How to Choose a Keyboard/Synth for Your Home Music Studio


A keyboard or synthesizer is essential in a home music studio. A synth or keyboard will serve as a music writing tool and a recording tool. Many types of keyboards have different functions. Some keyboards can be used for programming a Midi track in your Digital Audio Workstation, not only for keyboard and synth sounds but for drums as well.

The right keyboard for your home music studio will depend on the type of music you will be making. Other factors are your budget, the space, and the actual functions and features of the keyboard. Before buying a keyboard, you should consider the purpose. Choosing the right keyboard will also depend on your skill.

TYPES OF PIANOS/KEYBOARDS

There are several types of pianos and keyboards out there. To choose which one is the best fits your needs, you must determine each of the classes and their functions.

PIANO

A piano, also known as an acoustic piano, is commonly used in classical music by composers like Beethoven and Mozart. The classical grand piano is bulky, so it might not be an ideal choice for a bedroom music studio. 

However, if an acoustic piano what you need for your home studio, make sure you provide enough space for it. If you don’t have enough space, you can still get the “Grand Piano” sound from virtual instruments and most modern keyboards. Piano players, however, prefer the feel of the weighted keys of an actual grand piano.

There are different sizes of the grand piano:

  • Petite Grand Pianos or Baby Grand – 4 feet 11 inches in height
  • Classic or Medium Grand Pianos- 5 feet 2 inches to 5 feet 8 inches in height
  • Full Grand Pianos- 5 feet 9 inches to 6 feet 2 inches in height
  • Recital Grand Pianos- 6 feet 3 inches to 6 feet 9 inches in height
  • Semi-Concert Grand Pianos- 6 feet 10 to 9 feet in height
  • Concert Grand Pianos- 8 feet 10 inches and above

The size of the piano affects loudness. The bigger the size of the piano means the louder and more powerful the sound it can produce. If the venue for a concert is a big coliseum that fits thousands of people, it will require the power of a concert grand piano.

For your home studio, a baby grand piano might be enough. It is quieter and saves you some space. There are two types of acoustic pianos you can choose from, the grand piano and the upright piano. The upright piano saves more space.

To record a classical piano, you will need to use microphones to capture the sound. The sound of an acoustic piano comes from the back, and that is where mics you can place the mics for recording.

Pianos need to be tuned and maintained after some time. Grand Pianos are more expensive than digital pianos.

DIGITAL GRAND PIANOS

Digital grand pianos are modern types of grand pianos. They are much smaller than acoustic grand pianos. If you are composing a pop, rock, jazz or funk song, digital pianos can get the job done. They usually have more versatility when it comes to sounds and presets suitable for different genres.

The digital piano plays back high-quality recordings recorded from acoustic pianos, instead of steel strings hammered like an old-school piano.

The mechanics of a digital piano is the same as an acoustic piano, but instead of hammering strings, the digital piano is just playing back a high-quality recording of an actual acoustic piano.

A digital grand piano is ideal for home music studios because they are much easier to maintain. Recording a digital piano is more comfortable because they have USB ports so you can connect it straight to your computer and DAW.

Digital pianos come in different sizes; some are much more portable for live gigs. In terms of volume, digital pianos have a volume control, unlike acoustic pianos.

Recommended Products:

  • YAMAHA DGX-660 88-KEY GRAND DIGITAL PIANO

(Price: $830)

This digital piano features 88 weighted keys for a grand piano feel. The Yamaha DGX-660 has an available sound module powered by the Pure CF Sound Engine that reproduces the tone of the highly acclaimed Yamaha Concert Grand Piano.

Key Features:

  • 88 Keys
  • Sustain Pedal and Bench
  • Acoustic Settings
  • Grand Hammer Action
  • CASIO PRIVIA PX-160 DIGITAL PIANO

(Price: $649)

The Privia PX-160 is one of Casio’s best-selling digital pianos. The simple design gives the digital piano a minimalist approach. It is powered by Casio’s Acoustic and Intelligent Resonator (AiR) that provides authentic grand piano sounds played seamlessly. This digital piano’s action has an incredible feel.

Key Features:

  • 88 keys
  • Casio’s famous Tri-sensor hammer action
  • Split and layer capabilities
  • Headphone jack
  • SP33 3-Pedal system
  • Furniture style bench and polishing cloth

KEYBOARD

Keyboards share the same mechanics as pianos, where you press the keys to produce sounds. They have the same patterns of notes, but the main difference is the sounds they produce. Keyboards have more sounds than an acoustic and digital piano.

Usually, the action of keyboard keys is semi-weighted better for lead sounds and solos. Keyboards are much smaller than pianos and traditionally used in pop, rock, funk, and rhythm and blues music.

A Portable keyboard is usually a house staple and a beginner’s entry keyboard. Some keyboards have lighted keys so you can learn how to play songs.

Recommended Products:

  • YAMAHA YPT260 PORTABLE KEYBOARD

(Price: $150)

The Yamaha YPT260 is a suitable entry keyboard. This bundle comes with the keyboard stand, bench, and power supply. This keyboard is loaded with 400 voices, 130 accompaniment styles,112 built-in songs, and a record and playback function.

This keyboard has the Yamaha Education Suite that teaches you how to play the keyboard, and an aux input so you can play along with music from your phone or tablet.

  • ALESIS MELODY 61 MKII 61 KEY PORTABLE KEYBOARD

(Price: $99)

A full-on portable keyboard for a low price, the Alesis Melody 61 features 61 responsive keys. This keyboard has a modern design that is pleasing to the eye. This keyboard is best for practicing and for playing at home.

Key Features

  • 61 Keys
  • 300 built-in tones
  • Splitting and layering sounds
  • 300 built-in rhythms
  • Headphone jack
  • Playback recording
  • 40 built-in demo songs
  • It comes with a keyboard stand, bench, adapter, and a microphone.

I prefer a portable keyboard mostly for practicing, not recording or playing live — a suitable manual for recording may be a Midi Keyboard or an analog synthesizer with USB connectivity.

SYNTHESIZER

Synthesizers are fascinating instruments with sounds from the 80s and modern music. A synthesizer produces modern electronic sounds that suites electronic, pop, EDM, house, dubstep, and rock music.

There are two types of synthesizers, analog synth, and modular synth.

Modular synths are usually more prominent and get their sound by connecting it to different modules. The various modules manipulate the sounds by connecting them using wires.

Analog synths are usually smaller, depending on the number of keys. Their sound modules are built-in and can be edited and controlled by knobs and buttons.

Most modern synths have USB connectivity, so it is more convenient to record and use as a MIDI keyboard. Analog synthesizers are easier to travel with for gigs and mobile recording.

Recommended Products:

  • KORG MICROKORG ANALOG MODELING SYNTHESIZER WITH VOCODER

(Price: $350)

The MicroKORG is a popular choice among amateur and professional producers alike. It is a modeling synth with a vintage look. The modeling capabilities of the KORG MicroKORG is remarkable.

The MICROKORG XL and MICROKORG XL +, are bigger versions but have less on-board editing. They require a computer connection for easier sound editing.

Key Features:

  • 37 velocity-sensitive keys
  • Split and dual-mode available
  • Four voices
  • Power supply or battery-powered
  • Arpeggiator
  • Six outputs including, midi, headphones, left, and right for stereo.
  • On-board editing
  • Windows and Mac compatible
  • Midi connectivity
  • Gooseneck dynamic mic for vocoder
  • Pitch and modulation wheel
  • NOVATION MININOVA ANALOG MODELING SYNTHESIZER

(Price: $400)

The Mininova is a modern style analog modeling synth. It has a powerful sound engine perfect for creating electronic-heavy sounds. The aesthetic of this synthesizer has a futuristic approach to looks and sound-wise.

Key Features:

  • 37 velocity-sensitive keys
  • Vocoder with VocalTune pitch correcting effects
  • 256 onboard sounds
  • Editable user sound banks
  • Layer up to 5 modulation effects
  • Downloadable sound packs
  • Real-time tweaking and sound warping
  • Midi connectivity
  • Gooseneck dynamic mic for vocoder
  • Editing software included
  • Pitch and modulation wheel
  • MOOG GRANDMOTHER SEMI-MODULAR ANALOG KEYBOARD SYNTHESIZER

(Price: $899)

Moog is well-known for making the best modular synthesizers. A semi-modular synth is a mixture of sound modules and analog synth sound editing. It eliminates the use of patch cables, unlike the traditional modular synth. The modules are built-in, unlike the big and bulky synths. The Moog Grandmother looks very beautiful, and the size is compact.

Key Features:

  • Hardware sound module compatible
  • Drum machines
  • Requires no patching for modeling tones
  • Arpeggiator
  • Sequencer
  • Pitch and modulation wheel
  • KORG Monologue Monophonic Analog Synthesizer

(Price: $250)

A monophonic synthesizer is suitable for creating lead and synth bass sounds. Being monophonic means, you can only play one note at a time. Shifting between notes sounds better because of features such as gliding.

Key Features:

  • DRIVE sound module added for cutting leads and rich bass
  • 2-pole VCF with more bite for a more compelling lead sound
  • Deeper modulation with new LFO capabilities
  • 16 step buttons for faster real-time effect modulation
  • Push-button and knob turning for parameter lock style of motion sequencing

ARRANGER KEYBOARDS

Arranger keyboards are like smaller versions of a full-blown workstation keyboard. These keyboards are a more professional version than the traditional beginner keyboards. Arranger keyboards are suitable for writing songs as well as recording.

These keyboards are known for their accompaniment features with a wide selection of rhythms, styles and backing tracks.

From the name itself, arranger keyboards allow you to arrange music for live shows, and recording music.

Recommended Products:

  • YAMAHA PSR-S670

(Price: $800)

The Yamaha PSR-S670 is an example of an excellent arranger keyboard. It is suitable for performing love and songwriting because of built-in tools.

Key Features:

  • 61 keys
  • Performance modes
  • Songwriting tools
  • DJ style mode
  • Arpeggiator
  • 869 built-in sounds
  • 230 styles
  • USB port

MIDI CONTROLLER

To play and record virtual instruments from your computer or mobile device, you will need midi controllers. Keyboards and analog synthesizers with USB ports can function as Midi keyboards too. I think Midi controllers are better for using virtual instruments just because of the lightweight and specific functions.

There are different types of Midi Controllers:

MIDI KEYBOARD CONTROLLER

A keyboard Midi controller is used for live gigs and for recording at home. These are most common for home music studios. Midi controllers do not have any built-in sounds. The sound has to come from a source software.

Here are examples of keyboard Midi controllers:

  • AKAI MPK MINI MK II

(PRICE: $89)

This device is useful for DAWs on a computer or Apps on mobile devices. You can assign the pads as trigger pads and sequences depending on the software you are using.

  • 25 velocity-sensitive keys
  • Eight fully assignable trigger pads with two banks
  • 16 fully assignable knobs
  • Four user programs
  • Octave switch
  • Modulation and pitch joystick
  • Free software included
  • NOVATION LAUNCHKEY MINI

(Price: $89)

The Launchkey Mini is an excellent choice for more electronic-driven music. It is a combination of a midi keyboard controller and Novation’s Launchpad. 

  • 16 fully assignable, LED indicating trigger pads
  • 25 velocity-sensitive keys
  • Eight fully assignable knobs
  • Free Software included

DJ CONTROLLER

DJ Controllers emulate the features that old-school DJ turntablist use for their shows and for spinning tunes at home and parties.

A DJ controller eliminates the use of having to switch records on the turntable, so you don’t have to own hundreds of vinyl records and bring it along to gigs.

All you are going to need if you are a DJ nowadays is a Laptop, software, and a DJ controller. Here is an example of a DJ controller that is on the cheaper, but function meets purpose end. A more expensive DJ controller will probably attract most turntablists who like the feel of scratching real vinyl.

  • NUMARK PARTY MIX DJ CONTROLLER

(Price: $99)

You can use the Numark Party Mix to playback your tracks in the DJ spinning style. You can also use it for live gigs and parties.  It may be cheap, but the features are almost the same as high-end DJ controllers. The only difference is probably the quality of the material used. This product is very light.

  • Portable 2-Channel DJ Mixer
  • LED lights synced to music
  • Four different pad modes
  • Free software included

The type of DJ software that the company includes with this controller is the CUE PROFESSIONAL DJ SOFTWARE. It is a reliable software that empowers DJs to mix, scratch, and sample audio tracks. It has complete compatibility with most audio files. 

You can also use mobile apps such as EDJING and DJAY with the NUMARK PARTY MIX DJ CONTROLLER.

MIDI LAUNCHPAD

A Midi launchpad is a type of controller that is mostly pads for triggering and looping pre-loaded samples and tracks.

  • NOVATION LAUNCHPAD

(Price: $150)

This device is a party machine. Great for EDM, Dubstep and trap music. Play live with this thing by triggering samples that match tempo so you would never miss a beat.

Key Features:

  • Ableton Live connectivity
  • 64 RGB pads with LED
  • Samples pre-loaded
  • Assignable pads
  • Loop machine
  • Volume and pan knobs

MIDI PADS

You can use Midi pads for playing other instruments like drums or ambient pads. You can also assign samples to make the pads function as launch pads. You can trigger loops and samples depending on the software or app you are using.

A good example of a Midi controller that has a lot of features is the AKAI MPK 49. For the price of $400, it is a combination of Akai’s best Midi features. The keys are semi-weighted for a nice piano-like feel. It is am excellent Midi controller with most of the features that you want in a controller. Right out of the box, you can select the DAW of your choice using the LCD selector, and it will map out the Midi functions automatically.

SYNTH APPS/SOFTWARE

Synth apps and software are usually the DAWs and VST plugins you use on your computer. DAWs like Garageband, Logic X PRO, KORG GADGET 2, and CUBASE are loaded with synth and keyboard presets.

KEYBOARD WORKSTATION

A Keyboard Workstation is an ultimate home studio tool for most piano and keyboard players. It is like an arranger keyboard loaded with more functions such as a stand-alone hardware audio workstation where you can write, arrange and record songs directly on the device.

Usually, Keyboard Workstations are loaded with tons of sounds and other instrument emulation like drums, brass, sound effects, and more.

Here are a couple of examples of excellent high-end keyboard workstations:

  • KORG KRONOS KEYBOARD WORKSTATION SYNTHESIZER

(Price: $3,500)

A keyboard workstation is a keyboard that is loaded with its kind of DAW where you can create quality tracks within the keyboard.

The KORG Kronos’ design is sleek and straightforward. The user interface on the screen is straightforward and easy to use. This keyboard is like a DAW with thousands of plugins but put onboard a real keyboard.

Grade A pianists like Jordan Rudess from the band Dream Theater use this keyboard.

The KORG KRONOS features:

  • 73 weighted hammer-action keys that provide an authentic piano feel
  • 8” color touch view display
  • 4-way joystick
  • Ribbon controller
  • Nine sound engines
  • Thousands of sounds and effects
  • Easy-to-use controls for arranging and creating music
  • 16 extensive effect processors
  • 3 -band equalizer for each effect
  • YAMAHA MONTAGE SYNTHESIZER WORKSTATION

(Price: $3,500)

This synthesizer workstation has a modern design. The Montage has a very beautifully designed user interface that is pleasing to the eye and is such a breeze to use.

Compared to the KRONOS, the Montage’s user interface is less cluttered. The LED light on the buttons looks nice.

Yamaha has been making keyboards for a long time, and they do not disappoint when it comes to their signature sounds.

The Yamaha Montage features:

  • Motion control synthesis engine
  • Motion sequences are tempo-synchronized
  • Pure analog circuit for more powerful output
  • Has a “super knob” that can be assigned to adjust different parameters like pan, reverb, and filter
  • Envelope follower
  • USB audio and MIDI connection
  • Touch screen
  • Rotary encoders
  • Cubase AI bundle

FUNCTIONS/FEATURES

To choose the right keyboard, here are some features you need to consider depending on your needs.

SIZE

Consider the size of your space where you will be placing the keyboard in your home music studio. If you are putting it in front of your desk, you may consider a smaller keyboard or midi controller.

ACTION

If you are a piano player, consider getting a keyboard with weighted or semi-weighted keys. Usually, Digital pianos are the right choice, but some smaller keyboards have weighted keys that give the user an authentic piano feel with a broader selection of tones.

MIDI CONNECTIVITY

If you plan to record directly to a computer, you should consider getting a keyboard with USB and Midi connectivity. Having a USB port will be easier for recording in terms of capturing sound directly to your DAW.

EDITOR

Some keyboards allow you to edit the tones by use of either knobs and buttons, or patching cables. Some synthesizers also have computer software for more straightforward editing.

MULTI TONES

An excellent feature for a keyboard is the ability to layer multiple tones all at once. Having layering features allows the user to bust out their creative side and create and save user presets.

KEYBOARD SPLITTING

Some keyboard players prefer a keyboard that has a splitting feature. A splitting feature means splitting two to three parts of your keyboard to use different tones at once. For example, for the lower octaves, the user can assign bass tones, and assign lead tones on the higher keys.

MULTI INSTRUMENTS

Sometimes you would need to emulate multiple instruments for your songs. Some keyboards have built-in sounds of other musical instruments like violins, brass, and wind instruments. Some VSTs have a lot more tools to offer.

BLUETOOTH CONNECTIVITY

Some Midi controllers can be connected to your computer or mobile device via Bluetooth for more convenience.

INPUT/OUTPUT

Consider the types of inputs and outputs you will need. For recording purposes, it is ideal to have both ¼” jack and USB outputs. Most modern synths and keyboards have the necessary inputs and outputs for playing live as well as recording.

SEQUENCER

A sequencer is a tool used for arranging a sequence of a song or a performance. Arranger keyboards and keyboard workstations usually have these features. You can also sequence a song with a laptop or mobile device by using their software and apps.

ARPEGGIATOR

An arpeggiator is a useful and productive feature in a keyboard and synth. This feature creates cool patterns for the tones.

OCTAVE SHIFT

Some synthesizers that are shorter and have fewer keys have an octave shifter. This feature allows you to switch on which part of the keyboard you want to play.

PITCH AND MODULATION

These features are usually sliding wheels on the left side of a keyboard or synth. These wheels are used to manipulate pitch and modulation in real-time. You can assign the pitch level up to octaves higher and lower. For sound, you can designate which effect type you want to control, such as filter, delay, reverb, slicer, etc.

POLYPHONIC/MONO

A polyphonic synth is a type of synth you can play multiple notes a time to play chords. Monophonic keyboards are usually for synth bass and synth leads.

RELATED INFORMATION

DRUM MACHINES AND SAMPLERS

Sampling is an effective way of writing music. Having an external drum machine is perfect for creating hip-hop, electronica, house music, etc.  You can load the pads with electronic as well as acoustic drum samples.

Here are some examples of capable drum machines and samplers:

  • Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator

(Price: $89)

This tiny sampler module can make samples up to 40 seconds. It is an excellent product for beatmakers and producers alike.

Key Features:

  • Built-in microphone for recording
  • 1/8” headphone and output jack
  • 8 melodic sample slots for triggering samples chronologically
  • 8 drum sample slots for playing drum samples with one shot
  • 16-step sequencer for arranging patterns
  • Ability to create and save complex sequences
  • Built-in speakers
  • Battery efficient
  • KORG Volca Beats Analog Drum Machine

(Price: $150)

The Volca Beats is an analog type of drum machine that creates real analog sounds that resemble classic rhythm machines. The unique keyboard style of this drum machine can be either a trigger pad for samples or use it as a keyboard and press to play.

Key Features:

  • 16-step style sequencer
  • Built-in speaker
  • Optional battery power for on-the-go playing and mobile recording
  • 6 editable parts
  • One knob per function for more straightforward editing
  • Stutter function for repeating triggers in different styles
  • Roland Rhythm Composer TR-08

(Price $380)

The TR-08 is the ultra-light and compact version of the classic Roland TR-808 drum machine. This drum machine retains the sound, aesthetic, and overall character of the Roland TR-808, but in a smaller and compact build.

Key Features:

  • Hands-on control of tone, level, tuning and decay
  • Added effects like compressor, gain, tune and Pan for selected instruments
  • Programmable trigger keys
  • Battery operated
  • 10 separate outputs
  • USB output

KAOSSILATOR

The KORG Kaossillator is a unique kind of synth where you can produce sound by sliding your fingers on an X/Y pad.

  • KORG KAOSSILATOR 2S

(Price: $110)

 The smaller version of the KORG KAOSSILATOR. This tiny device can sound like a synth beast with all the built-in presets and effects.

Key Features:

  • 150 sound programs
  • Loop recorder with overdub, undo and redo phrase
  • Ableton live connectivity for workflow use

KAOSSPAD

A Kaoss Pad is an exciting piece of equipment where the user can manipulate effects in real-time, to make the synth sounds and samples more interesting.

  • KORG KP3+ KAOSS PAD DYNAMIC EFFECTS SAMPLER

(Price: $300)

The KP3+ is a dynamic effects sampler that enables the user to modulate different effects on live sound or samples in real-time. The practical functions of the Kaosspad are straightforward to use for live performances as well as home music production. The futuristic look and the advanced features of the KP3+ are very pleasing to the eye.

Key Features:

  • 150 effects for remixing for live gigs or in studio
  • FX release, mute, and pad motion functions
  • USB, MIDI, and SD card support
  • 42 new and improved effects
  • Looper with unlimited overdubs, undo and redo
  • Vinyl break
  • Ducking compressor

ARE YOU A KEYBOARD OR PIANO PLAYER?

The main difference between a keyboardist and pianist is the style of playing. A piano player sticks to one type of tone and plays the piano as one instrument.

Keyboardists, on the other hand, have to learn more techniques on the technical side of playing, like how to emulate the sound of different instruments such as synthesizers and pads.

A pianist can be a keyboardist and vice versa, and both are equally different. You can consider these two as distinct disciplines.

EXPAND YOUR KNOWLEDGE

If you are a good piano player, you might want to expand on the technical aspects. You do not have to be a good piano player to be a producer. If you are already good with instruments such as the piano or guitar, try to learn ways to use your talent in recording and to produce music.

Recording and producing is an excellent way to spend your free time if you are passionate about music. It also helps you capture the music that you create in high-quality.

CONCLUSION

For choosing a keyboard, the most important thing to consider is the purpose. All the other factors are secondary concerns to help you make a decision. For a recording studio at home, an ideal choice would be a smaller and more versatile style of a keyboard or a synthesizer. If you have a larger room and an even larger budget, organic and analog synth modules sound significantly real than software-based synth sounds. Professional producers and musicians usually combine the use of the two.

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