We are looking at the best keyboard workstations available in 2021. Workstations are some of the most powerful and versatile keyboards you can buy. They are also some of the most expensive! So, in this article, we will review our top picks to suit different users and different budgets.
The keyboard workstations on our list come in various sizes, from 61 to 88 keys. We have focused on the 88-key models.
Here are the best keyboard workstations 2021:
- Korg Kronos 2
- Roland Fantom 8
- Roland RD-2000
- Korg Kross 2
- Yamaha MODX8
- Yamaha Montage8
- Yamaha MX88
- Nord Stage 3
1. Korg Kronos 2
King of the workstation keyboards
The second coming of Korg’s successful Kronos is our top-rated workstation, and it has some exciting changes. To begin with, there are some new appearance features, like the classy wooden sides, and sleeker body.
More importantly, it has an enhanced SGX-2 piano grand piano engine along with a massive library of diverse sounds. The Kronos features Korg’s flagship RH3 hammer action keys that have a wide range of touch-sensitivity.
The new piano engine enhances previous Kronos piano tones, and adds an entirely new one, the Berlin Grand. As well as the pianos, there is a massive 21GB of preset sounds and 9 distinct sound engines for processing and tweaking voices.
The heart of the Kronos is an 8-inch color TouchView display. All of the Kronos’ functions can be controlled via the Touch View display with ease. The newly enhanced touch-drag ability makes it even easier to change parameters without menu-diving.
On the production side, there is a 16-track MIDI sequencer/audio recorder, and an open sampling system. So, you have the ability to record anything within reach.
Korg has again made use of its innovative Karma engine, first seen in 2012. The Karma engine cleverly reads the notes and chords that you play, creating original backing tracks in an instant. The backing tracks can then be further edited to create working demos, etc.
|Image credit: Korg Check Sweetwater||
The Kronos 2 is the new king of the professional keyboard workstations, for now at least. It’s quite simply, a stunning instrument from Korg. The weighted keys have the most adaptability we have seen in terms of editing the velocity curve. The new piano engine sounds gorgeous, and with synths, Korg always gets that right.
So, it should tell you something when the only fault we found so far is that it’s expensive. There may be a few small areas where other workstations outdo the Kronos 2, but overall, they don’t compare.
2. Roland Fantom 8
The best new workstation
The Fantom 8 is Roland’s flagship workstation, and it’s the newest addition to the Fantom line. It comes with Roland’s PHA-50 hammer action keys. The graded hammer action keys have wooden sides and plastic tops, creating the look and feel of acoustic piano keys.
Roland’s V-Piano technology is the engine behind the Fantom’s beautiful grand piano tones. The new Fantom sound engine is the result of years of development, and it shows. It has a seemingly endless amount of voices plus an onboard analog filter, so you can sculpt precisely the sound you want.
In any workstation, the layout and how you utilize functions is important. The Fantom 8 gives you the ability to customize your workspace and save your settings. These spaces are referred to as scenes; a scene can be anything from a song, part of a song, or a selection of sounds – basically, anything you need to save in a specific order and recall instantly when required.
Utilizing functions might seem daunting at first, but it quickly becomes a breeze thanks to the intuitive touch screen. The screen not only makes it easy to control your Fantom, but you can manage your DAW and VST’s there, too.
Roland’s TR-REC step sequencer provides a powerful yet familiar production tool. The sequencer is borrowed from some classic Roland drum machines. It allows for real-time recording, step recording, and even clip-based sequencing.
On top of all of that, there is plenty of analog and digital connectivity.
|Image credit: Roland Check Sweetwater||
The Fantom 8 is amazingly powerful, and it’s the most expensive music workstation on our list. It’s a forward-thinking keyboard that could be a sign of things to come for future workstations.
Right now, it doesn’t quite beat the Kronos 2, and it’s our number 2 choice. Features like the clip-based sequencing will likely divide opinion, too. The reason we say it’s too expensive is simply that the Kronos 2 is cheaper.
3. Roland RD-2000
The ultimate stage performer
Roland’s RD-2000 is an 88-key workstation that’s used by many professional musicians, always with great reviews. This flagship model in the RD series is aimed mostly at performers.
Two of Roland’s most powerful sound engines are the SuperNATURAL Piano engine and the V-Piano engine, this workstation has both. The V-Piano engine powers acoustic pianos and electric pianos are powered by the SuperNATURAL engine. The use of both engines has produced far better piano and electric piano tones than ever before. As well as the piano tones, there are an additional 1100+ sublime voices.
Roland’s RD-2000 features the PHA-50 progressive hammer action keys with 128-note max polyphony. Roland claims that their PHA-50 keyboard is their most realistic feel yet.
The RD-2000 has a very accomplished USB/MIDI interface, which runs with a zero-latency processor. What that means is that you can connect to your laptop and run VST’s, synths from your DAW and plugins with no latency at all.
Controlling everything in a live setting is simple with 8 assignable knobs and 9 assignable sliders. All of which are LED lit for visual feedback, even on a dark stage.
|Image credit: Roland Check Sweetwater||
Roland’s RD series has brought us some of the best high-end keyboards in recent years. We focused on the features that are useful in live performance because that’s what it does best. However, it’s entirely at home in the studio too. Wherever you are using it, the RD-2000 has a very intuitive, hands-on layout that will increase your workflow no end.
As for the sound, well, we are yet to hear a keyboard with Roland’s SuperNATURAL or V-Piano engine that doesn’t sound amazing. It’s not exactly a beginner-friendly keyboard, but for the pros, it’s awesome.
4. Korg Kross 2
The best keyboard workstation for taking on the road
The Korg Kross 2 is sometimes considered to be a watered-down version of the Kronos 2, but it’s a powerful workstation in its own right. It’s got a new slimmer design, but still has Korg’s natural weighted keys.
The powerful EDS-i sound engine comes with over 1000 presets. Presets range from pianos and electric pianos to synth pads and leads. Across the board, voices are of a very high standard. As well as a considerable amount of sounds, there are 134 effect types, so you should never run out of options live or in the studio.
The Korg has 16 pads that are used to trigger samples that you upload to the workstation. The pads are also used to program steps in the step sequencer (up to 64 steps). Pads can also store favorite sounds for instant recall, up to 64 at a time with 4 banks of 16.
If you are a singer, you can plug your mic straight into the Kross 2 for vocals or use the onboard vocoder. Like many workstations, the Kross 2 has a built-in audio recorder, but the thing we love most is that it will record external audio, too. For example, if you have a microphone or instrument running through your Kross 2, you can record sound from that along with your keyboard. So, effectively, if you are a solo artist or part of a duet, you can get perfect gig recordings!
Other features are pretty self-explanatory: drum track adds rhythm to your playing, and the arpeggiator is useful for coming up with new patterns/movements. The layout of the Kross 2 is nice and clean, not too many buttons, easy to navigate, and makes finding the right sounds come faster.
|Image credit: Korg Check Sweetwater||
We are struggling to say anything negative about the Kross 2. Yes, it’s not as in-depth as the Kronos 2 from Korg, but it’s a fraction of the price. In fact, it’s as close as you will get to an affordable Korg workstation. While it might not compete with the Kronos 2 in a studio setting, it more than makes up for it in live performance.
There are so many preset sounds, and they are so good that they cover you for any gig. If you are willing to trade a little of the production side of things for outstanding live performance, you will love the Kross 2. It’s also lightweight and more comfortable to get around than most other workstation keyboards. If you are a performer first, and studio musician second, try this one out.
5. Yamaha MODX8
The best Yamaha keyboard workstation
The MODX8 is something like a little brother to the Yamaha Montage. It shares the same powerful sound engines AWM2 and FM-X. The FM-X engine only has 64-note max polyphony.
It has graded hammer action keys with 128-note max polyphony, better key action than the Montage. Another thing it shares with the Montage is the multi-controlling Super Knob.
The 2 main piano sounds come from Yamaha’s CFIIIS and S6 grand pianos. Both pianos sound lovely and feel very articulate with the MODX8 graded hammer action keys. The MODX8 has 1,152 preset voices as well as 72 drum kits.
Many workstation keyboards have a built-in audio interface, but they don’t all have the same input options as the MODX8. The multi-channel audio interface has 2 inputs and 10 out. As with many of Yamaha’s high-end keyboards, the onboard effects come from the VCM engine.
|Image credit: Yamaha Check Sweetwater||
The Yamaha MODX8 is one of the most difficult to place. We have said previously that we prefer it to the more expensive Montage when it comes to studio work, and that opinion still stands.
But, to explain further, it’s because it has graded hammer action keys that are more expressive, and it’s less than half the price. The Montage has more useful features overall, but pound for pound, there’s more value for money here. On top of that, the MODX8 is probably the most user-friendly workstation on our list.
6. Yamaha Montage8
The most expansive music workstation
The Yamaha Montage came along at a time when many people were calling for a new Yamaha Motif. In many ways, it carries on where the Motif left off, but it’s not the same instrument at all.
It has balanced hammer action keys with aftertouch, which isn’t always included in workstations. The Montage’s MCS (Motion Control Synthesis) controls 2 of Yamaha’s most powerful sound engines. The first is the AWM2 engine, which produces amazingly realistic acoustic piano and rhodes sounds. The second is the FM-X engine that covers a broad range of vintage and modern synths. The Montage also receives frequent firmware updates and optional sound expansion packs.
There are 88 insert effect types and 26 master effect types. The effects include 12 reverb types and a detailed master EQ. On top of that, the Monatage also has an incredible 18 filter types.
The onboard audio recorder has 16 sequence tracks and allows for real-time replace and overdubbing. Everything is controlled by the 7-inch LCD touch screen and Yamaha’s Super Knob rotary dial.
|Image credit: Yamaha Check Sweetwater||
The Montage is a worthy addition to Yamaha’s long line of high-end keyboards. It has a lot in common with the Motif range, but it offers far more than just a Motif emulator.
The real beauty of this workstation is how easy it is to edit voices and effects. The combination of the Super Knob and touch screen makes everything possible in real-time. The Montage is a superb workstation for the stage or the studio.
7. Yamaha MX88
The best keyboard workstation for around $1000
Yamaha’s MX88 is the cheapest workstation on our list, and it sits somewhere between the Kross 2 and the Kronos 2, in terms of music production tools. It has graded hammer action keys with 128-note polyphony.
The most instantly attractive thing about the Yamaha MX88 is that the sounds use the same waveforms as the Motif XS. For anyone who knows the Motif series keyboards and their history, it’s a big deal. In total, there are over 1000 diverse Motif sounds and VCM (Virtual Circuit Modelling) effects.
Along with the onboard sounds, you get access to the FM Essential iOS app, which adds an FM synthesis engine with 256 voices to your MX.
The Yamaha MX88 also features a built-in audio interface that transmits a stereo channel via USB to your computer. An integrated MIDI interface lets you use the MX as a master controller for VST’s, synths, and samplers. In addition to controlling other instruments, you can also control various parameters in your DAW via the MX onboard controls.
The MX has some stunning VCM effects, as we mentioned, but the best thing about them is the in-depth control. There are 4 rotary knobs on the left of the top panel that let you dial in chorus, reverb, cut-off, etc. Alternatively, they can be assigned to different effect parameters, giving you maximum control in real-time.
|Image credit: Yamaha Check Sweetwater||
Before we say anything else, we need to state that the Yamaha MX88 is easily the best keyboard workstation under (or around) $1000. We stated earlier that the Yamaha MX is somewhere between the Kross 2 and Kronos 2, so let’s explain what we mean.
It has more in-depth editing functions than the Kross 2, but it’s not as useful for live performance. If you want a lighter keyboard for gigs, the MX beats the Kronos, but it’s nowhere near as good for studio use. So, it’s left in some tricky middle ground where it does everything very well, but doesn’t excel in one area.
That’s not a bad thing, it fills a gap that lots of users will need. It’s more of an all-rounder without the Kronos 2 price tag.
8. Nord Stage 3
The best organ sound engine
Nord keyboards are probably the most instantly recognizable in the industry with their bright red casing. It comes with Nord’s exclusive Virtual Hammer Action keys. The significant thing about this technology is that the keys have both top and bottom triggering, meaning the release matters as much as the initial strike.
Nord claims to have gone far more in-depth in their sampling process than ever before. Like previous models, the sounds are split between 3 engines – pianos, organs, and synths. The Nord Sample library 3.0 offers a broad range of expansion content from vintage to modern instruments and effects.
Each sound engine has a dedicated control section with LED labeling for visual feedback. There are dedicated onboard effects for each section as well as master effects. The synth section has a dedicated OLED display to make things even more accessible. The organ section also has 9 drawbars to add realism to the organ tones.
The layout of the Nord Stage 3 may look a bit overwhelming initially, but it doesn’t take long to become second nature.
|Image credit: Nord Check Sweetwater||
The Nord Stage 3 is widely considered as one of the best professional music keyboards around, and so many opinions can’t be wrong. It’s a premium workstation and synth; there’s no denying that. Our issue with this keyboard and its predecessors is that it doesn’t feel as good as the Roland, Korg, and Yamaha equivalents.
Nord’s exclusive Virtual Hammer Action will work for some players and not for others. The sound engines are incredible, the layout is intuitive once you get the hang of it, and it looks great. Try it out for yourself; our only complaint is the weight of the keys. Otherwise, it’s brilliant.
We always urge people to be clear on why they need a keyboard before buying one, and that’s especially important with workstations.
Our list features some of the most powerful workstation keyboards we have ever seen. These keyboards can be incredibly expensive, and generally, the most expensive ones are better because they have more to offer.
However, a cheaper workstation might be better in a specialized area than a more expensive keyboard. For example, a $3000 keyboard workstation might be the best overall, but a $1000 workstation might more suited to frequent live performance and travel.
So, our advice is to consider how often you are likely to use the workstation in live performance versus how often you’d use it as a production tool (studio use). Once you have that in order, you can focus on specific features/functions, and choose the best workstation keyboard for you.