This article is going to explore what you can expect to find if you’re going to buy a digital piano with a fairly healthy budget of $1,500. I’ll be explaining what you’ll get for your money in terms of keyboard build, including the type of piano action behind the nuts and bolts of the keyboard, the quality of sound to expect and the connectivity options.
$1500 is an ample budget for an instrument that should feel close to a genuine piano to play. Sampling technology driving the quality of sound has become incredibly sophisticated and you should be looking for an instrument that sounds realistic with a colorful palette of timbre.
In order to better help you make such an important buying decision, I have created an interactive table below which lists some of the best digital pianos you can find under $1,500. You can filter the results based on everything from price range to noteworthy features.
|Yamaha YDP-163||88||$$$||GH3 Weighted Action|
|Roland F-140||88||$$$||SuperNATURAL Piano engine|
|Casio PX-560||88||$$$||5.3” Color Display|
|Kawai ES110||88||$$||Bluetooth MIDI|
|Casio PX-160||88||$||Dual Headphone Outputs on Front|
|Casio CGP-700||88||$$||5.3in Color Touch Interface Display|
|Casio AP 460||88||$$$||256 Notes of Polyphony|
|Kawai KDP90||88||$$$||AHAIV-F Graded-Hammer Action|
|Kawai CE220||88||$$$||AWA PROII w/Counterbalancing|
|Casio PX-5S||88||$$||Tri-Sensor Scaled Hammer Action II Keyboard|
|Yamaha P255||88||$$$||256 Note Polyphony|
|Yamaha P-115||88||$$||GHS Weighted Key Action|
Getting Quality Keys
The keyboard is unarguably the most important aspect of any digital piano because it’s the interface you use to express yourself musically. For the $1500 range, you can expect a Graded Hammer Action – this is where the bottom notes of the piano are heavier to play than the top notes (replicating the play-feel of a grand piano) and responsive touch sensitivity (the ability to play loud and soft). Each manufacturer has it’s own version, so I’ll explain a little about what to expect from each model.
For the $1500 range, you should expect a full-sized 88-note keyboard, with weighted, touch-sensitive keys. The keys are likely to be made from a synthetic product – there’s quite a wide variety of finishes, including synthetic ivory and ebony with a matte, textured finish.
Matte keys are a relatively new addition to the digital keyboard world – the theory is that your fingers are less likely to slip around. In fairness, I can’t remember a time when my fingers have slipped around on any keyboard – perhaps it’s a bit of a gimmick, but the matte key does feel nice to play. Try it for yourself and decide whether it enhances your experience.
A learner may not necessarily use the full keyboard whilst they’re in the early years of lessons, but go for 88 keys as you will eventually need the full scope of the whole keyboard. Most of the keyboards featured in this article have a “split” function that divides the keyboard in two, allowing both halves of the keyboard to play the same octave range – an absolute boon if you’re sitting next to a teacher or a student.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling digital pianos currently on sale on Amazon, and then see how well they stack up to the pianos I recommend later on in this article.
Why do you need 192-key polyphony? Last time I looked I only had 10 fingers. Polyphony is, in brief, how many notes you can play at the same time. So, doesn’t that make the likelihood of ever needing 192 notes played at the same time a bit of a pointless feature? “No” is the short answer.
The higher the polyphony, the more notes that sustain through to their natural decay when you hit the damper pedal. An acoustic piano will sustain every note that you play whilst you press the damper (sustain) pedal until the note naturally decays into silence. That could be 30 seconds.
But with digital instruments, the central processor can only handle a certain number of notes at the same time – the polyphony count. So, basically, the higher the polyphony, the longer the full sustain potential of each note that you play before they just drop out, over-ridden by new notes.
The ES110 and P115 has 192 key polyphony, whilst the FP30 has just 128 polyphony. Whether you would ever need more than 128 polyphony is a matter of much debate. I certainly wouldn’t write off the FP30 on the polyphony alone – it’s unlikely you’re ever going to notice.
My recommendations in this price range are:
- Roland F-140R
- Yamaha YDP-163
- Roland FP30
- Casio Privia PX-860
- Kawai KDP90
Roland really do have the corner in the market for convincing play-feel and sound as far as I’m concerned, and this entry-level upright digital is great value for money. What this model benefits from over many of the other instruments in this price bracket is a great user-interface. Benefiting from the top-notch SuperNATURAL sample engine, this instrument can’t fail to produce a really beautiful tone in combination with an excellent keyboard action.
The F-140 comes in at just short of $1200 on Amazon and is packed with high-end features that you would expect to see in a much more expensive model – intelligent accompaniment that automatically follows the chords that you’re playing (creating a full band experience that may sound like a gimmick but is actually a very impressive feature) and on-board Bluetooth tech (providing wireless connection to the ever-expanding range of synths and peripherals available on iOS and Android platforms).
There are also some great features for learners – a superior 3D headphone experience; a metronome, perfect for practice; on-board recorder so that you can hear your performance back with a critical ear; Twin Piano function that means that you can play side by side with your teacher in the same octave range.
This instrument has been expertly crafted to pack high-end features into a small unit, ideal for apartment living. It has a sliding lid that protects the instrument whilst not in use and 3 foot pedals that allow for the soft / sostenuto and damper, or can be assigned to various tasks such as Bluetooth page turning when using the optional PiaScore app.
Yamaha’s Arius range offers a Graded Hammer System (GHS). This adds realism to the play-feel and dynamic capability to the instrument, providing a real contrast between loud and soft play.
The YDP-163 is a great instrument for the learner and the experienced piano player alike. It’s housed in a sturdy unit, with a powerful on-board speaker system. It uses the Yamaha CF Piano sampling system which is sampled from Yamaha’s famous CF range of grand pianos and has 192 note polyphony. Its on-board user-interface, controlling the recording functions and instrumental voices is certainly limited, but the instrument is complemented with an optional iPad / Android app that gives you far greater control over the whole instrument.
The YDP-163 comes in at $1499 on Amazon and is part of Yamaha’s Arius entry-level upright digital range and is a lovely instrument to play. I find the pro-level Clavinova range quite heavy under the fingers, with a keyboard build that I’m never particularly enamored with.
However, the YDP-163 has a light, responsive keyboard that makes playing a real joy – there’s a pianistic key-off bounce (the feel of the key when you release it and it returns to its neutral position) that the higher end Clavinova’s seem to lack. Having said that the keyboard feels light to play, it has just enough weight under the fingers to emulate a real acoustic piano. This is a hard keyboard to beat. I find the Yamaha sampling playback a little artificial at times, but I was impressed with this instrument for both play-feel and sound reproduction.
The Roland FP30 is a stage-piano as opposed to a digital upright, but being a Roland, the sound and play-feel are amazing at a fantastic price. A really portable unit, this instrument would fit snugly into any bedroom or living room if you buy the additional stand unit and foot pedal board (KPD-70). The stand isn’t going to win any beauty pageants, but it’s certainly a great, functional addition to an excellent keyboard.
Driven by Roland’s excellent SuperNATURAL sound engine, this is a digital piano that sounds great and feels amazing. There are various learner settings, making this a great instrument for any new-comer, with the added bonus of being light enough to transport when the player starts playing out live. This is a keyboard with all the gifts.
On the downside, the user-interface is a little limited, but for practice and playing live, this is a great investment. The instrument has Bluetooth capability which expands the user-interface and opens up a wide range of extra voicing possibilities.
Casio Privia PX-860
Casio have come a long way over the years in terms of digital pianos. Famed in the 80s for digital watches and cash registers, you might come to a Casio with fairly low expectations. But after many years of mastering the manufacture, Casio have caught up with its competitors.
This keyboard features an 88-note hammer action keyboard with graded weighting and simulated ebony and ivory keys. With three dynamic sensors registering your expressive play, this is a keyboard that’s capable of a really colorful tonal palette.
Driven by Casio’s AiR sound system, the first thing you notice when you play this lovely instrument is the spacious sound, having been sampled from a 9ft concert grand. The sampling is detailed and accurately captured at four dynamic levels of play, offering a genuinely realistic tonal shift in the timbral qualities of each note played at different volumes.
With 18 built-in voices and onboard digital effects, this is a keyboard that will provide many hours of immersive playing enjoyment, whilst also performing as an attractive piece of furniture. The housing unit comes in a selection of colors (white wood, black wood, walnut wood) but I think that the white looks particularly funky.
The user-interface is simple, yet practical, providing fast access to the instrumental voices and onboard digital effects. With 256 note polyphony, this is an instrument that will grow with the learner for a lifetime of performance.
This instrument can be purchased for around $1150 on Amazon. Kawai keyboards have a great feel, drawing on their (almost) 100 year experience of acoustic piano manufacture. They make some of the world’s best grand pianos, so there’s no surprise that their digital offerings feel amazing to play.
With a really dynamic response that makes playing this instrument an utter joy, partnered with a keyboard that is so light to the touch that the fingers glide and almost play on their own. A lighter keyboard feel is perfect for extended playing, so for the learner forced to spend hours playing scales and continuously covering the same passage like a Kafka’s labyrinth, this is the perfect keyboard to save you from finger fatigue.
With Bluetooth connectivity, this is a great MIDI controller to connect with the countless iPad and Android music apps. Kawai’s app also provides greater sound editing capabilities that really complements the on-board feature set.
And the Winner Is…
The Roland F-140R offers a great play-feel, a realistic enveloping piano sound provided by a powerful speaker system, as well as loads of fun features, making this the best feature-set for your buck.
The housing unit is sleek and has been designed with the small living space in mind. The keyboard has a realistic pianistic feel and there’s plenty to keep your practice interesting if you’re a learner. With a decent user-interface, this affordable digital piano is a brilliant piece of kit that will sit comfortably with your furniture to become a happy addition to your home.
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