Acoustic VS Digital: Which Piano Is Best For You?

Acoustic or Digital Piano?
6 minute read

If you have the itch to learn how to play piano, you may have wondered where the best place is to start. In all honesty most of us dream of playing upright or grand pianos, as it is the classical modern piano that we all know and love. However, owning one is not always easy! In fact many advanced players who own acoustic pianos, are often looking to make life easier with a digital one. Below we will go over some of the basics of the main styles to buy and decide once and for all which is better; digital or acoustic pianos. 

Acoustic Pianos

Pump pipe organs have been around since the Middle Ages and using that technology with chordophones eventually led to the modern acoustic piano. A chordophone is an instrument that makes sound by plucking or hitting strings like the guitar, harp, lute, and yes even the piano! Despite playing a white or black key you are still sounding the note with the strings inside.

The acoustic piano can seem complicated but in reality, it is a very basic instrument, just large, bulky (which is what allows for the great resonation you hear!) – and beautiful to look at.

How Does It Work?

While you are playing on a keyboard, inside there are about 230 strings that are hit by hammers. You strike the key and the notes you press lift a damper and let the sound ring out as the hammer hits. The pedals will allow you to control your piano sound. By playing the right pedal it allows more sustain and beautiful tonal qualities. That’s really all there is to the piano. Of course those 230 strings can produce such an amazing variety of sounds, but all you are doing is hitting them with a piece of small wood. 

What Kind of Expenses are Involved?

Buying an outright new acoustic piano is going to be quite expensive, and like all methods will need to include moving costs. If you follow social media sale pages you will likely see a ton of free pianos (yes, really!). An entire website is devoted to helping people get rid of free pianos. Unfortunately, for many years having a piano was a sign of middle class status, and there were many mass produced instruments not made to last. Especially many upright brands no longer sound good after 50 years. And while it remains its status as a nice piece of furniture it can no longer be used as a serious musical instrument.

If you buy a new acoustic piano the price points mainly depends on wether it’s an upright or grand piano. While a decent upright piano will start somewhere around $ 5,000, the (baby) grand won’t be long term fun below $ 15,000.

If you go with a free piano it will cost a lot as it’s dangerous to move and likely out of tune plus requires maintenance. Tuning 230 strings is not something you are qualified to do! Even if you do buy tools, they cost hundreds, it’s not an easy hobby. That’s why it’s pricy to hire a professional if you want to get a proper tuned piano. If you want a new acoustic piano, it is best to buy or rent new or used from a local professional place. And: You will also need the space.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Acoustic pianos are the original and the greatest. And an acoustic grand piano with its sustain pedal in place sounds incredible. No wonder the instrument is used in every genre like blues, jazz, rock, ragtime, pop, and especially where it truly belongs in classical music. If you have the budget and space to buy an acoustic… by all means. Research further and you will have an incredible instrument that will need a lot of care and cost over time but be absolutely worth every penny!

Digital Pianos

In the old days all the music we recorded was analog, as it went from the mic to the amp and into mixers/etc and then onto a reel to reel tape or vinyl record. Starting in the 1960’s and 1970’s we took those sounds and put them into a digital packet of info. While it was originally hailed as the best way to listen to music, many feel the old analog sounds better. That digital chopping supposedly affects the sound in a bad way.

How Does it Work?

But honestly, digital is now the way to go. In the old days the technology was bulky, now they have small and amazing weighted keyboard action pianos that are perfect – especially for amateur players. It would take a while to break down the specifics of all the microchip technology in a modern electronic keyboard but essentially it starts with a digital recording of a piano note. They then use that digital packet of info or “sample” and make it play when you press the keys on the keyboard. The technology has gotten pretty seamless in telling whether the note you hear is digital or analog.

The topic of electronic keyboards also can go beyond digital pianos. If you are really on a low budget you can buy a decent MIDI keyboard to plug into a piano app on your phone. This can be one of the cheapest ways to dive into learning a piano. And with many software instruments and digital pianos you will have more than samples of piano sounds, you will have a whole world of sounds to play! All these amazing samples and potential FX available are another reason players ditch the acoustic for the digital instruments.

What Kind of Expenses are Involved?

If you feel like getting a specific digital piano, then make sure you shop around. They can often run $400 to $1,000 for decent action on the keys. Just make sure it does have 88 keys – everything below is not a piano but a keyboard.

Weighted action is what gives it the piano feel, it’s not essential for starters but mandatory if you’re serious about learning the piano. Starting from $ 2.000 you probably won’t hear or feel a difference to an acoustic piano (as mentioned – if you are an amateur player).

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Digital pianos are really probably going to be your best bet if you are new to the piano-game. Because you may have had the idea about all the free acoustic pianos out there, but honestly you will regret it. And even a nice used weighted action electronic piano will save you space and get you on your way to finally learning.

Hybrid Pianos

The term hybrid piano can have multiple meanings, usually it refers to a digital piano that has realistic features like weighted key action mentioned above. There’s also great acoustic pianos with digital (silent) modes worth a try. These days there is a fine line between digital pianos and these hybrids.

How Does it Work?

Hybrid pianos are often larger than other digital pianos. They will have wood panels or some nice side features and even pedals to simulate as close an acoustic feel as possible. Some of the really expensive and impressive models feature a variety of acoustic hardware like this one.

They work the same as the digital pianos above using samples, they simply have been made to feel less digital. And the samples they use are not only high quality, they also come from incredibly expensive and famous analog instruments! Of all the digital pianos the hybrids will often have the best and most realistic piano sound. 

What Kind of Expenses are Involved?

These are great pianos for people who had an acoustic and are switching to digital. They can get very pricey very fast! And while you won’t have any need for a piano tuner, super expensive hybrids may at times require maintenance.

And beware buying the hybrid pianos on the social media sites, unless it is a very good price. If something is wrong that the seller did not disclose you will not be able to unscrew it and fix the circuits! It’s easy to hide problems with used hybrids.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

If you have the space and budget to get a hybrid, then why not have the best of both worlds! Nice weighted key action, audiophile piano samples, wood sides, and pedals help make for a more real piano experience! But remember the higher the cost the more it will require some future fixing or maintenance, otherwise it becomes like another old acoustic piano relegated today to dust and holding items. 

Digital vs Acoustic Piano. Who Wins?

Unless you have an unlimited budget, your best decision will be an electronic keyboard or digital piano of some sort if you are a beginner or an ambitious player. Don’t let a small amount of money keep you from practicing, however on the flip side don’t be cheap and spend too little. It is like all the free acoustic pianos out there; it seems like a dream come true for that adult who always wanted one growing up! If you make great progress and have the space, think about getting an acoustic piano one day as this is what every piano player dreams of. But before that keep practicing as it can take a while to learn this fascinating instrument.

In the digital vs acoustic piano debate, digital will win most of the time. To put it simple: There’s more beginners than advanced players. Especially knowing, how amazing new digital pianos are often included with other sounds, lessons, and can usually record any ideas you have. Figure out the budget you have for learning piano and then go for a good weighted action digital piano!

If you want to learn more on how to make the right buying decision, check out our guide on how to buy a piano.