Whether you are buying your first piano or keyboard, upgrading from an older model or just adding a new one to your collection, you need to know which brands you can trust.
Buying the right piano or keyboard depends on a large variety of factors. A beginner doesn’t need the same features as a seasoned, professional stage keyboardist.
Training to be a classical musician and/or go to college for music requires a different style of keyboard than does becoming an EDM producer. You have to know the reason you’re buying a new instrument to get something that makes you happy and a better player/producer. You also have to know where to start looking.
Fortunately, many high-quality keyboard and piano companies that existed decades and decades ago continue to make great products for all ages and skill levels today. The big fish are still out there swimming.
But the pool has since gotten deeper and filled with additional marine life.
Okay, enough fish metaphors. In this article, we will discuss the best piano or keyboard brands available on the market. We’ll talk about what brands we really like and why, which particular piano or keyboard models standout, and what features you should most be looking in when you go to buy a new piano or keyboard.
And, to better help you, please take a look at the interactive guide below, which allows you to directly compare a variety of different piano brands and keyboard models on the market to best determine what’s most ideal for your needs.
Photo Model Keys Features
Yamaha NP12 61 Uses Six AA Batteries
Yamaha DGX 670 88 601 Voices, 29 Drums, SFX Kits
Yamaha NP32 76 Graded Soft Touch (GST) Keyboard
Casio CDP-S350 88 700 built-in tones
Korg LP-380 U 88 Now features USB Audio/MIDI
The Best Digital Piano Brands
Everyone knows about the great white shark. The movie “Jaws” was released in 1975 and made that species a toothy, household name through modern times. And even though there are over 400 species of sharks in existence, every time someone sees a shark in the water, they almost always think of the name the “great white” no matter what kind of shark it actually is.
• Yamaha is the great white shark of the piano and keyboard world. It was founded in 1887 and incorporated 10 years later. Since 1897 its been pumping out great, musical products non-stop. From home-based to stage models, acoustic to digital, Yamaha is the highest rated, all-inclusive brand out there.
It’s held off its competition by continuously making superior or equal products as other brands, being extremely diverse and having a large, large budget. The company also focuses on music education and publishing, and helps organize piano recitals and group lessons (performed and taught on its own instruments, of course) with its dealers/piano galleries.
Yamaha spent a whole lot of time, thought and money into making pre-programmed rhythms and automatic chord performances for its portable keyboard lines. This means that even a beginner on a lower-priced keyboard can sound like they have a full band behind them. As a teacher I can tell you that, if used wisely, this is one of Yamaha’s greatest tools.
Conversely, if used as a crutch it’s a bad thing for students trying to progress as actual piano players. Ultimately, there isn’t much Yamaha doesn’t do, and do well.
And before we move on, please take a look (below) at some of the best selling digital pianos currently available on Amazon:
|1) Yamaha P-515|
|2) Casio PX-870|
|3) Roland F-140|
|4) Yamaha YDP-164|
|5) Yamaha YDP-184|
You might also enjoy: What is the Best Yamaha Digital Piano with Weighted Keys?
• Korg is a huge and reliable brand name that has been around for over 50 years. It started out being called Keio (think “mayo” and pronounce it “kayo”) and making “mechanical rhythm machines” and quickly evolved into making programmable organs. In fact, the new-and-still-current name “Korg” is a hybrid of Keio and ORGan.
Even though the initial Keio machines would seem outdated in today’s market, they were groundbreaking at the time. Korg introduced the 1st synthesizer in Japan. And, the Korg M1 Workstation was the first of its kind in the USA as well. That piano in that “Just A Friend” song everyone sang even if they didn’t want to? That was the now infamous Korg M1 piano, which ended up being used on countless hits.
You might also enjoy: What is the Best Korg Digital Piano with Weighted Keys?
• Roland Corporation was founded only in 1972, but quickly made its way to the top part of the pile as well.
Roland has appeared to struggle at keeping its lofty spot on the food chain at times, but the truth is the company has its hands in other pies as well. The Roland corporation had either affiliation with or ownership of popular guitar pedal company (Boss), music software product (Cakewalk), and the very well known Rhodes. The Rhodes is a famous sounding electric keyboard, which you can hear in the introductions in certain songs made by artists like Billy Joel or The Doors.
You might also enjoy: What is the Best Roland Digital Piano with Weighted Keys?
And for all you millennial producers and hip hop artists out there – Roland created the original 808 drum sounds you’ve been buying as samples and dragging-and-dropping in Ableton or Fruity Loops. So while Yamaha and Korg reign market-supreme in many ways over Roland, the latter still has major impact on modern music.
• Nord came late to the party but it sure was dressed to kill. It was founded in 1983 when it made the Digital Percussion Plate 1, which was really the 1st drum pad on the market that let drummers use digital, sampled sounds using real-player dynamics.
It took until 1995 for the now infamous Nord Lead to be produced, but since then, these keyboards-in-red have become the boutique showstoppers on the market. I say “boutique” because Nord products are expensive.
It’s easy to find their top of the line synthesizers selling for upwards of $5,000 and there really is no “budget Nord” product out there. Red paint is expensive, I guess.
My DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) recording software is MOTU’s Digital Performer (I know, but I like it and am used to it). DP doesn’t have a menu option for importing MP3’s, because, according to MOTU tech support, DP is designed for higher quality audio and doesn’t feel the importing of MP3’s represents MOTU’s standards. Blah. You can still export MP3’s.
And, you can drag-and-drop them into your DP windows and still import them that way. It’s lofty, impractical and annoying. Nord’s “better than the rest” price points are annoying in the same way, and they should sell bumper stickers that read, “My other keyboard is a Nord Stage 3.”
Still, I have not heard a single Nord product that didn’t sound great or that I didn’t like. If you want to take a Nord product home from the party, you need to beat out other suitors with more money. But if you are one of those suitors, you will not be disappointed with your purchase.
• Casio is a name some may have at one time thought was akin to a toy piano-like company. For some, Casio had a reputation of producing digital pianos that looked and sounded inferior compared to some of their peers.
Now, however, they stepped up their game and are competing well in a thick and saturated market dominated by long-time giants. Casio was founded in 1946 as a “multinational consumer electronics” company. Its first big invention was a finer ring that could hold cigarettes so people could smoke and work at the same time.
So you can see how it took Casio a little longer to climb the mountain and compete with other keyboard/piano companies. We’ll skip the long-and-winding middle part of Casio’s history and get to modern times.
Portable Casio keyboards could run on batteries. These were essentially toys, not instruments. But, those toys did what Yamaha did – install pre-programmed rhythms and sounds into their keyboards. So, skill or (more likely) no skill, you could sound hip and have fun with a Casio at a younger age.
In fact, there are even sample-based plugins out there that now emulate the toy piano vibe of older Casio portable keyboards.
Eventually, Casio became all-grown-up and started making competitive, home-based digital piano instruments. This “Privia” line of instruments is still a budget-line group of products, but they’ve gotten better since they were first introduced in 2003.
For my part, Casio in on this list with the big fish the same way the Dallas Cowboys are still considered to be America’s team even though they haven’t actually won anything in decades.
Casio started as a company because someone wanted to smoke more without interfering with their work. As a non-smoker, I can tell you that smoke-breaks are lame. Casio was a jack-of-all-things company and the master of, well, being that. In the end, their Privia line isn’t going to set the world on fire but it’s a reasonable choice for beginners or parents/adults on a real-world budget.
You might also enjoy: What is the Best Casio Digital Piano with Weighted Keys?
• Steinway pianos are the other “great white sharks” in the industry. A really well made Steinway is a great-sounding instrument. Is their craftsmanship consistent enough to trust them for every purchase? We’ll get into that later.
• Baldwin pianos are really quite nice. They have been around since 1862. They tended to have a softer, more velvety tone to them, but Bruce Hornsby changed that perspective. People think the piano on “The Way It Is” was a Yamaha.
Well, it was supposed to be. Hornsby brought in his Baldwin touring grand, insisting he used that instead. The engineer’s hated the sound but Bruce’s performance was so good that they had to keep it. Baldwin pianos may be a sleeper big-fish company but they are more influential, consistent and reliable in quality than you might have known.
The Little Fish
This isn’t necessarily fair to some of the manufacturers because, even though, they might not be as well known or have the selling power that Yamaha does, they still make good products.
• Kurzweil was founded in 1982 and has been hanging around in the middle of the pack from inception. The old PC88 was a popular stage model that I never liked but was frequently provided as backline by production companies at live shows.
Similar to Ensoniq, the Kurzweil keyboards and synthesizers had a niche market among pros.
Today, Kurzweil has a wide range of instrument products to choose from. They boast high-quality samples for their home-based digital pianos and still make keyboards for stage. What I’ve heard from their 9ft grand samples in their Forte products, they are work a try. I put Kurzweil 1st in this section because they are just-barely not a big fish company.
Some of the sounds in their Legacy packs are astoundingly good, and some of their overall sounds belong in Atari video games. They are more of a meat-and-potatoes company when it comes to their sonic output.
But you get a big serving, if that makes sense.
They don’t keep up with modern synth sounds and Native Instruments sounds, or the way Yamaha, Korg and Roland churn out gear that evolves with the ears of younger people. But there are some things that Kurzweil does to keep them hanging around just outside the big leaguers.
• Fazioli was founded in 1981 but is fast becoming a popular choice for performance pianos among many artists. The have classic and modern models and seem to be climbing their way on top of other, longer-standing companies, taking advantage of the way that bigger-fish manufactures attempt to monopolize-then-aggravate many musicians.
• Boston and Kawai are both popular piano names. It’s convoluted, however, because the “Boston” piano line is made by Kawai, which is contracted by Steinway to make it.
Kawai has made solid instruments since 1927 ands gets the nod in my book.
You might also enjoy: What is the Best Kawai Digital Piano with Weighted Keys?
• Well, with Alesis, one could argue that they spread themselves a little thin and focused more on what it did better, which was making speakers and drum sounds.
• Well, they all can’t be stellar giants. And while I think Williams Pianos do offer solid enough value for your money, the truth is that there are just so many other competitors on the market that a company like Williams gets pushed further down the list.
• M-Audio makes a lot of products. And, ultimately, you can simply do better in terms of getting good value for your money. With that said, if you’re just looking to jump into the game with a relatively cheap digital keyboard, an M-Audio is for you.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
There is validity to the old-school concept of going with what you know, and going with what works, full of “bling” or not. There is also validity in trying new products and seeing what they offer as well.
Choosing a new keyboard or piano, and differentiating between brands has a lot to do with:
1. Your age and skill/experience level
2. Your budget
3. The type of music you’ll be playing
4. Where you’ll be using the instrument (stage, home, school, studio)
5. Your goals (hobby, professional, educational)
No one but Steinway is going to be mad at you for not buying a Steinway. When Steinway gets it right, they’re nigh untouchable. When they don’t, they’re no better (and sometimes worse) than other brands.
When it comes to acoustic pianos, there is much less to think about than there is with digital units. It is easy to research quality, history and reviews and companies.
I think Kawai might be my choice of studio upright after Yamaha. I like Baldwin for baby grands, though Fazioli is a name to watch. Find out who’s playing them and read about why. Then listen to those people playing them and judge for yourself.
Whatever acoustic piano you buy, include warranty and maintenance plans in your decisions.
In the digital world, there is more to sort through. The best digital piano brands all have varied features and strengths. Some good advice I can give you is that the most expensive keyboards are not always the best, but the cheapest keyboards are most often the worst.
Different brands and different models within those brands all have their strengths and weaknesses.
The old Korg M1 piano was on a lot of hit records, but that keyboard (sorry, Korg) only had 1 or 2 other sounds I ever used. The Korg Triton had ONE bass, some strings, some synth leads and strings I liked, but that was pretty much it.
However, I loved the action and feel of the Korg Triton keyboard for playing drum, organ and synth parts in the studio. It was my favorite, non-weighted feeling keyboard.
- Ultimately, Korg has a fan base for a reason. Check out our Korg SP280 review here.
Roland has made some of my favorite sounds for decades. They tend to be rounder, deeper, thicker and richer than others. But, they’ve lost ground in the market.
What they are doing well is putting out their subscription-based Roland Cloud product. It’s great if you really want that old Roland sound in your arsenal. And it also means you can get a better, weighted piano than Roland can offer (like Yamaha or Nord) and play on that while still enjoying Roland’s particular sonic qualities.
Yamaha does almost everything well. Some of their “pro” synths skimp on the wiring and electronics quality, but most don’t. The Yamaha Clavinova and Yamaha Arius Digital Piano series are my recommendations for home-based, digital pianos every day of the week.
Kurzweil is still really good at what they do. It’s just that what they do is limited.
Casio has stepped up its game with the Privia line. The keys are a little rubbery/bouncy for my tastes, but I wouldn’t tell you to not buy their best Privia, either. Just don’t expect it to be a stage model – you’ll need to upgrade at some point.
Nord. Nord, Nord, Nord. They’re great. They’re expensive, though. You can’t go wrong if you can afford them. They are worth budgeting and saving up for.
Ultimately, when we are talking about great piano brands, or which keyboard brand is the best choice, it really comes down to taste.
If we’re talking about digital pianos, though, you really cannot go wrong with Yamaha. They have something for complete novices to highly trained musicians.
Nord is great if you’re looking for an excellent digital stage piano, and companies like Kawai, Casio, Roland, and Korg are all solid brands that produce highly popular digital pianos and keyboards.
While Yamaha might be the best bet for your needs, always be willing to consider all options before making a final buying decision.
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