Buying a digital piano can be a stressful introduction to the “joys of music.” Arius, Clavinova, CLP, GH, 685, Y-80? What’s the difference? And what’s actually worth the price tag?
You want something that is going to last for years in your family. Not something you have to replace after 18 months. Choosing the best brands is important when considering reliability.
Yamaha Arius is one of the best digital piano lines for serious beginners. Many stores recommend them because of their reliability. These digital pianos give you the most authentic experience and the best sound you can get for the price.
Today, we’re going to compare two of the best Arius’s available: The YPD-181 and the YDP-184. And below, please feel free to use the interactive guide below, which will allow you to compare the YDP-181 and YDP-184 against other notable digital pianos on the market.
Yamaha YDP 181 vs Yamaha YDP 184
Until this year, the YDP-181 has been the best digital piano for beginners. But with technological and design updates, the YDP-184 has become more popular. What are you getting for the higher price tag? Is the extra $600 worth all the updates? Do they even matter?
In this article, I’ll compare the differences I noticed when playing the YDP-181 and the YDP-184. We’ll look at five different categories you should consider when buying a digital piano and see which model does the most. Those categories are:
- Extra features (and why you would need them)
Before we begin, please take a moment to view some of the best selling digital pianos online, and see how well they compare to the YDP-181 and YDP-184:
|1) Casio PX-770
|2) Yamaha YDP-145
|3) Roland RP-701
|4) Yamaha YDP-165
|5) Casio PX-870
Hammer Action: GHE vs. GH3
The YDP-181 has graded hammer action keys (GH or GHE), while the YDP-184 has graded hammer 3 keys (GH3). GH was the standard for older Arius models. But GH3 is a more sophisticated technology that has come out in the past few years.
Let’s go over their similarities first:
- They both have “graded hammers.” This means that the lower keys feel heavy and become lighter as you move up the keyboard. This hammer action mimics the difference in string size on an acoustic piano, the lower notes having bigger strings than the higher ones.
- They both are suitable for players of all levels. Beginners don’t need or notice the graded effect. But when a player gets to an intermediate level, they will need the authentic response.
- Both feature technology that gives players an accurate response. Faster, repetitive note passages speak clearly because the sensors mimic a hammer striking the strings.
But the YDP-184’s GH3 has some updates that acoustic lovers will appreciate. The updated mechanism makes the key spring back up faster. The keys feel more responsive and less “sticky” like some digital pianos can. This makes the YDP-184 feel like a high-end acoustic piano, like the Yamaha CFX. You can play with more control over the sound, get a more accurate response, and create a refined interpretation.
Both the YDP-181 and YDP-184 come with 3 pedals like you would expect. These function like the ones on an acoustic: the left is the soft, the middle is the sostenuto, and the right is the sustain with the option to “half-damper.”
The YDP-184’s pedals also give commands when you use the instrument in different modes.
- The right pedal can be used in “expression” mode, letting you control the dynamics with it as you’re playing.
- With the right pedal, you can progressively raise and lower the pitch in “pitch bend up” and “pitch bend down.”
- When you use the mellow organ voice, “rotary” makes the pitch vibrate faster or slower depending on how far you press down any pedal.
- “Vibe rotor” is like rotary, but you use this with the vibraphone voice.
- When listening to demo songs or your own recordings, you can use the pedals to play or pause the tracks.
Each model’s pedals give you a realistic playing experience. But the YDP-184 lets you also play other instruments accurately.
I don’t think the extra pedal commands add too much value to the YDP-184. If you’re just interested in the piano functions, the pedals work well on both models.
The keys of each Arius model look elegant and sleek. The YDP-181 keys have a matte finish, giving your finger a little bit of grip. They don’t look shiny and plastic like older models.
The YDP-184 keys are covered in synthetic ebony and ivory. These materials give your fingers a better grip. The surface is porous just like ebony and ivory. This lets the surface absorbs moisture from your fingertips. You won’t slip on these keys. The material is resistant to dirt and dead skin. This makes is much easier to clean than traditional ivory.
So which Arius plays more like an acoustic?
With the GH3 and ebony/ivory simulation, the YDP-184 feels more refined than the YDP-181. The pedals work well on both models. Even though the YDP-184’s do some fun extras, they don’t matter too much.
I’ll give this one to the YDP-184, but only by a little. The YDP-181 would be adequate for any beginner or intermediate player. If you are a serious beginner or have advanced players, you would want the YDP-184 for the more sophisticated touch.
AWM Dynamic Stereo Sampling
YDP-181 uses AWM (Advanced Wave Memory) Dynamic Stereo Sampling. This tone-generator has been used on most Yamaha digital pianos. It’s been praised for its accurate representation of an acoustic grand.
To record the tones, two microphones are placed on either side of the strings. Each key is played in different ways to capture the many tone colors Yamaha pianos produce. These sounds are programmed into the piano so that it has a life-like response to different attacks and dynamic levels.
Arius has been praised for years because it accurately replicates the sounds a player would get from a prestigious Yamaha.
Virtual Resonance Modeling
The YDP-184 uses Virtual Resonance Modeling to generate tones. This is a breakthrough technology that replicates not only attacks and dynamics, but also the resonance of the instrument. VRM mimics tones and the way an acoustic piano resonates as it is being played.
This resonance seems to breathe more life into the YDP-184. Because of the complex reverb created, you feel like you’re hearing a grand in person. It’s more sensitive to the damper pedal height and gives vivid tone colors you would hear on the finest instruments. It even creates overtones.
The YDP-184 uses VRM with the Yamaha CFX as the main grand piano voice. The CFX is recognized as one of the best grand pianos of all time. With the new Virtual Resonance Modeling, you experience one of the world’s most admired instruments from your home.
Both Arius models feature touch sensitivity settings. These settings change how hard you have to push to get the sound volume you want.
- The harder settings are not very sensitive, making the player press harder for more sound. This helps players developing finger strength.
- The medium setting is what you typically hear.
- The lighter settings produce a lot of sound when you press the keys and are good for practicing dynamic control.
- The fixed setting plays the same volume no matter how hard you press. This is perfect for the voices of instruments with no dynamic control (like the organ).
The YDP-181 has light, medium, hard, and fixed. The YDP-184 has hard 2, hard 1, medium, soft 1, soft 2, and fixed. These work the same, but you have a more gradual scale to choose from.
Voices and Polyphony
Yamaha refers to the different sounds featured on their digital pianos as “voices.” The YDP-181 has 14 voices, and the YDP-184 has 24.
The piano’s “polyphony” tells you how many notes the sustain pedal will hold before “getting rid” of previous notes. In advanced music, having enough room is important so you get the full experience of sound. The YDP-181 has 128-note polyphony and the YDP-184 has 256-note polyphony.
The YDP-184 has extra features to customize your listening and playing experience. The “piano room” setting lets you control even more what the instrument sounds like. You can change the setting to make your piano sound like the lid is up or shut. You can also adjust the brilliance and damper resonance.
On both models, the headphones immerse you in your playing. When using headphones, the sound plays back to you as if you were in a hall playing, not just the flat sound that can come out of some digital pianos.
The YDP-184 is the clear winner here. The YDP-181 does have excellent sound and an accurate presentation. But YDP-184 takes it further with the recent audio technological developments. The VRM and piano room give you a much better playing experience that will keep you satisfied with a digital instrument.
Which Arius has a better design?
Both Arius models have an elegant design. They come in rosewood and are built to look like furniture in your home. Each has a sliding key cover and three gold pedals. The music stands can be folded back for a sharp look if you are playing from memory.
The YDP-181 looks top-of-the-line for beginner and intermediate pianos. It is sturdy and looks like an upright more than many other beginner keyboards.
The YDP-184 has a taller front board and resembles the Yamaha Clavinova models. It’s often compared to the Clavinova CLP-625 in style and playability.
They both are good-looking keyboards. But there’s one big difference that makes one look nicer than the other.
The YDP-181 settings are across the top of the keyboard. There are many of them, and they all have red lights above them. This is not only distracting to the eyes while playing, but it also looks cheap. It resembles a portable keyboard more than an upright. Those are usually for very young beginners, and they don’t age well.
The YDP-184 has the settings neatly to the side. The buttons are understated, and the LED screen is more subtle than flashing red lights. These are positioned better, and the screen is easier to use than a bunch of buttons across the keyboard.
The better-looking Arius
The YDP-184 once again comes out on top. This is mainly my preference, but I do see older students liking the sleeker models better. If you play on keeping the keyboard for a long time, you definitely want something that isn’t going to become an eyesore.
Which has more creative features?
The YDP-181 and YDP-184 share many features.
- With sound layering, you can choose two different voices to play on every note. Common combinations are piano + strings or organ + voice.
- Each comes with 14 demo songs and 50 piano preset songs.
- You can transpose 12 half steps (a full octave) either way.
- Dual mode lets you pick a voice for your right hand to play and a separate voice for your left hand.
- You can record and store your songs on the piano.
- Record multiple tracks to create a multi-instrument recording.
The YDP-184 does more by volume
The differences are in the numbers. The YDP-181 can only store 3 of your original songs, each song being 10KB (about 11,000 notes). It can layer only 2 tracks together.
The YDP-184 can store 250 of your songs at 500KB per song. You can layer up to 16 tracks on this Arius model.
The YDP-184 also comes with “duo mode.” This takes the notes of your keyboard and “splits” it into two keyboards with the same range. Teachers will appreciate this. In lessons, they can practice songs and duets with their students without having to play on low, grumbly notes with little pitch distinction.
Even though they do almost the same things, the YDP-184 can do greater amounts for a player. But you can still do most of these things on the YDP-181. If you are more of a performer and not a composer, the YDP-181 might suit you here.
But for the creative types, YDP-184 offers more for you to use. Duo mode is helpful, but not necessary. If you’re a teacher who works with students who have a hard time hearing the same pitches between octaves, duo mode may be worth it.
Which has better technology?
Here, we’ll do a lightning round comparing the two’s different technological features.
Both models have a built-in metronome. The YDP-181 has a tempo range of 32-280, and the YPD-184 has a range of 5-500.
This one is a tie because you rarely need a tempo outside of what the YDP-181 offers. It’s standard for most metronomes.
Both models have headphone jacks under the left side of the piano. They each have two ports that you and another person can use together.
I’m giving this one to the YDP-184 for one small detail. The YDP-184 ports are on the left side under the control panel, and YPD-181 ports are more hidden on the underside of the piano.
Visually, the YDP-181 looks better because this is hidden, but they are harder to reach. I had to fumble around and get under the keyboard every time I went to use headphones on this model.
This is a common complaint for other models with this design. Points go to the YDP-184 for the updated headphone jack placement.
MIDI and USB ports
The YDP-181 has MIDI in and out ports, but the YDP-184 has in, out, and thru ports. The thru port lets you connect more MIDI devices together. This lets you create a more complex workstation for arranging and writing music.
Both models have a USB to device port near the left control panel. The USB to device port lets you upload or download the songs you create on the keyboard onto a flash drive. But the YDP-184 also has a USB to host. This lets you connect your piano to your computer.
The YDP-184 also have line-level outputs for speakers. If you’re using your keyboard in a school or church, this is what you need for easy connectivity and versatile use.
For those who want to notate their songs or produce music, the YDP-184 comes out on top. You can use more devices and complex hardware with it because of the MIDI thru and USB to device ports.
If you’re looking for a digital piano to use in your school or church, the YDP-184 will connect to speakers. You can use this piano in a variety of settings, from composing workstation to school assemblies.
Both models have an auto-off feature. You can choose the set amount of time between 5 minutes and 2 hours.
Equal points for energy conservation.
After looking over the owner’s manuals, I’d say the YDP-184 is more user-friendly. It has clearer diagrams and lays out instructions better. Musicians will appreciate this, especially those that are intimidated by technology and want something easy to use. The LED screen on the side also lets you change settings easier by scrolling through options.
With older models including the YDP-181, you have to use multi-button commands that are not always clear. The YDP-181 owner’s manual and button commands are a bit outdated for today’s user.
Yamaha has been supportive of eLearning for several years. They have created apps to make music education accessible to many types of learners. Both of these Arius models can connect to Apple devices so the player can use apps like Flowkey.
However, on the YDP-181, you have to plug your device into the piano for them to communicate. This requires purchasing a cable and a dongle. With everything today working over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, this setup looks a bit outdated.
SmartPianist, available only for the YDP-184, is an app that lets you control the settings, switch features, and give commands from your iPhone to your piano. You can either connect your device to the piano or use a special USB Wi-Fi adapter. This allows you to use your phone or tablet with the YDP-184 free of any extra cables.
You also use the “piano room” feature this way. You can visually adjust the settings on your phone and hear them play back on the piano.
Which one has better technology?
YDP-184 wins for having better-placed headphone jacks, more connectivity options, better user experience, and wireless capabilities. It’s expected because the YDP-184 is an upgrade on many of the common complaints the YDP-181 receives.
The best Arius model is…
I was surprised that I couldn’t give any of the categories to the YDP-181. After all, it’s been the standard for years. But the YDP-184 was definitely built with today’s user in mind. It improves on the minor annoyances user found in the YDP-181.
If you can’t justify the price and you need to start with the YDP-181 ($2200), try buying from a store that offers trade-ins. Guitar Center or Sam Ash both buy used gear. If you aren’t sure if your student is serious about the piano, start with this less expensive model and upgrade when you see they want to continue.
While the YDP-181 still has everything a beginner or intermediate player would need to get started, the YDP-184 is a piano you can grow with.
While the YDP-181 may have everything you need now, you will outgrow it quicker than you would the YDP-184. A piano is an investment and should last you years. The more you play, the more your fingers will itch for a grand piano. The YDP-184 offers excellent playing mechanics, sensitive control, and endless creative options.
It’s only natural that after a few years, you or your student will be wanting to get more out of your instrument. While a digital piano won’t be as satisfying as the best concert grand, the YDP-184 will take a student from the beginning into advanced repertoire.
The YDP-184 is an excellent choice for anyone who wants the best value digital piano on a budget. Many of the prestigious features on Clavinova models are available on this Arius. This include VRM, wireless connectivity, and a more sophisticated key touch. For under $3000, you are getting some of the best digital piano technology available today.
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