Are you looking to buy a piano? Well, the first thing you have to decide is whether you want to buy an acoustic or a digital one. While this might seem just a small and easy step in the huge process of looking for the right instrument for you, it is a very important one. Choosing between an acoustic or a digital piano means choosing between a lot of different aspects, such as sound, price, its maintenance as well as some factors that are not very obvious.
Understanding that this is a hot topic for many musicians, I have created this guide to help you choose what you need, by explaining to you all the pros and cons of both the acoustic and the digital pianos. Below you can explore all the big and small differences between these two instruments, so that you can finally decide which piano is the one that fits your needs. Read on to find out!
The sound should always be the top priority when you are looking to buy a musical instrument. As you probably know, the acoustic piano produces sound using a system made of small hammers and steel strings: every time you press a key, a hammer hits a string that produces a note. Depending on the type of the piano (whether it is upright or a stage piano), the strings are placed either vertically or horizontally. What is unique about the acoustic piano is the richness in dynamic that you can create while playing.
The digital piano doesn’t contain any strings or hammers, but a digital memory filled with recorded sounds of an acoustic piano. Every time you hit a key, a note that has been sampled from an acoustic piano is played back. The more high-end the model, the better and more accurate the sound reproduction. Of course, as digital pianos emulate the sound of acoustic ones, they do have inferior sound, but note that the most expensive models of digital pianos might actually sound better compared to cheap models of acoustic pianos.
Keys and pedals
So, what is exactly this mechanism that allows the acoustic piano to have such a great variety of dynamics? The answer is simple: its keys. There is a complex mechanism that involves keys, hammers and strings inside an acoustic piano, allowing it to create louder and quieter sounds. An acoustic piano comes with 88 keys, a feature that has been passed also to digital pianos. It also comes with three pedals (soft, sostenuto, and sustain pedal) that are pretty hard to emulate digitally.
Dynamics are important, as they allow greater room for the player’s expression through music. Don’t get me wrong: digital pianos are really working hard to emulate the key mechanism of acoustic pianos. In addition to incorporating touch sensitivity, that detects if you hit a key softly or not and thus plays the note quieter or louder, digital pianos also come with weighted keys. These keys require some more strength to play and they feel almost like the acoustic piano ones. Most digital pianos also come with one to three optional pedals that can do the job, but not perfectly.
Space here means two things: one is how much free space you have inside the house to place the instrument conveniently, and what is your relationship with your roommates and neighbors. To begin with, acoustic pianos are pretty large instruments that will need quite a lot of space to put them in the house. Assuming you already have that, you should consider that there is no way to mute an acoustic piano. Some pianos come with a silent system that will probably please your neighbors, but if you live with other people (family, roommates), they will still be able to hear you even with this system on.
On the other hand, digital pianos come with a headphone output that lets you practice even late at night without any problem for either neighbors or roommates. Note that I advise you to buy a pair of decent headphones to be able to hear everything correctly. In addition to that, they are more compact and lightweight compared to acoustic pianos. They still take some space inside a room, but they can be much easier to handle if you plan to move from one house to another. However, moving them often (like for gigs or rehearsals) is not really doable.
Maintenance and repair
Maintenance is a cost that many buyers do not take into account, leading to unpleasant surprises in the future. Once you buy an acoustic piano, you should take care of it, as factors like humidity, excessive cold or heat can permanently damage it. In addition to that, its mechanical parts will wear off over time, and you might need to repair and restore them, which is not something cheap to do. Despite that, you need to tune your acoustic piano from time to time, which means that you have to call (and pay) an expert to do this delicate job for you. Note that if you buy a second-hand piano, you might need to call a professional to tune it quite often.
On the contrary, digital pianos do not require any maintenance or repair (unless you do some great damage to them, like spilling water or hitting them with something). Moreover, you don’t need to tune it and you will never face the issue of the broken string. Digital pianos are more forgiving about temperature and humidity as well.
It is widely known that your budget is a very important factor in every purchase you make. It is understandable that most people want to spend as little money as possible, but at the same time, getting an instrument that will last for years to come without needing replacement is also a good investment. Balancing between these two factors is key to making a successful purchase. An acoustic piano is pretty expensive, and its price goes above $1000. Many people cannot afford it, but if this is what you want, it is better to wait for a while to collect the money and get it, instead of investing on something else that you will need to replace with an acoustic piano in a couple of years. Moreover, it is easier to sell an acoustic piano, as it doesn’t lose its value.
On the other side, if you consider buying a digital piano, there are many options regarding the price tags. You can find both cheap and expensive models, and there are great choices for those of you who are on a low budget. Of course, you always get what you pay for, which means that more expensive models will be more versatile and probably sound better as well. The downside of buying a digital piano is that you might have trouble selling it in the future, as new models keep popping out every year, which means that your digital piano might be outdated in a couple of years.
Other important factors
Although all the technical stuff I explained earlier is pretty much well-known, there are some additional factors that may lead you to choose an acoustic or a digital piano. First of all, the music genre you wish to play is quite important: classical music lovers almost always go for the acoustic piano, while those who wish to play a variety of genres might benefit from the additional voices that many digital pianos incorporate.
Another important thing to consider is that, if you are a beginner, you might find it easier to learn the piano using a digital one. Not only you can connect it to your computer and use online lessons to learn, but many digital pianos also come with recording capabilities that let you listen back to what you have played. These capabilities make both playing and learning much easier for beginners, especially those who are planning to learn the piano by themselves.
As you have probably realized by now, both the acoustic and the digital piano come with their unique pros and cons. Consequently, it is not an easy thing to answer which of the two is the best. However, for each one of you, either the digital or the acoustic piano is the best option. To arrive in this conclusion, you have to carefully think about and examine your needs. For instance, if you are a classical music lover that has enough space in his house and kind neighbors around him, then the acoustic piano is the optimal choice.
On the other side, if you want to experiment with different musical genres, you like practicing late at night and you don’t want to spend a fortune, then the digital piano is exactly what you are looking for. To make the choice between an acoustic and a digital piano easier for you, try to write down a list of what is important for you on a piano. This way you will decide more effectively!