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The Best Portable Keyboards - Under $500 w/ MIDI

The Best Portable Keyboards - Under $500 with MIDI

Originally published on Sep 6, 2016 and last updated on Jun 19, 2018.

Portable keyboards with their built-in speakers are great all-in-one mobile instruments. As such, they continue to be in demand in the entry-level to mid-tier market. The best of these portable keyboards are featured here, based on reviews and ratings data that we just updated for 2018.

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 sub $500 price range, which are 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

Yamaha PSR-E363

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 70+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$180
Yamaha PSR-E363

Yamaha continues to deliver the goods, 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 is a great example of Yamaha's production 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 - with 8 foot cable at Amazon
  • Weight: 9.70 lbs.

Pros

Awesome and wonderful are two adjectives that are often used to describe the PSR-E363. Students appreciate its beginner friendly features and price tag, while teachers and experienced musicians are satisfied with its overall quality. Sound quality and touch response gets a lot of thumbs up, 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.

Yamaha EZ-220

87
GEARANK

87 out of 100. Incorporating 450+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$229
Yamaha EZ-220 Portable Keyboard

The EZ-220 is an affordable portable keyboard from Yamaha that's aimed at beginners and serious students of the instrument. Its most prominent feature is the beginner friendly keybed, which lights up the keys that needs to be pressed to play specific songs. In addition, it comes with a wide variety of built-in voices (392 in all), which include different piano and electric piano sounds, along with organs, guitars, drums and many more. There are also 100 preset Styles which can be used as a backing track as you play or practice.

Features:

  • 61 Organ Style Keys
  • 32-note Polyphony
  • 101 Songs, 392 Voices and 100 Rhythms
  • 2-way Stereo Speakers
  • USB MIDI
  • Optional Sustain Pedal
  • Runs on 6 x AA batteries
  • 9.5V DC power adapter Included
  • Weight: 9 lbs.

Pros

Thanks to its beginner friendly features, the Yamaha EZ-220 continues to be among the most recommended entry-level keyboards in the market. Most of the reviews are full of positive comments from students who are learning the piano, but there are also many experienced musicians who have good things to say.

Cons

There are some users who are not impressed with some of the sounds. There are also a few complaints of missing components from the bundle that they ordered.

Overall

If you're looking for a practical keyboard to learn on, or you're looking to inspire someone else to play better, the Yamaha EZ-220 is highly recommended

Yamaha PSR-E453

88
GEARANK

88 out of 100. Incorporating 350+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$280
Yamaha PSR-E453

As part of Yamaha's popular PSR Series, the PSR-453 also exemplifies the company's goal of putting quality instruments in the hands of students and intermediate keyboardists. It balances price and features nicely, with soft synth style playability, 758 onboard sounds in addition to its multiple piano sounds, 220 accompaniments for jamming along with, and a wide range of buttons for control and more.

Features:

  • 61 Synth Style Full Size Keys
  • Action: Touch Response
  • Velocity Sensitive
  • 48-note Polyphony
  • 758 onboard voices
  • One button Grand Piano mode
  • Pitch wheel and 2 control knobs
  • 150 arpeggio patterns help create complex arrangements
  • 220 intelligent accompaniment styles help you flesh out songs
  • 26-type harmonization
  • 6-track recorder
  • Onboard effects (Chorus, Reverbm Stereo, EQ)
  • 3.5mm aux-in
  • USB MIDI + USB connectivity
  • Can run on 6 x AA batteries
  • Optional power supply
  • Weight: 14.9 lbs.

Pros

Playability and versatility are the best traits of the Yamaha PSR-E453. Many of the reviews are from parents and teachers who either bought one for some else or recommend it. It also gets a lot of thumbs up for its overall reliability and intuitive design.

Cons

Shipping issues and missing accessories make up most of the few negative reviews. There are also some who are not too happy with having to buy a power supply separately. Playing feel preference also comes up a few times, with complaints of the keys being too soft.

Overall

If you're into soft synth style keys, and you want a serious instrument to learn on, check out the Yamaha PSR-E453.

Roland GO:KEYS

86
GEARANK

86 out of 100. Incorporating 20+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$320
Roland GO:KEYS

The Roland GO:KEYS is a true modern portable keyboard instrument, with built-in loop/sequencer functionality, and wireless Bluetooth connectivity. The Loop Mix function lets you record and trigger phrases intuitively, making this instrument a viable tool for songwriting and for learning music production. Add to that the convenience of wirelessly streaming tracks that you want to play along with and wirelessly controlling your favorite software instruments via MIDI. These two features are in addition to its Roland quality keyboards function, which include having over 500 sounds

Features:

  • 61 Synth Style Full Size Keys
  • 128-note Polyphony
  • Built-in Microphone
  • 99 Songs (MIDI), 500+ Voices
  • 2-way Stereo Speakers
  • Bluetooth Connectivity, USB MIDI
  • Optional Sustain Pedal
  • Runs on 6 x AA batteries
  • Power adapter Included
  • Weight: 8.625 lbs.

Pros

The Roland GO:KEYS balances versatility and portability really well, as attested to by its many positive reviews. It continues to get rave reviews, be it from students who appreciate its playability, to parents and teachers who feel that it is worth more than the small investment. Even experienced keyboardists appreciate its light and portable profile, which when combined with Roland's brand of quality, makes for a quality portable instrument. There are also plenty of reviewers who are happy with its overall sound, which some even compare to more expensive Roland keyboards.

Cons

There are a few users who are not happy with the plastic feel of the chassis, but they do appreciate its synth style playability and lightweight profile.

Overall

If you're looking for a portable keyboards with modern functionality, then the Roland GO:KEYS is your best bet.

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 training to improve 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.

Best Portable Keyboard Selection Methodology

The selection criteria for this 2018 update continues to focus on portable keyboards with built-in speakers and MIDI compatibility. And like the previous versions, we limited our scope to keyboards that are widely available from US retailers, to make sure that you can readily get the keyboards that we feature. Finally, we limited our price range to those that are accessibly priced, while filtering out cheap keyboards with very limited functionalities.

We ended up with a short list of 10 keyboards, along with around 3,500 of the most current and relevant ratings and reviews, which were fed into the Gearank Algorithm. This process gives us the scores out of 100 that represent what the market actually feels about the instrument in real life. We then used the scores to narrow down the list further to those that are worthy of your consideration. For more information about this process see How Gearank Works.

Comments

Good point. They are

Good point. They are considered portable when compared to upright digital pianos like this. Also, because they have their own speakers, you don't need to carry around an amplifier to play or practice.

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