In this guide we’ll take a look at the best digital pianos.
We’ve compared sound quality, design, features and cost
to give you our top recommendations.
What is the Best Digital Piano?
More Detailed Digital Piano Reviews
Why Buy a Digital Piano?Before you go ahead and buy a digital piano, it’s probably best that you think your purchase through properly. Ask yourself ‘Why do I want a digital piano?’. It’s true that there are many advantages to a digital piano, but generally speaking, nothing beats a good acoustic piano when it comes to sound and feel. Not to mention how good they look in your living room! Before you make your purchase, read through these reasons to get a digital piano and see if any of them beats the advantages of an acoustic piano! (Notice that I don’t call this instrument ‘electric piano’ since that’s actually a totally different instrument! Google it if you don’t believe me!)
Space and WeightIt’s no secret that digital pianos take up much less space than acoustic ones. If you are living in a small apartment, or still living at home and need to keep the piano in your bedroom, it can be really handy to be able to put the piano away, maybe under the bed or under a table. And speaking of tables, if you really don’t have room for a piano, you could put it up on a table instead of a stand when you want to play it and save room that way. The weight issue is another thing to keep in mind. It’s not easy to move acoustic pianos, and you need to hire professionals to do it, so that the piano, your back, and steps, walls, and floors stay intact. Moving a digital piano, on the other hand, is easy, and this is a good thing not only when you move house, but also if you want to bring the piano with you to gigs, weddings or wherever you want to play.
The VolumeAnother big advantage to digital pianos, which especially apartment dwellers appreciate, is that you can turn the volume down and even wear headphones when you play. Many pianists are afraid of disturbing the neighbors, which is something that actually often limits them as to how often and for how long they can practice. So if you love to practice for an hour or so in the evening, you might want to get a digital piano so that you don’t have to worry about your neighbors. Another group of people that appreciate being able to change the volume is parents that want to practice when the kids have gone to sleep.
Different VoicesOne great thing about digital pianos is that they most often have many different voices, or sounds, to choose from. This makes playing more enjoyable as you can choose a voice that you think works well with the particular song you’re playing, and it’s also something that can make kids practice more. Of course, this can’t be done on an acoustic piano, so if you want fun voices and endless possibilities, a digital piano is the way to go.
DustingAs somebody who has owned both acoustic and digital pianos, I find it so much easier to keep the digital piano clean, as I can dust it in the middle of the night without any neighbors hearing. It might just be me, but I think this is a pretty big advantage!
Tuning and PlacementAnother great thing about digital pianos is that you don’t have to get them tuned once a year, which can get really expensive. You also don’t have to be super aware of where you position the instrument. With an acoustic piano, you need to put it far away from windows, front doors, and radiators, and make sure that the air has the right humidity, but digital pianos aren’t that sensitive at all.
The Digital Side of it AllObviously, the fact that digital pianos are, well, digital, opens up a lot of possibilities in itself. You can connect it via MIDI to a computer to produce music and you can jam with yourself using different accompaniment modes. We’re going to get into all of the cool features that digital pianos offer further on in the article, so for now, we can just establish that producing music is much easier with a digital piano rather than an acoustic.
Features to Look for in a Digital PianoThere are so many different features that modern digital pianos offer, and it can feel like a jungle to figure out what they all are, what’s necessary, and what’s not. We’re now going to take a look at the most common features that you’ll encounter when you research different models.
The KeysLet’s start with the obvious, the keys. They are your most important tool when you play the piano, and therefore it’s good to be aware of what to expect of them. You’d think that most digital pianos feel the same to play, but what the keys are made of, how many they are, and other aspects will make the playing experience very different from piano to piano.
How Many?A full-sized keyboard has 88 keys, and as a piano tutor, I would recommend that you get one with 88 keys. There are some digital pianos available that have fewer keys, and they are often a little bit cheaper than the full-sized models, so it might be tempting for a beginner to buy one of those and save a little money. The problem with this is that if you keep your piano playing up, as you become better and better you will miss those extra keys, and you might end up buying a full-sized piano after all. So if you cheap out, you might actually lose money in the long run. Isn’t it much better to just buy the right instrument to start with? One exception to this rule of thumb might be if you know that you are just going to bring the piano to gigs and you need a compact little thing that is easily portable. But in this case, you need to really know that you won’t be playing anything that requires more keys. Also, if you feel like you fit in on this description, you might instead want to look for a keyboard, rather than a digital piano. Keyboards generally have fewer keys and more voices and other cool features and they are specially made for modern genres like pop and rock, that might not require as big a register as classical music and jazz often do.
MaterialWhat the keys are made of can really affect your performance. If they’re too plastic-y and slippery, you might struggle to play fast passages, especially if you suffer from hand sweat. Even though no digital pianos have ivory keys, the more expensive models will have a surface that resembles the touch of ivory and makes the keys less slippery and nicer to play. The best way to find out if you like the surface of the keys is to simply go to a music shop and try the piano out before you place an order.
Weighted Keys and Hammer ActionThe way the keys react to your touch can be really different. Some entry-level pianos have keys that aren’t weighted, and the keys offer no resistance whatsoever. This also means that you can’t do much to change the tone in terms of volume, even if you slam the key down, it will sound pretty much the same as when you’re playing a lullaby. The next step is semi-weighted keys. You’ll find this in pianos that are slightly more expensive, and they give you a little bit more to work with. Next, we have weighted keys, and they are heavier to press down, which allows you to alter the volume since they are touch sensitive. The very best kind of keys is called hammer action keys. In an acoustic piano, little hammers strike strings when you press down a key, and hammer action keyboards imitate the feeling of this process. This brings us to the last type of keys, which is by far the best if you’re going to be playing classical music and jazz. It’s called graded hammer action. If you’ve ever played an acoustic piano you know that pressing down the bass keys and the trebles don’t really feel the same. You don’t have to press the high notes as hard as the low notes. What graded hammer action does is that it resembles this feeling. This is particularly useful if you will, for example, play a digital piano at home, but an acoustic piano at your lessons or at school. It feels really weird to practice on a digital piano without graded hammer action and then play an acoustic piano!
PedalsMost digital pianos will come with a sustain pedal, but the quality of these pedals is not always the best. Not that it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, it’s just that some of them are small and seem impossible to press down without it running away from your foot. You can solve this problem by simply taping it to the floor, or you can buy a sturdier pedal. Some digital pianos will also have a soft pedal, which makes the sound softer, and in very rare cases a sostenuto pedal in the middle. If you’re a beginner to intermediate player, it’s enough to just have a sustain pedal.
SpeakersOne thing that digital pianos have that acoustic don’t need is speakers. All digital pianos will have built-in speakers. Make sure that you don’t buy a MIDI-keyboard, which is only to be used plugged into a computer and therefore doesn’t have any speakers. Don’t worry if you read that the digital piano you want to buy supports MIDI, just make sure that that’s not its only function. Generally speaking, the speakers get better the more expensive the piano is, so if you buy a cheap piano you might want to consider buying extra speakers that will do your music justice. When it comes to headphones, you’ll find that most digital pianos are compatible, but for some, you might need an adapter if you want to use your normal headphones.
Voices and Cool EffectsMany digital pianos offer a range of sounds or voices. Instruments like different kinds of pianos, organs, strings and wind instruments are very common, but percussion, electric instruments, and human voice samples are also available. The quality of these voices definitely vary, and for the cheap models, they are more something to play around with for fun rather than use in a real performance. Interestingly enough, some of the more expensive digital pianos don’t offer hundreds of different sounds, and my theory is that they assume that their customers are more interested in having a good substitute for an acoustic piano. Sometimes it’s possible to sample your own sounds. You can record your dog or another instrument, and when you press down the keys they will play that sound in different pitches. Many digital pianos offer the opportunity of splitting the keyboard in two, so that you can, for instance, play piano with your left hand and strings with the right. Another way that some pianos can be split is when they have a teacher mode. Then the lower half of the keyboard is transposed up so that the lower half of the piano sounds exactly like the upper half. This can be very useful for lessons as well as four-hand playing. You can often layer sounds as well, so you can get a piano and an organ sound at the same time. There are lots of other effects available, like pre-recorded styles to jam along with, accompaniment features that follow the chords you play and turn them into something cool, arpeggios and so on. Many pianos will also feature different rhythm patterns and a metronome. Some will have built-in games that teach you how to find certain notes an intervals, and they may even be able to teach you how to play a few songs. Keys that light up when you play is also something that is quite common in digital pianos for beginners. The idea is to teach you a song by lighting up the keys you’re supposed to play. I wouldn’t recommend buying a model just to get this feature, as I don’t believe it’s a particularly good way to learn, and chances are you will only be using it a few times before you get sick and tired of it.
Recording With a Digital PianoSome digital pianos have a built-in recording tool, which allows you to record music and listen to it. This can be useful if you want to hear what your playing sounds like, as well as if you want to compose music. If this is a feature you want your digital piano to have, see how many tracks you can add, the more the better! Then you can use USB to get it to your computer. Another way to use your digital piano to record music is to use MIDI. MIDI is not really recording the sound, but rather the signals. This means that if you connect your piano via MIDI to a computer, it registers the signals and can play it back to you. You can then choose what kind of instrument you want it to sound like, and play around with it a lot more than if you just recorded sound using a microphone. Another great thing about MIDI is that using a music notation program, you can convert MIDI files to sheet music.
AppsSome modern digital pianos come with an app that you can have on your phone or tablet, which makes it easy to change settings and save them for later. This is not really a feature that is absolutely necessary, but it can be useful and fun, and I guess it would impress your friends as well.
PolyphonyAll the digital pianos you will encounter on the market support polyphony, which means that they can play several notes at the same time. The more notes a piano can hold at the same time, the better. The different numbers of notes are 16, 32, 64, 128, 256 or 316. It might seem weird to have polyphony that is more than 88 notes since there are only 88 keys on a standard size piano, but there are more aspects that use up the polyphony than just pressing down a key, for example, the sustain pedal. Without getting too technical, we can conclude that it’s really useful to have as high polyphony as possible. If you, for example, only have 16 note polyphony, as soon as you have played 16 notes, even if you hold the sustain pedal down, the first note you played will drop out when you play note 17. But as I said, you will probably notice this happening long before note 17, because the polyphony doesn’t only get used up just by pressing down keys. How much polyphony you need depends on what kind of music you will be playing, but if you can afford to get a digital piano with 128 or 256 note polyphony, then go for it, it’s never going to be a disadvantage. Having good polyphony will make your music sound fuller and richer, whereas it might sound really boring if you only have 16 note polyphony.
Digital Pianos for BeginnersIf you’re about to buy your very first digital piano as a beginner, I’m going to make it easy for you. Here are all the things you should be looking for in your first digital piano.
- 88 keys
- Weighted keys or hammer action
- Sustain pedal
- As many or few different sounds as you like