Piano Buying Guide: Expert Tips for Your Perfect Purchase

The world of pianos, particularly digital ones, can often be perplexing and daunting for both beginners and experienced musicians. This article aims to address and answer the numerous questions that may arise when searching for the ideal digital piano. By gaining a better understanding of how to choose the right instrument tailored to personal needs, narrowing down options to one or two suitable models becomes much easier.

It is crucial to conduct proper research, as digital pianos are complex machines with many factors to consider before making an informed decision. Additionally, being mindful of the source of information is essential in avoiding unreliable online resources. This article will delve into the intricacies of digital pianos, discussing the differences between digital and acoustic variations and providing insights on the piano buying guide, strings, and tuners to make an educated choice in purchasing a musical instrument.

Digital vs Acoustic: The Magic of The Digital World

Exploring Samples

Samples are significant components when discussing digital pianos. They are short audio recordings of a musical instrument's sound or other sounds such as waves, sirens, and wind. In digital pianos, these samples help reproduce the sound of musical instruments, including acoustic pianos.

The quality of samples and the technology used to create them greatly impact the realism and accuracy of the produced sound. With advances in technology, high-end digital pianos can deliver a sound that is nearly indistinguishable from a real acoustic piano.

The Art of Physical Modeling

Physical modeling is an innovative technology that has been increasingly popular in digital piano designs. Unlike sampling, physical modeling recreates the piano sound from the ground up by emulating the physical behavior of an acoustic instrument.

While sampling is still the predominant technology in digital pianos, most models use a blend of sampling with some modeling elements (like string resonance and damper resonance) to enhance the sound and make it more natural.

Some digital pianos, such as high-end Roland models, exclusively use physical modeling known as SuperNATURAL Piano Modeling. This technology leads to ongoing debates about whether sampling or physical modeling attains a more accurate, natural sound.

Both digital and acoustic pianos have their respective advantages and disadvantages. Examining the differences between them can help aspiring musicians make informed decisions when choosing the right instrument for their needs. For a detailed comparison, consider reading our Digital vs Acoustic Piano Guide.

Keyboard vs Digital Piano

Digital Pianos

Digital pianos strive to replicate the feeling and sound of an acoustic piano as authentically as possible. They consistently feature 88 fully-weighted, hammer-action keys. In contrast, keyboards typically have only 76 or 61 non-weighted or semi-weighted keys.

High-quality multi-samples and sophisticated modeling are employed in digital pianos to create a natural and realistic piano sound. They rarely have more than 20-30 built-in tones, as their primary focus is on reproducing the acoustic piano experience. Additional features such as built-in sounds, songs, accompaniment styles, and interactive elements are generally not present in digital pianos.

Key features of digital pianos:

  • 88 fully-weighted, hammer-action keys
  • High-quality multi-samples
  • Limited built-in tones (focused on acoustic piano sound)
  • Fewer additional features compared to keyboards


Digital or electronic keyboards differ from digital pianos in that their primary focus is not to replicate the acoustic piano experience. Keyboards come in various types such as portable arranger keyboards, synthesizers, music workstations, and MIDI-controllers. The feature sets of these types often overlap, making categorization challenging.

These instruments are typically more expensive and aimed at professional musicians, live performers, composers, and music producers. Unlike digital pianos, keyboards often have numerous built-in sounds and interactive features catering to various musical styles and purposes.

In summary, digital pianos and keyboards cater to different needs, with digital pianos focusing on reproducing the authentic acoustic piano experience, while keyboards provide a wider range of sounds and features for versatile musical applications.

Types of Digital Pianos

Portable Pianos

Portable digital pianos, also known as "slab pianos," combine the convenience of lightweight and compact design with the full range of 88 hammer-action keys found in acoustic pianos. These pianos typically have better sound quality, higher polyphony count, and a wider dynamic range compared to portable keyboards. They offer a more affordable option compared to console digital pianos, although a separate stand may need to be purchased. Some popular portable piano models include the Yamaha P-45, Yamaha P-125, Casio CDP-S160, and Roland FP-30X.

Console Pianos

Console digital pianos closely replicate the sound, touch, and appearance of acoustic pianos. They come with a built-in stand and pedals, and their attractive design makes them a visually appealing addition to any room. Console pianos offer a superior playing experience but are generally heavier and bulkier than portable pianos. Prices for console digital pianos range from $700 to $5,000 or more, depending on the degree of resemblance to an acoustic piano. Some popular console piano models are the Casio PX-870, Yamaha YDP-145, Roland F701, and Kawai KDP120.

Arranger Pianos

Arranger digital pianos combine the core features of digital pianos, such as high-quality piano samples and 88 hammer-action keys, with additional functionalities found in arranger keyboards. They offer a wide range of built-in sounds, rhythms, songs, effects, and recording features, making them suitable for amateur music production, composing, and exploring various musical instruments and styles. Popular arranger piano models include the Yamaha DGX-670, Casio PX-S3100, Casio PX-780, and the Yamaha CSP-series.

Stage Pianos

Designed for live performance and studio use, stage pianos prioritize portability and hands-on control while maintaining the quality of acoustic piano sounds and touch response. They often come equipped with other tones, such as electric pianos and organs, and provide various sound effects and parameters for customization. Stage pianos usually don't have built-in speakers, as they are designed for use with external amplification systems. Some popular stage piano models include Roland RD-2000, Korg Grandstage, Nord Stage 3, and Yamaha CP88.

Types of Keyboards

Portable Arranger Keyboards

Portable arranger keyboards are an affordable option often chosen by beginners who are not fully committed to piano mastery. These keyboards usually cost between $100 to $300 and have 76, 73, or 61 semi-weighted or unweighted keys. Although they don't provide the same level of realism in sound and touch as a traditional piano, they are lightweight and easy to transport. Most portable arranger keyboards are equipped with numerous sounds, songs, rhythms, and other interactive features, making them popular among beginners and children. However, they may not be the best choice for those aiming to develop proper piano techniques.


Synthesizers are electronic keyboards used in music production, capable of generating or replicating a wide variety of sounds. They come with basic waveforms and pre-recorded sounds that can be mixed and altered to create virtually any audio effect. Synthesizers are highly versatile and allow musicians to create sounds of instruments, voices, and environmental noises.

Arranger Keyboards / Workstations

Arranger keyboards or workstations are designed for professional musicians and offer a wide range of backing tracks (chord and rhythm patterns) for various styles, rhythms, and tempos. These features enable composers and songwriters to create accompaniment for their music easily and quickly. Lower-end arrangers are often referred to as "portable arrangers" or simply "portable keyboards."

Music Workstations

A music workstation is essentially a computer built into a keyboard. It combines a wide range of tools, allowing users to perform various tasks, such as sound synthesis, sequencing, audio recording, and working with sound effects and filters. Music workstations typically come with hundreds or even thousands of top-notch sound samples, which can be customized using knobs and sliders for on-the-fly control of various sound parameters.

MIDI Controllers

A MIDI controller is a device that generates and transmits MIDI data to other electronic devices capable of interpreting the data and triggering sounds or controlling sound parameters accordingly. These controllers typically have a piano-style keyboard and connect to a computer via USB or MIDI ports. MIDI controllers cannot produce sounds on their own, as they only track key presses and control elements like knobs, sliders, and pads. The data collected from MIDI controllers is sent to a computer or another musical keyboard to generate the actual sound. Most MIDI controllers have non-weighted keys, but some models target piano players and feature realistic weighted-key action, such as the M-Audio Hammer 88 or the Kawai VPC1.

Best Digital Piano Brands

Brands to Trust

When choosing a digital piano, it's essential to select one from reputable brands to ensure a high-quality instrument. Some of the top digital piano brands include:

  • Yamaha: A well-established brand, known for its excellent technology and realistic sound.
  • Roland: Another industry leader with a solid track record of producing high-quality instruments.
  • Casio: A popular choice for digital pianos, delivering a great mix of quality and affordability.
  • Kawai: A brand that focuses on innovative piano technology and authentic touches.
  • Korg: A name synonymous with professional-grade digital pianos and keyboards.
  • Nord: Known for their distinctive red instruments, Nord offers a range of high-quality digital pianos.
  • Dexibell: An emerging player with a dedication to creating realistic and expressive digital pianos.

These brands provide top-notch technology, build quality, and realistic sound that will exceed your expectations.

Brands to Steer Clear of

Behind some digital pianos are lesser-known brands that may look appealing but deliver low-quality sound and key action. Some of these brands to avoid include:

  • Williams
  • Suzuki
  • Artesia

While these models may look attractive and affordable, they often don't meet the standards set by trusted brands like Yamaha, Roland, Casio, and their peers.

Types of Keyboard Actions

Non-Weighted Keyboards (Synthesizers)

Non-weighted keyboards, also known as synthesizers, are the lightest in terms of key action. They are commonly found in organs, entry-level keyboards, and synthesizers that do not aim to mimic the feel of an acoustic piano. These keyboards utilize a simple spring-loaded mechanism, resulting in thin and small keys with a light plastic feel. While not ideal for piano players due to their fast and springy action, non-weighted keyboards are preferred for playing synth leads and organ tunes due to their playability and light feel.


  • Ideal for playing non-piano music
  • Allows for fast note repetitions
  • Most non-weighted keyboards are very portable


  • Doesn't feel like an acoustic piano
  • Not the best choice for piano players
  • May be difficult to transition to an acoustic piano after practicing on this type of action

Semi-Weighted Keyboards

Semi-weighted keyboards offer slightly more resistance and better control than non-weighted keyboards. They use the same spring-loaded mechanism but with heavier keys due to stiffer springs or additional weights. Although they still lack the realism of an acoustic piano, semi-weighted keyboards are a middle ground between non-weighted and fully weighted keyboards, making them suitable for those who frequently switch between piano and non-piano sounds. They are commonly found in music workstations, arranger keyboards, and some stage pianos.


  • Closer to an acoustic piano feel than non-weighted actions
  • Great for playing organ and electric piano sounds
  • Relatively light and portable


  • Still lacks realism and piano-like feedback
  • Not the best choice for piano players
  • May be difficult to transition to an acoustic piano after practicing on this type of action

Fully Weighted Keyboards (Hammer Action)

Fully weighted keyboards, or hammer action keyboards, are designed to replicate the touch and feel of an acoustic piano. To achieve this, manufacturers add small hammers under or behind each key to recreate the mechanical movement of a real piano. However, not all hammer action keyboards are created equal, and the quality and feel can vary significantly between different models. High-end models often feature real wooden keys with an escapement mechanism that recreates the intricate nuances of an acoustic piano action.


  • The most realistic type of keyboard action
  • Helps develop proper finger strength and technique
  • The best choice for piano players


  • Relatively heavy and not as portable
  • More expensive than non-weighted and semi-weighted actions
  • Not as versatile due to its heavier feel

Notable Characteristics of Hammer Action Keyboards

Hammer action keyboards often come with desirable features such as 88 keys, graded hammer effect, textured keys that simulate the feel of ivory and ebony, touch sensitivity, a three-sensor system for detecting key depth and velocity, and minimal key noise. These features contribute to the overall playing experience and can make it easier for players to transition to an acoustic piano further down the line.

The Definitive Glossary

Functions and Features

Digital pianos offer numerous features to enhance the playing experience and make learning more enjoyable. Some of the essential functions include:

  • Metronome: A valuable tool for practice that helps improve rhythmic and timekeeping skills by providing a steady beat to play along with. Some digital pianos even allow customization of the metronome sound and tempo.
  • Polyphony: Refers to the number of notes a digital piano can produce simultaneously. Contemporary digital pianos typically have 64, 128, 192, or 256-note polyphony. It is advisable to have at least 64 notes of polyphony.
  • Modes: Digital pianos come with various modes that allow dual instrument sounds or duet play. Popular modes include Split Mode, Dual Mode (or Layer Mode), and Duo Mode (or Duet Play, Partner Mode, Twin Piano)
  • Preset Temperaments: Some digital pianos enable users to switch the standard Equal Temperament tuning to alternative tuning systems better suited for specific musical styles.
  • Lesson Function: Enables users to practice left or right-hand parts of a song separately with the aid of a multi-track MIDI recorder.
  • MIDI Recording: Allows recording and playback of performances without needing additional software or hardware. Multi-track recorders facilitate recording of several musical parts on separate tracks.
  • Audio Recording: Permits recording the audio output of the piano to a flash drive, usually in WAV or MP3 format, for sharing and playback on various devices.
  • Accompaniment: Enriches performances with a full backing band that follows the user's playing and transforms it into a complete song.
  • Transpose and Fine Tuning: Enables shifting the overall pitch of the keyboard in semitone steps or adjusting the tuning from the standard A440 pitch to match other instruments or music.

Sound Simulation

Digital pianos attempt to mimic the complex tone of an acoustic piano by reproducing various nuances of the piano's sound. Some key elements of sound simulation include:

  • Damper Resonance: Replicates the sustained sound of notes when the damper pedal of an acoustic piano is depressed. Certain digital pianos also offer a "half-pedal" feature for enhanced control.
  • String Resonance: Imitates the natural resonance of strings when other strings are played.
  • Key-Off Effect: Simulates the sound made when a key is released on an acoustic piano.
  • Lid Simulator: Emulates the effect of opening or closing the lid of an acoustic piano on the overall sound.

Through the customization of these parameters, digital pianos enable their users to create a personalized tone that suits their preferences and playing style.


Digital pianos come equipped with a variety of connectors that improve usability, enhance functionality, and enable seamless integration with other devices. Some common connectors include:

  • USB: For connecting the piano to a computer or other USB devices, enabling MIDI communication or data transfer.
  • MIDI IN/OUT: Permits linking the piano to other MIDI-compatible devices for communication and synchronization.
  • Audio In/Out: Enables connection to external audio sources or speakers for a more immersive listening experience.
  • Headphone Jacks: Accommodate headphones for private practice sessions, allowing for a quieter environment without disturbing others.

By understanding the functions, features, sound simulation, and connectors of digital pianos, users can make informed decisions when purchasing a piano tailored to their needs and skill level.

How Long Do Digital Pianos Last?

Digital pianos can potentially serve users for a long time, with some lasting up to a decade or more. However, their lifespan is generally shorter compared to acoustic pianos. This difference in longevity is not only due to wear and tear but also because of the continuous advancement in digital piano technology.

The digital piano market is ever-evolving, ushering in new models and features regularly to improve players' experience, sound quality, and realism. Consequently, a decade-old digital piano may struggle to compete with more recent models, making it rare for people to use a 20-year-old digital piano.

Buying a digital piano for around $1,000 today can provide a playing experience similar to that of an upright piano, but it's unlikely that it will last 30, 40, or 50 years, due to two main factors:

  1. Obsolescence: Rapid technological innovations lead to improved piano models, making older models obsolete.
  2. Wear and tear: Mechanical wear and tear, especially in key action, can result in increased noise and a less enjoyable playing experience.

The longevity of a digital piano's key action depends on its quality and usage. High-end digital pianos with sophisticated action mechanisms tend to last longer than entry-level keyboards. Additionally, the playing frequency also impacts the piano's lifespan.

When repair or maintenance is required, newer and better models may already be available, making it financially unwise to invest in costly repairs. In some situations, repair expenses can be half the price of the piano or render it more practical to purchase a new model. Acquiring parts for digital pianos older than 10 years can also be challenging.

In contrast, acoustic pianos have a considerably higher cost and are not subject to obsolescence. Therefore, repairing acoustic pianos is often a more sensible choice than for digital alternatives.

However, the decision to repair or replace largely depends on the specific circumstances, such as the piano model and user preferences. For instance, owners of high-end digital pianos like the Kawai Novus NV10S (approximately $15,000) or the Yamaha AvantGrand NU1X (around $8,000) might opt for repair over replacement.

To summarize, while digital pianos can last for a significant amount of time, their lifespan is generally outpaced by constant advancements in the industry, along with wear and tear. Making the choice between repairs, replacements, or upgrades ultimately lies in the hands of the piano owner and their unique needs.



There are two main types of stands to consider for your digital piano. The portable Z- or X-type stands are collapsible, adjustable, and easy to store away when not in use. On the other hand, furniture-style stands are sturdier and provide a more elegant look for home use. These stands can cost from $100-$150.


Digital piano pedals come in a few different forms. Many entry-level pianos include a basic plastic footswitch sustain pedal. For a more realistic feel, you could opt for a piano-style chrome pedal like the M-Audio SP-2. If you need all three pedals (sustain, soft, and sostenuto) found on acoustic pianos, you may want a 3-pedal unit designed to be fastened to a furniture-style stand.


A quality pair of headphones can significantly enhance your digital piano playing experience. It's crucial to invest in a good pair that delivers rich and deep sound to your ears, especially if you plan on using them frequently. For more information on choosing the ideal headphones, you can consult an online guide.


When looking for a bench to accompany your digital piano, there are two main types to consider: adjustable X-style benches, which are perfect for gigs, and classic wooden benches, which are ideal for home use. Prices for benches range from about $20 to $60+, depending on the type, brand, and materials.

External Amplification

External speakers can provide a more powerful, higher-quality sound compared to built-in speakers on digital pianos. Keyboard amps, which combine a power amp and a speaker in one unit, are versatile options that can be used in various situations, from small band rehearsals to big performances. Some factors such as portability, power, input and output channels, and extra features should be considered when selecting external speakers.


If you plan to move your digital piano for travel or gig situations, a keyboard bag or case is essential. These protective accessories help keep the instrument safe during transport and make carrying it easier. There are various types of bags and cases available, such as Gator Molded Flight Cases and SKB Keyboard Cases with Wheels, which are suitable for long-distance travel. For lighter travel, options like Gator Padded Gig Bags and Snigjat 88-Key Keyboard Soft Case may be more suitable.

Buying a Digital Piano: My Recommendations


Purchasing a digital piano at a physical store remains a popular choice for many. Here, we discuss the pros and cons of buying from a brick and mortar store.


  1. You can try out the instrument in person to better assess its sound and feel.
  2. Making a decision is easier after playing the piano yourself.
  3. You receive personalized attention from the sales staff, including tailored recommendations and demonstrations of sound from a listener's perspective.
  4. In most cases, you can pick up your piano immediately, eliminating the need to wait for delivery.


  1. A salesperson may negatively influence your decision, causing you to purchase a piano you don't like or are unsure about.
  2. Physical stores generally have higher prices compared to online shops.
  3. The selection of piano models in stores can be limited.


Online sales of musical instruments continue to grow, with many benefits driving this trend.


  1. Save time and effort by shopping from home at any time.
  2. Enjoy access to a wide range of available models through online outlets.
  3. Obtain trustworthy information about pianos from consumer and expert reviews, forum discussions, and video demonstrations.
  4. Take your time and weigh all the pros and cons with no pressure from salespeople.
  5. The total cost for the piano and shipping is often lower compared to brick-and-mortar stores.
  6. If your piano is under warranty, most online retailers offer free collection, repair, and return services.


  1. You can't personally try out the instrument, which could result in purchasing a piano that doesn't meet your preferences.
  2. Delivery times may vary from 2-5 days, and potential delays could be frustrating.
  3. Security risks, such as payment fraud and personal information theft, should be considered and mitigated with well-known, reliable online retailers.

List of Retailers

Here are some highly recommended online retailers for purchasing digital pianos:

USA: Amazon - Amazon has an extensive selection and often offers special discounts, bundles, and fast shipping.

Sweetwater - Sweetwater is a popular US-based music retailer known for excellent customer service, a well-organized website, and numerous payment options.

Guitar Center/Musician's Friend - These well-known US music retailers offer similar products, prices, and websites. They have an extensive selection, free shipping, and price matching.

UK & Europe: Thomann - Thomann is the largest online retailer of musical instruments in Europe, offering a 3-year warranty, competitive prices, and free shipping from €398.

Gear4music - Gear4music is another prominent retailer in the UK and Europe with local websites in 19 countries and delivery to 196 countries worldwide. They provide a 30-day money-back guarantee on all products with free returns.


Do I need 88 keys on my piano?

Yes, it is recommended to have 88 keys on a piano, especially for classical pieces. However, 73 or 76 keys may be sufficient for most musicians who require portability. Most digital pianos have 88 keys.

Are all three piano pedals necessary?

The sustain pedal is essential for all piano players, including beginners. The soft and sostenuto pedals are used less frequently and are not crucial for beginners or intermediate players. However, advanced players who perform classical pieces may require all three pedals.

Do digital pianos need tuning?

Digital pianos do not need tuning since they use samples of a perfectly tuned acoustic piano. Acoustic pianos, on the other hand, should be tuned at least once a year.

Can the volume of a digital piano be adjusted?

Yes, all digital pianos and keyboards allow you to adjust the volume.

Is it possible to practice silently with headphones on a digital piano?

Yes, you can connect headphones to a digital piano and practice without disturbing others. Most digital pianos and keyboards have a headphone jack.

Can I record and play back my performance on a digital piano?

Most digital pianos above $500 have a built-in MIDI recorder, enabling you to record and play back your performances. Some digital pianos even feature a multi-track recorder for recording multiple parts independently and playing them back as a single song.

What is the recommended polyphony for a digital piano?

A polyphony of at least 64 notes is recommended for playing piano, and 128 notes for layering multiple sounds and utilizing multiple backing tracks in performances.

How important is speaker wattage in a digital piano?

While a higher speaker wattage can provide a fuller and bolder sound, there are other factors such as speaker quality, quantity, location, and your acoustic environment that contribute to the overall sound. More output power does not always guarantee better sound quality.

Do wooden keys make a difference on a digital piano?

Wooden keys, often found on more expensive digital pianos, add an additional layer of realism due to their different physical qualities compared to plastic keys. However, as long as the key action provides proper resistance similar to an acoustic piano, the material of the keys should not matter too much.

What basic features should I look for in a digital piano?

For beginners, consider digital pianos that have 88 hammer action keys, at least 64 notes of polyphony, high-quality acoustic piano samples, as well as metronome and transpose functions. Depending on your needs, extra features such as USB-MIDI connectivity, an onboard MIDI-recorder, and built-in songs may also be important.

Do digital pianos differ between manufacturers?

Manufacturers develop their own technologies for sound recording, keyboard actions, speaker systems, and other features, which is why the sound and feel of digital pianos differ between brands. Generally, higher-priced digital pianos offer a more realistic sound and feel.

You might also like:

Digital Piano vs Keyboard vs Synthesizer: Full Comparison

Digital vs Acoustic Piano: In-depth Comparison

Best Digital Pianos & Keyboards (All Price Points)

Worst & Best Digital Piano & Keyboard Brands: The Definitive Guide

Harlan Kilstein began playing piano during covid with no piano background at all. He taught himself how to play learning what to do and what not to do.
Today he's an advanced intermediate player and can help you grow in your skills because he learned all this on his own.