Just like any other purchase decision, research is crucial! The digital piano industry can be confusing and overwhelming. There are so many brands and models, each has its own features and specs. To help you with that, I list my best pick of digital pianos in 2021 and share with you my knowledge of the industry. Are you looking for your very first piano to start learning this amazing instrument? Or maybe you are looking to upgrade your current keyboard because your skill has out-grown it. Are you a student or a pianist looking for a secondary piano to practice at home? Or are you in a band and need a good piano to perform from place to place? Maybe you just really want a concert grand but don’t have the budget nor the space to accommodate it. Whatever your reasons are, if you are looking for the best digital pianos for your need in 2021, you have landed on the right place.
Along the years, the digital piano industry has come a long way. Newer and better technologies are being pushed out every year by major manufactures. There are quite some amazing choices in 2021 to meet your different needs.
- The good news of the industry expanding is that digital pianos now a days have very realistic key actions and natural sound. In many ways, they are superior to your traditional upright acoustic piano. I do firmly believe that it will come a day when digital pianos replace acoustic ones for home use.
- The bad news however is that there are so many models from so many brands and various different technology terms. It can be a taunting task to compare and find the right digital piano for you.
To help find the perfect digital piano for you, here are some buyer’s guide to consider:
Whether you have no experience and want to benefit from learning piano, or you are a performing pianist, your skill level is one of the key factors to determine which digital piano is right for you.
Portability is another major factor. If you are in a band performing from venue to venue, you simply can not use a console style digital piano.
Last but definitely not the least is your budget. Due to the heavy competition in the industry, I’m happy to report that most digital pianos on the market are properly priced. However, there are many bells and whistles that you might not want to be paying for. This is why checking reviews before you purchase is so important.
WHAT WE’LL BE LOOKING AT HERE
Before we get to my list of best digital pianos in 2021, I want to first set some criteria so that you understand what we are looking at here.
Piano play is the main purpose here when I compile this list. Other instrument voices would be a nice addition but they are not my main focus.
All the models I list here are equipped with 88 keys. That to me is simply a must if you want to learn and practice piano.
The keys must be weighted with hammer, graded and are touch sensitive.
They need to be weighted because the keys on acoustic pianos are. And you need that weight to express emotion during your play. The weight need to be created with actual hammers instead of springs. This is the best way to ensure a realistic key action.
To get on this list, the keys also need to be graded. This means the weight on each key is different. It is to reproduce the key action on an acoustic piano. The weight is heaviest on the bass and gets lighter towards the treble. You need this to be able to easily switch to an acoustic piano after practicing on your digital piano.
Just like an acoustic piano, the keys on a digital piano need to be touch sensitive. The volume of the sound produced is controlled by the strength and speed of the key press. This is another necessity for a proper piano play experience.
The models on this best digital pianos 2021 list are judged based on key action, piano sound quality, relevant features and price.
DIGITAL vs. ACOUSTIC PIANO
If you are new to the digital piano world, one of the first thing you would ask yourself is whether you should get a digital piano or would you be better off purchasing an acoustic piano. Here I want to help you with some of their pros and cons so that you can look at your need and limitations to choose the right one.
The sound of an acoustic piano is produced by the hammer hitting the string. The string then vibrates and creating a sound wave that not only moves directly toward the players ears but also projects at all directions and bounces off components inside and outside of the instrument. The sound is immersive and full of subtle nuances. The drawback however is that sound quality varies largely from cheaper upright models to expensive concert grand ones.
Digital piano on the other hand uses various technologies to re-produce the sound of an acoustic piano and then delivers that sound with its speaker system. It usually contains less nuances due to the limitation of the electronics on board. Dynamic range is another disadvantage of digital piano sound and that could limit the control and expressiveness of your performance. However, with most digital pianos, you usually get samples from the world’s best acoustic concert grand. This makes many digital pianos sound better than a cheap acoustic upright. Another benefit of digital pianos is that they usually let you easily tweak and fine tune the sound characteristics to your liking. To do that on an acoustic piano, you will need to hire a professional technician.
Digital pianos over the years have much improved their key actions but still could not quite meet the level of control and expressiveness from an acoustic piano. However, quite a few premium models and hybrid models come really close and many can not tell the difference. Generally speaking, acoustic pianos still have the better key actions. However, bear in mind that acoustic upright and grand pianos have very different key mechanism. And since most digital pianos are mimicking actions from grand piano, you might prefer a digital piano to an acoustic upright.
If you go for an acoustic piano, you will need to be mindful to the maintenance needed own the road. The exterior, soundboard, wooden components, felt on the hammer and the steel strings are all parts that would be subject to age, humidity and temperature. As a result, you not only need to keep your instrument under ideal environment, but also need to tune the piano couple times a year. These could mount to be exhausting and expensive. Meanwhile, a digital piano is mostly care free.
Digital pianos provide many valuable features that are simply not possible on acoustic pianos. Many would choose a digital piano over an acoustic one for this reason alone.
- Portability: While acoustic pianos are heavy and bulky, digital ones come with all sizes and weights. You can find ones that you can carry with one arm and are ideal for gigs. There are other digital pianos that are so slim they can be fit in a hallway. Furthermore, if you live in an apartment upstairs, you can easily move your digital piano through the stairs or elevator. While with an acoustic one, you will need some professional help.
- Headphone: Digital pianos allow you to practice and play using headphones. This is to many the biggest advantage of a digital instrument. It can save a lot headaches and embarrassment for your neighbors and family members when you just want to smash some keys in the middle of the night.
- More Instruments: Almost all digital pianos come with multiple piano sounds as well as some other instrument voices. You can choose the sound best suited for the piece you are working on and even layer it with a secondary instrument. It is a lot of fun playing with all the different sounds and fuel you with creative ideas.
- Recording and Connectivity: Most digital pianos on the market right now allow you to record your performance so that you can play it back and fine tune your technique or expression. Many also give you the capability to mix multiple tracks so that you can really compose your own piece. Furthermore, all of them have ports or Bluetooth to connect with your computer and you can do your magic with software.
Price & Accommodation
Digital pianos are almost always cheaper than their acoustic counterparts. The difference in price is very significant and that would most likely be a major factor for your consideration. Accommodation is another strong point to go for a digital piano. We all love a 9 foot acoustic concert grand. But you better buy a huge house first.
DIGITAL PIANO TERMINOLOGY
While researching on the best digital piano for you, it is inevitable to encounter numerous terminologies. These can be overwhelming and it’s a taunting task to figure what each of them means. To add to the confusion, each manufacture tends to use their own term and you end up with several different names for the same thing. To set things straight for you, I list some of the most important terminologies and explain what they are.
- Key Action
- Sensors: Instead of strings, a digital piano uses sensors to measure the timing and volume of the sound it should produce. It starts with two sensors. When the key/hammer moves from one sensor to the other, they measure the time difference thus to understand the speed of the movement. This gives you control of volume by how hard you press the keys, much like an acoustic piano. A triple sensor system is later introduced to provide fast repetition possibility. Instead of return the key/hammer to the first sensor, you can now return it to the much closer middle sensor. On some high end hybrid digital pianos, you can often find more advanced optical sensors. These are sensors that use some sort of laser to capture the position, movement and speed of the key/hammer.
- Escapement a.k.a. Let off: On an acoustic piano, a clever mechanism is engineered to free the hammer after it hits the string. This is necessary because the string needs to be able to vibrate freely to create and maintain sound. This mechanism is called escapement or let off. It gives a subtle notch feeling when you press the key slowly. While on a digital piano, such mechanism serves no purpose, many manufactures include a simulated escapement to mimic that notch feeling.
- Key length & Pivot point: A pivot point is where the key stick rotates around. The placement of the pivot point together with the length of the key stick is often an important factor for key action quality. The longer the key and the further back the pivot point, the smoother and lighter the key feels. It is also crucial when you need to press a key near its back end, there is still enough distance from the pivot point for the key to feel light and responsive.
- Counterweights: On an acoustic grand piano, individually calculated weights are added to the front end of the keys to lighten the action. This can also be found on some high end digital pianos.
- Sound Engine
- Sampling vs. Modeling: Sound can be produced in two ways on a digital piano. When you press a key, it can play back a pre-recorded sample from an acoustic instrument, or it can use computer modeling to create the sound from scratch. Most manufactures use a combination of both. The tone of each individual key is recorded and various resonance are being added by computer modeling.
- Polyphony: When you have the sustain pedal pressed, the sound continues to live after you lift your fingers from the keys. This allows multiple notes to sound at the same time. The maximum polyphony determines how many notes can be sounded at the same time. It goes without say that the more the merrier.
- Multi-track recording: Not all digital piano supports that function but it can be very useful to you. Multi-track recording allows you to record separate parts of a piece and then play them back together. For example, you can first record the left hand part. Select the same song and record the right hand part. Or, you can record a piano piece first and then add some strings or rhythms. Depends on your need, this could be a must have feature.
- USB to device: On almost all the digital pianos out there, you will find USB to host port. With an adapter, you can connect the piano to your computer and do all kinds of fun stuff. In addition to that, some digital pianos also have a USB to device port. This will allow you to plug a USB stick in it and record/export audio files of your performance on to the USB stick. It is a very convenient feature to export your recording for further mixing on a computer or share it with your friends and families.
WHAT TYPE OF DIGITAL PIANO IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
To help you find your perfect digital piano, I further narrow the list down based on categories. Each of these will be fit for different purposes of use. Choose your category based on your need and then you can easily find the right digital piano.
- Portable digital pianos are designed for gigging musicians, who need to move the instrument from venue to venue. They are compact in size and light in weight. Many people mistaken them for electric keyboards or synthesizers. They usually have a very simplistic sustain pedal and you will need to purchase a stand and bench separately for these. They have built in speakers and can be used with external amplifiers or PA systems. Generally speaking, these are the most affordable digital pianos on the market. Which makes them also good choice for home use on a budget. You can usually find a console style stand for these and make it look more furniture wise for your home.
- Stage digital pianos are similar to portable digital pianos. These are designed for high-end professional gigging musicians. They usually have the best key action the manufacture can offer and are packed with many features that are important for stage performance. The internal sound samples are also top notch. These are your premium quality digital pianos and are built with strong materials to withstand all kinds of accidents during transit. Usually there is no internal speakers in these stage digital pianos because they are meant to be used on stage with amplifiers. Being premium products, stage digital pianos are usually quite expensive and should only be considered if you are a professional gigging pianist.
- Digital upright pianos are sometimes also called console style digital pianos. They sit up against the wall and are not meant to be moved around. Aesthetics wise, they are designed to function as a furniture to your home. Most digital upright pianos are small and sleek, which make them better fit for modern home compare to traditional acoustic upright pianos. They come with three pedals just like an acoustic piano and they usually have pretty good speakers system built in.
- Hybrid pianos are a special breed. Don’t confuse these with silent pianos. Hybrid pianos are fully digital pianos with a key actions that’s identical to an acoustic piano. They combine the best of both worlds. You can find all the benefits of digital pianos and enjoy an actual key action from an acoustic piano. In most cases, the key actions built in the hybrid pianos are from grand pianos, which is different from the key action of an upright acoustic piano. The downside of these is of course the price. Hybrid pianos are very expensive and is only suitable for those who want the best of the best and don’t care much about money.
Now that you have narrowed it down to one specific type of digital piano. Let’s dive in and find the best digital piano that’s on the market for you!
I hope this buyer’s guide has helped you in some way to narrow down and find the right digital piano in 2021. Leave a comment and share with us your thoughts, comments and experience.