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The best 88-key weighted keyboards should be the ones that best combine an authentic sound with a realistic feel. That sounds easy, but there are so many options, and sometimes separating the best from the average is difficult, so we are here to help. Our top 10 list features the best 88-key weighted portable keyboards available in 2021. Let’s get straight into it!
Here are the best 88-key weighted keyboards 2021:
- Kurzweil Forte SE
- Korg Grandstage 88
- Roland RD-2000
- Yamaha CP88
- Kawai MP11SE
- Nord Stage 3 88
- Korg SV-2S 88
- Dexibell Vivo S7 Pro
- Casio PX-S3000
- Nord Piano 4
1. Kurzweil Forte SE – The Best 88-Key Keyboard
The ultimate blend of value and high-end quality
Kurzweil is one of those manufacturers that sometimes get overlooked. But, if you are serious about keyboards, then you will know that Kurzweil makes seriously good keyboard pianos.
The Forte SE 88-key stage piano is a prime example of a fully-weighted keyboard. Everything about the Forte SE feels luxurious to a level not often found in keyboards under $2000. Starting with the Italian hammer-action weighted keys, from low to high, they feel correct. The bass notes have a little extra resistance, just like an acoustic piano, which brings out more expression in your playing.
Once you get past how it feels, Kurzweil has added some advanced features that enhance your performance no end. The keys have aftertouch, allowing you to add some vibrato and other effects by maneuvering your finger. Aftertouch isn’t usually found on fully-weighted keys. While it’s not always necessary with a piano sound, it opens up new possibilities with other voices.
The next advanced feature is the dynamically allocated polyphony. It means even when playing with densely layered sounds, you won’t hear any drop off when you hit max polyphony (128). The smart polyphony system thoughtfully selects any notes that are cut off, so only the least important ones ever go.
Now, we haven’t even touched on the sound yet! The two stunning main piano sounds are sampled from Japanese and German D grand pianos. They have been captured in incredible detail, and in combination with the fully-weighted keys, it’s quite extraordinary.
As a performance keyboard, it’s faultless thanks to its very powerful sound and FX engine. Voices load instantly, and built-in effects are authentic, it has an onboard 3-band EQ and even nine assignable faders.
|Image credit: Kurzweil Check Sweetwater||
We can’t fault the Kurzweil Forte SE stage piano; it’s just a fantastic keyboard. If we had to think of reasons not to choose it, we might say it’s not the absolute best feel or the very best sound. But, to do that, we would need to compare it to much more expensive keyboards on our list. There are also keyboards with more features, but again they are more expensive.
The thing this keyboard piano has going for it is that in the under $2000 range, it offers something unique. It feels great to play, it sounds terrific, and features like aftertouch give it an edge over most competitors.
2. Korg Grandstage 88 – The Best Keyboard for Jazz Players
Hard to find a better option for serious players
The Korg Grandstage 88 is a big deal, quite literally. It’s big, heavy, and expensive, but what you get in return is one of the best weighted keyboards you will ever play. Korg’s RH3 graded hammer action key-bed was developed in Japan by a small team of expert craftsmen, and the results are stunning. It’s a keyboard that genuinely feels like a real piano.
Korg created the Grandstage 88 to be the ultimate stage piano for serious performers. The SGX-2 engine is phenomenal, especially the six acoustic piano voices. Overall, there are 500 voices to choose from, but the most impressive thing is how easy it is to switch between them quickly.
The layout of the Grandstage 88 has been designed with performance in mind with features like a favorites section to recall your most used voices instantly. Tweaking your sound is easy to do while performing without any menu-diving with a dedicated EQ and effects section.
One of the best available controls is a dedicated dynamics knob that lets you adjust different parameters of expressivity while playing. Since this keyboard is on the larger side, it’s worth noting that it comes with a sleek looking yet robust stand that is fully adjustable.
|Image credit: Korg Check Sweetwater||
The Grandstage 88 is a fantastic keyboard; there’s no doubt it’s one of the best full-size keyboard pianos in 2021. The only slight criticism is that while there are 500 voices, they are variations of a smaller core group, so the range of instruments isn’t as wide as you might think. Having said that, if you are buying the Grandstage 88, then you are probably buying it for its piano experience anyway.
It’s suitable for any performer but perhaps most suited to a jazz pianist; it just sits better in that area than it does classical or pop.
3. Roland RD-2000 – The Best Live Show Keyboard
The best stage piano for modern performers
The Roland RD range is another one that’s been around forever, it seems. They have always been good keyboards for practice or performance, but this particular model, the RD-2000, is geared towards live use.
There are two separate sound engines for acoustic and electric voices, the SuperNatural Piano engine and the V-Piano engine. To be honest, this would have been a great keyboard with just one sound engine like past models, but the dedication to getting the best possible tone from acoustic and electric pianos shows.
One of the coolest features for live performance is that the RD-2000 will work as a USB/MIDI interface. So, it will fully integrate with your laptop/DAW setup on stage, letting you route synths from your laptop through the RD-2000’s processor with zero latency.
It also comes with eight control knobs and nine sliders, which are all LED lit for easy use on a dark stage. You can control and tweak multiple parameters of your tone/effects in real-time.
|Image credit: Roland Check Sweetwater||
I have a soft spot for the Roland RD range, having owned several of them, and they have never let me down. I also tend to go for keyboards that feel authentic over keyboards with lots of lights and knobs etc. However, this is the best of both worlds, Roland keyboards, especially at this level, always feel great.
The RD-2000 is one of the best-rated keyboards with weighted keys on any list, and indeed the best Roland weighted keyboard, in our opinion.
4. Yamaha CP88 – Retro Style with Modern Effects
The best onboard effects
This is an interesting one, we’ve had vintage/traditional and modern, the Yamaha CP88 might be the best combination of both.
Starting with traditional, it features the Natural Wood Graded Hammer Action system for supreme expression. Now, this is where old and new meet in Yamaha’s Virtual Circuitry Modeling technology. It very accurately re-creates the sound and behavior of vintage effects, which transforms your sound.
It’s packed with 57 voices in total, a mix of acoustic pianos, electric pianos, and synths. There is a 3-band EQ along with 23 insert effects, two delay effects, and reverb. The CP88 is another keyboard aimed at the performers.
|Image credit: Yamaha Check Sweetwater||
It’s a difficult choice, it’s another excellent keyboard with fantastic sounds, and it feels very realistic. Because of the real wood keys, it’s one of the best hammer-action keyboards on the market.
The question is, why should you choose this over other keyboards and I think it comes down to the modeling technology. The amount and type of effects you can create with the CP88 is just different from any other similar keyboard.
Like any ‘different’ sound, it will either be the reason you buy it or the reason you don’t, but it’s a very well thought out machine. We think in terms of value for money, it’s the best Yamaha weighted keyboard you can buy.
5. Kawai MP11SE – Closest to Piano Keyboard
The most realistic piano feel
The Kawai MP11SE is for the serious piano players only; it’s not a keyboard piano that you can transport easily. It’s bulky and heavy, so if you are taking it to gigs, you need to put in the work to get it there. The reward is a beautiful sound and an authentic feel.
The reason it feels so realistic is that it has genuine wooden hammer-action keys. These keys function using a similar pivoting mechanism that you’d find in an acoustic piano. That mechanism makes the MP11SE one of the best keyboard pianos around. Synthetic ivory feel tops add to that realism. While it’s a heavy keyboard, it’s still portable, and you’d struggle to find a better feel from a portable keyboard.
The piano sounds come from Kawai’s flagship grand pianos, the Shigeru SK-EX, SK-5, and EX. All of the grand piano voices are absolutely impeccable, but especially the Shigeru. Along with the grand pianos, there are some gorgeous vintage electric pianos with fantastic vintage amp simulations (40 voices in total).
The layout of the top panel is pretty straightforward, pianos and electric pianos have dedicated control sections. There are 129 tweakable effects onboard, all of which are easy to adjust via rotary knobs either side of the small screen. It has both MIDI and USB connectivity, so if you have a performance rig that utilizes virtual instruments, too, the MP11SE can be your master controller.
|Image credit: Kawai Check Sweetwater||
The MP11SE from Kawai is a remarkable instrument; in every way, it’s an authentic piano playing experience. The only downside is the size and weight; you can find a great feel and sound in something much lighter. But, if you want the most realistic and don’t mind the extra effort in transport, you need to consider the MP11SE.
It’s in a similar market position as the Korg Grandstage 88, but the Korg offers slightly more for the money. We feel it could come down to which piano voice you prefer, Kawai or Korg.
6. Nord Stage 3 88 – Keyboard with Most Options
The most versatile professional stage piano
The Nord Stage 3 picks up where the second version of this iconic keyboard left off. The layout is much the same, and of course, it’s still housed in the familiar, vibrant red casing.
Nord uses what they call virtual hammer action keys, and it’s been vastly improved since the previous model. This technology is exclusive to Nord and now has both bottom and top triggering, so the release of notes can be as important as striking them.
It seems to be about improving what they already had rather than offering a great deal more, and that makes sense, considering how successful the range is. So, this time the Stage 3 claims to have the best sound quality to date, thanks to a much deeper sampling process. There are still three sound engines – piano, synth, and organ. Of the three sound engines, there isn’t one that stands out as the weakest link.
Another impressive thing is how easily you can manipulate your sound, for example, using the OLED display to change parameters in the synth section quickly. The reason this is impressive is that when you look at a Nord Stage 3, it can look like quite a busy interface with too much going on. In reality, it’s very quick to navigate once you have a few plays.
There are a few outstanding keyboards that have real drawbars for organ voices, but not many that emulate a vintage rotary speaker as well as the Stage 3. Nord is excellent when it comes to emulating iconic sounds or effects, and this extends to some beautiful delays, reverbs, and compressors.
|Image credit: Nord Check Sweetwater||
The first thing I would say about the Nord Stage 3 is that I still don’t think it has the best authentic piano feel, I never have with Nord keyboards. However, it has been improved, and so many musicians love it. Hence, I have to acknowledge they can’t all be wrong; it’s just a personal preference.
That aside, the Stage 3 is a powerhouse. There is no denying that it sounds fantastic, and the amount of customization available is a dream on stage or in the studio. For those reasons, it’s been one of the most popular 88-key keyboards for a very long time.
If you are considering a Nord Stage 3, I doubt you would be disappointed, but check out others on our list because it doesn’t come cheap.
7. Korg SV-2S 88 – Retro Designed Keyboard
The vintage king of keyboard pianos
Building on the success of the now-discontinued SV-1 is the Korg SV-2S. We are glad to see the newest full-size keyboard piano from Korg still rocks the same vintage look as its predecessor.
The first noticeable upgrade from the SV-1 is that there is now a built-in stereo speaker system. So, now you can play anywhere without the need for an amp or PA system. It doesn’t stop there though; the SV-2S has twice the sounds of the original, and 10 times the sample data. Apart from the vintage looks, one other thing we were glad to see remain is Korg’s fantastic RH3 hammer-action keyboard. It is simply one of the most playable keybeds you will ever come across.
We mentioned that there are more sounds; there are now 72 gorgeous voices. The voices include some of the best sounding grand pianos sampled from Japanese, German, Austrian, and Italian manufacturers. There are also some really lovely upright pianos and just about every classic electric piano sound you can imagine.
The sounds are good enough on their own, but Korg’s Valve Reactor Circuit adds some authentic tube warmth when needed. As well as that, some very convincing digital effects have been modeled with as much detail of the instruments themselves.
|Image credit: Korg Check Sweetwater||
The SV-1 was such a high-quality keyboard piano that it would have taken a disaster for Korg to miss with the SV-2S. Not only have they created a worthy successor, but they have also gone above and beyond.
The built-in speaker system opens it up to a new group of buyers who want to be able to practice anywhere/anytime. But, the most impressive thing is the range of sounds and effects available. The SV-2S is the ultimate performers’ keyboard piano; it’s made for the stage.
8. Dexibell Vivo S7 Pro – Various Sound Range Keyboard
The alternative choice
The Dexibell Vivo S7 Pro has a very powerful sound engine that lets you use up to four sound parts at the same time with two multi-digital effects per part. Each part can be split/layered across the keyboard in any way you require.
Sounds are generated using a combination of extra-long 24-bit 48 kHz 3D-recorded samples and computer modeling, so there were no shortcuts in the sampling process. The sounds range from grand pianos and electric pianos to strings and synths, with the pianos being the standouts.
To add to that, the Vivo S7 Pro has unlimited polyphony, so no matter how many notes you play/sustain, none will ever be cut off. The Vivo S7 Pro has inputs for up to four footswitches, so you can trigger the onboard effects or add external ones easily.
The Vivo S7 Pro has beautiful graded hammer action keys with an ivory feel. Utilizing a triple contact sensor, it’s capable of capturing every subtle nuance of your performance. The downside is that the keys are a touch lighter than they could be across the board. So, while the graded progression is correct, the starting point from the heaviest bass notes is slightly light.
|Image credit: Dexibell Check Sweetwater||
The Vivo S7 Pro from Dexibell is far from the best-selling keyboard piano on our list, and it’s not cheap, but it’s here on merit. The overall sound quality won’t blow you away but with some great effects and so many footswitch inputs, there’s no shortage of ways to tweak your tone.
The feel of the keys is a little lighter than it should be, but we are talking small margins here. It still feels very realistic, but we are comparing it to the best hammer-action keyboards available.
The piano sounds are fantastic and could easily be preferred over the more prominent brand keyboards depending on your taste. That’s why we put this on our list; if you want a fantastic piano sound, you should at least try this out.
9. Casio PX-S3000 – Best Keyboard for Starters
The best portable weighted keyboard for beginners
The Casio Privia PX-S3000 is one of the most surprising keyboard pianos we have ever seen. The reason it’s so surprising is that you don’t expect such a realistic piano feel from such a compact, lightweight keyboard. It’s actually the world’s slimmest 88-key keyboard piano!
Despite its size, it has incredibly realistic scaled hammer-action keys. It also has a max polyphony of 192-notes, so it’s a high-level piano experience from an extremely portable keyboard. We have covered the sleek look and realistic touch, now partner that with Casio’s impressive AiR sound engine.
The AiR sound engine is quite possibly one of the most well-rounded engines available. It’s undoubtedly amongst the best available for less than $1000. The thing that makes it so well-rounded is that it comes packed with 700 voices in total. Voices range from Casio’s flagship grand pianos to organs, synths, and much more.
There are also 200 onboard rhythms for play-along practice. To be fair, many of the rhythms are good enough for performance use, depending on the type of performance. Because of the onboard rhythms, built-in speakers, and massive assortment of sounds, it’s great for performers or beginners alike.
|Image credit: Casio Check Sweetwater||
It’s hard to say anything negative about the Privia PX-S3000, it’s a gorgeous instrument. Realistically, it’s not the best sound on our list, and it’s not the best feel, but you won’t find anything more realistic at this size and weight.
If you are a gigging musician who wants something lightweight, this is perfect. Alternatively, it’s a fantastic weighted keyboard for beginners because this keyboard has plenty to experiment with, and the realism you need to build technique. The PX-S3000 is the best Casio 88-key weighted keyboard. It’s also the best cheap keyboard piano you can buy.
10. Nord Piano 4 – Great Keyboard for Professional Musicians
The popular choice for working musicians
The Nord sound engine has incredible detail in the most subtle nuances of every voice. The flagship piano is a beautiful example of how articulate a digital piano should be in all ranges.
As far as keyboards with weighted keys go, Nord’s sometimes divides opinion. The weight of the keys comes from Nord’s Virtual Hammer Action technology rather than a mechanical hammer action. Nord says this makes for more fluid playing while still providing a realistic feel.
The most significant upgrade from the previous model is the seamless transitions and Advanced layer/split features. Changing from one voice to another mid-song is a common struggle for keyboard players. The new seamless transitions feature lets you switch the program without any noticeable change. The new layer/split features make for much smoother transitions between split sections too.
|Image credit: Nord Check Sweetwater||
Nord keyboards are known to be pretty expensive, but so many great players use them, so perhaps they are reassuringly expensive.
They have an incredible sound engine, and it would be hard for anyone to find a genuine fault in that area. My one issue with the Nord Piano is the Virtual Hammer Action keys; when you are comfortable with it, you can be amazingly expressive, but it doesn’t feel as natural as it should at the start. The keys feel slightly too heavy with a dull action, but it’s a personal preference.
We have to stress here that our comments on the weight of the keys is a personal preference, many musicians swear this is the best full-size keyboard piano, and that’s why it’s on our list.
What are weighted keys?
Weighted keys are what gives the keyboard its realistic feel when playing.
There are different types of weighted keys and additional features that can add to the realism. For example, some manufacturers like to use simulated ivory tops on their keys because it grips your fingertips more than plastic does. Some even go as far as using real wood keys rather than plastic to help get the weight just right.
The most important thing about weighted keys is the action, the system that is used to create the weight. It’s not just a case of making them heavier; it’s about creating the right amount of resistance when playing. The two main types of weighted key actions are hammer action and graded hammer action.
Weighted keys are meant to feel realistic, but they should also add to the expressiveness of the keyboard; otherwise, it’s pointless. If you play a note as soft as you can, then play it as loud as you can, that’s your dynamic range, and between those two points is a full spectrum of subtle velocity changes.
Being able to perform with the full spectrum rather than just soft and loud is what brings performance to life and lets the player express themselves fully. That is the purpose of weighted keys.
Weighted keys are combined with different sensor systems that tell the sound engine how hard the key was pressed and with how much attack, etc. This system must be responsive to get the best out of the weighted keys.
Hammer action weighted keys
Hammer action weighted keys use a mechanism that replicates the action of a real acoustic piano.
In a real piano, the sound is generated by a hammer striking a string causing it to vibrate. The hammer is moved via a lever mechanism activated by pressing a key, the harder you press, the harder the hammer strikes.
Keyboards use a lever mechanism to simulate the resistance that comes with the weight of the hammer. With hammer action keys, the weight is set to give the same resistance right across the keyboard.
Graded hammer action weighted keys
Graded hammer action keys work exactly as hammer action keys, but they have variable resistance.
In a real piano, the strings aren’t the same from the low end to the high end. The low end has thicker/heavier strings, and they get progressively thinner/lighter towards the high end.
Hammers also change in size and weight, larger and heavier at the bottom, gradually getting lighter towards the top. The result is that the keys at the low end feel heavier and get progressively lighter as you move up in pitch.
Graded hammer action keys replicate this by individually setting the resistance for each key. This mimics the weight, thickness, and tension of real piano strings and the weight of the hammers.
The keyboards on this list are all very high-quality 88-key keyboards, so when we point out a negative, it’s purely because the competition is so stiff. Individually, it’s fair to say that each one of these instruments does feel realistic; it’s only when you compare them to similar quality keyboards you can see subtle differences.
Choosing the best weighted keyboard has a lot to do with what you intend to play on it. You might find that the keyboard that feels the most like a real piano is not the one that feels best for you. This issue is common for pianists who like to switch sounds when performing; for example, an organ sound is better played with lighter keys. In that situation, you will have to compromise a little and find a keyboard that is comfortable for everything that you need to play.
We did state that our list would focus primarily on the weighted keys and how realistic they feel, and we have done that. From top to bottom, our list has what we consider to be 10 of the very best keyboards with weighted keys. Some just offer more versatility than others.
James is a writer and musician with a passion for audio production. He is a lover of all things tech, especially the latest keyboards, synths, DAW’s, virtual instruments, and effects plugins. Musical interests include jazz, funk, hip hop, blues, and rock.