The 10 Best Keyboards With Weighted Keys
This wiki has been updated 25 times since it was first published in October of 2018. If you're in the market for a keyboard, it's important that you know how much of a difference the action of the keys can make. Weighted keys are designed to approximate the tactile feel of an acoustic instrument, and to allow the musician as wide a range of expressiveness as possible. Our list offers some of the best models available, ranked by sound quality, playability, and special features. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
July 12, 2020:
Looking over the contents of our previous ranking, there were a few models that had gotten too long in the tooth to justify their presence, especially when they aren't even being made by their companies anymore. The Korg Krome fell into this category, as did the Yamaha CP40. We replaced these with the much newer Korg C1 Air Digital and the Hammond SK1. We also didn't want to adhere to the same artificial division between keyboards and synthesizers that was attempted in our previous ranking, hence the addition of that Hammond model.
That Korg C1 brings up an interesting point, as well, that not all weighted key systems are created equal. Some utilize a single piezoelectric crystal beneath each key, while other employ multiple sensors like you see in the Nord Piano 4. That increased sensitivity allows players to do things like hammer back down on a note without fully releasing it, and to get more nuanced expression based on the intensity with which they strike. Then there are things like the Graded Hammer Standard you see on the Yamaha DGX-660 and some others, which seeks to replicate the feel of an acoustic piano by making the lower register feel heavier than the upper. In the case of that Korg model, though, you actually get adjustable sensitivity, so you can tune the keyboard to respond however you want it to for your specific playing dynamics.
December 04, 2018:
While there are many keyboards with weighted keys available on the market, we mostly chose models designed primarily for piano-oriented keyboardists. There were a few synthesizers with weighted keys available, but for the most part, we avoided these. With that said, a pick like the Korg Krome does blur the line between synthesizer, workstation, and keyboard.
Why Spring For Weighted?
Whenever you strike a key, a corresponding hammer hits a long string tuned to vibrate at a particular frequency.
If you’re at all torn between buying a keyboard with weighted keys and picking up one without them, let it be known that keyboards with weighted keys are far superior to their unweighted counterparts in every way but two. They offer a more realistic playing experience, they sound better, and they provide the player with a greater range of expression.
On the realistic side, a weighted keyboard’s keys are designed to mimic the feel of an actual piano. Whether or not you learned to play on a real piano, knowing how to manipulate keys that feel this way will ensure that you can sit down in front of any Steinway or Yamaha, from uprights to grands, and feel at home. And if you find yourself in front of a keyboard with unweighted keys, you’ll find they’re much easier to play than if the tale was reversed, and you’d trained on an unweighted keyboard and suddenly had to perform on a baby grand.
From a sound perspective, keyboards with weighted keys are generally produced by companies with reputations to uphold, reputations that are forged in sound quality. Brands like Nord, Yamaha, Korg, Kawai, and others have long histories in musical instrument manufacture. All those years of research and development are at your fingertips when you play on a weighted keyboard.
When you look at the insides of a piano, you’ll notice that it is, in fact, a percussion instrument. Whenever you strike a key, a corresponding hammer hits a long string tuned to vibrate at a particular frequency. The harder you strike a key, the louder it will resound, and the more resonance it will create in the piano’s body. Pretty much any and all weighted keyboards employ piezoelectric sensors that create a more intense electronic signal the harder you strike a key, creating a louder sound (with only the finest models including settings capable of mimicking the corresponding resonance). Of course, there are unweighted models that also offer velocity-sensitive performance, but without the counterbalance of weighted keys, they are much less precise.
The only two ways that weighted models are inferior to their unweighted counterparts are in price and portability. Most unweighted models are significantly lighter than weighted units, making it easier to lug them around from show to show. And because the technology and construction process that goes into a weighted model is significantly more expensive, that cost usually trickles down to consumers.
Choosing The Perfect Keyboard For You
If you’ve decided that a weighted keyboard is for you, there are a lot of additional things to consider in finding the right model. Some of these may seem like minor differences at first, but they usually add up to create very different options.
Some are merely designed to help you lay down a simple line for immediate reference, while others let you layer lines on top of one another and save them for a later date.
One of the most basic questions you can ask yourself is whether or not you think you’re going to need speakers. Many models come with built-in speakers that allow for relatively low-volume practice sessions at home. None of these is quite loud enough to join in with a band on its own, but models most also have ¼-inch or XLR outputs that allow you to plug into an amp of your choice.
Whether you’re plugged into an amp, playing through built-in speakers, or listening in with a pair of headphones, you may desire a certain number of instruments or effects. Some models offer all the tones of very complex synthesizers, while others provide you with a pretty small but reliable assortment of piano sounds. Knowing how much diversity you might need in a performance or recording setting will help you narrow down your options.
And speaking of recording, some models will feature internal recording capabilities, but these can vary widely from model to model. Some are merely designed to help you lay down a simple line for immediate reference, while others let you layer lines on top of one another and save them for a later date. If the model you’re looking at lets you playback through an output, you can record directly to your keyboard and incorporate that recording into a larger session in your favorite editing software.
A Brief History Of The Piano
While the piano might seem like it’s been a cornerstone of musical composition for millennia, the fact is that the first piano that we could call a piano arrived on the scene in just 17th-century Italy. The technology behind it, of a hammer mechanism banging into a string, goes back at least as far as the dulcimer, which came into prominence in the 11th century. The most immediate predecessor of the piano was the harpsichord, which functioned very much like a piano — same basic key layout and playing style — but that couldn’t create louder or softer tones based on how hard the player struck a key.
When the piano rolled around, it was known in Italian as the clavicembalo col piano e forte, which roughly translates to the harpsichord that can play soft or loud.
When the piano rolled around, it was known in Italian as the clavicembalo col piano e forte, which roughly translates to the harpsichord that can play soft or loud. And despite how we’ve come to regard the piano as one of the more emotionally evocative and artistically expressive instruments in the world, its initial years were spent marketed not to trained musicians, but to the homes of the lesser rich.
At this point in history, there wasn’t exactly a middle class, but there were rich people that were wealthy enough to afford one of these new contraptions, with enough free time on their hands to learn how to play it. They needed musical entertainment, but couldn’t pay the massive expense of live musicians, so the piano became the primary source of tunes in the home.
Over the course of the following centuries, composers turned to the piano as a tool for composition, and many fell in love with the tones it was able to create, writing solo pieces for it, as well as featuring it prominently in a variety of other works. Today, the techniques and abilities required to properly play the instrument are among the most complicated of any musical tool, and the pieces written on it are among the most moving and beautiful that humans have created.