Most piano-like 88-key portable digital keyboard under $1000.
January 21, 2009 11:06 AM   Subscribe

I've searched desperately and extensively for reviews on digital pianos and find them lacking. Please share your experiences with looking for pianos and/or your (dis)satisfaction with your digital piano. Differences between brands welcomed. I'm looking for an 88-key portable digital piano that feels and sounds most like a real, acoustic piano, I don't care about bells and whistles. The only thing is it must have USB/MIDI ports. Thanks!
posted by shmooly to Shopping (15 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
It all comes down to your budget, really. I haven't really played the piano seriously in ten years or so (I play bass guitar now, no room for keyboards, blah blah blah) but the keyboardists I've played with have definitely gotten the most authentic sound from Kurzweil stuff. From what I've played of them, they have the most realistic key/hammer action, and from someone who learned on a very-much vintage upright with ivory keys, they're some of the few electronic keyboards that really fooled me into thinking I was playing an actual piano (as far as touch goes). The sound quality is really excellent though, and it really only limited by your reproduction equipment.

These can easily run into the thousands of dollar range, however. But man, do they sound nice...
posted by Benjy at 11:21 AM on January 21, 2009

If user reviews float your boat there are typically a bevy at like this one of the Yamaha S90ES. The 88 keys are weighted, which personally I love. 17 fairly glowing consumer reviews on the website. Unfortunately, new, these go for around $1900.

On the positive side, the newer S90ES pushed down the pricing on its predecessor, the P90 which is also a very nice keyboard and looks like it can be had around the $900 mark.

FYI, I started with a StudioLogic SL-880 controller with grand hammer action (graded hammer, so lower octaves are heavier, feeling much like a grand piano) and was hooked on the key action (fyi, the SL-880 is JUST a controller). Both the Yamahas mentioned above are excellent.
posted by FrotzOzmoo at 11:32 AM on January 21, 2009

I would look for a used Kurzweil SP88 (cheaper) or PC88 (more expensive; additional features likely won't make a difference to you). They go for roughly $300 to $500 last time I looked on eBay. The keys are semiweighted, but I find that they're much more pianolike than most of the weighted keyboard actions I've played on. (Any other 88-key Kurzweil you find should be fine too, except the really ancient ones; those are the only models I am aware of that typically go for under a thousand.)
posted by likedoomsday at 11:50 AM on January 21, 2009

I love my Korg SP-250.
posted by dmd at 12:15 PM on January 21, 2009

Depending on your budget, I think a preferable route is to find a keyboard that you like the weighting on, and buy yourself a software sampled piano (East West has some nice ones). I haven't seen a digipiano that sounds as good as a software piano yet. Of course, you may not want to have your piano wired to the computer at all times.
posted by '' at 12:22 PM on January 21, 2009

Don't bother with the cheap ones. I tinker with music, and I've used M-Audio gear from time to time. While the price tag is attractive, you're going to want a Kurzweil unless your finances are severely limited.
posted by Alterscape at 12:23 PM on January 21, 2009

Response by poster: First of all, a big thank you to all those who are replying. It seems it's the rare review that doesn't recommend the piano one already has, so I'm relieved there probably isn't a poor decision if you're spending $500+.

The tough part for me comes between differentiating between such models. Does anyone have insight on the difference between a similarly priced Yamaha/Kurzweil/Korg/Casio? The three big categories are sound (both the sample and speaker quality), weighted-action keys, and consistency (sounds as good in the lower- vs. upper-registers, no nagging physical characteristics) - though of course any comment is welcome.
posted by shmooly at 12:34 PM on January 21, 2009

I have a Casio Privia PX-100 that I got on clearance from Best Buy. Came with a set of mounting legs and pedals but is easily portable. It sounds really good - very accurate sound and the feel of the keys is great because they are weighted with hammers - it FEELS like a piano.

My big nit-pick is that at low volumes, you can hear the hammers hit the el-cheapo plastic cover for the bottom of the device.

I have solved this by turning up the volume on the keyboard.
posted by disclaimer at 12:42 PM on January 21, 2009

Built-in speakers have generally been the low-point of the higher-end keyboards I've played around with, so don't expect top-notch sound from many of them. In the long term I would suggest saving up for some monitors.
posted by Benjy at 12:49 PM on January 21, 2009

Agree with Benjy -- focus on the actual keyboard mechanism, you can always hook up better speakers and/or sound sources.

I'll follow the trend of recommending what one has by suggesting you give Roland's progressive hammer action keyboards a try. I have the RD-500, the contemporary version is now the RD-700. It's awesome.
posted by kanuck at 1:02 PM on January 21, 2009

Best answer: I'll note you're asking two questions, really.

You want an 88 key controller that feels and plays like a real piano.

You want a sound module that sounds like a real piano.

I think you might find a better answer by making sure the keyboard controller meets the feel and playable constraint, and only then audition the sound. If the sound isn't acceptible, get an external sound module that sounds the way you want it.

If you're lucky, you'll find a key controller that also sounds good, thus, one box, but a key controller than sound great and feels horrible can only be fixed by buying another key controller anyway. A key controller that feels good and plays well can drive anything that's MIDI compatible.
posted by eriko at 2:07 PM on January 21, 2009

After a few years we still love our Roland HP 337e. It is discontinued but you may have luck looking at the current HP series.

Its on the heavier side touchwise and has a convincing piano tone. We did an extensive shop around of makes and models and found Yamahas too light, a lot of top end models from various brands to have a very odd feel and this model to have - for us - the best balance of sound and touch. Some models can sound wierd. Both of us can identify the sound difference between say acoustic Bosendofers, Steinways and Yamahas. We find the Roland fine to play and practice on.

If you shop for a great key controller and sound module - you may ultimately get a better sound, but it may take some considerable effort to get your amplification and loudspeakers just right. You may lose out on the furniture vibe you get from a piano.

The Roland is no substitute for a Steinway baby grand...but then what is?
posted by Bigbrowncow at 4:50 PM on January 22, 2009

Best answer: If anyone finds this thread, this update is my takeaway from the whole experience.

I got the Korg SP-250, and I'm very pleased with the choice. The other keyboard I was seriously considering was the Yamaha DGX630/YPG-635 (Yamaha uses different model #s for the same instruments depending where you're buying). The Kurzweil's looked and sounded great, admittedly, but in general were out of my price range. I didn't closely consider Casio's mainly because of brand perception - I figured at $800-1000 I would go with a recognized brand for that price. A friend who owns a recently purchased Casio ($500 range) said the Korg was noticeably superior. As far as Roland was concerned I just didn't learn enough about them to make a judgment, as well as any other brand I didn't mention.

Back to the Korg: in terms of weighted hammers, it's wonderful. I read in multiple places that Yamahas can have an issue with the loudness of the keys when pressed; I don't have this issue with the Korg at all. I agree with other commenters who said the feel is the most important aspect as you can always work around other issues.

However, I really did consider internal sampling and speakers to be very important because the keyboard is mainly for recreational use and I would like the flexibility to put it where I want to in the apartment without attaching any peripherals. In this regard I predetermined that I prefer the Korg's piano sound from listening to samples on youtube and the brand's own websites: I encourage anyone debating their choices to listen to these carefully if sound is a factor in your decision (only the high-quality recordings though). The Yamahas to me sounded too bright while the Korg's piano sample was richer and fuller, like a real grand. In terms of other instruments Yamaha easily has the best string samples while Korg has surprisingly awesome harpsichord and organ samples. Other instruments don't sound too incredible (to me) on either, though Yamahas do pack many more instruments and samples into their keyboards.

What I really like on the SP-250 is the small variations to the instruments you can make through use of reverb and 3 different "levels" you can set for each instrument. Korg calls these "light," "normal," and "deep" but they seem to have a different effect with each instrument, most of them interesting. I can't speak for any equivalent features on other brands.

The interface is much simpler and very minimal on the Korg while Yamaha includes an electronic screen and other fancy features. This mattered little to me so I actually found the Korg more appealing in this regard.

A final consideration is the Korg stand came with the keyboard, is easy to assemble and does the job more than well. I don't believe Yamahas generally includes everything with the keyboard, just make sure to pay attention to these details.
posted by shmooly at 4:57 PM on April 4, 2009

Thanks for following up on your question, shmooly. I hadn't come across the SP-250 until I read this.
posted by NailsTheCat at 5:26 PM on July 5, 2009

Ooh, I won!
posted by dmd at 1:40 PM on July 12, 2009

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