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How To Choose Between a Digital or Acoustic Piano

Last Updated: December 09, 2022 / by Joseph Evans

Looking to buy a piano but can’t decide between an acoustic or a digital piano? The acoustic piano market is over 300 years old, whereas the digital version is much more recent.

Though technically, you can say they are both essentially pianos, so it can be a difficult decision to choose between the two. Here are some important differences to help you decide which one you prefer.

The Digital Piano

The purpose of a digital piano is to try to mimic the sound and feel of a traditional acoustic piano. This is done by weighing the keys to make them feel like a real piano while sounds on the keyboard are pre-recorded from an acoustic piano.

The higher quality a digital piano is, the better the sound, and the more sound variations you can get. The more expensive digital pianos go as far as attempting to make the keys touch sensitive (the harder you press, the louder the sound will be), but the ones that are usually more affordable do not. You simply have to adjust the main volume but the sound is still static.

The Pros

  • A digital piano/keyboard is undeniably lighter than a traditional acoustic piano, usually weighing about 200 pounds or less. The best part is that there is an ample variety on the market to choose from, varying in size and affordability. You have the freedom to be picky about how much room you do or don’t want to take up and they are easily moved and stored.
  • Another plus is that digital pianos are not affected by the weather like acoustic pianos are, so it doesn’t matter where you put it in the house. 
  • If you share a place with someone or live in an apartment block and you don’t want to disturb the neighbors you can practice using headphones.
  • A digital piano also has a huge variety of instruments you can enjoy and experiment with and most of them have a split keyboard option where on the one side you have the sound of one instrument and the other side you have the sound of another.
  • You can now connect keyboards to your PC or iPad etc. with the MDI (Musical Instrument Digital Device) which is great for musical composition and experimentation.
  • Digital pianos are much more affordable than acoustic pianos ranging between $1,500 and $8,000 depending on the brand, quality, and additional features.
  • You can record your songs and compositions for playback which is a fun and useful tool.
  • Also, being digital, it doesn’t have to be tuned.

The Cons

  • If you have electronic or mechanical failures they can be expensive to repair.
  • You rely on either battery power or electricity.
  • The sound is only an imitation of a real acoustic piano. And the cheaper digital pianos have a poor sound quality that can never compare to the real thing.
  • If you are pursuing a career or interest as a classical pianist, without a true acoustic piano to learn on, a digital piano will never teach you how to play artistically and sensitively - which creates that emotional atmosphere to capture an audience. To play with ‘feel’ can only be correctly expressed on a piano with the sensitivity to pick up on the players’ slightest touch.  Because of this, there are many classical pianos teachers who refuse to take on students who don’t have acoustic pianos to practice on.
  • Digital pianos are like cell phones and computers - as they get older they depreciate in value. Nowadays, with constant upgrades and technologies, the digital piano you purchase today will only be worth half of what you paid for it by the next year as there will most likely be a newer smarter version out by then.
  • Although the smaller size of a digital piano is convenient, it also has a downside.  A smaller keyboard means fewer octaves you have to play on, and as you learn to play more advanced pieces you may find the digital piano lacking in range.

The Acoustic Piano

The acoustic piano was invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori (1635-1751). There are 88 keys overall (52 white and 38 black) and pressing one or more of these keys causes a hammer to fall on a string which causes it to vibrate and make a sound.

The sound can either then be sustained or dulled by the pedals. The pianos soundboard (usually made of wood) magnifies the sound acoustically. The two most well-known versions of the acoustic piano are the Upright and the Grand piano. The upright (or vertical) pianos are the most popular in schools and homes, they take up less space than their grand cousins and are significantly more affordable. 

The Pros

  • An acoustic piano is a lifetime investment. Pianos sometimes stay in families for generations and if looked after properly can actually appreciate in value as time passes.
  • You don’t have to rely on batteries or electricity to enjoy some tunes. 
  • Unless you look for the cheapest acoustic piano in China (not recommended), it is very difficult to choose a bad quality piano. Though they all vary in make and price, essentially the mechanics are all the same. It’s the quality of those mechanics that you pay for.
  • A decent second-hand piano is always a good option since they can be bought for around the same price as a fancy new digital piano.
  • A traditional piano is always an attractive new addition to any home.

The acoustic piano is a must have if you intend to pursue the piano skill seriously, the keys and pedals all respond to your touch which helps you learn how to play expressively. Also, the wide range of keys and octaves will allow you the space to practice advanced music as well as scales and chords more comfortably.

The Cons

  • A good quality upright acoustic piano can cost you between $3,500 and $10,000, and a new Grand piano can range from $7,500 to $80,000, sometimes more!
  • An acoustic piano does not have the sound variations you get from a digital piano.
  • They are very difficult to transport, sometimes weighing between 450-1000 pounds. And if you do have to move it professional piano movers are recommended so that it’s not damaged.
  • An acoustic piano requires regular tuning every 6 months or after every time it is moved. The tuning can also be affected by the weather changes.
  • You cannot use headphones, there is a mute pedal that dulls the sound somewhat but it is annoying to practice with mute on and the sound can still be disturbing to others.
  • A traditional acoustic piano can also take up a lot of space, if you have a small place finding a good spot for it (or at all) can be a challenge.

Choosing between a digital or acoustic piano can be a simple decision. The points all mentioned above are all subjective to where you live, what you can afford, and what your musical goals are.

What's Gonna Work Best For Me?

If you are beginner or a student and you live with roommates then a digital piano would be more practical. But if you have space for an acoustic piano, then it’s a better choice if you intend to take your piano playing seriously.

Although digital pianos have their plus sides for sounds variations, recording and composing, as an advanced piano player they may limit your progress.

The convenience of a digital piano cannot be argued with, but they are essentially copies of a traditional acoustic piano and will never truly replace them. Which is why, if you have space and can find something in your price range, an acoustic piano may be something your grandchildren thank you for one day.

About the Author: Joseph Evans

My name is Joseph Evans and I am a guitar playing, freelance writing, online teaching music lover based in Seattle, WA. Growing up in a musical family naturally lead to obtaining my Bachelor of Music (BM) in Composition & Music Theory degree, after which I taught and traveled my way across Europe for 7 years before returning back home to settle in beautiful Seattle. On a typical day, you would find me playing my guitar, pottering around in the vegetable garden, going on long hikes, reading and/or writing.

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