How do you choose a digital piano? What are the characteristics that we will have to evaluate at the time of purchase? In this article we will not make a comparison between acoustic piano and digital piano, we will limit ourselves to talking about the latter and all the features that differentiate one model from another.
Choosing a digital piano can be complicated, both for a beginner who starts playing and does not have the experience to evaluate an instrument, as for a professional who finds himself torn between different needs and many models, each with its own merits and defects.
For starters, that’s why we’ve limited the choice to stage pianos.
What digital piano to buy: for starters, the stage ones better:
In this guide we will only consider digital “stage” pianos, ie those that have no furniture and that aim to be portable. We recommend the purchase of a stage instrument even for those who do not intend to move it from home, as they are superior in strength and in the quality of the keyboard and sounds, being intended for professional musicians.
There are also excellent instruments that come with integrated cabinet, but the range of stage instruments tends to be updated much more frequently, because professionals change instruments more frequently and in the stage piano market there is more competition: that is, lower prices and better tools.
Let’s now take into consideration the different characteristics of a digital piano. In particular we will talk about these characteristics:
- First ignition
- Trans portability
- Additional functions
- Ease of use
- For each feature, we will try to provide some advice.
The mechanics of a quality instrument must be as close as possible to that of an acoustic piano, must be robust and firm (the keys must not swing horizontally) and offer a certain resistance to pressure. The rise of the key must be fast and soft, some instruments seem to push the finger away, as if by a spring, giving an unpleasant and unnatural sensation.
A good keyboard is not too noisy and is graduated, meaning the keys in the low register have more weight than in the high register (as in an acoustic piano). To try out the mechanics of an instrument, we suggest trying it for a long time while it is off, to focus on the physical sensation of the hand. In this guide we consider only instruments with a weighted keyboard, i.e. dedicated to piano use, and not semi-weighted keyboards or synthesizers.
Evaluate the tool Out of the box, that is, just purchased and unboxed. Listen carefully to the default acoustic piano tone, as it comes out unchanged as factory set.
We evaluate the first sensation, the pleasantness of the initial approach to the instrument, its starting “play ability”. As much as it is possible to search for other sounds, equalize the sound, layer different timbres, what we hear at the first start must be convincing in itself.
The initial tone and settings are what were judged best by the engineers who designed the instrument. It is their first proposal, and we will have to start from there.
Everyone has their own tastes and being able to customize the sound is certainly important, but a quality instrument must sound good immediately, if there are defects that immediately strike us such as too intrusive bass, a tonal gap between the different registers, a reaction to the touch does not balanced, well it is difficult that by intervening on the adjustable parameters we can solve these problems.
It is reasonable to think that the engineers who have worked for months in search of an optimal set-up are in fact more capable than us. If, on the other hand, the timbre appears to us perhaps a little too light or dark, or the starting preset has excessive reverb, we will certainly be able to correct these details (on almost all instruments).
The sounds of the digital piano:
Often the sound is what makes us fall in love with an instrument, yet with the passage of time even the most beautiful sound will tire us, it will be less appreciated and at times even unbearable. The sound of a digital piano does not have the naturalness and variety of an acoustic piano, and over time it is easy to get bored. We analyze here the most important timbres: mainly acoustic and electric pianos, secondarily strings, pads, organs and more (if present).
Listening to the stamps should be done in a few different situations:
With the instrument amplified by a single speaker (as will presumably happen for home use or during a group test)
With the instrument amplified live, and listened to in a live performance situation (if we are playing live, even better). Some instruments sound great on their own but tend to disappear when they play in a group.
From speakers mounted on the same piano (for models that are equipped with them)
It is often not possible to listen so attentively and varied, it is at least recommended not to limit yourself to listening with headphones, because it is often deceptive, also due to the impact of the quality of the headphones itself.
If possible, use the same pair of headphones when trying out different instruments. In a music store, when you try out multiple instruments, it is normal to carry the same pair of headphones but you never know … a really crafty dealer could place a great headphone on a bad instrument.
The portability of a digital piano depends on the weight and size, but also on the shape of the instrument. Protruding knobs and controllers are annoying, for example, as they risk breaking during transport. When evaluating the overall dimensions, it also considers the presence or absence of an external power supply, its dimensions and weight.
The evaluations on weight and dimensions cannot be done in an abstract way, often a high quality mechanics involves a greater weight. Each tool must be evaluated for what it actually offers. If the higher quality mechanics always have a certain weight and bulk, the opposite is not true: there are heavy and bulky instruments that nevertheless have poor mechanics.
We are often called to compromise on portability, and the choice is not easy. Obviously we have to consider many subjective and variable aspects: do we have to walk four floors of stairs with the instrument when we return home after an evening? Or do we have a secure parking space and can we leave the piano in the car until the next morning?
Even the lucky ones who do not live in a skyscraper without an elevator must consider that a more manageable tool can be essential in some situations. It may happen to play in restricted traffic areas, or during a fair or square party. In such circumstances it may be decisive to have the ability to take the instrument to the stage using a simple trolley (there are folding ones, to be kept in the car) instead of having to bring the car close to the stage to unload.
There are those who appreciate a digital piano with a luminous display, lights and knobs, and those who prefer a sober and inconspicuous instrument. Aesthetic evaluations on an instrument are obviously subjective …
ALT! No it is not true! For a professional musician, sobriety is preferable, in some environments a very colorful keyboard full of lights may not be entirely appropriate. For example, it can happen to play on a dark stage, perhaps accompanying an actor who recites lyrics.
In this case, if your keyboard looks like a Christmas tree or the latest model of Enterprise spaceship, the director and actor might be rightly annoyed. So try to avoid the super heating keyboard. One particularly nasty thing is the metronome bulb which pulses in time, even when the metronome is off.
Obviously this is an absurd idea: why do I have to have an LED in front of it that pulses in time even when the metronome is off? Yet there are keyboards that are designed this way.
A digital piano is increasingly equipped with numerous additional functions. Some instruments are designed to also function as master keyboards, and control different sounds simultaneously both for work in the recording studio and for live performances.
Some instruments have metronome or real rhythms, others allow you to record a song directly on an audio file, to play it back, or to connect an external microphone or other sound source.
However, the keys you will presumably use the most are the eighty-eight piano keys. Any advanced features will be superseded in the next model. One thing that should no longer be missing on any instrument is the USB connection, which allows you to work with a computer without using the obsolete MIDI connectors.
Ease of Use:
Ease of use is also a criterion that cannot be considered in isolation. An instrument that offers only a piano sound and nothing else will certainly be easier to use than one with numerous master keyboard functions, additional sounds, metronome, etc.
The more functions present, the greater the need to evaluate the architecture used for their use. For a professional, an instrument that still allows a basic intuitive use is recommended, as it may happen that we share the instrument with others, and having to go back on stage to explain to a colleague how to switch from one sound to another is very annoying for our colleague but even more for ourselves, who had taken advantage of the break to sling down to the bar where we had seen someone interesting on whom to exercise our charm as a pianist …
Conclusions: which digital piano to buy:
Once we have evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of a digital piano, we will certainly also consider the value for money. Even if we have a good budget, spending smartly is essential to keep a chance open: that of reselling the instrument after a while, if we get bored or find a different model, more suitable for us.
We hope this guide will be of some use to everyone, to fellow musicians as well as to fans who want to learn to play. Here is a summary of our advice:
- Stage pianos are better than those with a cabinet
- The keyboard must be weighted, firm, resistant to pressure
- The instrument should sound good immediately, as soon as it is turned on, without the need to fiddle with the settings
- When testing the instrument, don’t just do it with headphones but also with ambient speakers
- Consider portability, which doesn’t just depend on weight
- When evaluating the appearance of the tool, imagine using it in different contexts
- Take into consideration the features you really need. The USB socket should never be missing
- Evaluate ease of use. Studying a 500-page manual is not a good idea: better study music
- Best wishes for the purchase of your next digital piano, if you want to ask us a question or write your opinion, you can do so in the comments to the article.