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).
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.
Commentary to come later, but for the moment here’s the list. As usual, it’s grown a little.
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 price displayed is the average selling price for that particular model for the month of February. The percentage is the difference between the current and year-to-date average, which is an indicator of the direction the price is going. As per the last column, that direction is either “-” for down, “+” for up, and “0” for staying (relatively) the same.
No major surprises for Korg. The Micorkorg is still has the highest sales volume of any instrument, and the Poly 800 has gone up quite a bit in the last few months. Like the Roland SH-101, the MS-20 would seem to be more of a collector’s item than a utility instrument, based on the current price.
I’m in the process of changing some of the Yamaha models. At the moment, I have too many mini keyboards and not enough synths.
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.
Well…what have we here? Looks like Yamaha’s answer to Casio’s SA-21. Looks like it – but doesn’t sound like it.
This is another 2-operator FM keyboard. 100 voices (more on that later), 22 rhythms, 15 demo songs, 4 dedicated front-panel drum pads, plus all the associated selection buttons. As would be expected, the only physical switch is the three-way power/accompaniment slider.
Now, I’d expect that any given FM-based Yamaha keyboard would basically sound like any other. However, this isn’t really the case. The voices are all facsimiles of natural instruments. Unlike the PSS-170, the brass, woodwinds, and mallets are quite good. Organs & pianos, not so good – very bell-like. It is FM, after all.
Although the panel lists 100 voices, they are divided into groups of 40 single, 10 ensemble (added chorus), 3o dual (layered) and 20 split. If I had to guess, I’d say there are about thirty actual distinct sounds, which are then combined in various ways. It is 8-note polyphonic, but obviously choosing the layered voices cuts that to 4-note. Of course, the layered voices are also the more interesting ones.
|00 Trumpet||25 Jazz Guitar||50 Brass Duo||75 Carillon&Banjo|
|01 Horn||26 Rock Guitar||51 Sax&Toy Piano||76 Steel Drum&Harp|
|02 Trombone||27 Acoustic Bass||52 Drop||77 Marimba&Recorder|
|03 Tuba||28 Electric Bass||53 Harp&Panflute||78 Sax&Bass|
|04 Soprano Sax||29 Cello||54 Sax Duo||79 Banjo&Guitar|
|05 Tenor Sax||30 Banjo||55 String Duo||80 Bass/Sax|
|06 Clarinet||31 Mandolin||56 Violin&Cello||81 Bass/Piano|
|07 Bass Clarinet||32 Harp||57 Glocken&Piano||82 Guitar/E.Piano|
|08 Oboe||33 Violin||58 Sax&Clarinet||83 Piano/Trumpet|
|09 Piccolo||34 Carillon||59 Trombone&Horn||84 Harpsichord/Flute|
|10 Flute||35 Timpani||60 Banjo&Flute||85 Glocken/Marimba|
|11 Panflute||36 Steel Drum||61 Guitar&Trumpet||86 Bass/Clarinet|
|12 Recorder||37 Glockenspiel||62 Organ&Piccolo||87 Bass/Rock Guitar|
|13 Ocarina||38 Marimba||63 Jazz Guitar&Organ||88 Accordion/PanFlute|
|14 Piano||39 Vibraphone||64 Funky Synth||89 E.Piano/Sax|
|15 Electric Piano||40 Brass 1||65 Crystal||90 Piano/Violin|
|16 Toy Piano||41 Brass 2||66 Recorder&Bass||91 Toy Piano/Ocarina|
|17 Reed Organ||42 Chime||67 Carillon&Ocarina||92 Bass/Banjo|
|18 Pipe Organ||43 Honk-tonk Piano||68 Rock Guitar & Bass||93 Guitar/Sax|
|19 Jazz Organ||44 Woodwind 1||69 Steel Drums&Organ||94 Bass/Clavi|
|20 Harpsichord||45 Woodwind 2||70 Harp&Accordion||95 Accordion/Piccolo|
|21 Funky Clavi||46 12String Guitar||71 Banjo&Horn||96 Piano/Harp|
|22 Accordion||47 Marimba||72 Mandolin&Oboe||97 Organ/Jazz guitar|
|23 Acoustic Guitar||48 Strings 1||73 Slap Bass||98 Cello/Flute|
|24 Hawaiian Guitar||49 Strings 2||74 Piano&PanFlute||99 Bass/Piano/Percussion|
There are a few voices that I quite like. Brass Duo (#50) is a very analog-ish sawtooth-y kind of generic synth sound. Rock guitar (#26), more like a Clavinet than any guitar, is buzzy and edgy. And if you’re looking for a quick way to throw together a creepy melody, you can’t beat Toy Piano/Ocarina (#91). Generally speaking there are a fair number of decent sounds. The Harmony button on the front panel makes the selected voice monophonic with three layers – kinda like Unison mode. There are no other modifiers – no sustain, or vibrato, or chorus.
|Boogie Woogie||Techno Rock|
|Rock ‘n’ Roll||Reggae|
|Bossa Nova||March 1|
Rhythms are very basic, and selected via the keyboard keys. There’s no intros or fills. The ad-lib button on the front panel plays a little melodic fill for as long as it’s held down.
|Joy to the World||Die Lorelei|
|Brother John||Camptown Races|
|The Old Folks at Home||When the Saints
Go Marching In
|House of the Rising Sun|
|A Little Brown Jug||Brahms’ Lullaby|
|Jingle Bells||Hey Jude|
Demo songs are also selected via the keyboard keys. Hitting the demo button while one is playing will disable the melody part, allowing you to play along.
The built-in stereo speakers aren’t bad, although there’s very little bass response. Some of the more resonant tones are quite capable of generating some seriously impressive buzz and distortion if the volume is up. There is a headphone jack, which was surprising enough but the fact that it’s a 1/4″ jack instead of the now-standard 1/8″ was also unexpected. There is some noise when running into an amp.
As on the SA-21, all of the controls are soft buttons (blech!). Accessing sounds is particularly annoying. Not only do you have to key in the 2-digit number, but you have to hit Enter after each one (which I keep forgetting to do). There is an audible “click” when a button is pressed, but it’s not nearly as loud as it is on the Casio. And like the Casio, there are no indicators, so you have no idea which voice, rhythm, demo, or anything else is selected.
Pros: Good sounds, with the split and ensemble voices being very usable. Real headphone jack.
Cons: Soft buttons. No tone modifiers. No way to adjust relative volume of the rhythm track. Dedicated drum buttons are cute but of little use. No indicators.
Bottom line: Forget about the rhythms & just use the sounds.
Fun fact: Holding down the two right-most keys while powering up puts it into test mode. Hitting any front-panel button then generates a note. Why you’d want to do this, I have no idea.
PSS-190 Demo Recorded straight, no effects.
Just like everyone else’s mother did, my mom always said that if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything. Knowing that I’ve always tried to do just that goes a long way towards explaining why I’m as quiet as I am, especially when I’m at work. However, if I followed that advice here, this would an extremely short post.
It was actually somewhat of a surprise that I found so little to appreciate about the PSS-120 and 130. While I found the Casio SA-21 somewhat frustrating because it did a lot of things, but none of them well, these models do very little and do that little extremely poorly.
The PSS-120 was released in 1986 and was replaced by the PSS-130 in 1987. Seperate posts aren’t warranted here because except for exterior cosmetics these are exactly the same keyboard. The 130 has a glossy control panel overlay with slightly different graphics, and the Yamaha logo on the back is now white. These are the only differences – internally they’re identical.
It is 2-note polyphonic (duophonic?). Except for the power switch, the control panel is all membrane switches. There are eight voices under in the ironically-named Orchestra section, and eight rhythms, such as they are. The obligatory demo button( Yankee Doodle), volume up and down, and the record/play controls for a 110-note sequencer (“Melody Memory”) complete the list of controls.
On power-up, the volume is set at maximum and the clarinet voice is selected. The volume control has just four increments. One would think that the voices would be FM-based, but one would be very wrong. They are muddy, buzzy, and certain notes tend to distort the built-in speaker at any volume level. I initially thought the speaker was either loose or damaged, but both of my units do the same thing.
The drums are just bland squirts of digital noise. The cymbal sound in the rhythm tracks is more like a cowbell, and it is also distinctly pitched, so hitting certain notes on the keyboard sound off-key when played against accompaniment. Tempo is adjustable within a range of sixteen increments.
A sequencer might seem out of place, but there is a very basic 110-note one on board. It’s volatile, of course, so you lose the sequence when the power is turned off. You also lose it if you hit the record button again.
There is no headphone jack, or indeed any jacks other than the power adapter. One could certainly be added, as the case is roomy enough, but I don’t think there’d be a lot of impetus to do so. Just for giggles I tapped into the audio out contacts & tried running the signal into an amp in the hopes that the sound quality might be improved. There really wasn’t a heck of a lot of difference. For the record, there were no giggles, either. The odd speaker-induced distortions disappeared, but the now-audible digital noise was just as irritating.
While I’m not into circuit-bending, I’m also not entirely ignorant of it – it’s just not my thing. So when I say that there is little or no opportunity to circuit-bend this, it’s not because I’m not familiar with the process, it’s because the thing is effectively based on one chip (YM2410). There is more circuitry devoted to power handling and amplification than to actually generating the sound, as seen above.
For me, a lot of the little home keyboards generate a fair amount of head-scratching. Often I have no idea what the designers intended to be done with the instrument, and I’m just as often puzzled by the implementation of features. This, however, is not just baffling but one of the very few keyboards I actively dislike.
Cons: 2-note polyphony. No output jacks. Noisy, simplistic rhythms. Noisy, muddy-sounding patches. Noisy internal speaker. Little or no opportunity for circuit bending.
Pros: Either model would be unlikely to kill you if it fell on you from out of a tree.
Bottom line: I added strap pegs to one of my two PSS-130s and use it as a costume prop; drilling holes in it was very cathartic. That one’s a keeper. The other 130 and the 120 are going into the “to be sold as quickly as possible” pile.
Yamaha PSS-130 Demo The demo song, followed by a couple of measures of each of the eight rhythms.
Bi-weekly price update. N/S indicates there were no recorded sales during the time period. A couple of other units were suggested, which I added. Also added a column to show the percentage increase or decrease from the last period.
Averages based on data from 12/19/2011 to 1/1/2012. Overall volume was lower due to the holidays.
|Alpha Juno 1||$219.83||6%|
Added the D-50. The Sound Canvas makes me kinda sad…I still love that pupster & use mine all the time.
Microkorg and X50 seem pretty stable. I’m still a little surprised by the Poly 800; I almost wish I’d kept the ones I’ve fixed over the years.
Although the price listed is based on just one sale, and isn’t therefore really statistically relevant, the CS1X is still somewhat underrated. It’s a bargain.
Added the Rogue. I’d include more Moog models, but the sales volume is so low that I don’t know if the numbers would mean anything. It also just occurred to me that the MG-1, Prodigy, and Rogue are all basically the same synth.
Another one I don’t get…what’s the appeal of the VL-1? It’s of historic interest, certainly, and cute, but at that price? If I found one at a yard sale for $10, yeah, but otherwise I’m happy to stick with the VL-1 VST.