It's questionable whether something digital can truly replicate the depth, emotion, and pure brilliance of a grand piano. Acoustic pianos are composed of numerous intricate hammers, strings, and fine-tuned components that work in harmony at the strike of each key. Replicating this beautifully designed mechanism in a digital form is no small feat. A digital piano is an electronic keyboard instrument designed as an alternative to the traditional piano, not only in the sound it produces but also in how it feels to the pianist. Although a digital version may not be quite as grandiose in stature, it certainly allows for a host of additional technologically advanced features allowing you to learn faster and essentially have a whole orchestra accompany your playing at a touch of a button. With so many features available on digital pianos choosing the one that best suits your needs and budget can be overwhelming. We’ve narrowed down the best digital pianos in 2021 to help you make the most melodic decision.
With extraordinary features, excellent sound quality, and relatively low cost, digital pianos are a great alternative to acoustic pianos. Besides your budget, there are a host of things to consider when choosing a digital piano best suited to your needs. If you’re just learning the ropes, you won’t need something as elaborate as a professional performer. If you are playing at different venues you will want something that is easily portable. You also need to consider the recording capability, polyphony, amplification, and touch response. If you are not quite sure where to start, the below guide will simplify the specs for you and help you choose the best digital piano for your needs.
Key Considerations When Buying a Digital Piano
Portability and Storage
Digital pianos are lighter and more compact than acoustic pianos. Most models weigh much less and are easy to transport or store out of the way when not in use. When choosing your digital piano check the dimensions. Make sure that it fits where you intend to keep it and also ensure the keyboard height is appropriate or the stand is adjustable. If you’re planning on transporting the piano, check the weight, and how easy it is to break down as well as whether it comes with a carry bag.
Digital pianos can vary greatly in price, however, they still remain far less expensive to purchase than acoustic pianos. In addition, the maintenance on digital pianos is minimal whereas acoustic pianos require a costly tuning service. The pricing on a digital piano will depend on its size, functions, sound quality, touch response, and brand. Decide which features are most important to you before looking at options.
With a traditional piano, volume is determined by how hard you strike the keys. There really is no chance that you are going to be practicing while the rest of the household is sleeping. Digital piano volume can easily be controlled with the simple slide or turn of a knob. In addition, you can use headphones on many keyboard sets allowing you to practice without disturbing anyone else.
When considering the keyboard volume you don’t only want to ensure the sound can be minimized but most importantly you want to ensure the sound quality is good at higher volumes and that there is no distortion, especially when percussion, woodwinds, or brass are added. Test the digital piano with its built-in speakers on fairly high volumes to determine the sound quality you can expect without having to purchase external amplifiers.
If you are hoping to plan and create your own songs, make sure the digital piano comes with recording and sequencing features. This can also be a helpful feature when you want to review your own progress.
Digital pianos are often integratable with other devices. Many models have MIDI capability which allows connection to computers and recording equipment. Some models have a USB port allowing you to connect to various audio gear, memory cards, and enable music transfer.
Digital pianos have become incredible learning tools for beginner players. Many specialized features allow beginner players to learn on their own. Displays can also show the chords being played with lighting schemes. Built-in metronomes can be an extremely beneficial feature to look for if you need to improve your rhythmic ability. Digital pianos with dual headphone jacks allow students and teachers to play simultaneously in the same octave with a split keyboard function.
If you are completely new to playing a low-cost model that has built-in learning tools will be a good option as you won’t yet be selective about touch response and adding multiple features to enhance acoustic effects.
If you are transitioning from an acoustic piano, the degree to which a digital piano resembles an acoustic piano’s weighted action is very noticeable and can make a difference in its playability. Weighted and semi-weighted actions are more similar to that of a traditional piano as a small hammer embedded in the keys offer a subtle thump.
Fully-weighted keyboards have graded hammer action allowing lower octave keys to present greater weight which imitates the heavier hammers in acoustic pianos.
Touch response or velocity sensitivity indicates the capability of sensing subtle impact differences with which keys are played. This will determine the volume of each note. Low-cost digital pianos don’t have touch response features meaning the sound will be the same regardless of how hard you strike the keys. Volume is therefore determined by the volume control button only. Higher-end digital pianos can be controlled by both touch response and volume controls.
Higher-end digital pianos generally have more digital memory which allows them to store high-resolution sounds with convincing realism emulating acoustic instruments.
When considering sound quality, pay attention to the quality of the speakers, the sustain and decay of the notes, distortion, and clarity.
Polyphone indicates the number of individual notes a piano can produce at one time. There should be at the very least a 32-note polyphony, while 64-note is more adequate. The best quality digital pianos deliver 128- or 264-note polyphony.
Number of Sounds
Although it may seem fun to have hundreds of sound samples from various instruments to combine with your playing, the novelty wears off and you will soon find yourself seeking quality over quantity tones and effects. Most importantly, make sure the basic sample additions are realistic and of good quality and that they enhance the sound of your own playing. Being able to play with backing instrumental tracks can also be great fun.
The speaker quality you need will depend on what you are using the piano for. If your instrument is for home use only, make sure it has a built-in speaker that produces good quality and clear sound with adequate volume. If you are using the digital piano for live performances or studio recordings, check the output options. You may need connection options for PA systems, external amplifiers, recording consoles, headphones, and USB ports.
Digital Piano Accessories
Check that your piano comes with the necessary cables and a stand if required. Additionally, you may want to consider getting a piano cover to protect it from dust and dirt as well as a protective carry bag if you intend to transport it around. Check that the size of the bags, cover, or case fits your digital piano.
Best Digital Piano FAQ
Q: How long will a digital piano last?
A: Digital pianos will last anything between 20 to 50 years depending on the care, quality, and brand of the instrument.
Q: Can you learn to play piano with 54 keys?
A: A 54 key keyboard will be helpful at the beginning of your learning journey only. As you progress you want to get a full-size piano keyboard for the best sounds and to improve your playing ability.
Q: Does a digital piano need tuning?
A: Digital pianos are maintenance-free. Since there are no hammers or strings to produce sounds, no tuning is required.
Within the city limits of NOLA, you may find Camilla hammering away on her 88, playing anything from old jazz to modern country music. Camilla's goal is to one day open a piano studio in New Orleans where she can teach the black and whites and other common jazz instruments to enthusiastic students. Ms. Haywood hopes to bring instruments to old and new musicians alike, reviewing pianos, orchestral instruments, and other products that make her tap her fingers to the beats.