The piano is one of the most widely played instruments internationally. Years of practice are required to master the piano, and doing so often requires that the student owns a piano to practice on; otherwise, progress will be challenging. This often leads piano players to wonder if an acoustic or digital piano is best.
Are acoustic or digital pianos better? Acoustic pianos are big, heavy, expensive, and require more maintenance, but they sound and feel beautiful. Digital pianos are affordable, versatile, lightweight, require little maintenance, but do not sound or feel as good. Digital is best for students. Acoustic is best for experienced players.
Of course, these are generalizations. Owning a piano comes with its own set of challenges, though especially with an acoustic piano. Digital pianos are a good alternative, but they have some drawbacks to keep in mind. Let's take the time to explore acoustic and digital pianos to highlight some of their important attributes to help you determine which is best for you.
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As we know, there are two main types of pianos available for the modern pianist to use: the acoustic and the digital piano. Let us first examine the acoustic piano to highlight some of its key features and drawbacks.
Almost nothing sounds quite as sweet as a good acoustic piano. These instruments are often hand-made with great care and pride, they hold a natural resonance that is virtually impossible to replicate by digital means, and they feel great.
Acoustic pianos generally sound more natural than digital pianos, though digital sampling and synthesis are getting close. These acoustic instruments are made largely from wood and their sound-producing mechanism includes wooden/acrylic keys, wooden/felt-covered hammers, and metal (high carbon steel and copper) piano wire strings.
For more information on piano materials, check out my article What Materials Are Pianos Made Of? (All Piano Parts Listed).
Pressing the keys on an acoustic piano activates small hammers within the instrument's body, which in turn hammer onto the strings within the piano, creating the sweet tones that are all so familiar with.
Playing an acoustic piano is an analog experience. When the player presses a key, the instrument's mechanical response can be felt tactically, and the natural materials of the instrument produce a sound that is like no other.
Acoustic pianos are beautiful to look at, they do not have any complicated settings, menus or inputs/outputs. These instruments can sound stunningly beautiful, and they feel special to play.
However, acoustic pianos are large and heavy, making them challenging to move. These instruments must be tuned, and the sheer number of strings within the instrument makes this a daunting and time-consuming task.
Tuning a piano of this type requires specialized skills, which may be required more often than we'd expect if the piano is kept in non-ideal environments (in direct sunlight, in an environment that's too humid or too dry, etc.).
Acoustic pianos require other maintenance as well, though much of this maintenance is infrequent (years or decade intervals) and sometimes avoidable altogether with proper care.
To learn a bit more about piano maintenance, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
• How Often Should Piano Strings Be Replaced?
• How Often Should Piano Hammers Be Replaced?
• Are Piano Humidifiers & Dehumidifiers Necessary?
Tuning a piano is expensive, and these instruments will always sound like they do. They have no electronics that allow them to change their sound, but the sounds that they do produce are wonderful in the right hands.
Let's examine some of the important pros and cons of acoustic pianos.
Acoustic Piano Pros And Cons
Below is a table briefly describing some of the important pros and cons of acoustic pianos:
|Acoustic pianos sound beautiful||Acoustic pianos are heavy|
|Acoustic pianos look beautiful||Acoustic pianos can be too large|
|Acoustic pianos are loud||Acoustic pianos can be too loud for certain environments|
|Each acoustic piano is unique in its sound and construction||Acoustic pianos require regular maintenance|
|Even cheaper acoustic pianos are costly|
Digital Pianos are a modern-day alternative to acoustic pianos. These are not the small keyboards that one may imagine when they think of a digital piano, but rather these are full-size instruments that are made to look and feel like an acoustic piano, except with fewer drawbacks and added versatility.
Digital pianos come in a vast price range. The cheaper models are not as well made or natural-sounding as we would like to be, and the high-end models are extremely expensive but often well worth the cost.
The middle-of-the-way digital pianos available on the market right now are well made, they sound good, they feel excellent to play, and many of them are affordable.
These pianos never go out of tune. They are capable of various sounds, have built-in features such as metronomes and weighted keys, and are light and simple to move around.
However, these instruments will never be the same as an acoustic piano, and they will ever feel quite the same to play. Modern digital pianos are excellent, but many pianists still prefer acoustic pianos.
Let's highlight some of the important features and drawbacks of the digital piano.
Digital Piano Pros And Cons
Below is a table of the pros and cons of modern digital pianos:
|There are many digital piano varieties available||Digital pianos may not always sound natural|
|Digital pianos are lightweight||Some digital pianos require a stand|
|Digital pianos are affordable||Cheap digital piano models are not very good|
|Digital pianos take up less space||Digital pianos do not feel the same as acoustic pianos|
|Digital pianos have electronic features and sounds||Digital piano menus can be difficult to navigate|
|Digital pianos never go out of tune||These pianos always require electricity|
Are Acoustic Or Digital Pianos Better?
Deciding which of these two types of pianos is better is a challenge. Ultimately, which piano is best depends on personal requirements, preferences, budget, and space.
Typically, even low-end acoustic pianos cost significantly more than digital pianos. This means that digital pianos hold much more value for money. These instruments do not cost anything to maintain and never need to be tuned.
Acoustic pianos can be shockingly expensive, but they do sound incredible. These instruments are more challenging to maintain and require regular tuning, but they sound and feel like no other instrument. An acoustic piano in proper working condition will always sound fuller and more natural than a good digital piano.
When determining the best piano for your needs, consider your budget, the available space in your home, whether you can commit to tuning an acoustic piano, noise factors, your moving and gigging requirements (if any), and your playing requirements.
While digital pianos have built-in volume control, there are ways to make an acoustic piano a bit quieter. Learn how in my article Top 8 Methods To Make A Piano Quieter.
A digital piano is better for the everyday piano student because it is a smaller monetary investment, requires relatively little maintenance, and is versatile and easy to play.
Acoustic pianos are best for experienced players who want to get the most out of their instrument and have huge budgets.
Acoustic pianos are unlike anything to play and listen to, but they are expensive, bulky, heavy, and require a lot of tuning and maintenance.
Digital pianos never sound as good, but they are immensely more versatile, they cost significantly less, and they take up much less room while requiring almost no maintenance at all.
Which piano is best for you depends on budget, space, level of commitment and interest, and the sound of the instrument you are looking for.