How to Buy a Digital Piano
First a bit of history: digital pianos have come a long way in the past 20 years. Back in the good old days, digital pianos sounded bad and the keyboard action was just awful — thankfully all that has changed. Today you can purchase a brand new digital piano for your home for a fraction of the cost of an acoustic upright piano that many families and schools used to have. Not only are digital pianos more portable, they now sound and even feel like concert grand pianos.
So what should you know before you decide to start shopping for a new digital piano?
Try Before You Buy
Since every digital piano sounds and feels different, you really need to try a piano before you buy. Visit your local music store and ask to see their keyboard department. Ask the salesperson to show you the piano section. Then sit down and play the piano for yourself. If you are a beginner you may feel self-conscious when you play the piano. In this case look for the “demo” mode button and press it. Or if you are really shy, you can ask the salesperson for some headphones and play in complete privacy.
If you can’t find the demo button then ask the salesperson to help you. The piano should start playing some classical compositions. Turn up the volume, sit back and close your eyes; now can properly audition the sound of the digital piano. If you can’t audition a digital piano then I suggest you read reviews at https://www.citylinesound.com.
As an experienced musician who’s purchased quite a few pianos and keyboards in my career and I can give you an accurate appraisal of some of the most popular models out there on the market today.
Evaluating the Sound
Probably the most important aspect when deciding which digital piano to purchase is the actual sound. Most digital pianos are sampled from real concert grand pianos and will sound amazing to the untrained ear. But you need to understand that it’s the subtleties of the sound samples that they use that make all the difference as far as quality and of course the price. The more expensive digital pianos record the sound of dampers hitting the strings and harmonics. They also take multiple samples of each note with varying degrees of pressure applied to the keys. Again this costs money and you may not be able to hear this.
You should consider that the speakers in the piano (some digital pianos don’t have built-in speakers) also contribute to the quality of the sound. Generally, the more expensive the piano the better the quality of the speakers.
In the end, it’s all about how you the buyer feels. The sound of the piano should be pleasing to you and connect with you. Remember, this piano will be in your home for a long time.
Piano Action is Important
Finding a piano with the right action is critical because how the keyboard feels ultimately determines how the piano will sound as you express yourself through the keyboard. You want something that feels comfortable to you – not too heavy but not too light. The keys should feel light enough that they are responsive but heavy enough that they are slightly challenging to play. Find a good balance between both ends of the spectrum by avoiding the extremes of being too easy to play and too hard to play.
The feel of a real piano is influenced by the hammer mechanism which when depressed with enough force strikes the strings in the piano and makes a sound. Digital piano companies have tried to simulate this with varying degrees of success. The least expensive digital pianos have what’s called “semi-weighted” action. These are very easy to play but don’t feel very authentic.
You should be looking for keyboard action that mimics what you find on a real piano with action that is heavier in the lower registers and lighter action in the higher registers. In most cases, the quality of the keyboard action gets better the more you pay.
Watch out for digital pianos that have noisy keyboard action. If you are playing the piano late at night you don’t want the sound of the keys waking up people or causing excessive noise. When you try out the piano be sure to listen to the sound of the keys with the volume turned all the way down. The more expensive digital pianos have quieter action – so you may have to pay a bit more for a quiet keyboard.
Determine Who the End User Is
It’s very important to determine exactly who will be using the digital piano. A digital keyboard for a child taking classical piano lessons and practicing at home may have different requirements than what a teenager or adult would prefer who likes to play popular music.
You should also consider whether you’ll be using this keyboard for music production. If so then you’ll want to make sure it has a modulation and pitch wheels and fully MIDI compliant. Of course someone just looking to play piano wouldn’t need all those bells and whistles. Figuring out what you want to use a digital piano for will go a long way in helping you determine the right model to purchase.
Where Will You Be Playing?
People who play digital pianos do so in all types of places. Where you are playing will determine what kind of digital piano is best for your needs. For many pianists the home is where they’ll be playing, so portability is not that big of a concern.
However if you are playing for a living or playing for a church or in a club you’ll want to make sure you digital piano is portable. If you plan on taking your piano with you be sure to invest in a good roadworthy case.
What Kind of Music Will You Be Playing?
If you are taking classical piano lessons and intend on having a serious digital piano you should focus on buying a model with top-notch, authentic sound. Therefore having access to all kinds of non-piano sounds like an organ, electric piano, bass and drums may not be really necessary for you.
Also, if you are taking piano lessons you should consider the fact that some digital pianos have built in metronomes which will definitely help you improve your playing technique while you practice at home.
On the other hand, some people may want to buy a digital piano for fun and may enjoy having access to all kinds of sounds. With this in mind, many digital piano companies are only too happy to oblige and offer pianos with many different features that allow you to play with a full band accompaniment, arrange songs on the fly and so on.
So remember before you buy, be sure to figure out what kind of music you intend to be playing. This knowledge will help you buy the right piano for your needs.
Some Final Thoughts
Here’s some important final advice for the prospective digital piano buyer: price should not be your only concern when buying. In this industry you get what you pay for and sometimes paying a hundred dollars more for a piano is well worth the improvement in quality.