What to Consider When Buying a Piano: Acoustic or Digital?
The first step when buying a piano is to decide between the two different types —Acoustic Piano or Digital Piano
Many musicians find it difficult to decide between the two.
Choosing the right piano isn’t easy and there are a number of factors to consider. You’ve got to think about the costs, sound, maintenance, etc. This article compares the different features of digital and acoustic pianos to help you make a decision.
Acoustic piano: Types
Acoustic Grand Piano
Acoustic Upright Piano
An acoustic piano is, in a sense, as old-school as one can get. It has hammers and steel strings that are enclosed by a wooden case. The keys are connected to the hammers. When a key is pressed, the hammer moves and strikes the strings, causing them to vibrate and produce the sound.
There are two types of acoustic pianos: the grand piano and the upright piano (Horizontal and Vertical.)A grand piano has a frame, soundboard, and strings that are extended horizontally. It has a longer body and thus has a larger footprint. After playing a key and releasing your fingers, gravity then resets the keys and brings them back to their resting positions.
An upright piano has strings and a soundboard that run vertically. It’s a lot more compact than the grand piano. An upright piano often fits comfortably in most houses or apartments and is often a more convenient choice. When your fingers are released from the keys, they are reset via a spring mechanism, which is subject to wear and tear.
The grand piano has longer strings that give it not only a richer tone. Many other things can also determine the sound, such as the quality of the materials used and the craftsmanship.
Digital piano: Types
Digital Upright Piano
Digital Portable Piano
Digital Baby Grand Piano
The digital piano is an adapted, modern version of its acoustic counterpart. It produces sounds digitally (as its name would suggest): when you press a key, the piano’s electronic speakers will play back high-quality recordings that were previously taken from acoustic pianos.
There are three types of digital pianos: the grand piano, upright piano, and portable piano. The grand piano has higher-quality speakers and sound system with better key movements. It is, however, costlier and only offered by certain manufacturers. Like its acoustic counterpart, the upright digital piano is most commonly used in homes. The digital and acoustic versions are similar in size, but the digital version weighs less. The portable digital piano is the lightest of the three. It comes with a stand rather than “legs.” The keys and exterior of a portable digital piano are often made of plastic with the higher end being made of wood.
Acoustic vs digital piano—which is better?
So now that we’ve understood how the digital and acoustic pianos functions, let’s put them side by side.
One of the most important factors to consider when deciding is the sound of the instrument. As you may have guessed, the acoustic piano produces a superior sound. It gives you an authentic tone from the vibrating strings, acoustic sound that has a warmer, more resonant tone. As the player, you also have better control over the articulation and expression of the notes played. A digital piano, on the other hand, can only replay the sound of the acoustic piano. Its sound is a digital file and thus doesn’t allow for the same acoustic subtleties. Nonetheless, a high-end digital piano can sound better than a low-end acoustic piano.
An acoustic piano requires regular maintenance. The wooden exterior, the felt on its hammers, and the steel strings are all delicate features that need proper care. Therefore, you have to be aware of an acoustic piano’s:
- Tuning. To keep your piano sound its best, it has to be tuned about 1-2 times every year. Unless you have a great ear and the proper tools, you would require the assistance of a professional, which increases your expenses.
- Vulnerability to humidity and temperature fluctuations. Wood and felt are highly sensitive to shifts in temperature or humidity levels. If not kept in a consistent and suitable environment, the components of an acoustic piano could be affected negatively. (Ideally, your acoustic piano should be kept in an environment of relative humidity ranging between 45% and 70% with a constant temperature of approximately 70˚F or room temperature.)
A technician can restore a piano to optimal precision in a process called regulation, which involves adjustments ranging from turning screws to sanding down wood surfaces and/or replacing components.
Versatility - utility and portability
What the digital piano may lack in terms of sound, they make it up with some additional features. These features allow you to use the digital piano in more than one way, making it a more versatile instrument:
- Other instrument voices: With the digital piano, you can produce the sound of almost any instrument, ranging from an electric guitar to a choir. You can play around with the different sound choices and choose the sound that best suits the song you are playing. Many digitals include a drum beat track so you can play to the beat, which is great for practicing, and will also transform your keyboard into a small ensemble.
- Recording: Modern digital pianos have midi connections and a USB port that connects the piano to your computer. This connection allows you to record and store your playing as a digital file. This is a very useful tool, especially for budding songwriters, who can manipulate their recordings with software. An acoustic piano would require high-quality microphones to record the ambient sound of the instrument.
- Volume control: The digital piano comes equipped with a volume knob and a headphone output, allowing you to practice anywhere without disturbing others. 2 AM jam session? No problem!
- Portable: Digital pianos differ in types and sizes, but they are all more portable than their acoustic brethren. Most digital pianos can be moved by one person and the largest ones by 2 without much trouble. The smaller size of portables also makes them a keyboard-instrument of choice for gigs or performances.
The touch and feel of playing a digital piano and an acoustic piano can differ greatly. One reason for this is the weight of the keys. Some strength is required when you strike the keys of an acoustic piano. As for digital pianos, a gentle touch on their keys could produce a sound. Many manufacturers make up for this by introducing weighted or semi-weighted keys, which mimic the heaviness of the acoustic piano keys.
Some pianists turn away from digital pianos because of their lack of touch sensitivity. The acoustic piano is more touch-sensitive in nature. The strength and movement of your fingers determine the tone of the sound and the volume you hear. You can produce different shades of sound on the same key. But on a digital piano, there is a finite number of tones that can be produced. In other words, even though you played a key differently, the sound produced might be the same. This limitation can, in turn, affect the expression of your music.
In general, an acoustic piano costs more than a digital piano. A low- to mid-tier upright acoustic piano could cost $1000-$3000, while a digital one could be priced at anywhere from $200-500 upwards.
With that said, the resale value of a digital piano is much lower than that of an acoustic piano. It is difficult to gauge the resale value of an acoustic piano. Much like an automobile, the resale value largely depends on the model and the condition. A digital piano depreciates much quicker than an acoustic piano because many new, more advanced models of digital pianos are released every year., replacing the old ones. Therefore, while the acoustic piano is more costly, it is a better investment for the long term.
An acoustic piano comes with three pedals: soft pedal, sostenuto pedal, and sustain pedal. (The sustain pedal is commonly used in all genres of music, while the soft and sostenuto pedal are not frequently used.) But, many digital pianos come with only a sustain pedal, and some (in particular portable digital pianos) don’t come with any. Of course, you can purchase the other two pedals—sostenuto and soft pedal— that is if they are available as an add-on option. It is important to determine whether the presence of the pedals will make a difference in your playing experience. If you play a lot of classical pieces then you will likely want all three pedals.
To recap the information in the previous section, the following table provides a simple pros-and-cons comparison and includes some new points to note. The green boxes indicate that the corresponding piano is better for that criterion, and the red boxes tell you that it isn't as good.
||Acoustic Piano||Digital Piano|
Piano Sound Quality
(comparing pianos of the same grade)
Warmer, authentic sound with
more room for musical expressions
The sound produced is a recorded sound sample,
which could sound like its acoustic counterpart, but isn't as authentic
|Tuning||Requires tuning maintenance 1-2 times a year||Doesn’t require tuning or maintenance|
Must be placed in an environment
of suitable temperature and humidity
|Price||Generally more expensive||Less expensive|
|Resale Value||Higher resale value||Value depreciates faster|
Piano action mechanisms gives
you better control of musical tones and expressions
Some models lack touch-sensitivity, while others
have touch-sensitive, weighted keys that work to mimic an acoustic piano’s keys
Comes with 2 or 3 pedals,
including the sustain pedal
|Not all models come with pedals|
Heavier. Requires 2-3 strong
people to move it plus special equipment
Lighter weight and usually requires
only 1 person to move it
|Space Required||More space is needed||Less space is needed|
|Power Source||Not required||Required|
Other instrument sounds, Recording ease
and headphone output, Volume control