No major structural changes. More models and a few new vendors added.
As always, the “Range” column represents the year-to-date average taking into account the availability of that particular hardware along with the difference between the high and low prices. A wide range indicates either low sales volume or large gap between the high and low (or both).
Well, it’s sure not a MiniMoog. It also wasn’t a sale.
Casio CA-110. Another trash pick. Seriously, I don’t understand why people throw these out – give it to Goodwill, or find a school to donate it to.
Filthy, as usual. The photo was taken before I cleaned and tested it; at that point I didn’t know whether or not it worked. It is indeed completely functional.
Despite the full-sized keys, it’s really just one of the myriad SA-series keyboards in a bigger package. It does sound a little better, by virtue of a larger speaker and slightly beefier amp. Sounds are okay – nothing to write home about. No MIDI, nothing but headphone and power jacks. If I’d seen it at a flea market, I would have passed it up. But “free” is always good.
It’s a good beginner’s keyboard, so I’ll either add it to my “to be sold” pile or donate it.
Format is the same, for a change. Added a couple of new manufacturers and a bunch of new models. I have several manufacturers with just one or two models; I may add them primarily to use as filler to make the pages come out even.
As explained in a previous post, the Range column represents a range of prices based on the high and low to date, but also takes into account the volume of sales. If the range is really narrow, either the item is very popular or the prices are always pretty close. Wide ranges indicate either a big disparity between high and low or a small volume.
In either case, it’s reasonable to assume that if you want to purchase something, seeing a price somewhere close to that range is a good thing.
Didn’t actually do any yard sales or thrift stores this weekend. I did, however, stop at the Columbus Flea Market on the way to take a friend back home. Since I have several projects going right now, I really wasn’t looking to buy anything. But of course, any lost and lonely keyboards still tug at my heart – and my wallet.
Found two this time. A Casio CZ-230s synthesizer with stand, and a Casio MT-520. Both are a little beat up, but as usual the prices were way too good to pass up.
The CZ-230s is a bit of a rarity, and I’ll do a full-scale review later. It’s essentially a preset CZ-101 synthesizer, with built-in rhythms and limited editing capability. It’s also got strap pegs, so if I ever feel like completely nerding out I can dig out my cape, put on a little Yes, and keytar my way around the living room. Okay, that won’t be happening – but I could!
It’s missing one slider cap and one button, but is otherwise all there. The stand is actually quite cool, too. I haven’t run across one yet that can be adjusted to fit a mini keyboard.
The MT-520 is more common (in fact, I just realized I may have one already). This was a straight pity rescue. End of the day, tired seller, dusty little keyboard sitting in a pile of toys. I’ll clean it up, test it, and add it to the sale list.
Both of these were initially spotted by my eagle-eyed friend. Now, I’ve certainly had my share of unexpected finds, but lately the only credit I can take is for knowing what’s worth buying. It’s good to know that when I go out with someone else there’s very little chance of anything sneaking by.
At current prices, both together would sell for around $140, with another $15 for the stand. Since I paid a very small fraction of that, I’m certainly not going to complain about having to clean ’em up a little.
Commentary to come later, but for the moment here’s the list. As usual, it’s grown a little.
Not earth-shaking (certainly not in the same league as finding a Korg X5D in the trash) but kinda cool nonetheless. Picked this up last weekend, at one of the first yard sales of the season. My hunting partner of the day spied this as soon as we walked up the driveway.
Perfect condition, works fine, box is in good shape, but it’s missing one of the styrofoam endpieces (edit – both of them are there, they were just crammed into one end of the box). No manual or adapter, either, but for the whopping $2 it cost I’m not complaining (current average sale price is $46).
I have another one that I’d picked up last year, but it’s not in as good shape. The older one will be sold, and this one is getting added to the permanent collection.
And this weekend, at a thrift store…
Completely complete right down to the warranty card. Box is a wee bit beat up, but c’mon – it’s 32 years old! Everything else is minty fresh; the manual doesn’t appear to have been opened. This one’s also going into the permanent collection.
So, a good start to the season. It’s nice to know that even as I’m selling some of the pieces I don’t use or necessarily want, that there are still lovely things out there for really good prices, provided you know which rocks to look under. Which is made much easier if you normally shop with someone (as I do) who happens to be a great rock-turner.
As indicated – the full list. Since the list has grown quite a bit, I may just post this from here on out, instead of dedicated posts for each section.
The fact that this entry is being made immediately after a post about things that suck shouldn’t necessarily indicate that this is a particularly wonderful device. It does, however, avoid many of those pitfalls and is in fact a very good example of what I’d consider a simple mini keyboard.
This is a mid-size, 4-octave PCM keyboard. It has all of the very basic features one would expect and little else. It is 8-note polyphonic, reduced to 4 when using the auto-accompaniment. Panel controls are all real buttons, sliders, and switches.
From left to right, there is main volume, accompaniment volume, and chord select switch. “Off” disables the melodic section of the rhythm track, and “fingered” responds to actual notes and chords you play.
The Casio Chord function is present on virtually all of their instruments, and is here as well. Playing a given key adds a major chord to the accompaniment. Pressing one key to the right of the first changes it to a minor chord, and pressing two and three additional keys change it to a minor 7th and major 7th respectively.
|Jazz Organ||Pipe Organ|
|Funky Clavi.||Synth. Sound|
Most of the voices are usable, as long as one doesn’t expect them to sound too similar to their names. Flute is lovely and both organs are quite good, and Funky Clavi and Elec Guitar are also very usable. There are no modifiers, although some of the sounds do include vibrato. Again, the flute demonstrates this quite well.
I did notice an audible click when pressing the voice buttons. This may be intentional, or the contacts on this particular unit might be a little dirty.
|Rock 1||Rock 2|
Now, the rhythms. It’s important to note that here, the internal speaker does absolutely nothing for the sounds. When using an external amp it may as well be an entirely different keyboard.
There is an intro/fill button, which works as expected, and an end button that has to be hit at just the right moment to sound natural. I recorded about seven demo samples and was able to get it just once; the one I posted is NOT that one. It doesn’t sound bad if you miss, just odd.
The unit is well-built and heavy. There is a standard 1/8″ headphone jack. The keyboard is also surprisingly solid and responsive. While pretty well packed with circuitry, there is certainly enough room around the edges to add switches and contacts if one is so inclined. The bottom of the main board staring at you practically begs to be messed with.
Pros: Some sounds are quite good. Intro and end buttons. Headphone jack. Rugged.
Cons: Fixed accompaniment pattern. No sound modifiers.
Casio MT-110 Demo Just a small snippet of the accompaniment and a small sample of Flute and Pipe Organ.
I was unable to locate a manual for this on-line. It’s pretty safe to say, though, that you probably won’t need one.
Well, at least features that *I* say stink.
So I like to collect them, but what exactly are these mini keyboards? Are they instruments? Toys? Musical scratch pads? Cacophonous time wasters? Does anyone really know for sure?
The very early models tended to be very basic. This was for both technological limitations, and also because in a brand new market it was uncertain as to which features would be important to consumers.
As time went on, manufacturers seemed to have been intent on cramming as many representations of whatever technology was available at the time into these little noisy boxes. Doing so as cheaply as possible, though, meant that shortcuts were often taken. On top of that, they needed to be visually appealing to your average non-musical consumer (Oooo….shiny!)
In the time I’ve spent over the last thirty-odd years working with keyboards, these are the top ten things that consistently annoy me about them. It is highly unusual to find any model that doesn’t contain at least one of these annoyances. And I can think of a few models off the top of my head that contain all of them. Your mileage may vary, of course.
10) Non-standard AC adapters
Yamaha and Casio have opposite polarity adapters. Usually. However, even within these two major manufacturers there are still some oddball units, with either strange plugs or weird voltages. Other manufacturers, such as Kawai, tend to have their own standards. Trying to keep track of all the various ones for specific units is a real pain. For testing, it’s usually far easier just to throw some batteries in, since most use either C or AA.
9) Poor internal speaker(s)
There’s a difference between “inexpensive” and “cheap”. A difference you can hear, in the form of rattles, buzzes, and a miniscule frequency range. On some keyboards, the speakers are sometimes chosen specifically to mask deficiencies in the sound generating method employed. Which does help to explain item 3 below.
8) No rhythm/accompaniment variations
Fill & end buttons would be nice. Tempo being adjustable over a wide range is good, too.
7) Too many / lousy rhythms
A couple of dozen well-constructed ones would be preferable to a hundred that stink. Get rid of fixed-pitch percussion that requires you to play in the same key. And ditch the waltzes. Ditch the front-panel drum pads, too, unless you can assign different voices to them.
The next few are specifically voice related.
6) Really bad sounds
And by “bad” it can mean sound quality, choice of voices, or both. There’s no reason some of these should sound as horrid as they do. Square wave, sampling, PCM, additive synthesis, FM…it doesn’t matter that you’re using the latest technology if it still sounds like crap.
5) Too many sounds.
No one needs a 37-key mini keyboard with 240 anemic sounds. A few dozen quality voices that sound good should be adequate for most needs. This would also eliminate the need to devote huge swatches of control panel real estate to nothing more than a list of all the patch names. And unless the thing is specifically targeted towards kids, all of the “cute” or “funny” sounds are unnecessary.
It also might make sense to take all those cool sound effects and combine them into one patch, where each is assigned to one key. What is the point of being able to play the sound of a jet plane over the entire range of the keyboard?
4) No sound variations
Vibrato, chorus, or maybe sustain. A pedal jack is unnecessary (and frankly silly on a mini keyboard). A button is fine. As above, provide the user with a few good sounds and allow them to be easily modified.
3) No output jacks & other case flaws
Lack of a headphone jack is often cited as a simple cost-saving measure. This is somewhat difficult to believe. Most units have plenty of room; drill one hole and put in a switching jack.
The other major case issue is unnecessary cosmetic features such as grilles, vents, serrations, or anything else that serves no real purpose other than to collect dust. Recessed controls are particularly annoying, just as they are on full-sized keyboards, because they’re extremely difficult to clean.
Along with those standardized AC adapters, it would have been nice if they could have decided on a standard-sized battery door, too.
2) Poor quality controls
Membrane switches lack tactile feedback. While tearing or puncturing isn’t usually an issue, either graphics being worn off or the surface being scratched or scraped are common. Buttons tend to feel “squishy”, and sliders (if present at all) are rarely smooth.
And the #1 thing I hate, the thing that almost always guarantees a quick trip to the “For Sale” section of my equipment cupboard…
1) Digital access controls
Instead of an actual slider or button, a particular parameter is controlled by either typing in a number or by hitting up/down buttons. This is normally coupled with a lack of indicators. By that, I mean nothing to indicate the current patch, or rhythm track, or tempo, or in the worst cases, nothing to indicate the unit is even turned on. The settings are also volatile, so that each time you turn the unit off and back on again, everything has reset to the defaults.
Volume is the worst offender. It usually defaults to a too-loud setting, so the first thing you have to do after turning the unit on is to turn it down. Second is patch selection. This typically requires at least two button presses and you can’t tell what you’ve typed in until you actually play. Hitting these types of buttons usually results in some sort of audible click, which can be annoying. Increments are typically fixed, too, so that instead of a smooth range of volume or tempo you’re stuck with a number of discrete intervals.
I understand that most – if not all – of these gripes are designed in as a way to save money. Very few are the result of technological limitations. It’s easier to control the functions through software and dedicated logic chips than to use discrete components. It’s a tradeoff, though, and I think consumers – and certainly musicians – end up with the short end of the stick. It always feels as if the marketing departments decide to cram as much as possible into as small a space as possible while keeping costs down, and then the engineers are forced to come up with ways to make them work. Which results, of course, in all of the items listed above.
So the question is, what are some features that DO make sense? Are there any mini keyboards that avoid most of these pitfalls while still remaining interesting? Hey, Relic, are there any your grumpy old ass actually LIKES?
Yep. Stayed tuned.
Couple of days late on this one. Bi-weekly price update. N/S indicates there were no recorded sales during the time period. Percentage column shows the or decrease from the last period. The larger values here may not be reflective of actual trends, since there may have been only one sale in the period.
I’ve actually begun to track many more models, and can see average pricing over a longer period of time. If nothing else, it gives a good sense for whether or not something on Ebay or craigslist is fairly priced, or whether the seller is under the influence of pharmaceuticals.
Averages based on Ebay sales data from 1/2/2012 to 1/15/2012.
|Alpha Juno 1||N/S||–|
The SH-101 continues to astonish me. It’ll be interesting to see if the release of the Moog Minitaur and the Arturia MiniBrute have any effect on mono synth prices.
The Polysix only had one sale; whoever it was got a good deal. Although it’s still too early to be sure, the Poly 800 appears to be stable – another head-scratcher.
The AN1X may not have been a good choice for this list. I like it, but the sales volume has been really low.
Need to rethink this list, too. The MicroMoog has more sales than the Prodigy.
The VL-1 appears to have corrected; the average price for the past few months has been around $44.
This seemed like a good idea at the time, but I’ve found the 2-week interval is too short for some of the lower-volume keyboards. Instead of this, I may change to doing it monthly but with an expanded list of models. Again, if you have any suggestions let me know.