How to Choose a Keyboard Amplifier
Whether you need a keyboard amplifier so you can be heard over your bandmates, or are just tired of wearing headphones to play with your synthesizer, Sweetwater’s Keyboard Amplifier Buying Guide is here to help. Many Sweetwater employees are gigging musicians and have extensive experience with all manner of amplifiers, and we’re ready to help you find the best keyboard amplifier for your situation. Get started with this guide, then call your Sales Engineer at (800) 222-4700 to help you fine tune your choice of keyboard amp.
What Makes Keyboard Amplifiers Different?
Consider it from a design perspective – guitar amplifiers are meant to be part of a guitar’s tone, and color the original signal. They’re designed to sound great with one instrument – guitar. But keyboard amplifiers have to be flexible when you consider that most professional sample-based keyboards can play piano, strings, synth sounds, drums, and more. Most keyboard amplifiers are designed to reproduce full-range sound as accurately as possible – almost the opposite of what a guitar amplifier is designed for. While there are some exceptions, like rotary-speaker amps that have become iconic for certain styles, you’ll most likely want an amplifier that simply and faithfully reproduces the sounds of your keyboard.
Combo Amplifiers – Tried and True
The vast majority of keyboard amplifiers you see will be combo amplifiers, and that’s because it’s often the most convenient solution for keyboardists of all types. Combo amplifiers combine an amplifier, speakers, and maybe some sound processing options into one relatively compact unit. You plug in your keyboard, turn it on, and you’re ready to play. Combo amplifiers range in size from apartment-appropriate practice amps to large rigs that can be heard over a full band.
Using Active PA Speakers – an Alternative Solution?
It’s worth noting that active PA speakers have some similarities to keyboard amps – they’re designed to reproduce sound as transparently as possible. So are they a good alternative to a combo amp? Most of the time, a combo amplifier will be more convenient. They’re compact, and are easy to set up and dial in. But if you’re a solo performer with just your keyboard and a vocal microphone, you may enjoy having more control over your overall sound. In that case you may want to consider a multi-purpose PA speaker, or one of the innovative “tower” speaker systems. If you think you need more than a combo amp offers, call your Sweetwater Sales Engineer to explore this further.
How Much Power Do I Need?
Simply put, the higher the amplifier wattage, the louder you can play without distorting. Of course, the number of speakers and size of the cabinet they’re in will play an important role as well. There are no hard and fast rules here, but remember that if you want the cleanest sound possible, higher-power amps are your friend.
If you’re in a band that likes to play loud and you have trouble being heard, you have two possible options. Use one of the bigger combo amps or even multiple amps to match the other players’ volumes, or just opt for a smaller amp for use as a personal monitor. Send your main keyboard signal to the sound system, and send a split to your keyboard amp so you can hear yourself.
EQ, Line Outputs, and Other Features
You’ve got a lot of control over your sounds right from your keyboard, so you don’t need extensive EQ capabilities. If you plan on gigging a lot with it though, you may want one with a 3-band or 5-band EQ to help tune the amplifier to whatever room you’re in.
Most keyboard amplifiers have line outputs on them, and they are incredibly useful. In the last section we talked about using a keyboard amp as a monitor and splitting your signal to the main sound system. That’s very easy to do if your keyboard amp has line outs – just plug in your keyboard, place the amp where you need it, and connect the line outs to the main system.
You may come across other features like stereo sound with “width” control, built-in effects, rotary speakers, and so on. You’ll know best if the extras are right for you, but if you come across a feature that you’re not familiar with, call your Sweetwater Sales Engineer and we’ll be happy to help you figure what it does and if it’s a benefit for you.