The piano is one of the best introductory instruments. For most, it’s the first instrument that helps them go on to learn even more. With that being said, a beginner should be introduced to digital pianos with an instrument that is right for their needs. Those who are accustomed to the piano and are progressing in their proficiency need a piano that can grow just as they do.
Digital piano manufacturers from the likes of Yamaha, Casio, and Roland are constantly coming out with new models to compete on the market. Whether you’re learning to play the piano or you’re fairly accustomed to the instrument, it can be hard to judge what makes a piano a high quality one. It’s important to keep in mind that “high quality” doesn’t necessarily mean the most expensive product. In reference to digital pianos, high quality considers the features it has to offer and how it best meets the needs for its intended use.
We’ve broken down the most important features that any high quality digital piano should offer, along with what to look out for. We’ve highlighted the features that beginners should look for and take advantage of, while there’s a section for experienced players and how to rate advanced pianos for their needs.
And below, please check out our helpful interactive table below to compare some of the top digital pianos on the market against one another:
Understanding Sound Quality
A high quality piano will have sound specifications and features that will ultimately make the difference of which instrument you purchase. In any setting, sound quality is important because it effects a performance in a positive or negative way. When you’re looking to buy a digital piano, here are some sound specifications to consider:
- Speaker system
- Additional sound technology
- Maximum polyphony
Below, please take a look at some of the best-selling high quality digital pianos currently available for sale online:
|1) Casio PX-770|
|2) Yamaha YDP-145|
|3) Roland RP-701|
|4) Yamaha YDP-165|
|5) Casio PX-870|
High quality pianos have a minimum of two speakers, and hopefully have some built-in on the device. If you’re a performer and you need to be heard, you want speakers that will be loud and clear. To get specific, all speakers have an approximate wattage that will ultimately determine how crisp and clear your sound will be. Low-grade digital piano speaker systems typically have a wattage of around 5, while higher quality pianos will feature two speakers of at least 10-15 watts. If you’re trying out a digital piano and the sound is fuzzy with static or too sharp for the human ear, this is a low quality piano and it will not last long.
Maximum polyphony is something that intermediate to professional players should consider. A 32-note polyphony is the lowest grade and these digital pianos are not meant for anyone playing 2+ voice songs or complicated chords. A high-quality piano will offer a polyphony of at least 64 notes to satisfy both the beginner and the intermediate player. Play a few chords and listen to how the transitions sound. How well do the notes blend? With lower polyphonies, you will notice a drop off on the notes that will make the sound slightly two-dimensional.
For more on finding a great piano with quality sound, be sure to read our article entitled: What’s the Best Sounding Digital Piano?
Build Quality Matters
We’ve all heard the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover”. The same can be said for digital pianos. It’s hard for any digital piano to rival the true classic aesthetic of an acoustic piano. However, there are plenty of models that come in classic colors and finishes that help to forget the robotics of it. Keeping this in mind, you have to wonder how the rest of the piano fares if the company didn’t put quality materials into the presentation.
- Key action
- Weight and size
Weighted key action or graded hammer action is extremely important in a high quality piano. Stay away from piano keys that are light and feel like plastic. Don’t confuse this for pianos that have plastic keys. Some offer different matte, ebony, or ivory finishes that really impact the way the keys feel under fingers. If you’re testing a digital piano and the keys are slippery or you find that your nails are catching the gaps, it isn’t worth your money. Touch sensitive keys respond to how you depress the keys, but watch closely to how they respond. If you’re pressing lightly, the keys should respond quickly. If you’re playing a long, hard piece, the keys should sustain accurately.
Digital pianos vary in weight and size. These measurements also change when you add additional accessories such as sustain pedals and stands. While I don’t believe the weight or size of a digital piano ultimately determines the quality, I do think that these measurements should be congruent to the amount of features offered. What I mean is, a large, clunky digital piano should offer a variety of features that make the size worth it. If not, move on to a sleeker, more compact design – especially if you need it to be portable.
Don’t expect your digital piano to be made out of authentic Rosewood that will basically decay in your living room. Digital pianos are just that: digital. Most are meant to be portable, while others have great frames to blend in with home décor. You would hope not to be dropping your digital piano on the ground through commutes or want pieces falling off. However, if you want your digital keyboard to last, make sure the materials it’s made of can sustain it. Lower-grade digital pianos tend to have a plastic, marled sheen that is equivalent to a kid’s learner’s piano. This is not an ultimate deciding factor, however if it doesn’t look good, investigate further because other aspects may also be suffering in quality.
Key Features You Need
Just because you have a budget doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get the necessary amount of features from a digital piano. The highest quality pianos will not only have a plethora of features ranging from voice selection to technology perks, but they will also perform just as well. Considering intended use, we’ve come up with a list of features that each respective digital piano should have based on experience level and/or price range. When you’re out in the market, don’t be surprised to see pianos that are out of your price range, but don’t offer as much as you would expect. The goal is to make sure your piano meets your specific needs, along with features for a great playing experience.
- FOR BEGINNERS
For beginner’s, high quality pianos won’t necessarily have a variety of features. What they will have is good basic features that a beginner can learn to train their hands and ears. Digital pianos for beginners should not exceed $500 for young children, and $1,000 for adults. There are some pianos just outside these parameters, however for someone who’s just starting out, there’s no need to spend more than this. Keeping in mind the sound quality and make, beginners should look for these qualities in their potential digital piano (all features at the minimum):
- 8 voices or sounds
- 64-note polyphony (128-max)
- Learning tools
- Headphone jack
Learning tools are among the most important features that digital pianos should have, especially for beginners. If you digital piano doesn’t have at least one of the following learning tools, you may have to take lessons right off the bat or follow along YouTube videos:
- Recording and playback capabilities
- Dual mode (also known as split mode)
- Demo songs
- Light up keys
- Performance grade
Light up keys are a great way to learn, but just be sure to look at all the specifications before you buy a piano that was meant for a small child. A performance grade is something a few digital pianos are known to have, but dual mode should be in every learning piano. It’s not a learning piano if it has no teaching tools, so keep this in mind when you’re shopping.
- MORE EXPERIENCED PLAYERS
For players who will be doing more than learning or practicing the piano, there are some things that they should expect from a high quality digital piano. There are plenty of great intermediate to professional pianos that don’t exceed $1,500. If you want to buy a digital piano that is in the $1,800-2,500 price range, do so for the purpose of performing frequently in classical settings such as concerts and recitals.
- 64+ note polyphony
- App capabilities
- Advanced sound technology
- Stage piano settings
Playing pieces with more than one voice, along with songs that require a lot of finger work will fare better on pianos with a higher polyphony. More experienced players can take advantage of personalized settings and added features that come with app integration to enhance performances or aid in gigs. An advanced speaker system would most likely benefit a professional player or one who performs frequently, so look for higher wattage and power consumption.
These features work in conjunction with stage piano settings that allow for the sound to cut through the surrounding instruments. Without proper sound management, it’s easy for the piano to get lost in voices and instruments, especially if there’s a presence of percussions. Your digital piano should be able to hold its own during a performance and make a statement, even if it’s a supporting instrument.
- BUDGET CONCERNS
Ultimately, you will need to compare digital pianos in order to find one that truly suits your needs. A beginner’s digital piano is only high quality if it can take the student from novice to intermediate in the least. When deciding how far you should expand your budget, consider your intensions for learning the piano. Young children and teenagers should stick to beginner pianos until they are sure this is something that they’d like to pursue. If you know that you’d like to have a piano to learn how to play, keep in practice, or perform fairly simple pieces, go for an intermediate level piano that isn’t too advanced but has features you can learn about.
For those who plan to go far with the piano, just because you’ve been playing for a couple years means you need to transition from your fairly advanced intermediate level digital piano. You’ll know that it’s time to move on when all the piano’s capabilities are not in full swing, or you’re beginning to play in different settings. Good quality intermediate-level pianos are never more than $1,200 and they can last a good amount of time before needing to be replaced.
- DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Never buy a piano based on price alone. Avoid picking pianos based on price extremes such as the cheapest one in the store or one that is on sale. In the same manner, stay away from flashy, complicated digital pianos that offer features you can’t even pronounce. Unless you’ve tried a piano for yourself and decide that you like it, don’t buy a piano online based on reviews or videos. Everyone’s hands move differently and react to different materials, but they also experience sound differently. There are plenty of objective qualities to consider in a digital piano, but your playing and learning experience is the priority.
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