I really felt the difference the first time I switched from playing a regular piano to a keyboard...
... The keys just didn’t feel the same.
I later found that it’s because the average keyboard doesn’t have weighted keys.
This added weight helps a keyboard feel more like a piano, which offers more flexibility in your play.
Best 88 Key Weighted Keyboards - Finding the Right Feel
So, what do you do if you want a keyboard that emulates the feel as well as the sound of a piano? I’ve listed eight full-size weighted keyboards below to ensure you get the most suitable 88-key keyboard for your needs.
Table of Contents
- Best 88 Key Weighted Keyboards - Finding the Right Feel
- Why Weighted Keys?
- Computer Connections
- Audio Outputs
- My Honest Opinion on Whether Brands Matter
- What about Semi-Weighted Keyboards?
- Modes and Other Features
The DGX-660 features some great samples that sound almost exactly the same as an acoustic piano. Yamaha has also built in its “Scaled Graded Hammer” technology. In practice, this means that the keys can tell the difference between light, medium, and heavy presses. As a result, it can create 264 tones from its 88 keys.
I also like the option to connect the keyboard wirelessly to an iOS device. This helps with recording and also makes it easier to pull up notation when you’re playing. It also has a USB port if you don’t have an iOS device.
It does take a little breaking in, as the keys feel stiff when you first start playing. The damper pedal also lets the package down, as it feels a touch unnatural.
It's also available in bundles, which gets you accessories like a furniture stand, stool, sustain pedal, dust cover, and a headphone as part of the package. It also comes with both a DVD and a music book for beginners, in addition to some headphones that you can use when playing with other people in the room. Of course, accessories don’t mean much if the keyboard doesn’t sound right. Luckily, I don’t think that’s a problem with this one.
2. Yamaha P125
Another great Yamaha keyboard, the P125 doesn’t come with as many accessories as the DGX-660. However, you still have the option to get a stool, piano bench, and sustain pedal.
While the P125 works as a performance keyboard, it also really shines as a practice keyboard. This is down to the “Duo” mode, which allows for side-by-side play. A teacher can show a student something on one side so they can emulate it on the other.
The impressive 192-note polyphony means there’s plenty of range to the sound it produces. It also comes with backing tracks built in. I also like the Intelligent Acoustic Control, which adapts the tone based on your volume settings.
Special mention also goes to the black keys. These have a matte finish, which ensures better grip. You’re unlikely to find your fingers slipping off the keys with this keyboard.
The keyboard also comes with a free iOS app, which you can use to adjust its settings and trigger backing tracks.
The inbuilt speakers let the package down a little. They don’t sound great when you’re playing at low volumes. You can plug external speakers into the keyboard, but you’ll have to find the jack hidden away at the front first.
Aimed at the beginners' market, this may not be the best 88 key keyboard for performing. However, it’s an excellent practice keyboard that features semi-weighted keys. Again, this can get new players used to the idea of weighted keys without confusing them.
It has a max polyphony of 128 and is extremely cost-effective. I also like the headphone jack, which allows you to play without disturbing others.
Despite having 128 polyphony, it only has five voices. You can adjust each of these to produce different effects, but it’s perhaps not versatile enough for an experienced player.
It does offer USB and MIDI connectivity, plus it’s one of the most portable options on my list. You can pack six D cell batteries into it if you need to take it to lessons. It also comes with a power adapter for when you’re playing at home.
I also like that it comes with a three-month subscription to Skoove, which is an excellent teaching tool for new pianists.
4. Yamaha P71
The Yamaha P71 allows you to sample high-end Yamaha features at a lower price point. The P71 cuts down on cost by not including a stand or a bench. It weighs around 25 pounds which makes it easy enough to carry around.
The package also includes a solid power supply which doesn’t seem to overheat and a nice sustain pedal which enriches your sound and allows you to explore a wide range of techniques and musical genres. As an added bonus, you’re able to simulate string instruments really well when taking full advantage of the sustain pedal.
The Graded Hammer System which is a Yamaha signature makes striking the weighted keys a lot easier than on other keyboards, even those above this price point, while maintaining the feel of playing on an analog piano. The bass keys will feel a bit heavier than the treble so you’ll be able to play with a lot more depth and feeling.
You’re able to switch between 10 different voices on the P71, including harpsichord, strings, two organs, and more. What’s even cooler is the Dual Voice feature which allows you to play two instruments at the same time by hitting a single key. Although this digital piano doesn’t look as fancy as something you might see on stage, its engineering and design allow it to be quite the contender.
In terms of clarity, the P71 sounds a lot better than some more expensive models. The voices use above average samples. However, it might not be the best weighted keyboard overall for serious recording purposes. Learning music theory and playing techniques and figuring out your role in a band are all achievable with the P71. It only starts to fall off in a professional setting.
The main reason for this is that higher-end digital pianos have more memory. This allows them to use better samples for the voice. Another reason is that the timber doesn’t really change depending on how hard you press the key, only the volume does. An experienced musician would be able to tell the difference.
As far as connectivity is concerned, your options are somewhat limited but still ok. You have a standard stereo jack and a USB to host on the back panel. You also have a sustain pedal jack which can be used with an FC3 half pedal if you want to switch things up and add even more depth to your tunes.
What’s nice about the USB connector is that you can use it to connect to your iPhone or iPad and control the digital piano with the dedicated Yamaha app. What’s not as great is that the headphone jack is at the back so the cable may end up being inconvenient to play around.
5. Korg B2
Korg is known for making both entry-level and high-end digital keyboards and pianos. The B2 in question is not one of the cheaper ones. It falls somewhat in the middle in terms of both quality and pricing, but at least it comes as a complete package which should make it a lot easier to get started with out of the box.
The B2 comes with its own stand, a three-pedal board, and a Knox bench. This helps out a lot if you’re a beginner or if you simply don’t already have a proper setup. The minor downside is that the B1SP doesn’t have a USB port, just a standard stereo jack and pedal connections.
The sampling technology used to recreate the classic vibrant tone of an acoustic piano is vastly superior on the Korg B2 than on its predecessors. The expressivity of the tonal range is beautiful and it’s partly the reason why the B2 can reproduce believable string vibrations as well as damper resonances.
The separation between the keys makes the playing experience that much closer to an acoustic piano. The bass keys heavier while the upper regions require a lighter touch, and you also don’t hear the constant clacking sound of regular keyboards and some cheaper weighted keyboards.
One of the features that supposedly makes this digital piano unique is Korg’s MFB technology. MFB stands for motional feedback which is supposed to enhance the quality of the sound by using the movement of the speaker cone to help the speaker chamber while the sound is returning to the amp.
This technology should guarantee more accurate frequency responses, as well as correcting some of the drawbacks associated with room acoustics. For the most part, this seems to work as the B2 manages to score way outside its price range in terms of clarity. However, it’s still not enough for serious recordings or live gigs because of its low memory and above average samples.
You can also adjust the feel or touch of this digital piano from light to heavy if you’re finding it hard to keep your fingers from slipping. With a weight of just 26 pounds, the piano’s portability is a non-factor. And while it doesn’t exactly sound like a live performance instrument that bands might have on stage, it’s definitely great to play at home or in a studio.
Another feature that makes it a great teaching and learning instrument is the Partner Mode feature. Using this allows you to split the Korg into two keyboards so that you can follow a teacher or engage your student in a duet. This setup will result in two middle C’s on the keyboard.
6. Kawai ES110
The ES110 offers the portability that’s missing from their bulkier models like the Kawai CE220, plus it sounds amazing to boot.
It has a 192-note polyphony and an excellent key action. The Advanced Hammer Action IV system can detect even the lightest of presses, allowing you to get some really subtle sounds out of the keyboard.
Much like the Yamaha P125, this one has a split mode that makes it a great teaching tool. It also only weighs 26 pounds, so it’s easy to carry back and forth between lessons.
The keyboard comes with a sustain pedal, though you’ll have to fork out extra for a stand. It also has a MIDI port, though the USB port that comes as standard with most of these keyboards isn’t here. As a result, this may not be the best choice for computer connectivity.
It also offers varying styles of instrument, ranging from classical piano through the church organ and jazz piano.
7. Kawai CE220
Though it may look like a traditional piano, this is actually a digital keyboard with a unique style. The key here is that Kawai also produces acoustic pianos. As a result, they’ve sampled the sounds from their acoustic pianos for use in this digital keyboard variant.
This means you get close to the acoustic sound quality that you’re looking for, though you do lose a little in the translation. You can also couple that with useful features, including a USB port and two-track MIDI port. Both allow you to connect the keyboard to a computer or recording device.
You can also customize the touch sensitivity. As a result, this may be a great choice for beginners who want a full-size keyboard but aren’t yet comfortable with weighted keys. As your skills improve, you can add weight as needed.
The keyboard has an LCD display, plus it comes with a 29-song music book to help you get started. It also has an impressive max polyphony of 192 sounds.
Of course, the design also means that this isn’t a portable keyboard. It’s large and weighty, so you won’t want to move it after assembling. It can also take a while to put together, but that’s a small sacrifice given the keyboard’s sound quality.
Most people associate Casio with beginner-level keyboards, but the PX160 has a lot to offer to the experienced player too. It comes with two 8-watt speakers, which pack a surprising punch. It also has several ports that allow you to connect loudspeakers for recitals and performances.
It only has 18 tones, which is far fewer than many of the other keyboards on my list. However, it’s surprising to see just how much it can do with those tones. Couple them with the weighted keys and you have a surprisingly versatile keyboard.
At only 25lbs, it’s also one of the lightest keyboards on my list. This improves portability, with the slim design also ensuring the keyboard packs away easily after use.
The scaled hammer action detects the difference between soft, medium, and hard contacts. There’s also a USB port to allow computer connectivity.
Having said that, it may not be the best choice if you like to play with headphones. The notes also have short sustains, which can make playing some passages difficult.
Why Weighted Keys?
To find the answer to this, you have to think about how normal pianos work.
Simulating a Standard Piano
With a piano, each key has a hammer attached. This strikes a string when the back of the key rises with your press. This creates the sound that you hear from the piano.
Naturally, these hammers also have weight. A light press means that you get the slightest little tinkle. Heavier presses produce much louder sounds.
The point is that you don’t get a consistent sound like you do with bog-standard keyboards. I think this is a good thing, as weighted pianos allow for more variety in your play. You can creep your way through a quiet passage before launching into something louder.
It’s all about the feel.
That’s why many musicians prefer weighted keyboard keys. These emulate the hammer-based design of a piano. As a result, weighted keys expand the scope of what your keyboard can do.
Are They Good for Beginners?
This is a difficult question.
On one hand, starting off with an 88-key weighted keyboard means you’re playing with the most difficult kind of keyboard. If you can handle that, you’ll have no problems moving onto a piano. You’ll also about the subtle differences in power needed to produce different sounds from the same key.
However, these keyboards can also be a bit daunting. They require a lot of patience to master, which may put you off from learning altogether.
If you feel like you fall into the latter camp, these keyboards aren’t for you. Instead, you may find yourself more at home with an unweighted 61 or 76-key keyboard.
These produce consistent tones and offer fewer keys. Some beginners may prefer to use them to get to grips with the instrument, before moving up to a more advanced keyboard when their skills improve.
One advantage keyboards have over pianos is the ability to play several sounds simultaneously.
We refer to this as the keyboards polyphony. With a high polyphony, a keyboard can play multiple sounds to back your regular playing. In some cases, you can create these tracks yourself and play them back while you play a tune.
Polyphony becomes a major buying factor if you want to move beyond simple playing. It’s not an instrument itself, but it will help you to fill out your sound.
The advent of more advanced computers offered a lot of recording options to keyboardists. With many keyboards, you can now plug your instrument into a computer to record anything that you play.
Look for a USB or MIDI port to facilitate this. You’ll also need the relevant cables. Also, some keyboards allow you to store what you play onto an SD card for later transferal to a computer.
An inbuilt speaker may do the job for practicing, but you won’t be able to perform with it. Such small speakers don’t provide the sound quality or volume that you need for a performance.
Look for an audio output on your keyboard if you intend on playing for other people.
My Honest Opinion on Whether Brands Matter
I’ve dabbled with plenty of instruments over the years and I can honestly say that brands don’t always matter for most of them, depending on one’s playing needs. But when it comes to weighted keyboards, this doesn’t apply anymore.
Brands like Korg, Yamaha, Kawai, and Alesis are hands down among my top favorites. They all have a rich history in acoustic and digital musical instruments, and that long experience always shows.
Yamaha and Korg are perhaps the most recognizable brands too, so you can count on a lot of lesser known manufacturers trying to rip off their designs. Of course, I have yet to see any signs of close competition, especially when dealing with low-budget to mid-range digital pianos.
The sampling is always superior, and as is the build quality, when you’re buying from a reputable brand. Even though you may feel like you’re paying a premium, it’s always worth it when it comes to weighted keyboards. Simulating the acoustic piano feel and sound is no easy task but brands like Yamaha and Korg make it seem possible at almost any price range.
What about Semi-Weighted Keyboards?
Semi-weighted keyboards are in a weird spot. On the one hand, they’re a lot easier to learn on if you’re a beginner. You can spend more time focusing on learning the notes and exercising precise finger positioning and worry less about developing finger strength.
Also, there’s still somewhat of a difference between the keys so it doesn’t feel like playing on a generic digital keyboard. But whether or not it’s worth trading the feel and sound of a full-weighted keyboard, this is a matter of personal preference.
Semi-weighted keyboards are cheaper and there’s less fatigue involved, so you could technically practice for longer hours each day. But when you want to transition to an acoustic piano or even a full-weighted digital piano, you’re likely to hit another learning curve.
Modes and Other Features
There are a couple of interesting modes that you may find on full-weighted digital pianos. Deciding on which one’s worth more money depends on why you want to buy the piano in the first place. If you’re a total beginner, you probably won’t need a dual voice feature to play two instruments at the same time.
You may benefit however from a dual keyboard feature so you can play along with a tutor. There are also digital pianos that incorporate lesson modules which encourage you to play along and try different scales, techniques, and even full songs.
But again, you probably shouldn’t spend extra bucks on those if you already know your way around the keyboard. You might want to spend the extra money on more voice samples. Digital pianos, unlike guitars, are typically designed for specific purposes. Once you know what to look for, it’s a lot easier to make a decision.
Last but not the least, it’s important to consider if you want pedals in your setup. Some digital pianos come with a full sustain pedal, three-mode pedals, or no pedals at all. But if you want to transition to a more qualitative sound later on, you should at least consider getting a digital piano which allows you to connect a pedal.
The Final Word
So, what should you look for when buying a weighted keyboard?
Key sensitivity is crucial, as you need the keyboard to detect the difference in power when you play. Ideally, the keyboard will also have a large polyphony to properly emulate a full-size acoustic piano. Pre-set backing tracks and computer connectivity generally add to the digital package.
The keyboards I’ve examined here all offer something different. Some work best for performances, while others work better as teaching tools. Consider your own needs and budget, then use my list to make the ideal selection for you.