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Pianos aren't really portable. What are my keyboard options?
September 9, 2007 7:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a portable keyboard with pretty realistic action.

I've played piano for a long time, but I've always used the real thing (first a hundred-year-old upright at home, then gorgeous baby grands in school practice rooms). Now, for a class, I need to purchase a keyboard -- and I figure since it'd be $50 or $100 for a not-so-hot one, I may as well spend $100-200 more and buy a good one that I can use when I no longer have access to school pianos.

Anyway, I know a fair amount about pianos, but not much at all about keyboard technology. Hopefully you can give me some recommendations if I tell you what I'm thinking.

- Must be portable, but I'm strong; heavy is better than unwieldy. Twice a week, I will be taking it -- along with a twenty-pound backpack -- on a crowded bus; in the course of those days, I'll also be walking two miles and climbing seven flights of stairs jammed with people.

- Must be pretty durable. I really don't know how much abuse keyboards can take without dying, but I'm guessing that if I have to schlep it to class, I don't want a delicate flower. I'm a careful person and I usually treat expensive electronics well, but because of all the hiking that's required, the keyboard will be bumped, scuffed, possibly dropped, and hopefully not rained on. If a protective carrying case is made for it, that would be great.

- Must feel pretty realistic. Once I have a few model numbers, I'll go try out the action to see what I prefer, but please don't recommend anything that feels less than pretty decent. I'm not asking for the expensivest awesomest newest technology, but I don't want to get into bad habits and I really don't want it to feel terrible.

- Must take batteries. It should have a power adapter, but it needs to be able to play from battery power if I can't be near an outlet.

- I'd like 88 keys, but yeah, I can settle for fewer. I'm willing to compromise a little on the size.

- Must have internal speakers (I shouldn't need to hook it up to anything to play). Must also have a headphone jack -- 3.5mm would be ideal, but 1/4" is fine too.

- Must have damper pedal operable by foot (not only by a hand switch or button or anything).

- Must have an attachable music stand that works -- I almost always play from sheet music, and it's impossibly frustrating when you're in the middle of a song and half the piece falls off because the stand sucks.

- I don't really care about MIDI stuff, computer interaction, recording anything, having five different tuba voices, or anything else I didn't mention above. Bells and whistles might be fun, but they're far from required.

I'm thinking something around $200-300, although I can go over a little if the upgrade would be significant. If any companies or stores offer student discounts, I qualify! Also, I'll be shopping in Manhattan, so if you can recommend stores (to test keyboards at or to buy from), that would be helpful.
posted by booksandlibretti to Technology (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm thinking something around $200-300, although I can go over a little if the upgrade would be significant. If any companies or stores offer student discounts, I qualify!

For $250, you can get a semi-weighted 49-key MIDI controller.

$300 buys you a portable grand piano

Expect to pay $800+ for a keyboard with hammer action.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:30 PM on September 9, 2007


To give you a bit of background on why you probably won't be able to get any of what you want within your budget:

1. Most electronic keyboards have very light/fast "synth action" keyboards. These are cheap to make, and will be the default unless specified otherwise. 61 keys is the "standard" width for a synthesizer, though some have more or less (76, 88, 49 are common, IIRC).

2. Electronics are cheap to make in volume, but physical things are not. The $300 "portable grand piano" will probably sound great, but the action will probably suck. The keyboards with realistic action ("hammer action") will probably have a lot of sounds, simply because the cost to add them is very low and the apparent value is high.

3. These days, most people who would otherwise buy a synthesizer (electronic music producers/hobbiests) are buying moderately to highly sophisticated midi controllers, and letting their PC or Mac handle the sound generation. The high value (low price, lots of features) gear will be here, but these will require you to carry a laptop and speakers around.

4. The market for hammer action keyboards is limited by a number of factors - relatively few classical pianists, expensive equipment, bulk and weight.

5. Being much more mechanical than a cheap synth-action keyboard, a hammer action keyboard will probably NOT be durable at all. Expect the internal mechanism to fail early if you plan to cart the keyboard all over town.

6. It is insane that you are expected to buy your own piano. Try to get access to the school equipment. Be creative - see if you can find a jazz club or friend that will let you use their piano to practice on. You are going to spend an arm and a leg to get something that isn't very close to the real thing. Either use a real piano, or get used to a 61-key synth ation piano (which will still probably break the bank).
posted by b1tr0t at 7:46 PM on September 9, 2007


The M-Audio PROKEYS is selling for $310. Seems to have decent reviews. I've heard good things about the Korg SP-250, although it does cost $800+...

Keyboard action will pale in comparison to an actual piano. Although a friend did have a Yamaha electric piano that felt a lot like the real thing.
posted by Xere at 8:07 PM on September 9, 2007


The Casio PX110 is going for about $380 and has "scaled hammer action keyboard for authentic grand piano feel." Take that with a grain of salt and try it out at your local Guitar Center or someplace.
posted by moonmilk at 8:43 PM on September 9, 2007


The professor wants us to buy a $50 or $100 keyboard -- it's a theory class. But I graduate in May, and I won't have access to school pianos after that, so I'm thinking that rather than buy crap now, be out $50, and not have anything decent afterwards, I want to buy something okay now to use after I lose piano access.

The professor wants us to have keyboards specifically so we can bring them to class for exercises or tests or whatever; otherwise I'd just keep reserving practice rooms. I agree it's bullshit.

I don't care if the action literally uses hammers, as long as it feels decent -- not great, but decent. To use a bad analogy, I'm looking for the equivalent of a 196kbps mp3, not a flac. I'm definitely going to check out the Yamaha NP-30 to see if its "Graded Soft-Touch keyboard" is an okay substitute.

As far as MIDI controllers go: I have a desktop, and will for the foreseeable future. I don't compose, and I have no desire to hook my keyboard to my computer. If MIDI controllers can be used all by themselves, that's fine, but it really seems like it would be the wrong tool for the job.

The Casio PX110 looks like a fine keyboard, but it is 60 pounds. I'm buying a keyboard now because I need one to carry to class.

The M-Audio Prokeys looks good, and at 20 pounds it wouldn't kill me. It's semi-weighted, though -- will that make it more delicate than other keyboards? It doesn't seem meant to be portable. It doesn't have internal speakers, either, which means buying and schlepping externals.

The Yamaha NP-30 is the definite front-runner right now. I just need to find somewhere to get my hands on one.
posted by booksandlibretti at 8:59 PM on September 9, 2007


Looks like the PX110 is 26 lbs. Still a lot, though. Are you sure you don't want one of these ? I found one for $10 at a local toy store.
posted by moonmilk at 7:20 AM on September 10, 2007


Quite truthfully, were I in your position -- carrying it around on a bus with a backpack in bad weather and all that -- I'd simply buy a cheap Casio from Ebay (I got one for $11) or something, and make things simple for myself.
posted by loiseau at 10:32 AM on September 10, 2007


In the mp3 analogy you mentioned, semi-weighted keyboards tend to be something like 48kbps compared to a real piano if what you are looking for is something like a real piano. Specifically, they feel funky and precise control over volume is much more difficult than on fully weighed hammer-action keyboards. I think you will be very hard pressed to find anything that resembles a decent piano for less than $500.

That said, lots of people like synth keyboards and view the lack of weighting as a feature. If you need to carry it to class, getting a hammerweighted keyboard is insane -- those things are damn heavy and somewhat fragile. I would suggest getting a cheap cheap midi keyboard for your class, seeing whether you object to that type of action, and then replacing it with something you like later on. If you decide to get an intermediately-priced one, try to play it for a while and make sure you're willing to put up with it -- I am now the "proud" owner of 3 keyboards, each costing about 3 times more than the lat one, just because I tried to get something on the cheap and got fed up with it. For me, the imprecise touch-response of semi-weighted keyboards ended up the deal-breaker.
posted by bsdfish at 12:18 AM on September 11, 2007


I went to the Sam Ash in midtown Manhattan, and the Yamaha NP-30 does not feel good.

I am indeed getting a cheap piece of crap -- probably a used cheap piece of crap -- for the theory class. When I graduate, I'm going to look again for a keyboard that feels decent (but that won't have to be portable).

Thanks for the help, everyone -- it looks like they just can't yet make what I wanted.
posted by booksandlibretti at 10:49 PM on September 25, 2007


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