We are taking a look at some of the very best arranger keyboards available in 2020. Arranger keyboards offer a wide range of functions that most other keyboards don’t. This article will discuss what an arranger keyboard is, what they do best, and what kind of musician could benefit from owning one. We will review our top 7 picks and identify what they do best and worst for that matter.
Here are the best arranger keyboards 2020:
1. Korg Pa4X
The best Korg arranger keyboard
It’s hard to write any arranger keyboard reviews without discussing the Korg Pa4X, still an absolute powerhouse in 2020. Here it is again as our top-rated arranger keyboard. The Pa4X comes with 61 or 76 semi-weighted keys with aftertouch. The 76-key version comes with an internal hard drive; it’s an optional extra on the 61-key model.
It comes with over 1,900 sounds, including both GM and XG sets. The addition of Korg’s DNC (Defined Nuance Control) and realtime articulation enhance many sounds. Three assignable switches can trigger different note articulations, for example, making a saxophone growl. Further articulations come from a 4-way joystick and ribbon controller. The drawbar organs are amongst the most impressive sounds on the Pa4X, thanks to Korg’s digital drawbar organ sound engine. Korg has also vastly improved the guitar sounds, with Guitar Mode 2.
It has over 580 built-in styles, all complete with intros, outros, count-ins, fills, and breaks. Chord Sequencer in Style Play mode allows you to record chord progressions that can be saved in any style. The Korg Pa4X also has the best MIDI to style conversion we have heard on an arranger keyboard. There are 2 MP3/MIDI file players that can record and remove vocals.
This arranger keyboard also has Korg’s Kaoss functionality, which lets you remix music styles/songs in realtime. Anyone familiar with Korg’s Kaoss Pads will know this is a lot of fun! Kaoss enables you to control various effects from the touch screen in an intuitive way.
As far as effects go, the Pa4X has some of the best onboard effects you will find. There are 148 total effect types; four insert and three master effects for accompaniment parts; one insert and two master effects for keyboard parts. Now for the vocal effects which come from TC Helicon Vocal Processing, including a 4-part harmonizer, reverb, delay, pitch correction, and more.
Everything is controlled from the adjustable 7-inch TouchView display. As well as being easy to navigate, the TouchView display can show scores, chords, and lyrics (in multiple languages).
|Image credit: Korg Check Sweetwater||
The Pa4X is not only the best Korg arranger keyboard; it’s the highest-rated arranger on our list. Everything about the Pa4X is very high-end, from the build quality to the sounds and effects.
The sounds are great, to begin with, but adding some extra realism through Korg’s DNC is lovely, especially on sounds that keyboards usually struggle to replicate. Adding TC Helicon Vocal Processing to the mix makes it a dream for performers.
It might be at the top-end of most people’s budgets, but if money is no object, this is where we would spend it.
2. Korg Pa1000
The best arranger keyboard for composers
Korg has been leading the way in arranger keyboard in recent years, and here they are again in our number two spot. The Pa1000 is one of the more recent additions to Korg’s arranger lineup and borrows many features from the flagship Pa4X.
On the surface, it’s a 61-key (velocity-sensitive) arranger with aftertouch and 128 max polyphony. It comes with over 1700 instrument voices, ranging from gorgeous pianos, digital pianos to brass, strings, and world instruments. The instruments themselves are all high-quality, like the rest of Korg’s Pa range. But, it’s how you use them that makes the difference. That’s where Korg’s Defined Nuance Control (DNC) makes all the difference.
With DNC, you have a 4-way assignable joystick and three assignable buttons that control various parameters of your sound. It’s all about making your sound more human by adding subtle performance nuances or even breath sounds. The idea is that you want a sax to sound like a sax, and not like a keyboard imitating a sax.
The Pa1000 has around 420 styles that adapt perfectly to your playing to sound like a real band. As well as playing chords as you go, you can pre-enter chord progressions that the style will follow. It’s a great practice tool if you are trying to learn or write a solo for specific chord changes. It gives you a speedy way to test out ideas and progressions in different musical styles as a composer.
There is a 16-track sequencer that’s made more interesting by the addition of two 1/4-inch audio inputs. Now you can take another instrument, like a guitar or bass, straight into your sequencer. This feature takes the Pa1000 beyond just arranging music for gigs and makes it a very serious tool for composers. As well as the audio inputs, there are two pedal inputs.
The onboard effects include the TC Helicon Voice Processor, almost 150 sound effects, and 45 guitar effects. More interestingly, Korg has stuck with the Kaoss functionality on the vivid 7-inch touchscreen. The Kaoss effect lets you remix tracks on the fly by triggering effects via an X/Y style display.
|Image credit: Korg Check Sweetwater||
The Korg Pa1000 is an absolute superstar. It’s not quite ready to take over from the Pa4X, but it’s not too far at all. The fact is, it does much of what it’s more expensive big brother does anyway, so it comes down to why you need it.
I feel like Korg has created the Pa1000 from a composer first point of view rather than performer first. That’s not to say it isn’t great for both, though. If you perform more than compose, then I’d say buy a cheaper arranger or go the whole way and get the Pa4X. But, if you compose more than perform, then buy the Pa1000 before the Pa4X, and the rest, it’s that good. Everything else speaks for itself; it looks great, sounds unbelievable, and feels good to play.
3. Yamaha PSR-A3000
The best Yamaha arranger keyboard
A newer addition to the celebrated PSR lineup, the PSR-A3000 is a truly well-rounded arranger keyboard. This 61-key arranger (128-note max polyphony) comes with organ-style keys that have 5 touch response levels. Many of the voices found on the PSR-A3000 respond with varying techniques depending on how hard you strike the key. Instruments like a guitar or bass might pluck or slap the string with a harder key strike.
It comes with a remarkable 997 voices, an additional 480 XG voices, and 58 drum/SFX kits. Among the voices, 107 are super articulation voices, which we mentioned above with various articulation techniques. The sheer number of voices isn’t the most impressive thing; it’s the range of voices. Yamaha calls the PSR-A3000 a world arranger because it brings together sounds from so many different cultures and countries.
There are 400 styles that include new DJ styles and Oriental styles. The styles are already very convincing, but the thing that takes it over the edge is the assignable joystick. The joystick can be assigned to control various parameters from fills to mutes, or even filters and other effects. It brings your performance to life and gives it a genuine feeling of live music rather than pre-recorded. Adding some flair to your performance is the new scale tuning function that lets you tune to basic or exotic scales in realtime.
Both voices and styles can be expanded via Yamaha’s expansion packs. In addition to that, you can use Yamaha’s Expansion Manager software to create custom voices from your own samples. The Style Creator software allows you to edit parameters of drum kits to customize existing styles.
The PSR-A3000 comes with a 16-track sequencer, but in this case, it’s not the sequencer that impresses; it’s the features around it. You can record and playback up to 80 minutes of audio. Another common use of arranger keyboards is to playback and edit audio from an external source. Yamaha has included awesome time stretch, pitch shift, and vocal cancel functions. If you need to make karaoke tracks or edit an audio track’s tempo, it couldn’t be simpler.
Another nice feature of this arranger is that you can assign audio files to pads and trigger samples during your performance. It’s perfect for backing vocal phrases.
Yamaha’s Virtual Circuitry Modeling technology powers the onboard effects. Effects include over 50 reverbs, over 100 chorus effects, and almost 300 DSP effects. On top of that, there is a master compressor and a master EQ.
The speaker housing has been redesigned for this model, now housing two 13 cm speakers and two 5 cm speakers, powered by two 15-watt amps. Everything you do can be seen clearly on the 7-inch color wide LCD screen.
|Image credit: Yamaha Check Sweetwater||
The PSR-A3000 is a professional arranger keyboard for versatile performers. It’s by no means a cheap arranger keyboard, but the combination of features it offers are very well put together. As well as the versatile sounds, the audio playback features are very high-end. Performance functions like the assignable joystick make it very natural and intuitive to use.
In our opinion, those features and the fact it’s still under $2000 put it ahead of any other Yamaha arranger. It doesn’t have a vocoder, which is a minor complaint as some PSR models do. It doesn’t have a touchscreen either, but I wouldn’t trade anything it does well for a vocoder or touchscreen, so it’s a win.
4. Yamaha Genos
Expensive and reliable
We have reached the most expensive arranger keyboard on our list with the Yamaha Genos. It has 76 initial touch keys with aftertouch (they feel far better than the Yamaha PSR-A3000).
Yamaha’s AWM Stereo Sampling engine drives the Genos. That means it comes with a massive amount of realistic voices, over 1600! From stunning grand pianos to drum kits and horns, everything is as realistic as you could expect. Nine assignable sliders are fantastic for playing organ sounds or controlling effects parameters on the fly.
The Genos has a total of 550 accompaniment styles, each with multiple variations. These styles can be expanded via Yamaha’s Expansion Manager or uploading your sample/songs. The recording functions on the Genos are straightforward to use, too; quick recording, multi-track recording, and step recording are available.
The onboard effects utilize Yamaha’s VCM technology and go deeper than many other arranger keyboards. Effects include reverbs, chorus, master EQ, part EQ, and more. To give an idea of how deep the effects go, there are 59 reverb presets plus 30 user settings. All other effects are similar in scale, so there’s no shortage of tweaking fun to be had.
The synth vocoder is fantastic on the Genos, however, the Genos excels in the more standard vocal effects. The 3-band EQ, compressor, and noise gate produce an amazing performance-ready path for your vocals. The Genos also excels in the display department with a gorgeous 9-inch touch screen.
|Image credit: Yamaha Check Sweetwater||
While we love the Yamaha Genos, and it’s a better arranger keyboard than its number four placement suggests. It doesn’t place higher because the increase in quality doesn’t justify the increase in price.
This keyboard is a fantastic arranger, and on its own, it would get very few complaints at all, even at the high cost. But, while the three keyboards above on our list are available, the Genos has to settle for 4th place.
5. Korg Pa300
The best arranger keyboard under $1000
Yes, it’s another Korg on our list! As you might guess, the Pa300 is a little brother to the Pa1000. It shares some key features and comes at around half the cost. It has 61 velocity-sensitive keys (no aftertouch this time).
In this model, the guitars stand out as do the EDM based voices. Overall, there are over 950 sounds and a 3-band EQ for each track so you can shape the sound as you like.
Accompaniment styles are plenty here, with over 310 presets (with variations), and 8- to 1,040 style locations for user banks or favorites. One of the most impressive things about the Pa300, considering its low price, is that the onboard player can read lyrics and chords from MP3, MIDI, and KAR file types. It can then display the music as beautifully clear notation. This feature makes filling your songbook with performance-ready styles/songs a breeze.
The Pa300 has four stereo master effects processors powering over 125 effects, including reverbs, delays, and chorus. It also includes some highly-acclaimed REMS guitar-based effects for ultra-realistic guitar tones. As well as the 3-band EQ per track, there is a 4-band parametric EQ added to the sound output. This EQ processes everything and is excellent for fine-tuning your overall sound.
The onboard 16-track sequencer has a quick record function for making backing tracks quickly. It also has multi-track and step record functions up to 100,000 events.
|Image credit: Korg Check Sweetwater||
Despite being one of the most affordable arranger keyboards, it’s every bit a professional instrument. The Korg Pa300 is the best budget arranger keyboard on our list. It lacks some of the finesse you get at the top end of the Pa series, but it’s a workhorse.
If you are a singer, it will be a little disappointing that there is no mic input, given how good Korg’s vocal effects generally are. However, if you don’t need a mic, this arranger keyboard will do pretty much everything else. Do it very well indeed, we might add.
6. Roland E-A7
The best Roland arranger keyboard
The E-A7 is the only offering from Roland to make our list. Roland’s E-A7 is an arranger keyboard with 61 velocity-sensitive keys. The keyboard has a 4-part split functionality; up1, up2, up3, and LWR.
Roland took a pretty in-depth approach to create the sounds for the E-A7. Every sound was created in collaboration with expert musicians from different genres, cultures, and locations worldwide. So, it’s safe to say you get a diverse range of sounds, from grand pianos to the more obscure instruments of the Middle East and Asia. There are over 1,500 sounds in total. On top of that, the sample import function gives you limitless possibilities.
It comes with over 600 preset styles and unlimited storage for user styles via internal memory and USB. Each style has multiple variations and four programmable registrations per style. In terms of style content, it favors western popular music, but there’s plenty of styles from around the world, too.
Roland has added some interesting editing features, also, like instrument-oriented editing. This feature lets you tweak the instrumentation of some styles, very useful. It only offers chord detection for SMF files, but display lyrics for SMF, KAR, and MP3 files.
The effects are quality over quantity here. There are the usual reverbs and chorus effects, but not a wide variety of each. The master EQ has six presets and one user memory location, as does the master compressor. The input effects include six reverb types and two delay types.
Roland has added six pads for triggering phrases/tones and one stop pad to add to the playability. The E-A7 has 156 dedicated buttons, so while the panel may look too busy, it’s pretty smart. It also has a unique feature on our list, it has dual displays, with styles on the left and sounds on the right.
|Image credit: Roland Check Sweetwater||
No keyboard ‘best of’ list would be complete without a Roland model in there. However, on this occasion, Roland barely made it on to our list with the E-A7. We have to stress; above anything else, this is an excellent arranger keyboard. The problem is that it doesn’t beat the competition, so it’s more to do with how good the others are than how bad the E-A7 is.
The sound quality is very high, and in typical Roland fashion, the piano sounds are wonderfully luxurious. The versatility of sound is a big plus point for this keyboard, too, with instruments and styles from all around the world. If we could exchange some of that versatility for some more effects, or more sequencer options, we would. So, unless you need the more unusual sounds offered by the E-A7, there are better options for the same or similar price.
7. Casio CT-X5000
The best budget arranger keyboard under $500
Our final pick comes from Casio, a manufacturer that is known for making versatile keyboards. Casio is also known for making affordable arranger keyboards, which is one of this rangers best qualities. The CT-X5000 has 61 velocity-sensitive keys; the keys do feel good but have no aftertouch.
The sound quality of the CT-X5000 is quite exceptional when you consider it’s the cheapest arranger keyboard on our list. It comes from Casio’s AiX Sound Chip, and the acoustic pianos, organs, and strings are beautiful. Casio also got the synth sounds better than most of the other keyboards on our list, too. There are 800 sounds in total plus plenty of room for user expansion.
Casio has added 260 accompaniment styles, again, with room for user expansion. Compared to other keyboards on our list, this amount might seem relatively small. The important thing is that the styles are authentic, good quality, and customizable. There are 128 registration memories available, and they can be controlled via a foot pedal to make switching during performance flawlessly smooth.
The AiX sound engine does apply DSP effects to every sound, and they sound fantastic, but there’s no real control over effects for the user.
As for recording, the CT-X5000 has a pretty powerful 17-track sequencer and 42 channel mixer. The built-in player can instantly remove vocals from any standard WAV file, so you can play or sing the melody live.
|Image credit: Casio Check Sweetwater||
The Casio CT-X5000 is last placed on our list, and maybe the shortest review. It’s simply because it does less than all of the other keyboards. Again, this isn’t to say it does anything wrong; it just does less. It’s still the best arranger under $500, and the best arranger keyboard for beginners on our list. Because it doesn’t have an abundance of effects or functions, Casio was able to keep the controls clear and concise. The problem with it is that you might outgrow it quite soon.
Although, the AiX sounds are stunning, and if you need essential arranger functions, those sounds could sway you towards the CT-X5000.
What is an arranger keyboard?
An arranger keyboard is a keyboard primarily aimed at performers. Arranger keyboards come with accompaniment styles that react to chord changes and other cue’s, just as a real band would.
Most types of keyboards have backing tracks or accompaniments of some sort. The difference with arranger keyboards is that they can offer far more intelligent accompaniments. The kind that reacts to your playing in multiple realistic ways, rather than simply changing chord.
While arranger keyboards have all kinds of sounds, they focus more on real instrument sounds like pianos, guitars, horns, and making them as authentic as can be. Instead of the sound-shaping/manipulating capabilities, you’d get with a good workstation or synth; arranger keyboards provide more live performance-based effects and MIDI/MP3/WAV editing. They come with built-in sequencers and arrangement functions, making them a mobile recording studio or the ultimate band in a box.
The built-in sequencers tend to be more sophisticated than the average keyboard. So, they are perfect for working on demos if you are working on an album. They are also great for arranging parts for your bandmates before rehearsals; you can then print sheet music from your arrangements. Alternatively, you can use the sequencer to arrange the perfect custom backing tracks for an entire gig.
Arranger keyboards are often used by singer-songwriters, band leaders, and even as karaoke machines because of their ability to remove vocals from songs and display lyrics.
Buying an arranger keyboard in 2020
Like any keyboard, the first thing you have to do before buying is to make sure that you need it. We gave a couple of examples of who might use an arranger keyboard, but let’s go a bit further.
It’s not as straightforward as saying it’s great for any singer-songwriter; it depends on how you perform. If you just play a piano voice (or a single sound) on your keyboard and sing, then you don’t need an arranger keyboard. In that case, you’d be better looking for a high-quality stage piano and keeping it simple. Similarly, if your main focus is songwriting more than performing, you’d probably be better with a good MIDI controller (or stage piano) and a DAW.
However, if you want to perform with the sound of a whole band, then an arranger is what you need. The benefit of an arranger keyboard over playing a pre-recorded backing track is that you are always in complete control. You can make creative decisions on the fly and have the track follow you, just as a band would. That means your performance is far more natural and less rigid.
As a bandleader, the same logic applies; you need to think about what your role involves. If you decide which tracks you play but don’t arrange them yourself, then you don’t need an arranger keyboard. For example, a jazz band that takes charts from the real book of standards.
But, if you make your own arrangements of standards or original material, an arranger keyboard could save you so much time. The advantage of an arranger keyboard over software and a computer is that you can do everything at the keyboard. It takes away any tedious point and click with a mouse, and makes charting tracks a much speedier process.
We hope that we have given you a good introduction to the world of arranger keyboards. Even if you are completely new to arranger keyboards, you should now have a reasonable understanding of what they do best. More importantly, you should know if an arranger keyboard is the right choice for you. Our top 7 picks are all awesome keyboards; choose whatever fits your needs and budget, and you can’t go wrong.