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Best stage pianos 2021: our pick of the finest keyboards for live performance

Close-up of hands playing a Roland stage piano
(Image credit: Roland)

Looking at buying one of the best stage pianos? Perhaps, you're getting back into gigging again, or you've got a cushty number working in theatre or a place of worship. Maybe you're planning to take your band out on the road for the very first time, or you're a singer songwriter who dreams of having an instrument more versatile than a guitar to accompany you.

Whatever your reasons for wanting a stage piano, you've probably already worked out that a simple home keyboard isn't going to cut it on tour. Stage pianos are built tough for the rough and tumble of gigging so that they'll work reliably night after night. More often than not, they also feature stage-friendly top panels that are easy to navigate even under the gloomiest stage lighting.

Unsurprisingly, stage pianos are biased towards producing fantastic piano sounds, both acoustic and electric (EP), and they'll almost certainly boast some wonderful organ models too. That may be enough for you, but if you work in theatre you'll want a whole orchestra under your fingertips – everything from reedy woodwinds to pizzicato strings. Some stage pianos feature a broader range of sounds than others, so you'll need to pick wisely.

In this guide we'll be taking you through many of the best stage pianos available today, aimed at a variety of gigging needs and budgets.

Looking for a great Black Friday music deal? Check out our Black Friday keyboard piano deals page for all the latest news and the biggest stage piano offers.

Best stage pianos: Our top picks

Every performance should contain a little theatre, whether you're performing in the world's largest stadiums, your local pub or, ahem, a little theatre. Stagecraft, the way you look and dress, the image you portray to your audience, the kit you bring on stage – all of these qualities contribute something positive to your performance. 

That's why we love the Korg SV-2S, it looks like nothing else and says so much about you before you even strike a note. When you do, it sounds sublime. It's not all show and no go either, make no mistake this is a fully formed stage piano that excels at EP and organ sounds but has every other base covered too. It's also effortless to operate. 

Returning back down to earth, the Yamaha CP88 is a plainer looking alternative but it's incredibly well thought-out and beautifully put together. It has all those iconic Yamaha acoustic piano sounds, the CP series sounds from the 70s and a whole lot more. It is also very well priced, punching well above its weight in both sound quality and features.

If your budget doesn't stretch to the full fat stage pianos above, Casio's new PX S-1100 is a more pocket-friendly and lightweight alternative for the casual gigging musician or busker. While it doesn't offer all the bells and whistles of the more expensive models, what it does have is improved sounds, Bluetooth connectivity, portability and optional battery power.

Best stage pianos: Product guide

Best stage pianos: Korg SV-2S 88

(Image credit: Korg)

1. Korg SV-2S 88

A fine vintage, even for those with modern tastes

Specifications
Launch price: $2,499/£1,750/€2,049
Keyboard: 88 velocity sensitive weighted hammer action
Sound engines: : Piano, EP, Clavier/Organ, Other (Strings, Synth, Brass etc)
Polyphony: 128 voices
Layers/Splits: Yes
Amp modelling: Yes
Effects: Comp, Boost, Modulation, Delay, Reverb
MIDI I/O: In/Out
Speakers: Yes
Connectivity: XLR Audio out L/R, headphone, audio in, MIDI, USB, 3 pedal inputs
Weight: 47.29 lbs (21.45 kg)
Reasons to buy
+Looks rad+Sounds rad+Vintage and modern sounds+Intuitive top panel+Speakers
Reasons to avoid
-Cheaper non-speaker version saves 1kg (2.2lb)-No mod wheels

Wow, if this isn't the raddest looking stage piano out there, we don't know what is. Stick it in the back of your Airstream and let the world tour begin! 

As you'd expect, there is an eclectic collection of vintage sounds here including almost every American tine and reed EP, as well as a Japanese electric grand. Then there's the clavinets, tone-wheel organs, Vox combos and tube organs, the 70s analogue strings – the list goes on.

All can be soaked in retro warmth by the similarly vintage amp section that includes models with familiar names like Twin, Tweed and AC30. Then, there's that glowing 12AX7 to add some smooth drive when needed. 

The SV-2 isn't entirely stuck in a Googie time warp though, not by any means. There are some truly gorgeous, timeless acoustic piano models, plus mallets, brass, pads and even modern FM synth tones. Three timbre layers are possible that, with the 128-voice polyphony, can inspire some genuinely cinematic soundscapes.

There's no LED screen, the top panel is so well-thought out the SV2 doesn't require one, and it lacks mod wheels, but you can hook three foot pedals up to control everything from sostenuto to wah. 

The internal speakers look cool, sound great and are useful for practice, monitoring and very intimate gigs. However, if you don't need them there's a lighter, non-speaker version that will be kinder to your wallet and your back. Similarly, there's a more compact 73 key model too.

Best stage pianos: Roland RD-2000

(Image credit: Roland)

2. Roland RD-2000

A stage piano primarily for pianists

Specifications
Launch price: $2,699/£1,798/€2,099
Keyboard: 88 key progressive hammer action keyboard
Sound engines: : Acoustic Piano, EP Piano + Other (Organs, Strings, Synth, Brass etc)
Polyphony: unlimited
Layers/Splits: Yes
Amp modelling: Yes
Effects: Modulation, Reverb, Delay, Comp, EQ, Sympathetic resonance
MIDI I/O: In/Out/Thru
Speakers: No
Connectivity: XLR Audio out L/R, sub out, headphone, audio in, MIDI, USB, 4 pedal inputs
Weight: 47.8 lbs (21.7 kg)
Reasons to buy
+World-class piano sounds+Premium PHA-50 keyboard+Hands-on control+LED light tracking
Reasons to avoid
-None really

Roland says it has developed the RD-2000 to deliver the best possible playing experience for performing pianists, as well as the finest piano sounds for their audiences, regardless of genre. Here, it's all about the piano sounds.

Look up the word 'slab' in the dictionary and you'll find a photo of the RD-2000. Its design is brutal, functional, no-nonsense – a long strip of the darkest brushed aluminium. The somewhat plain looking top panel features a strip of eight rotary encoders, a panel of nine sliders, buttons for selecting banks/sounds, three mod wheels/levers and a small screen. 

You're very much in the driver's seat with the RD-2000, the multi-function rotary knobs and sliders provide plenty of hands-on granular control for sounds and effects. They are all tracked with LED indicators too, so it's easy to keep an eye on your settings under dim stage lighting. In fact, almost every control on the RD-2000 is lit. 

The keyboard is Roland's premium PHA-50 progressive hammer-action model with escapement and wood/plastic hybrid keys with ivory feel. This gives a 'grand' feel, so acoustic pianists will be right at home. Organists and synth players may need to adjust their playing styles accordingly.

There are two sound engines. Roland's V-Piano engine takes care of the acoustic models, while its SuperNatural engine delivers the electric pianos. V-Piano sounds are entirely modelled, which gives the added advantage of full-keyboard polyphony for a fuller, more authentic acoustic piano experience. SuperNatural sounds are partially sample based and have a max polyphony of 128.

Frankly, Roland nailed piano sounds years ago, they're some of the very best out there. Only you can decide whether you prefer its interpretations to Yamaha's, Kawai's or some other brand.

It's a given that Roland has chosen to shine the spotlight brightly on the piano sounds with the RD-2000. Nevertheless, it also features an additional 1,100 sounds that cover everything from vintage synths to brass. You can map different sounds to eight separate key range zones and save up to 100 different snapshots of your entire keyboard setup, making performances less of a performance.

Best stage pianos: Yamaha CP88

(Image credit: Yamaha)

Enviable quality from a past-master of fine piano tones

Specifications
Launch price: $2,599/£1,777/€2,079
Keyboard: 88 key natural wood graded hammer action
Sound engines: : Acoustic Piano, EP Piano + Subsidiary (Organs, Strings, Synth, Brass etc)
Polyphony: 128
Layers/Splits: Yes
Amp modelling: No
Effects: Modulation, Reverb, Delay, Comp, EQ, Damper resonance
MIDI I/O: In/Out
Speakers: No
Connectivity: XLR Audio out L/R, headphone, audio in, MIDI, USB, 4 pedal inputs
Weight: 41 lbs (18.6 kg)
Reasons to buy
+Yamaha acoustic piano sounds+Yamaha EP sounds+Quality keyboard(s) feel+Intuitive control panel+Simplicity, a joy to use+Good value
Reasons to avoid
-No dedicated stand

Yamaha knows a thing or two about pianos. It's been making fine acoustics for more than 130 years – provided your mansion is big enough it's quite easy to drop more than $/£100,000 on a Yamaha Grand. It would be just perfect in the corner of your chintz-lined music room…

For the rest of us, its sample-based digital piano tones are up there with the very best.

It has a strong pedigree in stage pianos too, launching its iconic CP-80 EP in the late-70s. In no time the Yamaha EP signature was heard all over the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.

The CP88 is a natural successor to the CP-80, combining those 70s sounds with legendary tine and reed EP models, together with a generous sprinkling of classic Yamaha acoustics.

This is a beautifully made unit – the case is matt black aluminium – adorned with a plethora of quality knobs, soft touch buttons and metal switches. It certainly feels durable enough for life on the road despite being relatively lightweight.

There's a cool retro industrial vibe to the control panel, including the chunky yellow, red and green rocker switches that are used to scroll through the Piano, EP and Subsections – a throwback to switches used by Yamaha in the 70s. The panel layout is clear, smart, very logical and immediately accessible for making changes on the fly.

Yamaha has specified a triple sensor, graded hammer action keyboard on the CP88 model because it's the one most likely to appeal to pianists. The very similar, but more compact, CP73 features a balanced key action more suited to EP players. We found both to be fast and expressive, just different.

Back to the sounds. You get six premium acoustic grand pianos and three uprights, mostly based on classic and current Yamaha models. There are a further nine EP models plus a host of organs, FM pianos and more. Finally, the Sub section reveals an entire library of synth and orchestral sounds that includes a seemingly infinite variety of pads, leads, strings, brass and percussion. 

Each section has its own volume and tone knob, as well as dedicated effects for further sound shaping.

Does the CP88 sound any good? As you'd expect from a top-notch Yamaha, the acoustic pianos and EPs sound glorious. There's so little to fault here – the sounds, the keyboard, the control panel – we couldn't stop playing it.

Once again, only you can decide whether you prefer the way this Yamaha feels and sounds to its premium rivals.

Read our full Yamaha CP88 review

Best stage pianos: Nord Stage 3 Compact

(Image credit: Nord)

Compact in size, colossal in features

Specifications
Launch price: $3,799/£2,555/€2,999
Keyboard: 73 key semi-weighted waterfall board with aftertouch
Sound engines: : Organ, Piano, Synth with sample playback
Polyphony: 120
Layers/Splits: Yes
Amp modelling: No
Effects: Modulation, Reverb, Delay, Comp, EQ
MIDI I/O: In/Out
Speakers: No
Connectivity: 4 x assignable outputs, headphone, audio in, MIDI, USB, 5 pedal inputs
Weight: 22 lbs (10 kg)
Reasons to buy
+Nord Piano Library+Sampled sounds+Nord Lead A1 Synth+Build quality+Clear, easy-to-use controls
Reasons to avoid
-Not cheap

It seems almost impossible to believe that the very first Nord Stage was only launched about 16 years ago. Since then, Nord has gone on to dominate the professional stage piano market and its Stage keyboard is now on iteration three. 

Watch almost anyone of note playing keys on a professional stage and it's likely they'll be tickling the faux ivories on a claret-coloured slab – a Nord of one flavour or another. What is it about these boards that performers love so much?

The Stage 3 comes with complete access to the superb and very extensive Nord Piano Library, which is chock-a-block with grand pianos, uprights, vintage electric pianos, harpsichords and clavinets. More models are added regularly, so owners can look forward to regular enhancements. 

It has access to the Nord Sample Library too. This is a go-to collection of guitars, orchestral strings, brass, accordions, tuned percussion, woodwind – you name it, the Sample Library should have it.

The Stage 3 is also coveted for Nord's award-winning B3 Tonewheel organ simulation, which is simply killer. The compact Stage 3 even features real physical drawbars for the most authentic playing experience.

Of course, Yamaha can rival these sounds, as can Roland, Korg and pretty much every other brand in this guide. However, the Stage 3's USP, its pièce de resistance, is the Nord Lead A1 Synth Engine with sample playback. Instead of giving you a smattering of synth sounds, Nord provides an entire, configurable synth.

So that almost anyone can get up to speed quickly with usable sounds the Lead A1 is programmed using what Nord terms 'Smart Oscillator Configurations'. These configurations are essentially multiple oscillator recipes that ensure noobs don't immediately venture too far off-piste, but they're plenty powerful enough for seasoned sound designers.

The control panel is orderly and coherent, and the quality of the knobs, sliders, switchgear and OLED screens is first class. All sorts of sophisticated splits, layers, songs, seamless transitions and crossfades are possible without laborious menu-diving.

The 73-note compact version of the Stage 3 uses a semi-weighted waterfall keyboard but the 76 and 86 versions are available with hammer action keys. The quality of the keyboard, indeed the whole unit, is faultless but that's to be expected at this price.

Read our full Nord Stage 3 Compact review

Casio PX S-1100

(Image credit: Casio)

Battery-powered, go-anywhere keys for less

Specifications
Launch price: $649/£555/€669
Keyboard: 88-key weighted hammer action
Sound engines: : Multi Dimensional Morphing AiR (Piano + Sub)
Polyphony: 192
Layers/Splits: Yes
Amp modelling: No
Effects: Reverb, Chorus, Surround
MIDI I/O: USB
Speakers: Yes
Connectivity: Audio out L/R, 2 x headphone, USB Type A & Type B, Damper, Pedal Unit
Weight: 24.6 lbs (11.2 kg)
Reasons to buy
+Inexpensive+Slim+Lightweight+Can be battery powered+Internal speakers
Reasons to avoid
-Only 18 sounds-Build quality isn't the most robust

Casio markets its PX-S1100 as both an amateur home piano and a professional stage piano, a split personality that, once you understand it, is more coherent than you'd expect.

New for 2021, this affordable 88-key Casio is really just a mild refresh of its bestselling PX-S1000 piano that it introduced at NAMM in 2019. That model won a Red-Dot Design award for its smart, clean looks, and wowed pianists with Casio's claim that it was the slimmest 88-key portable piano on the market.

The refresh sees an improved grand piano voice, a speaker upgrade, Bluetooth enhancements and some small cosmetic changes. All minor stuff, but welcome nonetheless.

The PX-S1100 betrays its amateur leanings with its less than powerful 16-watt speaker system and dual-headphone outs (one for teacher, one for student). The range of sounds on offer is a rather paltry 18 too.

It's not all bad news for the gigging musician though, far from it. Those sounds may be few but they're rather good. The Grand Piano Concert patch is full, resonant, harmonically rich and detailed, thanks to Casio's 'multi-dimensional morphing technology'. Technobabble aside, Casio has worked hard to capture how the timbre of a note changes over time, depending on how hard the key is struck.

The rest of the patches are all usable solid choices too – strings, EPs, pipe organs and electric organs. Thankfully, there's nothing gimmicky here, and as you'd expect it’s easy to program splits and layers.

What makes it a good choice for gigging? Its slim design and light weight make it easy to transport just about anywhere. You don't even need power because the PX-S1100 can be run for up to four hours on just six AA batteries. 

Plug a battery-powered speaker or PA into the stereo lineouts and, to paraphrase the Bard, the 'whole world is your stage, and all the men and women merely piano players...' What a fantastic instrument for busking and impromptu outdoor performances.

Just be aware that Casio have had to make some, well, let's just call them optimisations, to squeeze an entire 88-key weighted hammer action keyboard into such a small enclosure. Some users seem to love the action, but others are less keen so it's worth trying before you buy. Or purchase the PX-S1100 from a retailer with a good returns policy.

Read the full Casio PX-S1100 review

Best stage pianos: Kawai MP 11 SE

(Image credit: Kawai)

6. Kawai MP 11 SE

An authentic experience for proper pianists

Specifications
Launch price: $2,995/£1,875/€2,190
Keyboard: 88 wooden key Grand Feel hammer action
Sound engines: : Acoustic Piano, EP Piano + Subsidiary (Strings, Pads, Harpsichord/mallet and Bass)
Polyphony: 256
Layers/Splits: Yes
Amp modelling: Yes
Effects: 129 types
MIDI I/O: In/Out/Thru
Speakers: No
Connectivity: Audio out L/R, headphone, audio in, MIDI, USB, 2 x pedal input + GFP-3 3 pedal unit
Weight: 74.8 lbs (34 kg)
Reasons to buy
+Authentic grand piano action+Superlative piano sounds+Perfect for 'proper' pianists
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Not very versatile

Kawai digital pianos are known for three things: they sound extraordinary, they have some of the finest keyboard feel/actions in the business and they look like they've been designed with a ruler and set square. If you can live with the ingot-style looks they're fabulous pianos. 

Kawai has a proud history of producing acoustic grands, and it gives the impression of taking quality tremendously seriously. It's produced synths, drum machines and electric guitars in the past but we've always associated it and its products with classical piano players – 'proper' pianists.

True to form, Kawai has dubbed the MP 11 SE as 'the pianist's stage piano'. Certainly, the Grand Feel keyboard, which boasts the longest wooden keys with the longest pivot (accurately mimicking a grand piano's keys) is very seductive if that level of authenticity is critical to your playing style.

Of the 12 acoustic piano sounds the three standouts are the reproductions of Kawai's Grand Concert pianos – the Shigeru Kawai SK-EX, SK-5 and Kawai EX. Only one sound is taken from an upright, and only three are aimed at 'pop' applications.

There are a further 12 solid electric piano sounds that include reed, tine and FM models. All can be played through Kawai's thorough amp modelling section, which includes five thinly disguised imitations of famous vintage amps.

The Subsidiary section – non-piano sounds – is high in quality but low on choice. We're so used to sound libraries with hundreds of sounds it comes as a bit of a shock to discover that the MP 11 SE has just 16, split equally between strings, pads, harpsichord/mallet and bass.

Kawai has nailed its colours to the mast with the MP 11 SE. If you're a classical or jazz player looking for what is perhaps the most authentic acoustic experience available on a stage piano, and you have little use for subsidiary sounds, then this is the model for you.

If you need more versatility then take a look at Kawai's cheaper MP 7 SE stage piano, which is slightly less pianist focussed and has an additional 200 or so sounds.

Best stage pianos: Studiologic Numa X Piano GT

(Image credit: Studiologic)

7. Studiologic Numa X Piano GT

Stage piano, mixer and audio interface in one. Clever

Specifications
Launch price: $1,999/£1,525/€1,799
Keyboard: 88 key Fatar weighted hammer action
Sound engines: : Acoustic Piano modelling, EP Piano modelling + Subsidiary
Polyphony: 300
Layers/Splits: Yes
Amp modelling: No
Effects: Modulation, Overdrive, EQ, Reverb, Delay
MIDI I/O: In/Out
Speakers: No
Connectivity: Audio out L/R, headphone, 4 x audio in, MIDI, USB, 2 x pedal input
Weight: 74.8 lbs (34 kg)
Reasons to buy
+Mixer+Interface+Total solution for small groups+Interactive colour coding+Simplicity+Handsome design
Reasons to avoid
-Will you ever use its additional capabilities?

The Numa X Piano GT is a slightly different take on the stage piano. Not satisfied with it just being a performance-ready keyboard, Fatar-owned Studiologic has developed the Numa X Piano GT to assume the role of mixer and audio interface too.

First the basics. This is a handsome looking keyboard that looks particularly characterful with its wooden end cheeks, coloured LED encoders and colour screen. It's refreshing to see a brand moving away from the usual mono black slabs of plastic and aluminium.

The premium Fatar Grand Touch graded hammer action keyboard with escapement and aftertouch feels fast and expressive, authentically like the real thing. Moving up, the top panel is remarkably spartan. There's a master volume, four rotary encoders with coloured LEDs, a TFT coloured screen surrounded by input and navigation buttons, a main dial/joystick, an eight-button sound bank and finally encoders for insert effects and master effects.

More than 200 modelled sounds can be accessed in the eight banks including all the usual suspects – acoustic pianos, electric pianos, organs, orchestral, synths and so on. If that's not enough then additional sounds are available via Studiologic's Numa Manager desktop app. 

Where it gets interesting is that four sounds, or zones, can be played at the same time. Each zone is allocated a colour that's reflected on the screen or on the rotary encoders whenever it is being adjusted in some way. So, it's easy to keep track of which sound you're working on. 

In addition, the output and other parameters of each of the four zones can be adjusted in the mixer. Layering sounds is nothing new, but the Numa X Piano GT makes this so easy that getting creative with the process becomes compelling.

Uniquely, the Numa X Piano GT also has four audio inputs that can be routed through the mixer and master effects. In practice, this means that you can plug in a four-piece band and use it as a mixer, effects unit and interface.

Of course, there's nothing to stop you just playing a single piano sound, but the Numa X Piano GT's additional capabilities make it an interesting proposition for small groups.

Best stage pianos: Arturia KeyLab 88 MkII

(Image credit: Arturia)

8. Arturia KeyLab 88 MkII

The multi-talented MIDI alternative

Specifications
Launch price: $999/£759/€899
Keyboard: Fatar 88-key weighted hammer action with aftertouch
Sound engines: : N/A Bundle includes Analog Lab, Ableton Live Lite, Piano V, Vox Continental V
Polyphony: N/A
Layers/Splits: Yes
Amp modelling: N/A
Effects: N/A
MIDI I/O: In/Out
Speakers: No
Connectivity: Pitch/Gate/Mod outputs, MIDI, 5 x Pedal Inputs, CV In, USB Connection
Weight: 24.6 lbs (11.2 kg)
Reasons to buy
+Relatively inexpensive+Multipurpose+Almost infinite sounds+Incredible build quality
Reasons to avoid
-No inbuilt sounds-Relies on laptop/mobile/tablet infrastructure-Additional setup/more to go wrong

The Arturia KeyLab 88 MkII is not really a stage piano. But then, strictly speaking, a stage piano is not a piano either. Both instruments – the MIDI controller and the stage piano – are emulating the sounds of pianos, organs, strings, brass and so on. The fundamental difference is that the stage piano has an internal sound engine, while the MIDI controller relies on an external device such as a laptop, tablet, phone or sound module/synth to provide sounds.

As such, the KeyLab 88 MkII can call on a wide range of software and hardware, arming it with an almost infinite number of sounds. The disadvantage is that it's not a self-contained unit, so there's always a bit more setting up to do, as well as the threat of more to go wrong.

Most, if not all the stage pianos in this buyer's guide are equipped with MIDI too, so they can also be repurposed as MIDI controllers. The difference is that the Keylab has been developed from the ground up to be closely integrated with software such as Ableton Live, as well as Arturia's very own Analog Lab.

Back to the hardware. You get a Fatar 88-key weighted hammer action keyboard with aftertouch, which is on par with the best in this guide. There are also sixteen RGB-backlit performance pads for triggering sounds, parameters or, more likely, tapping out percussion with your fingers. Nine rotary encoders and nine sliders can be allocated to anything you like, from modulation effects through to organ drawbars. Then, there are two weighted, metal pitch/mod wheels that are beautifully smooth in operation. Usefully, the mod wheel can be assigned to any parameter, not just modulation.

Sounds like a nightmare to set up, right? Well, not really. Straight out of the box the Keylab works seamlessly with major software releases such as Ableton Live, Logic Pro, Digital Performer, Cubase and so on. There's a user mode too, which enables you to customise every pad, knob and button to suit your own choice of software and hardware.

The Keylab is bundled with Ableton Live Lite and Analog Lab, plus three modelled instruments from Arturia's well-loved V Collection. Piano V, Wurli V and Vox Continental V are stunning emulations of their real namesakes and won't leave you wanting. Analog Lab provides a further 7,000 sounds that cover pretty much every genre and mood.

There's no inbuilt sequencer or arpeggiator, but it does support splits, layers and chord memory. You can, of course, build sequences and arpeggios in your software via MIDI. There's also extensive CV support, enabling you to hook up vintage synths and modular gear. 

As you've probably guessed, the Keylab is just as at home as the centrepiece of your studio, which may be a huge cost benefit to you. Its all-metal and wood construction means it's as tough as old boots, well-prepared for life on the road, but Arturia's French design team knows how to do style, so it looks fabulous in the studio too.

If its broad scope and versatility hasn't tempted you, perhaps its price will because the Keylab is significantly less expensive than a stage piano of similar quality. It's also available in smaller, cheaper, non-hammer action 61 and 49 key versions.

Only you can decide whether you prefer to gig with internal or external sounds. Both have compelling advantages and potentially serious disadvantages. Decisions, decisions…

Best stage pianos: Kurzweil SP6

(Image credit: Kurzweil)

9. Kurzweil SP6

Feature-rich stage piano that hides its complexity well

Specifications
Launch price: $1,499/£719/€849
Keyboard: 88 velocity sensitive, fully-weighted hammer action, keys
Sound engines: : 2 Gig of patches
Polyphony: 128 dynamically allocated
Layers/Splits: Yes
Amp modelling: No
Effects: 32 Fx Units
MIDI I/O: In/Out
Speakers: No
Connectivity: Audio out L/R, headphone, MIDI, USB, 3 x pedal inputs
Weight: 27 lbs (12.27 kg)
Reasons to buy
+Good value+Uncomplicated+Can load premium Kurzweil Forte patches+Generous timbrality for splits and layers+Lightweight
Reasons to avoid
-It's not a Nord, but who cares?

Looking for an easy-to-use stage piano that delivers bucket loads of quality sounds without breaking the bank? Something with 88 keys that's still light enough to lug from one gig to the next? Truthfully, isn't this what most working musicians want from a stage piano? 

The Kurzweil SP6 ticks all these boxes. There are two gigabytes of sample sounds, including high-definition Japanese and German grand pianos with string resonance. The KB3 ToneReal organs – authentically modelled from vintage classics – feature real-time performance controls and there are stacks of electric pianos, clavinets, brass, guitars, orchestral strings and more. You can even load patches from Kurzweil's premium Forte piano.

Thirty-two effects units can be chained in hundreds of configurations and it's possible to activate up to four independent arpeggiators for crazily complex rhythms. The SP6 is also 16-part multi-timbral and boasts dynamically allocated 128 voice polyphony. With all that timbrality and polyphony on tap, the SP6 just begs to be split and layered. 

Despite all these features, and we've only touched the surface here, the SP6 is remarkably straightforward to use. It really is just a matter of selecting a patch via the sound bank buttons, which are to the right of the screen, and hitting the fully-weighted hammer action keyboard.

Rotary encoders to the left of the screen can be assigned contextual functions from three easily accessible menus – pressing the neighbouring shift button cycles from one menu to the next. For example, the encoders can dial in effects, behave as drawbars for some of the organ patches or control zone volumes. Much of our time with the SP6 was spent playing the keyboard, while adjusting the rotary encoders. It's that simple.

Travelling with the SP6 is painless too. It's quite a big lump but it only weighs 27lb (12.27 kg).

Best stage pianos: Dexibell Vivo S3 Pro

(Image credit: Dexibell)

10. Dexibell Vivo S3 Pro

Italian flair for design and sound

Specifications
Launch price: $2,299/£1,359/€1,590
Keyboard: 73 triple contact hammer action
Sound engines: : T2L tone generator
Polyphony: Unlimited
Layers/Splits: Yes
Amp modelling: No
Effects: Reverb, 8 independent DSP effects x 17 types
MIDI I/O: In/Out/Thru
Speakers: No
Connectivity: XLR audio out L/R, unbalanced audio out, headphone, aux in, MIDI, USB, 4 x pedal input
Weight: 26 lbs (11.8 kg)
Reasons to buy
+Elegant looks+Sophisticated hybrid modelled sounds+Build quality+Simplicity+Made in Italy
Reasons to avoid
-Pricey

Just in case you've never heard of it, Dexibell is a premium 'Made in Italy' brand that's yet to celebrate its 10th birthday. Which means it has next to no heritage to cloud its bold product development vision.

Dexibell's ambition is to create a renaissance of digital musical instruments where old-world craftsmanship is combined with new-world technology. A world where innovation, tradition and music play harmoniously together.

We like the sentiment, but should we fall for the rather flowery hyperbole? Staring at the VIVO S3 Pro in front of us it's hard not to be impressed. This thing looks absolutely splendid, light years away from all the dull, black, molded plastic slabs we’re so used to seeing these days.

But how does it sound? Dexibell uses its proprietary 'True 2 Life' technology (yes, another flowery descriptor) to produce patches which, it turns out, is a sampling/modelling hybrid approach. Lots of music brands use sampling, modelling or a combination of the two but Dexibell claims to do things a little differently to max out the quality. 

While some manufacturers continue to work within the 16-bit/44.1KHz audio CD standard Dexibell uses higher definition 24-bit/48KHz for sampling and digital to analogue conversion. It also insists on what it calls an 'extra extra large' or XXL sample length of 15 seconds so that full harmonics are retained throughout the entire evolution of held notes. Finally, it's pianos use powerful quad core processors that are capable of yielding unlimited polyphony.

Certainly, the acoustic piano patches sounded magnificent, the dynamics helped in no small part by the lovely triple contact keybed. Most stage pianos boast the ability to seamlessly transition from one patch to another, but this performance is sometimes compromised, especially if effects are involved. Regardless of how hard we tried we couldn't catch the VIVO S3 Pro out, it behaved faultlessly.

The control panel is very clearly laid out making it a doddle to find our way around. Selecting patches, making splits and layers or applying effects is all child's play. We just wish the rotary encoders had LED meters like Dexibell's pricier S7 and S9 models.

This is an impressive stage piano that plays as good as it looks and sounds as good as it plays. Our only criticism is that the sound library, at just 113 patches, is quite small but additional sets can be downloaded from Dexibell's website. 

Best stage pianos: Buying advice

Roland RD-2000 stage piano on a stand

(Image credit: Roland)

What is a stage piano?

Good question, because most stage pianos look remarkably like the sort of inexpensive digital pianos or keyboards tucked away in people's homes. Big, dark slabs with a screen and lots of buttons.

Trust us, they're very different animals. Stage pianos are built for live performance, not home practice.

Stage piano build quality and weight

Stage pianos are made to take a pounding, performance after performance. They'll have tougher casings, and more robust switches and buttons. Rotary encoder stalks and slider poles will be made from metal, not plastic. The outer casing will almost certainly be aluminium too, although cheek-ends are commonly plastic or sometimes wood.

Conversely, a stage piano should be light, so that it's easy to carry from gig to gig. The good brands go to a lot of trouble developing stage pianos that perform like they're hewn from rock, but when it's time to pack them away they feel like there's nothing to them.

Woman plays her stage piano live on stage

(Image credit: Getty/recep-bg)

Speakers

Don't worry, you're not missing something here, there are none. Internal speakers aren't going to be loud enough for even the smallest of gigs, so they're discarded to save both weight and money. Instead, look for sturdy XLR audio outs on the back panel. Just plug in a keyboard amp, or more likely these days, a PA speaker.

Well spotted, the Korg SV-2S 88 does have speakers but we suspect this is a style consideration as much as anything else. They do look cool. However, even this Korg is available without speakers – just order the slightly cheaper, slightly lighter SV-2.

What sounds do stage pianos come with?

If you're a classical pianist, all you will ask of your stage piano is that it feels incredibly authentic to play and sounds like a concert grand! This is where models such as the Kawai MP 11 SE fit in.

We'd wager that most players, as opposed to pianists, need more sounds – at the very least some good organ emulations and perhaps some synth bass and lead sounds. Those of you working in theatre will require everything from grand pianos to string sections to special effects.

Instead of loading their stage pianos with a fixed set of sounds, many brands are now curating huge online libraries of tones that can be downloaded from the internet. These sounds can be swapped in and out of their stage pianos at will. Collections like these are constantly growing, so look out for this feature if you need a vast amount of sonic versatility.

What keyboard size and type do you need?

You may have noticed that some stage pianos come in two or three different sizes – an 88 key model, a 76 key model and finally a compact model with even fewer keys. The Nord Stage 3 is a good example.

The 88 key models are aimed squarely at pianists, and it's likely they'll come with hammer action, weighted keyboards to give that acoustic grand feel. The smaller sizes are aimed more at organists and synth players (or pianists with not much room!). They tend to be fitted with waterfall or synth-type keybeds.

Who makes the best keyboards? Kawai, Yamaha, Fatar…? That's a question only you can answer, so try out as many as possible.

Polyphony, layers and splits explained

Polyphony governs how many notes can be played at the same time. It's not to be confused with the closely related timbrality, which governs how many different sounds can be played at the same time. The higher the polyphony, the more likely it is that your stage piano will be multi-timbral too.

High polyphony is very important for classical pianists. Sure, they've only got a maximum of ten fingers, so what's the big deal? Here's just one example. Imagine a concert pianist playing a long, fast legato run with the sustain (damper) pedal engaged. That beautiful cascade of notes is going to sustain for ages, with all the individual sounds running into one another. Limited polyphony will cut some of those notes off early, which is clearly undesirable!

Stage pianos commonly have features known as splits and layers or layering. If your piece requires a funky bassline with a lead synth being played over the top of it then you can split your keyboard into two. Perhaps the bottom third will be assigned to the bass sounds, freeing up the rest for the synth.

Sounds can be layered too. Consider a delicate piano part. Perhaps, it could be improved, or made more dramatic with some strings accompanying it? Layering enables you to do just that. Hit a key and you'll hear both the piano and the strings playing at the same time. Some keyboards will allow you to combine both splits and layering – the Studiologic Numa X Piano GT, with its colour coded mixer, makes it very easy to manage all sorts of potentially complex layers, splits and zones.

Overhead shot of hands on a piano

(Image credit: Getty/suteishi)

Effects

Every stage piano should come with some basic effects, such as reverb, delay and a rotating speaker for organ models. Some go much, much further with a host of modulation effects and even amp modelling.

MIDI

It's not uncommon to designate a stage piano as the central controller for your entire live setup. Fortunately MIDI is ubiquitous, but if this is important to you, look out for comprehensive implementation. Some stage pianos are better in this regard than others.

Are stage pianos easy to use?

The curtain's up, the pressure is on. The last thing you want to be doing during a gig is stumbling your way around a complex top panel. Just remembering how to play your instrument is hard enough.

The very best stage pianos have a deep feature set conveniently hidden behind a simple, logical top panel. You'll just want to be able to select patches quickly, recall favourites/scenes, work with zones, layers and splits and make some on-the-fly adjustments. The top panel should be working with you in this regard, not against you.

So, seek out simplicity not complexity when it comes to top panel design. Big buttons, rotary encoders and so on. Oh, and leave the complex sound design duties until you get home.

Don't forget that stages can be dark, gloomy spaces. Sliders and rotary encoders with LED tracking are a godsend, as are buttons with individual LED lights. If those lights are contextual – they change colour – so much the better.

Finally, discard that old beginner keyboard and buy yourself a decent stage piano. Your gigging life will be transformed.

Simon Fellows

When Simon's childhood classical guitar teacher boasted he 'enjoyed a challenge', the poor man had no idea how much he'd underestimated the scale of the task ahead. Despite Simon's lack of talent, the experience did spark a lifelong passion for music. His classical guitar was discarded for an electric, then a room full of electrics before Simon discovered the joys of keys. Against all odds, Simon somehow managed to blag a career as a fashion journalist, but he's now more suitably employed writing for MusicRadar and Guitar World. When not writing or playing, he can be found terrifying himself on his mountain bike.