Best digital piano for an adult wanting to learn?
April 6, 2011 11:39 AM   Subscribe

What's the best keyboard / digital piano for a relative "newbie"?

My 23-year-old brother is interested in learning to play the piano. He lives in an apartment, so would have to have a keyboard as opposed to the real thing.

Special snowflake details:

-He is very musical, and plays many other instruments well, including the saxophone, guitar, clarinet...the list continues (he was a drum major in high school).

-He took piano lessons briefly as a kid, but hasn't recently.

-He really wants one that will hook up with his Macbook Pro so he can use learning software, etc.

-He wants one with keys that will mimic the "resistance of a piano." Also has pedals, close to the "real thing" as he can get. (I would assume that 88 keys would also be necessary for this purpose.)

-He wants something with speakers included (I understand that some don't have that, and you have to buy something else?), but that also has a headphone option.

-Price range is around $500-600 (including stand, pedal bar, etc.). I have found that Amazon tends to be cheaper than other places, so that keyboards that elsewhere would be $800 to $900 are close to his $500-600 range

I saw the Casio PX-130, which seems to most closely fit all of his criteria. Opinions on this model? Any other options / ideas?
posted by mingodingo to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The Korg SP250 gets recommended a lot around here — it's $699 on Amazon but I strongly recommend paying the extra if you can. I love mine.
posted by oliverburkeman at 11:54 AM on April 6, 2011

I used to own the Korp SP250, and for just getting started, it's really great. Great feel and sound for the money, and you don't have to bother with external speakers and whatnot. Highly recommended. I bought mine for $700 and then sold it two years later for $400 (and bought a Roland). Check ebay and craigslist and musician's friend for deals on it. It's probably worth it.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:01 PM on April 6, 2011

I bought a Yamaha P-140 bundle at 3 years ago and have been very happy with the purchase. I haven't played it, but I would guess that a Yamaha P-95 would be very similar and is very close to the price range including a bench.

If you wanted to buy the Korg, I would take a look at the bundles on kraftmusic as well.
posted by UsernameGenerator at 12:17 PM on April 6, 2011

I'll let the other more knowledgeable people recommend specific models, but a couple things that may help as you comparison shop:

* Keys that mimic the resistance of a piano are called "fully weighted keys" (or just "weighted keys"). He may want to visit some music stores to see how the "weighted keys" feel for each brand - they can feel pretty different.

* 88 keys may not be necessary - I gig using 76 keys, and I certainly don't miss the extra 12. But nothing wrong with getting the full 88 if that's what he wants (and it sounds like he won't be hauling it around much, so size isn't an issue).

* Most of the learning software probably uses a USB or MIDI connection, so you want to make sure the keyboards have those kind of jacks (or "outputs" they're probably called).

* Some include speakers, some don't. Most have an output for a quarter-inch audio cable, which can be paired with a a quarter-inch-to-eighth-inch adaptor so you can hook it up to any stereo/pair of computer speakers, etc.

Good luck!
posted by audiodidactic at 12:29 PM on April 6, 2011

I have the PX-130 with the Casio pedals and stand. The keys feel pretty good to me, and the "grand piano" samples sound nice too (but the built-in speakers are quite crappy). I think it's a great instrument for the price.

However I'm a trumpet player, not a pianist.
posted by phliar at 12:43 PM on April 6, 2011

audiodidactic has it with looking for "weighted keys" for starters. Other things to check for:

-Polyphony: How many simultaneous notes the instrument can produce. Most digital pianos have 64-note polyphony. If a model has 4-note polyphony, it will only produce up to 4 simultaneous notes; keys depressed after this limit will either not play, or the oldest tones will drop out first to make room for newer ones. A regular piano has 88-note polyphony, in that if you were able to somehow depress all 88 keys simultaneously, they would all play.

-Touch Response: How many levels of sensitivity the keys have. More is better, giving a more responsive feel to the keys. Most digital pianos have 2 or 3 levels of touch response. (i.e., hard and soft, or hard/medium/soft.) Some keyboards have weighted keys (they "feel" like a real piano) but only have 1 level of sensitivity; no matter how hard or softly you hit the key, the resulting volume is exactly the same. Avoid single-level touch response at all costs, as you'll have no real way to play piano or forte, and the music will be dynamically flat. You can't put any dynamic "feel" into your playing if everything comes out at a flat, normalized volume.

-Samples: How many samples are used for each instrument (voice)? Is their "Grand Piano" just one sample pitch-shifted up or down as needed, are there a range of several samples taken at intervals, or are there 88 samples? Different brands will use different terminology for this, but again, more is better. Voices made from just one sample sound horrible. (Think awful auto-tune music.)

Don't buy a model solely because it has great speakers, and don't necessarily overlook a model if it has poor-sounding speakers. Nearly all digital pianos and keyboards have outputs for external speakers/amps and headphones; focus more on the inner qualities of the instrument.

If at all possible, sample many different instruments at a music shop.
posted by xedrik at 1:49 PM on April 6, 2011

Don't discount Craigslist/used as an option. We got our digital off of CL and are very happy with it, despite the fact that it's an older instrument. It's a Technics something-or-other. No, it's not the best you can get, but for our purposes right now, it's fine.
posted by altopower at 4:42 PM on April 6, 2011

I live in an apartment and I have a piano, as long as he's considerate about the times he practises I don't see the problem. If he wants to learn the piano he should buy the real thing. You can't learn to play the piano on an electronic keyboard any more than you can learn the guitar by playing rock star.
posted by joannemullen at 7:44 AM on April 7, 2011

The digital piano is a different animal than the far more popular keyboard. Most keyboards have a bouncy 'synth action' using springs under the keys. This feels very different from a piano which uses a hammer-action that resets itself. There are keyboards that offer a compromise with semi-weighted keys but if he wants to primarily practice/play piano he needs a fully-weighted keyboard. (Note that if he wants to hook it up to his computer to make other kinds of music he may find that the piano action interferes with making synthy music. That's one reason musicians tend to have multiple keyboards.)

In your brother's price range the three most recommended digital pianos are, in order:

• Casio PX-130
• Yamaha P95
• Korg SP170

All three are decent DPs for the price and your brother should try them out to see how he likes the action and sounds.

If your brother intends to use his DP with his computer one other option is purchasing a used fully-weighted 88-key keyboard controller (like the Studiologic VMK-188 Plus 88-Key Master Controller which sells new for $700) and using a high-quality digital piano software sound loaded on his computer, like one of the Synthology ($300) software packages. Sound can be amazing (check out Youtube videos for "synthology ivory"), but you need to always be computer-connected.

If he ends up being serious about playing a DP odds are that he'll sooner or later sell on Craigslist whatever he gets now (for half what he paid) then step up to another DP with better action, build quality and sounds. Once you start looking over $700 (and up to $3,000 or more) there are a number of excellent choices from Yamaha, Kawai, Nord, Casio and Roland.
posted by skywhite at 5:25 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

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