Acoustic pianos are big, heavy, and expensive. They go out of tune, the volume can't be turned down, and the sound can't be changed. Despite your best efforts, you're probably not going to be able to squeeze your grandmothers baby grand into your dorm room.
This buying guide has been updated for 2018 - a few notable pianos have been added and a few have been removed. Enjoy!
Luckily for you, there's the digital piano. Sampled from the worlds best grand pianos, digital piano technology has come a long way.
When sitting down to sample the recent weighted key digital pianos, we're consistently blown away by the realistic sound quality and natural feel. The weighted keys, professional grade sound, and low cost make them the perfect alternative to the classic acoustic piano.
This article provides you everything you need to know to select the best digital piano.
Selecting the appropriate digital piano can be a daunting task. Whether you are an experienced pianist, or just beginning, there is a digital piano that you will surely love. We'll first outline a few features to consider when buying a digital piano. Then we'll provide you with a few of our recommendations at each price point.
Here's a summary table for anyone in a rush.
Everything You Need To Know About Buying A Digital Piano
There's a surprisingly large divide between imitation electronic keyboards and a respectable digital piano. If you are going to be working exclusively with a DAW (digital audio workstation), you'll want to stay focused on the smaller midi electronic keyboards. If instead, you want the beautiful, realistic sound of a digital piano, here's what to look for:
Why Buying Anything With Less Than 88 Keys Is A Mistake
The number of keys on a digital piano may not seem like that big of a deal, but take it from me, a lack of keys will only end with frustration. A lot of music is written for acoustic pianos with 88 keys. You don't want to find yourself two years down the road pulling your hair out as you try to play Mozart's Rondo alla Turca on a 61 key keyboard.
The number of keys is crucial if you want to play pieces that were written for acoustic pianos.
I highly recommend purchasing something with 88 keys. While a smaller number of keys will result in a smaller footprint, the limitations will outweigh the benefits. Only buy smaller keyboards if you completely understand the limitations and are happy with size reduction. If you are a beginner go with 88 keys - while you may not take advantage of the full range in your first year you will need the extra keys as you progress.
The exception is with young children. If your child is just beginning they won't need the full 88 keys. Going with a 61 key keyboard will be much more manageable.
Don't Be Fooled By Pianos Offering Huge Soundbanks
The sound of your digital piano will be determined by two factors: sample quality, and speaker quality. For those who are not familiar with sampling, the term sample refers to the audio recording that is used to create the piano sounds. Typically, an acoustic piano will be recorded in a studio and the sounds transferred digitally to the piano.
The quality of these records is one half of equation when it comes to sound quality. The higher-end digital pianos will typically use samples from famous grand pianos. The attack and sustain will be meticulously crafted in order to accurately simulate actual acoustic pianos.
It's common for digital pianos to offer hundreds of digital samples of all kinds. Don't be fooled. I recommend finding a piano that focuses the memory capacity on a high-quality set of piano samples rather than hundreds of obscure instruments you will never use. Higher priced pianos will have a larger memory bank that allow for high-resolution samples to be used. I personally never use more than three different sounds on my digital piano.
Focus on find a piano that has high-resolution acoustic piano samples. These should be directly sampled from high-end acoustic pianos.
The other half of the equation is the speakers. Manufactures typically won't provide a lot of information regarding the internal speaker setup of digital pianos. Therefore, it can be difficult to really compare different models on speaker quality alone. Unsurprisingly, speaker quality will be directly correlated to the price of the piano.
If you are unhappy with speaker sound quality you can always use external speakers. However, this will require additional planning and audio equipment.
Why You Need To Pay Attention To Your Outputs
The piano outputs are going to be determined by a case by case basis. Does the piano have the option for headphones? Is there midi output for your computer? Does it have AUX out for audio recording? These are all questions that you may not consider initially, but are all good features if you are looking to branch out into other avenues.
If you foresee yourself recording your piano you'll want to know what output options you have. Typically, digital pianos will have an AUX out either in the form of a 3.5 mm AUX cable, or 1/4'' stereo phono cables. Depending on your piano you may need an audio interface to connect to your computer. Alternatively, you can purchase a condenser microphone.
A condenser mic will provide a natural warmth to your recording. However, keep in mind that the room can potentially have adverse effects when recording with a microphone. Reflections within the room can muddy your recording and result in an unnatural reverb. If you want a professional recording I'd recommend recording into an audio interface or use a condenser mic in an acoustically treated room.
You may also come across digital pianos that output midi. Midi will not carry any audio information from the digital piano itself. Rather, it will only send midi information that can be used to control VST plugins on your computer. Unless you have top-of-the-line VST plugins this usually results in a decrease in sound quality.
The benefit of recording in midi is you have much more flexibility in terms of editing the recording. You can drag and drop the notes to change them whenever you wish. You can also play with the note length, pitch, velocity, and a number of other factors. This is a great way to record music in general but the quality of sound you get from VST isn't always the greatest.
If it sounds like midi is the right choice for you I'd recommend purchasing a midi keyboard - far less expensive and usually much smaller!
Another option is to use a keyboard amplifier. This option is for those who are going to be jamming with friends or want to play for a small crowd. Here's an article outlining my favorite picks for keyboard amplifiers.
Polyphony - The Biggest Thing Beginner Pianists Miss
The term polyphony refers to the number of individual notes the instrument can produce at one time. For illustration purposes, if you have a piano with a polyphony of 2 you would be limited to sustaining two notes at once. If you were to hold down the two notes while trying to press a third no sound would be produced.
If possible, a polyphony of 128 is the ideal amount, although 64 would be acceptable for beginner to intermediate players. Polyphony becomes especially important when using the piano with a lot of sustain. Advanced pianist will require higher polyphony to play sustained runs up and down the piano. The good news is most digital pianos will offer a polyphony of 128.
Untangling The Different Styles Of Touch Response
Touch response will determine the dynamics and expression of the piano. Digital pianos typically fall into one of five camps: no touch response, touch sensitive, semi-weighted, weighted and hammer action.
Both touch sensitive and weighted options will have a dependency on strike velocity - the measure of force you strike the key with. In other words, the loudness, attack, and expression of the note can be controlled by how hard you hit the key. The touch response of digital keyboard is meant to simulate the hammer striking the strings in an acoustic piano.
In acoustic pianos pressing the key softly will result in the hammer will striking the string in a quiet manner. Press firmly and the hammer will strike the string more aggressively, resulting in a loud, forceful sound.
- No touch response
The least expensive option. You will usually find this type of touch response on cheap keyboards. The key is weighted using a spring and is not sensitive to how hard you press. I wouldn't recommend this style of keys for a digital piano. A lot of the expression of your playing will come from subtle changes in your velocity. There is no sense in limiting yourself right from the start.
The exception here is for children. Young kids don't yet have the hand strength required to use fully weighted keys. They also won't need the extra feature of touch sensitivity.
- Touch Sensitive
Usually found in less expensive keyboards, the keys will have no weighting yet will have touch sensitivity. You will be able to control the velocity of the note as in weighted keys but the keys will feel nothing like an acoustic piano. This style of touch response is usually found in mid-range midi keyboards. It's designed for those who aren't looking for the acoustic piano feel but still want to control the expression of their playing.
Semi-weighted keys are the middle ground between weighted keys and spring-loaded keys. It combines the spring-loaded mechanism with the addition of light weights attached to the keys. This provides a light to moderate resistance when pressed, and a measure of rebound control once the key is released.
Has a similar feel to acoustic pianos. Each key will be fully weighted with a similar response as acoustic pianos. This is a great option for beginner and intermediate players.
- Hammer Action
Similar to weighted keys but more refined. Hammer action keys are designed to replicate the non-linear feeling of acoustic piano keys due to the weight of the hammers. This usually results in the lower end of the keyboard requiring more force compared to the higher frequencies. Different companies will have slightly different hammer action calibrations base upon different models of pianos. I recommend any experienced player look for hammer action keys as these will offer the closest experience to actual acoustic pianos.
Other Features To Look Out For
Anyone who has had someone learning piano in the house can attest to how annoying the first few years can be. It can be very distracting to hear someone stumbling through the repetitions required to advance their learning. This is where digital pianos save the day. By either turning the volume down or plugging in a set a headphones, you can practice for as long as you want without disturbing those around you.
Most digital pianos will come with a headphone jack, but if this is a primary concern it's always a good idea to double check.
Again, another area where digital pianos outshine their acoustic counterparts. There are a number of digital pianos that have built-in learning capabilities. Whether this comes in the form of an external app, or on the digital piano console itself, the ability for beginners to blow through the learning curve with guided lessons is another big draw for going digital.
If this is something you are interested in, I recommend checking out The One Smart Piano. It uses an external app connected to your tablet to guide you through lessons. It also uses LED lights on the keys for additional guidance. Lots of good reviews from beginners with this one! Keep in mind that the app works best with a tablet computer.
You'll want to pick up a sustain pedal if your piano does not come with one. This is a must-have for every level of player. For intermediate and advanced players you'll want to start looking at the soft and the sostenuto pedals. Some of the more advanced pianos will have this option, but most you will have to buy an external pedal set.
There are a number of complete piano packages available. These will include a stand, headphones, and a stool. It's usually cheaper to buy these in one package so keep an eye out. It will also ensure complete compatibility with all your accessories.
What are you looking to get out of your piano? Are you looking for a portable keyboard you can drag along to jam sessions? Are you looking for something small to fit in a dorm room? Or are you looking for a piece of furniture? Each style of piano will have its strengths and weaknesses. There are plenty of options to choose from so keep the end goal in mind.
If you are looking for something to use onstage you'll want something without built-in speakers. You can check out our picks of the top stage pianos here. If you need something that is both portable and used in the home there are hybrid models. However, if you want something more permanent that has a finished look go for a piano/stand combination.
The video below does a great job in summarizing what we've talked about below. Have a watch if you prefer to digest your information in video form.
Digital Pianos Under $200 - Great For Beginners
The RockJam keyboard is the ideal digital piano for beginner piano players. If you are unsure if you really want to commit to learning piano, or are unsure if your child will enjoy it, the RockJam is a safe bet. There are very few digital pianos that offer the entire package at such a reasonable price.
While you won't be getting the same sound quality as intermediate pianos, beginner piano players likely won't notice. The beginner piano player will have 100 sounds to choose from alongside 100 rhythm tracks. The RockJam also provides 50 demo songs to play along with - great for when you're lacking inspiration.
The LCD screen will give you the correct chords to be playing and the note of the key when you press it down. Helpful for anyone just learning music theory. You'll also have access to 50 free songs on the Maestro iPad app. Keep in mind that this only works with an iPad.
Perfect option for young kids or beginners on a budget.
It comes complete with everything you'll need to start playing. This includes a stand, stool and a set of headphones. Keep in mind that you are slightly limited when it comes to options for recording to your computer. If this is your end goal you'll want to check out a few of the other options below.
This option is ideal for children. The size is manageable, and the sound bank will give them lots of options to choose from. You'll also benefit from the included headphones - take it from me, kids learning the piano can wear down your nerves overtime!
Bottom Line: Perfect for children and those who aren't yet fully committed to learning the piano.
2. Casio Inc. CTK2400 PPK 61-Key
Another great option for children and beginners. You'll be getting a few more sounds to play with compared to the RockJam. You'll also be able to record your own samples which can be great for creativity if you know how to use it. I don't really see this feature being too popular with new musicians, nevertheless, a cool idea.
If you don't know what it is - a sampler is pretty much a built-in microphone you can use to record sounds around and store/play them on the keyboard.
Note that you won't be getting a stool with the Casio. You also won't be getting any free credits to the Maestro app. The Casio does include the Step-Up learning system that teaches you which notes to play for each song provided.
Similar to the RockJam - great for children and beginners. Get this one if you want more sounds with a built-in sampler.
Like the RockJam, you won't be getting any touch sensitivity, nor will you have much in terms of polyphony. As I mentioned before, this isn't that big of a deal for children or beginners. It's the more advanced players that will need higher polyphony and touch sensitivity for expression.
Non-weighted keys will be much easier for children or those without much hand strength. The 61-key size is also perfect for kids, as they won't have the arm span to fully take advantage of the 88-key pianos.
Bottom Line: Perfect for kids and beginners.
Digital Pianos Under $1000 For Intermediate Players
You can check out a few more of our favorite picks if you are looking for a piano in the under $1000 price range here.
3. Alesis Recital 88-Key Beginner Digital Piano
The best budget friendly option for those looking for a full 88-key, semi-weight, 128 polyphony piano. The Alesis recital cannot be beaten. It's a fantastic price for what you're getting. If you still consider yourself a beginner and want an actual digital piano that resembles acoustic pianos this is your best choice.
The touch response is adjustable and the keys are semi-weighted. Great for those who aren't already accustomed to acoustic piano keys. The key sensitivity can be adjusted to one of three settings: low, medium, high.
The 20-watt speakers are great for practicing. They'll be able to play loud enough to accompany other acoustic instruments. However, you'll want an amp if you are accompanying anything that is plugged in.
You only get 5 voices to choose from. While some of you may think this is a downside, I believe it actually leaves plenty of memory on the inboard electronics to fit in high-resolution samples. This results in a fantastic sound quality that sounds very realistic. You also are provided a chorus and reverb setting - a nice touch that will make your sound even richer.
Best value for dollar on the market!
The connections provide you with all the options you could ask for. You can play solo, you can record on your computer, and you can even bring the piano onstage if you wish. All the connections are there.
It's also a great tool for teaching students. You can split the keyboard in half with the same pitch and voice. The teacher can then play the notes on one half while the student uses the other. The recital is also compatible with Skroove - an online teaching resource for piano. Skroove listens to your playing and gives you real-time feedback. The recital also comes with a 3-month membership to Skroove Premium.
Note the Alesis Recital does not include a sustain pedal. It does include a power adaptor. Although, you still can use D batteries if you need to play somewhere without power.
Bottom Line: The best value for dollar on the market. The best digital piano for beginners who want all the bells and whistles of an intermediate to advanced piano without paying the high price.
Alesis Recital 88-Key Beginner Digital Piano with Full-Size Semi-Weighted Keys and Power Supply
- Exclusive to Amazon - The ultimate beginners digital piano loaded with 5 expertly crafted voices (Acoustic Piano, Electric Piano, Organ, Synth, and Bass) and powerful educational features that guarantee to have you playing professional keys fast!
- Universal Responsive Feel - 88 premium full-sized semi-weighted keys with adjustable touch response to suit your preferred playing style
Moving into the intermediate digital pianos with the first offering from Yamaha's P line. The P71 is the most budget friendly option of the bunch, yet still packs a heavy punch. You may be familiar with the P45 - they are exactly the same. The only difference is the P71 is less expensive due to the Amazon exclusive.
One of the main attractions in the P line is the digital sample quality. Yamaha has sampled some of its premium grand pianos and used their Advanced Wave Memory sampling technology to provide you with high-definition digital samples.
This is the first piano on the list appropriate for pianists who are used to acoustic pianos. The keys are hammer action weighted with heavier keys on the low-end to simulate actual acoustic pianos. The key weight is somewhere between a regular Yamaha acoustic and Steinway.
My only complaint with this digital piano is the lack of polyphony and output options.
While a polyphony of 64 is not the end of the world it can be limiting for some advanced players. The limited number of outputs also restricts the versatility of the piano. It will be difficult to transfer this one to playing onstage without a single 3.5mm AUX out. However, Yamaha has specifically stated this piano is designed for home use only.
It comes with 10 different voicings - with the ability to use dual voicing to mix and match different tones.
Best for intermediate players on a budget
You can use the USB connection to connect to any external computer to interface with instructional material applications on a desktop computer.
Bottom Line: The best intermediate digital piano. It's the least expensive offering from Yamaha's P series and won't disappoint.
The P115 piano is one of Yamaha's most popular digital pianos. It's the perfect piano for intermediate to advanced players. It offers 192 polyphony - great for longer sustained piano runs. It will sustain notes even when dual, split, and drum patterns are playing. Additionally, it comes with Yamaha's intelligent acoustic control function adjusts the tones for each volume setting.
The P115 takes advantage of Yamaha's Pure CF sound engine. The famous CFIIIS 9' concert grand piano and is faithfully reproduced and packed into the small package of a digital piano.
If you are looking for a piano to teach piano lessons on this is a great option. The split mode allows you to split the keyboard in half while still maintaining the equivalent tones for each set of keys. This leaves room for two students on one keyboard. Ideal for schools teaching group sessions.
Similar to the other premium offering from Yamaha, the P115 uses the Grade Hammer Standard. This is Yamaha's in-house hammer action solution. The keys on the lower register are weighted heavier than the higher frequencies to simulate actual acoustic pianos.
The little details are all here with this piano. The matte black finish on the black keys prevents them from becoming slippery during long practice sessions.
The most popular digital piano on the market.
The speaker tweeter has been moved on the new model to directly face the player. This improves the overall playing experience as the treble and melody lines become brighter.
There are a few bundle options for different needs. Advanced players should stick to the Advanced Bundle which includes all three pedal options.
Finally, there is a new app that has been developed specially for this digital piano.
Bottom Line: This piano is everything a digital piano should be with a reasonable price tag. If we only had one digital piano recommendation, this would be it.
One step up from the P115, the Yamaha DGX-660 packs a ton of features into a small package. While the audio specs are very similar to the P115, you are getting a much bigger inboard computer. This allows for numerous sound and recording options to be available. For starters, the built-in USB audio recorder allows you to record and store all your performances onto a USB device.
You will also have more flexibility when it comes to the actual piano sound itself. You are able to pick from a number of different piano room environments as well as lid configurations. You can choose from a total of 151 voices with a number of high-quality featured samples. There are also over 100 different effects to choose from as well as numerous drum lines and rhythms.
You also have the option to choose from 4 different touch response settings. Additionally, you can connect an external microphone to the piano to sing along while you play. Your voice will be routed and combined into the external speakers of the piano.
You'll also be able to access other features such as style selector and smart chord. While not essential for experienced players, they can be useful for beginners.
A high-quality digital piano packed full of all the bells and whistles.
Similar to the other package options, you'll have everything you need to get started. Considering you won't be needing an upgrade anytime soon, this piano starts to look pretty attractive to anyone who likes a ton of features in their piano.
Bottom Line: A great option for those who like all the bells and whistles.
Digital Pianos Over $1000 For Expert Players
The premium digital piano made for beginners Are you a beginner and looking to spend a little more to shorten the learning curve? The One Smart Piano will help take the frustration out of learning. Attach your tablet and interface with the custom app to get LED guided walkthroughs of 2000+ songs. Use the provided app to accelerate your learning. There are over 100 free lessons guided through the LEDs on the piano.
The application provides thousands of sheet music to learn from covering every genre.
It's important to understand much of the utility of this piano comes from the iPad application. Without an apple tablet you'll be unable to access many of the features, therefore removing any reason to buy this piano over any of the previously listed Yamaha's.
If you like the idea of guided lessons and songs using the LED lights and have the means I recommend checking this one out.
A premium option for those willing to pay extra to learn piano fast.
The actual piano features are passable. While not up to par with the Yamaha's, the features won't disappoint beginner to intermediate players. Nothing really bad to say here.
Bottom Line: If you are having trouble or are nervous about learning the piano, this is a great option! There is nothing else like it on the market. Want to learn fast and are willing to pay extra for it? This is for you.
While not for everyone, if you'd like your own professional digital stage piano this is a fantastic option. Kurzweil has been known as one of the industry leaders when it comes to high-definition sampling. Their samples will be second to none. Unfortunately, you're going to have to pay the price to get this kind of perfection.
You'll still get all the features you'd expect in professional digital piano. 88-key, hammer action, with 128 polyphony. Instead of just high-quality piano samples you'll get the entire orchestra. There are also every kind of effects you'd need to satisfy your creativity. Additionally, there are plenty of sliders and other physical controls you can use at your disposal.
While the price may be high, you can't expect this level of perfection to come cheap. You should also be aware that this piano doesn't come with built-in speakers. These pianos are designed to be used onstage and therefore have connections that will connect directly to the audio equipment onstage.
A premium stage option for those looking for the best.
I can't really find anything bad to say about this piano. It's not beginner friendly, so you should know what you're looking for if you pull the trigger on this piano.
Bottom Line: A fantastic stage option for those who are looking for top quality.