If you have narrowed down your options between buying an acoustic or digital piano and decided to go with the digital, your next step is to short-list the brands that offer models with the things you need your digital piano to have.
The Best Names in the Industry
If you want to be sure you’re going to get an excellent instrument with good customer service, stick with the big guys who have been in the industry for decades. These include:
Of course there are other manufacturers who make good pianos, but these names are the best-selling brands for a reason.
Manufacturers continue to make rapid advances in technology that bring digital pianos ever-closer to the sound and feel of an acoustic piano. But with so many brands flooding the market, finding the right instrument to fit your requirements can be a daunting task.
Make Purchasing a Piano Easy
The way to make purchasing a piano easier is to make a checklist of the most important things you need. Things to consider before deciding on a piano in order of importance:
- Great sound
- Weighted keys
- Number of keys (up to 88)
- Fits your budget
- Midi, polyphony, recording and metronome
- Size is right and style compliments your home decor
Of these attributes the first four are going to be the most vital elements. If you’re already a pianist you will know very quickly what sound quality and touch you want and it will certainly be the higher-end pianos that will beckon you. If budget is an issue, make sure to shop around really well before you buy. Buying second-hand is always an option, but remember there are risks. Never buy a piano of any kind without trying it first, or at the very least, have someone knowledgeable try it on your behalf.
Now let’s look at each of these deciding factors in detail.
Once you’ve decided you like the look of a piano, and that it would fit where you need it to, it’s time to play it. Even if you don’t play the piano yet, sit and play around on it and see how the notes feel under your fingers. My own guide when I’m trying a piano is that if I don’t want to stop playing, it’s a contender.
The sound in a good digital piano is often created by “sampling” a top-end acoustic piano with state-of-the-art microphones that capture all the nuances of the note as it’s struck as well as the fade – known as the “decay”.
An alternative method is “sound modeling”. This is a more computerised way of creating the sound of a piano and on its own, not quite as convincing. However, some digital piano manufacturers have successfully combined sound modeling with sampling to create even deeper nuances, particularly reproducing the decay of a note.
Purchasing a digital piano should sound convincingly close to an acoustic piano. For a piano to generate a really high fidelity sound, you need to look at the specs for the speakers, but generally, if a manufacturer has created a great sound, the speakers will be the best for that sound.
These Weighted keys
So, Weighted keys are what make a digital piano feel close to the real thing. When you press on a key, you want it to have some resistance and be able to control the velocity. This means that you can play expressively – very quietly or very loud – within a piece of music. This is particularly critical when playing classical music, but also important when playing a slow love song rather than something like rock and roll.
Unweighted or Semi-weighted keys
Less expensive pianos can have no weight or “semi-weighted” keys. If you’re purchasing a piano for a child, this isn’t such an issue and semi-weighted can do fine for a while – although you should check with your child’s piano teacher first. Some teachers want weighted keys right from the start so that the child’s fingers get strong.
Number of keys
Purchasing a Piano for an Adult
The number of keys on a piano can limit what songs you’ll be able to play. The most common number of keys are 49, 61 and 88. A 49-key piano has 4 octaves and doesn’t replicate the feel of an acoustic piano very well because the keys are either unweighted or semi-weighted. Most 88-key digital pianos come with a fully weighted hammer-action keyboard that more closely resembles an acoustic piano. If you’re serious about playing piano, go for weighted keys.
Purchasing a Piano for a Child
If you’re purchasing a piano for a child, most of the same considerations apply. The only difference is that most children will be happy with a less expensive piano. They don’t really need 88 keys from the get-go either, but if they have them, they can experiment with the full keyboard and learn the geography of the piano correctly. A child who starts off with a small keyboard soon has to upgrade. So consider going for the 88-note, weighted-key. Purchasing a digital piano if your budget stretches to it.
If your budget is limited, consider looking for a second-hand piano. There are many on the marketplace on Facebook as well as on Ebay. But first, ask friends and family. So many families have pianos that are collecting dust. They forget they have one! I have found pianos for my students this way many times. Obviously you don’t get to choose in great detail what you get, and your piano won’t come with a warranty, but this is reflected in the price. Many music stores also carry second hand pianos, so you can check with them too.
If you have a local music store, take a trip there with the idea of spending a good hour trying out the different pianos. Talk to the staff – they are knowledgeable and often pianists themselves. If you don’t play yourself, ask them to play different pianos for you and listen to see which sound you like best.There are also good YouTube videos demonstrating different pianos and comparing them.
Staying in One Place
Think about your needs for portability. If you’re learning at home and the piano is going to be staying in one place, you can consider one of the heavier digital pianos. Top-end pianos weigh in at around 78k (170lbs). This is still light enough to move from one room to another, but not a weight you’d want to be lifting regularly.
On the other hand, if you are a gigging musician with travel in mind, consider getting a lightweight piano that’s easy to pack into a case and carry. There are different styles of portable and “stage” pianos to choose from. Some weigh as little as 10k (22lbs).
Remember, too, that if you’re going to be traveling with your piano, you’re going to need a good case. Get a hard case if you plan to fly. A good quality soft case is good for the trunk of a car. Remember that you’ll need to take the pedals and all the cables. Some cases have spaces made for these, otherwise you might need a separate carrying case for accessories.
Midi, Polyphony, Recording and Metronome
All digital pianos have Midi capability which allows you to connect to your computer, transfer data and use your piano as a Midi controller. This gives you the option to use a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) to create your own music tracks.
Polyphony is the maximum number of notes or sounds that a piano can create and sustain at the same time. A basic digital piano starts with 48 polyphony while the high-end models can have up to 256 notes. Polyphony allows expressive playing. A digital piano should have at least 64 notes for beginners – so if you are purchasing a piano for a child, this would be sufficient – and 256 note polyphony for advanced pianists.
Recording Capability and Built-in Metronome
All digital pianos have these features built-in allowing you to practice with a metronome to help you keep time and record your playing. Some pianos have multi-track recording available.
Digital Piano Stands
Many digital pianos on the market don’t come with a stand so you also need to consider what type of stand you want. There are “X” stands with adjustable height or “H” stands which are made of wood and closer to looking like an upright piano. Some digitals are built into a cabinet that looks very like a modern upright piano. There are some that look like very small baby grands.
When deciding on a digital piano, make sure you try playing with headphones as well as without before you buy. (Most music stores have headphones at the ready for this purpose). Many high-end digital pianos have an “optimized headphone mode” which gives you a 3-D sound that will make you forget you’re wearing headphones. But remember you need a good set of headphones too – using earbuds won’t give you the optimal experience.
Comfort and safety
If you plan to spend many hours on your new piano, invest in a good pair of lightweight headphones so that you can wear them comfortably for an hour or two. Remember when you use headphones not to have the volume too high to protect your hearing.
When road-testing pianos, use the pedals to see how they interact with what you’re playing. Many high-end digitals come with a 3-pedal set. Portable pianos usually need a separate purchase of a pedal set.
Una Corda Pedal
The left pedal makes the piano play more quietly (Una Corda). As long as you keep your foot on the pedal, the piano will sound muted.
Practice or Sostenuto Pedal
The middle pedal is often a practice pedal that locks into place so you can play quietly without having to keep your foot on the pedal. However, on higher-end pianos, it will be a “sostenuto” pedal. This sustains notes you play below middle C but not the notes above it, allowing for long-held low chords to be sustained while you play detached notes in the treble.
The right pedal is the “damper” and the one that is used the most. This creates the effect of an on-going ambiance across the piano, sustaining all the notes you’ve played until you take your foot off the pedal. High end pianos will also have a “half pedal” capability, the potency of which can be controlled with an internal setting.
Purchasing a piano is a big deal. Whatever digital piano you decide on will depend on your own preferences of touch, sound, budget and the look of the instrument.You want to select an instrument you’ll want in your life for a long time.
We have compiled a list of best digital pianos in 2020 to help you.
Remember, if you buy a not-so-great piano with an inferior sound quality you won’t feel inspired to play every day. If there aren’t enough octaves this will limit what you can play. If the piano isn’t within sight, open and inviting, you’ll probably forget about it or not want to bother setting it up.
The reverse is also true. If you have a lovely sounding piano that’s the first thing you see when you enter the room, you’re far more likely to go and play it every day and the more you play, the better you’ll get. And the better you get, the more you’ll want to play. So buy the best you can possibly afford. It’s an investment in yourself, and when you’re purchasing a piano, it’s not the time to skimp.