I confess. I used to feel that an acoustic piano was always the right choice. But after trying out a number of digital pianos and listening to musicians hotly debate the differences between a digital piano vs. an acoustic piano, I came to a realization. While there were a lot of great reasons to purchase an acoustic piano, there were just as many reasons to buy a digital piano.
In this article, we’ll help you understand all the differences between digital pianos and acoustic pianos to know which one is best for your music preferences. But, first, let’s talk about what digital pianos and acoustic pianos look like.
The first thing you’ll notice about the difference between digital and acoustic pianos is their appearance. Acoustic pianos, especially grand pianos, are much bigger and frequently have a shiny, wooden finish to them. Digital pianos, on the other hand, are generally smaller than a spinet piano and typically have a faux-wood finish.
Average acoustic pianos usually weigh anywhere from 200 to 1000 pounds, depending on what type of piano you have, Digital pianos, on the other hand, will probably weigh an average of around 100 pounds, with some being a little heavier and some being a little bit lighter. So while digital pianos aren’t really portable, they’re a lot more manageable than an acoustic piano.
If you ever have to move an acoustic piano check out guide to insure you don't hurt yourself or your piano: How To Move A Piano
Another essential distinction between acoustic and digital pianos is the key action. Digital pianos were designed to recreate the feel and sound of an acoustic piano, so key action is vital because it reflects how the piano feels when played.
An acoustic piano has heavily weighted keys. The keys are made of wood. When you strike the key, it activates a hammer system inside. The harder and faster you strike the key, the harder and faster the hammer strikes the strings, making it louder or softer, depending on how you play. Also, because the lower strings on the piano are bigger and thicker, the keys on the lower notes take more work to play than the keys that correspond with the higher notes.
A digital piano can recreate this, to a point. Of course, it won’t feel ‘exactly’ the same as an acoustic piano, but since acoustic pianos all have their own feel, it will be difficult to tell the difference anyway.
Take a look at our top choices of the best weighted keyboards
Many digital pianos have wooden keys covered in synthetic ivory, so they really feel like an acoustic piano. They may even use a hammer-like action to activate the notes. A higher-end digital piano will also use the graded hammer standard, so it takes a little more ‘oomph’ to play the lower notes and less to play the higher notes, just like you would find with an acoustic.
If you’d like to know a little more about it, Piano Picnic discusses the benefits of weighted keys and graded hammer action
One of the most interesting aspects of acoustic pianos is their tactile feel and resonance. An acoustic piano works because when you press down a key, it activates a hammer which strikes strings on the piano. As a result, the strings vibrate, creating the sound. However, the strings that vibrate will also cause other strings to vibrate, which is known as resonance. Albert Franz gives an in-depth demonstration of resonance, here.
So when you play an acoustic piano, you will feel and hear the resonance of the strings. This is hard to mimic on a digital piano.
On the other hand, digital pianos offer digital resonance, created through headphones and effects such as reverb. These effects can make you feel like you’re in a concert hall, piano studio, or living room.
If you're interested in a digital piano with the acoustic look and feel check out the Best Digital Grand Pianos
Of course, we need to talk about how the sound is made on a digital piano and an acoustic piano. When you press a key on an acoustic piano, the mechanism inside moves a hammer, which strikes the strings. The strings vibrate, creating the sound.
When you press a key on a digital piano, it turns the note ‘on,’ and when you let go, it turns it back off. The sound is either recreated digitally, or it is a recording of actual acoustic pianos or other instruments.
Learn how to record your digital piano
Both digital pianos and acoustic pianos have a wide dynamic range. From an acoustic standpoint, the piano will play as loud or as soft as you want, depending on how hard you depress the keys. A digital piano, though, has more options. They are velocity-sensitive, just like an acoustic piano, so the digital piano will respond to how hard or soft you play. But there’s also a volume slider or knob, making it even louder or softer.
But there’s even more! For example, many digital pianos will have a line out, meaning you could hook up your digital piano to a sound system, making it loud enough for an entire auditorium. Conversely, you could hook it up to headphones, so no one but you can listen in.
A new entry-level upright acoustic piano will cost anywhere between $3000 and $6500. A grand piano may cost somewhere in the ballpark of $10,000 to $30,000, while high-end, elite concert grands could cost up to $200,000. Pianos do depreciate over time, with grand pianos such as Steinways holding their value the longest. The resale value will depend on how old the piano is, what type and brand it is, and its condition.
Digital pianos cost significantly less, more in the ballpark of $1000 to $6000. While a digital piano won’t hold its value as well as an acoustic, there is still some resale value to it, depending on age, condition, and the market. However, there isn’t much of a guideline available since technology can change so quickly.
One of the downsides of owning an acoustic piano is maintenance. Your piano will need to be tuned once or twice per year. In addition, you may need to replace strings, hammers, or even the felt between the keys. This expense can add up over time, but it will keep your piano looking and sounding like it should.
A digital piano, on the other hand, is always in tune. Therefore, they need very little maintenance unless you actually break something. If that happens, you might be able to get your digital piano repaired, which can be costly, or you may have to replace the entire thing.
According to pianobuyer.com, the average lifespan of an average acoustic piano is probably around 40 to 50 years. So, theoretically, a digital piano could have a lifespan of 15 to 20 years under ideal conditions. However, technology changes rapidly, and what is considered state of the art in a digital piano now could be obsolete in just a few years.
Although some will have humidity systems, acoustic pianos don’t typically have electronic features. A few acoustic pianos, known as silent pianos, are both acoustic and digital pianos and can switch back and forth at the touch of a button. However, digital pianos have a host of potential electronic features such as Bluetooth, onboard lessons, a variety of digital voicings, metronomes, rhythm, accompaniment, and effects, just to name a few.
If you're interested in a digital piano with the look and feel of an acoustic piano, check out our recommendations here: Best Digital Piano For Classical Pianists
So which is better when we’re talking about digital pianos vs. acoustic pianos? They both have features that will benefit your music-making and enhance your style, so there really is no wrong choice. But here are a few suggestions that might help you decide what works best for you:
You are dedicated to playing classical music,
You love the tactile feel or resonance of music
You have space and money to afford an acoustic piano
You love the look of an acoustic piano
You love technology such as Bluetooth, recording, or built-in accompaniments
You want a low maintenance piano
You prefer to practice with headphones or need the ability to amplify your playing
You need something that is smaller in size or fits your budget better
Remember that either type of piano will work just fine to learn how to play, develop coordination, study musical nuance, and enjoy music.
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