The Key Buy is Keyboard magazine's award for
outstanding musical instruments and music technology products. Below are
the most often-asked questions from readers and music products
manufacturers about it, along with our answers.
What are the criteria for receiving one? A product is considered for a Key Buy if it meets at least one of the following conditions:
1. It represents a genuine technological breakthrough.
2. At press time, it's the best product in its class.
3. It offers bang-for-buck that's better than what anyone would expect.
In addition to jumping through at least one of these hoops, the
product also has to be free from any significant flaws that would
detract from sound, workflow, or any other aspect of using it to make
Can you give us examples? When it came out in 2005,
the Korg OASYS was the only keyboard to combine multiple synthesis
technologies, an internal hard disk multitrack recorder, and tons of
realtime controls in a single workstation. So it met conditions (1) and
(2), even though it was expensive. The best clonewheel, digital stage
piano, or virtual analog synth at a given time would also be an example
of something getting a Key Buy on grounds of (2). In December 2013, we
awarded a Key Buy to Apple Logic Pro X because of all the applications
and software instruments it offered within one DAW product for $199, i.e. largely for reason (3).
Who decides? It's a collaborative process. All Keyboard authors
are thoroughly versed in the Key Buy criteria, and in the course of
writing a review, the author is the first to nominate a product. The
author tells the editors, and as we read the review, we discuss among
ourselves and with our expert team of contributors, ask the author for
clarifications, make comparisons to recent reviews of similar products,
have a good, hard think about the current product landscape, and last
but not least, try the product out for ourselves. Then we vote.
There are also times when the editors nominate a product for a Key
Buy even if the initial idea didn't come from the review author. After
that though, the process of interaction with the author, discussion, and
voting is the same.
Are only a certain number awarded per issue? Per year? No.
Because music product development doesn't happen on any rigid cycle
(it's not like "summer blockbuster season" at the movies, for example),
our obligation is to evaluate how cool, useful, and inspiring a product
is right now, relative to other products that are available right now, and we get products in for review when they become available. For this reason, a given issue month may have, say, three Key Buy winners in it while the next month has none.
Do you give Key Buy awards to prototypes or beta versions ever? Not
only do we not award Key Buys to prototypes or betas - we don't do full
reviews of such products. We may do a "first look" or "technology
preview" giving our first impressions, but we only award Key Buys based
on a full review, and we only do full reviews of the very same
commercial release version of the product that you can buy in a music
I'm a manufacturer. When do I know if my product is going to get a Key Buy?
To protect the integrity of the process, we never tip our hand about
Key Buys. Manufacturers find out at the same time readers do: when the
issue of the magazine in which the product is reviewed hits subscribers
Does a product not getting a Key Buy mean I shouldn't buy it? Not
at all. Ever seen a movie you loved that nonetheless didn't win an
Oscar? Same thing. Plenty of products that musicians love and rely on
every day to be creative and get work done didn't get Key Buys. Don't
worry - if we review something we think you shouldn't spend your money
on, we'll say so.
Is there any connection between the Key Buy and a company advertising in Keyboard? No.
It's a decision made by the editorial team, and like most reputable
publications that review any sort of consumer products, we observe a
strict "separation of church and state" between editorial and advertising.
Have a question about Key Buys we didn't answer here? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll update this FAQ to reflect it!