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Understanding Digital Pianos
For many pianists, with all the buttons and lights, digital pianos can seem like a bit of a mystery and it can be confusing to know what you should and shouldn't look for in a piano. Ultimately, digital pianos boil down to three key components: The action, the sound engine and the speaker system, each of which we will break down below.
The action on any piano, be it a grand, an upright or a digital piano helps determine how the piano both feels and responds. On digital pianos, the goal is to attempt to replicate that of a real acoustic as closely as possible.
Digital piano actions achieve this in varying levels of success. Many entry level home digital and portable pianos are made using plastic actions, which whilst suitable for beginners, as your playing progresses, can soon become a limitation. Towards the higher end of digital piano market, around the £2000 mark, digital pianos shift to begin using wooden components within their actions. This vastly improves the quality and response of the piano's touch, giving a far more acoustic piano feel. Many, such as the Grand Hybrid range by Casio, or Concert Artist Series by Kawai begin to replicate the action of grand pianos around this level, giving a highly responsive touch to help.
The Sound Engine
The sound engine on a digital piano is essentially the 'brain' of the instrument. Unlike an acoustic piano which generates a natural sound, a digital piano much 'create' its sound via sampling and playing back recordings of instruments.
As a key is pressed, a sensor is hit that determines how hard, soft, fast or slowly the key was hit. The piano's processor will interpret this data and play back the appropriate sound. When multiple notes are played at once, the same process is repeated - this is known as polyphony.
Acoustic pianos have unlimited polyphony whereas many digitals have between 64-258+ polyphony. A piano with lower levels of polyphony will be able to play less notes at once, meaning the player will lose aspects of their playing.
The Speaker System
Much like a speaker on a car radio or Hi-Fi system, digital pianos require speakers to produce their sound. As you move up the digital Piano market, the speaker systems improve and generally will feature either more sophsticated sound (via tweeters or better quality speakers). A digital piano's speakers are vital to playing as if your piano has a low quality speaker system, it is not uncommon for new players to adapt their playing (playing harder) in order to compensate for differences in sound when playing on a real acoustic.
Which Digital Pianos Should I Choose?
Considering the three components above, if any of the three is compromising your playing experience, then it is not the right piano for you. Generally speaking, for those looking to truly advance their playing, we would recommend considering your options carefully.
Like many consumer electronics, digital pianos do not hold their value as well as acoustic pianos and once a model is updated, can easily half in value. As your playing progresses you may also find that you can outgrow the capabilities of your digital piano. This is why we sometimes recommend many people either purchase a secondhand digital piano model or consider investing in an acoustic piano.
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