digital pianos

Guide to Digital Pianos

Digital pianos have become as ubiquitous at home and on stage as their predecessor, the acoustic piano.

The piano is a wonderful instrument. It’s invention around the year 1700 revolutionized the way music is played and created. Since then the instrument has seen many changes — from player pianos, to synthesizers, to “stage pianos” and, in the last 25 years or so, digital pianos.

You might say the digital piano came along at the right time. It’s a product of the age of convenience as it combines portability and versatility at an affordable price. For example, a digital piano might weigh 1/20th of an acoustic piano. It could have tens (if not hundreds) more sounds in its sound library to work with. Digital pianos are superb for appartements, dorm rooms, and home studios as well.

Digital pianos have evolved significantly since their arrival. Sound quality, as well as touch and feel have made great advances. With this comes a very diverse selection of instruments to choose from, with a very diverse price range as well.

Here are some key points to consider when buying your digital piano.

NUMBER of KEYS

One of the first things you’ll want to consider is the number of keys you’ll need. A traditional “full” piano keyboard has 88 keys. Thus, you can buy an 88-key digital piano. However 76-key and 61-key models are available as well. It’s nice to think you’ll have the “full-range” with 88-keys, so look at that option first. If you’re playing a lot of classical music, it’ll be essential. With the 76-key and 61-key options, you may find yourself a bit limited.

These models exist for a reason however! If you’re using your digital piano as an interface for your digital audio workstation (DAW), you’ll more than likely find it a good fit. Because they’re smaller, they’re also more portable, which is an asset for the gigging musician amongst us as well!

SOUND OUTPUT

Your digital piano must be heard! Quite simply, you’ll have two main options here.

The first option is having a built-in speaker. It’s essential for those who want to use the digital piano around the home. The speakers could be facing you, or facing the audience. Decide which configuration you think you’ll need.

The second option is using an output to feed your sound through an amplifier or P.A. sound system. If you’re thinking of using your keyboard as part of a DAW setup, then the speaker-less option may be viable. The output could be heard via a headphone jack, but ideally should be via 1/4-inch stereo outputs if the piano has them. Either choice is good however. Plus, the headphone output will be useful for your headphones during those times when you just have to play, but do not want to disturb those around you.

NUMBER of SOUNDS … QUALITY of SOUNDS!

This is a tricky subject. Some of us love having many sounds at our fingertips. The simple truth however, is that you’ll probably not use most of them. Whether the piano has 400 sounds or 40 sounds, try to focus on the quality of the sounds you’ll use the most. Start with Piano, E. Piano, and then Organ. If you like these, you’ll be able to live with the rest. Depending on the manufacturer and model, the quality of sounds varies from one unit to the next.

TOUCH RESPONSE

One of the most important features of your digital piano is it’s touch response. It’s a critical detail, and it’s often overlooked as well as we fall under the charms of many flashing lights and hundreds of sounds choices. The best way for you to judge is how you feel when you play the instrument. However, the selling price may also be an indicator of how advanced the touch of the instrument is. Usually, the more expensive ones have a touch response that reflects that of an acoustic piano. You can read more in-depth on the subject of touch response by clicking here.

POLYPHONY

Here’s a word that can cause confusion for us piano buyers: Polyphony. We can sometimes ignore things we don’t understand, but polyphony is a word not to be ignored! In a nutshell, polyphony is this: the ability to produce sound from more than one note at once. If you play two notes on the piano at the same time, and you can hear them both, then you are working with some sort of polyphony. If you hear only one note, no polyphony.

The good news is that technology makes 32-note polyphony a fairly standard feature on most models (although you should always check!). You’ll more than likely want 128-note polyphony however. This would give you the full range of the instrument, as well as good quality sound when using tools such as a sustain pedal.

A COMPARISON

Here’s an example of the things I’ve mentioned. By doing a search for Digital Pianos on the BestBuy.ca website, I’ve come up with these two models of digital pianos to compare.

I’ll start with a straight-up comparison of the specs on each for each of the categories I’ve mentioned above.

Example 1: Casio 88-key Digital Keyboard (CDP130CSBB)

Casio CDP130CSBB
The Casio CDP130CSBB

MODEL

Number of Keys

Number of Sounds

Touch Response

Polyphony

Speakers

Casio 88-Key Digital Keyboard (CDP130CSBB)

88

10 built-in sounds

3 levels of sensitivity

Max. 48

Built-in

 

Example 2: Yamaha 88-Key Digital Piano (DGX660)

Yamaha DGX660
The Yamaha DGX660

MODEL

Number of Keys

Number of Sounds

Touch Response

Polyphony

Speakers

Yamaha 88-Key Digital Piano (DGX660)

88

554

Graded- Hammer

192

Built-In

 

We see here that there are similarities and differences between the two. The similarities are fairly clear — both have 88 keys, both have touch sensitivity, both have built-in speakers. The differences are in the sounds mainly. That is to say the Number of Sounds and Polyphony categories. Here we find a large difference between each example. However, we also find a measurable difference in cost as well.

The main takeaway here is that you usually get more value for more money. However, you may not need to spend a lot to get a digital piano that will serve you very well!

Other Ideas

There are many other features you might want to consider when buying your digital piano. You can also take a look at this article I wrote. It goes into some of the other details you might want to think about. You’ll want to eventually buy some accessories for your setup as well, and reading this might help you decide what you need.

Now that you have some points to ponder, what kind of digital piano do you think you’ll buy? You can start making your choice at the BestBuy.ca website, where they have an excellent selection. Take notes, and compare models!

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For over 20 years, Montreal bassist Clinton Ryder has been on the Canadian music scene. With over 20 album credits, he works with musicians of all genres and generations. In recent years, he’s performed with Jim Byrnes and Petru Guelfucci, and a member of the Félix Stussi’s 5 (featuring trombonist Ray Anderson). He continues to freelance on his instrument of choice while honing his skills in Logic Pro, Sibelius and other interests, including his website www.country-music-hoedown.com.

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