The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Digital Piano (2018)

digital piano buying guide

In this guide, we’ll be going over all the important things you should know before buying a digital piano or keyboard.

choose digital piano

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.

The reason is that when it comes to digital pianos, there are many important factors you need to consider to ensure you’re making the right decision.

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.

Digital vs  Acoustic

 

digital vs acoustic piano

How do digital pianos work?“,  you may aks.

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.

acoustic piano hammers

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.

The higher the quality of the samples and digital technologies used to create (record) them, the more realistic and accurate the sound.

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.

sample digital 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:

recording samples

  • 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.

If you’re trying to figure out what instrument to go with (acoustic or digital), I highly recommend watching the video below:

Now that you know how digital pianos work compared to acoustic pianos, let’s look at the pros and cons of digital pianos.

Keyboard vs  Digital Piano

keyboard vs digital piano

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.

The main difference lies in the purpose of these instruments. And depending on your needs and experience you might prefer one over the other.

Digital Pianos

types of digital pianos

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.

Digital pianos rarely have more than 20-30 built-in sounds, and their main priority is to provide a full, natural piano 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:

Keyboards

electronic keyboard

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.

All these keyboard types, except for portable one, are mainly professional instruments that often cost > $1000 and designed for composers, singers, music producers and other musicians.

Let’s quickly look at each type.

Portable Keyboards

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.

portable keyboards

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.

spring loaded action

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.

Instead, it uses a spring-loaded mechanism, which although add some resistance to the keys, feels light, unrealistic and really nothing compared to the real thing.

piano keyboard for kids

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.

If your goal is to play piano or learn how to play piano, I wouldn’t recommend portable keyboards with two exceptions:

  • 1) You have a very limited budget and can’t afford a digital piano ($350+), even the most basic one.
  • 2) You’re are at early stages of learning and don’t want to spend more than $300 on something you’re not sure you will like (but again if piano playing is your main goal, it’s not a preferable option)

The comparison table below sums up the main differences between a digital piano and a portable keyboard.

Synthesizers

A synthesizer is an electronic keyboard that can generate or copy a wide variety of sounds and is commonly used in music production.

synthesizer

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.

Arranger keyboards

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.

arranger keyboards

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.

Sometimes lower-end arranges are called “portable arrangers”, which is basically the same thing as “portable keyboards” we talked about.

Keyboard Workstations

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.

keyboard workstation

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:

MIDI-controllers

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-controller

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.

Any digital piano that has a USB type B port or MIDI In/Out ports can be used as a MIDI-controller.

Types of Digital Pianos

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 Type

portable digital pianos

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.

Generally, a console type digital piano with the same characteristics (action, sound engine, polyphony) is always 200-300$ more expensive than a portable one.

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).

Best Sellers:

Under 1000$

Under 2000$

 

Console Type

console digital pianos

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.

First and foremost, you get a full-featured instrument that comes with everything you need to experience an authentic playing experience right away.

You don’t need to buy a stand or pedals additionally.home digital pianos

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.

As the price goes up, so does the quality of action, sound samples, and speaker system as well as other elements that make the playing experience more authentic.

Best Sellers:

Upright Type

upright digital piano

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

grand digital piano

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

entertainment digital piano

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.

You can use such pianos not only for piano playing but also for non-professional music production, composing, learning and just for fun.

Best Sellers:

Stage Pianos

stage pianos

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.

Best Sellers:

Comparison table of different types of digital pianos

Best Digital Piano Brands

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

  • Williams
  • Suzuki
  • Artesia

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.

Types of Keyboard Actions

There are 3 main types of keyboard actions you’ll likely to come across:

  • 1) Non-weighted
  • 2) Semi-weighted
  • 3) Fully-weighted (Hammer Action)

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.

Non-weighted (synth) 

non-weighted keyboard

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.

 

 

Semi-weighted 

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.

blocked-end semi-weighted keys

Lots of  semi-weighted keyboards have blocked-end keys that look like regular piano keys and can be easily confused with hammer-action keys.

 

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.

hammer action keyboard

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.

piano action mechanism

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

88 KeysGraded EffectIvory & EbonyTouch Sensitivity 3-Sensor SystemKey Noise

Most digital pianos have 88 full-size keys, which means the size and the number of keys are the same as found on an acoustic piano.

key size

 

Implies that the weight of the keys is slightly heavier in lower registers and become progressively lighter as you move up the keyboard, which is a characteristic of an acoustic piano keyboard.

graded hamemr action

Higher-end digital pianos instead of conventional smooth keys have textured keys that simulate Ivory and Ebony.
It gives a nicer and less slippery feel to the keys and helps absorb moisture from the player’s fingers.

ivory ebony simulated keys

All digital pianos have touch-sensitive keys, which means the volume will change depending on how hard or soft you play the keys.

Digital pianos usually have adjustable touch sensitivity, which allows you to adjust the sensitivity of the keys (in other words, with how much force a key needs to be struck to produce the loudest sound) to suit your playing preferences.

Entry-level keyboards cheaper than $150 usually don’t respond to velocity.

Sensors are used to detect the depth and velocity at which the keys are played. Most entry-level digital pianos (under $1000) use 2-sensor detection system.

More expensive models add one additional sensor and use 3-sensor systems, which allows for faster note repetition by enabling the sound to be produced even when a key hasn’t fully returned to its resting position.

triple sensor system

In my opinion, the whole notion of sensors is a bit overhyped these days as there are more important elements that add to the realism of a keyboard action.

In fact, I played many keyboards that had 2-sensor systems that felt more realistic and responsive than those with 3-sensor systems.

The keys on both acoustic and digital pianos inevitably produce some amount of noise when you play them. So it’s not something to be worried about as long as it doesn’t affect your playing experience.

key noise

On acoustic pianos the noise is usually not audible at all due to high volume levels that the instrument produces.

On digital pianos on low to medium volume levels, you might hear the keys hitting the bottom of the keybed or a little clicking noise, which is again not something to be concerned about.

Some keyboard actions tend to be less noisy than others but it all comes down to a particular model. More expensive models usually have very quiet keyboard actions.

The thing to remember is that all the keys should produce roughly the same amount of noise.

If one or two keys are significantly louder than the others, it’s better to contact the manufacturer, especially if the noise bothers you.

The Definitive Glossary

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.

MetronomePolyphonyModesPreset TemperamentsLesson FunctionMIDI RecordingAudio RecordingAccompaniment Transpose, Tuning

metronome

A useful tool for practice that will help develop your rhythmic and timekeeping skills by providing a steady beat to play along with.

Some pianos allow you to change the conventional click sound of the metronome to various drum rhythms. You can also adjust the number of beats per measure, the tempo and the volume of the metronome.

polyphony digital piano

The polyphony is the number of notes a digital piano can produce at the same time.

Most of the contemporary digital pianos are equipped with 64, 128, 192 or 256-note polyphony.

You may wonder how it is possible to have 32, 64, or even 128 notes playing at the same time, if there are only 88 keys and we never play them all together.

First of all, many of today’s digital pianos use stereo samples, which sometimes require two notes for each key played.

Another thing is that the use of the sustain pedal, sound effects (Reverb, Chorus), Dual mode (layering) and even the metronome tick sound take up additional notes of polyphony.

For example, when you depress the sustain pedal, the earliest played notes continue to sound while you’re adding new ones and the piano needs more memory to keep all the notes sounding.

Another example of polyphony consumption is when you’re playing along with a song playback (can also be your own recorded performance) or auto-accompaniment.

In this case, the piano will need polyphony not only for the notes you’re playing but also for a backing track.

When you reach the polyphony cap, the piano starts to drop the earliest played notes to free up memory for the new ones, which in turn affects the sound and its fullness.

You’ll hardly ever need all the 192 or 256 voices of polyphony at a time, but there are cases when you can reach 64 or even 128 note limit, especially if you like to layer several sounds and create multi-track recordings.

For an intermediate player it’s desireble to have 128 notes of polyphony or more.

Along with the “standard” keyboard mode, digital pianos usually offer additional modes for using two instrument sounds at the same time or playing four hands.

Here are the most popular modes that digital pianos have:

1) Split – divides the keyboard into two parts, allowing you to play a different instrument sound in each of them. For example, you can play guitar with your left hand and piano with your right hand at the same time.

split mode
2) Dual (Layering) – allows you to layer two different sounds so that they sound simultaneously whenever you press a key. For example, you can layer strings with the piano sound or combine whatever sounds you like to get some new interesting sounds.

dual mode layering
3) Duo (a.k.a. Duet Play, Partner Mode, Twin Piano) – devides the keyboard into two halves with identical pitch ranges (two middle Cs) allowing two people to play the same notes at the same time.

Duet Play is particularly useful when you use it with your teacher or tutor who will be able to play you some tunes on one side of the keyboard, and you’ll be able to follow along on the other playing the exact same notes

duo mode duet play

Some digital pianos come with preset temperaments, which means you can change the standard Equal Temperament tuning to other tuning systems better suited for playing certain styles of music (Indian, Arabian, classical, etc.)

lesson function

Some digital pianos allows you to turn off the left or right hand part (track) of a song (built-in or downloaded from the Internet) and practice it while listening to the playback of the other part.

Pianos that have this function usually have a multi-track MIDI recorder.

midi recorder

MIDI recorder allows you to record and playback your own performances right onboard.

Multi-track recording (2 and more tracks) allows you to record several musical parts on separate tracks and play them back as a single song. You can also experiment with your recording by turning off some of the recorded tracks.

MIDI-recording is not the recording of the actual sound of the instrument. Here, we’re recoding the MIDI data (a sequence of notes, their length, velocity and other parameters).

audio wav recording

Built-in Audio recorder will allow you to record the audio output of the instrument and save it to a flash drive usually in WAV format (Linear PCM, 16bit, 44.1 kHz, Stereo).

You can then share your recording on social media, upload it to SoundCloud, burn to CD, etc.

Audio recoding is much more universal than MIDI recording and allows you to get a CD-quality audio file playable on most modern devices.

accompaniment function

Accompaniment function will enrich your playing with a full backing band (rhythm, bass, harmony) making you performance a full-fledged song.

The accompaniment (rhythm + bass + chords) changes according to the notes you play with you left hand (chords or even single notes if you don’t full cords).

In other words, you manage the “band” with your left hand (by specifying chords) and play the main melody with your right hand.

Some instruments offer several accompaniment modes, and allow you specify chords using the full range of the keyboard.

transpose tuning

1) Transpose function allows you to shift the overall pitch of the keyboard in semitone steps. The function is particularly useful when want to play a song in a different key but don’t want to change your fingering and learn it in a new key.

So, for example, if you know how to play a song in F major, you can transpose the pitch and play the song in C major without actually learning it in a new key.

You can also transpose a song written in a difficult key (e.g., many black keys) into a different key with easier chords, hearing it as you were playing in the original key.

2) Tuning function allows you to shift the pitch from the standard A440 tuning in 0.1Hz or 0.2Hz steps.

You can use this function to match the piano’s pitch finely to that of other instruments or music (old piano, tape).

Sound simulation:

piano sound elements

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.)

Damper ResonanceString ResonanceKey-Off SimulatorLid Simulator

damper resonance

When you depress the damper pedal on an acoustic piano, you can hear the sound continuously playing even when the keys are released.

It does this by lifting the dampers from the strings so they can resonate freely until you release the pedal back up.

Digital pianos don’t have strings but recreate this effect digitally.

Some digital pianos also have a “half-pedal” feature which allows you to more precisely control the amount of sustain and thus be more expressive while playing.

When you play an acoustic piano, the sound it produces is not only associated with the keys you play but also with other closely related strings that resonate sympathetically making the sound richer and smoother.

It also removes the sense of notes being dry and separated from each other.  Many digital piano today simulate this phenomenon pretty accurately.

string resonance

key of simulation

The sound of the dampers falling back on the strings varies depending on the speed at which the fingers leave the keys.

Key-off simulator adjusts the length of these sounds according to the key’s release speed.

Some digital pianos offer Lid Simulation feature, which mimics the sound of a grand piano with the lid raised or lowered.

lid simulation

Other elements of piano sound reproduced in some digital pianos (typically higher-end models):

piano organic elements

  • 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.

Connectors:

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.

USB type A USB type B Headphone jackSustain JackLine OutLine InAudio InBluetooth MIDIMIDI In/OutMic In

usb type A to device

Also known as USB to Device port or USB drive port. The port can used to plug in a flash drive into the piano to exchange files quickly and easily.

For example, you can load MIDI songs into the piano’s internal memory for playback or rehearsal.

Alternatively, you can play back WAV and MIDI files (depends on the isntrument) directly from the flash drive without loading them into the piano’s flash memory.

And finally, you can save your own performances recorded with the instrument to the flash drive as well as load them back when needed.

usb type B to HOST

Also called USB to Host terminal. This jack can be used to connect a computer or a tablet (using special adapter) to exchange songs/files, and MIDI data.

This connection will allow you to use the piano as a MIDI controller to control music making apps (e.g. GarageBand) and music learning apps (e.g. FlowKey)

There are actually many other apps that can expand the functionality of a digital piano in terms of learning, composing, recording, editing, notation creation, etc., depending on the kind of software you use.

Some brands offer their own free apps designed for certain models. Such apps usually enable you to control all the settings and functions of the instrument using an intuitive on-screen interface.

Today you probably won’t be able to find a digital piano or keyboard that doesn’t have a headphone jack.

The jack allows you to plug in a pair of headphones and practice at any time of day and night without bothering anyone else.

Sustain jack (a.k.a. damper jack) can be used to connect a sustain pedal to your instrument and use it in the same way as the sustain pedal of an acoustic piano.

line out jacks

Line Out (a.k.a. Aux Out) jacks can be used to connect your digital piano to external sound systems such as amplifiers, PA systems, mixers, etc.

Line In (R, L/Mono) jacks work in the opposite fashion to Line Out jacks.

They can be used to connect an external audio device and listen to it through the onboard speakers of your digital piano/keyboard.

Line In jacks aren’t normally found on digital pianos, but many professional keyboards have them.

An audio in jack works in the same way as the Line In jacks but instead of two 1/4″ standard jacks (R, L/Mono) you get one 1/8” stereo jack.

Audio In jacks are much more common on digital pianos and entry-level keyboards.

They allow you to easily connect your smart devices (smartphones, laptops, tablets) to your instrument using a 1/8” Male to Male cable and listen to them via your piano’s built-in speakers.

One end of the cable goes to the headphone jack (Audio Out) of your device and the other one to the Audio In of your piano.

audio in jack

bluetooth midi

Some digital pianos in addition to USB MIDI connectivity support Bluetooth MIDI connection, which means you can exchange MIDI data with your smart devices wirelessly to control music making and teaching apps to enhance your playing and make it more fun.

MIDI In/Out are traditional ports used to transfer MIDI data. Nowadays it has become more common for digital pianos to have USB ports and use them for that purpose.

keyboard midi ports

But some manufacturers prefer to stick with MIDI ports rather than modern USB ports.

There is not much difference when you use them for computer connection, except USB A to B cables you’d use for USB connection are cheaper and more wide-spread than MIDI to USB adapters.

Most professional keyboards still have MIDI ports to be compatible with older keyboards and transfer MIDI data to them (yes, you can send MIDI data not only to a computer but also other musical instruments).

A Mic In jack which, as you may have guessed, can be used to connect a microphone directly to the keyboard and sing along with your performance or a song playback.

The keyboard will output your vocals through the onboard speakers and sometimes will allow you to add some effects to it.

Accessories

digital piano accessories

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.

Honestly, when it comes to digital piano accessories, I don’t recommend buying those all-in-one bundles available on Amazon, as the accessories you get are usually very cheap and not of very good quality. It’s especially true for headphones.

Stand

keyboard stand

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.

Pedals

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.

sustain footswitch

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).

sustain pedal

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.

3-pedal unit

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.

Headphones

headphones for digital piano

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.

Bench

piano bench

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:

  • 1) Adjustable X-style benches (perfect for gigs)
  • 2) Classic wooden benches (perfect for home)

The price of a bench varies from $20 to $60 depending on the type, brand name, and materials used.

Amplifier

keyboard amp

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:

Bag/Case

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:

keyboard bag

Buying a Digital Piano: My Recommendations

buy digital piano

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.

Offline

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.

Pros:

buy digital piano

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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

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.

Pros:

digital piano 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.

Cons:

  • 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.
Note:
Prices on digital pianos rarely differ from one online retailer to another, except when an item is on sale.

List of Retailers

Here are the most popular and trusted online retailers I recommend:

USA:

Amazon

digital piano amazon

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)

Guitar Center / Woodwind and Brasswind / Musician’s Friend

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.

zZounds

  • 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.

Thomann

  • 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

Gear4music

  • 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)

FAQ

Do I absolutely need 88 keys?

I’d say yes. Even though, 73 or 76 keys are enough to play most musical pieces, as you progress you’ll probably want to have all 88 keys, especially if you’re going to play a lot of classical pieces.

Most digital pianos have 88 keys.

Do I need all 3 piano pedals?

The sustain pedal is the most used pedal on a piano and a must for everyone, including beginners.

The other two pedals (soft and sostenuto) are used much more rarely and not essential. If you’re a beginner to intermediate player, you probably won’t use them anyway.

Still, these pedals are occasionally used in some classical pieces, but it’s usually more advanced repertoire. So if you’re an experienced player you probably already know if you need them or not.

Does my digital piano need to be tuned?

Digital pianos never need tuning because they play back recorded sounds (samples) of a perfectly tuned acoustic piano.

Acoustic pianos should be tuned at least once a year, which will cost you about $80 – $100.

Can I adjust the volume of my digital piano?

Yes, all digital pianos and keyboards allow you to adjust the volume, which is very useful.

Can I connect headphones and practice in silence?

Yes, absolutely, and it’s the main advantages of digital instruments.

You can hook up some headphones to your digital piano and play at any time without bothering anyone else.

Today, you probably won’t be able to find a digital piano or keyboard that doesn’t have a headphone jack.

Can I record what I play?

Yes, most $500+ digital pianos have a built-in MIDI-sequencer that will allow you to record your performance and play it back.

Some digital pianos have multi-track recorder, which means you can record several parts independently and then play them back as a single song.

How much polyphony do I need?

I do recommend having at least 64 notes of polyphony for piano playing and 128 notes if you’re going to layer multiple sounds and use several backing tracks in your performances.

More about polyphone here.

How much speaker wattage do I need?

While more powerful speakers do allow for a fuller and bolder sound, I wouldn’t get too carried away with this characteristic.

More output power doesn’t necessarily mean better sound, but it does increase the capacity of the speakers so to speak.

When it comes to speakers, there’re other important aspects that add to the ultimate sound you hear including the quality of the speakers themselves, how many of speakers there are and where they’re placed, your acoustic environments, etc.

Do wooden keys make a difference?

You’ll find that some more expensive digital pianos ($2000+) have real wooden keys.

Some claim they feel more realistic than plastic keys but as long as the weight of the key provides the same resistance of that of an acoustic piano it actually shouldn’t matter what they are made of.

What are the basic things I should look for in a digital piano?

If you’re a beginner you’d want look at pianos that have:

  • 88 hammer-action keys
  • At least 64 notes of polyphony
  • High-quality piano samples with good dynamic range (from the softest to the loudest sound)
  • Metronome and Transpose function

Depending on your needs you may also want it to have USB-MIDI connectivity, onboard MIDI-recorder, built-in songs and other extra features.

How do digital pianos differ from one manufacturer to another?

You may wonder why there are so many manufacturers and models of digital pianos.

Well, not all digital pianos are created equal, and although they all aim to mimic a traditional piano, it’s easier said than done.

As a general rule, the more money you spend, the more realistic sound and feel you get.

Manufacturers develop their own technologies, which they use in the process of sound recording/modeling, as well as when designing the keyboard action, speaker system, and all the features that come with the piano.

That’s why the sound and feel of digital pianos differ from one brand to another.

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