How to Buy, Learn, and Enjoy a Digital Piano (or Portable Keyboard)


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At a glance...

Portable digital pianos are sometimes called slab pianos due to their shape. Their board-like shape is simple, but it packs a ton of power. Portable digital pianos are some of the bestselling models out there, mainly due to their high value-to-price ratio. Their key actions are often the same as their furniture-style counterparts, and the samples are also similar in quality. The only gripe one may have with portable digital pianos concerns speaker quality. With such little space to work with, even high wattage speakers fail to deliver full-sounding bass.

These digital pianos are quite lightweight, which is impressive considering they have complex hammer action mechanisms and speakers.

Digital Piano vs Keyboard: Which one is the better choice?

Portability comes into play when space is a concern. Another feature we briefly touched on is price. Portable digital pianos are affordable and include all you need for basic piano practice.

In general, we recommend portable digital pianos to beginners and to intermediate players with a bit of experience. Higher-end portable digital pianos include more sounds and higher quality key actions that deliver a more realistic experience without sacrificing portability. Gigging musicians on a budget also love these instruments for their portability and affordability compared to more expensive and usually much more advanced stage pianos.

Casio Privia PX For higher end models, we recommend the Kawai ES8 , which includes an even more realistic key action and a more detailed sample set.

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For a more general recommendation, the Roland FP-line of keyboards came really close to winning nearly every category, scoring a solid 2 nd place in our hearts every time. The other major digital piano variant is the console digital piano, sometimes called a furniture-style digital piano. As you may have guessed from the name, these are the opposite of the previously discussed portable type, having huge enclosures that emulate the look of a real piano.

These are the most premium in the category and feature top-of-the-line key actions, sound engines, and speaker systems. The biggest plus of console-style digital pianos is a larger chassis. Having a lot more space to work with means companies can include hardware that improves your overall experience.

The biggest plus here over portable digital pianos is the speaker system. A larger chassis allows bass frequencies to resonate outward, delivering a richer tone than portable digital pianos. Also, a noteworthy inclusion here is the triple pedal setup. Most portable pianos require a separate purchase for sostenuto and soft pedals, but console digital pianos include these in their chassis. Finally, most console digital pianos have a cover , which helps fend off dust, making this a small but welcome addition to the package.

The higher price may be a concern, but the portability sacrifice is not massive and may be a plus in the long run. Upright-style digital piano usually feature sophisticated wooden key actions and immersive multi-speaker sound systems that are physically impossible to implement in a portable digital piano. Overall, console digital pianos will give you a closer approximation of how an acoustic piano would look, sound, and feel.

Console digital pianos are widespread and most companies have dipped their toes into this market. Our top budget pick was the Casio PX , the flagship model of the long-running Privia line. This is a modern-style model, and it comes with great keys and sounds, making it an easy recommendation for players of all levels. Kawai KDP Looks aside, the most significant feature of digital grand pianos are their well-engineered speaker systems. The biggest hurdle is recreating the sounds in a way that allows them react to the lid.


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However, certain concert halls and instrument providers might prefer a digital grand over an acoustic one due to its lower maintenance requirements. All our previously discussed varieties rely on sample playback and modelling to recreate the sounds of a real piano, while real acoustic pianos rely on mechanical hammers hitting strings. The most common application is how they include the hammer mechanisms ripped straight from acoustic pianos, but paired with digital samples to deliver a realistic experience. Some digital pianos also include the strings, allowing you to mute the strings and only hear the digitally recreated sound for silent practice though these pianos are more commonly referred to as Hybrid Acoustic Pianos.

To put it simply, an arranger digital piano is a digital piano portable OR console with features commonly found in arranger keyboards. What makes them different is that in addition to all those extra features, they still have detailed piano samples and 88 hammer action keys.

Unlike classic digital pianos, these instruments come with a whole world of built-in sounds, rhythms, songs, effects, and recording features. As a result, their control panels are often cluttered with buttons and dials, and also with displays to improve the user experience.

Digital piano vs keyboard -Buying Guide for Beginners

All these extra features make these digital pianos an attractive option for non-professional music production, composing, and exploring a wide range of musical instruments and music styles. If you like to experiment and explore musical styles and genres, or if you want to compose your own music or become a one-man band using auto-accompaniment features, then these instruments could be a perfect choice. Casio PX-S Stage pianos break one of our rules of digital pianos since they generally lack a speaker system.

However, they are digital pianos at their core and seek to provide a versatile, portable piano experience that caters to gigging musicians who are constantly on the move. You might argue that many stage pianos are nothing more than performance synthesizers or workstations in disguise, but they do tick a few boxes that justify their inclusion in this category. Having some performance synthesizer and workstation DNA embedded into stage piano design is terrific.

These instrument categories excel in sound malleability , and hands-on control is always a plus for stage keyboardists. Connectivity is also quite important.

Can You Hear The Difference Between an Acoustic and Digital Piano

More and more keyboards are including 5-pin legacy MIDI connectors to help integrate sound modules and extra instruments for easy control. Many session musicians I know prefer performance workstations instead, though, so this is ultimately a matter of personal preference. Workstations are more flexible in terms of their sonic palette, but they much more difficult to use, requiring deep menu diving and prior knowledge of synthesis basics and sound design to utilize fully.

This is ideal for musicians who have a piano background and just want to play with minimal hassle. One of our favorite stage pianos is the classic Nord Piano 4 , which is a most coveted model that with a hefty price. However, it has some of the best sounds and the best interface out there. Why the distinction?

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Well, things can get a little confusing. These models also come with detailed piano samples alongside a large library of other sounds, too. So, are they digital pianos? Portable arranger keyboards are a popular choice for beginning musicians , thanks in large part to an extremely affordable price. These keyboards are easy to manufacture, and leading companies reuse a specific chipset for subsequent models.

The keys always feel cheap excusable for the price range and are not suitable for mastering proper finger technique. Arranger functionality allows one keyboardist to perform full songs with backing tracks from a single keyboard. These keyboards feature lots of tones and rhythms and are very versatile in the right hands. Players can also trigger bassline variations with simple button presses and key combinations, thereby controlling the backing track as they play out top lines.

High quality samples are not a focus here and dynamics are limited due to the lack of multi-samples. Since portable keyboards are often confused with digital pianos, please refer to our comparison table below to learn about the key differences between them. However, they do exist and serve a subset of people wanting the quality of higher-end sounds with the ease of standard arranger keyboards. In most cases, workstations are more flexible and powerful, yet they demand a higher degree of knowhow to operate.

The higher price tag also comes with a better selection of sounds and rhythms, especially regarding sound quality. The extra cost is justified by extra features. Most high-end models come with touchscreens and detailed editing functions, allowing you to polish a performance even further. A few decades ago, workstations were a premiere way to create songs from scratch. Unfortunately, the advent of computer-based Digital Audio Workstations DAWs and the flexibility these offer has pushed this category out of the limelight.

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Regardless, many people still prefer the focused workflow of classic workstation keyboards, so companies have continued to release revisions through the years. Companies like Roland have slowly transitioned their workstation lines into a more performance-oriented mindset. The keyword for workstations is control. Sequencing is another workstation feature.

It allows players to record and edit parts to layer on top of each other. Effects are plentiful here. Instead of preset non-modifiable effect chains, you get individual modules that you can mix and match to taste. Producers are the target audience here, but gigging musicians also love their in-depth editing options. You begin with harmonically rich sound source and subtract frequencies to achieve a more controlled sound. There are many approaches to synthesis , such as basic subtractive, frequency modulation, phase modulation, and more.

A synthesis engine, whether analog or digital, is the core characteristic of synthesizers. In most cases, this means an oscillator section, a filter, envelope shapers, and possibly an effects chain. The focus is on sound design and detailed editing is usually available sometimes at the expense of usability.


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Most classic synthesizer have 49 or even fewer keys, which is usually more than enough for designing sounds and patterns. Just know that synthesizers focus squarely on sound design opportunities. Synthesizers cater to sound designers and producers. They cater to people who enjoy the purity of analog synthesis.

How to Buy, Learn, and Enjoy a Digital Piano (or Portable Keyboard) How to Buy, Learn, and Enjoy a Digital Piano (or Portable Keyboard)
How to Buy, Learn, and Enjoy a Digital Piano (or Portable Keyboard) How to Buy, Learn, and Enjoy a Digital Piano (or Portable Keyboard)
How to Buy, Learn, and Enjoy a Digital Piano (or Portable Keyboard) How to Buy, Learn, and Enjoy a Digital Piano (or Portable Keyboard)
How to Buy, Learn, and Enjoy a Digital Piano (or Portable Keyboard) How to Buy, Learn, and Enjoy a Digital Piano (or Portable Keyboard)
How to Buy, Learn, and Enjoy a Digital Piano (or Portable Keyboard) How to Buy, Learn, and Enjoy a Digital Piano (or Portable Keyboard)
How to Buy, Learn, and Enjoy a Digital Piano (or Portable Keyboard) How to Buy, Learn, and Enjoy a Digital Piano (or Portable Keyboard)
How to Buy, Learn, and Enjoy a Digital Piano (or Portable Keyboard) How to Buy, Learn, and Enjoy a Digital Piano (or Portable Keyboard)
How to Buy, Learn, and Enjoy a Digital Piano (or Portable Keyboard) How to Buy, Learn, and Enjoy a Digital Piano (or Portable Keyboard)
How to Buy, Learn, and Enjoy a Digital Piano (or Portable Keyboard) How to Buy, Learn, and Enjoy a Digital Piano (or Portable Keyboard)

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