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Before you start comparing the different pianos available, its important to understand the differences (and similarities) between a keyboard and a digital piano. Often, these terms are used interchangeably. Keyboards are generally might lighter and less bulky in design than digital pianos, and for this reason they are rated higher as far as portability goes. Keyboards often come equipped with a lower number of total keys (usually 49 or 61) than digital pianos – though it is possible to find a full set of keys on higher-end keyboards that are intended for professional musicians and are used in gigs or studio sessions (this is where the lines between a slab piano and a keyboard may be blurred). For the most part, when people refer to keyboards, they aren’t talking about these top-tier models, and instead are referring to those that are aimed at beginners – something fun to learn and play with that doesn’t cost a fortune or take up too much space. A keyboard is a nice place to start if you’re new to digital instruments or are just starting to learn how to play. A digital piano is designed to best simulate the sound and functionality of a traditional acoustic piano. You can absolutely find those with 61 or 76 keys, but the best digital pianos usually come with 88 keys. Due to the fact that additional hardware is often utilized, pianos are bulkier and tend to be heavier, often built with a cabinet or meant to be positioned on a stand. Digital pianos may not have the wide range of sound effects that you might find on a keyboard, but they do have a variety of basic sound features (e.g. harpsichord, strings, grand piano, pipe organ) that sound similar to their real-life counterparts. Generally speaking, while they may be lacking in tons of additional sound effects and features, digital pianos have all the basics – and they do them well.
Types of Digital Pianos
If you take a few moments to scan through the internet, you’ll soon realize that digital pianos differ from traditional acoustic pianos, and they typically take one of three forms: slab digital piano (portable), upright digital piano, digital baby grand. A slab piano is an excellent choice for those who already know that traveling with the instrument will be a frequent occurrence. More often than not, a portable piano (e.g. Casio Privia PX160 or Yamaha P115) may be equipped with a basic hammer action and an accessory, like a sustain pedal, but the stand and piano bench will have to be purchased separately. Stage pianos are often included in the portable category as they must be easily moved and relatively light in weight and bulk. An upright digital piano takes things a step further towards replicating the aesthetics and aural components of a traditional acoustic piano – a happy median between the slab (portable) and a digital baby grand. These upright digital pianos are significantly better than their portable counterparts with regards to tone generation and hammer action functionality, and they often boast a big cabinet. The digital baby grand is as close as you’ll come to replicating a real baby grand piano, not only in looks and sheer weight, but also in the overall quality of sound that can be produced. Despite their high price tags, these types of digital pianos are often utilized by beginners and advanced musicians, and are showcased in living rooms alongside other beautiful pieces of furniture. Each type of digital piano has its advantages and disadvantages, and because of this each targets a different type of audience. If you know portability is needed, a slab piano (or possibly even a super-light keyboard) may be the way to go. If you want something a bit more substantial, not only in looks but overall quality, and upright or digital baby grand is probably more ideal.
Touch Sensitive Keys
Touch velocity is the term used to describe the differences in sound produced by a piano, depending on the force used to strike the key. The harder you strike the key, the louder it should be. Variations in loudness with the melody in contrast to the accompaniment rely on touch sensitivity and the ability to play some keys louder than others. Digital pianos lacking touch sensitive keys play each note with the same loudness, regardless of how soft or hard the key is pressed (similarly to a cheap keyboard). Touch sensitivity is very important as this has an effect on the depth at which the music can be played. Touch sensitivity is usually found on the better-quality pianos with 88 keys, though many beginner and mid-range keyboards are now incorporating this feature to better simulate the playing of a real piano.
While playing a traditional acoustic piano, when a key is pressed the padded, felt hammer strikes a string inside the piano to produce the sound. The term hammer action stems from this process. A digital piano with weighted keys attempts to replicate the feel of a weighted key on a traditional piano, this feature is often highly desired. A piano lacking weighted key software will feel more like a keyboard. If you ever hope to play on a real piano, weighted keys on your digital piano are highly recommended. An acoustic piano has heavy keys, and the level of force that is required to push them down is different and may affect your playing ability if not practiced. Finger strength comes with practice. There are different degrees of weighted key functionality. Some digital pianos have keys of all the same weight, while others provide an additional element of replication with keys that are graded (different weights of keys based on the location on keybed – as you would find on a traditional piano). Graded or scaled hammer action are terms used to describe this feature (the lower keys will feels heavier than the higher keys). Progressive hammer action, graded hammer action, and scaled hammer action are terms used to describe the same thing, so don’t be confused by which terminology individual brands decide to use. Keep in mind, weighted keys are not standard and usually come with higher-end pianos for a higher price tag – it is not required, but highly recommended if you want to simulate playing on a real piano.
Digital pianos are designed to best replicate not only the sound, but the look, feel, and touch of a traditional acoustic piano. While some happen to accomplish this to a much greater extent, it often comes down to whether or not the instrument comes equipped with the standard number of piano keys. You can’t expect to properly replicate the look and feel of an acoustic piano if you don’t have the proper number of keys. The keybed should replicate a real piano. For this reason, we recommend going with 88 keys from the start. Some piano teachers recommend starting out with 61 or 76 keys (as this is really all that is needed to learn the basics as you will mostly start out with your hands in the middle section anyway), and then gradually upgrading to a higher-end piano as you gain experience. Sure, this might be fine and may even save you some money at first. Regardless, you will end up spending more in the long run if you already plan to graduate to an 88-key digital piano. To achieve a smaller-sized keybed, keys must be removed from the low and high ends – a smaller range of tones can be played and in our opinion, not something you’d want even for beginners. Still, if you are just taking this up as a hobby and are unsure how far you are willing to go with it, 61 or 76 keys may be all that you need (and can save you a bit of cash).
1. Kawai CE220 Review
The CE220 has a variety of useful and highly-sought features including 192 notes of polyphony, genuine wooden keys, furniture-styled build, individual note sampling, intuitive digital features, and surprisingly realistic and responsive pedals, all of which make this our favorite digital piano. The impressively sized list of digital features are easy to use and can be useful for beginner and advanced users. The wooden keys provide you with a uniquely textured feel while playing the instrument.
Each note is individually sampled on the Kawai CE220, the result of which is a much clearer sound than can be found on digital pianos whose sounds have been recorded another way. Kawai’s progressive Harmonic Imaging sound technology was utilized to record the sounds on this piano, also leading to a more rich, detailed and realistic sound being produced. Similarly to the nuanced tone of a traditional acoustic piano, the Kawai CE220 is capable of playing pretty much any song without error due to the 192 notes of polyphony. The wooden keys provide a unique blend of texture and realism to this instrument that cannot be found with the plastic keys of its competitors. Additionally, the keys are graded in weight (one of the most important features when simulating the touch response of a traditional acoustic). Weighing roughly 187 pounds, the CE220 isn’t one of the lightest digital pianos around (still light enough to be moved easily), yet this isn’t the type of crowd being targeted.
Other fun features found on the Kawai CE220 include dual mode (used to play two sounds at once), split mode (splits each half of the keybed into different sounds), and four-hands mode (useful for duets or for piano lessons). Soft, Sostenuto and Damper pedals are also included. The CE220 is also equipped with USB connectivity ports, two headphone jacks, a built-in metronome and recorder, and comes with various songs and sound effects (e.g. 29 preset piano tunes, 22 instrument sounds, 100 drum patterns).
Overall, the Kawai CE220 is our top-pick for the best digital piano. Designed with wooden, weighted keys in a graded fashion and responsive to touch sensitivity, many sound patterns and effects, a built-in metronome, USB connectivity and dual headphone jacks, its no wonder the CE220 made it out on top as this is one great looking and high-quality instrument.
2. Yamaha Arius YDP181 Review
The YDP181, which has plenty to offer to both novice and advanced musicians, is a shining example of Yamaha’s continued ability to manufacture top-quality digital pianos. The YDP181 is not only aesthetically pleasing (e.g. accommodating and intuitive LED display, rosewood finish, shiny and smooth keys with a matte finish), it is responsible for producing a rich and accurate acoustic sound through its realistic and responsive key action. To top it off, this digital piano comes equipped with high-quality internal speakers. Another notable features include the ability to adjust touch sensitivity settings, and the availability of 14 quality voices.
The sound quality of the Yamaha YDP181 is superior to many of its competitors, and must really be heard in person to be appropriately appreciated. The AWM (Advanced Wave Memory) dynamic stereo sampling is responsible for much of the quality in sound produced, and is used to replicate the subtle shifts, alterations, and nuances that you could expect to find in traditional acoustic sound. The resulting resonating sound is impressive to say the least, and the advanced digital filter technology utilized during the recording stages play a significant role in this. The damper resonance samples further enhance sound quality by comprehensively mimicking the alterations in sound when pedaling is incorporated during playing. With 128 notes of polyphony, while not the highest on this list, the Yamaha YDP181 has more than enough capability to play pretty much any sheet of music without worry of notes being cut off prematurely because of a lack in adequate power.
Yamaha’s Graded Hammer key action is known to be superior to many of its competitors with regards to reliably providing an accurate representation of the gradations in weight and touch response that you could expect to find on a traditional acoustic piano. As mentioned earlier, touch sensitivity on the Yamaha YDP181 is adjustable (Soft, Medium, Hard), providing you with an additional degree of customization based on finger strength, musical style, and individual preference. Equipped with Soft, Damper, and Sostenuto pedals, along with 845 Kbytes of internal memory, 50 piano songs, 14 demo songs, 14 voices, a headphone jack, USB connectivity and dual voice capability – the Yamaha YDP181 is an accommodating and capable digital piano with plenty to keep you entertained.
With excellent sounds and a reliably realistic key action, the Yamaha YDP181 isn’t just a popular digital piano, it is one of the best. A nice combination of digital features, an attractive design, top-quality functionality, and a reasonable price tag, the Yamaha YDP181 is an awesome digital piano that deserves your consideration.
3. Casio Privia PX860 Review
The PX860 is next up in this review, combining incredibly realistic sound with impressive build quality and various digital features into a lightweight (roughly 82 pounds), highly-attractive, furniture-style digital piano. This is really as close as you can get to replicating the sound and key responsiveness to that of a traditional piano. Casio paid attention to detail, and it paid off. This is the best digital piano for under $1000.
The Acoustic and Intelligent Resonator Sound Engine plays a role in the sound quality is produced, which is used to record the samples through the utilization of four separate dynamics to emulate sound. The obvious sound that can be heard from a hammer striking the string in an acoustic piano has been replicated with the incorporation of the PX860’s Damper and String Resonance Hammer Response simulators.
In addition, the Casio PX860 boasts an impressive 256 notes of polyphony, something that many of its competitors with a much higher price cannot compete with. With 256 notes of polyphony, musical masterpieces can be played without premature cutting-off of notes. The sliding lid found on the Casio PX860 can be positioned to project the sound in an outward direction.
Casio’s acclaimed Tri-Sensor Scaled Hammer key action coupled with the simulated ivory and ebony keys, result in a responsive and accurate replication of the playing experience you’d find on an acoustic piano. This software considers slight alterations in the speed of a hammer based on its size, and does exactly what it was intended to do – provides the musician with a highly realistic and reliable key-to-sound result. The three built-in pedals operate through a half-damper system. The Casio PX860 comes with 60 built-in songs with additional room for up to 10 songs of your choosing, as well as 18 unique tones. The PX860 is capable of connection through USB and MIDI, or its headphone jack. The Casio PX860 also boasts a built-in two-track recorder.
The responsiveness of the keys, and the high-quality sound that this digital piano produces is representative of what you might expect from a real piano. This furniture-style digital piano only weighs a fraction of what some of its competitors weigh, which also brings with it the factor of greater portability. For this price, there aren’t really any flaws that we could find with the Casio PX860. Whether you’re a beginner or more advanced, piano playing is enjoyable on the PX860 and there are enough digital features to mess around with to keep you entertained for quite a while. This is one of the top-rated, and our favorite, budget digital pianos – for good reason.
4. Kawai KDP90 Review
The KDP90 is an affordable furniture-style digital piano that has a number of useful digital features (it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles you’d find on a higher-end piano but the features it does have, it does them well), including Kawai’s Advanced Hammer Action IV-F key action, some Alfred lessons that could come in handy as a beginner, and an elegant rosewood finish.
One thing the Kawai KDP90 does excel at is the production of realistic and accurate acoustic piano sounds. Each note has been sampled separately utilizing Kawai’s acclaimed Harmonic Imaging technology. The keyboard is stable in balance and volume from one key to the next, something that can not be said about all pianos within this price range. Together, the KDP90’s pedal resonance system and its 192 notes of polyphony, result in an unusually high-quality sound that very much resembles a traditional piano. When pressed down, the pedal does a decent job mimicking the effects of resonation on real piano strings. All in all, this piano sounds excellent.
The keys are weighted in a graded fashion – providing you with the look and feel of a real piano’s keys. It feels as if there are a number of different sized hammers hidden away in the back somewhere all with slightly different weights and feels when pressed.
Concert Magic, one unique digital feature found on the Kawai KDP90, lets you play your choice of 40 songs, and no experience is required (you aren’t actually playing, any key you press would play the correct note) – probably not useful if you’re trying to teach yourself how to play but something cool to impress your friends. One-track recording, 3 pedals (Soft, Sostenuto, Damper), great-quality stereo speakers, and MIDI connectivity are just a handful of the powerful features found on this piano.
If you can do without a surplus of digital features, and instead are after high-quality sound and an attractive furniture-style digital piano, the Kawai KDP90 deserves your consideration. The KDP90 is reasonably priced and performs all of its core functions extremely well. For the budget conscious beginners and advanced musicians, this instrument may be the perfect fit.
5. Yamaha Arius YDP162 Review
Another top-choice out of the Yamaha’s esteemed Arius lineup of digital pianos, the YDP162 is an elegant piano that is legitimized with the high quality close-to-reality acoustic sound and accurate playing capabilities that it provides. The Yamaha YDP162 is a well-rounded instrument that has been geared for a wide range of consumer types. The traditional look and feel of this piano get it some brownie points, as the cabinet itself is more robust and well-crafted than many of its competitors. The synthetic ivory Graded Hammer keys are as close as you can get to replicating the look and feel of the keys on a real baby grand piano. This is one of the best digital pianos under $1500.
The Yamaha Arius YDP162 comes with a number of features making it more than suitable for beginning and advanced pianists. The pianos dual internal speaker system (2 x 20W) ensures the sound produced by Yamaha’s PureCF sound engine is as loud and clear, as you want it to be. To top it all off, the Acoustic Optimizer system enhances the acoustical flow based on a number of variables, which helps maintain proper sympathetic resonance while playing. As you might expect, the larger than average cabinet size found on this piano seems to act as an amplifier in and of itself, resulting in a more rich sound and more resonation when it is expected. With 128 notes of polyphony, the Yamaha YDP162 should have no problem playing the musical pieces you throw its way.
The built-in two track recorder is nice to have – it allows you to record the right and left hands on individual tracks. This is a great learning tool, as you can practice with one hand at a time while the recording of your other hand is played in the background, in real-time. The three pedal system, USB and MIDI compatibility, headphone jack, a duet playing-mode, a matching bench and key cover, an included 50 song songbook, a wide variety of built-in songs and sound effects (e.g. 10 drum patterns, 10 demo songs, 50 preset songs, 10 preset voices), and enough storage space (900KB) to add some of your own tracks make the Yamaha YDP162 one of the best digital pianos for the money.
6. Casio PX760 Review
The Casio PX760 is the updated version of the Casio PX750, which was already one of the best quality, entry-level digital pianos. The PX760 takes pretty much every good characteristic that was found on the PX750 and makes additional improvements. Regarding the overall cabinet design, colors of the finish, along with various hardware systems (e.g. internal speaker system) and the control panel layout, not much has changed (no need to fix something that’s not broken). There are some upgrades as far as instrument sound samples goes. You’ll also find a play along song library, composed of orchestrated classical music (a total of 10 songs in audio wav format), which was not found on the previous version. This feature can be fun as it can be quite enjoyable to play along with tracks recorded from a live orchestra, though a bit of skill may be required as you’ll have to be able to read music or reliably play by ear. The tracks can be slowed down, and left and right hand playback can be manipulated for live play-alongs, which can help you in the learning process. This is one of the best digital pianos for beginners.
Compared to the PX750, the Casio PX760’s instrument sounds (e.g strings, electric pianos), are noticeably improved and sound much more similar to their real-life pro-quality counterparts. The acoustic piano is also superior, which has 3 electronic sensors per each key, and a large dynamic tonal range that is surprisingly lovely. The PX760 comes with 128 notes of polyphony. The keys feel as if they are true ivory & ebony, as they are responsive and nice to use.
The cabinet itself is attractive, and the sliding metal key cover adds just an extra layer of protection (plus it looks good). The control panel buttons are laid out in front of you (ergonomics win) instead of off to the side like many other of its competitors do. The Casio PX760 is also equipped with 2-track MIDI recording capabilities. Overall, the PX760 is a great choice for those looking for an aesthetically pleasing, cabinet-style digital piano that not only sounds great but has a number of digital features to keep you entertained.
7. Yamaha DGX650B Review
In our opinion, the Yamaha DGX650B is unique in that it comes with a wide range of fun to use, intuitive digital features that make it a great pick for beginner and experienced musicians. The sound quality and the responsiveness of the keys are a joy to be had. The acoustic sound is largely representative of a true acoustic piano.
The smart chord auto accompaniment and style recommender are two digital features that are worth mentioning – these work in real-time to provide a list of suitable accompanying styles based on your own personal playing abilities. Audio has been sampled from Yamaha’s top-notch CFIIIS Concert Grand piano utilizing PureCF technology. The sound you hear on the DGX650B is eerily similar to what you’d expect on a traditional acoustic grand piano. Two 6-watt speakers are responsible for projecting your music, though don’t expect extremely loud or highly reverberating levels of volume. The DGX650B utilized some advanced digital sound software that allow 128-note polyphony processing power. The keys are graded, and weighted – sensitivity and responsiveness can also be adjusted (soft, medium, hard, fixed) to 1 of 4 settings.
The Yamaha Education Suite is available for your learning pleasure (which breaks down pre-set songs into their individual notes). With over 100 preset songs (artists ranging from Coldplay to Elton John), and 195 preset voices, you can be sure you’ll get great use out of this feature. The damper resonance pedal is also there to provide you with enhanced playing. With AUX line output, USB capabilities, and 1.7MB of internal storage, your options for connectivity are large. Other than the less than stellar internal speakers, the Yamaha DGX650B has very little negatives. The host of impressive digital features and a realistic graded key action, make the DGX650B one of the best budget digital pianos available.
8. Casio Privia PX160 Review
At this price range, the Casio PX160 gives you the most for your money. This is one of the few entry-level digital pianos that boasts an impressive 3 sensors per key, which enhances sensitivity and allows for better sensing of key movement during repetition. The tonal dynamic range of the grand piano sound is much more expressive with a wider sound-stage than many of its competitors. Natural organic piano musical elements, including hammer response, damper resonance and damper noise, are reproduced accurately, adding another layer of authenticity and similarity to what you’d expect on a traditional piano. This is the best digital piano under $500.
The synthetic ivory and ebony keys, look and feel like the real thing. With regards to the actual playing experience, the Casio PX160 is superior to many digital pianos in its price range. The keys are weighted and graded, incrementally increasing in weight as you move from right to left down the keyboard. Key movement may be heard with the volume turned all the way down, but it goes largely unnoticed during normal use. This is not unusual for digital pianos, and is often found on traditional piano keys.
Organs, strings, choirs, harpsichords, and electric pianos are just a few of the instrument sounds that you can pick from, all of which sound surprisingly close to their real-life counterparts. You can play in layers or with individual sounds, and you can even split the keyboard to play a different sound for each hand. The 128 notes of polyphony should be more than enough for solo or dual-sound playing. The sustain pedal allows you to control sustain on and off, and the right pedal triggers a half-damper sustain effect. With 2 speakers powered by 18 watts, the internal sound system is sufficient for most people. The sound quality is very good, and resonance stemming from bass response is noticeable. The control panel is easy to use and has a number of physical buttons that give access to the main piano sounds, a number of recording features, along with a built-in metronome. Other sound effects and digital features can be accessed through proper use of the function button along with specified keys.
9. Yamaha P115 Review
The Yamaha P115 boasts the acclaimed pure CF sound engine that is responsible for the impressively vibrant sounds stemming from this 88-key digital piano. Concert halls from across the globe have heard the echoes of Yamaha’s CFIIIS concert grand piano, the sound of which has been recorded for your own personal enjoyment on the P115. Built-in true circle speakers simplify the process and produce a beautiful formulation of rich low frequencies and crisp higher tones.
Graded Hammer technology simulates the feel of the keys with more resistance on the lower registers than those on the higher register. This replicates what you might expect on a traditional acoustic piano. Hard, medium, soft, and fixed levels of touch sensitivity are available. With 192-key polyphony, the P115 boasts a sizable increased in processing power over its competitors. There are a number of rhythms and instrument options (e.g. Wurlitzer, rock organ, bright piano, grand piano) to choose from, along with a variety of piano styles (e.g. boogie woogie).
MIDI and USB ports are available for your convenience. The Yamaha P115 is also equipped with the Digital Piano Controller app (which can be used on the iPhone or iPad). This allows your device to control the keyboard itself so you don’t have to fuss with physical buttons and instead can adjust settings and sound directly from your iOS device. While there is no wireless option, plugging the device into the keyboard only takes a few seconds. Other handy features like Sound-Boost, which automatically adjust EQ and works by brightening the sound stemming from the piano, and the ability to combine instrument sounds or turn off internal speakers in favor of an external PA system are higher-end features that are probably most often used by working musicians that don’t want to be drowned out by other musical instruments. You are unlikely to grow out of the Yamaha P115 any time soon, thanks to the vast number of digital features, graded hammer technology, a number of voice options, and an overall impressive sound that is comparable to a traditional piano.
10. Yamaha P45 Review
The P45 replaces the P35 as Yamaha’s new entry-level 88-key digital piano. Yamaha improves upon the P35 in many ways including the addition of USB and MIDI connectivity, and the polyphony that has been doubled in size. With the chassis weighing around 25 pounds, this piano is light and portable. The world renowned Grade Hammer Standard keyboard ensures that beginners and intermediate pianists are exposed to a keyboard with the look and feel of a real piano. The Advanced Wave Memory sound engine includes a number of different instrument sounds (e.g. 2 electric piano, 2 organ models, 2 acoustic piano tones, 2 harpsichord variations, strings patch, and Yamaha’s acclaimed vibraphone tone).
There is no built-in audio recorder, so be prepared for an aftermarket purchase that can be connected through the USB port. With 64-note polyphony, the Yamaha P45 is geared towards beginner and mid-level musicians. Four different key sensitivity settings can be picked from, though we found the keys to be a bit noisy on the way back up – you’ll either have to turn up the volume or use some decent headphones to counteract this. Still, for this price, the noise produced by the keys themselves is insignificant compared to some of the other cheap digital pianos we’ve encountered
The Duo Mode is a useful feature, and can help with teaching by splitting the keyboard into two individual parts for simultaneous playing. There are 14 separate voices, along with a number of reverb effects (e.g. recital hall, concert hall, salon, club), rhythm and pianist style modes to choose from and to keep you entertained.
Keep in mind, the P45 really is geared towards beginners, and for a bit more you can have yourself the P115 which brings you more bang for your buck and leaves you more wiggle room as your experience level grows with time. Still, if you have a limited budget and are only looking for the best cheap digital piano, the P45 has 88-keys and is our favorite entry-level device.