Acoustic vs digital piano: What's the difference?
Before buying either an acoustic piano or a digital piano there are several things you need to know about. Buying a piano overall is a big move and we don’t want it to result in a tragedy.
We’ve made a pretty good guide about 8 things to consider before buying a piano. Check it out if you need guidance.
However, choosing between an acoustic piano & a digital piano could be a hard task for many people. The truth is that it actually doesn't need to be that hard.
With some basic knowledge you can surely make a safe purchase. And that’s what this article is about.
Either as an aspiring student or a thirty year experienced pianist, this guide is supposed to share some useful information for you before you’re making your move.
We’ve covered the most important factors about these pianos in the easiest way to understand.
Anyways, let’s dive into this article.
Acoustic piano intro
The acoustic piano was founded back in the early 1700’s by Bartolomeo Cristofori.
He was a harpsichord builder, wanted to switch out the plucking mechanisms to hammer mechanisms, which we still use today.
Before Bartolomeo, there weren't any options to regulate the dynamic. Every note was played with the same volume and same intensity.
We could say he accomplished his task.
The piano was first named clavicembalo col piano e forte but later got called piano.
However, there are two types of acoustic pianos, upright and grand piano. The upright piano is built with the strings vertically and the grand piano has their strings horizontally.
Digital piano intro
On the other hand, the digital piano is somewhat similar to an acoustic piano, but it’s made electric.
Digital pianos use either synthesized emulation or samples from a real acoustic piano to produce a high quality sound.
The key action is also made to replicate an acoustic piano as similar as possible. Literally, digital pianos always try to imitate acoustic pianos as much as possible.
There are three types of digital pianos, upright, grand and portable pianos.
Let’s dive into the first section where we’ve got a clear winner. The acoustic piano will always produce a better sound than what the digital piano will, let's face it.
Today's technology is doing an incredible job to recreate the sound from an acoustic piano. We’re getting better and better each year. But no matter what, technology will not be able to fully recreate the original sound from our acoustic pianos.
We’ve come very far in recent years, probably more than what we could imagine back in the 90’s. But when the hammer strikes a string it produces the acoustic sound we only can hear from an acoustic piano.
But yea, sampling technology has camed far, but the natural reverberating sound is hard to mimic 100 percent.
Acoustic pianos can be very expensive, it depends to a high degree a lot on the syllable sound. That’s why many pianists' big dream is to own a grand piano at some point in their lives.
So the digital piano sound is somehow created from a real piano. Either sampled from a grand piano or used with synthesized emulation to create the powerful sound.
When you’re playing on your digital piano, what you actually hear is a sample from a real acoustic piano. On a good digital piano, many times it sounds really good. The engineers know what they’re doing.
If you see it like this. A high quality good digital piano goes for approx 500-1000 dollars. Then you pay a much lower amount than what you would buy an acoustic piano for. But you still get access to the sound of the acoustic piano via sampling.
For that amount of money you aint getting a high end acoustic piano. So a digital piano in that price range could be a much better choice.
When we play the piano, the key action is supposed to be a good experience for us. If not even the best experience.
With that said it’s important for us to choose a reliable key action which we thrive on.
The acoustic piano has their authentic hammers striking the strings while pressing the keys. Hammer mechanisms just can’t be replaced with sensors which they use in digital pianos.
Professional pianists will always prefer playing an acoustic piano instead of a digital piano. That’s because there is some lack of sensitivities in the piano. The digital piano provides a digital sound, which can lead to a limitation because all tones might not produce the way you want them to do when pressing a key. That’s because the notes are limited in a digital piano.
On the opposite, the acoustic piano has a greater touch sensitiveness. You’re the boss over the keys, which means your strength will determine how hard pressing the keys.
But still, digital pianos do a good job simulating the authentic touch of an acoustic piano. But yet they are not at acoustic pianos levels of key sensitivity.
Here comes some good news if you’re owning a digital piano. Luckily, a digital piano doesn't need any maintenance at all.
There are no strings that need to be tuned twice every year. Once a digital piano comes out from the factory, then it is playable for a good while to come.
I actually owned one of the first digital pianos from the Casio PX series. It was made back in 2004 and it’s still working like it’s new. This is perhaps one of the biggest benefits of owning a digital piano.
On the other hand, an acoustic piano does clearly need maintenance. It must be handled with care, otherwise prices can rise to the sky. Which you probably want to avoid.
However, the big downside is that acoustic pianos need to be tuned. Which can vary to once or twice per year, sometimes even more depending where it stands.
Most commonly the strings need to be tuned, which requires a professional tuner to come at your house and fix it. It’s not like a guitar which you can do on your own in 5 mins.
This is also an expense for you. Approx 150 dollars but it does depend where you’re living.
It’s also important that you’re aware where you staff the piano. If you don’t keep it in a good environment, the components in the piano can be affected in a bad way. It’s important to not keep it in a humid environment. Also, do not keep it at too hot or cool levels.
If we’re comparing the versatility between these types of pianos. With the result in hand, we can admit that the digital piano has some more utilities.
It may lack quality in sound (compared to an acoustic piano) but it clearly has some useful features an acoustic piano never will have.
Looking at the portability between each. The acoustic is not an option to move around or take on the vacation. It’s too big and heavy and sometimes needs to be tuned just by moving it around in your house. But if you do move it, then you’ll probably need 2-3 people to help you.
The digital piano has the option to increase and decrease the volume. It allows you to play quietly when everybody else is sleeping. Even better, mostly digital pianos also come with a headphone jack which allows you to play anytime.
If you like to record your performance while playing. The digital piano is a must for you. Nowadays there are several options to record your performance and load it to your computer, for instance via Midi. An acoustic piano will never feature that.
An acoustic piano will only provide you with one sound. Which is the piano sound. For many people that’s enough, they don’t need more sounds which is totally fair.
But still, a digital piano can provide you with more sounds than what you could think of. Actually, some digital pianos have up to hundreds different sounds.
If a string breaks in your acoustic piano, you’ll need someone professional come and fix it. It can be expensive if it’s hard to rehab. Repairing strings as a guitarist or bassist is very easy. You can do it yourself. But switching strings on your piano isn’t the same as switching strings on your guitar, unfortunately.
On the other hand, a digital piano doesn't need any regular repairs. There's just not too many things that can go wrong in a digital piano.
But if, then many times you can fix it by yourself or for a cheap price.
Acoustic pianos come with 3 pedals. Soft, sostenuto & sustain pedal. Sometimes, acoustic pianos only come with 2 pedals.
However, the most commonly is the sustain pedal which for the majority of people playing piano will be the only pedal they use. The other two (soft & sostenuto) aren’t as frequently used as the sustain pedal.
The sustain pedal provides more reverb to your performance. It removes the dampers from the strings which results in the notes you play being more dragd out. Therefore producing a more beautiful sound.
The sustain pedal always has the same task either on a digital piano or an acoustic piano.
With digital pianos it is nearly the same. When you buy a digital piano you’ll probably get the three pedals. If not, then the sustain pedal is probably included.
But if no pedals are included, you can easily buy the necessary pedals separate.
Acoustic pianos are more expensive than digital pianos. That’s just how it is.
The acoustic pianos are very expensive, with not even mentioning maintenance costs. It’s a big investment though but the question is, if it’s worth putting thousands of dollars out of your pocket into an acoustic piano.
Many people think so, but as a beginner, there's actually no reason to start playing on an acoustic piano. A digital piano works totally fine for beginners, the price is just too much.
Many people have saved a lot of money to buy an acoustic piano. But then you should know that they have been in the industry for a long time and are not beginners
A fixed price can be hard to say. A grand piano can cost millions, but a normal decent acoustic should be found at 2000-4000 dollars.
Luckily, digital pianos are way more affordable than acoustic pianos. They are mass-produced at a lower price so that the middle class also can play piano.
A good decent digital piano can be bought for approx 300-500 dollars. These are also the best option for beginners and intermediate players and also the most common in peoples homes.
The price can vary a lot with digital pianos. But you can be sure that you’re getting a good one at least under 1000 dollars.
Let’s sum things up with starting to say that acoustic pianos overall is a very beautiful piano providing the best imaginable sound. But there are still downsides, they are very expensive which is the biggest deciding factor for people.
That’s not even all expenses. They need regular maintenance which also takes money out of your pocket.
But if you’re still going to buy an acoustic piano, then you will be anything but disappointed, as you may understand by reading this article.
Digital pianos have a much bigger versatility than acoustic pianos. These pianos feature things like volume controller, headphone jack, recording option and much more. This will never be found at an acoustic piano.
They’re much more flexible and some are very portable, not all tho.
However, they’re still much less expensive and still provide a good piano experience. If you’re a beginner, this is the type of piano you should buy.
Want to learn how to play piano? I highly recommend reading our top 5 online piano lessons review.
Looking for a new piano? Check out our in-depth Casio px-870 review where we go deeply into this digital piano.
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Check out our fast guide covering 8 important factors you need to consider when buying a piano.