Before making any purchase, especially an expensive one, it is important to assess your needs and determine your budget. This is of course the case with digital pianos. In this guide you will find everything you need to know about this instrument.
The aim of this buying guide is for you to be able to select 1 or 2 digital piano models from the hundreds that exist. From there, your choice will be limited and it will be easier for you to choose the right model.
Why is it important to make the right choice? Because the piano is often the first and sometimes the only instrument that most people have. But buying the wrong piano will make you give up quickly. It is better to invest in a quality instrument, avoid the pitfalls of design and have a durable instrument that will make you want to play.
This guide is aimed at beginners as well as experienced musicians. It is indeed difficult to find one’s way through such a wide range of pianos and features. There are many different criteria to choose from: size, portability, sounds, technology, cost.
Read this guide carefully and you will be sure to make the right decision.
The different models of digital pianos
It is the reference piano, or at least the one that started it all and the one that digital piano builders are inspired by.
The sound of the classical piano is produced by the strings, hammers and keys. When a key is pressed, a felt hammer is activated and strikes a string which, through its vibration, produces a sound. The piano is therefore considered a struck string instrument. The strings are larger or smaller and thus produce a more or less low or high sound.
Engineers have therefore had the difficult task, which continues today, of creating digital sounds (sampling) close to the original acoustic sound while also working on the touch, which is another important part of a good piano. The so-called piano touch or heavy touch is a near-faithful reproduction of the touch of the classical piano, where the lower keys are heavier than the upper keys.
The acoustic piano is without doubt the most common instrument in the world. It generally has 88 keys (52 white and 36 black for accidentals). The acoustic piano can be upright or grand. Grand pianos are classified according to their size: quarter-tone piano, half-tone piano, grand piano (over 3 metres wide). The strings are laid out horizontally, unlike the upright piano, which is laid out vertically. The upright piano is the most commonly used piano, whether at home or in music schools. It takes up less space and is less expensive to buy.
Wrongly called an electric piano (it is another type of piano), the digital piano is an electronic piano that tries to reproduce as perfectly as possible the sounds and touch of acoustic pianos. Electronic keyboards can take different forms and serve different purposes that make up their classification. For example, there are synthesizers, arranger keyboards, stage pianos, workstations, master keyboards, electronic organs, etc. We will simply focus on the digital piano category, which includes keyboards that aim to reproduce the touch and sound of the piano as closely as possible. This is not the case, for example, with synthesizers whose main interest is to generate as many sounds as possible.
As far as digital pianos are concerned, there are several types: digital pianos with furniture, portable digital pianos, digital stage pianos, digital arranger pianos, digital upright pianos, etc.
The furniture digital piano is the most similar in design to a classical piano. It consists of a keyboard placed on a piece of furniture and also has 3 pedals. Ideal in a house for its beauty, it is generally well made. But you have to take into account its size and weight, which make this piano a non-transportable instrument. The price is also higher than the equivalent portable piano.
Portable digital piano is probably the most popular. Only a keyboard is supplied, i.e. basically no furniture or stand is included. This makes these keyboards easily transportable and even easily stored when not in use. The number of keys is generally 88 and the piano touch is available from a certain price. The latter is much more affordable than its furniture counterpart.
The digital stage piano is broadly similar to the portable piano with the big difference that they mostly have no speakers as they are intended to be used connected to a sound system or amplifier.
Hybrid pianos are the latest generation of pianos. They are not 100% digital. They are even acoustic but allow digital playing thanks to a built-in system that can remove the acoustic sound and thus play “silently”. The original touch is retained, however. These pianos are of course extremely expensive.
The advantages of a digital piano compared to an acoustic piano
Provided you pay the price and do not buy an unknown brand, the digital piano is a very good alternative to the classical piano on several points. It is much more transportable due to its weight and size. It can be equivalent to the traditional touch and sound on some pianos. The adjustable volume is a major advantage for people who want to play in their flats. It is even possible to play with headphones so that only the sound of your fingers on the keys is heard. Digital pianos are generally much cheaper to buy and especially to maintain: they do not need to be tuned.
Other options can be interesting and unique to the digital piano: some pianos have many sounds and effects, built-in recorders, learning tools (LED display indicating the notes), metronome, pre-recorded songs, MIDI, USB connections to communicate with a computer and to import and export songs and sounds.
However, any good pianist will prefer an acoustic piano for its musicality, unique touch and traditional sound.
The keyboard, the most important element
The number of keys: 88
The number of keys is very important: neither more nor less than 88 keys. Why 88 keys, because it is simply the number of keys present on an acoustic piano. If you want to practice regularly and make progress, it is essential to already have an instrument of similar dimensions. However, you can buy a 61 or 76 key keyboard.
The piano touch
If it is possible to make a concession on the number of keys depending on the size of your living room, for example, you really must not compromise on the quality of the keyboard. Otherwise, you may be disappointed and simply not want to play your instrument anymore.
Digital pianos are getting closer and closer to the feel of an acoustic piano.
There are 3 main classes: weighted touch, heavy touch and piano (or hammer) touch.
The weighted or light touch is simply to be avoided because it is uncomfortable, too fast and without resistance. It is close to the touch you can get on synthesizers.
The semi-heavy touch is somewhere in between: neither weighted nor piano. Often installed on entry-level models, it works with spring systems or weights for the best. It is sufficient to play the piano correctly but not really realistic and disturbing if you switch to a good piano.
The heavy touch: the latest systems put in place allow you to really believe you are playing a classical piano. Some manufacturers have for example added hammers to reproduce the sensation of playing. This is the touch to be favoured for a piano that lasts and a play with nuances.
It is important to know that it is not easy to choose the right piano touch because each brand has created its own technology, which has a different name. The best thing to do is to try it out or look at the reviews on the internet.
The sensitivity of the keys
Sensitivity is a different concept from touch, but it is also very important. To find out if the keys of a digital piano are sensitive, simply press a key gently. If a sound comes out, there is no sensitivity. For this to work, you need a system that faithfully reproduces the touch sensitivity of the classical piano, i.e. the harder you hit the key the louder the sound. If you can’t play some sounds that are not as loud as others, your playing will be boring and soulless, you won’t be able to accompany, you won’t be able to do solos…
The features of a digital piano
One of the great advantages of the digital piano is its unlimited capacity for innovation in electronic technology.
Even if it doesn’t make you the best pianist, there are many features that allow you to progress and have an enjoyable learning experience.
Here are some features, some essential, some fun:
– the metronome: essential to the musician’s work, it saves space and is easily adjustable
– sounds: no longer does a digital piano have only one piano sound. Some offer hundreds of sounds. For fun, accompaniment, recording… you are bound to find sounds that suit your style. Be careful, however, to take into account the sampling (several sounds produced per note) and the polyphony (the number of notes that can be played at the same time: min. 64).
– effects: stereo, chorus (rotation of the sound in the room before reaching the ears), delay (delay of the sound), reverb (spacialisation of the sound).
– headphone jack
– transposition: play the same notes but change the pitch. Very useful for accompanying an instrument in a key or adapting to the pitch of a voice without having to transpose chords and notes in your head.
– sequencer: some pianos allow you to record and save pieces. A very interesting feature for composers.
– musical styles: pre-recorded pieces or musical styles with multiple instruments
– pedals: at least delivered with the sustain pedal (pressing the pedal prolongs the notes played) with the possibility to add a loud and soft pedal.
– the connections : MIDI, USB, jack
– split: function allowing to split the keyboard in two and thus to play two different instruments.
– dual: this feature allows to mix the sound of 2 instruments as if they were playing in unison.
The best digital piano brands
Choosing a good piano brand means peace of mind and is often a guarantee of quality. Often these well-known brands are at the forefront of innovation and unknown brands are just trying to copy what they have created. But poor imitations are always of poor quality. Here is a list of brands you can buy with your eyes closed: Casio, Korg, Kawai, Roland and Yamaha. You will also find the leading pianos of each brand.
Casio Digital Pianos
Casio produces various series: Privia for portable and stage pianos, Celviano for player pianos.
The Privia series consists of both stand-alone keyboards and fairly lightweight player pianos. It is rather mid-range. Casio’s PX-860 digital piano is the flagship instrument in this series. It is currently being replaced by the PX-870. It is compact, yet features a heavy piano keyboard and textured ivory keys. With 256 polyphonic voices and 2 x 20 watts, it is powerful and has deep tones. An adjustable lid allows the sound to be muffled as it closes, just like a grand piano.
The Casio PX-5S Privia Pro is also part of this series but is a piano dedicated to the stage. It is also a best seller of the brand. Lightweight and portable, this piano has exceptional sound quality and great features. With its 88 keys and realistic 256-voice polyphony, it also has many settings for the stage (4 keyboard zones, assignment of buttons and sliders, arpeggios, effects…). Up to 100 configurable settings for live use. This piano has received numerous awards, making it an interesting value for money keyboard.
The Celviano series offers pianos with an imposing design and size. We move on to high-end pianos with a sound reminiscent of grand pianos. The Casio AP-700 Celviano is a very good piano in the series. This piano focuses above all on the quality of the sound: no numerous sounds, no unusual features… only 26 sounds but with 256 polyphony voices, AiR Grand Source technology and a staggered hammer-action touch with 3 sensors that makes you believe in the touch of a real acoustic piano. It features a sequencer and above all a simulator of the opening and closing sound of a grand piano.
Korg Digital Pianos
Best known for its synthesizers and workstations, the Korg brand has produced quality digital pianos, including one that is halfway between a digital piano and a synthesizer: the Havian 30 arranger piano.
All compact, Korg digital pianos are available in LP or SP for the mid-range and a Concert series has just appeared for the more high-end instruments. Korg has worked on the sound and sampling to match the sound of a grand piano as closely as possible.
Among the brand’s flagship products is the Korg LP-380 digital piano, which comes in several colours. See our test
With its 120-voice polyphony and 30 sounds, it will be very interesting for beginners or occasional players. It includes everything you need to make a good digital piano in a contained size: heavy touch, metronome, effects, headphone outputs, protective cover, 2X22 watt amp.
In the top category of the range, the Korg G1 Air is highly appreciated for its sound quality. It features a resonance simulation of the strings and a new powerful speaker system that simulates the sound of a grand piano.
It would be a mistake not to mention the Korg Havian 30 keyboard. Although different from other pianos, the Havian 30 can be an interesting instrument for instrumentalists who want to bridge the gap between keyboard/synthesizer and digital piano. This piano arranger offers a piano feel while still having many arranger functions. Ideal for composing music, the keyboard offers more than 950 sounds and 256 user sounds, 420 pre-programmed styles, 128 drum kits, 125 types of effects… selectable through its touch screen. The ultra-realistic sounds allow you to select the type of piano you want, as well as many other keyboard sounds (electric piano, organs) and other usually acoustic instruments.
Kawai Digital Pianos
Founded in 1927 by the Japanese Koichi Kawai, the Kawai company specialises in piano manufacturing. More than 70,000 pianos are made each year by this company, which has specialised in digital pianos.
Several series of Kawai digital pianos are offered: the CL (Compact Line) series for ultra-compact player pianos, the KDP series with the KDP90, the CN series for entry-level players, the CA (Concert Artist) series for excellence, the CS (Classic Series) for design and performance, the portable ES series and finally the stage and studio series.
If you’re looking for the excellence, sound and feel of a grand piano in a digital Pisano, the Kawai CA-98 is for you. It is the top of the range of the brand and has nothing to envy its competitors who will be more expensive for the same quality. It has a hammer action mechanism and wooden keys, just like acoustic pianos. The sounds are multi-sampled from the best concert pianos and it has a Bluetooth design, touch screen, 256-note polyphony.
While the Kawai CN series offers more affordable digital pianos, it doesn’t skimp on design quality. These pianos combine performance and budget. The Kawai CN-37, for example, is a very good player piano that offers, in addition to a very good touch (Responsive Hammer III 3 sensors) and an acoustic piano sound, many other interesting features such as demonstrations, lessons, pre-recorded songs, 352 sounds and a 256-note polyphony. The Kawai CN-37 digital piano is a great choice for a quality first piano.
If you want a portable piano without cabinets, the Kawai ES series is for you. In addition to a lower budget, this series offers quality digital pianos. The Kawai ES-110 piano released in 2017 offers a hammer-action feel, EX concert grand sound and Bluetooth connectivity. In terms of functionality, it goes to the basics with its 19 tones and basic functions: metronome, reverb, transposition, etc…
Roland Digital Pianos
This young brand (1972) has participated in the creation and modernization of digital pianos thanks to its advanced technologies. Its piano catalogue is divided into 4 main categories: grand pianos, Premium Upright Pianos, upright pianos and stage pianos. What has made the brand famous is the quality of its compact stage pianos that can be dressed up as furniture for the home.
Roland’s FP-10 is the entry-level compact stage piano series. It is the latest addition to the range released in early 2019. See our review of the Roland FP10.
It completes the range by taking the piano feel and tone generator of its big brother the FP30 with fewer features. Designed for beginners or as a back-up piano, the quality is impeccable.
Roland’s FP-30 piano is older than the FP 10 (2016). See our test of the Roland FP30.
Simple yet powerful, it has everything a good piano should have: rich tones, a heavy piano feel… all in 14kg. No frills here, just a few extra features such as WAV or MIDI file playback via a USB drive.
The Roland F-140 piano is a high-end piano in a sleek, contemporary and very compact cabinet. The F-140 is a compact piano for musicians with limited space who don’t want to compromise on sound and keyboard quality.
It has many features including Bluetooth, a recorder, many sounds and songs, 3 pedals and a very good sound with a piano touch in synthetic ivory keys.
Yamaha Digital Pianos
Yamaha, the Japanese leader in electronic music, began producing pianos in 1887. Yamaha digital pianos are available in 4 ranges: Clavinova, Arius, P series, Portable Grand series.
If we had to choose only one digital piano for beginners, it would be this one: the Yamaha P-45. See our test
It goes straight to the point but offers everything a novice should have: a good sound, a minimal footprint, a heavy piano-like touch… in short, quality at a low price for a piano from a well-known brand. For those who wish to improve its design for the interior, there is a stand adapted as a piece of furniture. To buy with your eyes closed!
Another piano rather dedicated to beginners from Yamaha but in the YDP series: the Yamaha YDP-143. See our test
In a successful design, it is a piano that will last and accompany the pianist during his progression and this for many years thanks to its 88 keys GHS technology, its polyphony (192 voices) and its 3 pedals.
The Yamaha CLP-635 is part of Yamaha’s Clavinova range. This series of digital piano furniture has a design and sound worthy of an acoustic piano or even a grand piano. The 635 is the 2nd in the range and for a price of less than 1500€, it offers great performances: heavy touch, exceptional and powerful sounds, effects, simulations, 16 track recorder…
Vocabulary to know
Arpeggiator: function that automatically creates arpeggios from a single note (the root).
Assignment: assigning an action to a button, i.e. setting up a user action.
Auto Accompaniment: pre-recorded programs in different styles and multi-instruments that allow you to create accompaniments and change chords while playing.
Sustain pedal (or right-hand forte pedal): when there is only one, this is it. It allows to prolong the sounds produced until the pedal is released. All the sounds are mixed together to give a fuller sound.
Soft pedal (pedal on the left): it is used to attenuate the sound.
Middle pedal: very rarely used, it is used to propagate a sound like the sustain pedal while not drowning the sound with the new notes played.
Delay: effect that plays on the time it takes for the note to reach the ears.
Effects: effects allow to modify the sound played by the instrument. It can colour the sound or be used to refine the sound in different configurations (studio, concert hall…).
Filters: allows you to modify certain frequencies of a sound.
Hammer Action: Some digital pianos use Hammer Action technology to imitate the sound of an acoustic piano as closely as possible. This also allows for a much more realistic touch.
Headphone jack: Also known as headphone jacks, there are many 6.35mm jacks on a digital piano. They can be used to connect one or more headphones, an amp or a sound system.
Keyboard: the most important part of the piano, the keyboard consists of the keys and their mechanism.
Layer: An effect that overlays layers of samples. Improves the richness of the sound.
Polyphony: the number of sounds the piano can layer at the same time.
Reverb: The effect of a sound that continues to propagate after it has been played.
Sequencer/recorder: a recorder, often multi-track, for recording compositions on one or more tracks.
Split: division of the keyboard in two in order to play two instruments separately.
MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface): protocol allowing communication between computers and electronic instruments.
Sustain: adjustment of the length of the sound.
Touch sensitivity: often adjustable, there are 3 settings: unresponsive (whether you press hard or softly, the same sound will come out), sensitive (in between) and weighted (realistic with hammers).
Graded Hammer Action (GHA): technology that reproduces the weight of the keys on an acoustic keyboard: heavier keys in the bass, lighter keys in the treble.
The essential accessories for the pianist
this seat, specially designed for playing the piano, is essential for good playing. Comfortable and above all adjustable in height, it allows a serene and pleasant play. In addition, each player can adjust it to his or her size. Prices differ according to the quality of the materials and the padding of the seat. Learn more about the piano bench.
If you buy a piano without furniture, you will need to buy a stand to put it at the right height. It must be adapted to your use (frequent or not, easy storage…) but especially to your instrument, i.e. its size and weight.
An essential accessory for musicians who often move around with their stage piano. Depending on the frequency of travel and the type of transport, there are soft covers, hard flight cases or bags.
If you want to play without disturbing the people around you or concentrate on the music, you should buy piano headphones. Choose headphones that are comfortable to play for a long time and of good quality.
some keyboards, but this is rare, are delivered without any pedal. You will therefore need to buy the sustain pedal that is essential for playing the piano.
some stage pianos have one but others do not. A music stand will be necessary to place your scores. They come in all shapes, sizes and weights. Heavy, solid music stands are best if you are playing outdoors.
another accessory for stage pianos or for digital pianos that need to be better amplified, the amplifier makes the sound more powerful. Also, if your digital piano is a stage piano, it will not have speakers. We have written a full article on how to choose a keyboard amplifier.