Digital vs. Acoustic Piano: What’s the Difference?

Bartolomeo Cristofori of Padua produced the first piano in the early 1700s. Since then, the design has been changed numerous times, but it is still one of the most elegant and expensive instruments. Thanks to American pragmatism, we have a wide choice of pianos on the market nowadays.

Once you decide to learn to play the piano, one of the main questions is digital vs. acoustic piano: what’s the difference. Basically, both options have a few advantages and downsides, and determining what type you need will depend on your preferences.

Acoustic Pianos

Acoustic Pianos
Image: Noname Music

The acoustic piano is a gorgeous instrument and a remarkable engineering achievement. There are three types, including:

Grand/Concert grand piano

Bartolomeo’s original design is still a base of this classy instrument. Although you can see the improvements throughout history, it has the same hammer mechanism and the two or three strings per key like the first one. Unfortunately, this model is highly expensive.

Baby grand piano

Any grand style piano shorter than 62 inches (1.6 m) is better known as a baby grand. It provides rich tones at an affordable price. Keep in mind that the width stays the same since almost all of them have 88 (52 white plus 36 black) keys. The difference is in the body and strings length.

Upright piano

Thanks to American accessibility resurgence, we have this budget option at our disposal. This model is a compressed version of the traditional grand design, but don’t think that it is simplified. On the contrary, the primary mechanism is identical but laid out vertically instead of horizontally.

Digital Pianos

Digital Pianos
Image: Noname Music

Nowadays, you can find three primary types of this electronic piano version, including:

Keyboards

It was the first model that emulated traditional pianos digitally, which was an excellent and cheap solution for beginners. Its plastic keys couldn’t produce the ideal sound of the acoustic instrument. However, modern arranged keyboards provide enough extra features, which makes them useful, especially for songwriters.

Digital pianos

A contemporary digital piano is a highly playable instrument, with upgraded sound quality. Plus, installed mechanical key actions can successfully mimic the acoustic pianos’ hammer actions. However, this particular model has a few glaring weaknesses, which makes it unsuitable for professional musicians.

Stage pianos

The design of a stage piano attempts to solve the problems with quality, bulk, and flexibility of the sound. Plus, it offers reduced weight and massive sound libraries.

Acoustic vs. Digital Piano: What’s the Difference?

Acoustic vs. Digital Piano What's the Difference
Image: Noname Music

Design

Acoustic piano – We still use Bartolomeo’s classic design with a few innovations, but its formula hasn’t changed much over centuries. This piano is beautiful, classy, very sturdy, and moisture resistant.

Digital piano – Its style is practical and straightforward, plus you can get an innovative control scheme that changes over time. Basically, there are no limits to the design for this piano.

Sound

Acoustic piano – Its sound quality is warm and authentic and represents the best part of acoustic models. The unique sound naturally spreads throughout the space, and nothing can replace it.

Digital piano – The produced sound can mimic the acoustic piano, but it doesn’t seem authentic. Regardless of the advanced technology, emulations can’t equal to the real hammer hitting the strings.

Keys

Acoustic piano – It is a key-based instrument with complex hammer mechanisms and strings. Therefore, the touch and feel of 88 keys (from A to C) are crucial during playing.

Digital piano – It uses sensors to mimic the feeling that keys provide, but it is hard to simulate the real hammer mechanism hitting metal strings. Most of them feature 88 keys, but there are a few exceptions, as well.

Pedals

Acoustic piano – It features three pedals. The sustain pedal is commonly used, while soft and sostenuto pedals have a role in rare cases.

Digital piano – It comes with only one (sustain) pedal, but many portable models don’t feature any.

Portability

Acoustic piano – Since it can be from 300 to 1,400 pounds (136 – 635 kg) heavy, its moving requires at least two to three physically strong men.

Digital piano – In most cases, only one person can move this approximately 33 pounds (15 kg) heavy model.

Maintenance and repairs

Acoustic piano – You need to keep your acoustic piano in place with an adequate temperature of 68 F (20 C) and humidity from 45% to 70%. In any case, you will need to tune your instrument once to twice a year.

When your acoustic piano breaks down, you will need professional help to solve the problem. Keep in mind that it can be quite expensive.

Digital piano – There is no need to maintain your digital piano. Plus, most of them don’t require any significant repair.

Price

Acoustic piano – It is an expensive instrument, which requires regular upkeep. You can buy an upright acoustic piano for $1000 to $3000, but the grand piano can reach the price of $200,000 to $300,000.

Digital piano – The most significant advantage of a digital piano is its affordability. Nowadays, you can find models at nearly every price, but most of them cost from $200 to 1,000.

Durability

Acoustic piano – If you maintain, adjust, and repair this piano regularly and replace worn parts periodically, you can use it practically forever.

Digital piano – Its expected lifetime directly depends on the expiration date of the electronic components.

Electronic features

Acoustic piano – Obviously, it can’t compete with digital features since it only has one ‘pre-set sound.’

Digital piano – It contains a few crucial electronic features, including:

  • The volume knobs
  • Headphone jack
  • Output jacks
  • Onboard effects section
  • MIDI USB functions

Recording

Almost all digital pianos have a port that allows the connection with a computer. That way, you can record your performance and store it as a digital file.

Summary

Whether you invest in an acoustic or digital piano depends on your needs and budget. It is also not the same if you need a portable instrument, or you have a place in your home for a bulkier model.

If you prefer choosing a lifetime investment, the acoustic piano is everything you look for. On the other hand, you should choose a digital piano if you need a high-quality sound at an affordable price.

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