The Ultimate Guide to Buying the Best Digital Piano Keyboard

Finding the Best Digital Piano For You

An Introduction to the Electric Piano Keyboard

Choosing the best electric piano can be quite a daunting task considering the wide variety of products currently on the market. In our technological age, the days are long behind us where being able to play piano was both costly and stationary. Whether you’re a new piano parent with a young student, someone who’s living arrangement only allows for a compact piano keyboard rather than a full upright piano, or just a piano enthusiast who is looking for some unique sounds and recording potential, an electric piano keyboard option may in fact be the perfect fit for you and your home. This detailed guide will outline the key reasons for purchasing a digital keyboard, offer key features to consider before deciding to buy a keyboard piano, offer comprehensive digital piano reviews and also offer  a summary of the best piano keyboards for sale on the market.

Best Digital Piano

 

Affordability

As a new piano parent there are always those whispers in the back of your head about whether or not your child will enjoy piano lessons, stick with it, and become the future maestro you’re hoping for; because, lets face it, sometimes this just isn’t the case. In terms of affordability, digital pianos come in a wide range of models and prices, including many that are both affordable and substantial for a young piano student. It is often my number one suggestion to new piano parents looking for a solution to “breaking the bank” for their child’s newest hobby. Not only is the cost affordable, keyboard pianos offer a wide range of features and sounds, as well as the ability to easily transpose any song into a different key. These are wonderful features for new, young students as it gives them the ability to explore the world of music in new and exciting ways such as playing a piece with funny sounds, or learning new keys with the transposition feature (I find the boys in particular go nuts over the funky sounds). These features are appreciable due to the creativity that they spark in my young students. Some digital pianos also come equipped with helpful learning tools for beginners. Even a cheap keyboard piano can have a built-in metronome removing the need to purchase a separate metronome which many teachers request within the second or third year of lessons. Depending on the model, LED displays will often show the chords or music notes on the staff which can be advantageous to memorizing said notes and chords faster. The long and short of it is, that even a cheap piano keyboard may have enough features and  functions to get a piano player started.

Piano Keyboards For Small Spaces

Although the digital piano is perfect for beginners, one should not be mistaken that they are only for the young or old beginner. Many advanced players also find them to be a superb choice for a variety of reasons like their compact and portable nature. A stage performer, for instance, might be interested in finding the best portable keyboard for their needs, as obviously a heavy,keyboard would not be practical. It is also an incredible space saver that will fit in practically any living space, including a college dorm. For apartment, condo, and dorm dwellers, the digital piano is the ideal choice for your playing needs due to the fact that they can be used with headphones. Although digital pianos are continuously evolving both in caliber of sound and purchase cost, my number one piece of advice to any new buyer is to purchase a good pair of headphones with your keyboard. Some of the lower-end models do not have fantastic outer speakers, however plugging in a satisfactory pair of headphones can be a total game changer. This is my favourite feature because any small-space resident can play into the wee hours of the night without any complaints from neighbouring suites!

Note: Even concert pianist James Rhodes, when moving into a smaller place after a divorce, had to downsize to a Japanese upright from a Steinway grand. His new book Instrumental: A Memoir of Madness, Medication and Music is brilliant, by the way.

Live Playing and Recording

I would also suggest an electric piano keyboard for anyone interested in recording and live playing as a wide variety of models can easily be connected to an amplifier for live shows. For those of you in bands this could be the perfect light-weight practice/performance tool that can easily be travelled with! Due to the digital character of these pianos, you acquire features such as built-in recording as well as sequencing capabilities. A multitude of keyboard models also come fully equipped with a USB port that will allow you to connect with other devices or flash memory cards to store and transfer your pianist virtuosity to a secure device for future editing.

Upkeep and Maintenance

Although nothing compares to playing on a beautiful grand piano, the original cost and constant upkeep can be slightly overwhelming. Traditional pianos require yearly or twice-yearly tunings, ample space, and trained movers when relocating which for many can be a deal breaker. Advancements in digital pianos have made the alternative to a traditional piano more enticing. Digital pianos have aimed to emulate the feel and sound of a real piano, such as the use of weighted keys and higher quality speakers. Digital pianos are not for everyone, but given certain criteria they might just be the ideal investment for both serious and beginner players. At the end of the day, the choice comes down to your specific needs and preferences as a player/performer. Below you can find a detailed list of key features and the “do’s and don’ts” one should consider when foraying into the world of buying a new digital piano.

Digital Piano Comparison Chart

Finding the best digital keyboard for your needs can involve quite a number of factors. In the following chart you can see a comparison of the best electronic keyboards based on some key features. If you need clarification on these features, please read further down the article.

 

$ = Less than $250 USD
$$ = $251-$500 USD
$$$ = $501 – $800 USD
$$$$ = $801 – $1200 USD

*GHS = Graded Hammer Action   GST = Graded Soft Touch

Brand/
Model
ImageKeys
Weight/
Graded
Hammer Action
VoicesPolyphonyPriceOur Rating
(/5)
Yamaha P71 (P45) 88-Key
Full / GHS1064$$4.7
Yamaha P115 88-Key
Full / GHS14192$$$4.5
Yamaha DGX-660 88-Key
Full / GHS155192$$$$4.8
Casio Privia PX160BK 88-KeyFull / GHS
18128$$4.5
Casio Privia PX-860 88 -KeyFull / GHS18256$$$$4.7
Williams Allegro 2 88-KeyFull / No1064$$4.3
Yamaha YPG-235 76-KeySemi / GST11632$4.5
Williams Legato 88-KeySemi / No532$$4.1
Yamaha YDP143R Arius 88-Key
Full / GHS10192$$$$4.5
Korg B1SP 88-KeyFull / GHS8120$$$4.3
Casio CTK2400 PPK 61-KeyNo / No40048$4.3

The Best Electronic Piano Keyboard Features

Touch Response – Touch Sensitivity

When buying a digital piano, it will be in your best interest to inquire about the various model’s velocity sensitivity (or, touch sensitivity). Velocity is used to determine volume characteristics of note. The term, velocity sensitivity, is used to refer to how adeptly a digital piano can respond to the speed at which a key is depressed; this corresponds to the dynamics with which the player incorporates into their playing. Advancements in electric pianos have enabled them to sense differences in velocity making the articulation and volume for each depression of a key comparable to playing on a traditional piano. Piano keyboards with higher velocity sensitivity will be more receptive to even the most subtle differences in touch. For long-time traditional piano players, this feature will be key to making the transition to a digital piano seamless. Velocity is a crucial function as it helps translate the player’s expression and feeling into the music.

Weighted Keyboard

Manufacturers of digital pianos seek to emulate the look and feel of real piano keys. Inside a traditional piano, a hammer strikes one, two, or three strings causing the string to vibrate and make a noise. Since the hammer is connected to the key by a lever type system, this causes a natural resistance to each key. The aim of most manufacturers has been to capture the feel of a real instrument and simulate it effectively. Digital pianos can be weighted in a number of different ways: not weighted, semi-weighted, and hammer action. This, combined with the different types of touch sensitivity available, can contribute to the overall feel of realism when playing a digital piano as compared to an upright or grand piano. I urge buyers to avoid the lower end, not weighted option, as many players will outgrow these soon after purchase and learning on a keyboard with no weight to the keys will drastically alter your technique while learning. Semi-weighted keys often go along with travelling digital pianos due to their light weight nature while hammer action refers to when the keys are in some way emulating the same action found on traditional pianos. Here the resistance comes from a small hammer located and attached by a lever system near the key, rather than a spring which adds more realism to higher-end models. If you have traditionally played on an old acoustic or grand piano, then chances are that you will most likely prefer a digital piano with weighted keys. If you are new to the piano world, then finding the best weighted keyboard option within your budget may just save you from making another purchase a few years down the road.

Graded or Scaled Hammer Action (GST /GHS)

To replicated the experience of playing a traditional acoustic piano, many digital pianos have added graded hammer action keys, also known as scaled hammer action keys. This allows for a heavy feel when playing the lower register of the keyboard and a lighter touch when playing keys in the upper octaves.

Furthermore there are different ways to create the hammer action. Graded Soft Touch (GST) digital pianos have rubber or silicon supports beneath each keys to mimic the pressing pressure required to depress the key of the real acoustic piano. Graded Hammer Action also known as Graded Hammer Standard (GHS) use actual hammers components to increase the key resistance creating a more authentic acoustic piano feel.

You may also discover that different digital piano brands use different terminology for basically the same key construction.

The 88 Key Keyboard

Almost every modern piano has 52 white keys and 36 black keys for a total of 88 keys. Digital pianos can be all over the map in terms of the number of keys they possess. Most common are those with 61, 76, and 88 keys. Many people will find that they will run into problems with a 61 key digital piano when attempting jazz or classical music. So the first question one must ask, is what kind of music you want to be playing. The second would be finances and how long before you can upgrade. Inevitably, 61 keys is not substantial for the more advanced player as it will be a major set-back when attempting more complex pieces. Of course if its just for fun, 61 keys can be great as they are compact, light-weight, and fit just about anywhere! 76-key digital pianos are rare. They offer only 15 more keys than a 61 key piano, with a higher price tag, more weight, and a bulkier instrument, so the convenience of a 61-key keyboard is lost. The best bet for new players and advanced player alike is to go for the full 88 key weighted keyboard. There is a clear reason why acoustic pianos have 88 keys, and chances are, you will become enormously frustrated when playing a piece that cannot be played on a keyboard with less than 7 octaves. Fortunately, 88 key digital pianos, have come down considerably in price, and weight, and often fit just as comfortably in small spaces as those with 61 or 76 keys. In perfect world, you should purchase the best 88 key keyboard that your budged allows for.

Number of Pedals

The three main pedals of the piano are: the sustain pedal (1st – right),  the soft pedal (2nd – left), the sostenuto pedal (3rd – middle – sometimes absent in some old pianos). When buying an electronic piano keyboard, a sustain pedal is essential. Even early pieces may use this feature to great effect and it is important that the player learn how to use it properly from the start. The second and third pedal are mostly used for more advanced pieces. Please note that although it has a reputation for being an advanced technique, there is nothing complicated with it, really. On the other hand, it actually becomes useful only when two hands is not enough, e.g. with complex chords, or convoluted polyphony. The three pedals enable the musician to learn the techniques necessary to play with the pedals on a real acoustic piano. If you are going to spend money on a digital piano with all three pedals, make sure that the model you are buying has a feature called half-damper pedal-ing. Some of the brands of digital pianos with three pedals do not support the half-damper effect, which is an important technique to learn. In summary, the sustain pedal is ideal for any player while the second and third become a matter of choice, preference, and longevity. Many digital pianos come with a pedal/s, however, there is often the option to buy a separate sustain pedal that can be easily attached to most models.

Polyphony

Polyphony is the number of notes or voices that can be played at the same time on a keyboard. For instance, if you are playing a three note chord, you want to be able to hear all three notes. The best digital keyboards allow you to hear at minimum 32 distinct sounds, but clearly, more is better (and generally come at a higher price).

Number of Additional Tones and Sounds

Today’s digital pianos often come fully equipped with hundreds of sound samples from instruments like organs, synthesizers, drums, accordions, funky nondescript sounds, and so on. However, once the novelty wears off, you’ll most likely find yourself gravitating to the more realistic piano sounds as having hundreds of sounds and tones to choose from can often turn into a distraction. That being said, I have watched first hand as young students giggle and vigorously enjoy playing their pieces in funny sounds or in other instruments, simultaneously sparking their awareness to the endless potential of music and all the instruments at their disposal. Digital pianos that come packed with complex pre-recorded songs have also been known to motivate young or inexperienced players to practice more and get to a level in which they can “play like the pros”. Other effects such as reverb can help enhance the sound of a piece, while the ability to play with backing instrumental tracks can also increase the fun factor and encourage creativity and practice in young learners.

Recording/ Playback/MIDI:

Most digital pianos allow you to record your performance, which can be an advantage when you’re learning to play and want to review how you’re progressing. This feature can be especially handy for student pursuing their Royal Conservatory Exams each year, as it gives them the opportunity to hear how they sound and may be perceived by an outsider. Recording and sequencing capabilities are also important if you plan to write and record your own pieces. A common feature on many models is a USB port that will enable you to hook your digital piano directly up to any laptop or computer for further editing, synthesizing, and vocals. This USB port also makes connecting with other kinds of audio gear simple. Some models also accept flash memory cards so you can transfer music to other devices and computers. Most digital pianos have MIDI capability allowing you to connect both to computers and recording equipment. MIDI is a music technology protocol which enables music enthusiasts to connect to digital musical instruments, computers, tablets and smartphones. A digital piano with a MIDI link can be handy if the purpose of your instrument is recording. The best part about MIDI is that membership is completely free for all inspired artists!

Piano Keyboard Learning Tools

For beginners, learning tools are often the most important features that parents look for when making a purchase decision. Some keyboard pianos possess a feature called Twin Piano Mode which fractures the keyboard into two identical key ranges, allowing a student and teacher to play side by side in the same register. This can be a handy tool for new students or for those who enjoy duets without the high and low pitches. This can also be a bit of fun if you have two children learning the same piece as it encourages them to learn and have fun together. Most digital pianos also come with an internal metronome. Timing is an essential element of piano playing and metronomes will enhance your timekeeping and rhythmic skills substantially. This feature will allow you to select an appropriate tempo from a variety of different meters. Some models even feature a choice of different metronome tones—even funny noises to encourage young learners. It is also one less future purchase to worry about! I would avoid features such as light-up keys as it deters students and new learners from learning to read music and instead encourages them to rely on the flashy lights. Sadly, when these lights do get removed many players find it to be a difficult transition.

Digital Keyboard Accessories

When considering your purchase of a digital piano there are a few other optional accessories that may increase the enjoyment of your purchase. As aforementioned, a good pair of keyboard headphones are often a great addition to any digital piano. These can be particularly handy if your living situation is one in which constant practice may disrupt others. With headphones this issue become obsolete. Headphones can also make your own playing experience more enjoyable if you choose to go for a cheaper model for your digital piano. Most inexpensive models do not come equipped with the best external speakers, however, headphones can transform this experience. The only downside is that it’s all in your head. Regardless, headphones are a definite must for those times when others around you need silence and you need music! Another accessory that may prove useful, depending on your intentions for the digital piano you choose, are amps and cables. If you’re in the market for a digital piano for home use, you will most likely select one with a built-in amp and speakers. However, if you know you are going to need extra volume for a large venue or for playing with an ensemble, you will probably need to consider an amp and cables. Of course, the final crucial accessory, if not included in your purchase (which many are), is a piano bench. Honestly, here you can go for the cheapest you can find as it is only a place to park your bottom. Of course, if you have back issues you may want to inquire into benches that are tailored to these issues.

Check out this YouTube video for a quick overview of many of these key features for digital pianos.

 

Digital Piano Reviews 2017 – Top Digital Pianos by Category

In the following sections I will share a selection of electronic keyboard reviews, as well as the top rated electric pianos by category (ex. Best Digital Piano Under 1000, Best Digital Piano Under 500 etc.).

Finding the Best Cheap Keyboard Piano

Finding the best cheap piano keyboard seems to be a topic of great interest for those considering the purchase of a digital piano. Thankfully, in recent years the price of electric piano keyboards has come way down, with features now being offered on base models that were once only reserved for high end keyboards.

Two of the major things to looks at when buying a cheap digital piano is the number of keys and whether on not the keyboard is weighted (the latter allows for the more authentic feel of an acoustic piano). Below, we will outline what we consider to be the best cheap electric pianos.

Best Budget Keyboard Piano with 76 Keys – Best Yamaha Keyboard for the Tight Budget

I really like the Yamaha YPG-235 Portable Grand Piano, and so do most of the people who own it (this model gets excellent reviews over thousands of purchasers).  For less than $150 USD it has a ton of functionality and lots of fun features.

Before I go in to the pros and cons of this model, I want to share this excellent video that showcases most of the functions that this electric keyboard has to offer.

 

 

Pros of the Yamaha YPG-235 Portable Grand Piano:

  • 76 keys and Graded Soft Touch Technology allow for expressive performances.
  • Has almost 500 voices, tones and drum to choose from.
  • Includes 30 preset songs and a built-in recording feature.
  • Includes the Yamaha Education Suite (Y.E.S.)  — an advanced set of helpful learning tools built into the digital piano.
  • USB connectivity and compatibility with music software on your computer.

Cons of the Yamaha YPG-235 Portable Grand Piano:

  • The PA 150 power adapter, sustain pedal, bench and stand are sold separately. Although you can purchase packages that will include the digital keyboard plus many of these items, personally, I like to research each item separately. If you look at reviews for some of the packages, you will find that not all of the components are necessarily top quality. You can do better, for close to the same price.
  • The keys are Graded Soft Touch (GST), which gets you closer to the weighted feel of an acoustic piano, but is not  nearly as good as Yamaha’s Graded Hammer Standard (GHS).
  • It only has 76 keys, not 88 keys like a higher end digital piano. While this would not be an issue for a beginner, it could be a deal breaker for a more advanced player.
  • While there is an external port for headphones, there are no additional ports for speakers (although it has decent built-in speakers).
  • This model has tons of features that, while entertaining in the short term, will never be used by most players. That said, my kids probably practice their piano pieces 10% longer because they can change to a different voice (instrument), or add some drums, to alleviate their boredom.

Learn more about the Yamaha YPG-235 76-key digital piano here.

 

Yamaha YPG-235 76-Key Portable Grand Piano
List Price: $249.99
Price: $199.99
You Save: $50.00
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Best Cheap 88 Key Keyboard Digital Piano

If you are looking for the best budget digital piano with 88 keys, the Williams Legato 88 key musical keyboard is a very decent choice. It might just be the best digital piano under $300.

Take a peek at this YouTube video to see the functions of the Legato 88 key keyboard.

 

Pros of the Williams Legato 88 Key Digital Keyboard

  • 88 semi-weighted keys, convenient built-in metronome, and integrated stereo speakers
  • Includes beginner package with power supply, sustain pedal, and music rest
  • 5 rich sounds: piano, electric piano, organ, synth and bass
  • Features dual voice split mode, and chorus and reverb effect buttons
  • 5 free songs with McCarthy Music educational software

Cons of the William Legato 88 Key Piano Keyboard

  • The powder supply must be purchased separately, or a part of an “essentials package”
  • The keys are semi weighted with springs, which is better than no weighting, but not as good as fully weighted keys
  • Some players find the volume too weak and add an amplifier

The Best Digital Piano Under $500

My first digital piano (after those Fisher-Price musical keyboards of my childhood), was an inexpensive budget keyboard. It did the job for many years, but once I started getting my kids into lessons, I realized there were a few more features that I desired. I wanted the best 88 key digital piano that I could afford, with a built in metronome and a headphone jack (critical for my sanity). To get all of these features, I had to move up a bit in price, and set out to find the best electric keyboard piano under $500.

At this price point, there are several decent choices, but I feel that in the 88 key category, the best portable keyboard piano under $500 is the Yamaha P45.

Note: The Yamaha P45 and the Yamaha P71 are the same. On Amazon.com it is called the P71. I’m not sure why, but sometimes companies do this when they want to be able to sell a piano for a greater discount with one retailer, but do not want it to hurt retailers selling the P45 at a higher price. This is only a guess, but as I was a buyer in a former career, I think this is a reasonably educated guess.

Pros of the Yamaha P71 88 Key Weighted Digital Piano Keyboard (Yamaha P45):

  • Includes power adapter and sustain pedal
  • 88 fully weighted piano-style keys simulate the feel of an acoustic piano and provide a quality playing experience
  • Contains 10 different voices, including digitally sampled tones from real Yamaha acoustic grand pianos
  • Dual Mode lets you combine two Voices together, like piano and strings, for an inspiring new playing experience
  • Slim and stylish design with a depth of less than 12 inches, the P71 requires little space and weighs only 25 lbs.

Cons of the Yamaha P71 88 Key Weighted Digital Keyboard Piano (Yamaha P45):

  • The sustain pedal included is a very basic one. Some purchasers of the keyboard have preferred to spend a little extra money on a separate one.
  • If you are looking for a louder sound, you may want to use additional speakers with the unit.

Check current prices Yamaha P71 Digital Keyboard here.

 

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