Digital pianos have come a tremendously long way in the last 25 years. Whereas a piano student of the 1990s would be hard pressed to find an affordable digital instrument bearing much resemblance to a real instrument, they are now very much a viable, and affordable alternative. With the obvious benefit of being easily portable, digital pianos never require tuning or other maintenance, and disturbing the neighbours is entirely avoidable by plugging in a set of headphones.
So, as a beginner looking to buy their first digital piano, how does one set about choosing from the hundreds of models on the market, and what features are most important?
Well, as with any musical instrument - the tone of the instrument should always be top of the list. The sound you hear when you strike a note on a digital piano is merely a recorded sample that lives on the memory card inside the instrument. By playing just a few notes on a selection of different makes and models, there is an obvious distinction in tone quality - and which is the 'best' is entirely subjective. Yamaha, as a manufacturer of high-quality acoustic pianos, sample their own Concert Grand Pianos in many of their instruments, including their entry-level YDP-142, available for £649.00. For some tastes, however, the Yamaha tone may seem a little too bright, so Roland's closest equivalent - the RP-301 (available at £999.00) may be the preferred option. We shouldn’t, of course, forget the other makes on the market. You may associate the Casio brand with watches and calculators (and indeed calculator watches!), but they have been an important player in the digital piano market since 1986, producing very good instruments with an affordable price tag.
After tone, arguably the next most important thing to consider is the action of the instrument. In other words - how much does it feel like a real piano? In the early days of digital pianos, many instruments had spring-loaded keys, like modern day budget keyboards. Fortunately, technology has moved on considerably since then and all digital pianos now boast a 'hammer-action' of sorts. This leads nicely onto a brand we’ve not yet mentioned in the shape of Korg, whose LP-380 (available at £849.00), features their RH3 (Real Weighted Hammer Action 3) keyboard. This simulates the type of feel you would expect on an acoustic grand piano, with a heavier touch the further down the keyboard you go. Korg's rivals boast similar graded hammer actions on their digital pianos, albeit under different jargon. Casio's PX-850 (available at £799.00) for example, features their Tri-Sensor Scaled Hammer Action Keyboard II, which is much the same technology under a different name.
In terms of other variables – it is worth considering whether or not you intend to play your instrument without the use of headphones. Many of the cheaper models of digital piano (often referred to as 'stage pianos') don't feature built-in speakers for reasons of portability, and this tends to result in a lower price point. Yamaha's P35 and Korg's SP-170 are good examples of such instruments at £349.00 and £399.00 respectively. Bear in mind though, that if you plan to serenade friends and family, you would need to invest in amplification for such instruments.
Also worth thinking about is how valuable you consider a choice of sounds on your instrument. Many digital pianos come with an on-board sound bank that features electric pianos, strings and organs in addition to the usual selection of acoustic piano sounds - but towards the top end of the market, the list can be much more extensive. Roland's FP-80 (available at £1,499.00) for example, features a sound bank of over 350 voices, from woodwind and brass instruments to full drum sets.
Lastly, once you've found an instrument you like the sound and feel of, it is merely a case of choosing your desired finish. Yamaha's Dark Rosewood may be the best match for your dining table, or maybe Korg's White LP series is a better fit for your modern apartment. Hopefully this choice is the easiest one of them all!
For more information on our Digital Pianos, click the links below, give us a call on 01202 597180 or e-mail [email protected].
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