A quality digital piano can be a sensible alternative to an acoustic piano. They take up less space than traditional pianos and require no tuning or maintenance. Best of all, the good stuff today sounds and feels amazing! Still, not all digital pianos are created equal.
To tell the difference between the toys and the real instruments, start by looking for these two important things;
The Piano Sample
Quality digital pianos make sound by playing back sophisticated recordings, called ‘samples,’ of a real acoustic piano. The quality of the recordings and the quality of the piano recorded will determine how real it sounds and how much the player enjoys playing.
Digital pianos that use Steinway & Sons piano samples sound more ‘real’ than other models. Because the Steinway & Sons piano is the most recorded piano in history, it is simply the sound we all recognize as ‘piano.’ Virtually every concert you have ever attended and every recording you’ve ever heard was played on a Steinway because their pianos feature remarkable dynamic range with a long, even sustain that make them perfect for all types of music.
Wouldn’t it be great if Steinway & Sons made a digital piano?
Yes, it would, but they don’t.
The closest today is Roland, a company that specializes in digital pianos and is the most popular brand using a Steinway piano sample. Some brands, like Yamaha, Clavinova, and Kawai, have stopped using a Steinway sample so they can promote their own acousic pianos, but the best values in digital pianos all base their sound on the ever popular Steinway.
There’s an easy way to compare digital pianos, even when they’re not side by side. Find the biggest and best grand piano in the store – a new Steinway is the best comparison – and play the lowest G note as hard as you can (it’s the 7th white key from the left) and hold it until the sound completely stops.
Now… do it again.
Notice how there’s a burst of power in the beginning? As it fades, you’ll hear a kind of pleasant ‘twang’ for about five seconds, then it smooths out and very, very gradually fades away. It takes about twenty-five seconds on a really good piano.
Now, try the same thing on the digital, but make sure the volume is turned all the way up. Did it burst? Was there a little ‘twang?’ Was it a very gradual fade?
Or did you hear a kind of winding sound? Did you hear these kinds of ‘steps’ where the volume went down noticeably? Did it make your nose crinkle? These are all signs that the piano used a low quality sample of a low quality piano.
You will be amazed at how easy it is to compare pianos this way, even if you’re not a player! Whatever comes closest to that big grand is going to have the best sample of the best piano… in that store, anyway.
Progressive Hammer Action
These actions work more like a traditional grand piano and are better for beginning and advanced players alike. To understand why, it’s good to understand a little about how a traditional piano key works.
When a player presses down on a key, it is actually the back of the key moving up that is making the sound. Each key has a different “weight” to the feel because each of a traditional piano’s 88-keys has a different size hammer. These hammers, which strike the strings to make sound, get larger as we move from the higher notes on the right end of the piano to the lower notes on the left.
This is what makes a piano feel like a piano. Digital piano builders have tried all sorts of things to recreate the feel of a really good grand piano. Fortunately, today, some of them have gotten very, very close.
Unlike fake-feeling spring weighted or graded hammer actions that put the fulcrum toward the front of the key, Progressive Hammer Actions put the fulcrum farther back in the key, like a traditional piano. The result is a piano with a more sensitive touch that even the youngest player can play for hours without becoming fatigued.
How do you figure out what type of action a digital piano has? Just ask the web. Manufacturer websites and literature should clearly state whether the piano has a progressive hammer (PHA), graded hammer (GH), or some other kind of action. Beware of terms like ‘weighted keys,’ ‘responsive action,’ ‘grand-like feel,’ and ‘natural wood.’
These are just ways of saying ‘not a progressive hammer action.’
While you may come across some other features that will add more fun to playing piano, once you find the sound and feel you like, you are well on your way to finding a great digital piano that will bring your family years of enjoyment.
Steinway Piano Gallery is the area’s exclusive Roland and Galileo Digital Piano dealer. Visit us today to compare these great pianos for yourself!