Written by Roberto Baldwin
Updated January 20, 2023
From the pop singles streamed into our earbuds to the scenes of movies and television shows pushed to the next level by a soaring soundtrack, music permeates our lives. So, it’s no wonder that many of us decide to stop being a bystander and learn an instrument. For many that means the piano: a row of 88 keys that is the genesis point of most of the music we hear today.
While lugging a baby grand into your house on a whim seems foolish, picking up an inexpensive keyboard with tutorials built-in or available via companion apps is a great way to get you started with tickling the ivories. After weeks of looking into the top-pick keyboards on the market, we can tell you that the Alesis Recital Pro (available at Amazon for $379.00) is the best piano keyboard for beginners. At a price point far below a traditional piano, it delivers the sound and key feel of the analog instrument in a sturdy, easy-to-use package. For those hoping to jump into the music on a budget, the Casio CT-X700 (available at Amazon) offers great sound and a superb tutorial app.
The recommendations in this guide are based on thorough product and market research by our team of expert product reviewers. The picks are based on examining user reviews, product specifications, and, in some limited cases, our experience with the specific products named.
Alesis Recital Pro
For the best learning experience, it’s hard to argue with the 88-key Alesis Recital Pro. Right out of the box, the Recital Pro impressed with its sturdiness and build quality. The Alesis was the best sounding keyboard of the models we tested, nearly recreating the authentic sounds of an actual piano. The keyboard’s hammer-action keys will help beginners transition to a traditional piano, if they so desire, without issue. That the keys can be adjusted to increase or reduce the keyboard’s feedback allows for a customizable playing experience, with feedback that can be tinkered with, at the drop of a hat.
The Recital Pro’s controls are straightforward. The number of physical buttons are kept to a minimum in an effort to keep new students from becoming overwhelmed by the number of features on offer. There are 11 additional voices (instrument sounds) available in the Recital Pro. All are easily accessible through the keyboard’s buttons with either a single or double-tap. While this might not be as many sounds as other keyboards in this guide offer, the Recital Pro makes up for it by making its sound options so easy to work with and by ensuring that each of the 11 available sounds professional grade.
The instrument's ability to split the keyboard in two, creating, essentially, two 44-key pianos from a single 88-key keyboard, means that an instructor can help demonstrate a lesson while the student follows along. Digital tutorials though are handled by third parties. Alesis offers three months of Skoove Premium tutorials for free and two months of TakeLessons video lessons for free with the purchase of the keyboard.
The Alesis offers left and right ¼ audio out (the industry standard for professional headphones and other audio devices) for recording and using an amplifier that leaves the internal speakers on for monitoring. For quiet, a separate ¼ headphone output is available so students can practice without the internal speakers annoying others in the household. It supports USB MIDI ( a decades-old digital interface) and has a ¼ port for a sustain pedal (a compact. Plug-in replacement for the sustain pedals found on a piano) although that must be purchased separately.
For beginning and seasoned pianists, the Alesis Recital Pro offers nearly everything they need to take their playing to the next level with a keyboard that’s built to last.
Amazing sound through speakers or an amp
Excellent build quality
Tutorial requires monthly subscription
$379.00 from Amazon
$379.00 from Target
The Casio CT-X700 is an amazing value. The 61-key keyboard comes with a huge library of sounds, touch-sensitive keys, and an easier-to-understand interface on the top of the keyboard that’s not completely overwhelming like offerings from other companies.
For beginners, the CT-X700 brings multiple ways to help them learn how to play and read music. The display houses a treble and bass clef image that indicates what key action and corresponding note are being played. For those learning to read music, it’s an easy way to quickly figure out where exactly they need to be on the keyboard.
Casio’s subscription-free Chordana Play companion app for iPhone and Android provides lessons on how to play songs. Unlike some free apps from other musical instrument makers, Chordana Play actually works as advertised. When playing a song, it notes that students need to play fall, from the top of their smartphone or tablet’s screen, sort of like the video game Guitar Hero. It’s an easy-to-use app that also supports users importing MIDI files to play with and can connect with streaming audio services so students can play along to their favorite songs.
The sound quality of the CT-X700 voice is impressive for its price tag. The keyboard ships with 600 tones, although most will likely be ignored in favor of more traditional instrument noises. On-board speaker systems are loud and clear enough to play even in noisy environments while audio sent through a keyboard amp sounded crisp and rich.
While the keys are not weighted, the quality of the keys should result in years of daily playing, although the feedback isn’t as refined as offerings from Yamaha. Build quality overall should make the CT-X700 fine for transporting to events. The keyboard is light, but doesn’t feel cheap. Also, there’s a little ledge below the music rest on the right side for your smartphone or small tablet.
For those dabbling into the world of piano and keyboards, the Casio CT-X700 offers up a ton of useful and easy-to-use features in a package that sounds great and won’t break the bank. It’s just enough keyboard to find out if you want to continue learning or you’re just happy making weird noises in your garage.
Solid tutorial companion app
On-keyboard display shows notation on scale
Easy to understand interface
Unimpressive battery life
$199.00 from Amazon
$199.00 from Target
Donner DEP-20’s build and sound quality couldn’t quite match that of the our Best Overall pick, but this weighted 88-key keyboard does offer an impressive facsimile of a traditional piano. Where the Donner outshines the Alesis Recital Pro is in the additional sounds that the keyboard offers: 238 different tones, versus the Alesis’ 12. When someone is finished with their lessons on the DEP-20, they can have some fun trying out their skills with sounds ranging from grand piano to ukulele.
The DEP-20 is built solidly enough to survive casual abuse around your home or while it’s being transported to a recital. Its 25-watt speakers deliver an adequate representation of a piano that’s loud enough from the keyboard for practice and playing in front of a crowd, even if an amplifier isn’t available.
88-key hammer action keyboard
238 available tones
Tutorial features are sparse
Buy now at Amazon
Casio Casiotone LK-S250
For next-level tutorials that include a fun light show, the 61-key Casio Casiotone LK-S250 delivers. It supports the same tutorial companion app as the CT-X700, but in addition to an on-display layout of the keyboard, the LK-S250 also has keys that glow red to indicate where the player should place their fingers. Using light to help teach people how to play a song has been around for decades (I learned how to play “When the Saints Come Marching in” using the same method in the 80s), and is a quick way to give new players the satisfaction of playing a song at a quicker pace and, potentially, give them a life-long desire to play the piano.
The LK-S250 moves away from the trend of placing a multitude of buttons and information on the face of the keyboard. Instead, the controls slim down to just a few buttons up top and a scroll wheel, which makes navigating the keyboard’s various sounds and functions a bit tricky. It has tip-top sound quality and the caliber of the build makes the LK-S250 a prime candidate for transporting the keyboard to other locations—thanks in part to the handle that’s revealed when the music rest is removed.
Handle makes it easy to transport
Light up keys to guide learning.
Scroll wheel and button navigation feels dated
$179.00 from Amazon
$179.00 from Target
The 88-key full-size Roland Go Piano brings high-quality sound and battery life to the table with its use of six D-size batteries. Where things start to fall apart is Roland’s companion app and tutorials. The Piano Partner 2 iOS and Android app is largely a frustrating affair that’s incredibly buggy. On most occasions, you need multiple taps to select something and getting it to pair with the keyboard was difficult, if it even worked at all.
Playing the Roland Go Piano is an enjoyable experience, but it still falls shy of the key feel of offers from Donner and Alesis. When lifted, the keyboard doesn’t feel as solidly constructed as other keyboards in its price range due to its lighter weight.
The button layout on the Go Piano's face is minimalistic and the ability to split the keyboard between two players makes it good for working with a tutor. Bluetooth MIDI support is also welcome, but it’s best used with other software besides the companion app.
Solid-feeling non-weighted keys
Horrible companion app
Doesn’t feel solid enough for regular transportation.
$399.99 from Amazon
With its 80’s inspired design and loop mix function, the Go Keys 61K is best suited for those that already know how to play and will be connecting it to a sound system. For beginners, it doesn’t offer much in the way of tutorials. The Go Keys 61K falls apart when it comes to its awkwardly designed and buggy companion app, poor speaker quality, and its middle-of-the-road, non-weighted keys. Overall, however, the Go Keys 61K is one of the best-made piano keyboards we tested for this guide.
Horrible educational app experience.
$349.99 from Amazon
It’s hard to dislike the tiny Yamaha Remie PSS-E30. It’s built for small hands, offers a variety of weird sounds including dogs, cats, helicopters, and explosions, and has a quiz mode that helps children learn notes by sound; but it’s less of a keyboard meant for serious education and more of a toy.
The sound coming out of the tiny speaker sounds like 70’s AM radio and the quality of its keys is meant more for repeated bashings than nuanced playing. Like the rest of the Yamaha products we tested for this guide, it ships without a power supply. However, you can power it using a USB port or charger, which is nice.
The Remie PSS-E30 doesn’t support MIDI or integration with tutorial apps. Its quiz mode is a great way to learn how to teach children to play by ear, but outside of that, this keyboard is more of a fun toy to get a child ahead of a proper music education.
Light-up keys make learning fun
Information overload on face of device
Power supply not included
App experience is frustratingly bad
Buy now at Amazon
$299.99 from Target
What You Should Know About Buying Piano Keyboards
While we've presented the best piano keyboard options available today for inclusion in this guide, we understand if you'd rather do some comparative shopping of your own, in-store or online. Should you take this path, here's a few terms you should keep in mind:
Weighted Keys vs. Non-Weighted Keys
For those looking for a more realistic representation of an actual piano, a weighted keyboard is likely what you are looking for. These instruments are typically more expensive than non-weighted keyboards, but the student has the benefit of experiencing the feeling of playing a piano with hammers and strings and the feedback that system creates.
Non-weighted keyboards might not have the benefit of recreating the interaction between fingers and keys from a piano. However, they are less expensive and, even though the feedback from the keys themselves isn’t as impressive, most modern keyboards recognize how hard a key is depressed and adjust the loudness of a note.
Sounds, Voices, Instruments, and Patches
Depending on the manufacturer, the terms sound, voices, and patches are, essentially, the digital instrument sounds stored in a keyboard. All keyboards ship with the usual piano sound, but from there, companies add additional instruments from organs, to guitars, to weird spaceship sounds; but while learning piano, you’ll likely stick to the tried-and-true piano sound for most of your lessons.
What is MIDI?
Created in 1983, MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is an industry-standard that dictates how instruments interact with one another and with computers. The protocol can send and receive data about notes, tempo, and controls. Most electronic musicians rely on MIDI to keep their instruments in sync and to control instruments for songs. For our purposes, MIDI is used to read and write information about notes being played. So the notes you play on the keyboard are recognized by the companion app via a USB cable.
Meet the tester
Roberto Baldwin is a freelance automotive and tech journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s currently in too many bands and longs for a rear-wheel-drive convertible electric car.
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