What To Look For In A Digital Piano? Things To Know When Buying!

Last Updated on September 7, 2021

Our Buying Guide To Finding The Best Digital Piano

Choosing the best digital pianos model out of the huge range on the market is not a simple job, these electric pianos come with all kinds of different sound qualities, piano tones and sizes. 

Whether you want to look for an acoustic piano sound in your digital piano or you want a digital piano style that is portable, you should always be looking out for the main feature in your digital piano type such as; the number of keys, sound, connectivity, polyphony and features. 

So as you can understand more about digital pianos such as how they work, the different types on the market, what features to watch out for in higher-end digital pianos and how they match up to acoustic models, we have composed an extensive digital piano buying guide below with everything you need to know.

Digital Pianos Terminology Explained 

Before we can dive into our guide and start learning everything there is to buy a digital piano, we must ensure that we go over the terminology frequently used when describing digital pianos, this ensures that when you are buying you know exactly what features you need in your piano. 

Digital pianos work essentially like a keyboard, except they have the addition of using a full 88-key set like a traditional piano, these key mechanisms are also weighted to feel more realistic when playing like acoustic pianos hammer keys do. 

As these pianos are electronic, they use a computer within the piano to produce sound quality and samples when the keys are pressed, audio output is through the external speakers of the piano, and many of these keyboard like pianos still have built-sounds to choose from too.

Down below we will list the basic terminology manufacturers tend to use when describing each part of a digital piano to help you avoid any confusion when buying your model.

Key Action 

  • Sensors - Instead of strings like traditional instruments, digital pianos use sensors to measure piano tones and timing when key mechanisms are pressed. On most digital pianos this tends to be a combination of two three sensors that measure the speed of movement to mimic how acoustic pianos sound. 
  • Escapement - On a traditional piano model there is a term called notch, this is the vibration that you feel on classic pianos keys when you let go after pressing a note, many digital pianos try to replicate this notch feeling to give you a more realistic feeling when playing.
  • Key length/Pivot - Key length or a pivot point in digital pianos is very important as it is where the key stick rotates around, the longer and more back the pivot point is then the smoother your acoustic piano keyboard will feel when playing. 
  • Counterweights - On some higher-end digital pianos you will find an option of counterweights that allows you to make specific keys lighter or heavier to your preference, this is typically only found on a traditional piano.

Sound

  • Sampling or modelling - Sampling or modelling refers to the way sound is produced from your digital acoustic piano keyboard when a key is pressed, sampling comes from pre-recorded sounds from an acoustic piano, modelling is sounds made from a computer to match acoustic piano notes. Most digital piano technology uses sampling.
  • Polyphony - Polyphony refers to sound made from your piano with the sustain pedal after you lift the keys, the more polyphony your piano has then the better it will sound. 

Features 

  • Recording features - Many digital stage pianos can record and playback sound, this allows you to listen back on how you play or even combine two pieces of music. 
  • USB/MIDI - Most digital pianos unlike a basic piano have USB ports as well as the option for MIDI connections so as you can transfer audio data to your computer.

Which Type Of Digital Piano Should You Choose? 

Not only is all the terminology for digital pianos a little confusing but so are the different types on the market, choosing the right type of digital piano is important to suit your needs and get the most out of your playing.

We have listed the common types of digital pianos to choose from on the market down below. 

Portable/Slab Digital Pianos

Portable types of digital pianos are often mistaken for a standard keyboard with sound effects, however, this is not the case. Although these are often cheaper models thanks to their smaller size they still pack in 88-key setups and weighted hammer keys for an acoustic piano keyboard feel. 

The only downfall of this piano in terms of design has to be their lack of digital piano accessories such as a stand which would need to be brought separately. 

Digital Upright Piano 

These types of upright pianos are very similar to classic music pianos due to their large design with a stand incorporated and fit nicely in a modern home. 

They often come with piano pedals like traditional models but are not for people who are looking for a portable keyboard.

Stage Digital Pianos 

Stage pianos are perfect for professional gigging and have top-notch built-in sounds for this purpose, they are portable and can be paired with a stand but are often the most expensive kind of digital pianos too due to the higher sound quality and external speakers in the device.

Hybrid Digital Pianos 

Hybrid digital pianos are a mix of a grand digital piano with acoustic key action for a realistic feel, they are extremely expensive but produce excellent elements of piano sound.

Advantages & Disadvantages Of Choosing a Digital Piano 

If you are on the fence about whether or not your 100% want to invest in a digital piano then it might be worth taking some time to go over the pros and cons of these pianos to see if they are right for you. 

We have listed the advantages as well as the disadvantages of these types of pianos down below to help you make a decision. 

Advantages 

  • Affordable - In comparison to an acoustic instrument digital pianos are often more affordable making them a great choice for beginners who don't want to invest in an acoustic piano yet but want a high-quality model to play on.
  • Portable - Unlike real acoustic pianos these kinds of digital pianos are better for people who are looking for a portable option to play gigs with or move around with.
  • Versatile sounds - Electric piano tones are great for adding unique sounds into your piano music which you can't do with acoustic real pianos.
  • Little maintenance - Electric instruments like digital pianos do not need the same amount of maintenance that an acoustic piano does such as tuning or tightening, they also tend to be easier to repair.
  • Headphones - One of the best parts of a digital piano is a headphone jack, this allows you to practice in private wherever you are in your household.

Disadvantages 

  • They can be complex - With the wide selection of electronic functions and sounds, digital pianos can be hard to work out if you are a beginner to these kinds of pianos.
  • Keyboard action - Although you can now invest in higher quality digital pianos that have additional weights in their keys and 88 key set-ups, they still will never feel the same as an acoustic piano does which can take some getting used to.
  • Sound quality - Some of the tones and built-in sounds on digital pianos can sound questionable according to the model you buy so are not be relied on.
  • Upgrades - Due to the electronic system of these pianos there will come a time when they release better upgradable software's.

Top Features To Look Out For In Your Digital Piano 

Now we know the main parts of digital pianos, different types and the pros and cons, we can get into looking at the top features you should be looking out for in your digital piano. 

We have listed the main specs to consider in your piano down below. 

  • Size - Before you get into looking at the detailed specifications of a digital piano you should first consider the size. Portable keyboards are great for travelling around with for gigs but lack the acoustic piano feel and look.
  • The number of keys - As well as the overall size of your digital piano you also need to consider the number of keys that your piano comes with, the smaller the set of the keys then the more limited your range of music will be, 88 keys is the same as an acoustic piano and is more desirable. 
  • Polyphony - The higher number of notes of polyphony your stage pianos come with the better, as this refers to the number of notes played at the same time, the best amount of polyphony to look for in your piano is 64 note polyphony. 
  • Weighted keys - On most entry-level keyboards that are cheap, you might find they do not come with weighted keys which are harder to play with, fully weighted hammer keys are a popular choice as they mimic how a real acoustic piano feels. 
  • Sounds - Digital pianos are an appealing option for people who want to get more creative with their sounds, if this then you want to make sure that your piano comes with decent quality sounds and a great range. 
  • Speaker/headphones - Choosing a digital piano with a good set of onboard speakers is important for the best playback and sound, ensure that it has a headphone jack also for listening.
  • Connectivity - A good connectivity option to look out for in your digital piano is MIDI connectivity, this allows you to transfer audio data to a computer with ease, sometimes even over Bluetooth to avoid cables.
  • Extra features - To get the best digital piano on the market possible you want to make sure that it comes with some extra features so as you can get the most out of your piano. A few of these extra features are; recording features, split mode, layering mode and transposing function.
  • Warranty - Your digital piano should always come with at least a one year warranty for buyers protection, this covers you for any faulty repairs too.
  • Accessories - It's always good if your digital piano comes with a few accessories such as a stand, this saves you from having to buy them separately. 

Acoustic Vs Digital Pianos - Which Is Better?

When you are on a hunt for the best digital piano you might be wondering if an acoustic piano might be better for you than a digital model would. 

We have compared both a digital piano and acoustic piano down below to see which might suit you best. 

Digital Pianos 

New and modern digital pianos are now able to compete with an acoustic piano in terms of feeling thanks to their weighted keys and 88-key set design which makes them feel more like an acoustic piano. 

Digital pianos also have the upper hand over acoustic pianos as they are more portable and versatile with their computer sounds, they need less maintenance too with no tuning or tightening. 

The disadvantages of digital pianos in comparison to acoustic pianos have to be their sound and feel which despite recent advancements in digital piano technology, still don't match up entirely to acoustic pianos.

Some of the more portable keyboards might also lack piano pedals and other features to enhance your playing.

Pros

  • More portable. 
  • Weighted keys. 
  • Affordable.
  • Portable.
  • Little maintaining needed. 

Cons 

  • Lacks a realistic feel. 
  • Don't have the same sound quality.

Acoustic Pianos 

On the other hand, acoustic pianos win over digital pianos when it comes to organic sound, they are the best choice for piano players who want to take their playing to professional levels and have that wow factor thanks to their large furniture like design. 

Acoustic pianos do fall short in comparison to digital pianos when it comes to portability because of their large size, they also need more maintenance such as turning in the long run.

These types of powerful instrument are often more expensive than digital pianos too. 

Pros  

  • Organic sound. 
  • Large wow factor. 
  • Better for professional use.

Cons 

  • Not portable. 
  • Needs more maintenance. 
  • Expensive. 

Conclusion - Should I Choose a Digital Piano Or An Acoustic Piano?

Overall, if you are an experienced piano player who is looking to invest in their piano and want an actual instrument sound, you might be best sticking with an acoustic piano. 

However, for people who are looking for a more affordable piano with great digital features such as MIDI connectivity and headphones, a digital piano is best.

Learning Tips For Using a Digital Piano 

Learning to use a digital piano for the first time can be a little overwhelming and entry-level keyboards often don't come with as many keys and features to play with. 

We have listed our best learning tips down below for using a digital piano for the first time. 

  • Get to know your piano first - Before you even start to play your fully-fledged digital piano you should familiarise yourself with the digital piano first and how it looks. Figure out all the functions and recognise the pattern of black and white keys on your piano. 
  • Learn notes and keys - After familiarising yourself with your digital stage pianos design you can then start to try and learn the notes and keys. Most fully-fledged digital piano models have 88 keys and seven notes ranging from C – D – E – F – G – A – B. 
  • Try chords - Chords are very difficult to get a grip of but once mastered can make great harmonic sounds. The four basic chords include; minor, major, diminished and augmented.
  • Learn by listening - Learning a single song can help you memorise certain notes to play and help your practice flow better. Try breaking a single song into smaller parts so as you can learn it easier. 
  • Practice every day - Always try and spend at least 30 minutes a day learning the design of your portable keyboard, this helps you get a hold of extra features and hand dynamics over time. 
  • Try the recording function - The recording function of your portable keyboards is a useful interactive feature to listen to how to you play and is a great choice for piano players who are looking to improve how they play.
  • Learn to read music - Learning to sight-read music makes playing your stage pianos keyboard much easier and helps the flow. Try looking at your music every night before you sleep to help you memorise. 
  • Start slow - Don't try and play your portable keyboards too quickly, instead gradually increase your speed as you get a hold of your hands dynamics and the layout of your piano.

How To Take Care Of Your Digital Piano 

In comparison to acoustic pianos, digital pianos are much easier to maintain and take care of due to their electronic power.

But this doesn't mean digital pianos don't need any care at all, we have listed our best steps and tips to maintaining your digital piano down below.

  • Store your digital grand pianos in the right place - For cabinet piano types that are not portable, you need to ensure you have your piano in the correct area as this is where it will stay, this area should not be exposed directly to sunlight and away from heat sources in your home. Consider placing the powerful instrument somewhere away from foot traffic too to stop it from getting knocked. 
  • Clean it regularly - It is important to clean your piano regularly and wipe it down with a microfibre cloth to remove dust and debris. Always use your piano with clean hands too, this stops issues such as stuck keys.  
  • Plug it properly - Never overload the socket where your piano is plugged and try to stop cords from hanging around everywhere as they are a hazard for tripping. 
  • Protect - When you are not using your expensive pianos model you should ensure you keep the piano covered at all times to stop dust from building up. Once you are done using your cabinet style digital piano make sure you place the key cover down to stop objects from damaging the keys. 
  • Use it for what it's meant - Never use your cabinet style digital piano for a shelf or to eat and drink over, this could potentially damage it with one small accident. 
  • Keep it in a temperature-controlled environment - Too hot or cold temperatures for your digital piano could lead to damage to your piano,  

Is a Digital Piano Worth It? 

Overall, you might be wondering, is a digital piano for me? 

We would suggest a digital piano is worth it if you are after an electronic piano which is more versatile with sounds than an acoustic one, they are a great choice for piano players who want features such as MIDI connectivity or for people who want to have a more portable piano to carry around with them. 

Not only do digital pianos come with lots of extra features but they also have advanced mechanisms such as weighted keys to produce acoustic piano action meaning you don't miss out on how a real piano feels. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Buying Digital Pianos 

How much do digital pianos cost?

Digital pianos are versatile musical instruments that can cost anything between £550-£4000, this is a huge variable price range as you can buy cheaper instruments that are built with lower quality parts or high range expensive instrument types with are built with a similar quality to acoustic pianos.

We would always suggest investing in higher quality digital pianos as these will last you longer and typically comes with art speaker systems and better sound quality.

What is an arranger digital piano?

An arranger digital piano is closer to keyboard musical instruments in the sense it has a huge range of built-in music libraries to choose from for editing music, however, the difference with these kinds of digital pianos is that they have all these extra features but also use acoustic keyboard action and come with a full 88 key set for playing like a real piano.

Are digital pianos and keyboards the same?

Both digital pianos and keyboards share the desirable feature of being electronically powered and have in-built sounds, so you might be wondering, what makes them different? 

Well, digital pianos differ from keyboards as they are built with better quality parts and sounds which makes them more expensive, they also have more dynamic range and are closer to an acoustic piano because of their large number of keys.

How many keys should my digital piano have? 

Digital pianos come with a wide range of key numbers ranging between 60-88, small key numbers might work well for beginner piano players but are more restricting in terms of the notes that you can play.

To have the best experience playing your digital piano we would suggest going for a piano that has a larger number of keys.

What are the best brands for digital pianos? 

Some of the best brands for making the most reliable kinds of pianos are Yamaha, Roland, Casio and Kawai. A good brand indicates your piano will be made with high-quality parts. most of the reliable brands include a warranty on their piano too.

Do digital pianos feel like acoustic pianos? 

Digital pianos with newer modern technology do feel more like acoustic pianos than they used to thanks to technology such as weighted keys and high-quality audio samples which allow them to sound exactly like acoustic pianos. 

Cheaper pianos with lower sound quality and non-weighted keys will often feel more plastic and less like a real acoustic piano.

What does an acoustic piano pedal do? 

Acoustic pedals on a piano come in three types; soft pedal, sostenuto pedal, and sustain pedal, these are often found on upright and grand style digital pianos. 

Each type of pedal allows the audio to sound different, for example, the sustain pedal allows you to keep the note sounding for longer after pressed.

How long do digital pianos last? 

Digital pianos can last between 20-50 years with the correct care, cheaper pianos will last a shorter amount of time as they are made with lower quality parts. 

Three main factors affect how long your piano will last; the frequency of use, quality of the piano and how you look after it.

What polyphony count should my digital piano be? 

Notes of polyphony range between 16-256 notes, the best polyphony notes to look for are around 64 as this will give you the best sound.

What features should an entry-level digital piano have? 

For beginners, your entry-level digital piano should have 88 keys, 64 notes of polyphony, headphones and weighted keys, this is so if you even transition to an acoustic piano it will be easier to have the same hand dynamics. 

A stand will also be a helpful accessory to have your piano play more professional if you get a console type digital piano.

Is Bluetooth MIDI function important? 

A Bluetooth MIDI function is great as it allows you to transfer audio data as a music producer to your computer without the need for cables.

Do digital pianos have onboard speakers?

Yes, all digital pianos come with onboard speakers to play sample tones with, these speakers often have different wattage powers which will produce a better sounding quality the more powerful they are. 

What interactive features does a digital piano have? 

Digital pianos come with a huge range of features such as recording features, layering functions, split functions and multiple instrument tones to add to your music.

What is an escapement mechanism on a digital piano? 

The escapement mechanism on digital pianos try's to mimic how acoustic pianos keys feel after you let them go, this small vibration stops you from playing repeated notes quickly.

Do digital pianos have adjustable touch sensitivity?

Some of the best digital pianos do have adjustable touch sensitivity, this allows you to change how hard or soft you play your keys to achieve a certain sounding note. 

What should I consider when finding a place for my digital grand piano?

When finding the right location for your digital piano you need to consider putting it in a place where it will not get knocked easily by passers-by, out of direct sunlight and somewhere where noise will not be an issue.

Last Words

Overall, to conclude, the main features to consider in a digital piano are its size, number of keys, sound quality and connection features. We always recommend going for a high-quality digital piano that costs a little more as they will have a better sound quality and feel which is closer to an acoustic piano. 

To ensure your piano lasts a long time, we suggest following our care tips and learning tips above to get the most out of your piano in the long run.

Heya'll Im Oliver (Oli), I run DigitalPianoReviews.UK. By trade an Electrical Engineer, an owner of a piano shop. Always being asked about my recommendations for top piano, I created this site. If you have any questions at all, please feel free to reach out :)

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