The Best Portable Keyboards - Under $500 w/ MIDI

Portable Keyboards

Portable keyboards have built-in speakers that allow for mobile plug-and-play functionality, and they continue to be in demand in the entry to mid-tier market. Here we feature the best of them, based on up to date reviews and ratings data.

Keyboards started out as electronic pianos, and have since expanded to reproduce the sound of other instruments and do virtually anything that a computer can do. For this guide, we focus on portable keyboards that dominate the entry to mid-tier market, ideal for students and budget conscious musicians. While they don't have the complexity of premium keyboards or the articulation of expensive digital pianos, they have enough versatility and features to make for a fun and inspiring instrument that can be used for practice and even for performance.

Contents

The Best Portable Keyboards - MIDI Enabled Under $500

Gearank Sources Street Price
Casio CTK-4400 90 125+ $170
Yamaha PSR-E363 89 30+ $180
Casio CTK-2400 88 850+ $130
Yamaha YPG-235 87 800+ $250
Korg MicroArranger 87 90+ $500

Casio CTK-4400

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 125+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$170
Casio CTK-4400

The Casio CTK-4400 is a versatile and affordable portable keyboard with switchable touch sensitivity levels, wide sound library and other extra features. The ability to choose between two sensitivity levels is impressive given its price tag, allowing you to tweak the feel of the keybed to match your playing style. On top of that, the CTK-4400 gives you a staggering number of sounds to play with, totaling 600, which is more than enough for most styles of music. Improved playability and the extra sounds easily justify the small price difference it has over other cheaper entry-level keyboards, but its value goes even higher with its improved sampling and 6-track recording.

Features:

  • 61 Synth Style Full Size Keys
  • Action: Touch Response
  • Velocity Sensitive
  • 48-note Polyphony
  • 600 sounds, 180 built-in rhythm
  • 6-track Sequencer
  • 152 song presets, 10 digital effects
  • 2-way Stereo 12cm Speakers
  • USB MIDI
  • Optional Sustain Pedal
  • Headphones/Output Jack
  • Runs on 6 x AA batteries
  • Includedl DC 9.5V power adapter
  • Weight: 10.14 lbs.

Pros

It's not surprising to find that many reviewers recommend the CTK-4400 as a great beginners keyboard, especially when considering its playability and versatility for the price. Most of the comments also mention that they are using the keyboard for formal lessons, and that it has met their expectations quite well. The keyboard's piano sounds (including its variants) were reported to be of good quality, along with the reverb effect that ups the realism of the piano sound.

Cons

There were a few reports that complained about the buzzing sound of the speakers, specifically when the volume is set high. Unfortunately the quality of the bundled items (which include the headset and stand) caused some reviewers to give it slightly lower scores.

Overall

At just under $150, this touch sensitive portable keyboard gives you quite a lot of bang for your hard earned cash. Factoring in its high rating makes it very easy to recommended.

Yamaha PSR-E363

89
GEARANK

89 out of 100. Incorporating 30+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$180
Yamaha PSR-E363

Yamaha continues to deliver the goods, re-affirming their long held position as one of the most highly rated keyboard manufacturers in the entry level market. The Yamaha PSR-E363 is the successor to the popular PSR-E353, and as such, it also showcases the company's design philosophy, which is to make good quality instruments for students while keeping the price low. For the price, it gives you 61 velocity sensitive keys, over 500 voices, and a variety of arranger features. It also features MIDI connectivity and is compatible with mobile devices, which complements its portability. Finally, all of these features are packed in a compact and very lightweight unit.

Features:

  • 61 Synth Style Full Size Keys
  • Action: Touch Response
  • Velocity Sensitive
  • 32-note Polyphony
  • 136 Style varieties
  • 2-track Sequencer
  • 2-way 12cm Stereo Speakers
  • USB MIDI
  • 550 voices, built-in effects
  • Music Rest
  • Optional Sustain Pedal
  • Runs on 6 x AA batteries
  • Optional power adapter
  • Weight: 9.70 lbs.

Pros

According to many users, awesome and wonderful are two adjectives that rightfully describe the PSR-E363. Students appreciate it's beginner friendly features and price tag, while experienced musicians are impressed with its overall quality. Sound quality and touch response were praised a number of times, along with its value for money.

Cons

The weight of the unit worries some users, with a few noting that it is too light to be structurally solid. But being a portable keyboard, this is a given, and more importantly, there are no complaints yet of the keyboard breaking down while being handled and used normally. We do caution that the PSR-E363 does not come with a power supply, so you'll have to get one separately. Thankfully, some retailers do sell the keyboard with the power supply bundled.

Overall

With its lightweight and versatile design, along with its with big brand backing, the Yamaha PSR-E363 is a good safe pick for beginner to intermediate keyboardists.

Casio CTK-2400

88
GEARANK

88 out of 100. Incorporating 850+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$130
Casio CTK-2400

Casio has produced a good number electronic devices, the most popular of which include affordable electronic keyboards. They continue to capture a big chunk of the competitive entry level keyboard market with their impressive ability to pack as many features as they can into budget friendly priced instruments, while keeping the quality high. A great example of this is the CTK-2400, a super affordable portable keyboard that is packed with many practical features that beginners and upstarts will appreciate, including 400 voices, 150 rhythms and the step up learning system.

Features:

  • 61 Piano Style Full Size Keys
  • 48-note Polyphony
  • Built-in Microphone
  • 110 Songs, 400 Voices and 150 Rhythms
  • 2-way Stereo Speakers
  • USB MIDI (GM Level 1 STandard)
  • Optional Sustain Pedal
  • Runs on 6 x AA batteries
  • 9.5V DC power adapter Included
  • Weight: 7.5 lbs.

Pros

What we immediately noticed with the reviews is that this particular keyboard is a popular gift to budding musicians, and rightly so because of its student friendly features and affordable price. Both the giver and the receiver of the CTK-2400 have mostly nice things to say about the unit. It is widely recommended by tutors, as attested to by the many reviews, some even rent this keyboard out to see if a child will be interested with making music. The general consensus is that this is a great value keyboard for beginners.

Cons

Most of the issues raised on the reviews are about the low quality free stand and headphones that their keyboard came bundled with, but there were others that appreciated the extras. There were a few that commented on the sound being more like a toy, but this is expected from experienced players who have tried premium keyboards that sound and play better.

Overall

If you are looking for a budget friendly portable keyboard that has some nice features, then this is the cheapest that your money can get without sacrificing quality too much.

Yamaha YPG-235

87
GEARANK

87 out of 100. Incorporating 800+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$250
Yamaha YPG-235

The YPG-235 portable keyboard exemplifies Yamaha's student friendly design, combining good playability and practice enhancing features while keeping the price accessible. It features 76 graded hammer piano style keys that better resembles the playing feel of an acoustic piano, and give you more notes to play with compared to the usual 61-key configuration keyboards in this price range. It also lets you utilize various sounds to play a variety of musical styles, keeping practice fun and interesting. This keyboard is labeled as a portable arranger, pointing to its sequencing and recording capabilities, features that even experienced musicians appreciate.

Features:

  • 76 Piano Style Full Size Keys
  • Action: Graded Hammer
  • Velocity Sensitive
  • 32-note Polyphony
  • Dual and Split Mode
  • 6-track Sequencer
  • Pitch Bend Wheel
  • 2-way Stereo Speakers with Bass Ports
  • USB MIDI
  • 150 styles, 30 internal songs and 70 more on CD
  • Flash ROM memory for downloading new songs
  • Music Rest
  • Optional Sustain Pedal
  • Runs on 6 x D batteries
  • Optional PA5D power adapter
  • Weight: 18.31 lbs.

Pros

This top rated portable keyboard has mostly good things written about it. Many agree that it is a great bang per buck keyboard with all its features, and you'll often find users reporting that it works as advertised, even exceeding the expectations of some users. Of its many sounds, the Grand Piano setting got a lot praise, with many saying that it sounds more expensive than it actually is.

Cons

Some users gave this keyboard a slightly lower score because the power adapter does not come with the package, so it is recommended to either buy one that's bundled or buy a power adapter at the same time so you can use the instrument out of the box. Experienced players who got the YPG-235 reported on clicking noises when pressing the keys, the noise varies from subtly distracting to really annoying, and that it will be obvious when playing at lower volumes. Silent practicing with a headphone is a good work around.

Overall

The YPG-235 is a great beginner to intermediate keyboard for serious students of the instrument, it also falls within a good price point where the quality you're getting is better than what you're paying for.

Korg MicroArranger

87
GEARANK

87 out of 100. Incorporating 90+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$500
Korg MicroArranger Portable Keyboard

From its humble beginnings in 1962, Korg is now one of the biggest music gear producers in the world. The MicroArranger, a reasonably priced portable keyboard with "arranger" features built-in.

The Korg MicroArranger is more than just a practice and performance keyboard, it is also a powerful music production tool. It is part of the company's line of keyboard arrangers which normally require a more premium price tag. As the name implies, the keys are smaller to limit the overall size for increased portability, while having the same sound quality and "arranging" features so you can sequence multiple instruments to produce songs, right on the unit itself. It provides a powerful and lightweight instrument and tool for keyboardists who are beginning to arrange and produce songs, or want to craft music while on the go.

Features:

  • 61 Mini Size Keys
  • Action: Touch Response
  • Velocity Sensitive
  • 62-note Polyphony
  • LCD display
  • 16-track Sequencer
  • Pitch Bend Wheel
  • 2-way 10cm Stereo Speakers (open air)
  • 5 pin MIDI In + 5 pin MIDI Out
  • 62 voices, 62 oscillators, 662 presets, 33 drum kits
  • Multi-part Arrangements
  • Memorize maximum 36 chord variations per style

  • Music Stand
  • Optional Sustain Pedal
  • 12V power adapter
  • Weight: 9.26 lbs.

Pros

Many of the musicians that rated this keyboard highly point to the quality of its sound and its incredible versatility. Others mention being surprised by the number of things that they can do with the unit, and the improvements it brought to their performance and music production process - especially when considering its modest size and price point. The overall opinion is that the Korg MicroArranger is of top notch quality in terms of playing feel, sound and reliability.

Cons

There are few complaints that refer to the keys being smaller, but this is to be expected. Thankfully, many of those who commented on the size of the keys actually learned to like and appreciate the instrument, even ending up highly rating the MicroArranger. There were a few that mentioned learning curve to be an issue, but other reviewers were quick to point out that it gets easier once you get used to the controls.

Overall

After looking at all the portable keyboards in the sub $500, the Korg MicroArranger easily has the best feature set, and well worth the extra money that it requires compared to the others on this list. If key size is not an issue, and you're looking for a powerful portable keyboard, then get this one.

Things to Consider When Buying a Portable Keyboard

  • Number of Keys

    Most portable keyboards come with 61 keys, since it allows for two-handed piano-style chords and arpeggios, while keeping the bulk and weight manageable. Those with more keys allow for even more notes to play with, but expect them to be heavier, bulkier and not to mention more expensive. Their bigger profile also requires you to prepare ample space for playing and transportation. There are also those with fewer keys which are cheaper and easier to carry, at the expense of limited notes to play with. The 61-Key configuration sits nicely in between the big and small keyboards, allowing for good access to notes while keeping the instrument reasonably portable.

  • Key Size, Action and Sensitivity

    Most portable keyboards come with semi-weighted synth action keys that balance dynamics and playability nicely. If you prefer the feel of an acoustic piano, then having a full-size, weighted keyboard is ideal for spacing and finger tension consistency. But be warned that keyboards with this feature are heavier and usually more expensive. Touch response and sensitivity are features that separate toys from a real instrument, so they should be considered. These features allow for volume changes based on how you press the keys, which can be used to better express your music, much like an acoustic piano would.

  • Voice, Style and Rhythm

    Portable keyboards usually come with as many sounds that the manufacturer can put on them without jacking up the price too much. As such, some of the voices or styles may not sound good to professionals, but they can be useful and fun to play with for beginners. Some even come with effects so you can personalize the sound better, or mimic the sounds used on your favorite songs. Most keyboards also come with drum and percussion sounds, along with pre-made rhythms that can be used to accompany you as you play, again a nice little feature for fun use, and more importantly, for keeping training your timing.

  • Recording and MIDI

    Some of the latest model keyboards allow for quick recording, either direct to the keyboard itself via a memory card, or on to a computer via a USB cable. While not necessary, recording can be a useful tool for practice and for songwriting. MIDI connectivity will let you use the keyboard as a controller for your MIDI device or virtual instrument software. The most common MIDI connection these days is USB, but there are still keyboards that have 5-Pin MIDI sockets.

  • Mod Wheels and Other Controls

    The more control options there are, the more use and variation you can get out of the instrument. However, the drawback to having more control is that you may end up wasting time tweaking than instead of actually practicing or making music. Most students will usually just need to play traditional piano parts on the keys, but if you are into modern electronic music, you'll want mod wheels and other extras.

  • Student Friendly Features

    I found that most of the keyboards have a number of student friendly features which include metronome, auto accompaniment, headphones out, and some even include virtual "lessons". While these won't take the place of an expert mentor, they are valuable for someone who wants to hone their playing skills.

  • Portability

    The best thing about portable keyboards is that they are... portable. Which means that you can use them to practice or even perform virtually anywhere - if they have the right features which include being battery powered, and having manageable size and weight.

Methodology

To be considered in this 2017 updated version of this guide, the keyboards had to have built-in speakers and MIDI compatibility. And to make this list useful, we limited our scope to keyboards that are widely available from US retailers. This is to make sure that you can actually get your hands on the one that matches your preferences.

We also limited our price range to those that are accessibly priced, while filtering out cheap keyboards with very limited functionalities. The ratings and reviews of the keyboards that met the criteria were then processed via Gearank's algorithm, which then gives us the scores that represent what the market actually feels about the instrument in real life. To keep this guide relevant, we have re-processed the scores to include updated reviews and ratings data, which resulted in shorter list with one new comer, the Yamaha PSR-E363. For more information about this process see How Gearank Works.

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