Digital piano/electric keyboard/whatever. What should I buy and where?
January 7, 2014 1:04 PM   Subscribe

I've come into a bit of money and am ready to finally shell out for a nice weighted-key digital piano. I'm in the SF Bay area, have Amazon Prime, but don't know where I should go to try things out and buy them. I'm working with a $500-600 budget. My preferences are in the...

So some details and questions:
-I don't really care about effects, tones, etc. I mostly want something that replicates the feel and sound of a piano as much as possible. I took lessons when I was a teenager for probably 6 years and have played casually since then, so I'm not new to the instrument.
-I don't want a real piano because I move around a fair amount and don't want to move said piano/saddle roommates with it
-I also live with a lot of people and play music at night, so having something where I can control the volume is important
-I have a Mac with GarageBand and would like to be able to record to it
-I honestly can't wrap my head around owning something that's not a laptop that costs more than $800, so that's my hard and firm budget. Less is great.
-Right now this is just for me to play, but I'd eventually like to play with other people. Should I be looking for specific outputs/plugs for amps? What are they? I only play acoustic instruments right now so I don't know what I'm doing with this.

Are there other questions I should be asking or buying guides I should be consulting? I'm planning to look on Craigslist and online, but would like to play the instrument before purchase so would appreciate recommendations of Bay Area (ideally Berkeley, Oakland, or SF) stores to check out. I saw this question but as it's 5 years old I thought I'd ask again.
posted by c'mon sea legs to Shopping (15 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
the newer low-end Casio models have gotten good reviews, and are in about that price range
posted by thelonius at 1:14 PM on January 7, 2014

With your budget, you have a few choices including:
- Yamaha P series, e.g. P35, P90
- Casio CDP and PX Series: CDP100, PX

All of them should have headphone outputs, so you are set on the sound front.
For use with garageband, you need to check if they either have USB midi (you can directly connect the piano to the mac) or regular midi out - so you'll need to have a midi-usb device, or an audio interface with midi inputs. The current piano I have has a usb slot (as well as usb midi AND regular midi out), so I record midi directly to a usb flash drive.
posted by TrinsicWS at 1:16 PM on January 7, 2014

The Casio Privia line is shockingly good. Used Yamaha P-200 is an option (or new P-series). The P-200 is the best portable digital piano that Yamaha ever made (in Mr. Arnicae, a pianist and music professional's opinion).
posted by arnicae at 1:40 PM on January 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

A couple years back we bought a Yamaha DGX640W Digital Piano (Walnut). It has performed well for us and at the time was highly recommended. I'm sure there is a current version (maybe the DGX650) with similar qualities...
posted by NoDef at 1:43 PM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Casio Privia line

This is the one I was thinking of, I believe. I saw a Youtube video of Joe Sample playing one iirc.
posted by thelonius at 1:48 PM on January 7, 2014

Honestly, this is something where I would really think that the upper end of your budget is going to be way better, because that replicating the feel of playing a real piano? That's more expensive than adding a dozen more MIDI voices. Weighting is going to be an issue, as is whether it comes with a sustain pedal, whether it's binary-only, and how much you'll have to tack on to get a decent one if it's not included. (Pedals, stand, and bench are likely to come up as extra costs, especially with cheaper models.) It's been a couple years since I got mine, but if things haven't changed too much, I suspect you'll see a big difference between an $800 digital piano and a $500 digital piano. But it's mostly going to be a matter of playing it and seeing what gives you the experience you want for the price. Take a smartphone so you can compare prices while you're out.
posted by Sequence at 1:53 PM on January 7, 2014

Don't be afraid to start by looking at consumer grade stuff in big box stores. I was impressed by a sub-$300 Yamaha of some sort about a year ago while my girlfriend was buying a washer-dryer. It felt good, sounded fine and was shockingly cheap.
posted by whuppy at 2:08 PM on January 7, 2014

The Casios mentioned above feel pretty decent. You can also often find the CDP-x00s at Costco with a piano stand and stool for right at your budget.
posted by charmedimsure at 2:10 PM on January 7, 2014

Get a NICE weighted electric piano off keyboard slightly used. Don't buy new. These come up all the time (especially in the few months after Christmas). I highly recommend the Kawai KDP90 if you really want it to feel like playing a piano. You will be able to find one used in your price range, although they are much more expensive new. Seriously, it will be worth just watching craigslist. All those Casios mentioned above are OK, and they will definitely come up on craigslist for far less than list. And many of them will have been used maybe twice.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:52 PM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

> - Yamaha P series, e.g. P35

I have that one and I like it. My piano teacher has a $3,000 Roland and I can tell the difference, but the Yamaha is fine. It has a 1/4" headphone jack.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:57 PM on January 7, 2014

If you can find a used Kawai VPC1, its keys have a good piano-like weight and response. You don't need a keyboard with a built-in synth as you're using a software synth via Garageband. Try to find a keyboard where your money goes into the action and mechanism in the keys and not the synth.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:18 PM on January 7, 2014

I was in exactly the same boat a few years ago. Same price range, same concerns. I made several trips to the music store, played all the keyboards, took notes, talked to the sales guys. Got a Casio Privia. I'm still very happy with it.
posted by bunderful at 4:49 PM on January 7, 2014

I went through the same process 7 or 8 years ago. I ended up with a Yamaha P60 which I love.

That being said - I think the best advice is to get out to a store and play a bunch of them to see which feels the best. I agree with all who say the action is more important than the sound - and preference for action is a pretty personal thing. I prefer a heavier hammer action, which is why I went with Yamaha. Some of the other brands were too plastic or springy for my tastes - but it's very much a preference thing.
posted by tsetsefly at 5:37 PM on January 7, 2014

I like my Yamaha DGX505. We bought it almost a decade ago and it has held up very well.

I would definitely stay on the higher end of your range if you are going to play with others. My keyboard has an output that can be used for an outside amp, and you WILL need yours to have that plus an amp if you are going to play with a band. If it is just you you can get by with the amp built into the keyboard, but with very few exceptions if you are going to have an audience eventually you will need an amp.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:39 PM on January 7, 2014

I have a P35, and I'm quite happy with it - I don't think you can connect it directly to garage band, (maybe via the headphone jack?), but other than that, it fits most of your criterias.
posted by motdiem2 at 4:59 AM on January 8, 2014

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