AZ PIANO REVIEWS!: Digital Piano or Acoustic Piano? - What Should You Buy? Kawai, Yamaha, Steinway, Roland, Casio, Kurweil, etc - Digital Piano Reviews

Apr 2, 2014

Digital Piano or Acoustic Piano? - What Should You Buy? Kawai, Yamaha, Steinway, Roland, Casio, Kurweil, etc

UPDATED - Digital Piano or Acoustic Piano...What should you buy? I frequently get asked that question by people shopping for a good piano and in most cases I recommend a digital piano. I usually recommend one of the new digital pianos from the top brands including Kawai, Yamaha, Roland, Casio, and a couple of others. I written a blog review in the past on this subject before, but it is worth talking about again, especially in light of the new improved digital pianos available now at  reasonable prices. I personally play on some of the best acoustic grand pianos available including Steinway, Yamaha, and Kawai, and I recommend them to discerning, accomplished musicians who simply want this kind of playing experience and have the money to afford it.  But some of the new digital pianos are pretty amazing and definitely worth consideration.

In my long career as a musician & piano instructor to thousands of people, I have played & taught lessons on acoustic upright & grand pianos all my life including such famous brands such as Steinway, Yamaha, Kawai, Baldwin, Mason-Hamlin, Shimmel, Petrof, Bosendorfer, Boston, Kimball, Bechstein, Fazioli, Young Chang, Samick, Wurlitzer, Story & Clark, Kohler & Campbell, Knabe, Chickering, Cable, and others. I am no stranger to acoustic pianos and have (and still do) enjoy playing, recording, and composing on them. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder as the old saying goes, so in my opinion the beauty of the piano sound & key action in acoustic pianos (for the vast majority of people these days) is being closely re-created in some of these new digital pianos that it might as well be the "real thing" for a lot of people who otherwise could not tell the difference.

The next question to ask then is "what is the real thing?" Firstly, to begin, the real thing (an acoustic piano) includes a completely organic (or semi-organic) key action so when the piano keys are properly weighted & graded and move smoothly with the ability to express music in detail with subtle nuance or loud crashing crescendos, the key action can physically and mechanically handle it. Some of the digital pianos have all plastic key actions, some are hybrids with part wood and part plastic, and others are all wood key actions. You don't want the key action to be too heavy or too light or have too much resistance pushing down or for the keys to spring back up too quickly. All of these key functions are important and enable music to be played & expressed and with feeling and emotion so you can personally get in touch with the music. Playing music is ultimately about feeling and emotion and without those two essential elements, you might as well have a robot play it...then it wouldn't matter...unless the robot could "feel:)"... maybe that can & will happen someday. But until then, unless the player can (eventually) personally express themselves and feel a "connection" with the instrument (a piano in this case), then playing the piano is simply an academic exercise in playing futility, in my opinion.

When it comes to piano key actions, whether the digital piano key action is of the plastic, partial wood, or all wood variety is not near as important as it's weight and resistance, reaction time, smoothness, and  your overall playing experience based on where you are (or might be) musically and your desire to play music. I have played all of these digital piano key actions and have been happy on all types, as long as they are made well and function correctly, then that's what counts and it's something I help you understand better if you ask me.

The next step in reproducing the acoustic piano in a digital instrument is the getting a realistic piano sound. The piano strings (there are over 200 of them in a regular acoustic piano) including the vibrations, harmonics, and overtones they make, wood hammers & felt on the hammers including their size and density, dampers, wood soundboard including the type & quality of wood & other wood components, cast iron frame holding the strings, pedals & pedal functions, the cabinet construction itself and other organic components all contribute to the quality and beauty of the piano sound. People ask me all the time, can a digital piano really duplicate or come very close to recreating the "real thing." The answer is that for most people, some of the new digital pianos out right now can do just that because of the incredible advancement in technology from additional key sensors & key technology, upgraded digital sound sampling and sound reproduction, pedal movement & sound technology, and new speaker & audio amplifier technology that produces an uncanny acoustic realism.

I would say that unless you are at a high advanced playing skill level (and I commend students for achieving that skill level), or you just personally think acoustic pianos sound & play better than digital pianos (after all, music is what you "like" and is a subjective choice), then the piano sound coming from a digital piano may not satisfy you. This is because ultimately the digital piano sound is projected through a small or large set of internal speakers powered by audio amplifiers and is not "purely organic" like an acoustic piano is. However with that being said, I have found that only approx 10-20% of all people (in the US) who are either studying or playing the piano these days (which is a small number of people) would prefer a vertical acoustic piano over a high quality vertical digital piano given a similar price range and being played for recreational entertainment & enjoyment. A piano is played ultimately for personal enjoyment and there is no right or wrong as far as what instrument is better to play...an acoustic or digital piano. My contention is for the vast majority of people many of these new digital piano models are more than sufficient along with their added useful digital technology to give a lifetime of musical enjoyment. Unless you are entering some advanced piano competitions where acoustic pianos (especially concert quality grand pianos) are used exclusively, then many, but not all new digital pianos are perfect as beautiful sounding & playing instruments for home, church, school, studio, etc, in my opinion. By the way, some of those top model digital pianos can & will also bring you to an advanced playing skill level where you can still easily enter competitions and even win! So just because you own a digital piano does not mean you cannot be serious about your music and about your playing. Whether it's Bach, Beethoven, Elton John, Billy Joel, or in between, you can play nearly anything on a digital piano, plus you can plug in a pair of stereo headphones for private practice and the digital piano will not go out of tune which is a big savings in time and money over the years in keeping an acoustic piano in perfect tune. For singing purposes you can also digitally transpose a digital to any key up or down so the song is in your vocal range, something you cannot do on an acoustic piano. The musical advantages to a good digital piano over an acoustic is fairly large assuming the particular digital piano has the proper piano sound, key action, and pedaling components. All digital pianos have differences as compared to each other as do all acoustic piano pianos have differences as compared to each other, so it does take some time and research to pick the right one.

Without going into the technical aspects here of some of the newest and best digital pianos available right now, I can say that they are satisfying musical instruments that will give a person years of musical enjoyment and allow you to be able to express your innermost feelings with passion and beauty.  Many digital pianos now have exciting features like interactive USB connectivity with iPad and laptop computers utilizing apps & programs that help with music education and home practice that are not possible with an acoustic piano. Then there are those digital pianos which go even further with added features like interactive drum rhythms, chord styles, MIDI multi-track recording and audio wav & MP3 recording and playback, added instrument sounds, interactive user display screens, and more. There's almost no end to what some of these new pianos can do and many of these new features are useful and very cool...and they can be motivating in getting the student to practice and play more often...and that's the ultimate goal...making it fun and motivating.

But for most people, I recommend new high quality digital pianos as a perfect choice for a piano that you can keep for years. Although all pianos, whether digital or acoustic, can potentially break down or have problems (I have had a few service issues during the years even with the finest acoustic grand pianos), generally speaking the top manufacturers build them to last for a long time and the new top name brand digital pianos are quite reliable. When it comes to appreciation or depreciation in pianos, both acoustic & digital pianos will and do depreciate in value, some more than others. Just look at the used piano market on-line or in stores and you'll see this for yourself. As more and more people buy new digital pianos, unfortunately used acoustic pianos will increase in quantity as people try to sell them off, and as supply goes up, demand and price will go down as they have been over the last few years. So no matter which type of piano you get, the investment value as far as resale, is not going to be good.

Yamaha digital grand piano
I recommend you make your purchase based on your budget, your musical needs, and your skill level, but overall I believe good new upright or grand digital pianos (for most but not all people) are the best choice when it comes to choosing between good acoustic or digital pianos including some of the new digital Grand pianos on the market by Yamaha, Roland, & Kawai. I will say in defense of acoustic pianos, when it comes to an absolutely awesome piano playing and listening experience for me personally, not factoring in tuning, maintenance, headphones, USB connectivity and all the rest, my preference is a beautiful full size Steinway, Fazioli, Yamaha, Kawai, Bosenndorfer, or Mason-Hamin acoustic Grand Piano. But unless you have an extra $50,000 to $100,000 or more laying around in disposable income and the room to put in one of these large instruments, then a good new digital piano by one of the top manufacturers will (as I said before) satisfy most people and be a beautiful instrument to own for many years and you'll having all the benefits of the new exciting digital features too!

Take a look on my blog for reviews of new 2014 digital pianos by Casio, Kawai, Roland, and Yamaha, to name a few. Then you'll know more about what's new in digital pianos.

If you want more info on new digital pianos and LOWER PRICES than internet discounts, please email me at tim@azpianowholesale.com or call direct at 602-571-1864.

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