THE DIGITAL PIANO
A digital piano is designed to be a modern alternative to the old acoustic piano. It is made to look, sound, and feel like a traditional piano, while offering features that are not available in the older version of the instrument. A good digital piano should be portable or at least not too inconvenient to move, feel like an acoustic piano when being played, should offer a high maximum polyphony, and be compatible with other devices like computers. While more expensive models usually come with more features and options, the pricing is not the only to be considered when choosing which digital piano to buy.
THE BEST DIGITAL PIANOS
The table below shows some of our favorite choices for digital pianos in several categories. These represent best of class, best reviewed, and best overall value options from our experience.
|Williams||Legato 88 Hammer Action||$299.99||4.2||Portable|
DIGITAL, ELECTRIC AND ELECTRONIC
It is easy to confuse the digital piano with the electric and the electronic. Those are three different versions of the instrument. While they may share some common features, the big difference is in how they work and how they produce sound.
- In an electric piano, the sound is produced mechanically which is then turned into electrical signals by pickups, which can then be amplified. They work in almost the same way that electric guitars do.
- An electronic piano is a device that mimics the sound of a piano and other instruments through analog circuits.
The sounds that are produced by a digital piano are actually sounds that have been recorded and stored in a ROM, a lot like a computer. Sounds from a piano and other instruments are recorded and then stored in the instrument. When the corresponding keyboard stroke is made, the sound is then accessed and produced. That is a very simplified version of a complex process, but it should give you an idea of how it works.
For details on what separates digital pianos from regular keyboards, read our guide here.
The sound stored in the ROM of a digital piano comes from the best acoustic pianos available. The sounds are recorded in studios using the best microphones and other recording equipment. The recordings might include several sounds from the same kind of keystroke, but the number of versions are limited.
The way that sound is recorded and stored in a digital piano would of course mean that it would have certain limitations. The sound it produces may lack the harmonic tones, natural reverberation and acoustic noises that are produced when playing an acoustic instrument. All of those are limitations, but the digital piano does have its advantages.
A typical digital piano would have the following common features:
Sound or Volume Control
Requires Little Maintenance
Does Not Require the Use of Microphones
FORM AND APPEARANCE
Some digital pianos are made to look like traditional upright and in some cases, even upright pianos. There is also a trend where digital pianos are made to forms that cannot be achieved with the traditional versions of the instruments. There are some devices now that are a lot shallower than the traditional pianos.
DIGITAL OR ACOUSTIC?
Some people are torn between a digital and an acoustic piano. Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of both types of instrument can help you make the right decision.
- In choosing between the two types of pianos, one of the first things to consider would be the cost. A digital piano is far more affordable than a traditional one. Think about the large shipping costs too. Shipping should not be a problem with a digital piano.
- Another factor to think about when choosing between a traditional piano and a digital instrument is the size. A grand piano is a very large and heavy object. It would take up a lot of space and moving it would require the services of professionals. A digital piano on the other hand is very portable and would take up less space.
- As explained earlier, the sounds produced by a digital piano are recorded and stored. That means you can make various sounds with it, just by pressing on some buttons. It can make sounds of other instruments like harpsichords and organs.
- A major advantage of a digital piano is that it would not require tuning. It will make the same sound for each keystroke all the time.
- Because digital pianos have more in common with computers than traditional devices, they can easily be connected for recording and playback. This is a huge advantage for some users.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD DIGITAL PIANO?
When you want to buy a digital piano, you have to be aware of the qualities that you should lookout for. It helps to read digital piano reviews but knowing things on your own helps a lot too. The biggest downside of using a digital piano is the sound quality. It still is behind the sound produced by a high end acoustic piano. After all, the sounds that a digital piano can make come from acoustic pianos too. But after the sound quality, there are no other major downsides to going for a digital piano.
Here are some of the other points that you should consider when shopping for a digital piano:
NUMBER OF TONES
Assuming that the main reason why you want to buy a digital piano is because you want to make music, then this is the first thing that you should actually consider. Some brands advertise the huge number of sounds that you can play with their instrument. Do not be attracted by mere numbers, because in the long run you would not use all of those.
Some people end up focusing on the features of a digital piano that does not really matter. They tend to consider the lights, the display, and the dials without thinking about the things that really matter such as the touch response of the piano. You need to find a piano that has a similar feel to a real piano. When you press down on a piano key you will feel a certain pressure, which actually helps in the technique. Look for a digital piano that can mimic that response.
NUMBER OF KEYS
If you want to get the closest effect to a traditional instrument, then get a digital piano with 88 keys. There are versions of the instrument that have lower number of keys, but it is always better to get one with full number of keys.
Digital pianos would have other features that you should be able to check out. One feature that would really matter would be the speaker setup. Will you need an external amplifier first before you can use it? Is it compatible with your computer?
This might sound fancy, but you have to check this feature on the digital piano that you are planning on buying. Maximum polyphony refers to the number of tones that a piano can generate at a specific moment. A plastic keyboard toy would usually be able to play a single tone at a time. That means it has a maximum polyphony of one. For a digital piano the best maximum polyphony is 128. Anything over that is probably just a gimmick. Don’t buy a device with a maximum polyphony of 32.
There are three types of touch response for digital pianos:
- No touch
- Fully weighted
If a piano has a switch to make the sound louder or softer that probably means it has no touch response. That is not the ideal instrument. If an instrument is marketed as touch-sensitive it is just a little better than the no touch pianos. The best ones to go for are the fully-weighted ones.
WHAT YOU GET FROM EXPENSIVE DIGITAL PIANOS
Like with other things in life, you get what you pay for when you buy a digital piano. A more expensive brand does not necessarily mean a better piano, but you can get more options and features with it. Here are some of the things that you can get from the more expensive digital pianos:
- Assuming that the main reason why you want to buy a digital piano is because you want to make music, then this is the first thing that you should actually consider. Some brands advertise the huge number of sounds that you can play with their instrument. Do not be attracted by mere numbers, because in the long run you would not use all of those.
- A more expensive digital piano would have a bigger database of sounds. It would have a recording of the same piano note at different sound levels.
- Accompaniment features is also available in the more expensive models of digital pianos. For example, some would be able to play drum patterns that are perfect to the tune that is being played. You can vary the accompaniment styles.
- You can also split the keyboard of the better models of digital pianos. You can assign the sound of an upright piano to one section and another type of instrument to the other.
Casio is now considered to be one of the top makers of digital pianos and with so many other high quality brands in the market that is saying a lot. The Casio brand now combines excellent design, musical and technical innovation, and class to make some of the leading digital pianos in the market today.
Casio models now are designed with the aim of overcoming the earlier reputation of its brand. It has several lines of high quality digital pianos including the acclaimed Privia and Celviano. Casio pianos offer graded hammer action technology. These instruments also have wave generation and sound technology. Those modern features can be found in all Casio pianos starting from the most basic models, up to the most advanced ones.
Though the pianos made by Casio have plenty of modern features, their prices are still affordable, at least when compared with other brands. That is the reason Casio is the perfect instrument for someone who is just getting started with digital pianos.
The best thing about Kawai is that it has so many different models of digital pianos. They have many different styles, shapes and colors that are available from which you can choose from. Another thing going for Kawai is the fact that their pianos are more affordable than those from Yamaha and Roland.
Kawai also manufactures grand pianos and they have tried to capture the sound of those acoustic instruments into digital pianos. They have succeeded to some degree in doing that which is why Kawai is seen as a standard setter in the market. If you place sound quality on top of the things that you are looking for in your instrument then Kawai should be a good choice.
The CE220 from Kawai is considered by some to be the best combination of having a piano-like feel when being played and having a high-quality sound. Many models from other brands come in packed with all kinds of features and add-ons with the sound quality getting sacrificed.
It is very hard to sample the full range of piano sounds, but the Progressive Harmony from Kawai was able to capture the full range of the sounds generated by their acoustic pianos. It also comes with 192-note polyphony. The CE220 also gives you the option to adjust the sound and feel, to fit your individual playing.
Korg is mostly known for making keyboards, but they also have ventured in the manufacturing of digital pianos. Korg has one advantage over other brands and that is in the fact that musicians are heavily involved in the making of their instruments. That gives a certain creative edge to Korg digital pianos over others that are made purely using a technical viewpoint.
Korg is also popular with touring musicians because their pianos are very durable and can withstand a lot carrying around and banging. Aside from being rugged, Korg pianos also have a wide selection that attracts a lot of players.
The best thing about the Korg SP 280 is how portable it is; including the stand, it only weighs 42 pounds. That makes it ideal for musicians who travel a lot. It is also perfect for those who do not have a lot of space in their homes. While the SP 280 is portable, that does not mean that it suffers when it comes to the quality of the music that it can produce.
It also has full-weighted keyboards and three-pedal functions. On top of that it is also very energy efficient. It uses up less energy than other models. Because it uses up so little energy, you can play for a longer time.
Many experts agree that Roland makes some of the best digital pianos in the world. For the sound, they sampled from a grand piano made by Steinway. Roland digital pianos are known for the realistic way that one can play them and for the high-quality sound that they produce which is comparable to that of an acoustic instrument. It is not surprising that Roland pianos are the favorite of many professional musicians who travel a lot.
Roland is also known for high degree of professionalism and devotion that comes into making their instruments. Their developers spend a lot of time in coming up with the best ways to sample sound, tone selection, and connectivity.
The Roland RD-300NX is a very portable instrument that has all the advantages of modern digital piano. It comes equipped with the SuperNATURAL engine that makes the experience of playing it very realistic and a lot like playing an acoustic piano.
The RD-300NX has hundreds of songs that are preset in it. It also comes with the Sound Focus which allows all the notes to be heard when you play them. It also has an Ivory Feel-G keyboards that makes the playing very similar to that of an acoustic piano. It really feels like the keyboard is made from genuine ivory.
Yamaha is one of the leading makers not just of digital pianos but other musical instruments as well. They have a large line up of digital pianos ranging from those for beginners to professional-level instruments. Yamaha is known for being committed to product development and to making their digital pianos feel like acoustic instruments.
To ensure the high quality of the sound produced by their digital pianos, they record from their CFIIIS grand piano. The company also develops specialized technology for certain components of their instruments. They have come up with technologies for the hammer action, tonal selection and wave sampling. It is not surprising that the brand is one of the most sought after in the market.
Yamaha pianos are so good that other brands actually study what they have on their products and use the information on their own instruments. They also have a wide selection of pianos, including some that are quite affordable.
The Yamaha Arius YDP 181 has a full keyboard of 88 weighted keys which feels a lot like a traditional acoustic piano. But it mimics an acoustic instrument beyond the keyboard. It has 128-note polyphony which means that you can play multiple notes on it without being stopped when sustained. It also has three damper pedals that allows for more control when playing.
The Arius YDP 181 is also very friendly to those who do not have much experience in playing. The preset songs and recordings will allow you to learn new songs and keep track of your progress.
A digital piano is an excellent choice for anyone looking for a versatile musical instrument today. It is portable, easy to use and comparable to acoustic pianos when it comes to sound quality. There are numerous options that are available in the market now for students and for professional musicians. All the top digital piano makers have several models that are designed to suit the needs of users from all levels. In going through the different options, using different sources such as online forums, digital piano reviews, and the opinion of more experienced musicians and users can go a long way.