On the face of it, the difference between a digital and an acoustic piano may seem obvious, but there are a fair number of points worth considering when making your choice.
Let’s start with the obvious – Acoustic Pianos. The original type of piano with no electronic or digital elements whatsoever, acoustic pianos create sound by a huge array of strings being struck by hammers which are triggered by the keys. They are unquestionably the most traditionally authentic piano, and in applications like studios or concert halls, there’s nothing quite like them.
Digital pianos, on the other hand, are a far more recent advent which seek to recreate the sound and feeling of an acoustic piano via digital sampling or modelling.
If this piece were written 20 years ago, it would have been a sound argument to claim that they just aren’t quite there, and that nothing will ever sound like an acoustic piano. But today, the reality is that technology has brought us to the point that the differences have become nigh on undiscernible to the vast majority of listeners.
So with the basics out of the way, let’s chat about some of the primary characteristics to consider when making your decision.
Acoustic pianos are works of art – From Upright Grands to Baby Grands, the brilliance of the mechanical engineering that goes into the creation of these instruments is remarkable. For this reason, owning one is often seen as an investment, and the joys of ownership are unquestionable.
However, this comes at a price, both monetary and otherwise.
Of course, acoustic pianos come at a premium, with the quality, investment pieces mentioned above often running hundreds of thousands of Rands, with the more entry level options often not providing the value associated with an acoustic piano.
Another consideration is maintenance. Acoustic pianos require regular care and maintenance – not to mention tuning, which must be done by a professional. In fact, every time an acoustic piano is moved, it must be re-tuned.
The final consideration is volume. The reality of modern living means that many households have to be cautious of neighbours. And even if you take neighbours out of the equation, having a household full of people with different schedules can mean playing and practicing can disturb others.
The most obvious upside of digital pianos is the fact that they solve a majority of the cons presented by acoustic pianos. Volume, maintenance and, to a degree, cost, are issues that are all solved by digital pianos.
But what about the perceived cons – the beauty of a piano in the home, the “feel” of an acoustic piano, the sound. How do modern digital pianos compare?
The Feel: With technology like Roland’s Progressive Hammer Action system, today’s digital pianos are practically indiscernible in terms of feel from a quality acoustic piano.
The Sound: Again, technology has caught up to the point that the sounds recreation has become incredibly true-to-life.
An added benefit that is not to be underestimated is the fact that multiple sounds and samples are included in most digital pianos today, allowing you to essentially have multiple different pianos, and even different instruments, all in one unit. Couple this with reverbs and other effects often included, the versatility of digital pianos become a no-brainer.
The Look: A big draw in owning a piano is the way they look and the stature they have in the home. While many digital pianos are designed to be ultra-portable and practical (another great benefit), cabinet digital pianos, like Roland’s LX Series unquestionably command the same visual attention as any acoustic piano.
The reality is that in the modern day, the practical use cases for acoustic pianos are diminishing. If they are not being used in a studio setting, in a concert hall, or very particular homes, it can be difficult to make the justification for an acoustic piano.