Acoustic vs Digital Pianos

For many, when thinking about the first steps of buying a piano, the first decision will be whether to go for an acoustic or digital instrument. As the ideal answer to this will very much depend on individual people’s circumstances and needs, we have put together this guide to highlight factors we believe are useful to consider in coming to an informed decision.

What’s the difference?

When you press a key on an acoustic piano, an intricate mechanism sends a small hammer to strike one or more tuned strings. The vibration of the string is amplified by a wooden soundboard. This is pretty much how it has worked since Bartolomeo Cristofori invented it at the turn of the Eighteenth century. When you press a key on a digital piano, you hear a digital playback of a recording of that note played on an acoustic piano.

What about learning to play and working towards exams?

Most of the exam boards suggest that it is perfectly possible to work towards exams up to grade 8 on a digital piano. However, there have been examples of pieces being included on exam syllabuses which use particular techniques which are very hard to emulate on a digital piano.

In reality, whilst there may be little difference in the early stages, most players will find that there comes a time when they need to move to an acoustic piano to maintain their progress. Whilst digital pianos are capable of very good emulations of acoustic pianos, there are aspects of piano technique which will probably be learned more effectively on an acoustic piano.

It is well worth talking with your teacher, if you are having lessons, for more advice on this.

What are the advantages of a digital piano?

Portability – if you need to move the instrument around, or take it to rehearsals etc, then digital pianos, particularly stage pianos, are the most practical option.

Size and weight – Whilst a full size 88 key digital piano is very similar in width to an acoustic piano, there are lots of option which are shorter and shallower than an acoustic piano, which may be useful if space is tight. Also, they tend to be considerably lighter and easier to take up stairs. Plus, they tend to be far less susceptible to changes in heat and humidity, which may be useful if the ideal space for it is right next to a radiator.

Silent practice – if you need to avoid disturbing your neighbours then it is useful to know that all digital pianos have at least one headphone socket.

Other functions - Most digital pianos include a wealth of extra bells and whistles including built-in metronomes, multiple sounds, lesson and recording facilities and the ability to expand all that by hooking it up to your computer.

What about the sound?

Technology has moved on a massive amount over recent years and even entry-level digital pianos produce a far more convincing piano sound than used to be the case. Move up the price range and the argument in favour of digital pianos gets stronger and stronger. However, the fact that even top-end digital pianos create their sound in a totally different way to acoustic pianos means there is really no substitute for the “real thing” and, when you take account of the added subtleties of touch and pedal technique possible on an acoustic piano, even the best digitals struggle to keep up with the room-filling resonance of an acoustic.

Cost and Maintenance

Digital pianos are generally cheaper than acoustic pianos but do not hold their value as well. Also, it is impossible to be exact here, but you would expect a well-maintained acoustic piano to be in fine working order many, many years after a digital had given up, and repairs to digital pianos tend to be pretty expensive once they are out of warranty.

Acoustic pianos do need to be tuned, ideally once or twice a year, but tuning costs tend to be very reasonable, and a good tuner will also be able to spot if any other work is needed to keep the piano going strong.

So which should I buy?

You will hopefully have gathered from the information above that it is not a case of one being better than the other, they are simply different instruments, and it is really just down to your needs. Please always remember that our experts are available to talk through the options if you would like any further advice. Just get in touch…

Are they the only two options?

Until quite recently the answer would have been “yes, it’s acoustic or digital, make your mind up!” but now there is a third option, which many see as the best of both worlds.

Usually known as ‘hybrid’ or ‘silent’ pianos, these are effectively normal acoustic pianos, but with a clever digital system which can be enabled at the flick of a switch, with little or no noticeable effect on the feel of the piano. They tend to cost a bit more than the standard acoustic model, but offer the opportunity to fill the room with real acoustic piano sound one minute, then switch to silent practice through headphones or any of the other advantages of the digital world the next. If you want to have your cake and eat it, these would be well worth a look.

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