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What keyboard should I buy?


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I've got a TR 61 and a Nord Stage. The Stage is way above what you'd want (as is its little brother, the Electro), but the TR would probably suit you. In general, workstation keyboards like the TR tend to be more performance-oriented, while arranger keyboards like the PA series tend to be for people trying to compose and arrange music using a hardware setup. An arranger keyboard might also be the way to go if you're only ever going to be playing in a one-man band and need backing tracks, though running an iPod through the sound system works for that too. Really, if you have to ask what an arranger keyboard is, odds are it's not for you. Also, since you want things like piano, you obviously don't want a synth (Korg Radias, various Moogs, and such).

The TR is a great keyboard for what you want, but you might want to consider the Korg M50 instead. The sound quality is much better - the M50 is a newer keyboard using a different audio engine than the TR, which uses Korg's Triton line. The M50 gets you more effects (even if you don't program them yourself, you'll notice the difference in the factory presets), and generally sounds better - the tradeoff is that you can't get a sampling upgrade (letting you use audio from other sources and play it back with the keyboard) or aftertouch (variations in sound coming from the pressure you keep on the keys after you first press them down), and of course, it's more expensive. Aftertouch isn't necessarily a dealbreaker; the M50 responds to aftertouch from other sources, so you could combine a cheap MIDI controller that sends aftertouch with the M50 and get the better sounds from the M50. Both are in your price range though, although you may have some trouble finding a TR in store since it's been discontinued for almost a year because the M50 is its replacement. Then again, stores do have old stock; my local music store had a TR on display last month.

As for other manufacturers, there are really only three others that make workstations. Yamaha's MO or MM series (similar; the MO is better) are within your price range, but Yamaha tends to be a bit better for acoustic instruments and a bit worse for electronic than Korg does, though the M50 may very well blow the MO out of the water on all counts. I've never been a fan of Roland's sound; if you're interested, one of their Juno lines would be in your price range. I have no experience with Kurzweil; they tend to be less common.

What I'd suggest is that you go to your local store and try out the Yamaha MO, Korg M50 and TR (and make sure to find a good synth patch that uses aftertouch, to get an idea for what it's used for and whether it matters to you), and the Roland Juno D and Juno Stage. Try out a number of sounds on each (ideally on the same set of headphones - bring your own if you've got a good pair), and talk with the sales staff about features. Poke around the user interface of each a bit and see if it seems easy to use. (IMO, all are good for the basics; Korg and Yamaha seem more intuitive to me for editing than Roland). In general though, you can't really get something that's dead simple: you don't have to think about effects or editing until you're ready (though if you're interested in electronica, you'll really need to learn synth programming and how to use effects), but you'd never want a keyboard that didn't have a good feature set, even if you don't use it. You might be surprised too - I use the sequencer mode on my TR for live playing instead of to record songs.

You've got a decent list of options now; try them out, because you're the only one who can really make that decision.

As for an amp, I'm going to give the same advice: once you've chosen a keyboard, get them to run it through a few different amps in your price range. Try a few different sounds, ones you'll commonly use, and see what you like. I've got a Roland KC 150, and to my ear, it was far superior than the Behringer and Peavey amps I tried when I bought it.

Lastly, performing with a laptop. I perform with both my keyboards and a laptop, but never fully trust the laptop. Both my keyboards talk to each other directly without going through the laptop, and I have a second copy of each preset so that if the laptop dies, I can switch to the keyboard-only versions, and while the quality of my orchestral sounds in particular will go down, I can at least keep playing. Maybe it's my setup (Dell laptop with Native Instruments Kore as the host and performance tool), but Kore seems a bit buggy at times, and I doubt it's the hardware - I know enough to keep everything in perfect condition and optimize it well for music. Anyway, you might have better luck with a Mac; all kinds of pro artists tour with Macs in their setup. Still, it's probably a good idea to not trust it fully and be able to play if anything goes wrong with the laptop: if your keyboard fails, there's nothing you can do, but if the laptop fails, you can at least keep going with the keyboard.

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Thank you so much for your help. One quick last question: What is your opinion on the Korg X 50? That was one other recommendation I got. I think the M50 might be more suited to my needs, but I'll ask you just in case...

It's looking like a Korg might be my answer... I will definitely check out the Yamaha though. As for amps, I will give Roland and Hammond a try.

Thanks again for your help, I really appreciate it. :D

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Didn't know Hammond made amps.

Given your budget, don't bother with the X50. It's a scaled-down version of the TR - the sounds and effects are the same, but reading between the lines on Korg's website, it doesn't seem like it has a combi mode (multiple sounds layered or split across the keyboard) or a sequencer mode (you'll probably want to use your laptop for recording individual tracks for a song, but sequencer mode can be useful for live performance - it's what I use).

Also, on a lesser note, the X50 looks kind of dorky, in my opinion; the TR looks more 'pro', which may or may not matter to you.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm thinking on the Alesis Micron for my first 'board but I've heard mixed feelings on it, so what's the consensus here?

I do have Reason 4.0 so I'm wondering if I'd be better off going with a Axiom 61? Or even something like the WK-500?

Finally, is there any hands on word on the Novation Nocturn keyboards? If they want people to buy them without thinking because they look so awesome, I think they may have accomplished that. :razz:

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  • 1 year later...

My band's Yamaha has been dying over the past few months, so I've been trying to look around for comprehensive reviews w/ little success. Though I've played on keyboards before, this is my first purchase, so I'm not too familiar w/ the field. I've seen the Korg & M-Audio brands tossed around in this thread, but aside from the Yamaha MM8, I didn't see any models that seemed to fit my criteria:

  • Live performance is a priority. Portability isn't, since I might be moving it ~ 5x/yr. B/c it'll mostly be used live, it shouldn't depend upon a computer, but PC audio/USB input would be great when working w/ Logic or Pro Tools. A headphone port would be nice too.

  • W/ my classical background, standard piano features (ie realistic piano sound library, 88 keys, weighted keys, velocity, pedal support) are a must.

  • Yasunori Mitsuda, Joe Hisaishi, Reuben Kee, and Harry Gregson-Williams are some of my inspirations. Realistic orchestral/world instruments (ie choir, organ, string quartet, erhu) are a big plus. I don't need too many instruments, but the few I use have to sound good w/o software tweaking. Preset orchestral mixes have always been great (eg brass, strings, & choir on 1 voice setting).

  • We already have amps + sound system, so speakers aren't necessary.

  • Reliability: We plan on keeping this keyboard for > 5 yrs, so durability and component quality are important. Our current Yamaha's ports have degraded to the point where sound will randomly cut out w/ tested working cables. The pedal port has recently suffered from this mysterious error as well.

  • Budget: If I had to list a price, maybe < $1000.

It'd be great if I could be pointed towards good review sites or specific models.

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You're asking too much for one keyboard to handle at your budget level, unless you can swing buying something used. Is your Yamaha in such bad shape that you can't rent something else in the meantime and fix it?

Regardless, you're looking for a workstation keyboard, not a synth, and not an arranger (generally better suited for having the keyboard add backing parts to your arrangements as opposed to live performance, and typically more expensive than the equivalent-model workstation keyboards). Any workstation keyboard will let you plug in a pedal (though typically just one; if you need a damper or sostenuto as well, you'll probably have to spend a lot more on something that's a dedicated piano keyboard), and they'll be velocity-sensitive. Typically, just the 88-key models have weighted keys.

At 88 keys, you're looking at the Yamaha Motif 8/ES8/XS8/XF8 or the little brothers, the MO8 or (worse) MM8, or the Korg M3-88 or M50-88 or, going older, the Triton Extreme 88 or TR-88. There's also Roland or Kurzweil; Kurzweils aren't as popular and tend to be a bit more complicated to use, especially if you ever edit any of your sounds on your own, and I'm generally not a fan of most Roland sounds as far as realism goes, but if you were going this route, there might be an 88-key Juno model, I don't know, or else you'd have to go with an 88-key Fantom model. I have a Roland VR-700 despite these comments, but I use it because it's got a great B3 engine where I can set my own drawbar positions (essential to the music I play) and has a great piano sound and good enough sounds from other instruments that I can make do with just this keyboard in a gig. Typically, I also use a TR and/or a laptop running Kontakt to round out my sounds, but that's more than you want at this point ;)

I'm most familiar with Korg, so I'll start there. The TR and Triton Extreme are more-or-less the same keyboard; the main difference as far as you're concerned is that the TR has double the polyphony (notes that can sound at once); if you do any layering of sounds within your band, or want to, it's not that hard to hit limits where notes start dropping out on the TR, and you sacrifice your sound because of it. The Extreme also lets you use 5 insert effects compared to the TR's 1.

The M50 and M3 use a new sound engine compared to the Triton line, one that tends to be better at realistic instruments. The M50 is fairly cheaply made; while it sounds just as good as the M3 (the key difference is just polyphony; both keyboards give you 5 insert effects), it's just not as durable. That might be ok if you're only moving it a few times a year, but make sure you have a good case and take care of it. The other difference that might affect you is that all of the Korg keyboards I've mentioned so far except the M50 have aftertouch: a measure of how much pressure remains on a key once you've played it, so you can do things like slightly adjust some sounds by digging in a bit as you hold the chord. I find it useful; you may not.

As for the Yamahas, I've only tried out the MO6 and MO8. I probably would've gotten the MO6 instead of my TR-61 if it wasn't for the price. If I recall, it has better polyphony than the MM8 and probably a bigger sound library. Of course, the Motif line blows them both out of the water, but you get what you pay for.

Overall, I'd suggest you get to your local music store and try out a few keyboards to get a better sense of what's out there. Really, it comes down to your own preferences, whether you like the sounds you hear or not, how comfortable you are with the basics of the user interface, etc.

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you're looking at the Yamaha Motif 8/ES8/XS8/XF8 or the little brothers, the MO8 or (worse) MM8, or the Korg M3-88 or M50-88 or, going older, the Triton Extreme 88 or TR-88.

Thanks for the quick response. I wasn't expecting an older thread to get feedback so soon.

I've looked @ these models, and as you said, they're out of our tentative price range ($2500 for the M3). But, some of these also seem to be too much keyboard for us. The M3 sounded nice in their video, but we already have a dedicated EQ board. We also have the drum set & electric guitar/bass covered. Any editing I do will be done on a computer, so built-in software is unnecessary (I don't see any other reasons for software, so please correct me if I'm wrong here).

In Yamaha's MO video, controls seemed to be a bit convoluted, but I'd have to confirm that in person.

Should I be looking @ workstations? I'm looking for something w/ great pre-packaged orchestral samples, but I don't see a need for portable mixing/editing. Are there any digital pianos that fit the bill?

On an unrelated note, do any manufacturers offer > 3 yr warranty?

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I don't know about warranties.

Digital pianos generally have a *very* small range of sounds. For example, my church has a Korg KC-350 that has 6 piano sounds, 6 electric piano sounds, 6 organ sounds, 3 strings/pads, no brass, and a few other pretty-much-useless sounds. Stage pianos aren't much better; lower-end ones that are more in your price range will probably have about the same, and higher-end ones may have even less (though, like my Roland, they'll often have a B3 clone, instead of just sampling a few drawbar settings from a B3).

Really, a workstation is the only thing you should be considering. Anything less will give you not enough or poor quality sounds, and anything more will be too specialized or way more than what you need.

True, you probably won't be recording songs on your keyboard, but no one's making you use that part of it, and you might be surprised - I try to do everything live, but my group at church does use a MIDI loop on one song we do occasionally; it's only 8 bars, but it's too much for me to play as well as play the 'normal' keyboard part.

Workstations typically have a mode for playing and editing single programs and a mode for combining programs to layer them together and/or split them into ranges across the keyboard. They'll often let you do all kinds of tricks too that might come in handy - see my blog (link's in my signature) - I'm writing a few articles for a couple friends who have been asking me about my keyboard setup.

Even if you have a dedicated EQ board, being able to set EQ on a per-preset basis on the keyboard is still useful. My preference would be to use the EQ board as a master EQ (i.e. to compensate for a venue where the high end sounds especially shrill, etc.) but use the keyboard EQ to tweak a patch to your liking in 'ideal' settings. And any on-board balancing of individual sounds that you can do (on the M3, assigning the sliders to affect the volume of individual timbres in your preset, for example) is still useful too; it gives you the option to make small corrections if something's not quite right.

Seriously, I'd figure out what keyboard(s) might suit your needs and then look for them used. $1000 will get you an MM8 or MO6 (which won't be weighted) at sweetwater.com. The MO6/MO8 are roughly on par with the Korg TR in terms of features (the M50 being the oddball in that its sound engine is more powerful but its construction is cheaper), and as a serious keyboard player myself, I wouldn't go for anything less.

The only other option I can think of, if you have a decent laptop and already have some good sounds (something like NI Komplete or just Kontakt 4 will give you a good selection of strings, a good piano sound, etc.), is to spend your $1,000 on an audio interface, if you don't have one, and a weighted MIDI controller, and bring your laptop with you to gigs. Roland also makes a laptop stand that comes in handy for this type of setup.

By all means look at digital pianos or more basic stage pianos (neither are my specialty; I can't recommend anything here), but my suspicion is you'll find them lacking, and have to choose between spending more/finding something used, getting the old one fixed, or buying something you're not satisfied with.

I'm curious; what do you have now, the one that died?

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Whoops. We used a Yamaha once, but I found that our keyboard is actually a Korg SP-500. I've mainly used a piano sample, w/ a few applications of a choir voice, but I haven't had the chance to explore much. It's not dead yet, but the random disconnections seem to indicate that it'll be going out soon. For some reason, the sound & pedal came through today.

After playing around w/ it, I was rather disappointed w/ the synthetic brass & strings on our SP-500, so I'm not sure if this is indicative of overall quality across digital pianos. W/ the tips you've given me, I'll be testing models @ a music store soon.

The laptop idea would be interesting save for the fact that I won't be the only user.

After speaking w/ our leader, it seems our budget's also more flexible than I thought, which could net us a workstation, should repair not be an option.

Do you usually buy from sweetwater, or was that from a search? It'd be great if there was a Newegg equivalent where we could search for specific features.

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Yeah, if it's not just for you, a laptop is out :)

I've never bought from Sweetwater; I'm Canadian and they don't ship many items to us. I just know them as one of the big three or four online retailers for music gear; odds are you'll find the same price online at Guitar Center or Musicians Friend unless one of them are having a sale.

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  • 2 months later...

After reading the first few posts, I'm still a little uncertain as to whether I should be shopping for MIDI controllers, digital pianos, synthesizers, or workstations.

Just to warn you, I'm as far into "newbie" territory as you can possibly get.

Right now I have a computer and REAPER, which I just downloaded and am slowly learning to use. I also have some GPO instruments from years ago and I don't even know if they'll work still. In any case, most of what I write will probably be symphonic in nature and/or very piano-heavy.

I play piano on a more-or-less professional level, so I'm assuming for writing difficult, involved piano parts, I'll want a full 88 (preferably hammer-action) keys. Here's where my newbie-ness shines: does the native sound quality of the keyboard I get actually matter if I'm going to be using some other piano sample in whatever software I'm using to record? I'm guessing not. If that's correct, then I can probably rule out getting a digital piano, because I already have an acoustic piano and I don't intend on buying anything for performance, just recording.

It kind of sounds like what would work best for me is just a MIDI controller, but I want to get an experienced opinion before I go off spending money on something that's not right for me.

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Here's where my newbie-ness shines: does the native sound quality of the keyboard I get actually matter if I'm going to be using some other piano sample in whatever software I'm using to record?

Nope. MIDI has no sound by itself, and if all you're doing is transmitting MIDI and then adding sound to it, there's no need for a really high end digital piano. That said, you did mention that you have a fully functioning acoustic piano as well, so there's not much need for a digital piano if you have good enough samples.

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Nope. MIDI has no sound by itself, and if all you're doing is transmitting MIDI and then adding sound to it, there's no need for a really high end digital piano. That said, you did mention that you have a fully functioning acoustic piano as well, so there's not much need for a digital piano if you have good enough samples.

Makes sense to me. I'm looking at the M-Audio Oxygen 88 (http://www.m-audio.com/products/en_us/Oxygen88.html). It's kinda pricey, but I can swing it and am more than willing to if it's going to last me a long time.

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Makes sense to me. I'm looking at the M-Audio Oxygen 88 (http://www.m-audio.com/products/en_us/Oxygen88.html). It's kinda pricey, but I can swing it and am more than willing to if it's going to last me a long time.

Yeah, I've heard only good things about it from my more piano-player-y friends. I know they'd vouch for it, if you're a semi-professional piano player with chops, fully weighted 88 keys is definitely the way to go.

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  • 4 weeks later...

EDIT: if you're thinking about getting a Compact Midi controller DON'T GET THE KORG NANOKEY. I've been playing with it for a week now and I guess I should have read this thread several more times before purchasing it. =/

I have 2 questions in regards to MIDI controllers:

1) Does anybody have suggestions and/or advice for choosing

between USB and Firewire Controllers? I'm used to USB but

since I'm unfamiliar with Firewire I wanted to know if

there is a significant difference.

2) What is your suggestion for getting a Midi controller


into "nomadic" recording so I'd like to know what's the best

that I can get while still being able to easily transport it

within a bookbag/messenger bag.

I'd like to know the quality of the price range from $50 up to $300.

I'm really not interested in "space-age" quality, but I've

never worked solely with midi before so I'd like some advice

from veterans (especially laptop users).

This is what I'm currently looking at (also, I only lean towards "KORG" products because I'm familiar with them but I'm open to others):







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  • 1 year later...

Hey, I want to buy a new keyboard soon and I got interested in the Korg M50.

Does anybody here have any experiences with it? Is it recommended?

My budget allows me to buy something more expensive than the M50 but I don't really want to spend much more than the M50's price.

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The M50's pretty good; it's a cheaper version of the M3. The biggest thing you should do is try it out before you buy it; I didn't like the action on it and it felt cheap. It sounds good, though if you're using it for gigs and try to layer sounds together, you'll run out of polyphony sooner than you'd like - I used to own a TR and had to be very careful with what I layered and how I used the sustain pedal to avoid having voices drop out because.

If I were buying a workstation keyboard right now, I'd go for the Korg Kronos; if that was out of my price range, I'd wait until I got enough. The sounds blow away anything else on the market, plus it's got patch remain (when you switch sounds, any notes still sounding from the previous sound aren't cut off) and it's got a number of synth engines, an organ engine, and great engines for high-quality sampled pianos and electric pianos, in addition to the standard sample-based mode that the M50 would have.

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I'd love to buy a Kronos but it is WAY to expensive, especially where I live.

I used to own a Korg X5D and played live a few times and never had any issues, so I don't think I'll be disappointed with the M50 in that way. I've not tried it yet though, but I hope to do so soon.

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