Are you thinking about purchasing a digital piano? There’s a lot of thought that goes into making that big decision. Our guest writer, Lucas, is here to give you some tips on the seven things you need to consider when buying a digital piano!
Before you make a purchase, it’s always a good idea to make a checklist of sorts and list out what you’re looking for in terms of your needs and experience.
Do you need a fully-fledged digital piano, or will a portable 61-key keyboard suffice? Do you want hundreds of instrument sounds, or will you use piano tones 99% of the time? Are you looking for something portable, or do you want something that resembles the look of an acoustic piano?
These are some of the questions that you’ll need to ask yourself before going out there and considering particular models.
This guide sets out criteria that will help you decide which digital piano is best for you. While this list is not exhaustive, the aim is to give you an idea of what to take into consideration when spending your hard-earned money.
This might sound like a no-brainer, but you need to pay close attention to the sound of your digital piano of choice. There are several things to pay attention to, including the speakers and the internal sound library.
The speakers are the primary sound output of your digital piano and you will most probably be relying on these when you play. You therefore need to ensure that they’re of decent quality and are audible enough to suit your needs.
Headphones are always an option, but if you want to perform in front of the family and friends, internal or external speakers are a must.
Digital pianos often come with more than just a few types of sounds. They are not just piano sounds either. You’ll find that many digital pianos come with dozens, sometimes hundreds of sounds including electric pianos, organs, strings, clavinets, and harpsichords, just to name a few.
While the focus is usually on piano tones, other instrument sounds can be a great way of spicing up your performance and exploring different genres and instruments.
Quick Fact: Entry-level keyboards and arrangers tend to have many more built-in sounds compared to digital pianos. However, the realism and quality of those sounds leave a lot to be desired, especially compared to a good digital piano.
2. MIDI Connectivity
MIDI has become part and parcel of the music-making world, and it plays a bigger role than most people realize. It has opened up doors and created opportunities that were otherwise unheard of before. As such, if you’re looking to create and compose music, then we would recommend a digital piano with MIDI connectivity. This would allow you to connect your digital piano to your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) of choice to be able to record yourself playing, as well as make use of thousands of readily available plug-ins.
As a music producer, MIDI connectivity is a must-have for me and is amongst my chief considerations when looking for a new digital piano. It opens up a whole new world of creativity as plug-ins allow you to use millions of high-quality sounds. You can also use your digital piano as a MIDI controller and link certain keys to a drum machine, thus allowing you to create your own beats and drum loops.
Most digital pianos and keyboards these days come with USB MIDI connectivity. However, it’s always a good idea to double-check since some entry-level models lack this feature.
Polyphony is another term you’ll stumble upon when selecting a digital piano. Polyphony basically describes the number of notes you can play at the same time without notes being cut-off early.
It goes without saying that you want to be able to express yourself without the limitation of certain notes cutting off early. In order to achieve that, you want to ensure that your digital piano has enough polyphony.
As long as you have at least 64 notes of polyphony, you should be fine regardless of what piece you’re performing. Entry-level keyboards often have even lower polyphony count, which is sufficient for beginners in most cases.
Overall, I wouldn’t stress too much over this characteristic unless you’re planning on layering several sounds on top of each other or playing along backing tracks.
It goes without saying that the keyboard on a digital piano will play a massive role in whether or not you decide to buy it. It should be a quality build and also feel realistic to the touch. Choosing a keyboard that fits this criteria will depend on several factors, including the key action mechanism used in your instrument.
Most digital pianos come with a fully-weighted hammer action keyboard that resembles the feel of an actual acoustic piano. The keys are often graded, meaning the lower register keys will feel slightly heavier and gradually get lighter as you move up the keyboard.
However, not all weighted keyboards are created equal, and to ensure you like how the keys feel and respond, it’s always a good idea to go to a music store and try as many options as possible.
Cheaper portable keyboards are a completely different beast. They often come with less than 88 keys (found on acoustic pianos) and don’t aim to replicate the feel of an acoustic piano. The keys are often unweighted or semi-weighted, which means the keyboard is lighter and feels very different from an acoustic piano.
If your main goal is to learn the piano or perform classical music, then weighted keys are a must.
Depending on your intended use for your digital piano, you may decide to pick an option that is lightweight. For example, if you’re a gigging musician and you intend on moving around with your digital piano from show to show, then you would aim for a compact digital piano that is easy to move and doesn’t weigh a ton.
If that’s the case, then picking a cabinet style digital piano may not be for you as these take a while to assemble/disassemble and are quite heavy.
A classic example of an intermediate console digital piano would be the Yamaha YDP-164, which is a popular choice for home-based musicians.
The Roland RD-2000, on the other hand, is a premium 88-key digital stage piano aimed at the gigging musician and studio use.
Whatever your budget, you want to ensure that you get the most bang-for-your-buck on the instrument of your choice. That means you also need to pay close attention to the features available so you can decide if it is worth the expense and if they suit your needs.
For example, musicians that play live will want to be able to switch between different sounds as quickly as possible while on stage, whereas the beginner player will want a ‘lesson mode’ option so they can hone their skills.
Other features worth noting include whether or not a recording and playback option is available. This comes in handy when you want to listen back to your compositions or just track your progress. You may also want to check if your digital piano of choice can be connected to apps or if they come with any companion apps.
For example, the Casio CTK-2550 is geared towards complete beginners and offers features such as the Lesson Mode/Lesson Lite feature.
The Yamaha DGX-600, on the other hand, is a fully-fledged digital piano with a wide selection of arranger features including a 5-track MIDI recorder, hundreds of built-in sounds, songs and rhythms to play around with.
Other useful features you’ll want to consider:
- Transposing, octave shifting and tuning
- Split mode
- Layer mode
- Accompaniment function
- Sound effects (reverb, chorus, delay, etc.)
Given the somewhat pricey nature of digital pianos, one may aim for an option that comes with several add-ons. Although many music shops offer piano “bundles,” we’re simply referring to what’s already included with the purchase of the digital piano.
For instance, many digital pianos come with sustain pedals when purchased. This saves you money from having to buy another sustain pedal.
Other models, such as cabinet style digital pianos, come with their own built-in piano stands and some even include 3-pedal boards just like an acoustic piano.
The Casio PX-870 is a good example of a popular cabinet style digital piano that includes a piano stand as well as a 3-pedal bar.
There are a lot of variables that go into the decisions we make and the options we choose; any two musicians could pick the same digital piano, but they will both have differing reasons for why they selected that option.
Similarly, any digital piano that you pick will depend on your own reasons, such as your budget, your brand preference, your experience, your goals, etc.
Hopefully, this guide has helped you better understand the peculiarities of the digital piano world and find the instrument that’s right for you.
What are the things you take into consideration when deciding on which digital piano to buy?
As an avid piano dreamer, Lucas has immersed himself in all things keyboards and music for more than 12 years. This captivating journey has inspired him to launch Piano Dreamers where he likes to share everything he’s learned over the years with his fellow musicians. Lucas collaborated first-hand with many accomplished musicians and participated in numerous musical projects of note. From teaching to performance, consultation to making music, he’s been turning his piano dreams into reality for more than a decade. For more information on how to choose the best digital piano or keyboard, check out his Ultimate Digital Piano Guide.