Best Keyboard Workstation: Everything You Need to Know 2024

keyboard workstations

Ultimate guide on finding the best keyboard workstation for your projects – synthesis, processing sequencing, sampling, effects & more


Throughout the years, MIDI controllers have dominated the market in terms of their seamless connectivity with Macs and PCs. However, even in this modern age, keyboard workstations still continue to have an edge in terms of in-the-box and all-in-one music creation. After all, not everyone wants multiple screens all the time, right?

Sometimes, the best way to create music is to have limitations. That’s the beauty of the best keyboard workstation–everything you need without a computer.

It is a versatile instrument that can meet the needs of songwriting, music production, and live performance.

Think of it as an electric piano on steroids, with a variety of keyboard sounds and effects, along with arpeggiators and sequencers. It also comes with built-in audio and MIDI recording connectivity that allows it to work as a computer interface.

It’s all thanks to the powerful sound engines within the keyboard workstations. This allows for high-quality core sounds similar to a Digital Piano, while also having multiple sounds like a keyboard arranger.

They can easily provide professional musicians with stage piano sounds, electric piano tones, and more. On top of being great stage instruments, they can also serve as the main music workstation in studio settings.

Workstation keyboards come with different keybed configurations. Some have synth-action keys, while others have keybeds that resemble the feel of acoustic piano keys. There are many variations and hybrids. You will gain a better understanding by knowing what is a synth, and the differences between a synthesizer vs keyboard, and even a digital piano vs keyboard.

Here we feature the best keyboard workstations, divided into three price ranges that cover the needs of everyone from intermediate level users, to professionals who compose and produce a wide range of styles of music.

Once you have found your perfect keyboard workstation, you may find our latest review on the best keyboard stand really useful.

The Best Keyboard Workstations – 2024

The Best Keyboard Workstations Under $1000

Roland Juno-DS61

94
GEARANK
94 out of 100. Incorporating 500+ ratings and reviews.
$799.99
Roland
At publication time this was the Highest Rated Keyboard Workstation Under $1000.
Cons
  • Non-weighted keys
  • Steep learning curve
  • Dated release (2015)
Pros
  • Expansive selection of sounds and patches
  • Great sounding core sounds
  • Versatile controls and sound synthesis
  • Portable profile, can run on batteries

The Roland Juno-DS61 is a compact 61-key synth-action keyboard loaded with an impressive sound engine. It comes with over 1000 preset sounds, patches, sound manipulation, and more. It does everything while retaining a portable lightweight profile that can even run on eight AA batteries.

It will pamper the keyboardist with its expandable sound library from sound manipulation features to smooth sound transitions. The only catch is how dedicated you are to learning its functions.

It'll take a long time for anyone to get through all of the sounds and features. This can be overwhelming for novices, but the steep learning curve rewards you with great sounds and better control over its many features. The end result is the improved quality of your productions and live performances.

Thankfully, you won't have to dive deep into menus to appreciate its high-quality sounds. The audio engine does a good job of emulating the sound of acoustic pianos and electric pianos. It also has good organ, strings, and Hammond voicings.

All of its core sounds are good, and this is the reason why the DS61 is one of the most professional keyboard workstations. Note that the Juno DS61 is a bit dated, but keyboardists hail this equipment as a classic. Some daresay that it's better than recently released keyboards.

The keys are not weighted but they work as intended, they are soft and easy to trigger. They are quite responsive, so expressive and dynamic playing is possible.

In addition to its 61 synth-style keys, the DS61 has phrase pads for triggering samples. It also comes with an 8-track pattern sequencer.

There are also a whole host of buttons, along with knobs and faders for control over parameters. It is designed to be a mobile studio hub with audio and MIDI recording capabilities. It has a mic input to record vocals and built-in effects including vocal Auto Pitch.

All these features make the Juno-DS61 a true all-in-one synth, useful for everything from traditional piano-style playing to modern EDM-style performances. And it does so while having a sturdy yet portable profile. So if you are looking for a versatile, yet portable synthesizer workstation keyboard, then this is for you.

Tech Specs

  • Keys: 61 Synth-Action Keys
  • Polyphony: 128
  • Sound Engine(s): Juno Engine
  • Controllers: Pitchbend and Modulation Levers
  • Audio Recording: Playback Format: ( bit, kHz, Stereo)
  • Audio Playback: WAV, AIFF, MP3
  • Sequencer: 8-Track/li>
  • Audio Inputs: 1 x 1/4" (Mic), 1 x 1/8" (Aux)
  • Audio Outputs: 2 x 1/4" (L/R), 1 x 1/4" (Headphones)
  • MIDI: In/Out/USB
  • Other Connections: 1 x 1/4" (Sustain), 1 x 1/4" (Control)
  • USB: USB connector 1x TYPE B
  • Power Supply: AC Adapter DC 12V
  • Dimensions: 3.87" x 39.68" x 11.81"
  • Weight: 11.75 lbs
Rating Source Highlight
Website Source *Rating Value
YouTube Scott Studio 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Demo

Korg Kross 2 61-key Synthesizer Workstation Keyboard

88
GEARANK
88 out of 100. Incorporating 275+ ratings and reviews.
$899.99
Korg

Cons

  • Steep learning curve

Pros

  • Neatly organized panel
  • Lightweight
  • Battery-powered

We featured the Korg Kross 2 61-Key Workstation Keyboard back in March 2018. This lightweight unit can run for seven hours on six AA batteries, which makes it more convenient and portable enough to bring around.

The feel of the velocity-sensitive keys has a decent resistance to it, but I won't consider them semi-weighted keys.

The panel layout is neatly organized and you can have an overview of the patch categories through the dial.

It features a newly added expanded PCM memory and a pad sampler that allows full-fledged sampling, and USB audio/MIDI interface functionality.

One advantage it has over the first version of Korg is the ability to sample more audio. You are given 16 playable pads. You can take a line in Jack and assign a stereo sample with 14 seconds of memory.

Should you run out of memory, you can insert a removable media such as an SD card. It recognizes SD cards up to 2GB and SDHC cards up to 32 GB.

That's more than enough for you to make your short, sampled-based backing tracks and stack music easily. It's also capable of a maximum polyphony of about 120 voices in a single mode.

They also didn't hold back with its polyphonic arpeggiator modes. You get 4 basic patterns such as UP, DOWN, ALT1, ALT2, and RANDOM, and make your custom pattern with over 1200 of storage.

Despite getting revived, sold out, and revived again, it continues to prove that it's a worthy contender among the best keyboard workstation selections in the market.

Tech Specs

  • Keys:61 Synth-Action Keys
  • Polyphony:120 voices (120 oscillators), single mode, 60 voices (60 oscillators), single mode
  • Sound Engine(s): EDS-i
  • Audio Recording:PCM audio format 48kHz/16bit, WAV
  • Audio Playback:Directly play back data from SD card
  • Sequencer: 16MIDI Tracks, 128 songs,16 preset/16 user template songs
  • Audio Inputs:1 x 1/4″ Line-in, 1 x 1/8″ Line-in
  • Audio Outputs:2 x 1/4″ Line-out, 1 x 1/8″ Stereo mini phone jack
  • MIDI:In/Out
  • Other Connections: 1 x 1/4″ Damper, 1 x 1/4″ Assignable switch, 1 x 1/4″ Assignable pedal
  • USB:USB connector 1x TYPE B
  • Power Supply:AC adaptor power supply DC 9V, 6 x AA alkaline batteries or 6 x or nickel-metal hydride batteries
  • Dimensions: 36.81″ × 10.59″ × 3.46″
  • Weight: 8.38 lbs

The Best Keyboard Workstations Between $1000 and $2000

Roland Juno-DS76

93
GEARANK
93 out of 100. Incorporating 100+ ratings and reviews.
$999.99
Roland
Cons
  • Requires familiarity to maximize its features
  • Non-weighted keys
Pros
  • Good balance of portability and playability
  • Longer 76-key synth style keybed
  • Great sounding core sounds
  • Expansive sound options and features

The Roland Juno-DS76 retains the portability and synth style keys of the DS series, but with a longer 76-note keybed. This makes it longer and heavier, but not as heavy as an acoustic piano.

It still retains a portable and busker-friendly profile, complete with the ability to run on batteries (8 x AA).

This 76-key version of the Juno DS is a more recent release, meant to fill the space between the smaller DS61 and the bigger DS88. It has more keys for pianists to appreciate, but with less of the bulk and weight that you get from the DS88.

Note that the action of the keys are still synth-style. However, these synth style keys DS76 are expressive, so there are compromises and benefits to achieve a good balance of playability and portability.

Sound-wise it's basically identical as its siblings. It gives you access to the same broad sound options. This includes a selection of core instrument voices from Roland's popular piano, electric piano, and Hammond style sounds.

Let's also not forget exotic sound samples, percussion, world instruments, acoustic instruments, and other sFX patches. It will keep you busy experimenting with their library.

Even though it doesn't have Roland's SuperNATURAL piano engine, the core voices have good realism and response - better than most workstation keyboards. Its high quality sounds and versatility are the reasons why the DS series continues to be the staple gigging keyboard.

There are also plenty of other quality instrument and synthesizer samples, along with a myriad of synth sounds. Like any other work station keyboards, you'll have to invest time in effort to master its functions.

It comes with workstation features that include internal or external audio and MIDI recording. This built-in audio interface makes this a great core instrument for a recording studio.

This workstation keyboard has built-in effects, an 8-track sequencer, and mic input. I also commend the EDM-friendly set of phrase pads that you can use to trigger samples that you customized yourself.

All in all, you benefit from the sonic versatility of the DS series, while allowing for wider piano chords that are harder to do in smaller 61-key keyboards. And it does all this while retaining good portability.

In addition to live accompaniment, the DS76 is also a suitable keyboard for studios with its workstation capabilities. It's easily one of the best professional music keyboards for stage and studio use, capable of transforming your playing style and workflow.

Tech Specs

  • Keys: 76 Synth-Action Keys
  • Polyphony: 128
  • Sound Engine(s): Juno Engine
  • Controllers: Pitchbend and Modulation Levers
  • Audio Recording: Playback Format: ( bit, kHz, Stereo)
  • Audio Playback: WAV, AIFF, MP3
  • Sequencer: 8-Track/li>
  • Audio Inputs: 1 x 1/4" (Mic), 1 x 1/8" (Aux)
  • Audio Outputs: 2 x 1/4" (L/R), 1 x 1/4" (Headphones)
  • MIDI: In/Out/USB
  • Other Connections: 1 x 1/4" (Sustain), 1 x 1/4" (Control)
  • USB: 1x TYPE A (Samples), 1 x Type B (Audio/MIDI)
  • Power Supply: AC Adapter DC 12V
  • Dimensions: 4" x 48.5" x 12.25"
  • Weight: 15.25 lbs

Demo

Yamaha PSR-SX700

97
GEARANK
97 out of 100. Incorporating 425+ ratings and reviews.
$1599.99
Yamaha
At publication time this was the Highest Rated Keyboard Workstation Under $2000.
Cons
  • A bit bulky for a portable keyboard
  • Button infested controls
  • No trigger pads
Pros
  • Feature packed yet portable
  • Intuitive 7" touch screen control
  • Lots of sounds and styles
  • Responsive and realistic sounding core voices
  • Intuitive accompaniment features

The PSR-SX700 is a keyboard packed with workstation and arranger features and being part of Yamaha's Portable Sound (PSR) line. It does all this while retaining a lightweight profile that's easy to carry around.

There are a lot of sounds to play with - 986 voices, 41 drum/sfx kits, 400 styles, and more. It contains a lot of functions and parameters to control, hence its bulkier and button infested front fascia.

Thankfully, the master controller layout is well thought out, especially its accompaniment and recording controls which are neatly positioned near the keys for quick access.

The 7" LCD color touchscreen gives you access to important settings like Voice and Style assignments, as well as menus and other parameters. The screen layout is intuitive, so it really makes the workflow and overall playing experience easier.

As for the workflow, you can utilize Accompaniment Styles to add a more realistic sounding "backing band" to your playing. It works with you as you change your chords, much like a smart auto accompaniment tool. Another noteworthy feature of the PSR-SX700 is its joystick control. It can go up, down, and sideways - allowing for convenient control over both pitch and modulation.

The sound engine is up to par with similarly priced keyboards, thanks to Yamaha's VCM (Virtual Circuit Modeling). Whether you want to play guitar, piano, organ, strings, and synth sounds, they all have good realism and they respond well to playing.

Voices that use Yamaha's super articulation sound even more realistic. The PSR-SX700 sounds good even when listening through the built-in speakers.

The 61-key synth-action keybed has 4 velocity sensitivity settings for personalizing the instrument's response. The pitch bend and mod wheels are responsive as well.

These keys won't appeal to those used to traditional acoustic pianos, but its an invaluable tool for those who do one-man-band accompaniment style playing. For some reason, Yamaha didn't add trigger pads, they opted for buttons near the keys.

Other noteworthy features include synth filter-like sounds achieved via assignable real-time control knobs, 16 track song recorder, and compatibility with Yamaha's XG song format. Being a Yamaha workstation keyboard, expect it to be durable and reliable.

If you're looking for a portable all-in-one workstation/arranger keyboard, then this might be an ideal fit.

Tech Specs

  • Keys: 61 Synth-Action Keys
  • Polyphony: 128
  • Sound Engine(s): AWM Stereo Sampling
  • Controllers: Joystick for Pitchbend and Modulation
  • Audio Recording: Playback Format: (16bit, 44.1 kHz, Stereo)
  • Audio Playback: WAV, MP3
  • Sequencer: 16-Track
  • Audio Inputs: 1 x 1/4" (Mic/Guitar), 1 x 1/8" (Aux)
  • Audio Outputs: 2 x 1/4" (L/R), 1 x 1/4" (Headphones)
  • MIDI: In/Out/USB
  • Other Connections: 1 x 1/4" (Sustain), 1 x 1/4" (Control)
  • USB: 1 x TYPE A, 1 x Type B
  • Power Supply: AC Adapter DC 16V
  • Dimensions: 5.5" x 40.06" x 17"
  • Weight: 25.37 lbs
Rating Source Highlight
Website Source *Rating Value
YouTube Danboarding 94/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Demo

The Best Workstation Keyboard in the $2000 to $5000 Price Point

Yamaha PSR-SX900

94
GEARANK
94 out of 100. Incorporating 375+ ratings and reviews.
$2299.99
Yamaha
At publication time this was the Highest Rated Keyboard Workstation from $2000 to $5000.
Cons
  • May not appeal to pianists
  • Steep learning curve
  • No trigger pads
Pros
  • Feature packed one-man-band instrument
  • Tons of voices, styles, and effects
  • Great sounding core voices
  • Intuitive touchscreen interface
  • Good balance of features and portability

The SX900 is the flagship model of Yamaha's PSR-S line. As such, it comes with the best that Yamaha can offer, all packed inside a portable instrument. It is similar in size and overall design to the SX700, but with expanded features that are meant to justify its premium price tag.

For starters, this 88 key workstation has a staggering collection of 1337 Voices, some of which have Yamaha's "Super Articulation" feature that adds subtle details which mimic human playing techniques.

This results in a more detailed and professional sound, faithful to the sampled instrument. As expected, piano sounds are top-notch, with good bass definition and high-end clarity.

The same can be said about its other core sounds, including organs, synths, guitar, strings, and the like. There are also 56 Drum/SFX kits to play with, along with 525 accompaniment styles.

If you get a handle on the controls, which include 3 layer sound setup. You have enough voices and styles to cover every musical genre.

The 61 synth style keys work as intended, are easy to press, and have good response to dynamic playing. The keys also don't look or feel cheap at all. This workstation keyboard is aimed at one-man-band performers and home producers than traditional pianists. Although, I have to say, some pianists I know do appreciate it capabilities.

The downside? You have to go through the steep learning curve and I have to say, it takes a while.

It may seem overkill for the average musician, but having all these sounds is important for live performances. Surprisingly, it can still work even in modern music production just because of how good the sounds are. If you could take the same sounds and recreate them live, then it becomes even better.

In addition to so many sounds, there are tons of parameters to tweak, which makes controlling the keyboard more complex. Thankfully, the 7" LCD color touchscreen makes diving through menus more bearable.

The voices, styles, and parameters are laid out very well, which makes it very intuitive. It would've been nice if there were trigger pads included.

The main strength of the PSR-SX900 is its accompaniment function, and in line with that, it has special features like chord looper that lets you record and play chords so you can free up your left hand.

Another distinct feature of the SX900 is its built-in vocal effects, which let you apply vocal harmony, synth Vocoder, and more. In addition to live performance and music production, the arranger functionality of this keyboard is detailed enough for use in songwriting and for recording rough demos of your song ideas.

Other noteworthy features include Bluetooth compatibility, expanded input/output options, 16 track song recorder, and compatibility with Yamaha's XG song format.

The Yamaha PSR-SX900 is a feature packed all-in-one accompaniment machine with good portability, ideal for one-man-band musicians.

Tech Specs

  • Keys: 61 Synth-Action Keys
  • Polyphony: 128
  • Sound Engine(s): AWM Stereo Sampling
  • Controllers: Joystick for Pitchbend and Modulation
  • Audio Recording: Playback Format: (16bit, 44.1 kHz, Stereo)
  • Audio Playback: WAV, MP3
  • Sequencer: 16-Track
  • Audio Inputs: 1 x 1/4" (Mic/Guitar), 1 x 1/8" (Aux)
  • Audio Outputs: 2 x 1/4" (L/R), 1 x 1/4" (Headphones)
  • MIDI: In/Out/USB
  • Other Connections: 1 x 1/4" (Sustain), 1 x 1/4" (Control)
  • USB: 2 x TYPE A, 1 x Type B
  • Power Supply: AC Adapter DC 16V
  • Dimensions: 5.5" x 40.06" x 17"
  • Weight: 25.35 lbs
Rating Source Highlights
Website Source *Rating Value
YouTube ePianos.co.uk 92/100
YouTube Woody Piano Shack 94/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Demo

Things to Consider when Buying a Keyboard Workstation

Differences between Workstation Keyboards and other Keyboards

Traditionally, keyboard workstations are a type of keyboard meant to be an all-in-one instrument for composers, music producers, and performers. As such they are generally equipped with almost everything that can accommodate your performance, recording, and production needs. This also includes upgraded interface with all the needed buttons, pitch wheel, mod wheel, faders, LCD displays, and more.

In modern music production, however, they function more as a tool for accessing sound libraries "out of the box." Still, some would prefer keyboard workstations over DAWs because it's solely focused on producing music. After all, it's less distracting compared to having so many windows opened!

There are several functions that set them apart from Digital Pianos vs Keyboards, arrangers, and other professional keyboards. These functions includes MIDI/USB control and recording, audio recording, editing features, and built-in effects that are helpful in creating and finalizing songs. Since they are meant for composing and recording songs, manufacturers tend to include massive sound libraries with a wide array of instruments.

In addition to these aspects, most workstation keyboards have good quality synthesizers that can be used for composing full-length multi-voice tracks. Workstation keys blur the lines between Synthesizer vs Keyboard features.

Sound Quality and Quantity

Sound quality and quantity matters whether you plan to use your workstation to produce music or for general playing purposes. As mentioned above, workstations have a wide array of instrument presets, such as pianos, horns, strings, and percussion. They are on par with the quality of what dedicated synthesizers can provide.

A simple playback synth, or one with sample libraries, is a reasonable option if you want an authentic reproduction of sounds. These are pianos, percussion, string section, and brass section.

If you plan to incorporate electronic music, a workstation with an analog modeling synthesis feature also works well.

For sound quantity, it's highly recommended to look for a workstation that can handle and provide enough polyphony for playing and recording. The more notes it can handle, the more you can maximize your use of sequencing and recording multiple tracks.

Sequencing, Recording and Effects

Since workstations are designed to address composition and production needs, the main features to keep in mind are their sequencing and recording capabilities. Workstations already have built-in MIDI sequencers for capturing, adding, and editing tracks. Expect these types of features from premium keyboards like the Kurzweil PC4, Roland Fantom 8, and the like.

Some of them also have a microphone or line input that lets you incorporate audio to sequenced tracks. Another feature to consider that would take your recordings to the next level are its onboard effects. Most workstations have the basic built-in effects that can be applied to individual tracks and/or the whole mix.

Those that have audio recording capabilities have EQ and dynamic related effects. These provide more flexibility when it comes to personalizing your final sound. You can connect them to your PC or Mac Mini, and get your music production done.

Memory Capacity

Memory is a considerable factor, especially when storing and accessing mixes. The types of memory you’ll find in a workstation are ROM and RAM.

ROM lets you switch out different sound cards to access variety of sounds. In contrast, RAM is the amount of memory that can be used for recording, sampling and storing custom settings.

It’s best to prioritize the amount ROM if you plan to focus on performing and playing the instrument. Otherwise for recording, it’s best to look for a large amount of RAM. Some workstations provide removable and expandable memory slots for memory cards and external hard drives too.

Other Features

Connectivity is also another feature to consider since a lot of them come with USB or 5-pin MIDI connections for connecting and syncing them to your computer. Good workstation keyboards can work well with DAW software, especially those with convenient control mapping features.

There are some workstations that include an audio sampler. This enables you to import any audio file to incorporate to your mix as long as they are compatible with your workstation. Some even come with digital synth engines with fm synthesis.

Having audio inputs for directly recording instruments is another plus. This includes modern Bluetooth streaming functionality, which is quickly becoming a standard feature among modern musical gear. These are some of the useful items to take into account if you want to maximize the use of your workstation. Retailers like Guitar Center usually have a list of features, but you can go direct to the manufacturer's web site if you want the full list.

Best Keyboard Workstation Selection Methodology

The first edition was published in 2018. The current edition was published on June 5, 2024

We began by looking at all the Workstation Keyboards available from major American online music gear stores and for this edition, we placed 43 of them on a short-list for further examination - you can see them in our Music Gear Database. We then examined feedback from users and experts in the form of written reviews, ratings and forum discussions, including the most recent feedback up. All these data were then fed to the Gearank Algorithm to produce the rating scores out of 100 that you see above - there were over 4,100 sources analyzed during this process. Finally, we selected the highest rated options to recommend in each of the price brackets above. For more information about our methods see How Gearank Works.

About the Author and Contributors

Here are the key people and sources involved in this guide's production - click on linked names for information about their music industry backgrounds.

Lead Author & Researcher

The standard gigging keyboardist rig often has a Roland keyboard at it's core, and for good reasons - they are reliable, practical, and they sound good. The Juno DS61 in particular is something that I've been seeing often in events and gigs, so I'm not surprised to find it rating high enough to be recommended in this guide.

Contributors
Allen Articulo: Co-Writer and Product Research
Jason Horton: Editing and illustrating.

Media
Main/Top Image: Compiled using photographs of the Roland Juno-DS61 and Yamaha PSR-SX900.

The videos have been embedded in accordance with YouTube's Terms of Service.

The individual product images were sourced from websites, promotional materials or supporting documentation provided by their respective manufacturers.

17 thoughts on “Best Keyboard Workstation: Everything You Need to Know 2024”

  1. Publication of our May 2021 Edition resulted in the following workstation coming off the recommended list above, but you can still see our analysis of it: Korg Kross 2.

  2. I understand that the Yamaha Montage and MODX recently updated their onboard sequencer/recorder. Is it (the sequencer/recorder) on the same level as the MOXF? This has previously been the only reason for me not pulling the trigger on the newer Yamaha workstations.

  3. Is there an advantage with the newer Yamaha MODX over the MOXF series? Or should I stay with my MOXF8?

  4. Roland FA series. Should not be here at all. they suck. Cheap! Cheap! Every Corner they could cut was done. And then some. The D/A A/D converters are so bad it is unbelievable!

    1. Thanks for sharing your opinion. When we produced this guide we examined over 800 opinions, over 90 of those were specific to the Roland FA-08, and based on the broad opinion of the market it did deserve to be included in our recommended list.

      If you’d like to know more about how we do this analysis, please read How Gearank Works.

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