Nothing beats the thrill of a live band performance.
Unless, of course, you are the drowned out keyboardist who can’t hear yourself play.
You know you need your own dedicated amp because the other players with louder instruments always play over your keyboard. It sucks.
But with so many options out there, it can be really confusing.
You may actually be on the verge of buying that cheaper, pre-used guitar amp you found on eBay, and hoping to use that instead.
Read this entire article before you do.
What Does a Keyboard Amplifier Do?
Keyboard amplifiers are designed to boost the sound coming out of your keyboard so you can hear yourself as you play.
This amp is not for the audience.
It is your own stage monitor as the keyboard player.
The challenge with keyboardists who play in a band is your instrument can easily be drowned out by the other players.
If you can’t hear yourself play, you lose control of your sound, which also spoils the band’s overall sound.
As the other players in your ensemble, including the guitarist, will have their own dedicated amps, you, as the keyboardist, will also benefit from having your own monitor on stage.
Still, there are people who feel you do not necessarily need a keyboard amp, especially if you already own a guitar amp.
When you consider the considerable expense of buying a stage grade keyboard amp, the argument starts to make sense.
But is a guitar amp, or even a powered speaker, a viable alternative to a keyboard amp?
Keyboard Amps are Better at Stage Monitoring than Guitar Amps and Powered Speakers
Keyboard amps and guitar amps have significant differences, because they are designed for two very different instruments.
A guitar amp specifically works within the tone spectrum of the guitar, coloring and shaping the sound coming from the instrument. For this reason, they work in a narrower frequency range.
Keyboard amps, on the other hand, have a much wider frequency range as they reproduce sound samples from a variety of instruments, including piano, organ, drums, synths, and strings.
For this reason, keyboard amps must handle the full spectrum of the sonic range in order to produce a clean, accurate sound, whatever sample you play on your keyboard.
It is the opposite of what guitar amps are designed to do.
By using a guitar amp you are practically choking your keyboard, which has a much wider frequency range to explore.
What of powered speakers?
Powered Speakers are Typically Louder But Don’t Produce a Fuller Keyboard Sound
Powered speakers have improved tremendously over the last few years.
Not only do these speakers have more wattage, the better models are also lighter and have both multi-channel inputs and EQ controls.
Pound for pound, it would seem a powered speaker packs more bang for your buck and may be a more prudent investment when compared to keyboard amps.
But all that still does not make a powered speaker any better at what a keyboard amp actually does. A keyboard amp is certainly not intended to be the loudest monitor in the venue.
Powered speakers tend to emphasize power over the clarity of the sound.
A keyboard amp only needs to be loud enough for you the keyboardist to separate your instrument’s sound from the whole band’s output when you do live gigs.
While power is an important consideration for a keyboard amp, it shouldn’t be looked at as its defining spec.
It is you the keyboardist’s personal monitor, designed to provide you with a clean, well-pronounced sound that should guide you as you play.
Like guitar amps, powered speakers don’t do this as well as keyboard amps.
What if You Just Plug the Keyboard Into the Venue’s PA System?
You wouldn’t be the first one to do it.
But unless you are a solo musician or stand-up comedian, this shouldn’t be an option for you.
Plugging into the venue’s PA system takes away all the benefits you would get from having your own stage monitor.
As most keyboard amps come with multi-channel inputs and EQ controls, one of their greatest benefits is you can synthesize and pre-process the keyboard’s sound before you even relay it into the PA system.
The quality of a keyboard amp’s sound and the tools it avails for the keyboardist are far more important than the amount of power it packs.
Besides, would you want the overall quality of your sound to be in the hands of the venue’s sound guy?
You have no control over who this person is. It can be the sound engineer himself one week, but the bartender could well be asked to cover for him the next week.
And if you play different venues, your sound isn’t going to stay consistent, which makes for very difficult quality control.
Having dedicated amps for your instruments will give your band control over your sound, as opposed to leaving it at the mercy of the house sound guy.
Keyboard Amps are More Multi-Functional than their Name Suggests
They may be called just keyboard amps, but these amps can be used with a lot more instruments and for uses other than live music gigs.
Most modern keyboard amps come with multiple inputs and outputs. The beauty of this, and because the amps can handle the entire spectrum of the sonic range, is you can plug and mix in more than just your keyboard.
Other instruments you can plug in with your keyboard amp include synths, pianos, bass guitars, and electronic drums. You can plug your vocal microphone in as well.
Some keyboard amps even come with individual EQ controls for each channel, which helps you tune each instrument independently.
If you add the auxiliary input for connecting your music player or laptop and XLR outputs for connecting a monitor, what you get is a PA system you can use for a variety of functions.
So, in effect, a keyboard amp is actually quite a pragmatic investment.
The 5 Best Keyboard Amplifiers for Live Performances
|2.||BEHRINGER ULTRATONE KXD12|
|4.||Alto Professional Kick|
Your specific use scenario determines the size and power of the keyboard amp you should buy.
For example, if you play in large open air venues, your instruments will need to be louder than a band playing in small bars would need.
Basically, the louder the sound coming from the PA system, the harder it is going to be for you to hear yourself play the keyboard.
But remember also that with power usually comes some less desirable features.
For example, the more powerful amps usually weigh quite a bit and can be a challenge to rig on stage and to transport to and from venues.
Portability is a big concern for gigging musicians, so the total weight of a keyboard amp is an important factor to consider as you shop.
OK, time to review our top 5 recommendations for the best keyboard amps for live performances:
Roland KC-110 3-Channel 30-Watt Stereo Mixing Keyboard Amplifier
We all have to start somewhere, which is usually at the bottom.
There are smaller keyboard amps that are just perfect for solo acts and young bands cutting their teeth in smaller venues like bars and coffee shops.
None are better than the Roland KC-110.
This amp is well built, is small enough to lug around, has three channels to plug in two more instruments, has a great tone balance, and produces a sound that stays clean right around the volume dial.
Other Features and Benefits:
- 30 watts of raw power, which drops to 20 if you use the battery option, itself a great convenience for touring musicians
- Weighing just 19.2 pounds, the amp is portable enough to carry with ease
- XLR, ¼”, AUX, and stereo input options, which gives you great flexibility to plug in different instruments and input sources
- An L+R output, which allows you to plug in a mixing and recording devices or use as a headphone jack
- A 2-band EQ controls, with added functions for reverb and chorus effects
- A tilt-back stand that angles the amp towards you so can hear yourself better as you perform
- The stereo input means you won’t have to waste an extra channel just to plug the keyboard in
- Just don’t do that well with noisy environments and deep bass sounds
- Though well made, it may be too expensive for what it gives you
BEHRINGER ULTRATONE KXD12
It is safe to say that Roland keyboard amps come with forbidding price tags.
As such, to get the power you need and stay within a small budget, you will need to consider other options.
This Behringer Ultratone keyboard amp, though not built as well as the Roland amp above, gives you much more power while staying within the same budget.
The Behringer Ultratone KXD12 packs considerably more power and is rightly pitched as a keyboard amp cum PA system.
With 4-channel mixing capability, full stereo input and output, and a turbo speaker, this amp gives you great on-stage monitoring even if you play with loud bandmates.
The amp’s wattage doesn’t quite set the stage alight. But it will be a good purchase for the working musician on a budget.
Other Features and Benefits:
- 7-band EQ and an effects processor with 100 effects to tune your sound to your exact preferences
- XLR input is well complemented with the feedback detection feature, which gives you a clean sound from your microphone
- A link output gives you scope to connect another KXD12 to truly amplify the stereo sound
- A fairly manageable 40 pounds in weight that makes it easy to lug around
- A great price, which beginner performing musicians will appreciate
- It has a 600 watt peak power rating, but this sounds quite a stretch
- The large selection of effects is a bit of overkill, especially the reverb options
Roland KC-550 4-Channel 180-Watt Stereo Mixing Keyboard Amplifier
It doesn’t come cheap, but this well-reviewed Roland KC-550 is an absolute beast and workhorse.
Right out of the box, this amp’s rugged build tells you this is one part of your gear that will outlive your performing career.
It produces a thumping yet clear and detailed sound and is built to last, which, it has to be said, makes it rather heavy and a real challenge to lift and move around.
But this is a lot more than just a keyboard amp. It is a standalone PA system to which you can connect microphones, your music player, and other monitors, with enough power to service large venues.
The 180 watts power rating sounds conservative. The 15” woofer and 2” horn give you so much bass response whiskey bottles will rattle off the bar shelves if you push the amp to full volume
Let’s talk about the specs:
Other Features and Benefits:
- 4 stereo inputs, each with its own volume control so you can plug other instruments in
- The first channel spots an XLR input that allows you to connect your microphone
- Stereo outputs with both XLR and ¼” jacks for connecting your media players
- A proprietary Roland Stereo link that allows you to connect two amps that you can control from one end
- An ergonomic design that puts input and output ports on the slanted back and the volume knobs on the top so you can easily reach them while you perform
- The amp will reproduce a clean, accurate sound not just from your keyboard, but from your organ, synth, electronic piano, and e-drums as well
- At 75 pounds, lugging and hauling this thing on a daily basis will be tough
- Maybe not expensive when you consider what you get from it, but the Roland KC-550 is definitely not cheap
Alto Professional Kick 12 Professional Keyboard and Instrument Amplifier
That power/portability balance is a tricky one with keyboard amps.
If for that alone, portability is perhaps the one attribute where this Alto Professional Kick 12 clearly beats the Roland KC-550.
At 46.1 pounds it is significantly lighter and and smaller than the Roland KC-550’s heft.
Despite the 200 watt continuous power rating by the manufacturer, you are not likely going to get that much power out of this amp, especially when you have all the inputs plugged in.
But you still get considerable power that isn’t going to be a major worry.
After tinkering and playing around with the unit’s 16 effects, with 16 individual variations, you should get some very sweet sounds out of this amp.
Other Features and Benefits:
- 4-channel mixer featuring stereo line inputs on each and XLR input for channel 1
- Custom-tuned electronic crossover ensures very good frequency response
- Bi-amp design ensures you get enough power channelled to both the low and high drivers
- RCA input gives you options to connect music players and adapt this amp for use as a PA system, and endless other applications
- The integrated steel folding steel kickstand gives the amp greater elevation to properly monitor your keyboard when on stage
- The EQ and volume controls mounted to the top gives easier access while you perform on stage
- You can’t help but feel the manufacturer over-promised on the power
- The amp doesn’t quite deliver on the rating
Roland KC-880 Stereo Keyboard Amplifier
If you ever wondered if keyboard amps could get any better than the Roland KC-550, it will come as no surprise the answer is another Roland amp: The Roland KC-880.
The few people who have picked weak areas on the KC-550 have complained about their failure to control the back end on the 15” woofer.
The KC-550 also sounds too heavy on the basses with the single 15” woofer and tweeter. As such the sound isn’t as clear on the mid-range.
But being bi-amped, with two 12” woofers and two horn tweeters, this KC-880’s sound is pristine right through the lows, mids, and highs.
Everything with keys - from pianos, organs, to synths - will sound good on this thing.
Seeing Roland is always conservative with its power ratings, the 320 wattage is sure to shake any venue. You may never need to play it at full volume.
Yes, it costs a princely sum. But you get what you pay for.
Be warned though, this thing is bulkier and heavier than any keyboard amp you have ever lifted.
Other Features and Benefits:
- Signature, strong and durable Roland build quality
- Wonderful choice of built-in effects, including chorus, reverb, rotary, and tremolo to choose from
- 5 channels, with stereo line inputs on each, including an XLR microphone on the first
- XLR outputs you can also use to rig into the venue’s PA system
- A headphone jack and stereo link so you can chain it to other amps for a fuller stereo sound
- A footswitch jack that you can use to remote-control your effects
- Four casters to help you transport the amp
- At 90+ pounds, this amp is heavy
And Our Pick Is…
The Roland KC-550.
This amp is a keeper.
Other amps in the same price range will not even hold the candle for this monster.
And monster really is the word. Because, unless you want to blow the roof off, this keyboard amp is not for you if you perform in small venues. The Roland KC-110, however, would fit that bill perfectly.
If you are buying for a middle to large sized church, school, or a serious, touring band that gigs in larger venues, you should definitely buy the Roland KC-550.
The KC-550’s sound quality is peerless, clean and without distortion.
But if its price proves too prohibitive for you, the Behringer Ultratone KXD12 will be a good, value purchase.
After the Roland KC-550, only the Roland KC-880 will give you more power and clearer sound.
This amp will be a great investment, if you can raise the budget.
Now that the keyboard amp issue is sorted..
... when and where are you playing next?