In this article, we will highlight and cover the topic of digital pianos vs. acoustic pianos to help you decide which you need. While both are great for their purposes, there are things you need to know before you buy either.
As you know, acoustic pianos and digital pianos both have their pros and cons and are superior to one another in certain situations. So whether you’re playing the piano or simply just curious about digital pianos in relation to acoustic pianos, you’ve come to the right place.
*If you are on a tight budget, I would recommend choosing a digital piano over an acoustic piano. This also helps with progression; reward yourself down the road as you get better at playing the piano.
Table of Contents
The Main Difference Between Digital Pianos And Acoustic Pianos
Let’s look at the key differences between acoustic and digital pianos. There are several ways they differ, so let’s get into it.
The most significant difference between a digital piano and an acoustic piano is how they produce sound.
When a pianist presses down a piano key, the hammer strikes the string, causing the string to vibrate and produce a musical tone. These vibrations are sent to the soundboard and diffused, amplifying the sound.
A digital piano functions much differently in terms of how sound is produced. Each key is essentially a switch that produces a specific sound. Digital pianos use samples or modeled software simulations to create the piano sound, which is then sent to the speakers.
Let’s sum this up for digital pianos and acoustic pianos below.
When breaking down the overall sound of digital pianos, it can vary significantly depending on your price point. However, after playing all of the best digital pianos and acoustic pianos on the market, I believe that a nice acoustic piano will win from a sheer sound point of view – if maintained properly.
Something that most people won’t cover here, though, is the control you have over your sound with a digital piano. As a huge fan of darker, warmer piano sounds, I love being able to add reverb to my piano sound. This is something you can’t do on an acoustic piano.
It’s worth noting that the sound of digital pianos has improved tremendously in the last ten years. So, how exactly does a digital piano produce its sound?
They produce sound typically by using samples of real acoustic pianos. The acoustic pianos are recorded hundreds of times to capture different velocities so that the digital piano can be as dynamic as possible. This means that the sound will differ depending on how hard you hit the notes.
Let’s look at some advantages of digital pianos over acoustic pianos from a sound point of view:
- It doesn’t need to be tuned – saving you money
- Can plug headphones in for when you need to be quiet
- More sounds to pick from – both piano sounds and other instruments
- Can layer multiple sounds
Acoustic piano sound can range from awful to incredible. What you need to know about acoustic pianos is that many factors make them sound better.
Buying an acoustic piano doesn’t mean that it will always sound better. On the contrary, over time, the sound will diminish if not properly maintained and tuned.
Most pianists will swear up and down by acoustic pianos over digital pianos when it comes to sound. I can’t disagree, but I will say, the gap is narrowing substantially.
The design of digital pianos and acoustic pianos vary significantly, as you might imagine. Of course, you can argue the design of acoustic pianos is better than digital pianos, but this is entirely subjective.
Digital pianos offer simplicity, but they can also provide you with a wide range of choices. For example, specific brands of digital pianos tend to be a bit bulkier and fancier, such as Kawai.
Other digital pianos focus more on being portable and slim so that musicians can easily pack them up or place them wherever they need to.
When it comes to where you live, design is essential. I grew up lugging around a heavy upright piano from apartment to apartment, and this was not fun at all.
*I have to confess. I like the look of acoustic pianos so much, that my live setup for my keyboards is a piano shell with a digtial piano inside of it. As seen below.
Once I purchased a digital piano, I loved the freedom and option of being able to move it whenever and wherever I chose.
It’s important to note that you can find larger digital pianos that are digital baby grands as well.
When it comes to weight, digital pianos are far lighter, no matter which you choose. Even the lighter acoustic pianos are still going to weigh, typically upwards of 300 lbs.
When it comes to which digital pianos look the coolest, I will give the nod to Nord digital pianos or Roland digital pianos.
- Lighter and more portable
- More styles to pick from
- No tuning to deal with
It’s no secret that acoustic pianos are quite the investment. With this being said, everyone has the classic Steinway piano in someone’s living room in a movie scene.
Acoustic pianos help drive up the price of your home as they double as a piece of incredible furniture to showcase.
The design of acoustic pianos ranges from quite large to small. However, the one constant thing is that acoustic pianos will always be rather heavy.
If you’re someone who lives in an apartment or smaller space, I would recommend going the route of a digital piano.
The keys on pianos vs. digital pianos are perhaps the most significant difference. While some digital pianos are getting closer to emulating the feel of a real piano, there’s still work to do.
In my opinion, Roland is the closest to the feel of a real piano with its ivory feel keys.
Digital pianos keys are synthetic and can vary significantly. Looking at digital pianos under $500 vs. digital pianos over $2,000, we will see completely different keys, both in feel and action.
The action on some of the more expensive digital pianos feels pretty solid.
I will almost always choose an acoustic piano, strictly going off of keys over a digital piano. The keys usually feel heavier and more realistic when it comes to action.
For example, there’s less weight on acoustic piano keys when you are in the lower register, and while digital pianos try to emulate this, they don’t always quite nail it.
I believe that acoustic pianos allow pianists to play a little more dynamically when it comes to touch and feel.
- Better feel
- Better action
- More responsive
The price between digital and acoustic pianos isn’t as clearcut as you think. When talking about the price of new acoustic pianos, they are going to be significantly more expensive than a digital piano. With that being said, used pianos can be quite cheap.
Cheaper digital pianos can start at as little as $300 and go up to $15,000. So on average, digital pianos are far more affordable than acoustic pianos.
Acoustic pianos can cost as much as a house these days, with Steinway pianos sometimes costing over $300,000. This is a significant purchase and should not be made without testing the waters.
With this being said, you can find used upright pianos for well under $500 and sometimes even free. You can get them for free because sometimes the cost of hiring movers to pick up your piano is more expensive than the actual piano itself.
Age and condition play a significant factor in the price of your piano.
When it comes to features, digital pianos take the cake quickly, as acoustic pianos don’t offer any features. I also want to point out that recording a digital piano is more manageable than an acoustic piano, as you don’t need a piano microphone.
Digital pianos are also equipped with metronomes, effects, touch sensitivity, and different sounds.
Both acoustic pianos and digital pianos have their own distinct advantages. If you lean towards portability, budget, or room size, I would say to go digital piano.
If you’re one in which budget and room size aren’t a decider, I will lean towards acoustic pianos. All this being said, be sure to test out both before making a final purchase.
The last thing I want to touch on is that acoustic pianos need far more maintenance than digital pianos, as they require yearly tuning.