Mixdown's Christmas Gift Guide: Keys & Synths

Our Best Christmastime Bargains

It's the most wonderful time of the year, and we couldn't be happier about it. But between listening to Christmas songs on repeat and trying to perfect our festive decorations, it's not always easy to make time to find a gift for the musicians in our lives. For those who don't want to see their Christmas cheer ruined searching for the perfect present in a crowd of shoppers on Christmas Eve, we've got you covered. Our Christmas Gift Guide is bursting with gear that we're sure your music mates will love, and this page is especially for anyone in need of keys or synths.

Yamaha PSR-E363 Portable Keyboard

DISTRIBUTED BY: Yamaha Music Australia

EXPECT TO PAY: $329

RECOMMENDED FOR:

This is the ideal keyboard for beginners who are looking for touch responsive keys, that great Yamaha piano sound and plenty of other voices, styles and songs.

SOUND AND VERSATILITY:

With a new version being released every few years, the sounds just continue to get better in the PSR-E range.

USABILITY:

With plenty of sounds and options, this is still a very easy to navigate keyboard. The built-in teaching function shows which notes are to be played for each song on the screen and can even hold off playback until the correct note is played, making it an ideal learning tool when a teacher is not present.

CONSTRUCTION:

There is never a need to be concerned with Yamaha build quality.

OVERALL:

The PSR-E keyboards, especially the PSR-E363, represent great value for both the beginner and intermediate keyboard player. With plenty of functions, including app-based extensions and USB connectivity, this is the best way to get someone started in the keyboard world.

 

Hammond Sk1-88 Piano/Organ

DISTRIBUTED BY: Bernies Music Land

EXPECT TO PAY: $3395

RECOMMENDED FOR:

Professional players.

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

In line with the rest of Hammond’s Sk line, the ethos seems to be taking the revered classic sound/design and placing it in a lightweight and portable stage piano. The organ voices sing, sounding lush and vibrant. The piano voices are clean and delicate.

USABILITY:

For those who find that they can’t get enough out of a 61 or 73 note keyboard, the Sk1-88 has you covered. Providing the perfect middle ground between organ and stage piano.

CONSTRUCTION:

The 88 key model, whilst bigger than the other models in the series, still manages to be incredibly lightweight.

OVERALL:

Organ players looking for a fitting stage piano and vice versa. This has your name written all over it.

 

Hammond XK-5 Keyboard

DISTRIBUTED BY: Bernies Music Land

EXPECT TO PAY: $5995

RECOMMENDED FOR:

Players wanting the classic Hammond sound, but portable.

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

The Hammond sound is truly something else. You all know the sound and the legacy it comes with. The XK-5 gives you the sound of the Hammond B-3 but with a tonne of additional features, including a very impressive Leslie speaker simulator.

USABILITY:

One of the biggest selling points of the XK-5 is the action. The keys bounce back quickly and effortlessly, making it perfect for more percussive styles of playing that the Hammond is so revered for.

CONSTRUCTION:

It’s mighty impressive that Hammond have jam packed so much into such a compact and portable keyboard without it weighing an absolute tonne.

OVERALL:

Look, it’s not cheap and nor should it be. If you want that classic Hammond sound without having to restore an original antique keyboard/organ, then the XK-5 is the only option.

 

Hammond Sk1 Piano/Organ

DISTRIBUTED BY: Bernies Music Land

EXPECT TO PAY: $2395

RECOMMENDED FOR:

Professional players.

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

Jazz piano, church organ, grand piano, flute, clav, accordion? The Sk1 does it all, and man does it do it well.  Whether you’re playing pop, jazz, rock or anything in between, the sounds you need are right at your fingertips.

USABILITY:

Hammond just know the perfect weight for their keys. Weighted nicely, without being too heavy, making it so easy to play with grace and finesse.

CONSTRUCTION:

The Sk1 is super lightweight, making it perfect for touring players who need something portable to travel with.

OVERALL:

It’s the perfect keyboard for a player that needs something that will work for any and every gig. Lightweight and portable, perfect for the working musician. Looks great, sounds great and plays like a dream.

 

Crown CDP-8801 Digital Piano

DISTRIBUTED BY: Jade Australia

EXPECT TO PAY: $1299

RECOMMENDED FOR:

This is the ideal learning and practise piano for the home. Great for anyone wanting the look and feel of a real piano with digital control, in a compact cabinet size.

SOUND AND VERSATILITY:

With 138 sounds, 100 rhythm patterns and 50 demo songs, there’s plenty going on in the engine of the CDP-8801. This is far more than just a piano replacement, and even offers keyboard split and dual voice modes.

USABILITY:

Easy access to the sound and rhythm selection with a large display screen showing plenty of information. With all pedals built in, there’s no need for further accessories. It’s complete and ready to play, including a range of built-in effects and the standard metronome option that is so important for learning.

CONSTRUCTION:

This isn’t a portable stage piano, in fact it’s a fairly heavy unit, and it should be for what’s on offer.

OVERALL:

The CDP-8801 offers plenty of features at a price that is well below that of similar models from other brand names. With USB and MIDI connections as well as a basic record function, this has everything a beginner could want in a digital piano.

 

Casio CDP-135BK Digital Piano
 


DISTRIBUTED BY: Shriro

RRP: $749.95

RECOMMENDED FOR:

The CDP-135BK is perfectly suited to someone wanting the sound and feel of a piano, when either the money or the space are not available for the real thing. Great for beginners who want to practise piano at home on a weighted key bed.

SOUND AND VERSATILITY:  

With just ten inbuilt sounds, this unit is really all about the piano. It sounds just as you would expect a Casio digital piano to - the quietest of high notes sparkle from the speakers and the biggest low notes have plenty of volume as well.

USABILITY:  

This is a pretty simple design, without too many complex features. It’s supposed to sound and feel like a real piano and it does achieve that. The graded hammer action key bed offers more resistance on the lower notes and a gentler touch on the higher notes, just as would be expected of a real piano.

CONSTRUCTION:

For a hammer action, 88-note digital piano with speakers, this still comes in at under 20kg, so it remains a portable option. The slim case makes it easy to get it around if portability is required.

OVERALL:

This is a great option for anyone looking to start playing piano when the real thing is not on the cards. It sounds and feels like a piano, with a full 88-note hammer action key bed, and a great piano sound.

 

Casio GP-500BP Digital Piano

DISTRIBUTED BY: Shriro

EXPECT TO PAY: $7499

RECOMMENDED FOR:

This is the ideal way for the concert grand pianist to spoil themselves with a stage piano at home. For anyone wanting a digital piano that looks, feels and sounds just like the real thing, this is it.

SOUND AND VERSATILITY:  

With the sound of three classic European grand pianos included in the GP-500BP, you can find a piano and level of expressiveness to suit any style of playing. And they sound fantastic, with a natural resonance from the case making it sound bigger than just a pair of speakers.

USABILITY:  

With actual wooden keys and hammer mechanisms built into the housing, you truly get the feel of playing a real piano whilst controlling the digital engine.

CONSTRUCTION:

Built into a high gloss cabinet, with the option to raise the lid for better sound, this is a very classy instrument that is well appointed and very nicely finished. The GP-500BP would not look out of place in any concert hall or home alike.

OVERALL:

This is the next step in digital pianos. If you want a true piano feel and sound, with the versatility and space saving size of a digital unit, this is certainly worth having a listen to.

 

Casio CTK-3500


DISTRIBUTED BY: Shriro

EXPECT TO PAY: $300

RECOMMENDED FOR:

This keyboard is great for beginners and intermediate players looking for a compact and portable keyboard option with plenty of sounds, built in speakers and more features than we have time to mention.

SOUND AND VERSATILITY:  

With 400 sounds under the hood, and Casio’s dance music mode, there are plenty of options for anyone. Built-in speakers allow you to listen as you play, or you can shut these off with the use of headphones for quiet practise and creativity right into the night.

USABILITY:  

With 61 closed piano-style keys that have two levels of touch response, and 48-note polyphony, this is a well-appointed keyboard. Even better still, the CTK-3500 has a pitch bend wheel included, which is something that you don’t often see on keyboard models in this price point.

CONSTRUCTION:  

As with most models in this price range, the CTK-3500 is built into a plastic frame, but it is a fairly sturdy unit, which feels all the more solid and professional to play with the fully closed keys.

OVERALL:

This offers a great step-up from the very beginners’ keyboard and gives a great option to many intermediate keyboard players looking for something to play at home or on the road.

 

Casio LK-265 Beginner’s Keyboard

DISTRIBUTED BY: Shriro

EXPECT TO PAY: $400
RECOMMENDED FOR:

For the youngest musicians in the family, this is the perfect instrument to get them motivated and wanting to learn music.

SOUND AND VERSATILITY:  

A great range of built in sounds, rhythms and songs make learning to play the keyboard a whole lot of fun. The dual two-watt, four inch speakers have plenty of volume, but not so much that it will have the neighbours knocking on your door.

USABILITY:  

This keyboard has most of the features that would be expected of a beginner’s keyboard these days, but with one glowing addition: the keys light up to show you which notes to play when learning one of the 60 built-in songs. On top of that, the dance music mode allows you to create and remix a range of dance tracks with a simple step-by-step procedure.

CONSTRUCTION:  

This is a portable keyboard that’s built into a plastic frame to keep the weight and price tag as low as possible.

OVERALL:

For the young beginner, this is a really fun way to start out on the journey through the musical world. With an additional app available for greater learning features, along with dance mode and the key lighting system, this certainly has plenty to offer.

Teenage Engineering OP-1 Synthesiser

DISTRIBUTED BY: Innovative Music Australia

EXPECT TO PAY: $1379

RECOMMENDED FOR:

Synth nerds.

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

The OP-1 is at first a synthesiser, but also a sequencer and a very powerful performance tool at that. The synth engine has some incredible sounds in there and plenty of ways in which you can build and create new sounds. The colour screen is incredibly detailed and allows you to clearly see what is going on as you work with the buttons and knobs that have basic labelling and give very little away. Every sound can have effects added, LFO modulation, ADSR envelope and all number of ways in which they can be adjusted.

USABILITY:

The sequencer – or tape recorder section
– allows for four tracks that can be looped and layered and is capable of delivering a complete performance without the need of other devices. It gets better: you can sample from external sources, including FM radio, and it will run on batteries for music making on the go.

CONSTRUCTION:  

It is built so well, with a machined steel case and knobs and buttons that feel sturdy when you touch them. It’s exactly what you want from a piece of gear that wants you to tap away at it and always be making adjustments.

OVERALL:

The OP-1 has a wicked array of sequencing possibilities and offers a new approach to creating electronic music. Love it.

 

Novation Launchpad Mini

DISTRIBUTED BY: Innovative Music Australia

EXPECT TO PAY: $299

RECOMMENDED FOR:

This handy little controller is ideal for both the beginner and the advanced Ableton user looking for the classic grid-style controller in a compact format.

SOUND AND VERSATILITY:

It’s pretty clear that this device is designed for Ableton, although it can be used with other software platforms. The best results come from integration with Ableton, with a combination of other controllers.

USABILITY:

It’s quick and easy to install and you’re ready to go in no time. The response of the pads is just like the bigger version, with velocity sensitivity and colour coding for ease of use. For the smaller size, you still get plenty of control over the software and the pads don’t feel too cramped up against each other.

CONSTRUCTION:

Although plastic, it’s a very rigid little casing that feels well made. The pads all have a solid touch to them and the LEDs beneath all seem very bright. There’s not a lot under the hood, so it is fairly lightweight, but still pretty solid.

OVERALL:

Don’t just think of this as a toy because of the compact size. This is every bit a serious Ableton controller and it will fit in your laptop bag and squeeze into a cramped DJ booth in the club. 

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