In this guide, we’ll be going over all the important things you should know before buying a digital piano or keyboard.
Although I do believe that no digital piano is perfect, this guide will help you better understand how to pick the instrument that’s right for you and narrow down your choice to 1-2 models that suit you the best.
Oftentimes people don’t do proper research and choose the product that has the most reviews on Amazon.
While this may work with some products, digital pianos aren’t one of them.
First of all, you probably want to know how are digital pianos different from acoustic pianos and why you might prefer one over the other.
When it comes to digital pianos, the main challenge engineers face is to accurately reproduce two things: the sound and the feel of an acoustic piano.
Both tasks are pretty tough as there’s just too much going in this fabulous instrument.
Strings, hammers, and keys are the parts that actually produce the sound in an acoustic piano.
When you press a key, a hammer attached to it strikes a corresponding string, which vibrates and makes a sound.
Digital pianos don’t have strings, and hammers are used only to add extra weight to the keys and recreate the mechanical movement found in a traditional instrument.
To reproduce the sound of an acoustic piano and other musical instruments, digital pianos use samples.
What are samples?
Samples are a precisely recorded sound of a real instrument, usually at different dynamic levels.
In fact, in the past several years the technology has become so sophisticated that high-end digital pianos provide the sound almost indistinguishable from a real piano.
When it comes to major brands, the recording process usually looks like this.
There is a professional recording studio where they put a perfectly tuned acoustic grand piano and using a few dozen high-quality microphones record each note played at different volumes.
So if the process is roughly the same why not all digital pianos sound the same?
Well, there’re still a lot of things that different manufacturers do differently.
The ultimate sound you get depends on many factors:
- 1) What acoustic piano (not necessarily grand piano) was used to record the sound.
- 2) The recording process and technologies used in the studio.
- 3) Post-processing and algorithms used to model complex tonal interactions such as string resonance, damper resonance, cabinet resonance, natural reverberation, etc.
- 4) The length of the samples and the amount of memory dedicated to them.
Generally, more memory means higher-quality/longer samples can be stored in a digital piano. Cheaper models have less memory and manufacturers have to take a slightly different approach.
Instead of recording each individual key of an acoustic piano they record every second or every third note and then stretch the samples using their modeling technologies to fill in the gaps.
Another interesting technology that has been gaining popularity in the past few years is called Physical Modeling.
It uses various modeling techniques and advanced software to recreate the physical behavior of the acoustic instrument where hundreds of elements interact with each other, making up the ultimate “imperfect” sound that we hear as we play.
While sampling remains the most popular technology used in digital pianos today, you’ll hardly find a digital piano that doesn’t use some kind of modeling on top of the samples (e.g., for string resonance, damper resonance, etc.) to further improve the sound and make it more natural.
There’re also some digital pianos that use purely modeled piano sound and no samples at all.
For example, most Roland high-end digital pianos today come with the SuperNATURAL Piano Modeling sound generator that only uses physical modeling to produce the sound.
There’re also various VST (Virtual Studio Technology) plugins that provide piano modeled sounds and effects.
There’s a lot of debate today on which technology produces a more accurate and natural sound, but let’s leave it for another article.
I’ll only say that both technologies have their pros and cons and ultimately, it’s probably a mixture of both that will yield the best results.
If you’re trying to decide what piano to go with acoustic or digital, I also highly recommend watching the video below:
The difference between a digital piano and a keyboard often causes a lot of confusion.
In fact, people often use these terms interchangeably without realizing that these are two quite different things.
And while every portable digital piano can simply be called a keyboard, not every keyboard can be called a digital piano.
These days digital pianos come in all shapes, sizes, and forms you can imagine but what unites them is their main purpose.
A digital piano is designed to mimic the feel and sound of an acoustic piano as closely as possible.
The first thing you’ll notice is that all digital pianos come with a full set of 88 fully-weighted hammer-action keys.
And it’s the most obvious distinction from keyboards, which most commonly have 76 or 61 non-weighted or semi-weighted keys.
Another important aspect is the sound.
It’s achieved by using high-quality samples of a real concert grand piano recorded at different volume levels as well sophisticated modeling technologies to simulate organic elements of piano sound such as sympathetic resonance, damper resonance, key-off effect, etc.
Digital pianos are usually very straightforward instruments and mainly used as an alternative to acoustic pianos.
Generally, you won’t find hundreds of built-in sounds, songs, accompaniment styles, and interactive features on a digital piano unless it’s an “entertainment” type digital piano, which we’ll get to in a bit.
Here is a quick overview of digital pianos and their main features:
While a keyboard is literally keyboard – a set of keys, here, we’re talking about a keyboard as a musical instrument.
Just like digital pianos, there are different types of digital keyboards.
There are portable keyboards, arranger keyboards, synthesizers, keyboard workstations, MIDI-controllers, etc.
But the lines have been blurred, and today many instruments combine features of arranger keyboards, workstations, and synthesizers.
Let’s quickly look at each type.
Portable keyboards (a.k.a. portable arrangers) are instruments that are most often confused with digital pianos.
Usually, a portable keyboard is the first thing beginners consider as their first instrument to start learning piano. The main reason behind is a very cheap price.
For a beginner who is not 100% committed to playing for years, it’s a very appealing option since it doesn’t put a person at risk of overspending before they know whether they’ll stick with it or not.
The trade-off of this approach is that you won’t be able to fully understand and experience how it is like to play the piano because portable keyboards hardly provide a sufficient level of realism in terms of sound and especially key action.
A typical portable keyboard cost anywhere from $100 to $300 and come with 76, 73, or 61 semi-weighted or non-weighted keys.
Unlike fully-weighted action found on a digital piano, semi-weighted action doesn’t use hammers to recreate the feel of an acoustic piano.
But there’re also a few other advantages of portable keyboards, aside from their price.
First of all, as you can tell from their name, they are very portable.
Most of these keyboards are only 10-15 lbs so you can drag them around very easily. You can easily put them on a table and take away in storage when not in use.
The second advantage of portable keyboards is all the extra features and functions that come with them.
Most portable keyboards are literally loaded with hundreds of sounds, songs, rhythms, and other so-called bells and whistles.
And while I prefer quality over quantity, and many of the built-in tones sound plasticy and unrealistic, it’s definitely a plus for those who want to explore various instruments and styles and have fun with interactive features and modes.
That’s why a portable keyboard is a very popular choice for kids.
But as I said it all comes down to your personal needs and the goal you’re trying to accomplish.
The comparison table below sums up the main differences between a digital piano and a portable keyboard.
A synthesizer is an electronic keyboard that can generate or copy a wide variety of sounds and is commonly used in music production.
Synths allow you to create virtually any kind of sound you can imagine including sounds of other instruments, a voice, a wind, a burst, a siren, a car, the list can go on forever.
How is that possible?
Well, synthesizers come with a set of basic waveforms and pre-recorded sounds, which you can mix together as well as alter the sound’s attack, sustain, decay, and release time, add filters to get the exact sound you need.
Arrangers are primarily designed for professional performers and provide a wide variety of backing tracks (chord and rhythm patterns) that will match the style, rhythm, and tempo of whatever you’re playing.
This allows composers and songwriters to quickly and easily create an accompaniment for a song without having to call in musicians to play all instruments live.
A keyboard workstation is like a computer built into a keyboard.
Workstations combine a wide range of tools and allow users to perform a wide variety of tasks including sound synthesis, sequencing, audio recording, working with sound effects/filters, etc.
They usually come with hundreds if not thousands top-notch sound samples, which can be customized by using knobs and sliders that allow you to control various sound parameters on the fly.
Watch the video below to better understand the difference between keyboard workstations and professional arrangers:
A MIDI-controller is simply a device that generates and transmits MIDI data to other electronic devices that can interpret that data and trigger sounds or control sound parameters accordingly.
A typical MIDI-controller is a piano-style keyboard that is connected to a computer and sends MIDI data to it via USB or MIDI ports.
MIDI-controllers usually can’t produce sound on their own, all they do is track your key presses (velocity, length, pressure) and send this data (MIDI) to music making software (Kontakt Libraries, Virtual Instruments VSTi) running on your computer which generates the sound.
Most MIDI-controllers have non-weighted keys and are designed to generate multi-layered electronic sounds.
There are MIDI controllers that target piano players like the Kawai VPC1, which has the incredibly realistic RM3II Wooden-key, Graded-hammer Action and can be used with piano VSTs like Synthogy Ivory II , Spectrasonics, etc.
As I mentioned, digital pianos aim to reproduce the feel and sound of an acoustic piano as close as possible.
But not all digital pianos are created equal. There’re several types of digital pianos, and each has its pros and cons.
So let’s go over each type and define their main features and usage scenarios.
Portable digital pianos are also known as digital slab pianos. This is probably the most popular type of digital pianos.
Tthe biggest advantage of these instruments comes from their design.
They don’t come with a base (stand) of any kind and just like portable keyboards can be easily moved around and stored when not in use.
The main difference from portable keyboards is that portable digital pianos have a full range of 88 hammer-action keys, just like an acoustic piano.
The sound quality is also much superior due to higher quality samples, higher polyphony number and wider dynamic range (from the softest pianissimo to the loudest fortissimo).
Price is another reason why portable pianos are so popular.
At the same time, it’s important to remember that you’ll probably want to buy a stand for your portable piano, which can cost you an extra $30-$100 depending on the design (see Accessories section).
- Yamaha P-45 | Review | Price
- Yamaha P-125 | Review | Price
- Casio PX-160 | Review | Price
- Kawai ES110 | Review | Price
- Roland FP-30 | Review | Price
- Roland FP-90 | Review | Price
- Kawai ES8 | Review | Price
- Casio PX-560 | Review | Price
- Yamaha P-255 | Price
- Roland FP-60 | Price
Console type is the second most popular type of digital pianos.
Console digital pianos come closest to an acoustic piano in all the main aspects including sound, keyboard feel, and look.
What makes them different from their portable counterparts is that they come with a furniture-style cabinet and 3 pedals resembling the feel and look of an acoustic piano.
There are several things (good and bad) that come from the console design.
You don’t need to buy a stand or pedals additionally.
Thanks to the elegant acoustic-like design, a console digital piano will serve not only as an instrument for playing but also as a nice piece of furniture for your home.
And here comes the main disadvantages of console pianos: size and weight.
Most console pianos weight from 70 to 150 lbs and are meant to be kept in one place.
Yes, you can still move them around much easier than traditional pianos, but they simply aren’t designed to be carried around a lot. So keep that in mind.
The price of console digital pianos differs a lot starting from $700 and going up to $3000 and even more. It’s hugely depends on how close a digital piano gets to an acoustic instrument.
- Casio PX-770 | Review | Price
- Casio PX-870 | Review | Price
- Yamaha YDP-143 | Review | Price
- Korg G1 Air | Review | Price
- Roland RP-102 | Review | Price
- Kawai KDP110 | Price
Upright type is a sub-type of console pianos, which looks and feels almost identical to an acoustic piano.
Upright digital pianos closely resemble an acoustic piano starting from the upright design and ending with a sophisticated hammer action, wooden keys, and multi-speaker sound system.
It’s the most realistic and, for that reason, very expensive type of digital pianos.
Digital Grand Pianos
It’s the least common type and the most expensive type of digital pianos. Most digital grand pianos cost more than new acoustic pianos.
They usually feature sophisticated multi-speaker sound system with extremely detailed and rich sound as well as meticulously engineered hammer system almost indistinguishable from a real grand piano.
Prices start at $1500 for the most crappy ones (from Williams, Suzuki) and go up to a whopping $7000 for brands like Yamaha or Kawai.
Multi-Purpose (Entertainment) Type
Formally, there’s no such type of pianos, but I decided to identify them as a separate type.
Here is what I mean by “multi-purpose“.
Unlike regular portable and console digital pianos, multi-purpose pianos come with a whole world of sounds, rhythms, songs, learning features and recording options.
And this kind of makes them similar to portable keyboards.
BUT, what makes them different is that in addition to all those extra features, they have a realistic piano sound and 88 hammer-action keys.
- Yamaha DGX-660 | Review | Price
- Casio CGP-700 | Review | Price
- Korg Havian 30 | Price
- Casio PX-780 | Price
- Yamaha CSP-150 | Price
Stage pianos are designed with live performances in mind.
They are not intended to resemble the look of an acoustic piano but rather to be a compact travel-friendly alternative to use on stage or in a studio.
The feature that put stage pianos away from other types is that they usually don’t have built-in speakers/amplifiers.
That’s because stage pianos are meant to be used with an external amplifier or PA system.
Comparison table of different types of digital pianos
When it comes to digital pianos I recommend sticking with the following brands:
These are giants in the world of digital musical instruments. They have proven to be reliable brands that provide the best technology in the industry that for now other brands can’t offer.
Buying a digital piano from one those 5 brands will save you time and headaches of dealing with less known brands starting from poor build quality and ending with unrealistic sound and feel of the instrument.
Well, of course, this may not always be the case. But do you want to take that chance?
Brands to avoid
There are many more of them, but these are the most popular ones.
Digital pianos from these manufacturers are usually good looking and very affordable, but the realism of sound and key action leaves a lot to be desired.
The difference between the actions come from the type of mechanism they use.
This, in turn, determines how much force is needed to press a key and how realistic the action compared to the feel of an acoustic piano keyboard.
Depending on your needs and playing style one type may be more suited to your than the others.
It’s the most lightweight action which is commonly found on organs, synthesizers, and entry-level keyboards.
The synth action uses a basic spring-loaded mechanism. The keys are usually thin and small with a light plastic feel.
The action may seem a bit uncomfortable for piano players as it’s just too quick and lacks resistance.
At the same time, for some types of music (other than the piano) synth action is preferred for its playability and fast response required for playing synth leads, organ tunes, etc.
Nowadays a semi-weighted key action is much more common for beginner keyboards than a non-weighted one.
It’s a middle ground between synth action and fully-weighted action and perfect for those who don’t need/want a full resistance of a hammer action or who constantly switch between synths and pianos.
A semi-weighted action uses the same spring-loaded mechanism but compared to the synth action provides more resistance to the keys (by either using stiffer springs or additional weights).
As a result, the keys return to their “up” position a bit slower. Still, the action is far from what you get on an acoustic piano and is not recommended if you want to focus on piano playing.
Fully-weighted (hammer action)
A hammer-action keyboard is designed to replicate the touch and feel of an acoustic piano.
To achieve that manufacturers have added actual little hammers under each key to recreate the mechanical movement similar to a real piano.
Not all hammer-action keyboards are created equal.
A $500 entry-level piano and a $5000 high-end piano will both have hammer action keys. But those will be completely different actions with different feel and level of realism.
As a general rul, the higher the price of the instrument the more sophisticated hammer system it uses.
High-end models often have real wooden keys that have escapement mechanism and recreate every little aspect of an acoustic piano action, including the design of the hammers themselves.
Also, the total length of each key (a key itself + the part you can’t see) is usually much longer compared to that of entry-level digital pianos. And it becomes more important as you get more advanced.
The longer the overall length of the key, the further back you can have the pivot point which makes it much easier to play the white keys up between the black ones.
Common features of hammer-action keyboards
Functions and Features:
Not only digital pianos provide versatility and convenience that’s not available with acoustic pianos but they also come with a bunch of extra features that make playing and learning more enjoyable and fun.
The tone of an acoustic piano is quite complex and consists of many different elements.
Depending on the model, digital pianos reproduce various nuances of an acoustic piano sound to get even closer to the sound of a real acoustic piano.
Some digital pianos also allow you to adjust some of these parameters to better suit your preferences (more resonance, less hammer noise, etc.)
Other elements of piano sound reproduced in some digital pianos (typically higher-end models):
- Hammer Noise (Action On/Off noise)
- Cabinet resonance
- Aliquot resonance
- Undamped String Resonance
- Decay time
While some of these elements are very subtle and aren’t easily noticeable, they do add to the overall realism of the playing experience.
A wide variety of connectivity options is another important advantage of digital pianos and keyboards.
I don’t have to tell you how much more you can achieve once you connect your piano to a computer or other devices that will make your performance better, smoother, and more creative.
There’re a number of accessories you may want to consider buying along with a digital piano.
What those accessories will be depends on what you get with your digital piano out of the box and, of course, your personal needs.
Nearly all console digital pianos come with an integral stand (cabinet) and 3 pedals, so you don’t need to spend extra money on that.
Most portable pianos don’t come with a stand of any kind, and only include a small plastic sustain pedal (footswitch). So with portables models, you’ll likely to spend more money on additional accessories than with console models.
When it comes to stands, you basically have two options.
One is to buy a portable Z- or X-type stand that are portable and easy to put in storage when not in use. Such stands are usually collapsible and adjustable, which makes them even more versatile.
The price of X-type stands is usually $30 to $80.
The second option is to buy a furniture-style stand that manufacturers often offer for particular models (usually portable ones). Such stands are sturdier than X-type stands and best suited for home use.
They’re quite easy to move around, but you probably wouldn’t use them for gigs as they’re still not as portable as X-style stands.
The price of furniture-style stands can be as much as $100.
When it comes to piano pedals, there’re three options that you may want to consider.
The first one, is to use the sustain pedal that comes with your instrument.
Most entry-level digital pianos come with one of those flimsy plastic footswitches that don’t look or feel anything like an acoustic piano pedal. But it still does its job, and for a beginner, it would probably be a satisfactory solution.
On the other hand, if you’re a more experienced player and want a more substantial and realistic sustain pedal you may want to consider a piano-style chrome pedal that feels and looks similar to a real piano pedal.
Luckily they aren’t very expensive, and I always recommend checking the M-Audio SP-2 out, which has proven to be a high-quality sustain pedal that will work with any digital piano or keyboard that has a sustain jack (pretty much all of them have).
Those who don’t just need a sustain pedal (the most used pedal), but all three pedals found on an acoustic piano (sustain, soft and sostenuto) should take a look at 3-pedal units that some manufacturers offer for their portable pianos.
Usually, those 3-pedal units are designed to be fastened to furniture-style stands. So it would be a good idea to buy them bundled together (if available) to save some money.
Choosing a good pair of headphones for your digital pianos is probably as important as choosing a digital piano itself, especially if you’re going to be spending a lot of time using them.
It’s your headphones that will deliver the sound and if they are one of those crappy $15 no-names, you won’t be able to experience the full richness and depth of sound and enjoy your playing as much.
A good pair of headphones, on the other hand, will provide a clear and detailed sound that onboard speakers cannot offer.
You can find a detailed guide on how to choose the best headphones for your digital piano here.
Alright, you’ve bought a digital piano, but you need to sit on something, right?
Luckily, it’s not much of a problem to find the right bench for a digital piano.
There’re a variety of options available on the market today, so it’s relatively easy to find the one that catches your eye and fits your budget.
There are basically two types of benches:
The price of a bench varies from $20 to $60 depending on the type, brand name, and materials used.
A keyboard amp usually consists of a powered amp and a speaker, which are designed to provide a more powerful and higher-quality sound with better bass response compared to onboard speakers.
Amps are quite versatile and can be used in a variety of situations, starting from a small band rehearsal and ending with big performances and live events.
There’re a few things you need to consider before buying a keyboard amplifier including portability, watts, channels, extra features, inputs & outputs, etc.
For more detailed information, check out this guide.
Below I’ve listed the three keyboard amplifiers I’ve heard good things about and can recommend:
If your home isn’t the only place where you’re going to use your piano, you should definitely consider buying a keyboard bag to protect your instrument during transportation and to make it easier to carry it around.
Some manufacturers offer their own branded keyboard bags, other don’t, and in that case, you still have plenty of options from other trusted brands like Gator, Kaces, etc.
Here are my two favorite protective cases for long-distance travel:
For light travel, you don’t actually need those sturdy plastic cases that are actually quite expensive, but if you’re traveling by plane or train, I don’t recommend doing that without using one of those cases.
For travel by car, you’ll probably be better off with something more lightweight and less expensive.
Here are the three keyboard bags for light travel I recommend:
- 1. Gator 88 Note Keyboard Gig Bag
- 2. Kaces 15-KB Xpress Series Keyboard Bag
- 3. Casio PRIVCASE Privia Case
When it comes to buying a digital piano, there are two ways you can go – order online or buy in a physical store. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.
While I always recommend playing a digital piano in person to make sure that YOU like how it sounds and feels, it’s not always possible.
Let’s look at each option in more detail so you can decide which one is more suitable for you.
Despite a strong competitor in the form of online retailers, brick and mortar stores remain the most popular place to buy musical instruments, and digital pianos in particular.
- 1) You can try out the instrument in person and find out what you like or don’t like about it.
- 2) It’s much easier to make a decision and be confident about it when you have actually played the piano you’re going to buy.
- 3) Personalized attention from sales staff. You can get a recommendation from a sale’s person for your particular situation (needs, experience) as well as a demonstration of how the instrument sounds from a listener’s perspective.
- 4) You can immediately pick up your piano without having to wait for delivery.
- 1) A sale’s person influences your decision and can talk you into buying a piano you’re hesitant about or not in love with.
- 2) Prices in physical stores tend to be higher than online, especially if it’s a small local store.
- 3) You’re usually stuck with a very limited selection of models (usually that make the retailer the most money)
Online sales of musical instruments are growing each year, and people are definitely much more confident buying a digital piano online today than, say, 5 years ago.
And it’s actually not surprising considering the multiple advantages of buying online.
- 1) Saves time and efforts (saving on gas, no parking hassles, no need to wait for a sale’s person, etc.)
- 2) Convenience of shopping at home, open 24/7.
- 3) A wide range of models available. Almost any digital piano or keyboard can be purchased online.
- 4) Easy to access consumer & expert reviews, forum discussions and video demonstrations, which are more trustworthy sources of information than an opinion of a sale’s person.
- 5) No pressure. You can take your time and weight all the pros and cons and make a well thought-out decision, avoiding the salesperson influence.
- 7) The “price + shipping (usually free)” price is usually lower compared to offline stores.
- 8) If you have some issues with the piano and it’s still under warranty, you don’t need to bring it back to the store you bought it from. In most cases, an online retailer will collect, repair, and return the piano to you free of charge.
- 1) You can’t personally try out the instrument
- 2) Delayed delivery. You don’t get your piano immediately (usually takes 2-5 days), and in some cases, delivery can be delayed.
- 3) Security risk (payment fraud, personal information). That’s why I recommend using only well-known reliable websites.
List of Retailers
Here are the most popular and trusted online retailers I recommend:
This giant doesn’t need an introduction.
Being one of the largest online retailers in the world, Amazon provides a wide selection of keyboards and digital pianos with special discounts and bundle deals (more discounts and next-day delivery is available for Prime Members).
- Reliable and Trusted
- Tons of verified customer reviews
- Secured Payments
- Sales and Special offerings
- Fast and Cheap Shipping (usually Free)
These 3 online retailers are owned by one company and offer very similar if not identical products and prices. Even the websites seem to work on the same (slightly modified) platform.
It’s the largest and the most well-known chain of musical instrument retailers in the world.
- Free Shipping applies to most orders shipped within the 48 contiguous U.S. states & D.C.
- Price Match. See a better price? They’ll match any verified price from any authorized U.S. dealer for the identical new item up to 45 days after purchase.
- 45-day return policy. If you’re not 100% happy with your purchase, send it back. You’ve got up to 45 days. No hassles.
- The largest selection of music gear in the world. Over 1,700,000 items in stock and ready to ship.
- Online since 1996
- Lowest Price Guarantee
- Super Low Shipping Costs (90% of orders are shipped with FREE 2-day shipping)
- No Sales Tax Collected (except for New Jersey)
- 45-day Hassle-Free Return Policy
- Excellent Customer Service
UK & Europe:
There are two online retailers that I absolutely recommend for those who live in UK, Europe, and other countries.
- Online since 1996
- The largest online retailer of musical instruments in Europe (based in Germany)
- Purchases at Thomann are backed up by their 3-year warranty, i.e. they extend the manufacturer’s warranty period (usually 12 months) to a full 36 months – at their own cost
- Free shipping from €398 euros (Worldwide)
- Europe’s Largest Warehouse = best possible prices
- Online since 2003
- One of the largest retailers of musical instruments and equipment in the UK & Europe
- Local websites in 19 countries
- Delivery to 196 countries worldwide
- 30-day money back guarantee on everything, with FREE returns (can be expanded up to 120 days)