Help me buy a digital piano
December 18, 2018 8:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm planning to buy a digital piano, hopefully for around the £1000 mark. I'm a competent pianist but have relatively little idea what I should be looking for in a digital piano, and the options are somewhat overwhelming. Please help me narrow it down a little!

We've finally moved into a (rented) house where I will have room for a piano. I have a wonderful (but very heavy) acoustic upright at my parents' house but don't really want to move it yet as we are likely to move several times in the next few years.

I think therefore that I'm in the market for a digital piano. Ideally I'd like to spend less than £1000, though this isn't a hard limit. I'm hoping the January sales might extend my budget a little.

I'm a competent classical pianist. I haven't played much in the last few years, but I'm still very much not a beginner.

Ideally I'd like something that feels/sounds as much like a "real" piano as possible. I think this will require:

1) Graded hammer action keys (though I'm not sure if this is the right terminology). With acoustic pianos I tend to prefer a relatively "crisp" action (as opposed to feeling like you're playing into syrup).

2) Something as close to "proper" pedals as possible

3) Ivory feel keys - when I've played digital pianos before the plasticky-ness of the keys has been a real turn off.

I'd like something that I can play with headphones and ideally still hear a decent/realistic sound - though I'm not sure how possible this is. If I can use the top of the piano as an extra shelf (for a lamp, books etc.) that would also be helpful.

I'm not bothered about:
1) Portability. I would only be moving it if we were to move house. I'm pretty sure I don't want a keyboard + stand - both because I don't like the look, and because I have encountered pretty dodgy resonant frequency issues with keyboard stands when playing duets in the past.

2) Bells and whistles - I don't need to be able to sound like an orchestra/organ, I don't need inbuilt music, and I'm not going to be recording anything. I just want to play the piano!

What makes/models of digital pianos would be best for me given the above? I'd also be happy to look second-hand but need to know what to look for. Are there factors other than the above that I should consider?

Bonus points for recommendations for headphones for use with a digital piano.
posted by bored_now_flay to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I found UK Pianos website useful when looking for a digital piano, last year, and eventually bought a Yamaha CLP545 from them. It - or its newer versions - or its slightly cheaper or more expensive versions - would all meet your needs, I believe. The linked article mentions pretty much all the current digital piano brands on the market.
posted by rongorongo at 9:11 AM on December 18, 2018

We have a Yamaha CP4 Stage with two Yamaha HS5 powered nearfield monitors, and it's terrific. I also have a couple HS8s, which have a bigger woofer and therefore nicer low end--a single HS8 on its side, with the tweeter end toward the high keys, provides a nice approximation of an upright piano.

Headphones-wise, in the UK I'd be looking at over-ear studio "cans" from Sennheiser or AKG - something with an honest (rather than hyped) low end. The same tricks that make Bose/Beats-type phones sound nice with commercial recordings IME make them bad for monitors.

On preview I see that you don't really want a keyboard/stand sitch, but at that point you might just consider just getting an actual acoustic piano . . .
posted by aspersioncast at 9:28 AM on December 18, 2018

The RD-700 line from Roland has always been a notoriously good stage piano. It has way more bells and whistles than you want, but unless you get one of those big Clavinova-type things, something like this will be your best bet. The roland key beds are fantastic, and will get you closer to a real piano feel than pretty much anything else. The piano sounds are pretty good as well.
posted by nosila at 9:36 AM on December 18, 2018

Probably you already realize this, but: things like "crisp" action and ivory vs. plasticky-feeling of the keys will be hard to judge from reviews, so before you're done, you'll want to find a store where you can try things out.

It would be nice to have some headphones already; you could plug them in and get more of an apples-to-apples comparison without influence from the room or the built-in amp & speakers (though you probably want to test the latter too). Unfortunately, I've got no advice on headphones.

I find damper simulation is often a weak point. So, if you care about this sort of thing, it's worth trying things like: half-pedaling; pedaling, playing, then releasing the pedal while keeping a few keys down; comparing sound of a note played dry to sound with the pedal down to sound of a note with some other keys down (but not played). Etc.

A bit of a digression since this is already ruled out, but:

"I have encountered pretty dodgy resonant frequency issues with keyboard stands when playing duets in the past."

You mean, the keyboard started rocking back and forth as you were playing?

That part's solvable. I think it's mainly X-style stands that are susceptible to this. I have one table-style and one Z-style stand and neither has that problem.
posted by bfields at 10:28 AM on December 18, 2018

At your price range there are not too many bad options. The best thing is to go to a well-stocked instrument store and just try everything they have. Look at the Yamaha Arius/YDP series.

Sony MDR-7506 are THE standard studio headphones. Available everywhere, under $100, professional quality monitors.
posted by theodolite at 11:00 AM on December 18, 2018

Go to the nearest decent size music instrument store and try them all out, get the one that intuitively feels right for you.

Roland, Yamaha, & Korg all have various decent digital pianos at a variety of price points, what is best for you is a matter of taste. If you can't decide, don't rush, sleep on it, go back later, and take your time.

For a question like this, please don't buy online. Use and support your local music shop.
posted by ovvl at 3:47 PM on December 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

I read good reviews of the Kawai ES110. I tried one out, and I liked it a lot. I'm thinking of getting one to replace my Casio Privia CGP700, which I'm not happy with because I find the keyboard action way too stiff.
posted by ShooBoo at 9:37 PM on December 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

There are great electric piano reviews and comparisons here, especially those by Chris. (Ignore the unboxing etc)
posted by beniamino at 6:27 AM on December 19, 2018

After reading a bunch of online reviews and then trying out a bunch of pianos in-store a couple of years ago, I settled on the Kawai ES100. Looks like the ES110 is their newer model in that line. I've been happy with it, though I'll say that it sounds much better through a good pair of headphones than it does through its built-in speakers.

There was one slightly cheaper Roland in the store that I was dearly tempted to buy, because the sound it made when I was banging on the lower register keys got me all fired up in all the right ways. In the end, though, I went with the prettier sound and more realistic feel of the Kawai.
posted by clawsoon at 7:49 AM on December 19, 2018

For the Kawai ES110: Also get the HML-1 Stand and F-350 triple pedal if you want a more realistic pedal experience. (I went with an X stand and the single pedal. The pedal always ends up in different positions on the floor, which I don't mind much but you might.)
posted by clawsoon at 7:54 AM on December 19, 2018

The Wirecutter has a guide to digital pianos under $2000 USD.
posted by airmail at 8:41 AM on December 19, 2018

"I find damper simulation is often a weak point."

Oh, and sustain. Play a note or a chord and listen to it decay.

But, really, the gold standard is whether you can play the music you're familiar with. So, ideal would be to choose a few passages from your repertoire that exercise different things: fast passagework (especially repeated notes), dynamic range, pedaling, sustained notes,... and try them on each instrument.
posted by bfields at 9:01 AM on December 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Another vote for the Kawai ES110. I have it - it's great.
posted by odin53 at 9:22 AM on December 19, 2018

Technology has come so far in this area! There are a lot of options in your price range with many different feature sets. Echoing the advice to find places in meatspace where you can go play as many as possible, testing the things you care most about, and pick the one your fingers love.

When I was buying my first DSLR I had done a ton of research and read a million reviews and was 100% ready to buy a Nikon... but the Canon felt good in my hands and the Nikon didn't. It wasn't a quality thing at all, it was just what arrangement worked for my specific hands. Your piano will be the same.
posted by oblique red at 10:25 AM on December 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

I went on a five-hour round trip to try digital pianos in person. Hired a babysitter and everything. It was worth it.
posted by clawsoon at 10:56 AM on December 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Let us know what you end up buying, and why!
posted by clawsoon at 5:13 PM on December 20, 2018

Many thanks all. I will update in the new year with my new piano! Am fully intending to try as many as possible - I suspected this would be the answer and was hoping to avoid it for logistical issues but you have all persuaded me it's more than necessary.

Am certainly intending to buy from a local store :)
posted by bored_now_flay at 4:37 PM on December 21, 2018

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