Keyboard workstations are like having an entire music studio built right into your keyboard. They are a combination of music production, live performance, and live or step recording of sounds and songs. You’ll find all kinds of features in your workstation, such as synthesizers, multiple sound modules, EQ, effects, and audio and midi recording so you can create any kind of song, sound, or track you can imagine.
Whether you are a weekend warrior and home musician or a musical pro on the go, you’re going to need the right equipment to accomplish your musical goals. In this article, we’ll talk about the six best keyboard workstations, their features, and why we chose them for this list. Let’s get started.
The Roland FANTOM-08 is a weighted-action 88-key synth keyboard that includes both touchscreen control and computer integration for the ultimate flexibility. You can easily connect your workstation to Roland Cloud for extra sound banks, create and store your own templates right in the keyboard, and record audio right onto the keyboard, as well. This streamlined workstation gives you plenty of power, flexibility, and control over your music at a very reasonable price. This is an excellent choice for recording tracks to use during live performances.
The Yamaha Montage 8 is an all-around, hardworking workstation. It features Yamaha’s flagship sound engines to give you the richest, fullest sounds. You’ll find this 88 balanced action keyboard with aftertouch gives you a nice feel for performing and recording, so you can apply effects while playing. You can connect it to your digital audio workstation with the MIDI USB ports or simply record into the 16-track sequencer if you don’t have one. A favorite feature is the superknob, which allows you to control the real-time sound effects of your choice.
The Yamaha MOXF6 Production Workstation is a 61-key, semi-weighted keyboard with a wide variety of sounds produced by an outstanding sound engine. This keyboard excels in synthesizer sounds, making it a great choice for electronic music. The built-in sequencer, along with USB MIDI capability, gives you the flexibility to manage all of your music creations. This workstation is also lightweight and portable for playing and recording on the go.
The KRONOS is a powerful instrument with the most up-to-date musical technology on board. This workstation includes nine sound engines to give you the most realistic rich sounds, plenty of onboard effects, and it also has an impressive color screen with drag and drop capabilities. Don’t forget the available sound expansion libraries that will give you even more sounds to work with when creating your tracks. You can use up to 16 effects at a time with the onboard EQ, although the impressive soundbanks mean you might not even need to sculpt your own sounds with so many distinctive sounds available to you.
This 61 key velocity-sensitive workstation gives you plenty of bang for your buck. This keyboard has plenty of performance options, with almost 800 different sounds that can be layered across keys or split into upper and lower keys. If you get too bogged down in your layers, easily return to the grand piano with just the touch of a button.
The onboard sequencer supports MP3 and WAV audio, along with MIDI, USB MIDI, USB out, and stereo I/O for all kinds of recording and performance options. In addition, this lightweight workstation can be powered by batteries, so you can easily take it just about anywhere to perform or record.
Before we discuss the criteria we used in choosing the best keyboard workstation, we should take a quick look at what a keyboard workstation really is. A keyboard workstation is a professional keyboard with all of the sounds you would expect, along with additional synth sounds, effects, music creation tools, sequencing, editing, and even sound creation. A workstation is great if you don’t use a digital audio workstation.
In addition, you’ll find expansive sound banks and sound editing tools, and even audio recording. So you can write, perform, and record with a single piece of equipment or integrate with a PC or laptop. To put it simply, the best keyboard workstations will give you much more power, capability, and options than a simple keyboard.
You may want to consider a few criteria while shopping for a new keyboard workstation.
Budget is always a consideration. First, you want to get the best instrument for your needs that you can actually afford. But if your budget is restrictive, you may need to pick and choose what features are the most important to you. For example, will you be using your workstation to perform? Or just to record? Do you need extensive sound libraries, or will you create your own? Will you integrate with a digital audio workstation or work solely from the keyboard?
Know how much money you are comfortably able to spend so you can pick the best keyboard workstation for your needs. Workstations are available in a wide range of price points.
Don’t take the user interface for granted, as sometimes these can be clunky to learn and hard to remember all of the commands and controls. Many of these workstations include an LED drag and drop screen so that you can access sounds, controls, effects, and sequences more easily. If you aren’t tech-savvy, make sure you keep ease of use in the forefront or you’ll spend more time trying to figure out how to use the keyboard workstation than you will creating music with it.
If you are a pianist at heart, you might want to consider a keyboard workstation with a full 88-key, weighted action keyboard to give you the most realistic feeling possible. In addition, a weighted keyboard will help you with your musical expression, tone, and feel, which is especially important if you will be using your workstation for live performances as well as recording. On the other hand, if an acoustic piano isn’t your main thing, you might be just as happy with fewer keys and either semi-weighted or synth-weighted keys. Some synth players prefer semi-weighted or synth-action keys because they are easier to play and don’t require as much hand strength.
If you are doing lots of recording of other types of instruments, the size and feel of the keyboard maybe even less important because you can input notes one at a time or with a computer.
Many keyboard workstations will allow you to record sounds, also called sampling, create new sounds, or edit existing sounds so you can get exactly the sound you need. They’ll have lots of onboard sounds that you can use to create new ones. You can create and apply effects, as well. The higher-end the workstation, the more sound banks you’ll have to use. You can create your own analog-type sounds for electronic music or record instruments or voices and recreate that sound across the keyboard at different pitches.
Every brand of workstation offers a different level of sound creation.
A good workstation will have an onboard sequencer. You can record various soundtracks, instruments, and layers to give you a complete sound or create background tracks that you can play or sing along to when you are performing live.
For example, you may want to record a drum track, a base line, and an acoustic guitar track on the keyboard workstation. Then, in a live performance setting, you can recall this track and perform along with it live by playing piano and singing, if you desire.
Some workstations will also enable you to record live audio to the tracks as well as MIDI, which you can then export as a WAV file or MP3.
If you don’t want to use the onboard recorder, in most cases, you can connect to a computer with a digital audio workstation via MIDI or USB.
Keyboard workstations also have onboard effects processing. You can apply these effects to individual tracks, instruments, MIDI, and audio files. For example, you may want to add reverb, robotic effects, chorus, or sustain, just to name a few. Workstations will also have EQ to shape the sounds you hear and the ability to mix the tracks so you hear exactly what you want to hear.
Because workstations are meant to create recordings and live performances, the sound quality is far more critical than it would be on a beginner keyboard. They’ll have a wide range of instruments, many of which are sampled or recorded from live instruments. You’ll find everything from pianos, orchestral instruments, band instruments, drums, strings, and synth sounds.
You’ll want to make sure you choose a workstation with professional quality sounds and maximum polyphony so it can play everything you need it to.
Most workstations will have some amount of onboard memory in order to use the sequencer and track recorder. In addition, some workstations may have expandable slots, USB ports, or other means of storing sounds or expanding the memory.
If you are going to use your workstation with a digital audio workstation on your computer or laptop, you’ll want to make sure it has the correct inputs and outputs to do what you need.
Does it have 5-pin MIDI or USB connectivity? What about Bluetooth?
Many workstations will also have audio I/o, while MIDI controllers will only have MIDI i/o.
With all of the fantastic modern technology available, it was hard enough to choose keyboard workstations for this list and even harder to choose a favorite. But the best all-around keyboard workstation would have to be the Roland Fantom 08.
First of all, this keyboard is a full 88 keys with weighted keys, giving you the best acoustic piano feel for live performance and musical nuance, especially with its realistic-sounding grand piano sounds.
The color touchscreen makes it easier to access all of the features on this workstation, including the onboard sequencer and sampling functions, which means you can create your own sounds and your own songs. If you don’t want to create your own sampled sounds, don’t worry because there are thousands of high-quality sounds to choose from with plenty of assignable knobs, sliders, pads, and synths to work with, as well.
This keyboard workstation is reasonably affordable for all of its features, so it’s a great choice for the experienced professional as well as the electronic music student. In addition, Roland doesn’t skimp on sound quality or recording features, so this workstation will be equally at home on the performance stage as well as in the studio.
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