Best Keyboard Workstation

If you have a powerfully creative mind that’s always occupied, when inspiration strikes, you can’t sit around and wait. You need to record your ideas immediately, then mix and master them to push yourself forward.

Do you want to avoid constant laptop use or working only in a studio? You might need a keyboard workstation. They’re a studio you can take with you anywhere.

This versatile instrument can benefit you in several ways — and we’re about to clue you in on the best keyboard workstation on the market.

If you want to cut to the chase, our choice of best overall keyboard workstation is the Roland FANTOM-8 Music Workstation.

This article includes:

Roland FANTOM-8 Music Workstation

Best Keyboard Workstation Overall

Roland FANTOM-8 Music Workstation

The first Roland keyboard of two on this list, the FANTOM-8, allows seamless workflow and no confusing modes. It’s a full-length piano keyboard of 88 keys, but there are shorter options available too.

Roland packs a fabulous range of fresh, hybrid sounds into this keyboard — modern PCM, virtual analog, and a routable analog filter. There’s also an expandable sound engine that delivers authentic acoustic and electric sounds.

V-piano technology offers perfect realism and expression. You could bring yourself and others to tears with how much you can express across an array of sounds.

The exclusive PHA-50 hammer-action keys set this one apart from the crowd. It provides ultra-responsive sensing, further enhancing development between touch and sound. You’ll get an authentic piano feel with this keyboard.

The manufacturer wraps a comprehensive control section up into this board. There’s a wide range of knobs, sliders and RGB pads to play with. You can use the sliders for controlling modulation and volume, fantastic for making quick, subtle changes.

You can go in-depth with this keyboard, achieving smooth sweeps to texture adjustments within the sound. There’s also a comprehensive synth section with controls for oscillators and filters, and there are pads and buttons for sequencing and triggering.

One of the main standouts with the FANTOM-8 is the touchscreen interface. This is the control hub of the entire workstation. You can control settings and parameters from the touchscreen easily. It even provides hassle-free integration with any digital audio workstation you want it to.

The intuitive touchscreen lets you operate performance software of your choice — it also helps you access virtual instruments from Roland Cloud.

An added perk is a mic input with six types of vocal reverb — the same amount as the reverb available for the instrument’s voices. There are also eight types of chorus, a master compressor and a master EQ.

Over 3,000 tones are available within this instrument and 90 drum kits. You can play with them while real-time recording with piano-roll editing.

The workflow with this keyboard is seamless, authentic, and provides infinite possibilities. So power it up with the supplied power cord and get creating. It’s impossible to cover every aspect of the grandeur you have to work with!

PROS

  • Piano-like keyboard.
  • 3,000 tones and 90 drum kits.
  • Mic input, with reverb.
  • LDC touchscreen.
  • Ability to fine-tune your creations.
  • Highly customizable.

CONS

  • High price tag.
  • It’s a daunting one for the inexperienced.
  • The interface is easy to use only if you already know what you’re doing.

Yamaha Genos 76-Key Digital Workstation

Best Keyboard Workstation for Realistic Percussion

Yamaha Genos 76-Key Digital Workstation

For a range of stunning elements to work with, look at the Yamaha Genos 76. It may have 11 keys less than a piano, but the power in the grand piano voice makes up for it — it’s CFX premium.

A great color touch screen lets you look over voice and style assignments. It gives you fast access, and it’s effortless to adjust the bank of great settings and features.

Assignable knobs allow you to manipulate all the styles and voices. There are 1,710 instrument voices, 550 accompaniment styles and 216 arpeggios. Warp them to your heart’s content as the Genos nurtures your creativity.

You can configure assignable sliders, allowing fast control and fine-tuning. On-the-fly changes mid-performance are effortless, just like your drumming is — the keyboard’s Revo! Drums produce the most realistic MIDI drum sound ever created.

Unprecedented multi-dynamic sample layers, coupled with round-robin sample cycling, make these drums sound their absolute best. Even playing the same key over and over, the sound is slightly different. This adds a dynamic and full sound to your percussion.

The keyboard also adds a level of vocal greatness. You can apply various harmony effects to vocals, or turn your voice into something brand new. The Synth Vocoder lets you add your voice right onto a wide range of sounds.

Record your performance or experimenting session and export it as a WAV or SMF (MIDI) file. The keyboard offers both simple and more in-depth ways to record. Multi-recording has a functional 16-track MIDI sequencer, with added real-time and step-time functions.

Once you’ve got your recording done, you can interface easily with computer-based digital audio keyboard workstations.

If you work with a computer over a more portable laptop, bring the keyboard right to it. It weighs 30 pounds, so it’s not too hard to bring into another room if needs be — however, it’s not as easily portable as some lighter boards on our list.

PROS

  • Useful, interactive touch screen.
  • Allows you to easily manipulate and fine-tune your creations.
  • Mic input, and voice effects in high quantity.
  • Fast recording.
  • Percussion realism.

CONS

  • On the heavy side.
  • No built-in speakers; you’ll need headphones or external speakers.
  • There’s very little editing ability with the sequencer once you record the track.
  • The instruments require tweaking to get them to sound their best.

The Casio WK-245 is a fabulous 76-key piano, great for beginners and professionals alike. The LCD has everything on display for you, including music notation, so you can take notes if you want to.

All the tools you need for layering tones and melodies are at your disposal. You can even plug your MP3 player or cellphone. This allows you to play your device’s music through the keyboard’s speakers and join in.

Connect up to computers and iOS devices with the MIDI port. There are no drivers to install — very convenient.

Casio gives further consideration to your creativity — there’s an incredible array of 600 instruments to play with. There’s also an impressive built-in library of 152 songs and 180 rhythms. The keyboard also features a mic with volume control and onboard digital effects.

The 48 notes of polyphony ensure that there are no dropped notes as you play. With that and the onboard 5-song/6-track recorder, your song won’t be the one that got away.

Casio builds all this great stuff in, and your package comes with a pile of extras. There’s a pair of closed-cup headphones, a keyboard stand and all the cables you need. It also comes with eMedia’s award-winning instructional software.

The software contains 50 step-by-step lessons from Julliard piano teacher Irma Irene Justicia. That makes this a great keyboard for beginners, or anyone who wants to brush up on the basics.

When used with an electronic MIDI keyboard, it provides specific feedback on playing mistakes. It keeps track of both wrong notes and incorrect rhythms. This is helpful for beginner and advanced players alike — nobody likes their rhythm to be off when writing a piece of music.

For further greatness, the keys are touch-sensitive, with a choice of three levels. You can also turn this sensitivity off.

This is an incredible package, and the keyboard part of it weighs 33.8 pounds. It comes with a power adapter, but six, size D batteries will also do to power it.

PROS

  • Great for beginners, with lessons included.
  • Comes with a stand.
  • A vast range of tones to select from.
  • Different levels of touch sensitivity.
  • Not too heavy to transport easily.
  • Support for both PC and Mac.
  • LCD screen.
  • Compatible with sustain pedals.

CONS

  • The keys have some side movement.
  • Some non-piano voices are of low quality.
  • The sound is slightly muffled.

If you want 88 keys, just like a piano, the Casio CDP-240 delivers. Also, like a piano, the keys have scaled hammer action giving you an authentic feel. It has three levels of touch response, letting you express yourself more intensely and play with different dynamics.

Casio wraps 700 tones and 182 up in this little number, with 200 auto-accompaniment rhythms. The keyboard offers 64 lines of polyphony to play with these.

Compose rounds, canons, anything your heart desires. With the in-built lesson function, you can even learn to play for the first time!

The keyboard weighs 24.9 pounds and comes with an optional stand for music. It has a sleek, slim design, but the scaled hammer action keys deliver a grand piano feel. It’s fantastic if you want to cart a grand piano around with you, without breaking your back and bank account.

While sporting some usable in-built speakers, the Casio CDP-240 also gives you the option for external ones or headphones. There’s also an output for MIDI, useful for firing it up with a computer or even a cellphone.

Casio includes the power source and a foot pedal in your package. This eliminates the need to buy these extras, which is always a huge plus.

PROS

  • Has a microphone input.
  • Comes with a foot pedal.
  • Different levels of touch sensitivity.
  • Has a step-by-step lesson function.

CONS

  • Many of the tones are only blended in with the piano-key sound.
  • The speakers aren’t the best; you may fair better with an external set.

For a synth-action keyboard that’s gig-ready, with pro-sounds and advanced features, look at the Roland Lightweight. It has a huge range of sounds, including brand new acoustic and electric pianos, organs, and other essentials.

It’s portable and mains or battery-operated, so you can drag this from your living room to the stage effortlessly. It only weighs 11.7 pounds, so you shouldn’t throw your back out carting it around.

A wave expansion slot allows you to download new sound waveforms. These are available for free at Roland’s Axial website.

It features a sample import function for playing user WAV files, and there’s also an eight-track pattern sequencer and non-stop recording. So, your creativity is your only limit.

This keyboard is not only for keyboardists and pianists, but vocalists too. It’s got a dedicated vocal reverb, plus auto pitch. You can sing with the electronic vocal effects that are so popular in modern music.

There’s a built-in vocoder that’s inspirational too. It allows you to sing into a mic and control the tone and pitch through sounds played on the keyboard. This, interestingly, was the method used to create the electronic version of the Dr. Who TV theme back in the 80s.

PROS

  • Fabulously portable.
  • Great for singers and one-man bands.
  • Fantastic customization of sounds with 1000+ to download.
  • Supports generic sustain pedals.
  • Weighted keys.
  • Has mic input.
  • There are versions available with more keys, if 61 is too few for your liking.

CONS

  • It de-tunes regularly.
  • Some of the most useful settings are not saveable for easy recall.
  • You can only work with eight tracks; fine for some, but if you want more, you need to plug into a computer.

Akai Professional MPK Mini Play

Best Portable Keyboard Workstation

Akai Professional MPK Mini Play

For a keyboard that’s a little different from the rest of the instruments reviewed, read on. It’s specifically optimized for portability because it’s tiny. Despite its size, it still has 128 sounds and ten drum kits packed inside — that’s the Akai Professional MPK Mini Play for you.

Four assignable knobs and eight back-lit pads come built-in to this mini keyboard workstation. You can alter the octave and repeat notes with the touch of a button, too.

The keyboard has pitch/mod joystick control and also 25 velocity-sensitive synthesizer action keys. Its in-built speaker means you can use all these great features out loud and on the go.

There are plenty of filters to choose from to make your music unique. Akai built these in across two banks with four knobs on either side.

All this and it’s battery-powered! Three AA batteries, and you’re good to jam.

The keyboard also comes with a Pro Software Suite, with plenty of great downloadable programs; ProTools First, SONiVOX Wobble, Tech Hybrid 3, Akai Pro MPC Essentials and AIR Music, to name a few.

Since this 1.64-pound keyboard is so small and easy to move, you can rock while on the move. Utilize the headphone jack and get creative on the train or the bus, or plug into external speakers and blow the public away with your sounds.

As well as staying connected to your music on the move, stay connected to your other devices too. The keyboard is compatible with iOS and computer devices. All you need is the right cables.

With its highly customizable sound ability, this may be the best mini keyboard workstation for hip hop, retro-inspired synth, trap music — need we go on?

This keyboard nails all those specific sounds that certain musical genres command. The on-board arpeggiator, with tap tempo and multiple ARP modes, help with that. It’s such a good tool to indulge your creativity.

PROS

  • Perfectly portable for producing on the go.
  • Very changeable, customizable sound.
  • Has few keys, but all octaves are available at the push of a button.
  • Comes with useful software for that pro-experience.

CONS

  • Small, so harder to play with two hands.
  • No Velocity sensitivity calibration, or way to turn it off.
  • Setup is difficult.

How to Choose the Best Keyboard Workstation

There are a few essential elements that go into choosing the best keyboard workstation for you. First, what do you need? Examine your preferences and what each instrument has to offer. Then you can find your perfect match.

Skillset

A beginner will not need as many tricky features as an experienced performer or producer. A keyboard workstation with a good chunk of features will do just fine, but you don’t need the ultimate premium from the get-go. Start with something simpler and work your way up as your abilities grow.

Keys

Most keyboards have a 61 keys standard, which you can already do a lot with. Throw on effects, and you’ve doubled, tripled, or more, what you can do. For some, though, 61 keys are not enough. They want to possess the full 88 of a piano, and that’s fine too.

Are the keys weighted or touch-sensitive? How subtly dynamic you wish your performances to be plays a part in this area of choice.

Connectivity and Compatibility

How easy is it to connect your workstation keyboard to another device? The workstation can do a lot, but the final mixing and mastering will warrant a computer. If it’s a struggle to move the files around or you can’t connect with your initial choice, maybe reconsider what to go with.

The ease of the connection is not the only consideration here. What’s the output format of your keyboard, if there is one? Converting files can be a pain. A MIDI file, or a WAV, will be almost universally compatible with keyboards and audio interfaces. Be wary of the obscure file formats out there.

Are You Picky?

Do you have a general idea of what you want your final product to sound like? Or do you have it completely nailed down to the last barely audible sound with vibrato, ending on a soft poof? Not every keyboard will let you manipulate everything to such a detailed, delicate finish. If you want the ultimate control, there will be some keyboards that are better for you.

The Roland FANTOM-8 and Yamaha Genos, for example, both allow for this fabulous manipulation of sound. Everything is in your control with those two, where others will do a great job — but maybe not for an extreme detail-oriented perfectionist.

Portability

If you work only on stage or in a studio, portability isn’t an issue. But if you’re on the road or doing gigs in different clubs every night, this comes into it big-time.

Many of these keyboards weigh 20–30 pounds. It may not seem like much, but 10 pounds is a big difference in an instrument you have to treat gently. An instrument on the lower end will be easier to get into a case and sling over your shoulder.

A battery-powered option is another thing to look at. Most of the higher end, more demanding keyboard workstations require an electrical outlet. However, not all of them do! Battery-powered keyboard workstations are great for busking or going from gig to gig during the day.

What’s the Best Way to Use a Workstation?

A workstation is more than a keyboard with some fancy knobs — It’s a tool for creating and producing high-quality and high resolution music — not only writing it. It’s a tool to help you capture ideas in the moment, before they fly away.

The best way to use a keyboard workstation is by amping it up to its full potential. If you want a keyboard, get a keyboard. A workstation is on a whole other level. Utilize its features and play to your combined strengths.

Conclusion

The best keyboard workstation has to be the Roland FANTOM-8. Its keyboard is the full 88, it’s got an infinite number of fun features to try, and it’s perfect for fine-tuning professionals.

The Yamaha Genos comes in at a close second — it almost came top because of the Revo! Drums, but the lack of built-in speakers knocked it down a peg.

Every keyboard on this list ticks most of the boxes you could want in a workstation. Hopefully, you’ve been able to narrow down your choices. Finding the right tool is a daunting task, but always easier when you’ve got all the best facts and options laid out.

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