Hands-On Review:Yamaha PSR E203 and PSR E303

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Yamaha PSR E203 and PSR E303

Taking the beginner keyboard to a whole new level

By Walter Lindley


Yamaha PSR E203 and E303#

What amazes me is how easy it is today to take up the piano. When I was a kid and wanting to learn to play (yes, I actually begged my folks for piano lessons), it meant a major commitment from both my parents and myself. They had to buy a piano and pianos didn't come cheap. Still, they felt they should encourage me and sprang for one on a rent-to-own deal. Then there were lessons to pay for, and the money for those came out of paper route earnings.


Yamaha's beginner keyboards has rewritten the book on the cost of learning to play. The PSR E203 and PSR E303 are powerful but still shockingly affordable Yamaha keyboards. They also have interactive learning built into them, so you can get a long way without paying a piano teacher - the keyboard itself teaches you. These are fun, very entertaining instruments too - no beginning player is likely to get bored with a PSRE keyboard.

PSR E203

You really get a lot for your money with this surprising little keyboard. It boasts 32-note polyphony, is 16-note multitimbral, and has 134 voices. It has upgraded effects including exceptional reverbs - close to the 'verbs in Yamaha's higher-end keyboards. The other special effects are cool too, including hip-hop sounds and grooves youngsters will really like.


One big feature of the PSR E203 is an acoustic piano patch, which is something you simply don't find in entry-level keyboards. And it's not just your ordinary piano - it's Yamaha's acclaimed Portable Grand. It's almost incongruous to hear it coming from such a low-priced, entry-level keyboard.


The PSR E203 also has a real stereo amp and speakers built in. It doesn't get over-the-top loud - for that you can plug into an external amp - but since the speakers are true stereo, they can express the full richness of the stereo effects. A headphone jack makes it possible to defeat the speakers and practice silently.


Another cool feature that puts the PSR E203 well above others in its price range is MIDI I/O. The PSR E203 is fully MIDI compatible, so with a MIDI/USB interface such as Yamaha's UX16 to link the board with your computer, you can access additional MIDI music files on the web.

Music teacher onboard

What really makes the PSR E203 an ideal board for the beginner is Yamaha's Education Suite 5. This interactive learning system will have you making music in no time. It provides 102 songs to learn and seven levels of lessons to work through. It deals with each hand separately and provides three different learning modes for each: listen and learn, a timing mode where you are prompted to play a melody or bass part with correct timing, and a wait mode in which the song pauses if you play a wrong note and waits until you find the right one.


Modes two and three are graded as you practice so you can monitor your progress. Also included in the Education Suite is a chord dictionary that tells you chord forms and displays the name of each chord as you play it. And because no piano student should be without one, a built-in metronome is included. What I like about the Education Suite is that it takes the direct approach - no theory, no scales. You start right out learning to play actual songs for instant musical gratification.

PSR E303

The PSR E303 is basically the same keyboard. It has all of the E203 features plus some really nifty additions like touch-sensitive keys. The speakers are ported for a bigger bass sound and the screen is backlit. A two-track recorder is built in. It packs 482 GM and XGlite voices - top-quality sounds.


It adds Flash ROM for downloading. With an optional UX16 USB/MIDI interface, not only can you access files on the web and use them live as with the PSR E203, the E303 also lets you download them. To make computer connection easy, the Yamaha keyboard has a PC button which links you up with one push. The PSR E303 also adds four choruses to the effects package.


A really fun feature of the E303 is automatic accompaniment. It's like having a band to play with that's always ready and waiting. 106 styles allow you to choose virtually any style of music: rock, country, or whatever. You simply select the style, hit a chord or note on the left side to clue in the band what key you're in, and then play the melody with your right hand. The PSR E303 follows you, providing an entire band backup to your song.


Another surprising feature for a board in its class is dual and split functions. With dual function you can have two separate voices playing simultaneously for all kinds of interesting tonal effects. With split function, the board is split in two and different voices can be assigned to each side so you can play separate parts at the same time.

Play for a pittance

All these added features come with a very modest price increase over the PSR E203, and both boards give you a phenomenal set of features for their prices, which are almost ridiculously low. You could easily spend as much taking the family out to dinner at a nice restaurant. Yamaha has gone out of their way to make the PSRE keyboards easy to use, lots of fun, and instructive. You won't find keyboards more suited for the beginner than the PSR E203 and E303.

Features & Specs:



PSR E203:
  • 61 standard-size keys
  • Large LCD display
  • Yamaha Education Suite 5 interactive learning
  • 102 songs
  • 134 voices (GM compatible)
  • 32-note polyphony
  • 16-voice multitimbral
  • Portable Grand piano sound
  • Auto-accompaniment in 100 styles
  • 9 digital reverbs
  • Sound effects kit
  • Stereo speaker system
  • MIDI in/out for computer connection
  • Headphone jack for silent practice
PSR E303:
  • All the features of the E203
  • Touch-sensitive keys
  • Backlit LCD screen
  • Easy-to-use 2-track recorder
  • 482 GM and XGlite voices
  • Speaker bass ports
  • Flash ROM
  • 4 choruses added to digital effects
  • Dual and split functions
  • 106 accompaniment styles