Buying a digital piano can be a daunting experience, especially as a beginner. How can a person who’s just starting out at the piano possibly judge which instruments offer the best sound, feel, and feature set?
As a professional pianist, I’ve played on just about every digital piano currently available, and in this article I’ll cover what you need to consider when purchasing a digital piano. But if you want to cut right to the chase and find out which instruments I’d recommend, here they are:
Entry level, ca. $525: Yamaha P71
Mid level, ca. $900: Yamaha YDP103
Upper level, ca. $1500: Yamaha YDP164
So here are the main points to consider when purchasing a digital piano:
Brand name. Stick to the three best producers: Yamaha, Kawai, and Roland. These are the most reputable digital piano companies on the market, and all make acoustic pianos as well. They have the most experience, and produce by far the best instruments. Avoid Casio, Alesis, and Dexibell like the plague. Trust me on this one.
Keyboard size. Even if you’re just starting out, go for a model with all 88 keys. Before you know it, you’ll be using all of them, and it gets pretty irritating when you can’t play your favorite piece because the piano only has 76 or 64 keys.
Weighted action. When you press a key on the piano, something has to bring it back up again. Cheap digital pianos use springs for this, whereas better instruments use weights and even hammers that mimic those in an actual piano. Weighted hammer actions feel much, much better than springy non-weighted ones. I’d go so far as to say that the action is the single most important component when it comes to choosing a digital piano. Weighted actions make the instrument much heavier, but it’s really well worth it. To a large extent, you can judge the quality of a digital piano by its weight alone. The P71 listed above weighs a mere 25 pounds, whereas the YDP164 weighs 92 pounds!
Sounds. More sounds is not better. As a piano student, all you really need is one excellent piano sound. Even if you decide later that you really want tons of sounds, you can still accomplish this by hooking the keyboard up to a computer and a program like Garage Band or Mainstage.
Pedals. You will absolutely need a pedal, and it’s preferable if your digital piano has two or three. Virtually all decent digital pianos have pedals, although only the more expensive ones simulate the “half pedaling” that advanced pianists often use.
Speakers. Generally speaking, the more money you spend, the better the speakers, particularly for the deep bass sounds. Better pianos also tend to have a higher number of speakers.
Polyphony. Playing multiple notes at once takes substantial processing power, and digital pianos are limited in how many notes can stay sustained at once. The more the better; the sound will be richer and more realistic. You’ll want at least 64; 128 or 192 voices is better.
Connectivity. Virtually all digital pianos have a headphone jack. Bluetooth is completely unnecessary, unless you want to use your digital piano as an expensive bluetooth speaker. If you plan to use your digital piano to compose music, or in conjunction with audio production software, you’ll want to be sure it has MIDI In/Out connections as well.
With the instruments I listed above, all have a nice graded hammer action. Note that the P71 is a pretty cheap instrument which has a rather thin sound and a pedal that isn’t anchored to the body (it will slide around on you and therefore I’d probably replace it right away with a better one.) The YDP103 has a much better pedal and better sounds; the YDP164 has the best sounds and speakers of the three, as well as a very nice keyboard.
I hope you find this information useful. Don’t forget to check out the Peterson Piano Academy’s comprehensive online piano course! Happy Practicing.