantly. It is the basis for the sound in most entry-level and mid-range Yamaha keyboards today.
The AWM was also the foundation for Yamaha's premium sound engine, the Pure CF. This engine uses sounds recorded from Yamaha's top-of-the-line CFIII grand concert piano. As a result, Pure CF gives you probably the best replication of a an acoustic piano you can get.
Cheaper Yamaha keyboards tend to use samples recorded from the smaller (and cheaper) Yamaha S6 piano. An untrained ear might not make out the difference between a Pure CF sound and an S6 sound, but an experienced player will.
I should mention that sampling technology has improved a lot in the last two decades. The best Yamaha keyboard from 1990 can't hold a candle to an entry-level Yamaha keyboard today.
Bottomline, Pure CF is Yamaha's premium sound engine found in most mid-range to performance keyboards. Below that, most keyboards use a standard AWM engine with built-in sounds recorded from a range of instruments, including the S6 piano.
If you have the budget for it, buy a keyboard with a Pure CF sound engine. If not, any Yamaha keyboard will, at the very least, sound good.
If you've walked down the musical instruments aisle at Walmart, you've likely seen tons of cheap keyboards advertising their “XXXX Built-in Sounds!”
What does this exactly mean?
“Built-in sounds” refers to the instruments pre-loaded on the keyboard.
The way digital keyboards produce sound is through digital sampling. There is a small computer onboard on every keyboard that's loaded with a range of sounds. Memory permitting, you can essentially load this computer with any sound in the world – piano, organ, xylophone, guitar, etc.
Think of the way you can load your DAW with any sound and play it with your MIDI keyboard.
In fact, plenty of keyboards even give you the option of downloading your own sounds to the instrument.
So when a manufacturer says that a keyboard is loaded with XXX number of sounds, it basically means that the onboard computer has XXX pre-loaded samples.
While a few of these sounds are good and useful, a large number of built-in sounds is mostly used as a marketing gimmick. You don't really need your keyboard to play sitar or the harp – the sample quality is likely going to be low and the keyboard isn't a suitable instrument for these sounds anyway.
At most, you'll want traditional key-based instrument sounds (organ, harmonium, piano) and a few classic electronic piano sounds (such as Rhodes piano).
Ignore everything beyond that as a marketing gimmick.
Number of keys
MIDI keyboards might come in a range of keyboard configurations – 25, 37, 49, 61, 76, and 88 – your options among Yamaha keyboards are more limited. Most keyboards tend to be between 61 and 88 keys.
This is partly due to the nature of the keyboards and their target users. Yamaha keyboards are digital pianos. You don't use them to control a digital synth or enter notes in a DAW (though you can). Rather, you use them to compose songs, create melodies, and play piano pieces.
It's hard to do all of that when you have, say, 25 keys to play with.
In real-world terms, 61 keys gives you 5 octaves of range. 88 keys is called a “full-size” piano and gives you the same range as a concert piano.
Some of Yamaha's best-selling models, such as the PSR series, usually have 61 or 76 keys, i.e. 5-6 octaves of range.
The number of keys impacts four things:
- Ease of use: The math is simple – the more keys a keyboard has, the harder it is to play. If you're a beginner, it can be difficult to figure out where the C note starts if you have 7 octaves to deal with. Fewer keys are more accessible and easier to play.
- Portability: The more keys you add to a keyboard, the longer it becomes. The longer the keyboard, the heavier and less portable it is. Yamaha PSRF51, a 61-key keyboard, for instance, is approximately 38″ long. But Yamaha P71, an 88-key keyboard, is 58″ long. That's almost 5 feet – wider than most tables.
- Playability: A full-sized, 88-key keyboard will give you access to all 7 octaves of range at once. With a 61 key keyboard, you might have to use the octave increase/lower feature to access lower or higher notes – not the most intuitive way to play music. In other words, you can play any piece of music if you have a full 7 octaves of range.
- Price: Although it's not always true, more keys tends to equal more $$$. The bigger the keyboard, the more it will cost.
Having said that, keep in mind that 88 keys wasn't always standard in the music world. Mozart made much of his music on a 5-octave keyboard. Beethoven used a maximum of 6 octaves. Apart from his very late work, you won't hear Beethoven use the very high or low notes on a piano.
So if you're concerned about portability and price, I would recommend choosing a 61 or 76 key keyboard. This will give you enough range to play virtually any piece of music while saving desk space.
Evaluate what matters more to you – price, playability, ease of use or portability. If you want something that can play anything and price isn't a concern, go for an 88-key keyboard. If you want something more compact, pick a 61-key keyboard. Go for a 76-key keyboard to get the best of both worlds.
Besides keys and sound, there are a few additional things you should look for in the best Yamaha keyboard:
Portability is a measure of three things:
- Size: The bigger the keyboard is, the harder it is to carry around. Full-size keyboards tend to be nearly 5′ wide, which makes them rather unwieldy. 61 key keyboards, on the other hand, often come in under 40″ – perfect for portability. Besides width, also consider the depth and height of the instrument.
- Weight: Weight is a function of size – larger keyboards are heavier. But other factors such as build quality, construction material, etc. also affect overall weight.
- Power source: While most keyboards are powered by AC power, a few entry-level options also use battery power. If portability is a key concern, look for a keyboard that runs on AA batteries.
There is no one size fits all measure of portability – everything will depend on your requirements. Unless portability is a prime concern for you, I don't recommend compromising on features or keyboard size for it.
The easiest way to ruin a good keyboard is to pair it up with low quality speakers. The best of Yamaha's Pure CF sound engine keyboards will sound horrible if you play them through weak, tinny speakers.
Fortunately, Yamaha does a good job of matching its keyboards with the right speakers (after all, it makes some of the best studio monitors in the industry). But some keyboards don't have built-in speakers and require external amplification (just like an electric guitar).
In this case, you'll want to pair up the keyboard with a set of high-end speakers or amplifiers. Choosing these amplifiers is beyond the scope of this article, however – we'll cover it in a future guide.
For now, you should just buy a keyboard with built-in speakers to avoid any issues.
Recording capabilities and microphones
A lot of keyboards – Yamaha's included – offer the option to record your music and play it back. This is a very useful feature if you want to know what you sound like when you play.
Some keyboards also have built-in microphones. Granted, these mics aren't going to blow you away, but they do a good enough job of helping you record your singing.
These are nice features to have – prioritize keyboards that offer them.
Most budget Yamaha keyboards have built-in learning modes. This can range from interactive lessons to simplified sounds for learners.
If you're a beginner, I highly recommend buying a keyboard with these modes. They might sound gimmicky (and honestly, a lot of learning features are), but they can really help a beginner struggling to learn.
Experienced players should avoid these features of course – they just get in the way of your playing.
What ports the keyboard has defines what you can connect to it (or it to). Look for keyboards that offer at least one of the following:
- USB for connecting to computers
- MIDI for connecting to an audio interface or other MIDI devices, effectively turning it into a MIDI controller (note that USB can also fulfil this function)
- Aux in for connecting external devices to your Yamaha keyboard's speakers, such as playing a piano track through a phone, recording it, then playing it back on the keyboard.
- Headphone jack for connecting headphones – crucial for those late night practice sessions
- Sustain pedal port for connecting an external sustain foot pedal to your Yamaha keyboard.
Other bells and whistles
Apart from the above, you'll frequently see keyboards advertised with a range of features – LED lights, a gazillion sounds, drum kits, etc.
Almost none of these are “must haves”. Some of them are “good to have”, while some are useless. But you should never base your purchase on these bells and whistles.
A simple keyboard with great keys and sound engine will give you far more joy than a feature-rich keyboard with cheap keys and poor quality sounds.
How much should you spend?
Now for that all-important b-word: budget.
Yamaha keyboards stretch across a huge range of prices. Entry level keyboards start as low as $99. Top-end keyboards can go beyond $2,000. In between, you have a range of keyboards covering virtually every possible budget or need.
In general, a few trends hold common across the best Yamaha keyboards:
- Premium keyboards (over $1,000) tend to be close replicas of Yamaha's top-end acoustic pianos. Many even come with consoles and benches. The YDP-181, for instance, looks and feels just like a console piano. Other keyboards in this range tend to be arranger or synthesizer keyboards.
- Low-end keyboards (under $300) are usually aimed at beginners and have a ton of learning-focused features. The low-end PSR series, for instance, has interactive learning modes, chord patterns, etc. These keyboards also tend to have additional instruments and “song” modes built-in. This allows you to play backing instruments (drums, bass) over a chord progression to turn an idea into a song.
- Mid-range keyboards ($300-$1,000) is the broadest range. At the top of this range, you get extremely competent keyboards that offer nearly the same performance as acoustic pianos. At the bottom-end, you get competent keyboards with slightly below-par keys and sound engines.
You'll want to first figure out what level you're currently playing at. If you've never touched a keyboard in your life, don't plop $800 on a mid-range keyboard; go for a cheap Yamaha PSR keyboard instead.
Match your experience, expertise, and needs with the budget. The closer you get to the $1,000 mark, the more “authentic” playing experience (Pure CF sound engine, GH keys) you'll have.
At the low-end of the scale, you'll get easy to play (but inauthentic) synth-action keys and tons of learning modes – perfect for a beginner.
Frequently Asked Questions
Before we close, let's answer a few quick questions to help you zero-in on the best Yamaha keyboard and digital piano for your needs.
Who should buy a digital piano?
Honestly? Everyone and anyone interested in music.
- Digital pianos get a bad rep because of two reasons:
- Unfavorable comparisons to acoustic pianos
Poor experience from earlier generation of digital pianos
Yes, digital pianos can't always replicate the *feel* of acoustic pianos. And yes, earlier digital pianos, especially from the 90s to early 2000s, were awful in terms of key weight and fell.
But that has changed drastically in the last fifteen years. Digital pianos have improved radically in both sound sampling and key feel. A modern Yamaha keyboard (pick from our list above) can feel as close as possible to a wildly expensive acoustic piano.
Given the upfront cost and regular maintenance of an acoustic piano (these things can cost tens of thousands of dollars), a digital piano is a no-brainer.
The fact that it doesn't weigh 2000lbs is an added plus!
What is polyphony?
Polyphony, as I mentioned above, is how many sounds an instrument can produce at the same time.
A monophonic instrument is something that can produce just one sound at a time. Think of a guitar pitch pipe. If you blow into the pipe marked, say, ‘G-3', it will produce only the G-3 sound pitch. That is, it's a monophonic instrument.
On the other hand, if you strum the open strings of a guitar, you are hitting 6 notes at the same time – EADGBE. Thus the sound is polyphonic.
Since in digital instruments, all sound is produced, well, *digitally*, polyphony is highly important.
Earlier digital pianos used to have limited polyphony. A good mark was 32 note polyphony, which meant that you could have 32 different pitches playing at the same time.
You might think that 32 is more than enough – after all, you don't have 32 fingers to play 32 notes simultaneously!
But the nature of piano means that after you hit a note, it will keep reverbating for a time. Hit a few dozen notes quickly in succession and you might have dozens of notes reverbating at the same time. This is what gives an acoustic instrument its characteristic ‘warmth' and richness.
Thus, 32 note polyphony isn't enough – you need more.
Thankfully, most of the best Yammaha keyboards and digital pianos we covered above boast 64+ note polyphony. 128-note polyphony is, in fact, the standard. A few very high-end instruments might have even 256-note polyphony, but at that point, it's just bragging rights.
For practical reasons, most of you will be happy with 64- note polyphony. With 128-note polyphony, you will never run out of room for additional notes.
But never go below 64 notes, no matter how tantalizing the price and features.
Can a digital piano produce sound?
As I specified earlier, a digital piano can only reproduce sounds already loaded onto it. It cannot be used to create new sounds (that is, sound synthesis). For that, you will need to invest in a synthesizer, as we've shared above.
Is Yamaha a good keyboard brand?
While I would never quantify something as subjective as “sound”, Yamaha easily ranks right at the very top of the digital piano totem pole. The only brands that can compete with its top of the line offerings are Roland and perhaps Korg. At the mid and lower end, Casio is a tough competitor, which is why we frequently rank Casio keyboards along side Yamaha in our best digital piano guides.
Which is the best Yamaha keyboard for beginners?
As a beginner buying a digital piano, you want a combination of affordability, competence, and features. Thankfully, the Yamaha PSR series is designed specifically to accommodate these requirements.
Our recommended Yamaha keyboard for beginners is the Yamaha PSR-EW300. However, if you're on a smaller budget, you can also check out the Yamaha PSR E263. If you can bump up the budget slightly, the Yamaha PSR E363 is an even better option.
Should I get a 61 or 88 key keyboard?
Get an 88 key keyboard if a) you have room to spare, and b) you want to play classical music.
If neither of these are true, a 61-key or 76 key keyboard should do fine.
An 88-key keyboard does open a lot of options that can be difficult to access with 61-keys. If you intend to play some JLo acoustic tunes, 61-keys would be fine. But if you want to play Chopin and Moonlight Sonata, better grab an 88-key keyboard.
Which keyboard is better – Yamaha or Roland?
This is debatable, but for this reviewer, Yamaha is the better brand simply because it covers a much wider range of quality and price levels. The top-of-the-line Roland keyboard compares very favorable against Yamaha. But Roland has almost nothing to offer in the entry-level to mid-range, while Yamaha has enough options for everyone from the 11 year old starting music classes to the 70 year old hobbyist.
Where should I buy Yamaha keyboards?
You can either shop for Yamaha keyboards from dedicated music outlets such as Sweetwater and Thomann. Or you can just buy from Amazon.
We recommend Amazon because their prices are usually lower than competitors and their service remains unmatched.
This brings our guide to buying the best Yamaha keyboard. Based on your requirements, pick any of the models above and you won't be disappointed.
Just to recap, here's the complete list again:
- Yamaha DGX660 (best overall)
- Yamaha PSR-EW300 (best for serious beginners)
- Yamaha MX49 (best synthesizer)
- Yamaha PSRF51 (best for budget buyers)
- Yamaha REFACE YC (best organ keyboard)
- Yamaha P-45 (best keys)
- Yamaha YDP-181 (best piano replacement)
Questions, suggestions, or doubts? Send us an email!
- Key feel and response of keyboards (Dummies.com)
- Yamaha corporation history (Yamaha.com)
- The challenges of making a digital piano sound real (BBC.com, Video)
Experts referenced for this article:
The following writers, DJs, producers, and audio engineers contributed their suggestions for this post: