With the advent of high-quality electronic instruments, an interesting question has arisen for potential piano-buyers: whether to get an acoustic piano, or a digital piano. While purists often look doubtfully upon digital pianos, in reality, these are two substantially different products with different features and abilities.
Which you want depends more on what you want out of a new musical instrument, rather than any direct comparisons. So, here’s a quick guide to the differences between an acoustic and a digital piano, and why you might buy each.
Acoustic Vs Digital Piano Guide for Buyers
These are the pianos we’ve all grown up knowing and loving. Based on designs created by Bartolomeo Cristofori around 1700, traditional pianos are entirely acoustic instruments. That is, sound is created by a hammer hitting a taut string, and the sound reverberates through the case and off the soundboard to create music. Unlike with a digital piano, the sound is created “live” every time.
Traditional pianos are performance instruments. Fundamentally, a piano’s purpose is to be played live for the entertainment of other people. They’ve been a standard part of an enlightened household for hundreds of years, and will likely remain popular for hundreds more.
As such, someone looking for an acoustic piano could be:
A classical music performer seeking a sturdy and reliable instrument
A composer accustomed to composing at the piano before writing it down
A homeowner looking to accent their home with a beautiful piece of art
Someone looking to create a legacy with an instrument that, with care, will last for decades among several generations
A student looking to learn on a real instrument, especially if they aspire to a career in music
Digital pianos utilize synthesizer technology to play back recordings of piano tones, adjusted to fit the note that was pressed. Since the sound is not live, there will always be a certain amount of “canned” sound to a digital piano, no matter how many effects they use to try to simulate a real piano sound. While many digital models are quite good, they cannot replace a real grand in a concert hall.
On the other hand, they do offer many features not seen on traditional pianos. MIDI interfaces and song-streaming services allow them to interface with computers directly. They are generally much lighter and easier to move than acoustic pianos, and are popular among jazz and rock acts. Also, being able to simulate multiple piano-style sounds – usually including a range of piano and organ tones – gives them significant versatility in playing.
A buyer for a digital piano could be:
A performer in a rock, jazz, or other smaller jam combo
Performers who have a need for multiple piano sounds in the same concert
A composer dealing with modern recording and MIDI programming systems
A student seeking a light and affordable instrument to learn on
People without the time to invest in maintaining a piano, since digital models require far less care
Someone who wants an instrument for today, not necessarily for a decade from now.
Recently, new pianos have started popping up that straddle the line. These might be traditional acoustic pianos outfitted with modern digital player piano controllers, or fundamentally digital instruments that utilize real soundboards and other acoustic features to soften the sound. These are fundamentally for specialists, and while they’re interesting, many of them lack a compelling advantage over either existing specialized type.
Plus, as technology advances, a state-of-the-art hybrid will probably be completely outdated within a few years. These are a risky purchase at this time, unless one has features you are specifically looking for.
All in all, whether you go for a digital or an acoustic piano, it mostly depends on what you want out of a musical instrument.
How do you all feel about digital vs acoustic pianos? Do you have a strong preference?