Acoustic or Digital Piano – Which one is the best?

A common dilemma most people, who are willing to invest serious time and effort face, is which piano to buy, an acoustic or a digital one. Though the choice might be strongly governed by your budget, it is better to take an informed decision as technological advances have caused an explosion of pianos of different capabilities and features to be available in the market. 

This article gives a detailed description of both pianos, their features and uses and then compares the advantages and disadvantages between the two in various scenarios.

Should You Choose Digital Pianos?

The main benefits of a digital piano are the fact that it is portable and versatile as well as much cheaper compared to the equivalent acoustic piano.

The digital piano might contain 49, 61, 79 or the complete 88 keys, depending on the model. The slightly professional and high end models weight around 12-25 kilos and contain amazing features.

Yamaha DGX-660

Below is a brief description of the features a digital piano in the range of 300 USD to 10,000 USD and can contain:

  • GHS: Graded Hammer Standard. This electronic feature replicates the sound and feel of a grand piano. The keys feel heavy when played upon, as the weighted key concept in the acoustic grand piano is mimicked here as well. The weight is heaviest on the left-most keys and lightest on the rightmost keys (as it is in the tradition acoustic piano).
  • Grading: The keyboard in the digital piano is touch sensitive, which means the timbre changes depending on how hard or soft you press the keys while playing, reproducing the rich range of an original acoustic grand piano. This feature can be tuned to suit your style. There are four options for tuning: fixed, soft, medium, and hard. This tuning does not exist in the acoustic piano and makes the digital version more versatile.
  • Sounds: The digital pianos can support a wide variety of sounds depending on the settings available for that model. Examples are grand piano, electric piano, harpsicord, vibraphone, pipeorgans etc. These sounds can also be tuned to suit the needs of the pianist.
  • Reverberation Effect: Settings like - Room, Hall, and Stage can control the revert affect and can change the way the sound resonates in a digital piano.
  • Polyphony: The number of notes a piano can create at the same time is called polyphony. Digital pianos can be equipped upto 256 note polyphony. This feature is unique to digital pianos.
    Modes: Digital pianos can be set in various modes. Dual mode creates more than one sound when a note is played, the split mode separates the keyboard into sections playing different instruments so that you get a multi instrument vibe. Duo mode divides the piano into two identical halves, enabling two players to play simultaneously.
  • Playback and Recording: Some high end digital pianos have an option to record the music you produce in MIDI format and an option to play it back. This option can prove invaluable to budding musicians.
  • Other Miscellaneous features: you can tune the digital piano digitally and they can also have the transpose, the sound boost and the metronome features.

Besides the above points, the aesthetics of the digital piano can appeal to the minimalist lover, as the design is usually classy with a matte finish and can fit very elegantly into a room.

Pros

  • Portable
  • Lightweight
  • Relatively cheaper
  • Lots of extra features
  • Lots of synthesized sounds and great speakers

Cons

  • Higher end models might be an overkill, feature wise.
  • Sound quality depends on the engine used and the manufacturer. Careful review is required before buying.
  • Due to the above, relearning is required while switching between pianos

Nowadays, brands like Yamaha, Casio etc. are coming up with digital models with the design of a grand piano so that, the look and feel would be that of a grand piano and the touch and music would be digital. This happy marriage can also be considered as an alternative to buy. The Yamaha Arius series is an example of this type of hybrid, “TransAcoustic” pianos.

Should You Choose Acoustic Pianos?

The form and design of an acoustic piano has been perfected in the mid-19th century. They are intricate and complicated instruments whose design has been one of the major accomplishments of humankind.

They have 88 keys and 230 strings that are struck by tiny felt covered hammers, so that they are excited when the key is pressed, causing resonance and sound across the piano’s wooden soundboard.
There are different categories of acoustic pianos as well.

The console, spinet, upright and studio are all examples of pianos that contain the strings vertically Grand pianos contain the soundboard and the strings horizontally and can range from a 4.5 feet to an impressive 9 feet length, depending on the type of grand piano.

Acoustic pianos as also usually very heavy, and can weight upto 350kgs. Owning an acoustic piano is actually a serious commitment as it is heavy, large, and difficult to maintain. As you might have inferred by now, it is not portable.

The acoustic piano can come in a variety of ranges, some as cheap as 200 USD, but these pianos do not tune well, do not have a guarantee on the sound quality and consistency and have a much smaller life than a costlier one.

Also, even high end acoustic pianos require regular maintenance and care. Atleast yearly. Also moisture and damp air can affect the tuning of the piano seriously and hence, the atmosphere around the piano much be strictly controlled. A standard high end acoustic piano can cost upto 100,000 USD.

Pros

  • Great Aura, look and feel
  • Sound quality is standardized and intricate
  • Used by all great musicians. 

Cons

  • Acoustic Pianos will be expensive.
  • Acoustic Pianos will be really heavy and you cannot move it around.
  • Requires frequent maintenance.

Though heavy, costly, and difficult to maintain, the aesthetic value a concert piano adds to the room is not comparable to the digital one. It is simply beautiful, a marvel to look and feel and a feast to the eyes and soul, if played by a practiced hand.

Also, for study of classical music or a serious live performance, most people still prefer an acoustic piano to a digital one, though many modern day performers do use the digital piano too.

Conclusion

To conclude, producing wonderful music largely depends on the creator and then on his tool. But as tools go, the piano market is flooded with all sorts of different features and offerings and depending on what the pianist wants, one must do careful research and review before deciding on an instrument.

To create value and produce wonderful music is the endgame and there are a plethora of pianos available to enable you to do so.

There are also several brand names like Yamaha, Roland, Korg, Casio, Nord etc. to choose from so it is an tough task to make a wise decision. 

About the Author Wendell A Wiese

I'm the lead researcher and content manager at PianoNadu. I test various different digital pianos and share our unbiased reviews here. We test them on various different aspects and make sure it passes our quality criteria. During my college years, I was a part of my college band known as DMT. I was the Pianist in our band. My love for playing the piano grew during middle school. Read more about me here

Leave a Comment: