It’s not easy to pick the proper piano. Costs, sound, maintenance, and so on must all be considered. As a musician, I understand your predicament completely. As a result, to assist you in making a decision, this article compares the various features of digital and acoustic pianos. We’ll also show our suggestions for Timmy, Sarah, Jason, and Stephanie at the end.
Table of Contents
Mechanisms and types of digital pianos
The digital piano is a more modernized version of the acoustic piano. It creates sounds digital (as the name implies): when you touch a key, the piano’s electronic speakers will playback high-quality recordings made using acoustic pianos.
The grand piano, upright piano, and portable piano are the three varieties of digital pianos. The sound system on the grand piano is better, and the key movements are smoother. It is, however, more expensive and only available from a few producers. The upright digital piano, like its acoustic version, is widely used in households.
The sizes of the digital and acoustic versions are similar, however, the digital version is lighter. The lightest of the three is the portable piano. Instead of “legs,” it comes with a stand. A portable digital piano’s keys and casing are usually composed of plastic.
Mechanisms and types of acoustic pianos
In some ways, an acoustic piano is as old-school as it gets. It is made up of hammers and steel strings and has a wooden exterior. The hammers are linked to the keys. The hammer moves and strikes the strings when a key is struck, causing them to vibrate and produce the music.
The grand piano and the upright piano are the two varieties of acoustic pianos. A grand piano features a horizontally expanded frame and strings. It has a longer body, which means it takes up more room. Gravity resets the keys and returns them to their resting positions once you play the keys and release your fingers.
The strings on an upright piano run vertically. It’s significantly smaller than a grand piano. The upright piano is a more handy alternative because it can typically fit easily in houses or apartments. When you take your fingers off the keys, they are reset by a spring mechanism that wears down with time.
Another feature that separates the grand piano from the upright piano is inharmonicity. The degree to which an overtone sounds higher in pitch than its primary pitch is known as inharmonicity. As a result, a sound with less inharmonicity is more accurate.
The grand piano’s strings are longer, giving it a fuller tone and less inharmonicity. The upright piano’s strings are shorter, resulting in more inharmonicity and less in-tune octaves. However, don’t dismiss the upright piano as a lesser instrument. Many other factors, like the quality of the materials used and the craftsmanship, might influence the sound.
Which is better: an acoustic or a digital piano?
Let’s compare and contrast the digital and acoustic pianos now that we know how they work.
The sound of the instrument is one of the most significant elements to consider. The acoustic piano, unsurprisingly, creates a superior sound. As previously stated, an acoustic piano makes a sound when the hammer strikes a string.
It produces a natural acoustic sound with a richer, more resonant tone. You also have more control over the musical notes’ articulation and emotion. On the other hand, a digital piano can only imitate the sound of an acoustic piano. Because the sound is a digital file, it lacks the same acoustic characteristics.
A high-end digital piano, on the other hand, may sound better than a low-end acoustic piano.
An acoustic piano necessitates more upkeep. The wooden shell, the felt on the hammers, and the steel strings are all delicate elements that require special attention. As a result, you must be aware of the characteristics of an acoustic piano.
- Tuning. Your piano should be tuned roughly 1-2 times each year to keep it in tune. Frequently, you will need the help of an expert, which will increase your costs.
- Humidity and temperature variations make you vulnerable. Wood and felt are extremely sensitive to temperature and humidity changes. The components of an acoustic piano may be harmed if they are not kept in an appropriate atmosphere. (Ideally, your acoustic piano should be stored in a room with a relative humidity of 45 to 70 percent and a steady temperature of around 20 degrees Celsius or room temperature.)
Regulation, which includes everything from twisting screws to sanding down wood surfaces, is a technique that a technician can use to bring your piano back to its original perfection.
Utility and portability are two characteristics of versatility.
What the digital piano lacks in sound, it more than makes up for with additional functions. These characteristics make the digital piano more versatile by allowing you to use it in multiple ways:
- Other instrument sounds: You may make the sound of practically any instrument with the digital piano, from a saxophone to a choir. You can experiment with numerous sound kinds to find the one that best suits your song. You may even start a drumbeat track and play along with it, turning your piano into a tiny ensemble.
- A connection on the side of the digital piano connects the piano to your computer for recording. You can use this connection to record and save your playing as a digital file. This is a really handy tool, especially for aspiring songwriters who can utilize software to alter their recordings.
- The digital piano has a volume dial as well as a headphone output, allowing you to practice anywhere without bothering others.
- Digital pianos come in a variety of models and sizes, but they are always more portable than acoustic pianos. A single person can move most digital pianos. Because of their modest size, they are frequently used as a keyboard instrument in gigs or performances.
Sensitivity to touch
Playing a digital piano and an acoustic piano has quite a different touch and sensation. The weight of the keys is one of the reasons. Striking the keys of an acoustic piano requires some strength. A gentle touch on the keys of a digital piano can make a sound. Weighted keys, which simulate the heaviness of acoustic piano keys, are used by many manufacturers to compensate for this.
Because of their lack of touch sensitivity, some pianists avoid digital pianos. The acoustic piano is more sensitive to touch. The tone of the music is determined by the strength and movement of your fingers, and you can produce multiple shades of sound on the same note.
However, because the sounds created by the digital piano are digital, there is a limit to the number of tones that may be produced. In other words, the sound may be the same even if you played a key differently. This limitation can have an impact on the way your music is expressed.
The most significant advantage of digital pianos is their low cost. Models of digital pianos are available in almost every price range.
Whether you’re a complete beginner just getting started or a seasoned pro looking for a neighbor-friendly practice alternative, there’s something for you.
Keyboards may appear to be inexpensive, but they’re an excellent choice for beginners.
Massive console-style keyboards, meanwhile, are terrific practice possibilities as well as excellent furniture pieces, suitable for folks who want something closer to the real thing.
When it comes to large console digital pianos, they are frequently less expensive than a brand-new acoustic piano. Even uprights command higher asking prices, which is exacerbated by the next point.
To be honest, acoustic pianos aren’t as popular as they were a few years ago. According to a 2017 survey, acoustic upright sales fell by 41.1 percent between 2007 and 2017, with luxurious concert grands suffering, even more, plunging to less than half their original price.
You’ve probably guessed why: acoustic pianos are pricey, and that’s just the first investment. There’s also the cost of upkeep, which mounts up quickly and puts a burden on your wallet.
Even experts must weigh if tens of thousands of dollars in investment is worthwhile for their career or hobby.
Three pedals are included with acoustic pianos (sometimes 2 depending on the design). The soft, sostenuto and sustain pedals are the soft, sostenuto, and sustain pedals, respectively.
Although most digital pianos include an optional 3-pedal system that uses software to imitate the impacts of each pedal, this approach rarely catches the authentic feel of the instrument.
Take, for example, the most commonly utilized sustain (also known as damper) pedal. Half-damper support is available on some of the more advanced digital pianos, which allows you to play different samples when the pedal is pressed halfway down.
This is meant to mimic how a true sustain pedal presses the damper against the strings without completely muting them. Half-dampering, on the other hand, isn’t a simple on-off switch.
There’s no reason to start with an acoustic piano if you’re a complete beginner. In reality, for a long time, the most significant barrier to the entrance was cost, which has been greatly alleviated by affordable digital pianos.
We’ve already discussed how digital piano pedals can’t match the delicacy of a real damper pedal, so we won’t go over that ground again.
However, I will point out a potential benefit of digital pianos. Modulation pedals bring you a whole new world of possibilities, allowing you to do things like wah-wahs and filter sweeps without having to take your hands off the keys.
This is a significant deal for performers. It’s one of the reasons we loved the Nord Stage 3 so much.
Pros & Cons
|Sound Quality of the Piano (comparing pianos of the same grade)
|The sound generated is a sound sample that may sound similar to its acoustic counterpart but isn’t as genuine.
|More freedom for musical interpretations and a warmer, more realistic tone
|It isn’t necessary to tune it.
|Tuning is required 1-2 times per year.
|There are no criteria.
|It must be kept in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment.
|Generally more costly
|Value depreciates at a faster rate.
|Increased resale value
|Some models lack touch sensitivity, while others include weighted, touch-sensitive keys that resemble those on an acoustic piano.
|You can better control musical tones and expressions with piano action mechanisms.
|Pedals are not included in all versions.
|It has two or three pedals, including a sustain pedal.
|Sound effects from other instruments
Volume control – Recording output
Pedals are not included in all versions.
|It’s lighter and usually only takes one person to move it.
|Heavier. It will take 2-3 people to move it.
|There’s less room to work with.
|There is a need for more space.
|It is not required.
DIGITAL PIANO TYPES
Digital pianos have long had flaws that made them unsuitable for performing pianists.
Even if we ignore sound quality (which purists still regard as a flaw in non-acoustic), there’s still the issue of mass and flexibility to consider.
By confronting these issues straight on, stage pianos seek to fix them. The weight of these devices was decreased by removing the built-in speakers.
Because most artists use their own amp/cab combos or front-of-house PAs, stage pianos became popular.
Massive sound libraries from workstation keyboards were incorporated into their chipsets, giving players synthesizers, drums, strings, and much more.
While popular stage pianos such as the Nord Piano 4 and Yamaha CP-series are aimed at pianists, whether workstation keyboards such as the Korg Kross are keyboards or stage pianos is debatable. We’ll just assume they are for the sake of simplicity, but labels are just labels, after all.
Digital pianos, as their name implies, are not the same as the cheap, unrealistic keyboards of the past. These new instruments have been given a lot of thought in order to make them more playable.
As a result of modern advances in mechanical engineering and precision assembly, prospective pianists now have a realistic practicing choice. It even had a few benefits, which we’ll go into momentarily.
The improved sound quality and the addition of mechanical key motions that resemble the hammer actions of their acoustic counterparts are the most notable features.
Digital pianos would go on to become worldwide bestsellers, with numerous piano firms (including acoustic piano behemoths like Yamaha and Kawai) pouring resources into pushing digital piano technology even further.
Keyboards were one of the first attempts to digitally imitate actual pianos. For a long time, it was acceptable for novices, but not if the ultimate goal was to master the instrument.
The keys were constructed of cheap plastic, and the noises were far from authentic.
Keep in mind that technology wasn’t all touchscreens and small form factors at this time. 12MB of storage was deemed generous, which meant that current sampling was a pipe dream.
With all of these considerations, a low-cost upright acoustic was always the best option for pianists. Because there were no credible alternatives, the higher price was easily justified.
Of course, it was in the past, and today’s keyboards are extremely powerful.
While affordable solutions are still available, they are in the shape of arranger keyboards, which offer a wealth of features that make them ideal for composers and one-man bands.
Yes, you’ll occasionally get the same unrealistic-feeling keys, but they’ll usually be compensated for with a slew of added features like performance settings, inbuilt rhythms, and even arpeggiation.
ACOUSTIC PIANO TYPES
Any concert grand style piano that is less than 5′ 2″ wide is classified as a baby grand.
These pianos may not get much attention, but they are popular among those looking for the rich tones and stylistics of a concert grand piano without the astronomical price tag.
I have a collection of baby grands recordings. Although the internal components are similar, stereo recordings lack the same sense of breadth as their full-sized counterparts due to their reduced size.
Aside from that, baby grands are generally well-liked, and they may be your only viable option if you live in a tiny space.
The classic piano design is known by a variety of names, but they all have the same ‘grand’ categorization, demonstrating Bartolomeo’s original design’s elegance.
The current grand piano is available in a few different configurations, but they all incorporate the majority of the advancements made throughout history.
The hammer mechanisms are sensitive while still retaining a high level of dynamic expressiveness, and the 3- and 2-string per key standard has been universally accepted.
The other term in the name, concert, defines where these pianos are most usually found. They’re frequently seen in concert halls, which helps to emphasize the pianos’ naturally wide tone.
Yamaha and Steinway & Sons are the two most well-known concert grand manufacturers.
Yamaha’s C-series concert grands are undoubtedly the best-selling line of concert grands, with its crisp, balanced timbre easily distinguishable. Due to its versatility, many digital pianos, including those from other manufacturers, incorporate C7 or CFX samples.
The Steinways are more historically designed, having a fuller bass tone (which some may find muddy), and thicker strings inspired by Romanticism-era grands.
While concert grands are fantastic, their price tag is a little out of reach for the average person. For acoustic purists, though, there are alternatives.
This is the category’s most affordable option, and it’s also a part of the American accessibility renaissance that we briefly discussed in the history section.
This model made the piano accessible to the general public, allowing a vast section of the population to learn the instrument.
You may probably credit the invention of the acoustic upright for a lot of modern music. These pianos are slimmed-down versions of the conventional grand design, but they’re far from simple.
The essential operation is the same: when keys are struck, hammers strike strings, producing sound.
If we compare the sound of an upright to that of a classic concert grand, the sound of an upright is less ‘rich,’ but it is more intimate.
The size disparity is the most important element here. Out of the three kinds, upright pianos have the shortest strings, resulting in a varied tonality. This isn’t always the case, and some baby grand pianos have shorter strings than certain taller upright ones.
The physics idea worth discussing here is inharmonicity, which occurs when a note’s overtones depart from the ‘proper’ harmonics. Longer strings (or, indeed, windpipes, if we’re talking about wind instruments) can help to lessen this.
As a result, upright pianos have a distinct sound that isn’t terrible in the least. Certain ballad songs sound better when played on an upright piano, and as most pubs and music cafés will attest, it has its attraction.
Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of the various acoustic piano kinds now that you’ve learned about them.
HYBRID PIANO TYPES
Before we wrap off this essay, I’d want to discuss hybrid pianos, which are hybrids that combine the technology of digital pianos with the best qualities of an acoustic piano.
Are you perplexed? This isn’t rare. The word ‘hybrid piano’ isn’t as well-known as ‘digital piano’ or ‘acoustic piano,’ and there are two types to pick from.
HYBRID DIGITAL PIANOS
On the other hand, digital hybrid pianos, which are technically merely high-end digital pianos, exist.
These hybrid pianos don’t have strings and produce music digitally.
Their bodies, on the other hand, are fashioned after acoustic bodies. They also use intricate speaker systems to replicate the sounds in a way that mimics the behavior of a real acoustic piano.
The Yamaha AvantGrand N3X, for example, resembles a baby grand piano. Because of how things are set up, you can get a similar effect simply by sliding the lid, which changes the sound in a considerably more hands-on, realistic way.
The larger size makes key action considerably more involved, often ripping acoustic motions straight from the genuine thing. While we previously stated that no digital piano could ever match the sound of an acoustic piano, these models certainly come close.
HYBRID ACOUSTIC PIANOS
Acoustic hybrid pianos look like acoustic uprights because they have actual strings strung out in an upright format (or even grands).
Because these pianos feature actual strings, they offer the perfect ‘acoustic’ tone, providing a rich, highly dynamic playing experience that feels fantastic.
The incorporation of a digital sound engine that can be turned on and off at will is the key difference. This mutes the strings (either by adjusting the hammer mechanism or muting the vibrations) and allows for a clean digital signal to be heard through headphones.
This eliminates the noise issue and allows you to practice without guilt at night when your neighbors are sleeping. Also available are features such as recording and app integration, making these hybrid pianos incredibly versatile.
Digital piano repairs are much rarer than normal maintenance.
Because digital music instruments are dependent on sound triggering from a chipset, there isn’t much that can go wrong.
Even in the worst-case situation, with a fast call to the company’s professionals, reasonable remedies are frequently available. This normally costs a fraction of what a problematic acoustic piano repair would cost.
If you’re a band keyboardist, you’ve probably chuckled at your guitarist’s string breaking in the middle of a rehearsal or your drummer’s ripped drumhead.
Fortunately for them, repairs are simple and can even be done by themselves. Professional assistance is required if a piano string breaks.
Pianos, like everything else mechanical, will experience wear and tear over time. The numerous moving parts will gradually deteriorate, obstructing your pleasure and necessitating outside assistance (which is not cheap).
This is certainly self-evident, but acoustic pianos simply cannot compete with digital features.
In the acoustic segment, we briefly discussed sound variation, which is pretty much a given that pianos only have one ‘pre-set sound’ to work with.
Here’s a quick rundown of the electrical characteristics that we can take for granted with digital pianos:
When it comes to practicing, the volume knob and headphone jack are invaluable. Having a silent mode is fantastic because it allows you to practice even late at night without waking your neighbors.
The sonic variety provided by a digital piano is further enhanced by an onboard effects section. Because of its location in a given environment, an acoustic piano sounds the way it does. Delays, reverbs, choruses, and a variety of other sound-shaping tools are available for digital pianos.
MIDI USB is a common feature that opens up a world of possibilities for music creation, learning, playing, and all in between. How? By allowing you to use a variety of MIDI-compatible programs on almost any platform (PC, Android, iOS, you name it!). MIDI may make your life easier whether you’re a beginner pianist, composer, sound producer, or performer.
Most intermediate and advanced models have output jacks, which make recording simple. Multiple microphones are required for real acoustic pianos, which are difficult to set up (and expensive in their own right). Digital pianos, on the other hand, merely require a pair of TRS cables, which cost less than $20 on Amazon.
When it comes to touring musicians, electronic elements are essentially required. Most session musicians market themselves as ‘keyboardists’ rather than ‘pianists.’
While excellent piano skills are required, you should also be able to play pads, synth leads, electric keys, symphonic parts, and so on.
It’s also necessary to know how to mix and change effects on the fly, something most acoustic pianos lack (unless you’re using one of the rare hybrid versions with built-in pickups).
Acoustic pianos lack the functionality to develop these skills, which could be a stumbling block if your ultimate objective is to be a flexible performer.
If adaptability is important to you, you’re probably looking for a workstation or a stage piano.
In general, digital pianos do not require maintenance (as long as they are well-cared for and in good working order).
My friend had a Yamaha CLP-series console digital piano, which he purchased used in 2012 and is still in good working order (7 years old at the time of writing). During this time, it has only required maintenance once.
What is the issue? The hammer action of one key was stiff due to tiny cracks in the mechanism. It wasn’t a major deal, and because it was covered by a guarantee, he was able to get it replaced for free.
It’s a trooper, despite everything it’s been through, and other keyboards I’ve bought over the years are still working fine.
Interesting fact! My father’s extremely old Yamaha PSR-36 keyboard, which he’s had for more than 20 years, still works perfectly. I don’t know what else to say about amazing durability if that isn’t a good indicator.
This is, in my opinion, the most significant disadvantage of owning an acoustic guitar.
The strings are the most important aspect to consider. Almost every acoustic instrument, including guitars, violins, oboes, and even drums, suffers from tuning drift.
The piano is distinguished from these instruments by its intricacy. Turning a knob is all it takes to tune a cello or guitar. Given the correct knowledge, even drums can be tuned in minutes (a must for jazz drummers).
Pianos aren’t that simple, and maintaining the correct pitch necessitates the services of a skilled tuner.
Because of the 2-3 strings per key and the tiny pitch changes that give the piano its rich sound, professional tuners and equipment are required.
If you’re a lucky (or unhappy, depending on how you look at things) person with perfect pitch, expect these timeframes to be considerably shorter.
If you’re searching for an acoustic piano, keep in mind that this expense adds up over time, so figure it into the original asking price, especially if you’re buying secondhand.
Digital pianos are far lighter than their acoustic counterparts, as we’ve already mentioned as a disadvantage of acoustic pianos.
However, the vast diversity of possibilities available here also favors digital pianos. We discussed how to stage pianos may save even more weight by removing unnecessary functionality, and one of the most exciting aspects of digital pianos is their ability to innovate. Companies are turning their attention to other prevalent complaints now that weight issues have been resolved.
Casio’s new small instruments (such as the PX-S1000 and PX-S3000, which we adored) have been engineered to be even more portable, with a slim profile and built-in speakers!
Personally, I adore being able to really embrace the digital side of things. As a sound source for gigs with my band, I utilize a MIDI keyboard connected to my laptop.
MIDI keyboards do not have the ability to make a sound on their own, but this also means that they are very light. This allows me to take my gigging setup with me everywhere I go.
When it comes to bands, you’ll rarely see anyone bringing an acoustic piano to a show. Either you’re utilizing a piano that’s already on-site, or you’re a Rockstar who performs in front of sold-out stadiums.
Digital pianos and keyboards are performers’ best buddies when they’re on the road. While I don’t consider 15+ kilograms (33 lbs) light, it’s a lot lighter than acoustic uprights and grand pianos, which can weigh hundreds of kilograms.
Acoustic pianos may not be the best option if portability is important to you.
While I admire several premium key actions, such as Roland’s excellent PHA-50 hybrid wooden action and Korg’s simple yet playable RH3 action, none of them match a well-kept acoustic.
Real pianos, on the other hand, have real hammer mechanisms that strike real metal strings. When all you have to deal with are plastic and wooden parts, this is extremely difficult to simulate.
There’s also the behavior of escapement, in which digital pianos react unpredictably when a key is repeatedly pressed but hasn’t returned to its resting position.
Because pianos are key-based instruments, the feel and touch of the keys are an important component of the experience.
The touch and feel of acoustic pianos are the most real since they always have intricate hammer mechanisms and strings, whereas digital pianos can only try to imitate this experience with sensors and hammer movements.
The majority of acoustic pianos have 88 keys, ranging from A to C. A full-sized keybed is required for classical works.
While the Yamaha P-121, Korg LP-380 73, and some stage pianos all have 88 keys (that’s how we identify digital pianos! ), there are some exceptions, such as the Yamaha P-121, Korg LP-380 73, and some stage pianos.
Touch sensitivity is the key asset here.
While digital pianos have gradually progressed away from detecting ‘just’ 127 different touch-sensitivity levels (as was the case with early MIDI implementations), nothing compares to the acoustic piano’s maximum dynamic range.
On a real acoustic piano, no two keypresses are exactly the same, and samples can’t replicate that ideal aural ‘imperfection.’
A stunning demonstration of how a grand piano’s key action works may be seen above.
What impact will your personal preferences have on your choice?
Type Of Music
The acoustic piano would be better for all the aspiring classical players out there. To begin with, the acoustic sound is more appropriate for classical music. Second, an acoustic piano’s touch sensitivity allows you to play more nuanced melodic expressions and dynamics, which are required in classical music.
The digital piano may be a better choice for people who want to dabble in Pop, Rock, or Funk. The digital piano’s supplementary capabilities, such as other instrument sounds and drum beats, can enhance your playing experience. The piano sound’s somewhat more “digital” color might also work nicely in these genres.
Level of expertise
For novices, especially autodidacts, a digital piano may be preferable. Connecting your digital piano to a computer opens up a world of possibilities for learning. By simply synchronizing your digital piano with the many different learning software available on your computer, you can use them. Some digital pianos even have to learn programs built-in.
Hours and place of practice
You should consider acquiring a digital piano if you practice late at night or at home where your family members are often busy working. Digital pianos have volume dials and headphone outputs, allowing you to practice in silence and be the only one who hears you.
Hybrid piano is a third alternative.
The hybrid piano is a novel addition to the piano family. It’s basically a hybrid of an acoustic and a digital piano. When triggered, it features the action mechanism of an acoustic piano but may emit digital sounds.
The hybrid piano appears to be the best of both worlds, combining the best aspects of both acoustic and digital pianos into one instrument.
You may play with a wonderful key motion while listening to the warm acoustic sound, or you can switch to the digital mode and appreciate its capabilities. The Yamaha NU1 Piano and the Kawai Anytime Piano are two examples of hybrid pianos.
However, the hybrid piano isn’t always the best option. One reason for this is that it is more expensive than an acoustic piano. Another source of contention is the sound quality. Even with its action mechanism and realistic tones, the hybrid piano can sound different due to the integration of all digital components. But it’s up to you to make that decision.
Conclusion Of Digital Vs Acoustic Piano
We analyzed the key differences between the acoustic and digital pianos in this post, explored how your own preferences and habits could influence your choice of piano and introduced a hybrid piano as an alternative. You’ve reached the point where you must make a decisive decision. It’s fine to ponder. But don’t allow this decision to keep you from continuing on your artistic path for too long.