The keyboard workstation has been around for many years and it is a very powerful music production instrument. These are truly some of the most powerful instruments on the market as they are basically full-on computers built into keyboards. Workstations are basically everything that an individual would desire with a studio jammed into an instrument.
What I Own & Play Daily
The Roland FA-08 is a great choice that has been streamlined to perfection for gigging musicians as well as studio producers. This is high-quality while at the same time being as affordable as it can be. This comes in 61 keys, 76, and 88.
Here’s a quick look at some of my favorite options.
Keyboard Workstations are an all-in-one package as they are recording studios and keyboards built into one instrument. Not all have weighted-keys, but if you get one with 88 keys they will most likely be weighted. I have been playing these types of instruments for over 10 years now and I have learned a lot over the years about them.
Best Keyboard Workstations – A Quick Glance
The Korg Kross 2 is a super powerful workstation for an insanely great price.
The Roland FA08 is my current go-to workstation. I use this every single day and I believe it's the best value meets quality available.
Workstations are versatile as you can use them as a MIDI controller and record with them with a computer or you can do everything internally. MIDI controllers are probably my favorite keyboards at the time. You can read about my favorites at the link above.
You can even record vocals and drums directly into your keyboard. Workstations are used heavily in hip-hop music, but they can also be used for singer-songwriters who aren’t well versed in working with computers.
Best Keyboard Workstations
Yamaha Montage 8
- The Motion Control Synthesis Engine unifies and controls two iconic Sound Engines: AWM2 (high-quality waveform and synthesis) and FM-X (modern, pure Frequency Modulation synthesis.)
- Motion Sequences are tempo-synchronized, completely customizable control sequences that can be assigned to virtually any synthesizer parameter and provide incredible new ways of creating sound.
- Montage features professional, stereo balanced outputs with "Pure Analog Circuit" digital to analog conversion.
- Eight rotary encoders and faders with step ladder LED. Note Capacity: Approx. 130,000 notes
- From high definition reverbs to incredibly detailed Virtual Circuit Modeling (VCM) effects, Montage is loaded
I like the Yamaha Montage 8 and a big feature for me on this is the super knob. You can use this knob with one hand and take control of effects and sound modifications while you’re playing.
For example, you could take a piano and for a certain part, you could throw a ton of reverb on it or delay depending on what you’re looking to do. This just allows you to be incredibly dynamic with your playing.
If you need to be playing with both hands you can assign the super knob to be a foot controller as well with a pedal. There are two different sound engines on this instrument and one of them has some crazy cool synthesizers.
This workstation provides synthesizers for musicians who are looking to create chill-wave 80’s pop to EDM producers who want some buzzy basses and leads.
The Montage 8 is an upgrade to the ever popular Yamaha Motif series. There is aftertouch on the keys and the key-bed feels really nice as well. The sound library is also massive coming in with over 2100 pre-set patches with an arpeggiator that also has over 10,000 types to pick from.
Overall Thoughts On The Yamaha Montage 8
I think this is a very solid instrument and the only thing I don’t like is the price. It is very expensive, but it is also a keyboard that is basically a complete recording studio all in one.
Korg Kronos LS 88
- 88-note Keyboard Synthesizer Workstation with Semi-weighted Action
- Solid-state Internal Drive
- 8" Color TouchView Display
Korg is revered when it comes to talking about workstations. It is something they do very well and the Korg Kronos LS 88 is their very best workstation and it is an extremely powerful machine. This is used by a ton of professional musicians who are touring and also recording in studios.
The keys on the Kronos LS 88 are lighter-action and they feel really nice on your fingers. This instrument is the newer version of the Korg Kronos 2. A big difference between the two is that the Korg Kronos LS 88 is over 30 pounds lighter than the Kronos 2.
The Korg Kronos LS 88 has 9 different sounds and this is the main feature that sets it apart from most other workstations. One of the sound engines is for electric piano sounds and these are top-notch.
I like the sound of Nord Electro pianos, but I really like the sounds of the electric piano on the Korg Kronos LS. There is also a sound engine for organ sounds and this sound engine as well sounds very expensive and warm.
A unique feature on this instrument is that it has a sound engine that has Analog synthesizer modeling. A product that has crazy good sounds is what the Korg Kronos is. This device is also a recording studio. The studio functions are very easy to navigate and the tools are all there for editing.
Overall Thoughts On The Korg Kronos LS 88
I think this is one of the most impressive products on the market right now and this is an instrument that you can use for your entire musical career.
Roland FA-08 88-Key
- Current draw: 1,300 mA
- Light, mobile body with 88-note Ivory Feel-G KeyboardOver 2000 sounds from the flagship INTEGRA-7 sound module16-track sequencer with non-stop loop recordingExport sequencer tracks to SDHC card or as multitrack audio or MIDI to your DAWOnboard sampler based on the SP-404SX16 independent FX engines, six COMP+EQ processors, global EQ, chorus, and reverbSix user-assignable Sound Modify knobsD-Beam, Rhythm Pattern, Arpeggiator, and Chord Memory functionsGuitar/Mic and Line input jacksDedicated input
The Roland FA-08 is great for touring musicians as well as for studio musicians. What makes this a good keyboard for touring musicians is how light it is at only 35 pounds. I actually own this and I use it for touring and I use it as a MIDI controller. The MIDI on the FA-08 is very up to date and it immediately worked with my laptop.
In my opinion, because its weight, I believe the FA 08 is the best keyboard workstation for live performance.
It has 16 pads that you can assign anything to inside your DAW. A good way to use the pads is to change the internal setting to pad assign mode.
When you do this you can make it so your DAW will sync with the pads and allow you to change synth sounds seamlessly. You can use these pads for drums and for other purposes as well, this is just one function.
The key-bed on Roland products, in general, is fantastic and this is the same case. They’re known for their ivory feel G series and personally, they’re some of my favorite keys on an instrument because they feel like a real piano. They feel as close to ivory as they possibly can.
I have always loved the synth sounds of Rolands as they just sound so warm and inviting to me. This instrument has some really beautiful sounding pads and huge swelling bass sounds. Roland has its trademark D-beam on the FA-08 and this is a neat feature.
I haven’t found great use for it other than it’s fun to play with and looks cool. You just hover your hover hand over the sensor and it triggers crazy sounding synths.
Overall Thoughts On The Roland FA-08
This is one of the cheaper workstations on the market and it packs a powerful punch. I think this is a great product overall and I am happy to own it.
The Kurzweil PC3K8 has a massive sample library. This is something that is exciting for all musicians.
Having thousands of sounds is just fun and it’s also extremely helpful for inspiration.
The key-bed has aftertouch and the keys have a quick spring release which gives the keys the response necessary for organ and synth parts.
There are over 300 different effects you can play with including reverb, delay, chorus, distortion, EQ, and compression.
I like having a keyboard workstation with plenty of effects because when it comes to fine-tuning a song sometimes you can find an effect that changes the whole backbone of your idea.
There is a built-in arpeggiator on the Kurzweil PC3k8 and it also has a sequencer that has unlimited tracks. When you need to update the keyboard there are free upgrades for your operating system as well.
Overall Thoughts On The Kurzweil PC3k8
I believe this competes with Korg and Roland for a fantastic instrument.
The Yamaha MOXF6 is a music keyboard that is affordable, yet still packs a powerful punch.
I wouldn’t put this on the same level as the high-end products, but I would put it on the level right below them. The MOXF6 has 61 keys, but there is a version with 88 keys as well. The keys on this are semi-weighted since it only has 61 keys.
I like that this is more portable than most keyboard workstations in the sense that it’s a little smaller and lighter. You can use the flash drive and install synthesizer samples and I really like this. You can download some serious vintage synths such as the CS-80 by Yamaha.
There are 3900 pre-set sounds, but as far as straight-up synthesized sounds, there is a little bit of lacking here. Definitely, use the flash drive to install more synthesizers if that is what you’re looking for. This also has the capability to be used as a MIDI controller as well.
Overall Thoughts On The MOXF 6
The MOXF 6 is very inexpensive and for that reason, I really like this product.
Best Budget Workstations
The Korg Kross 2 is the Korg entry-level keyboard workstation. This is the most portable workstation in the sense that it is only 8 pounds.
The Kross 2 has over 1,000 pre-set sounds. This does not have speakers built-in so you will need to connect to your computer or an amplifier for sound.
You can run this on just AA batteries making it portable friendly for any musician. If you are using a DAW, you can use this keyboard with it as a controller.
Overall Thoughts On The Korg Kross 2
For the price, this is a good choice. I wouldn’t put this up against the Roland’s or high-end Korg and Yamaha’s though.
This is very entry-level, but I will say I was surprised when playing this. Casio has come a long way and they’re products are not what they were 15-20 years ago. The sounds on Casio keyboards actually surprise me as they sound pretty realistic.
This is for the musician who wants to wet their feet before spending a ton of money seeing how this is a very cheap price.
If you go into this keyboard not expecting the most amazing product, you will be very happy. It comes with 76 keys, but you can also find it with 61 or 88 as well. There are sliders that you can use with your DAW or just use to tweak your sounds internally.
Overall Thoughts On The Casio WK 6600
It is crazy this is so inexpensive, for that reason I think it makes this a good purchase for a beginning to intermediate music producer.
Things To Look For In A Keyboard Workstation
Sound Quality And Number Of Sound Pre-Sets
The quality of the sound samples on your instrument is important for musicians looking to record in a studio, play live or just play for their own fun. A big reason why musicians like to play these instruments is that the sounds typically are much better than normal keyboards sounds.
The sound library is usually pretty massive on a keyboard workstation and this is another big thing to pay attention to. You want to find something that has a lot of different sounds, yet you also want to make sure that the samples sound realistic and not cheap. When you’re dealing with these you usually are getting high-quality sounding samples from strings to drums.
Sound quality also refers to the customization you are able to do to your sound of choice. Having the ability to alter sounds and tweak them to your liking is a big plus with these types of keyboards. If you have a sound that you like, but it needs a little refining, then you will want the controls to be able to do so.
The Key-Beds On A Keyboard Workstation
The key-bed, in general, is very important when it comes to deciding on which keyboard is right for you. Some key-beds come with 88 keys, others with 76, 73, 61, and some even have only 49 keys. When you purchase a workstation with less than 88 keys, the keys will likely not be weighted.
Now, this is a preference of the musician on whether or not they want weighted keys. I have a piano background so when I pick keyboards I always prefer a one with weighted keys.
There are semi-weighted key-beds that don’t feel awful, you just have to find the right one. If you don’t have a piano background, not having weighted keys isn’t going to be a big deal then as you don’t know the difference between semi-weighted and weighted keys.
Rom stands for “Read Only Memory” and what this does is allows you to add memory cards with more songs to your instrument.
The more rom your keyboard has, the better in the long run. Ram stands for “Random Access Memory” and this determines the amount of you will have on your instrument for sampling. If you’re going to be doing a significant amount of sampling then you will want more ram.
Computer Interface Of Your Keyboard Workstation
Most will have a USB interface so you can transfer data. Some have built-in audio interfaces which means you will save a lot of money and not have to invest in additional software for recording. One thing I like to do is use it as a MIDI controller because then I can access unlimited sounds through a DAW.
We will be talking about the effects that come with each product pretty extensively because this is an important feature. You want to have a keyboard workstation that has a lot of effects and effects that are easy to use and implement.
Putting effects on certain sounds or audio clips can take an idea or a song to the next level and become the backbone of it. Becoming familiar with effects is also important if you don’t fully understand what they are because you want to be able to take advantage of all your instruments abilities.
Audio And Sequencing
You can pre-record parts into your instrument for when you’re playing live and want to have more parts playing to fill the sound out. This is one of the nicest features in a workstation and a function that makes it very valuable.
You can use MIDI to also hook up to a laptop for live performance if you want to have even more access to sounds. However, with a workstation, you are able to setup live-sets that have all of your sounds so it is easier to navigate for a performer.
This is something these instruments make very user-friendly. These are such good tools for a film score composer because they are able to instantly hear what certain sounds like when layered immediately. Workstations make it so you can layer multiple sounds together to create warm and large sounding patches.
Type Of Synthesizers
This is where workstations really match what their price value is. If you want a keyboard that has great sounding synths, you will want to consider an expensive one that has multiple sound engines for this purpose.
The entry-level stations are going to always supply you with the best synths in the big picture. Something with different sound engines and tons of pre-set patches would definitely be the route if synthesizers are important to you.
Difference Between Keyboards And Keyboard Workstations
The big difference here is that workstations typically have way more sounds, the ability to record and they are typically more expensive. Most also don’t have built-in speakers so you will need an amplifier unless you are hooking up to your laptop or PA system directly.
These are the most versatile keyboards available in the sense that you can also use them as MIDI controllers with your computer or MAC. They are great for live performance as well as for studio performance.
Best Keyboard Workstation Brands
These keyboard brands are not in any order as this is a preference for a lot of musicians. You can read in great detail about all of these brands at the link above.
Are Keyboard Workstations Still Relevant
I believe they are. Some musicians aren’t into the whole MIDI controller and laptop or PC thing. If you’re old fashioned and you truly love working directly on your keyboard, workstations still get the job done.
These are truly powerful machines that can still compete with modern methods for certain things. I personally love to use my FA-08 to demo ideas before I then record them at band practice. Most keyboard workstations are solid keyboards, so you can practice on them and still use them as studios.
I don’t believe that a ton of modern music producers are using workstations anymore to produce songs, however, that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t.
The convenience of workstations is second to none. You can use headphones to plug directly in and dive into your production. I would say that the majority of workstation lovers tend to just stay with workstations rather than switching to controllers. Even if you end up wanting to go the controller route, you can still use your workstation as a controller.
Is A Keyboard Workstation Good For Gigs
100%. These can be awesome for gigging as you can save your whole live set on it prior to performing. This makes it so you can easily switch from song pre-sets. The key-beds are typically fantastic as well.
If you can afford a workstation, I would recommend getting a nice one rather than getting a really nice digital piano. Digital pianos are great as well, however, they don’t have near the abilities of that of a workstation. Even if the piano sounds are better on the digital piano, you can still get expansion packs and download new ones.
One thing that I will mention is that workstations can be pretty heavy. If you are wanting to tour, the FA-08 is hands the best choice as it’s light, durable, and simply powerful. They also fit in 88 key keyboard cases exceptionally well.
We hope you enjoyed our review and found it helpful. If you enjoy making beats on keyboards, check out this post where I talk about the best beat making keyboards at the link above.
If you enjoyed this post or use another product that I didn’t mention, let me know in the comments below!