The HDpiano Digital Piano Buyer’s Guide
People often ask us: “What is the best digital piano that I can buy?” Well, it’s really not that easy. Choosing the best digital piano for you depends on numerous factors including budget, space, portability, sounds, and preferred musical style. With this guide we hope to help you understand the market for digital pianos and keyboards so you can make an informed choice. For the record, HDpiano is not affiliated with any of the companies listed below.
If you’re in the market for a new keyboard, hopefully this guide will help. Keep in mind that you can always save money buying a used keyboard, anything made in the last 5 years will likely be satisfactory. Try using Sweetwater.com or a similar music equipment dealership to filter by brand and price. Scroll down or click here for an explanation of some of the common terminology you might encounter on your quest.
Budget Friendly, Full-Size Weighted Keyboards:
If you’re in it for the long haul and want a stay-at-home digital piano that won’t break the bank, these are great options. The weighted actions will feel realistic, making them great for all styles of music, and the piano sounds will be pristine and believable. Don’t expect any bells and whistles though! Many have the option to be sold with a decorative wooden stand which often looks better than a traditional metal keyboard stand.
The Casio Privia (~$500) is one of the most impressive digital pianos on the market for its price. Usually sold for around $500, you get a decent feeling weighted keyboard with a solid piano sound.
Roland, Yamaha, Kawai and Korg make some similar models that are usually slightly more expensive (~$6-800), with marginally improved sounds and designs. Check out the Roland FP series, the Yamaha P series, the Korg B series or the Kawai ES Series.
Most of these have built-in speakers and a headphone jack but they might not have the outputs you’d expect or need for quality performance audio (hooking up to an amp, PA, etc.) so beware if you plan to to perform.
Budget Friendly, Semi-Weighted Portable Keyboards:
If portability and size is a main factor, here are a few newer options. Keep in mind that semi-weighted actions might feel flimsy beneath a heavy hand, so if you’re into playing anything raucous, you’ll likely be let down by the feel of these.
The Roland GO:KEYS (~$300), the Yamaha Piagerro (~$200) and the latest Casiotone (~$120) are all decent options for extreme portability and low budgets. You shouldn’t expect much from the onboard speakers, and the touch will be very springy, but you can at least make some music!
Higher End, Full-Size Weighted Keyboards:
These models have more detailed samples, a narrow but high quality selection of sounds, more audio output options (for performance), and generally better feeling actions. The catch? You will definitely pay for it.
Check out the Korg Grandstage (~$2000), Korg SV-2 88 (~$2200) the Roland RD Series (~$2500), or the Yamaha CP88 (or 73) Series (~$2500).
Higher End, Portable Keyboards:
These keyboards are geared towards the gigging musician. Most are semi-weighted, though the Nord does have some portable hammer actions. Portability means the feel of the hammer action will suffer, so be sure to try before buying. The nice thing about higher budget semi-weighted actions is that they are tougher and will respond better to heavier styles like blues and rock.
The Nord Electro (~$2000) series features quality keyboard sounds in a very lightweight package. The feel is not great, but it’s one of the most widely used keyboards in the industry because of the sound quality.
The Nord Stage (~$3000) series features an onboard synth, making it very versatile for performance. The wide array of sounds is pretty incredible, but it’s very expensive.
The Yamaha YC61 (~$2000) is similar in many ways to the Nord Electro.
The Roland V-Combo (~$1000) is also similar to the Nord Electro, though not as well built. The sounds are also just not quite as authentic.
The Yamaha Reface (~$400) series is a ridiculously small keyboard that has really top notch sounds. Not for full on piano or keyboard performance, but great as an extra auxiliary keyboard for travel or in a live setting.
Ultra High-End Digital Pianos:
What happens when you spend closer to (~$4-5000) four or five thousand dollars? Well, you get what you pay for: a sleek state-of-the-art flagship keyboard that you can cherish for years. Don’t be fooled by the price tag though; many of the differences will be indiscernible. On this tier you’ll find instruments such as the Nord Grand and Stage 3 88, the Yamaha Clavinova Digital Upright, the Yamaha CP1 88, the Roland V-Piano, the Roland Kiyola Piano and more.
Understanding The Digital Piano Landscape
Choosing a keyboard can feel like a major life decision, so it will help to understand some of the most common terminology. Below are some of the most common terms and characterizations that you’ll encounter in your search.
Piano vs. Keyboard – These terms are often used interchangeably, but in some cases the distinction is useful. Generally, a digital piano is a keyboard, but a keyboard is not necessarily a digital piano. If it’s called a piano, then the focus is likely on the piano sound and the piano feel. Digital pianos are most often available in full size (88-key) models with weighted keys, so these are your best bet if you want a quality piano sound that also feels like a real piano.
Digital pianos often fall short in the sounds category, meaning that while you can get a good piano experience, you might be disappointed by the limited selection and quality of the other sounds like electric pianos, strings, organs, etc. If you are more interested in versatility, then you might want to focus your search away from digital pianos and more towards keyboards, but keep in mind they might be smaller and they might not feel as ‘real.’
Weighted vs. Semi-Weighted vs. Waterfall – These terms are used to describe the touch or feel of the keyboard. Weighted means that there is an internal mechanism replicating the analog feel of pressing a key on a piano, known as the ‘action.’ These days, most weighted keyboards have a pretty realistic feel, with the exception of portable weighted keyboards. The lighter the keyboard, the more sacrifices are made to the ‘hammer-action’ mechanisms.
Semi-weighted and waterfall actions feel nothing like a real piano. Don’t be fooled by semi-weighted – this is still just a simple mechanism that uses little more than a spring. The only difference between the two is that waterfall keys have rounded edges, meaning they’re better for palm slides, and thus most often seen on organs. Don’t worry, palm slides and glissandi are still easily performed on a semi-weighted action as well.
Touch / Velocity Sensitivity – In the early days of digital keyboards, velocity or touch sensitivity was not guaranteed, but these days, you can safely assume that any modern keyboard has touch sensitivity. Effectively, what this means is that the harder you strike a key, the louder the volume of the note. It’s a simple concept, but oh so important, and if you find yourself playing a cheap toy keyboard from the 80s or 90s you’ll certainly see how hard it is to play expressively when you have no control of the volume of each note. That being said, if you’re looking for a keyboard on a low budget, say, around two or three hundred dollars, it’s worth double-checking that it has velocity sensitivity or you might be disappointed.
Synths & MIDI Controllers – If you’re more interested in crazy sounds that can be modified by knobs and buttons, then you might be looking for a synthesizer, or a MIDI controller that you can use with software inside your computer. Synths are amazing, but it’s important to note that many do not feature any authentic analog instrument sounds. So while a digital keyboard might have some synth sounds, if you end up buying a synth, don’t expect much in the name of piano sounds.
MIDI Controllers on the other hand are digital keyboards that do not come with any built-in sounds, meaning, they only work when interfaced with a computer, iPad or other hardware device that produces the sounds. This makes them incredibly versatile and budget-friendly, but keep in mind they require additional equipment and/or software. If you have GarageBand, Logic, Ableton or any other similar digital audio workstations, then you might be able to get away with a MIDI controller paired with a high quality sample library.
What do we use at HDpiano? – Most of us use some variation of a ‘digital piano’ for our lessons. Devon uses a Roland F-20, Dan uses a Roland A-88 (a weighted MIDI controller), and Niji uses a Korg Kronos (a high-end standalone workstation with all sorts of bells and whistles). Fun fact: all of Cale’s lessons were taught on a 61-key semi-weighted MIDI controller. So if you’re working with a smaller keyboard, his lessons are guaranteed to fit 🙂
One thing that sets our videos apart is the quality of the piano sounds. That’s because we use high end sample libraries, purchased separately, that use many gigabytes of piano samples to form a very realistic sounding piano sound. Most of us use Acoustic Samples C7 Grand, but there are literally hundreds of fantastic options.