So, what makes me the guru when it comes to keyboards? Well, I’m not, and my top pick may not be what is best for you. However, I have put a lot of time and effort into finding the best portable and arranger keyboards on the market. I have talked to keyboard experts and tested the feel and the sound of many models, so I do have a pretty good idea of what makes a good keyboard. That being said, the keyboard that is best for me may not be the best one for you, so before we jump into the reviews so that you can decide for yourself, let’s take a look at what you need in a keyboard.
Researching different options in the keyboard section of my local Guitar Center, and with the help of the specialists in the store and a few local keyboard players that I met, I was able to determine that the Casio CTK-6250 61-Key Portable Keyboard was best for my needs.
In this guide, I will review my top choice for a portable or an arranger keyboard as well a few of the options that I think compare with this model quite well.
Arranger Keyboard Vs. Other Keyboard Types
Arranger keyboards are one of the most popular types of keyboards because they offer many different voices that allow you to create a unique arrangement to accompany your music. However, other keyboard options on the market may be more in-line with what you are looking for. A synthesizer has accompaniments that are more pattern-based. This will allow you to build your own sound instead of using pre-made voices in your music.
Most arranger keyboards are portable models that you can take with you whenever you need. If you are going to set up your keyboard in one location, then you may prefer a workstation that will allow you to easily edit your music or a digital piano, which will have weighted keys that feel very similar to playing an acoustic piano.
Number of Keys
How many keys do you typically need to play your music? Do you tend to stay in a single octave, or do you use several octaves of keys when you play? If you use a full scale of keys, you are going to need a keyboard that comes with 88-keys, which is the same number of keys that a piano has. If you do not use the full range of keys, then purchasing a 61-key or a 72-key keyboard can be a great way to reduce the cost of your first keyboard. As a beginner, you are not likely to need all of the keys, but it is important not to limit your range too much.
If you are not comfortable playing the keyboard that you purchase, you are not going to play it often. One of the features that you will need to consider and test out before making a purchase is the feel and the responsiveness of the keys. This is something that only you can test out because you may not like the same type of keys that I do. In general, there are weighted keys and organ-style keys. Weighted keys are designed to resemble the weight of piano keys, which will give you more control over the volume of the key press and the tone that you create. Organ-style keys are lighter options that have far less resistance, which will make it easier to change keystrokes quickly.
One of the main reasons that musicians choose to purchase an arranger keyboard is to have access to all of the voice options that these keyboards offer. Multiple voice options will allow the musician to fully customize the sound that you’re generating via the keys. As a result, you’ll end up with a lot of versatility and customizability when you’re making your music.
For this reason, make sure that the keyboard that you select has all of the different voices that you will need. Each keyboard is going to have a different number or pre-recorded voices that you can choose from. You can select an option with hundreds of voices, but as a beginner, you may want to get a keyboard with less to help reduce the cost. A keyboard with 30 voice options can be an excellent option for a beginner, as long as the string, piano, and drum voices that you use to accompany your sound are available.
When you purchase a new keyboard, you are going to need a few things to make sure that you can use it to create the music that you enjoy. To start, if your keyboard does not come with a stand, you are definitely going to need one of these. While playing on your lap may work for a short period, lengthy recording sessions without a keyboard stand will never work out. A stand also allows you to easily adjust the height of the keyboard so that you can play comfortably since you’ll be able to fit the keyboard for both sitting and standing.
If there are other people in your home that you do not want to disturb when you are playing, then you may want a pair of headphones so that you can practice at any time of the day. This is also very valuable for playing when there are neighbors to consider; the only real sound you’ll be creating with a pair of headphones are the clicks of your keystrokes. Personally, I also love the option to play on headphones since a good pair can allow me to “monitor” my tones as I play.
If you are planning on taking your new keyboard on the road with you, then you are going to want to have a bag to carry it in as well. This bag will not only make transporting the keyboard more comfortable, but it will also protect it from being damaged. Once you are comfortable using your new keyboard, you may want to add a sustain pedal to your setup. This is not something that a beginner would be interested in, but as you learn, you will want to add more effects to your music. If you do plan on playing on stage, you will also need external speakers and an amplifier so that the keyboard can be heard from further away.
Brands to Consider
Brand isn’t the most important thing to consider for your new keyboard, but if you are unsure of which companies manufacture quality instruments, it will give you an excellent place to start. Some of the most well-known arranger and portable keyboard brands include:
- The ONE Music Group
Our Recommendation: Casio CTK-6250 61 Keys Portable Keyboard
This is one keyboard that has a genuinely stunning aesthetic design. Not only does it have a red and black design that looks very unique, but the layout of the various buttons and dials is also very impressive. Of course, looks are great, but when you’re in the market for an arranger keyboard, you will definitely need to have a product that’s fully-featured and has a sizeable list of tones and voices. In this regard, the Casio CTK-6250 stands out as one of the best on the market.
In my opinion, one of the best features of this keyboard is its arpeggiator; there are more than 105 built-in arpeggios available with this feature, which is great when you want a bit of accompaniment in your solo playing. To use this functionality, you simply have to press preset keys on the keyboard, and when the arpeggiator is working, you can expect a very full sound.
When you’re playing a keyboard, sometimes, the action on the keys can be a little bit flimsy feeling, which takes away from the experience in my opinion. This Casio product has weighted keys, which really helps with the tactile sensation of playing piano. Also, having a weighted experience helps with the feedback and return of the keystrokes, which can actually make your playing feel a little faster. For beginners, this is a great keyboard to consider, especially if you’re thinking of taking up piano. With it, your fingers will be more accustomed to the feedback on those keys.
Insofar as tonality, the Casio CTK-6250 comes with about 700 built-in tones, which can help you compose music from various genres and styles. Some of the options that you’ll have are classics like octave piano and harpsichord and more unique options like strings and synth pop. There are also customized tones that you can create, and you can even save your blended notes when you want. For example, if you like octave piano and strings, you can combine the two for a very resonant sound.
As a person that loves effects, I also liked the presence of digital effects on the CTK-6250. No matter what the tone you select, with this Casio keyboard, you can add in 10 types of reverb, five chorus types, and more than 100 types of DSP, which include phasers, flangers, and even wahs. As a result, you end up with a wide variety of sound options that you can select when you are playing.
There’s a bank on the keyboard that will allow you to save up to 32 user-created tones, and if you want to craft more edited tones, you can also use an SD card. Formats such as SD and SDHC are both accepted, and all you’ll need to do is save your edited tones as SMF files, which are the MIDI standard. This feature even allows you to play back the tones and songs that you’ve created.
Want to connect your keyboard to your computer so that you can use software to produce and edit your songs? This product also includes a USB port so that you can transfer music, work with the song sequencer, or tone editor.
Overall, with its amazing 700-tone library, its 210 preset rhythms, and its connectivity features, the Casio CTK-6250 is a tremendous portable arranger keyboard for just about any level of keyboard player. It even has a 61-key setup, which is an excellent key count for those looking to get started playing keyed instruments.
Runner-Up: Casio WK-7600 76-Key Portable Keyboard
I know it’s a bit odd to have both the runner-up and the recommended product both be Casio products, but these two instruments really are great for just about every keyboardist, regardless of their skill level. When you look at each product, you’ll quickly see that the WK almost seems like a progression from the CTK-6250, but I selected this product as the runner-up because it’s a little less portable than our winning product. Still, the WK-7600 is an excellent keyboard for just about any level of play – it has a vibrant sound profile with excellent speakers, a massive library of 820 tones, plenty of on-board inputs, and a relatively lightweight form factor.
Aesthetically, this is a lovely keyboard; it has an all-black design that has a bit of a shine to it. Additionally, it has a reasonably complex main console where you can find many of its standout features. When it comes to these features, I was most impressed with the one-man band accompaniment features. With this feature, up to eight tracks that feature drums, percussion, bass, and a series of string-style chords can be used to create unique accompaniment patterns. In my opinion, these are great for those that want to play solo in a live concert or even a busker-style venue.
When you purchase a product like this, you need volume and this WK-7600 packs in a lot of power for a reasonably portable unit. This model even has sustain pedal support, which can really help you expand your sound repertoire. If you’re looking to do some sound editing or post-production, then you’ll need a computer, and transferring your music from this product to your desktop is easy via the USB connector at the back of the keyboard. This is very useful when you want to store your music, but if you don’t have a PC, you can also use the internal storage feature, which will allow you to store up to 100 user-created rhythms.
Like the recommended item that I suggested, there is no shortage of effects that you can add to your music. Do you like to hear a bit of vibrato? There’s a setting for that. What about reverb? Your notes can easily be edited to have that far away feel. All in all, this is definitely a great product to consider, especially if you’re looking to branch out to a more intermediate-to-professional level of instrument. This even works as an excellent transitional product because it has a 76-key design.
Other Portable and Arranger Keyboards to Consider
The PSRA3000, from Yamaha, serves as the replacement for the popular PSRA2000 arranger keyboard. In my opinion, one of the coolest features of this keyboard is the presence of a joystick along the left side of the keys. You can assign multiple parameters to this joystick, so if you want a tone change mid-song, merely program it into this feature. In fact, you can even assign modulation or pitch bends, which really can affect the tonality of your music positively.
This keyboard also accepts expansion packs for functionality that can be downloaded from Yamaha’s website. The keyboard has up to a gigabyte of storage potential, so you’ll certainly have options. Like most modern arranger keyboards, the PSRA3000 has a bevy of effects that you can play around with like distortion, delays, and reverbs, and each of these has been re-recorded since the effects that were on the 2000 model.
When it comes to voices, this Yamaha keyboard has a 997 built-in voices, which include the 107 super articulation voices that are a step above some of the more common options. For those that are seeking a fuller sound, there’s an arpeggiator that grants instant access to a bevy of great-sounding phrases. When it comes to sizing and form factor, this 61-key arranger is fairly lightweight and is very portable so that you can play it just about anywhere.
Korg is one of those brands that is just famous for quality, and it’s common to see many of the top keyboardists using a model from the company. I love the fact that the display on this product has touchscreen technology and presents its functionality in bright color. With this display, it’s easy to use accompaniments that have styles such as Latin, jazz, or country. The style will automatically react to chord changes, which means that this is a great arranger to use when you want song-appropriate backing.
I really loved the majority of the 128 voices, and instrument options like the folk guitar tone sound amazingly realistic. Another cool feature that incorporates the joystick is that while using the guitar tones; you can even press down on the stick and generate a guitar body slap sound effect, which adds to the authenticity of the sound. Additionally, for other instruments like brass-style instruments, the keys are pressure sensitive so you can play around with inflection.
The buttons and features of this keyboard are also well laid out so that switching on the fly is very easy, and the 61 keys are as reactive and have a good level of action on them.
Yamaha is a company that is well-known for its versatile instrument options that are great for both students and professionals. This 61-key keyboard arranger is a excellent option that any musician will enjoy playing, especially if they need a portable model. This keyboard is part of Yamaha’s S-series, which means that it is a flagship model that is quite powerful. It is excellent for being creative at home because you can record anything that you play with the touch of a button, but it is also great for live performances. In fact, if you can even display lyrics in case you want the audience to sing along with you.
This keyboard can also be connected to the Wi-Fi, which means that you will not only have access to the voices that come with this keyboard, you will be able to stream audio from compatible applications. There are enough sounds on this arranger that you will be able to add a background band to your music as well. Don’t forget to play with the modulation effects because they can really add to your sound.
In total, there are 1090 voices, 55 drums, and 480 XG voices that you can select from, which is quite a full library of options, but there are also some featured voices that you can use as well to create a unique sound. With all of these options, creating a harmony of musical instruments and voices is really simple, especially since you can set your recordings to presets so that they can be heard at the same time.
If you are looking for an arranger keyboard with professional sounds from around the world, then the Roland E-A7 may be worth considering. I love the versatility that this keyboard offers, and it even has a dual screen layout so that you have access to multiple layers at once. In all, there are over 1,500 different voices that you can use built into the instrument, and you can import WAV files to add even more to your library.
If you enjoy singing along as you play the keyboard, there is even a dedicated mic input that allows you to add vocal effects as well. You can also add background vocals to your music if you’d like. Also, there are plenty of reverb and delay options that you can use as well. On this keyboard, you will find 156 buttons that you can use to access your favorite sounds quickly. There are also sliders that you can customize as well, which means that you can easily make the keyboard your own.
Once you record a sample, you can set the sample to a phrase pad to use again in your music with ease. This is a great feature to use when you are creating the chorus, and it makes it so that you can play other parts instead of playing the chorus repeatedly. This keyboard is relatively lightweight, so if you want to take it on a gig or to a friends house to play together, you can do so easily. On the other hand, music that you create can easily be exported as WAV or MP3 files that you can take with you.
One of the first things that drew me to this keyboard was the bright red coloration of its exterior. As part of Korg’s Pa series, this arranger is a compelling option that works well for most styles of music. I really love the sound that this keyboard produces, especially when you add in effects using the vocal harmonizer or the dual crossfade sequencer.
When it comes to sound, you will have numerous options to select from when you record or play your music. To start, there are over 420 styles to select from and over 1,700 sounds that you can use to enhance your sound. If you have a friend who plays guitar or you want to sing along with your music, then just plug in the mic or the guitar to use the built-in amplifier. In fact, there is even a seven-inch touch screen that you can use during your performance in case you want your audience to sing along.
The keys on this keyboard are semi-weighted, which means that they are not quite as heavy as a piano, but the 61 keys are designed to be piano-style that feels great as you play. There are also two pedal inputs on this instrument, which is an excellent addition for any experienced keyboardist. This keyboard does weigh about 24 pounds, which means that it can be moved, but it is not the most portable option in this guide.
The last keyboard that we are going to look at in this guide is another option from Yamaha. This instrument has a total of 61 keys, which makes it a great portable size that is going to be ideal for a beginner. It has piano-style keys with a synth action, so the keys are not going to be too difficult to press quickly. This keyboard only weights 8.7 pounds, which makes it one of the more portable options that are available on the market. It will require six AA batteries to play the keyboard or a power adapter that you will need to purchase separately.
When it comes to sound, there are quite a few options that you can use to give your music a unique sound. The keyboard comes complete with 130 different accompaniment sounds that you can use as well as 400 voices. If you want to play along with a pre-recorded song, there are over 100 song options programmed into the keyboard. If you need more options, songs can also be downloaded easily.
Beginners will have the advantage of using the Yamaha Education Suite, which is a nine-step lesson feature that is available for you to use on this keyboard. There are built-in speakers on this instrument, but if you prefer an external sound, then you can also use the Aux-in jack to increase your options. Any time that you are recording music on this keyboard, you will also have the opportunity of creating layers to give your music more depth. Once all of the layers are recorded, you can play them back together to hear the sound that you have created.
There are so many options available to you on the average arranger keyboard that finding a portable option that is not too overwhelming with features can be difficult for a beginner. Consider the sound that you want to create, the number of keys that you need, and the recording options that you want to have at your fingertips before making a purchase. Hopefully, the research that I put into finding the best portable and arranger keyboards on the market has helped you find the perfect instrument for your needs. We have covered quite a few options that can be great, regardless of your skill level, so consider the information in this guide to help you find your ideal keyboard.
- Piano and Keyboard Accessories and Supplies. Retrieved from http://www.keytarhq.com/piano-keyboard-accessories.html
- Arranger Keyboards Review – Beginner as well as Professional Arranger Keyboard. Retrieved from http://www.keytarhq.com/arranger-keyboards.html
- Best Keyboard. Retrieved from http://www.bestcovery.com/best-portable-keyboard-overall
- Negley, L. (2019, January 28). Personal Interview
- Buxton, T. (2019, January 28). Personal Interview