At times, the process of purchasing musical equipment can give rise to a sense of spending excessively without reaping significant benefits. With the constant influx of new devices introduced by various brands, one begins to question the value they truly bring. All those promising headlines with attractive offers mess with your mind and create a tangled ball of different ideas. It becomes harder to figure out what to choose or should you choose at all. With great versatility comes great responsibility. From my experience, you will never know for sure unless you take a risk.
I remember my first keyboard amplifier. It took me weeks to do proper research and come up with a final decision. The only thing that made this process easier was the experience of other musicians. I read and reread articles that reviewed different brands more or less objectively. It helped me form a general idea and create a brief outline of my requirements. If you are anything like my younger self and are confused just like me, this article will help you choose the best keyboard amplifier for your needs.
What’s The Best Keyboard Amp
|Leslie 2121||(4.8 / 5)||Check on Amazon|
|Roland 3-channel Mixing Keyboard Amplifier, 50 watt||(4.8 / 5)||Check on Amazon|
|BEHRINGER ULTRATONE KXD15||(4.7 / 5)||Check on Amazon|
|Vox VX50KB||(4.7 / 5)||Check on Amazon|
|Peavey KB 2||(4.6 / 5)||Check on Amazon|
But anyway, are not all amplifiers the same?
The answer to this question is a solid NO. You might think that getting an extra amplifier specifically for your keyboards is an unnecessary headache and a waste of money, but trust me, my friend, it is money well spent. Investing in a good keyboard amp will drastically change your game and the difference between sound qualities will be so profound, you will start questioning your existence. You may think that I am exaggerating, but once you plug in your first keyboard amplifier, you will understand what I am talking about. Most of the time the temptation of grabbing that unused guitar amp and plugging it in your keyboards is pretty huge but I will explain why it is better to concentrate on the instrument and choose specific equipment.
First of all, the main aim of keyboard amplifiers is to provide rich low-frequency sound for your keyboard basslines and crisp high-frequency sound for higher notes. They are designed to have zero distortion, while guitar amps are purposefully made in a way that creates distortion or overdrive. So the sounds that keyboard amplifiers deliver, are powerful thus clean and pure. One of the few exceptions to this rule are the keyboard amplifiers specifically made for Hammond organs, such as Leslie speakers.
Second of all, guitar amps are usually made for one instrument, whilst keyboard amplifiers are equipped with mixers and different channels for several keyboards.
And finally, keyboard amp can be a combination of pre-amps, power amplifiers, full-range speakers and horn-loaded tweeters, whereas guitar amplifiers are mostly sold as standalone amplifier units (containing preamplifiers and power amplifiers).
How to choose the best keyboard amplifier
As with anything else in the world of music, the difficulty of choosing the one remains the same with amps as well. Even though it is hard to tell what will work for you (since a lot of personal factors interfere with our choices), there are some features that even the simplest amp should have. Let’s take a look at some of them:
The first thing you see when reading the description of any keyboard amplifier is the number of watts. It is only natural to wonder what it indicates on and how to understand what is the perfect number. It all depends on the size of the venue: if you play in a big environment in front of the huge crowd, you will need more watts in order to work up big speakers.
Even though the majority of live performance venues provide you with in-house PAs and you might not need to bust your head about the delivery of your sound, you still need it to be clear and undistorted. You do not want your efforts to get lost because of a wrong amp.
Speaking of that, the wrong amplifier for an indoor performance may be a best one for an outdoor gig. You should always keep in mind that you will need a louder and more powerful amplifier outdoors (therefore, more watts), because factors like wind and noise of the environment interfere with the delivery of the sound. You have to make sure that your music will be heard, otherwise, what is the point?
And one more thing, whether you play solo or in a band makes a huge difference while choosing watts for your amplifier. In the first case, an amplifier with fewer watts will be tailored for you, because it will provide just the perfect amount of amplification. But if you are in a band, you will need a stronger amp, unless you want your keyboards to be overlapped by guitars and drums. Do not hurry and let the watts do their job!
The most ubiquitous speaker setup is a 12” woofer along with a smaller tweeter (approx. 1”), a well-balanced combination for a wide frequency range. Woofers project low-end basses, whilst tweeters deliver properly your high-treble sounds. Manufacturers often add midrange horn in order to split frequency spectrum even further, resulting in more defined output of the amp. Bass responses can be enhanced by adding single or dual 15” speakers. To extend the capabilities of the amplifier to its maximum, you can connect subwoofers as extension cabinets. Speakers are important parts of the amplifiers because they “read” your music and project it accordingly.
Channels, sound effects and more
The very feature that distinguishes a keyboard amplifier from others is the one that has a primary impact on your choice. The versatility of an amplifier depends on the amount of its channels. The majority of keyboard amps offers several channels (mostly from 3 up to 5), providing you with the opportunity to connect multiple keyboards, instruments or microphones. This means that they can be used as individual PAs or stage monitors. Quality amps usually have separate control knobs for each channel. Some might even offer EQs to filter your frequencies.
Additionally, many keyboard amplifiers are equipped with sound effects. If you like to experiment with your sounds, this will be a definite asset for you. For instance, BEHRINGER ULTRATONE KXD15 can create chorus, reverb, pitch shift, delay and many other effects. This means you get even more benefits from purchasing a keyboard amplifier.
Inputs, outputs and stereo operation
Can you imagine all the excitement you get when waiting for your amplifier to be delivered? That grin on your face when a postman knocks on your door… now imagine the change of your facial expression when you discover that your gear simply cannot be plugged in with your beloved amp. What a disappointment! To avoid all those negative feelings and experiences, always check the inputs of the keyboard amplifier you are aiming for. Generally, multi-channel amps have several ¼” inputs for keyboards. Sometimes they even have a combination of ¼”/XLR inputs for your microphones. This allows you to bring the whole system together by connecting the amp to the PA while using your amplifier’s speaker as an on-stage monitor. You can send your effects signals through the output, attach it back with an input and play a wet signal through your amplifier.
If you do not want your arms to fall off… Portability!
This is especially important for on-the-road bands. You want your keyboard amplifier to be powerful but mobile, so that you are able to move it from venue to venue. It is even more important for those who want to practice at home and do not want to get injured while carrying around an amp weighing a ton. Not only that, portability is a feature that makes the whole process more enjoyable and comfortable. Luckily, nowadays most brands offer keyboard amplifiers that are lightweight and compact, consisting of amp and speaker (for example, Peavey KB2 50 or Vox VX50KB). Even though some of the powerful keyboard amplifiers do not have this feature, you can still make it work if you consider carefully your audience and your aims. Sometimes you are so mesmerized by the sound of an amp, portability becomes less of an issue. Just stick to your preferences and act accordingly.
The difference between PAs and keyboard amplifiers
During the last decade, the functionalities and features of keyboard combo amplifiers and PA (public address) systems started to comply with each other. Though most of the amplifiers can be easily used as PA systems for small venues, the difference between those two is quite noticeable.
Firstly, the capabilities of keyboard combo amps are limited when it comes to elevating the speakers. You cannot increase the volume of the keyboard amp the way you can with PA systems. The output of the sound with the latter is way more dispersed and suitable for large audiences. The sound produced by keyboard amplifiers is generally absorbed by the first rows of the throng, which makes the sound inaudible for the rest. This is not what the musicians strive for. Additionally, PA systems have speakers that can be managed and altered in order to achieve the maximum output of the signal.
Secondly, the wattage of small PAs and small keyboard combo amplifiers differ greatly. It is common for a small PA system to have 100 watts, whilst the keyboard amps of the same size would only have 20 to 50 watts. This means that lead vocals might be lost if you use keyboard amps with them.
Finally, almost every PA system has several speakers that allow you to point them at the audience and generate more defined sound. The majority of combo keyboard amplifiers have single speaker cabinets with poor room coverage. With PA systems you can angle the speaker cabinets increasing the arc of the sound dispersion.
With that being said, it is obvious that keyboard amplifiers can be an emergency substitute for PA systems, but they do not do the same job. Honestly, they are not supposed to. The main thing is that keyboard amplifiers are very functional as amps and make a difference for you as a keyboardist.
Nothing can be compared to the joy of hearing your first tones with a keyboard amplifier with its crisp sound that warms your soul and fills you with excitement. All the time you spent on choosing fades away and becomes less important. Your practice or live performance is not a mediocre play anymore, it is a professional gig with fancy equipment. Purchasing the best keyboard amplifier that is tailored for you, will be a game-changer and elevate your skills as well as the quality of your sound. But do not forget, it all comes down to your preferences. pick out the one that is best suited for you and trust me, even the simplest keyboard amplifier will work wonders.