The Ultimate Weighted Keyboard Guide

Why would you want a weighted keyboard?

To understand why someone would want to purchase a weighted keyboard, perhaps it’s best to explain what one is. Weighted keyboards are electronic keyboards that have had weights placed inside the keys. This allows the same type of resistance when pressing keys one would feel using an acoustic piano providing a more authentic platform. Pianos produce sounds through the use of hammers and levers connected to the keys. As the key is pressed, the lever moves the hammer allowing it to strike strings to produce sounds. The strength of the sound depends on the force exerted. Digital keyboards do not need these mechanisms.To simulate a more realistic feel, manufacturers began inserting leaded weights into the keys of keyboards in the 1980’s and 90’s. While this helped to simulate the experience of playing a piano, it also made the instrument heavy and difficult to transport easily defeating the purpose for which most musicians were purchasing the keyboards. Over the years, the technology has improved so this is no longer an issue.

Another appeal is the cost. Electric keyboards are by far the cheapest choice. They don’t require the added expense of tuning required by their acoustic counterpart. These factors give keyboards an advantage for those just learning to play and for parents who have children interested in the instrument, but don’t want to invest a vast amount of money on something the child may lose interest in. Space is another advantage. For pianists with dwellings without the room for a piano, the keyboard makes an optimal choice. Finding sheet music to practice with can be found online or downloaded onto a kindle.

What types are out there?

Digital keyboards generally come either 61, 76 or 88 keys. The amount present determines the style of weights available. These include non-weighted, semi weighted, fully weighted hammer-action and fully-weighted graded hammer-action. These different weight types, when combined with the various styles of touch sensitivity available, help provide an overall feeling of realism. Weighted keys also allow pianists to use the proper playing technique. Without them, hand positions become weak and good technique gets lost. Keyboards geared toward the beginner, which include almost all home-use keyboards like the Casio SA76 are not weighted. Professional keyboards tend to use some type of weighting system.

Semi-weighted keyboards are common on the low-end price spectrum. They typically will have either 61 or 76 keys and are designed to be portable. These keyboards utilize a spring action key system providing the user with some resistance allowing a moderate amount of handling.

Hammer-actions go a step further replicating piano mechanics utilized giving the user a more authentic experience. They are fully-weighted and are found in keyboards with 88 keys. They can also be sensitive to pressure making it possible to produce a louder sound by striking the key harder. There are two different types, hammer-action and graded hammer-action. Fully-weighted hammer-action keys have a small hammer attached to each key by a lever that creates resistance. Unlike spring-action keyboards, this mechanism more accurately replicates the structure of a piano. Fully-weighted graded hammer key systems go a step further in reproducing the feel. In a piano, the keys located on the lowers end that produce a deeper sound have a heavier hammer attached than those keys located on the higher end. This difference in weight requires the user to exert more force to operate the lower end keys. Graded hammer key systems work in the same way thus allowing the operator to use the same hand structure while playing that they would use on an acoustic piano.

What are the key points to look out for and common features?

One of the most important factors to consider when purchasing a keyboard is portability. If it is going to be set up in the home and not moved around, a heavier keyboard will work just fine. If the keyboard is going to be moved often, ease of movement will become a larger priority.

Something else to consider is that most keyboards meant for professional use do not come with built –in speakers. Instead they are designed to be plugged into an amplifier system. If looking to simply play the keyboard, a model with a headphone jack will suffice. If the goal is to produce music, it would be better to purchase a model that has midi connectivity or a USB port to allow the keyboard to connect to a computer or other recording gear. Many keyboards can also be used in conjunction with an m-audio pedal that works just like the pedals on a piano.

While most keyboards are produced with plastic keys, some manufacturers have begun making the keys out of wood to further replicate the feel of an acoustic piano. Keys also come in a variety of sizes. Many of the smaller keyboards possess slim keys that are two-thirds the dimensions of normal piano keys. Most of the professional grade keyboards use full size keys. These are recommended because they make playing easier than trying to adjust to smaller keys.

Another component to take into consideration is the polyphony of the keyboard. Polyphony simply means the number of individual notes the instrument can play at one time. This is especially important in playing chords. Keyboards with a polyphony under a 32-note max, while usually cheap, are a poor choice. Those with a 64-note level are satisfactory. The best have a 128-note polyphony level. Anything above this is unnecessary.

Along with the polyphony level, take into account whether the instrument is monotimbral or multitimbral. Monotimbral keyboards can only produce one tone at a time where multitimbral can produce several tones. When the goal is to produce music, multitimbral is important in order to have the ability to produce diverse sounds on separate channels. Multitimbral keyboards with a high level of polyphony have the ability to simulate an entire orchestra. A good rule of thumb is to look over customer reviews before making a purchase especially when buying one that is on sale.

What are some of the most popular weighted keyboards?

Korg Kronos X

The Korg Kronos X workstation provides a platform to inspire the creative juices. Its workspace includes 88 keys, color display, X-Y and Vector joysticks, eight rotary knobs, 16-track audio recording and nine sound engines. The multitrack audio offer users the sound of studio recording in a single instrument. The SGX-2 piano engine offers a wide collection of samples including Una Corda, or soft pedal samples. The 62GB capacity allows plenty of space for downloads. The Kronos X provides users with everything needed to realize their vision.

Roland Fantom X8

The Fantom X8 offers users a graded hammer-action 88 key workstation capable of producing a wide range of sounds and effects. It comes with a color LED screen and a new sound generator chip that can hold up to 1GB of data, making it possible to produce both short samples as well as longer compositions. It is loaded with quality sounds from drums to guitar to piano, many of which were recorded and mixed by celebrated studio engineer Dan Blessinger. The onboard USB port can be used as an interface and to import and export to Apple and Windows based computers. The Fantom X8 is user friendly while still delivering amazing performance.

Yamaha MOXF 88

The MOXF8 builds on the excellent reputation of the MOTIF models. With the M OXF8, users have access to a wider range of sounds and effects. It also contains a flash board option slot. Included is a large library of instrumental sounds from orchestra to techno. The built-in sequencer lets users produce music without the need for a computer or other device and allows for both real-time and step recording. The MOXF8 features a 128-note polyphony, 16 sequence tracks, 480 parts per quarter note resolution and an approximately 226,000 note capacity giving users everything they will need to compose and produce.

Yamaha Montage

The Montage is a full-size keyboard that features progressive versions of the Motif and DX synth lines. It comes in all three key versions and features a color touch screen as well as an array of rotary encoders. It also possesses the Super Knob, a macro controller that allows users to control many different parameters at the same time. Its motion control synthesizer engine powers the Advanced Wave Memory 2 and the FM-X sound engines. The Advanced Wave has 10 times more wave memory than previous models, a 128-note polyphony and 1.75 GB of flash memory. Compatible with previous generations of Motif libraries, the Advanced Wave allows for the user to write their own custom samples. The FM-X has the capability to produce anything from classical sound to EDM. A wireless midi can also be purchased to allow for mobile connectivity. Its eight operator engine makes just about any musical composition possible.