Making music has suffered significant changes in the last few decades. Almost all instruments are electric now, which makes perfect sense since they are able to produce a wider range of sounds. I am the occasional sucker for old-school music, but electric equipment makes most of the contemporary music. As a result, extra equipmentis needed. An amplifier is one of them.
Most people only acknowledge the need for amplifiers when it comes to guitars. I don’t know why that is. Maybe because they all sit in the front of the stage for everybody to see them. What most people don’t know is that keyboards also require amplifiers.
Why not a guitar amp or PA system?
A lot of people out there believe that you just can plug in the keyboard into a guitar amplifier or a PA system, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Let’s analyze the two options a bit so you can understand the reason why a keyboard needs its own amplifier.
A guitar amplifier
Many people ask why can’t you just use a guitar amp to plug in the keyboard. Guitar amps are more common, and in a band surely there is one laying around. But that doesn’t mean you can use it for another instrument. The primary reason for that is that a guitar amplifier is not designed to optimize the range of frequencies the keyboard works in. A keyboard needs a broader frequency range because it can make a large variety of sounds. That is the most simple answer I can give you.
A PA system
A PA (public address) system offers the same range of frequencies as a keyboard amplifier, so naturally, you may ask why can’t you use that. The answer is that you can, especially if it has onboard EQ controls, but only in certain situations. Your solos will sound nice, and you can even plug in a microphone. But a keyboard amplifier provides that as well. However, there are a few aspects that make a specific keyboard amp better than a PA system.
One of them is portability. A PA system is, as you are perfectly aware of, huge. Imagine being a keyboard player and carrying that around you gig after gig, whereas a keyboard amplifier is a lot smaller and easy to transport. Then, you have the control options. Plugging in the keyboard in the venue’s PA speaker means that the house engineer will do the sound checks and will manage the EQ options. Or even worse, small venues like cafes don’t have a house engineer, who at least knows a little bit about sounds, and you will end up with a barista controlling the PA system. Do you really want that?
Another thing to consider is the cost. Look at the price for a PA system and then compare itto the price of a keyboard amplifier. It doesn’t even begin to compare. Keyboard amps are a lot cheaper than PA systems, no matter which brand you choose. And let’s face it, if you are a small-time keyboard player, there is no way you want to spend that much money on a PA system when you have a better and cheaper alternative.
Keyboard amplifier buyer’s guide
Now that we have established that you need a keyboard amp let’s learn how to choose one. Of course, you will choose what you like and fits your needs, but there are things you should consider before making a purchase. You can’t just click ‘add to cart’ on the first amp you see. The whole process requires a filtering from your part, according to what you are looking for. Here are the specs you need to pay attention to.
- Power – the number of watts you require depends on the venues you are playing. A small place will not need an enormous power, but large venues will. Fortunately, manufacturers provide all kinds of wattage for you to choose from. Also, learn to make the difference between peek watts and continuous watts (RMS watts). Peek watts refers to the maximum power an amplifier can produce, but it will only do so at certain moments. Forcing the amp to the maximum continuouslyhas the ability to damage the piece of equipment. RMS watts, on the other hand, represent the number of watts that an amp can produce consistently. A lot of people believe that RMS watts represent a more realistic measure of the amp’s output.
- Speakers – the most common speaker is the 12-inch woofer with a smaller tweeter (usually 1 inch). That provides a balanced response across a wide range of frequencies. The bigger the power output, the bigger the speakers (some reach 15 inches), but that is more for the bass response. Some brands even provide attachable subwoofers for a higher quality of the sound. If bass is what you need, then the right choice would include amplifiers that have ports-holes that are strategically placed in the speaker cabinet. It helps to project the distinct tones beyond the range of the woofer.
- Onboard features – some models provide more than one channel so you can plug more than one instruments. You can connect two keyboards, a microphone, or even a drum set and an MP3 player. If the circumstances allow it, you can use a single amp for the entire band. If a product comes with multiple channels, chances are that there are also some mixer features like channel-specific EQ controls or the option to cut various channels. Some even have reverb and chorus options, which come in handy if you want to plug in a microphone. The point is that if you are looking for a particular feature, your chances of finding it are very high.
- Portability – I don’t know about you, but I consider this very important. Carrying the equipment from one venue to another is already hard enough. No need to make it even more complicated. That is why people prefer keyboard amplifiers. They are not as big as a PA system or a stage monitor, which means carrying it around is relatively easy. They are made of lighter, solid-state components, and they usually come in cabinets that include both the amp and the speaker.
What are the best keyboard amplifiers?
Since there are many models on the market, it’s difficult to establish which one is the best. There is no way someone tried them all and then compiled a list with which ones will perform better. However, different people tried multiple brands and then wrote about it. That is why I love the internet. You can know how well a particular model performs judging by other’s experience with it. Based on that, here are a few keyboard amplifiers that will satisfy your need properly.
Behringer Ultratone K450fx
The Behringer model works both as a keyboard amplifier and as a PA system. That makes it flexible, and you can use it in different circumstances. The power output is 45 watts, and it comes with three channels. Most people would agree that the Behringer is suitable for a small band because it also has an affordable price.
The powerful 10-inch Bugera speaker reproduces the sound beautifully and clear, while the integrated digital FX processor has 100 presets for reverb, chorus, delay, and various effects. Plugging in a microphone is no issue. The FBQ Feedback Detection, which is a relatively new concept, reveals critical frequencies. That will help with the amp’s lifespan.
The volume and FX Send will operate separately for each of the three channels, and there is an extra XLR mic input on channel 1 for direct connection of dynamic microphones. The EQ controls will allow you to shape the sound exactly how you like it, but you can also connect a mixing console if you want. The subwoofer provides ultimate low-end power, and there is even a CD input that you can play along to whatever music you like. The separate headphone output is ideal for quiet practicing.
The integrated 35-mm pole socket allows you to mount the cabinet on a stand and use it as a PA system. Portability is easy with this model as it has a firm handle on top of the cabinet. The high-quality components and the sturdy construction ensures a durability that only a German manufacturer can provide.
Roland KC-550 Stereo Mixing Keyboard Amplifier
This model is more suited for keyboard amplifiers but doubles as a PA system, just like the previous model. It works better for keyboards, but after all, that is what you are looking for, isn’t it? It’s a lot better to have an amp that is designed to optimize the sound from one instrument, to focus on just one, than to have an amplifier that focuses on multiple instruments. I have explained to you why that is. However, people have been using it with bass guitars, and apparently, it does a great job.
The Roland model has a power output of 180 watts, but that is when it peaks. As you can imagine, the RMS is not as high, but I believe that it’s at least satisfactory. It depends on the venue, but you won’t choose this amp if you know you are going to play in large places.
The 15-inch speaker and horn tweeter will provide excellent sound reproduction, even when the music peaks. The amp is designed to support four channels, so there is enough room for another instrument and microphones. The EQ controls allow you to shape the tones according to what you are playing at any given moment. There is an XLR mic input and an extra XLR line if you choose to connect a mixing console. If you want to record, you have the option of connecting a ¼ inches phone jack.
Overall, you will be satisfied with this keyboard amplifier. It reproduces sounds beautiful, and there is no hum (common defect on low-quality amplifiers.) It’s easy to carry around and, but the components are made of high-quality materials. No need to worry that it will not last.
Laney AH40 Multi-Instrument Amplifier
I have noticed this trend of purchasing a multi-instrument amplifier. I guess a lot of people prefer it because it’s more convenient that way. That is why manufacturers have managed to design an amplifier that can satisfy sound needs of most popular players, like guitar, drums, and, of course, keyboards.
The Laney model is exactly what I described above. It can accommodate a variety of instruments, and still does a good job. I cannot go as far as saying that it does an equally good job as an amp that was designed specifically for keyboards, but it’s the next best thing.
Unlike previous models, the Laney does not have a high power output; it’s a small cabinet. It only has a 40 watts (peek), but there are people out there who don’t need an 180-watt amp. Even so, the sound is clear, and there is no humming. It’s ideal for beginners who don’t have gigs and like to play as a hobby at home but still want a great sound. Still, it can provide two channels in case you want to play with a buddy.
Don’t let the small size fool you. It can do almost everything a larger amp can do. It comes with EQ controls,a headphone socket, and the audio hubs sound great. What goes in comes out a lot louder. There is a CD and AUX input if you want to play along with a particular song. The metal grill makes sure that the equipment is durable and is kick-proof.
I am not an expert, but from what I heard, I like the Roland model a lot better than the other two models. It comes with a variety of features and is more keyboard-oriented. They can all be used for multiple purposes, but the Roland is one of the best keyboard amplifiers. Also, the manufacturer has years of experience in producing music equipment. That should count for something, at least as far as durability goes.
For some, music is a way of life. Passionate people will always work and struggle to make the best music they possibly can. However, talent sometimes doesn’t mean much without the proper equipment. It’s sad but true. There is no point in playing if nobody can hear you, right? That is why an amplifier helps. It makes you feel heard.
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