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The 6 best 88-key weighted keyboards that feel realistic

The weight of piano keys allows players to control dynamics with greater precision and play with incredible expression. By that logic, if a keyboard doesn’t have authentic weighted keys, you’ll never get the best out of its sound.

I’ve tested a wide range of keyboards and digital pianos with weighted keys to find the ones that provide the most realistic piano experience.

Quick recommendations

When I needed a stage piano with a realistic hammer-action keyboard, I bought Studiologic’s Numa X Piano GT. I recommend it to anyone who wants to perform with maximum expression and control of dynamics.

Alternatively, if you want that realism but prefer a digital piano console, my pick is Yamaha’s Clavinova CLP-735. It’s a sizable investment, but it’s worth every penny and as close as you get to an acoustic piano in its class.

If the sound is more important than feel, I highly recommend the Nord Stage 4. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Nord; the sound quality is world-class, and the latest keyboard action is the best yet.

Contents

Use these jump links to navigate to the desired section of the review.

Why you should trust me

James Nugent, writer at Higher Hz

I started learning to play the piano almost 25 years ago, and like many beginners, my first instrument was an electronic keyboard with lightweight velocity-sensitive keys.

While lighter keys are the right choice for many beginners, I soon experienced a common problem: inconsistency between home practice and lessons with a real piano.

To resolve the issue, I got a very old upright piano, and although it wasn’t ideal, it was enough to help me develop a more consistent touch.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve performed on just about every type of house keyboard/piano, from a damaged Yamaha P-60 to an impeccably maintained Bösendorfer Grand 290 Imperial.

The first stage piano I ever owned was a Roland RD-700, and I loved it at the time; well, I loved everything besides carrying it.

As a performer and composer, expression has always been incredibly important. For better or worse, I’d much prefer to sound like me than like a generic, competent pianist, and good weighted keys are vital to achieve maximum expression.

In addition to my vast experience playing keyboards and pianos with weighted keys, I attend various trade shows to test and review the latest releases.

How I chose my top picks

The criteria for this list are simple: I’m looking for keyboards and digital pianos that realistically emulate the feel of a real piano.

When considering the merit of a weighted keyboard, I’m looking for things like:

  • sensible weight (not too light/heavy),
  • realistic weight progression from low to high notes (if graded hammer-action keys),
  • authentic resistance,
  • responsive keys during varied playing styles,
  • realistic feel (simulated ivory/ebony etc.),
  • escapement.

While the feel and action of the weighted keys are the main priorities, the instruments on this list also have to sound great.

Some instruments below deliver world-class sounds in multiple categories, like pianos, synths, organs, etc., and high-end features and effects.

While I consider everything when deciding which instruments to add, the priority for sound is a realistic grand piano voice.

Here are all the 88-key weighted keyboards and digital pianos I recommend:

Be sure to check the Honorable mentions for instruments that didn’t make my top list but are nonetheless worth your attention, offering an unmatched playing experience for the price.

Best action: Studiologic Numa X Piano GT

  • Type of keys: Fatar TP/400, fully-weighted
  • Escapement: Yes
  • Aftertouch: Yes
  • Polyphony: 300 notes
  • Presets: 200 voices
  • Built-in speakers: No

The Numa X Piano GT is my favorite stage piano on the list; I liked it so much that I bought one immediately after first testing it.

It’s not the best overall package, but from a pure piano point of view, it’s incredible. The perfectly weighted hammer-action keyboard is the best I’ve played, and it’s an absolute steal at the price.

Studiologic Numa X Piano GT keys and controls closeup
A close-up look at the Numa X Piano GT keyboard | Image: Studiologic

The Numa X Piano GT might be a stage piano that offers over 200 sounds from the True Sound (TrS) engine, but it’s all about the piano experience.

Studiologic is the instrument manufacturing branch of Fatar, making some of the world’s best keyboard actions. Initially, the Numa X Piano GT had real wooden keys, but wood can expand over time, which was a problem.

Fatar has since developed synthetic keys that look and feel like wood without the longevity issues, which is remarkable. For me, it’s the most realistic action with escapement of any current stage piano (at any price).

The TrS sound engine produces many excellent sounds, including organs, synths, guitars, basses, orchestral instruments, and cinematic sounds.

The catch, as much as I hate to admit it, is that the grand piano voices divide opinion. I think they are beautiful, but they require a little tweaking and aren’t as good right out of the box as some alternatives.

My pick of the bunch is the Vintage Grand, and with a few adjustments, it competes with most.

The Numa X Piano GT has a max polyphony of 300 notes, meaning you can play virtually anything without notes dropping out.

The instrument’s expressive nature is enhanced by its monophonic aftertouch, which is particularly useful on synth and cinematic sounds.

Another thing I love about this stage piano is the innovative color-coded interface that makes editing sounds, layers, and effects simple.

It features dedicated DSP effects, up to eight insert effects and a built-in four-channel mixer for control over external instruments.

Read my full Studiologic Numa X Piano GT review for more details, side-by-side competitor comparisons, and test results.

What I like

  • Incredibly realistic action.
  • Excellent acoustic piano sound.
  • Monophonic aftertouch.
  • Great value for money.

What I don’t like

  • Piano voices require a little tweaking.
See current price at: SweetwaterAmazon

Most realistic experience: Yamaha CLP-735

  • Type of keys: GrandTouch-S, fully-weighted
  • Escapement: Yes
  • Aftertouch: No
  • Polyphony: 256 notes
  • Presets: 38 voices
  • Built-in speakers: Yes

Clavinova digital pianos are almost guaranteed to be two things: very expensive and very realistic; the CLP-735 fits that description.

But, if you want the realism of an acoustic piano with the convenience of a digital instrument, you’ll struggle to find a better option under $3000.

If I had to choose one instrument from the list that most feels like a real acoustic piano, it’s the CLP-735.

Yamaha Clavinova CLP-735
Yamaha Clavinova CLP-735 digital piano | Image: Higher Hz

Yamaha’s Clavinova CLP-735 features the flagship GrandTouch-S keyboard with simulated ebony and ivory keytops. If you close your eyes, the graded hammer-action keyboard could convince you that you’re sitting at a real piano.

While the simulated ebony/ivory keytops add authenticity and provide additional grip, I attribute much of the realism to the near-perfect weight and resistance of every key. The CLP-735 is a fine example of meticulously produced graded hammer-action keys.

There are no strange transitions from one key to the next, nor does it feel like the weight is only graded in three chunks: bass, midrange, and high. You have to work hard at times in the lower range, just like a real piano, and the highs are light and articulate.

Yamaha has paired the GrandTouch-S keyboard with two beautiful piano sounds: the CFX concert grand and Bösendorfer Imperial, with a maximum polyphony of 256 notes. There are 38 voices available, all decent, but those two pianos are the showstoppers.

Yamaha’s CFX concert grand voice is one of the most sought-after by pianists, and thanks to binaural sampling, it’s better than ever. The binaural sampling reproduces the dynamic range of a real grand piano in incredible detail. Coupled with the GrandTouch-S keyboard, it’s probably the most dynamic and expressive piano on the list.

A built-in speaker system powered by dual 30-watt amps delivers crisp sound and ample volume. Although not feature-rich, it offers over 50 demos, 303 lesson songs, a 16-track sequencer, and up to 80 minutes of 24-bit audio recording.

Nothing is lost in translation; the Clavinova CLP-735 captures every nuance of your performance.

Read my full Yamaha Clavinova CLP-735 review for more details, side-by-side competitor comparisons, and test results.

What I like

  • Ultra-realistic key weight and feel.
  • Immersive playing experience.
  • Great looking cabinet.

What I don’t like

  • Quite expensive.
See current price at: SweetwaterGuitar Center

Best for performers: Roland RD-2000

  • Type of keys: PHA-50, fully-weighted
  • Escapement: Yes
  • Aftertouch: No
  • Polyphony: Full (V-Piano), 128 notes (SuperNatural)
  • Presets: Over 1100 voices
  • Built-in speakers: No

Nostalgia may contribute to my admiration of Roland RD stage pianos, but emotion aside, they continue to improve, and the RD-2000 is the best of the bunch.

The weighted keys are slightly heavier than some alternatives but are incredibly expressive and feel great to touch. The grand piano voices are gorgeous, and if you need an extended feature set, a vast sound bank, and intuitive control, very few stage pianos do it better.

It’s not a new instrument by any means, but the RD-2000 is still a big hitter in 2024.

Roland RD-2000 on a matching stand
Roland RD-2000 stage piano | Image: Roland

The Roland RD-2000 is an 88-key stage piano that has been around for quite a few years but shows little sign of age.

It features Roland’s premium PHA-50 progressive hammer-action keyboard with escapement and a hybrid wood/molded construction. The RD-2000 also utilizes Roland’s advanced sensor technology, making it one of the most responsive keyboards on the list.

The realistic keyboard feel is partnered with two powerful sound engines, each delivering outstanding grand piano tones. The SuperNatural engine offers 128 notes of polyphony, and the V-Piano (modeled acoustic piano tones) provides full polyphony.

The V-Piano concert grand sounds are rich and highly detailed, but the most impressive thing is how responsive it is combined with the PHA-50 keyboard.

Roland’s V-Piano engine has been around for a while, but new expansions are released periodically to keep it sounding fresh. The other sounds (over 1000 presets) are ultra-high quality across the board.

One of the biggest selling points for this stage piano is its intuitive hands-on workflow. The RD-2000 features eight assignable knobs and nine assignable faders, all with LED indicators.

It also provides eight assignable keyboard zones and a range of iconic vintage effects like the BOSS CE-1 Chorus, and Roland Dimension D. Throw in an onboard 24-bit/192 kHz audio interface and extensive connectivity, and the RD-2000 is an expressive performer’s dream.

Read my full Roland RD-2000 review for more details, side-by-side competitor comparisons, and test results.

What I like

  • Extremely responsive keyboard.
  • Powerful sound engines.
  • Great for expressive performers.

What I don’t like

  • Nothing to note.
See current price at: SweetwaterAmazon

Most improved key action: Nord Stage 4

  • Type of keys: Triple Sensor, fully-weighted
  • Escapement: No
  • Aftertouch: Yes
  • Polyphony: 120 notes (piano), 46 notes (synth)
  • Presets: 512 voices
  • Built-in speakers: No

I still struggle to get beyond the price tag of the Nord Stage 4 when there are so many excellent, cheaper alternatives. However, I couldn’t complete my top list without the famous red keyboard because, price aside, it’s a truly fantastic instrument.

The Stage 4 is similar to previous models, but it expands and enhances popular features significantly, and much to my delight, the triple-sensor keyboard action is Nord’s best yet.

Nord Stage 4 on stand
Nord Stage 4 88-key stage piano | Image: Nord

The Nord Stage 4 is the latest addition to a series that has been the choice of many professionals for years.

I’ve never been a massive fan of Nord’s keyboard action (other than the Kawai keybed found on the Nord Grand); I always found it a little dull and lifeless. I understand I’m in the minority with that opinion, but I’m first to admit the improved Stage 4 is slowly changing my mind.

The 88-key hammer-action keyboard now has a triple-sensor design, making it more responsive than ever. The results are immediately noticeable, even for a doubter like me. The improved responsiveness allows players to get more out of the exceptional grand piano voices.

Nord’s sound quality is always of the highest quality, and I believe the improved keyboard action brings out the impressive dynamic range of the grand piano voices. Like previous models, the Nord Stage 4 has three independent sound engines: Piano, Organ, and Synth.

While it’s not my top choice as a pure piano, it’s one of the most powerful and flexible stage pianos available. Each sound engine has a dedicated interface section, and while it might look a little intimidating at first, it’s straightforward to use.

The Organ section combines physical drawbars and LED indicators for tactile control and instant visual feedback. The Synth section now has dual OLED displays, making navigating and editing/designing sounds easier than ever.

Since the Nord Stage 3, improvements include doubled sample memory, expanded instrument selection, dedicated per-layer effects control, and much more. It’s nothing if not vast and expansive.

Read my full Nord Stage 4 review for more details, side-by-side competitor comparisons, and test results.

What I like

  • Improved keyboard action.
  • Impressive grand piano voices.
  • Incredibly powerful and flexible.

What I don’t like

  • Very expensive.
See current price at: SweetwaterAmazon

Best for vintage feel: Yamaha CP88

  • Type of keys: NW-GH, fully-weighted
  • Escapement: No
  • Aftertouch: No
  • Polyphony: 128 notes
  • Presets: 57 voices
  • Built-in speakers: No

The CP88 is another entry that may not make everyone’s top list, but I love it. It boasts Yamaha’s best concert grand voices, an outstanding keyboard action, and a tactile interface that’s a joy to use.

If you have a larger budget and want to venture into synth territory, the Montage M8x does everything better than the CP88. However, if you don’t need any of the synth stuff, the much cheaper CP88 is Yamaha’s best in class.

Yamaha CP88 keys closeup
A close-up look at the Yamaha CP88 keyboard | Image: Higher Hz

The CP88 is an 88-key stage piano inspired by Yamaha’s original 1970s Combo Piano. It features Yamaha’s triple-sensor NW-GH keyboard with synthetic ebony/ivory keytops.

This natural wood, graded hammer-action keyboard probably isn’t as close to a concert grand feel as Yamaha’s GrandTouch-S, but it’s one of the best you’ll find in a portable stage piano.

The impressive keyboard action has enough resistance for dynamic piano performances and is snappy enough for the many fantastic vintage electric piano voices onboard.

The onboard sounds come from Yamaha’s AWM2, and the 57 available voices include three stunning concert grands with 128-note max polyphony. The first two are Yamaha instruments, the CFX and S700 concert pianos, and the third is the iconic Bösendorfer 290 Imperial.

The Yamaha pianos are dynamic powerhouses, particularly the CFX, which means they can be as imposing or delicate as you like. The Bösendorfer, while an imposing piano, is a little warmer in that more classic Viennese style. These pianos each offer a distinct character, and the CP88 recreates them faithfully.

One of my favorite things about the CP88 is the intuitive one-to-one interface that gives the feel of a vintage instrument.

If, like me, you prioritize a realistic piano sound and feel but like to explore other sounds and effects, the CP88 is an ideal piano for the stage or studio. Amongst the additional sounds that include organs, clavs, and synths is the legendary CP80 (1978) electric piano.

The package is complete with excellent vintage effects.

Read my full Yamaha CP88 review for more details, side-by-side competitor comparisons, and test results.

What I like

  • Gorgeous natural wood keyboard.
  • Outstanding piano sounds.
  • One-to-one interface.

What I don’t like

  • Not ideal for a concert grand feel.
See current price at: SweetwaterAmazon

Best cheap option: Alesis Prestige

  • Type of keys: Fully-weighted, graded
  • Escapement: No
  • Aftertouch: No
  • Polyphony: 128 notes
  • Presets: 16 voices
  • Built-in speakers: Yes

The Alesis Prestige is still one of my favorite cheap stage pianos; it’s exceptional value for money.

Few keyboards can offer a solid grand piano sound and graded hammer-action keys for under $400. It’s ideal for beginners or hobbyists who don’t want to spend more than necessary.

Alesis Prestige portable digital piano
A close-up look at the Alesis Prestige keyboard | Image: Higher Hz

The Alesis Prestige is an 88-key stage piano with graded hammer-action keys. While the keyboard action is far from the best on this list, getting a graded hammer-action keyboard at this price is incredible.

It has 16 onboard sounds and a maximum polyphony of 128 notes. The onboard sounds include some surprisingly realistic and dynamic concert piano voices. The depth and richness of the acoustic piano voices are truly remarkable from a budget stage piano.

Among the other sounds, which include organs and strings, the electric pianos stand out for me because they have grit and bite that you don’t usually hear from a beginner instrument.

Split and layer keyboard modes allow you to make the most of the available voices for performance.

The built-in speaker system is more powerful than expected, with two 25-watt amplifiers providing more than enough volume.

The Prestige also features Lesson Mode, which splits the keyboard into two identical keyboard zones for student/teacher practice.

Another great feature is the built-in recorder, allowing beginners to capture their practice sessions for critical listening; I love it.

Read my full Alesis Prestige review for more details, side-by-side competitor comparisons, and test results.

What I like

  • Convincing weighted keyboard at a low price.
  • Surprisingly good sound quality.
  • Decent built-in speakers.

What I don’t like

  • Heavier keys than usual.
See current price at: SweetwaterAmazon

Honorable mentions

I had a few tricky choices when selecting my top six; here are some instruments that just missed the cut.

  • Kawai KDP120. The KDP120 is a mid-priced digital piano that easily competes with some more expensive alternatives. It’s the most luxurious pure piano experience in its class.
  • Yamaha P-225. I couldn’t include the P-225 in the main list because its compact hammer-action keyboard doesn’t match the instruments on the list. But it’s still a great action, and with the CFX concert grand sound, it’s an absolute bargain for anyone on a smaller budget.
  • Yamaha CK88. The CK88 might be somewhat of a lesser CP88, and that’s fine because it still sounds and feels very good while being cheaper and lighter. It’s an excellent choice for regular performers.
  • Roland RD-88. The RD-88 is a stripped-down version of Roland’s flagship stage piano that still offers hammer-action keys, lots of sounds, and some assignable controls in a lighter package, and it’s lovely. If you can live with even less, check out the cheaper RD-08.

Recent updates

  • June 6, 2024: I’ve published an updated selection based on my recent tests and comparisons. I’ve also updated the instrument awards to better suit the article context.
  • June 5, 2024: I’ve updated the article structure to the new standard and explained the picking criteria in more detail. I’ve also added quick recommendations for your convenience.
  • October 13, 2023: I’ve updated the original selection by adding three newly-tested instruments and explained the picking criteria.
  • August 20, 2023: I’ve made a few minor changes to the text and scheduled a future update.
  • January 3, 2023: I’ve verified the accuracy of the picks. Still no significant changes in recommendations.
  • October 19, 2022: I’ve updated the text for accuracy, fixed some wording, and added quick jump links for faster navigation between the top picks.
  • January 7, 2022: I’ve checked all the picks to ensure all the recommended instruments are widely available.
  • September 18, 2021: I published the original selection of the best 88-key weighted keyboards and digital pianos based on my experience playing, testing, and comparing different instruments.

Final thoughts

If you’re looking for a realistic piano experience from a keyboard or digital piano, this list has it.

Although some of the instruments above are incredibly versatile, the list prioritizes authentically weighted keys and a realistic grand piano sound and is structured to reflect that.

Keep in mind that the best choice for you might be a compromise between realism, versatility, and budget. Whatever you need, I’m confident you’ll find it here.

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