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Roland RD-88 review

The Roland RD series is renowned for producing some of the most intuitive stage pianos on the market. What makes them so good is that they are 100% built for performers. In this review, I’m looking at the latest addition to the series, the RD-88.

The RD-88 is a more affordable alternative to the flagship RD-2000. It packs a full-size, 88-key keyboard into a compact and lightweight body. Despite being the entry-level model, the RD-88 showcases many much-loved RD series features.

About the author

I’m a producer, composer, and multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience in the music industry. As a professional pianist, I’ve played and tested everything from a Bösendorfer Imperial concert grand piano to budget-friendly beginner keyboards.

Roland RD-88 review
RD-88 stage piano / Image credit: Roland
  • 88 weighted keys
  • 256-note polyphony
  • built-in speakers
  • over 3,000 tones
  • headphone jack
  • mic input

Final verdict on the Roland RD-88 4.8

It’s never going to match the RD-2000, but the RD-88 is in a very nice position at its current price. While it has a lot of competition, it’s difficult for the competition to match the versatility and flexibility of the RD-88. It’s a fantastic keyboard piano that delivers more than it should.

What I like

  • Lightweight and portable.
  • Lots of presets.
  • Excellent integration with your DAW and external gear.
  • Value for money.
  • Microphone input.

What I don’t like

  • XLR microphone input would be better.
Buy Roland RD-88 at: SweetwaterAmazon


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Sound quality 4.7

At the core of the RD-88 is Roland’s SuperNATURAL. I have said this in countless reviews, but Roland’s SuperNATURAL sound engine delivers some of the most authentic piano sounds you will find.

The SuperNATURAL piano sounds have been revamped for the RD-88, so they are better than ever. When you add in the sympathetic resonance, you end up with a very realistic sound. Roland’s SuperNATURAL engine produces some outstanding electric piano voices, too, which work fantastic with the built-in effects.

It’s not just about the piano sounds, the RD-88 has over 3000 tones in total. Some of the standout sounds come from the synth section, powered by Roland’s ZEN-Core engine that you can find in flagship models.

Built-in speakers 4.5

The Roland RD-88 features a pair of 4.7-inch woofers and two 0.78-inch tweeters, powered by dual 6-watt amplifiers.

Built-in speakers aren’t something that everyone thinks about when buying a stage piano. But, even if you never/rarely use them on stage, they are great for practice. It removes the need for external amplification.

Keyboard feel 4.7

The RD-88 has progressive hammer-action (PHA-4) keys with escapement. Progressive hammer-action keys are generally the most realistic because they get lighter as you move up the keyboard, just like a real piano. The downside is that manufacturers sometimes get it wrong, and the transition from heavy to light isn’t as smooth/natural as it should be. However, Roland has been doing it for a very long time and does it very well.

Despite the RD-88 being significantly lighter than many similar stage pianos, the weighted keys feel surprisingly authentic. The escapement allows each note to ring out naturally, just as real hammers would.

Overall, the RD-88 feels very nice to play. While it may fall short of some high-end stage pianos, it beats most in its class.

Features 4.8

One of the biggest selling points of the RD-88 is that it delivers a comprehensive feature set with very minimal fuss.

Compact design

I want to mention the compact design as a feature because it’s something that will appeal to a lot of players. Having a realistic feel and killer sounds is great, but when you have to carry a heavy stage piano from one gig to the next, it gets tiring quickly. For many people, the RD-88 will be a more convenient alternative to something like the heavier RD-2000.

Apple MainStage

Apple MainStage, combined with three assignable keyboard zones, turns the RD-88 into a hardware/software hybrid powerhouse. You can assign a combination of onboard sounds and software sounds across the three zones simultaneously. That could save you using another keyboard controller or changing the patch multiple times in one song.

400 scenes

When you create a sound/patch by layering sounds or splitting sounds across the keyboard, you can then save it as a scene. With space for up to 400 scenes, the RD-88 allows you to scroll through them or select your favorites.

Zone multi-effects and scene multi-effects

A total of 90 effect types are available to each of the three keyboard zones that I just mentioned. That means the effects used in each zone are entirely independent of each other. So, you could have some chorus on an electric piano sound, some chorus on a synth bass patch, and a little reverb on your lead sound.

EQ and Tone Color are also offered per zone.

As well as the effects being available per zone, 90 multi-effects types are also available per scene.

As a live performance instrument, it’s tailor-made to give you complete control over your sound.

Sympathetic resonance

Any good keyboard piano will try its best to sound and feel realistic, and that includes recreating mechanical noise and the natural resonance of an acoustic piano. With the reverb down, the RD-88 has a very authentic decay, especially at the high-end. It might even be better than the flagship RD-2000 in that department.

DAW control

The RD-88 is a fantastic master keyboard for your DAW with a decent range of assignable controls. If you take the time to set up the RD-88 with your DAW, you can get pretty extensive hands-on control over important parameters.

LCD screen

I want to mention the screen because it does just enough to keep you on the right track. The RD-88 is a very tactile keyboard, but the small LCD screen makes the very limited menu-diving easy.

In use 4.8

Even with all of the advancements that Roland has made with the RD series, the layout remains as simple as ever. The voice-type buttons are pretty chunky, which has been the case since the early RD models. I like it because it makes everything clear and easy to use right from the start.

Effects and keyboard mode controls are on the left of the top panel. The encoders are multi-function, which saves having too many controls. Function select buttons are right beneath the encoders, so, again, everything is nice and clear.

The LCD screen and some basic navigation buttons are in the middle. The navigation buttons can be a little fiddly, it’s not too much of an issue, but a large scroller/encoder would have been a better choice.

Roland RD-88 layout
RD-88 layout / Image credit: Roland

To the right are the voice select buttons, favorites, and transport controls. Speaking of favorites, when in Favorites mode, the voice type buttons become your 10 favorite scenes. The fact that I can sum the RD-88 up so quickly just shows how user-friendly it is. There is a very minimal amount of menu-diving, but almost everything is right at your fingertips.

A nice feature that Roland has started to include in various keyboards is the One Touch Piano button. No matter what settings you are on, pressing that button will return you to the default piano voice. If you gig, you’ll know how handy that could be.

If you want a reasonably affordable keyboard piano for home use, you can’t go wrong with the RD-88. It’s light enough to move around, it has built-in speakers, so you don’t need an amp, and it’s a great controller for your DAW. Above all else, it feels and sounds great.

The only reason not to love the RD-88 as a stage piano is if you want a very particular sound that you’d only get from another keyboard/manufacturer. But, in terms of what the RD-88 offers, everything is high-quality.

Build quality 4.2

When a stage piano is lighter and more compact than most others, there will always be a trade-off. In this case, the trade-off is the build quality.

If we compare the RD-88 to the RD-2000, or even older models like the RD-800, it falls considerably short. The difference is those two were flagship models, and the RD-88 isn’t; it’s an entry-level model.

As it stands, the build quality is reasonably good but not great. The buttons and encoders feel good, but the lightweight chassis will never feel as robust as you’d want it to be on the road.

I highly recommend the RD-88 for live performance, but make sure you have a solid hard case and take care of it.

Connectivity 4.6

The Roland RD-88 provides pretty decent connectivity, starting with two USB ports (type A/B). There are two 1/4-inch audio outputs and a single 1/8-inch audio input. It also comes with one 1/4-inch headphone jack and MIDI connectivity.

There’s also a microphone input, which is a really nice addition for any singer-songwriter. Especially with the built-in speakers, it’s ideal for practicing your set at home. It’s a 1/4-input with a built-in preamp, but there’s no phantom power. So, you’ll likely be using a dynamic mic unless you add an external preamp or DI box.

Compared to other stage pianos

Generally, I consider Roland’s RD series to be amongst the best keyboard pianos on offer. With the RD-88 being the entry-level model, it has some competitors that you should check out.

Roland RD-88 vs Casio PX-560

The Privia PX-560 is a fantastic keyboard piano, but it’s hard to choose it over the RD-88. The RD-88 just sounds a bit more authentic across all of the voices.

Roland RD-88 vs Kawai ES520

Kawai is always a strong contender if you need a realistic stage piano. But, in this case, it’s just not as well-rounded as the RD-88.

Roland RD-88 vs Kurzweil SP6

The Kurzweil SP6 has a lot to offer, including a very nice effects section. Ultimately, at this price, it’s going to be hard to compete with the versatility of the RD-88.

Read the full Kurzweil SP6 review

Who is the Roland RD-88 best suited for?

The Roland RD-88 suits performers, producers, and piano students.

Buy Roland RD-88 at: SweetwaterAmazon

  • So, I have to ask, just as a straight comparison between the FP-e50 and the RD-88, which is better? They PHA-4 is the same on both boards, the 88 has more sounds but appears to be a much rougher go of navigation (though your scores between these don’t seem to indicate that?), the size/profiles are different, the Fp- is a bit more of an arranger, it has the auto-accompaniment, it has a chord sequencer, it has Roland learning apps that can be tied to it (the 88 can’t), it has a music rest, its speakers are more powerful (though in use I do wonder which is louder?), it has more vocal effects for the mic, the RD can be had for about $150-200 more for me. I’m wondering why the e50 had the lower score in essence when comparing the two?

    • I prefer the RD-88, despite the extra cost, but I have a longer history with RD models than FP models (starting with the two decades old RD-700), and my personal preference impacts some areas of scoring that don’t need to be entirely impartial. For example, you’re right that there’s more navigating to be done with the RD-88, but I think it’s easy to get around. Although I think the FP-E50 is easy enough to navigate, and other users might like it more than I do, I don’t find it as pleasant/enjoyable or fluid to use as the RD-88 (based on a combination of the process and button type/quality). The FP-E50 has some specific arranger-like features, especially things like the vocal harmonizer, that will absolutely sway some potential buyers, and in those cases, the FP-E50 will be a better buy. However, in the absence of a specific function/feature acting as a deciding factor, and looking at both as a quality stage/digital piano, when you get your hands on them, I believe the RD-88 feels like the more professional instrument, and offers an overall better user experience.