If you’d have asked me that question 15 years ago I would have said the words ‘acoustic’ without blinking. However, technology has moved on so much recently that I’ve completely gone the other way – and here’s why:
Quality of sound
In the past digital pianos and keyboards were heavily criticised for having a tinny sound, and that criticism was justified for the most part. Nowadays digital pianos are often injected with actual recordings and samplings from grand pianos, which allows you to get as close as possible to actually having a grand piano sound without having to spend £100k!
Although it would be unfair to compare it like for like with the real sound from an acoustic grand piano, it isn’t far off at all. Speakers are also much improved allowing the sampled grand piano sound to shine through better than ever.
A great example of this is the Yamaha Arius YDP-142 which which has Yamaha’s latest ‘PureCF Sound Engine’ which delivers a fantastic recording from Yamaha’s concert grand.
Touch and feel
Designers of digital pianos continue to strive in emulating a real acoustic grand piano feel when it comes to playing. That’s why you will now see technology like ‘GHS’ which stands for Graded Hammer Standard. This basically adds a more realistic weighted feel to the keys.
There are also lots of other models that offer graded hammer effects, and it seems to be the standard feature on most, if not all, digital pianos these days.
So not only are they using recordings from a concert grand piano, they are also making the keys feel as such too. Not bad for a fraction of the price. Which brings me onto…
This for me is one of the most important reasons to favour a digital over an acoustic piano. But why?
Well, first of all I feel that in my opinion the technology now inserted into a digital piano has overtaken an acoustic by miles if you compare them by price. For example, you could buy the Yamaha P-115 for less than £500 brand new. In comparison with an acoustic, for that price you would be looking at a very old second hand piano which has probably seen better days and would be in need of a major tune!
So it’s easy to see that when you spend around £500 or less on a digital, you are getting a lot more for your money. Typically for a good new acoustic piano you would need to start at around £2,000 and work your way up from there – and what are you getting for this when you start spending thousands?
You could argue that you are getting the real thing! An actual real acoustic piano is far better. Well, if you are looking for something which looks amazing and requires at least two burly delivery men to wheel it through your front window, then great – stick with an acoustic.
But if you are looking for pure value for money and entertainment, then you would certainly need to look at a digital piano. On the other hand, if money isn’t an issue and you don’t have a particular budget, then spending thousands on an acoustic is also fine.
The point I’m making here is that most of us are trying to be careful with how much we spend – so think about how much further your money will go if you buy a digital. Not only are you getting a sampled sound from a concert grand piano worth around £100k, you are also getting a tonne of features…
I could talk for hours about the many hundreds of features that accompany a digital piano, but instead I’ll narrow it down to some of the most popular.
This function is usually available on every digital piano you buy nowadays. It isn’t always important for everyone, and some only use it for fun. But either way, when it comes with recording functionality you are at an instant advantage compared with an acoustic.
Whether you want to just record for fun, or if like me you regularly upload to websites and YouTube, then recording could be an absolute must. You can of course record an acoustic, but you would need to buy additional recording equipment which can prove quite costly as the piano sound is extremely difficult to record with clarity.
Nowadays, all you need to do is plug in a USB stick into the digital piano and hit the record button. Lots of pianos are now offering this function so you can instantly record an MP3 file without the need for a computer and audio file converting software – although said software is free and easy to use anyway.
As a final note, I often advise my students to record themselves playing the ABRSM pieces. This then allows them to critique their own pieces outside of the lessons, and I find this to be a huge success in the progression of the exam grades.
Most digital pianos come with additional sounds like organ, strings, electric piano, etc. Some even come with backing rhythms to play along too.
These additional sounds are not always that popular, as most people buy a digital piano for the obvious ‘grand piano’ sound. However, in my experience this is a fantastic feature to have. A great example of this would be to layer piano and strings. You can’t beat playing a popular ballad song with strings adding another dimension to the piano sound.
Drawbar and rock organ sounds are also fun to play around with, along with the electric piano sounds. And even if you’ve never bothered with these additional sounds – give it a try. I can promise you it will be a lot of fun!
Again, using these additional sounds for recording can also be extremely useful. It also doesn’t even matter if you never use them, as they come along with digital pianos anyway these days.
Built in metronome
Usually a standard feature on digital pianos, having an inbuilt metronome saves you the hassle of having to go out and buy one.
Gone are the days of the old style metronome with its metal arm swinging away, and we are now able to just press a button and choose how fast we want it to go.
So are you convinced yet?
You can see from the above that I am in favour of the digital piano over an acoustic. However, it still comes down to personal choice and it doesn’t mean to say I am right.
If you want the real thing and you are happy to pay a good chunk of money for one – then why not get an acoustic. They look fantastic and can be classed as not just a piano, but also a work of art sat in your front room.
However just bear in mind that if you want to spend less and get just as good a sound if not better then digital, my friends, is definitely the future.