Purchasing your first piano can be exciting and often overwhelming because there are so many noteworthy digital piano brands and models to choose from. Digital piano ownership is often a big step in commitment both to investing financially in and improving musical proficiency. Whether the purchase is for a living room, school, concert hall, or house of worship, the decision of which digital piano to buy can be daunting.
Well, in this article, I’m going to help you ultimately figure out what is the best digital piano for you—based on everything from price to a piano’s features to your specific needs.
There are many factors to consider with the purchase of a musical instrument but there are two aspects that can help narrow the field quickly:
Your Skill Level and Experience
To better help you, please take a moment to view the interactive guide below that contains some of the best digital pianos on the market (many of which we’ll be discussing in today’s article):
|Casio PX-160||88||$||Dual Headphone Outputs on Front|
|Alesis Recital||88||$||Semi-Weighted Keys|
|Casio PX-S1000||88||$$||18 Sounds, Bluetooth Capability|
|Yamaha P-515||88||$$$||Natural Wood X Key Action|
|Donner DEP-20||88||$$||Fully-Weighted Keys|
|Casio PX-870||88||$$$||Redesigned Cabinet, Speaker System|
|Yamaha P-45||88||$||64 Note Polyphony|
|Yamaha P-125||88||$$||GHS Weighted Action|
|Yamaha YDP-164||88||$$$||GH3 action, CFX Grand Piano Voice|
A player’s skill level is the first and possibly most important consideration. For example, a true beginner needs to find a model with a few learning tools built-in and minimal financial commitment. After all, a young beginner might give up the instrument altogether after a few months or might develop other interests.
When I first began piano lessons at 5 years of age, my mother would drive me and my siblings to a local church three times a week to practice our lessons. This ritual was performed every week for an entire year.
Once it was clear that my older sister and I (my brother quickly jumped at the chance to drop piano lessons for soccer) were committed to continue our lessons and practice with diligence, a used upright acoustic piano was purchase for our living room. The same concept applies to purchasing a digital piano.
Intermediate piano players and advanced players should look for a model with increased responsiveness, advanced sound technology, and options for recording for original production. A higher polyphony for example is necessary with increased proficiency and some models provide 128- to 256-note polyphony.
- You Also Might Want to Read: How Much Polyphony Do I Need for My Piano?
Financial commitment to a musical instrument is something to consider when shopping for a digital piano. As mentioned with true beginners, there may be the impulse to purchase a digital piano with exquisite authenticity and style to encourage their continued passion for music and improving proficiency; however, that impulse should be coupled with realistic expectations for younger players.
A lower-cost option with good features is more than enough.
For someone looking to spend a bit more to get more, perhaps intermediate to advanced players or those who want to equip a recital hall or house of worship, there are fantastic models that provide greater features and concert hall quality sound at a good value.
Overall, a digital piano is typically a more budget-friendly choice over an acoustic piano for the long run. Without the necessary tuning and maintenance, a digital piano is often a one-time expense with only regular cleaning (which anyone can do) to keep it up. Careful storage and use of its components, of course, increases the life of a digital piano as it would with any electronic device.
What to Remember While Shopping
While shopping for a digital piano, there are a few important terms or phrases to know which may not be a part of regular vocabulary:
Polyphony – In terms of digital pianos, polyphony is the maximum number of keys or notes that can be played at the same time. Most pianists will be satisfied with 128-note polyphony but the most advanced players and producers of music should consider a 256-polyphony so as not to out-grow their instrument.
Graded hammer action – The hammer action refers to the key mechanisms mimicking the hammers of an acoustic piano. Graded is specifically referring to the change in weight of the keys from the left side of the keyboard (lower octaves) to the right side of the keyboard (higher octaves). Both features are meant to help simulated the realism of an acoustic piano and are important for advanced proficiency in piano.
- You Might Also Want to Read: What Digital Piano Has the Best Action?
Velocity sensitivity – For pianos, velocity sensitivity is referring to the response of the instrument to the relative speed and force the player uses to strike a key, therefore, effecting the volume of the sound. Lower-end digital pianos and keyboards will have manual adjustment for volume but higher-end models will employ some form of velocity sensitivity to give the player the range of play they would get with an acoustic piano.
Our recommendations are categorized by price first, but we’ve noted which of these models are best for beginners, buyers on a budget, and intermediate to advanced players. Although there are keyboards that are less than $300 on the market, they typically do not have a full range of keys or they do not feature a weighted keyboard.
Even though a beginner can learn on a lesser model, for a slightly higher price, a player can have a fully-weighted set of 88 keys to really advance through. Thus, we start with models on the market for $300 or more.
So without further ado, here are some of the best digital pianos you can in 2018:
Digital Pianos for Beginners ($300-499)
Let’s begin with the Casio PX-160.
The PX-160 is a great entry-level digital piano that feels and sounds quite authentic for the price. As with all of the digital pianos on this list, the PX-160 has the full range with 88-weighted keys and real touch sensitivity with three levels of sensitivity.
Casio integrated their Tri-Sensor Scaled Hammer Action II feature with this model. Semi-weighted keys use built-in springs but the hammer action of the PX-160 simulates more closely the responsiveness of an acoustic piano.
The keys are also velocity-sensitive meaning that the tri-sensor system reacts to the velocity of each key and simulates the proper volume and timbre. The memory has been increased in this model to allow for even better sound quality. There are 18 stored voices (instrument sounds) that give variety and options.
Standard sound is created through a generous sampling of a real grand piano. And with a 128-note polyphony, the number of notes the digital piano can produce at the same time, the PX-160 can accommodate complex play even with backtracks.
So one downside to this model is that it does not come with its own stand but it can fit easily on a table.
- You can read our comparison review between the Casio PX-160 vs Yamaha P-45 here.
As we mentioned before, Yamaha is a household name for digital pianos and the P45 is easily one of their most cost-effective models. This full-size, 88 weighted keyboard include the entry-level graded hammer action to simulate playing on a real acoustic piano. The P45 features a 64-note polyphony which provides an expressive experience for most beginner to intermediate pianists.
It’s important to note that with added expense, the technology for acoustic realism improves so players should be prepared to experience greater degrees of realism as the price goes up. For a digital piano in this price range to have the full keyboard with graded, hammer action is an excellent value.
The P45 is lightweight and extremely portable so it can be stored away when not in use. It’s extremely easy to use and it’s non-intimidating for young players. The controls are simplified and unlike some other digital pianos, the settings can typically be changed with a single button.
Dual mode allows the player to record and playback a performance or play along with the recording as accompaniment. There are 10 voices (instrument sounds) available to have fun with your layer to create original productions.
The Yamaha P45 is a great solution for beginners because of its quality at the price but it’s also an excellent choice for musicians who must travel for performances or practices.
In addition to the Yamaha P45, you may want to consider the new Yamaha P-125, as well.
- You can read our review of the new Yamaha P-125 right here!
Piano for Beginners-to-Intermediate Players
Let’s now discuss the Alesis Recital Pro.
This digital piano provides some excellent learning tools without a heavy price tag and this version upgrades or enhances many of the issues with Alesis Recital model.
The Alesis Recital Pro is an 88-key weighted digital piano with hammer-action keyboard with adjustable touch response. The 20-watt speakers produce a quality sound during practice and 128-note polyphony can keep up with advanced progression of experience.
Let’s focus on the learning tools integrated because they really do make this model an ideal choice for beginners.
- Lesson Mode divides the keyboard into two separate zones with the same pitch range allowing student and teacher to play simultaneously.
- Record Mode allows the player to record a performance, listen back, and assess the performance. This feature can be particularly helpful if a student is accurately playing the notes but missing the attitude of the piece, for example.
- A built-in headphone jack allows the beginner pianist to practice all hours of the day (or night) without disturbing anyone or to isolate themselves from potentially distracting environment noises.
- An onboard metronome is a great tool for developing persistence to rhythm and for teaching note timing.
There are many more features included with the Recital Pro included 12 voices (instrument sounds) to play with and make things interesting especially for beginners. All things considered, a beginner pianist would benefit from the design, quality, and features of the Alesis Recital Pro and could easily match the growing proficiency of a committed beginner.
It would be a long time before the average beginner would outgrow the Recital Pro and for that reason, even at the $500+ price tag, it’s an excellent value.
- You can read our review of the Alesis Recital here.
Pianos for Intermediate-to-Advanced Players
Let’s discuss a digital piano by the popular brand Kawai.
Not only has Kawai been making instruments for over 85 years, they had a great place in the digital piano market. The CA65 is an exceptional offering on the market today for intermediate to advanced players.
Quality design and materials make at home in any environment. The upright cabinet is sturdy and smoothly finished. The 88-weighted keys are textured, real-wood keys to simulate the ebony and ivory of the traditional acoustic piano. The CA65 is equipped with all three pedals, a keyboard cover to protect keys against external irritants or damage, and full-length music stand.
In terms of sound and features, the CA65 is above right on par with the advances in digital piano technology. The piano sound is generously sampled from the Kawai EX concert grand piano. Additionally, each key’s tone and volume at various levels is recorded individually rather than as a full set. This detailed approach is called Harmonic Imaging.
The triple-sensor key detection allows for authentic acoustic experience with volume and timbre. Most digital pianos at this price range also offer some variation of this feature so although it’s expected, it’s also appreciated. The 256-note polyphony is an added value on top of the other features.
Although the CA65 might be an expensive option for a beginner pianist, it does feature some remarkable learning tools such as built in classical sounds and traditional finger exercises, scales, and warm-up drills. The song book included with the model also includes the sheet music for the recorded songs.
The CA65 features standard LINE-level audio and MIDI jacks as well as USB to host/to device to connect with another device or for external USB flash drive memory. There are also two headphones jacks for convenience, but the built-in speakers also offer an excellent sound experience.
With the 256-note polyphony, triple-sensor key detection, advanced design and fully-loaded features, this digital piano is an excellent choice for intermediate to advanced players. It’s a great instrument for developing musicians and for those who have already achieved an advanced proficiency.
The YDP-184 is a top-rated digital piano with the full range of 88 weighted keys, graded hammer action, and a gorgeous design. What’s more, this model includes a beautifully sampled Yamaha CFX9 concern grand piano sound and virtual resonance modeling (VRM). This feature creates an enhanced resonance from the instrument itself in the soundboard, rim, and frame much like an acoustic piano.
The YDP-184 also features a 256-note polyphony which eclipses some digital piano models featuring 64- or 128-note polyphony. Pedaling has also been improved with this model with the half-damper pedal control. Each technical advance of the YDP-184 is meant to enhance the overall realism of the digital piano in comparison to an acoustic piano.
In terms of connectivity, the YDP-184 has all the standard connections including MIDI in, out, and thru, AUX IN (stereo mini), AUX OUT ([L/L+R] [R]), USB to device and USB to host. There is also 1.5MB of internal storage and a USB flash drive option for external storage. Two headphones jacks plus the Stereophonic Optimizer creates a realistic experience through headphones by sampling from acoustic pianos.
The sound, features, and quality of the YDP-184, the jewel in the Arius series crown, makes it hard to even consider the more expensive Clavinova series. It’s an excellent value and is well-suited for intermediate to advanced players.
What About Digital Piano Accessories?
Some of the last things to consider are digital piano accessories, but certain things should be noted before a purchase is made since it may impact the overall budget. Here are just a few examples:
Keyboard stand – Many digital pianos are upright cabinet pianos but for those that are portable keyboards, having a stand included can be a great convenience and cost savings. Some keyboards can easily placed on a console table but to get the height right, it really should be on a keyboard stand.
Pedals – Again, many digital pianos are fully equipped with all three pedals but some come with only the sustain pedal and some include nothing. Pedals can be purchased separately but again, the price adds up to the total budget for purchasing a digital piano.
Bench – It may seem like a luxury item but a piano bench really is the ideal seat for playing any piano. The height, size, and in most cases padding can make hours of play not only endurable but enjoyable. Most upright cabinet pianos, digital or otherwise, include a bench of some kind but buyers should be aware of the potential for added cost if it does not.
Headphones – It’s unlikely that any digital piano or keyboard is going to include a pair of headphones and if it does, they are likely not the best on the market. Headphones can improve the overall sound quality of some of the models recommended that have an average speaker system. For some, headphones make it possible to practice all hours of the day without disturbing or being disturbed by their surroundings.
Covers – Higher end digital pianos will include a sliding key cover much like an acoustic piano. This protects the keys from external irritants (i.e. pet hair and dust) and destructive accidents. The rest of the cabinet can be maintained with regular dusting and wiping down with a warm, wet wash cloth. Other models such as keyboards and digital pianos without a cabinet design often require the purchase of some kind of cover to provide protection. Luckily, purchasing digital piano accessories can often be done in packages or kits and a cover is often included.
- You Might Want to Read: What are the Best Digital Piano Accessories?
Selecting a digital piano can be difficult but it does not have to be impossible. There are several things to consider to hone in the search for the right model. There are so many excellent brands on the market right now and the competition for the best technology at the best price means that it can only get better from here.
Recognize the skill level and experience of the player and stay within the planned budget for the best outcome. The only thing left to do once the right digital piano is purchased is to sit down, play and enjoy!
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