Photo by Catface27
Figuring out the best digital piano to get can be overwhelming. Yamaha P-115? Casio PX-160? If the model numbers alone don't confuse you, each manufacturer has different digital piano lines, and it can be hard to cut through the marketing speak. Do I want one from the “entry-level console digital piano” line? Or should I get one from the “Compact and stylish digital pianos for a wide range of piano-playing abilities” line? Worse yet, with so many models, am I buying one that's already outdated?
Well, have no fear, we're here to help! We've got piano players on our team with a wide range of experience that came together to write this guide (one of the founders of this website has been playing piano for 20+ years!). We love to do our research, so we can save you some precious time. Different people have different ideas of what the best digital piano is, so we looked through forums, other buyers guides, and retail stores to see what the best sellers are. We then compiled a big master list, picked the overall best ones for different budget levels, and reviewed each one individually. We even camped out at our local retailers with a pair of nice headphones and spent a few hours testing the various models ourselves.
This guide is primarily aimed at the beginner or intermediate level player looking for a great digital piano. Experienced players, don't worry, we have some picks in there for you too. If you're short on time and want to cut to the chase, here are our top digital piano picks at-a-glance:
- Bottom Line:The serious pianist needs a serious digital piano, and the DGX-660 delivers. Outstanding sound, exceptional keyboard feel, and packed with features. While you pay more for all the features, and it's not the most portable piano, you'd be hard pressed to find a better overall digital piano under $1000. Best of the Best
- Bottom Line:The Casio PX-160 looks gorgeous, and one of the highest recommended digital pianos out there for beginners and casual players. Onboard speaker quality is not the best (get good headphones or speakers), but you get a keyboard with a textured feel that closely emulates Ebony & Ivory of a real piano.
- Bottom Line:Raining on Yamaha and Casio's parade is the Kawai ES100. For the piano tone snobs, no digital piano under $1000 sounds better, nor has a better keyboard feel and action. Sporting fewer features than the Yamaha DGX-660, this is the digital piano to get for those that care about tone and feel above all else.
- Digital vs Real Acoustic Pianos - What's the Difference?
- What to Look For & How to Shop For a Digital Piano
- The Top 5 Digital Pianos
Digital vs Real Acoustic Pianos - What's the Difference?
Chances are you're reading this guide because you've decided to look for the best digital piano. Our goal is to make you a very informed buyer, so we think it's important that you understand the differences between an acoustic piano and a digital one. After all - and this is important, so we'll highlight it - digital pianos are usually reviewed for how close they get to a real acoustic piano in terms of sound and feel of the keys.
Characteristics of acoustic pianos:
- Superior sound
- Superior action (keys are weighted as the hammers hit the strings)
- More expressive
- Heavy, bulky, unwieldy
- Expensive ($3000 is a typical starting price for an upright piano)
- Require maintenance by a specialist (can be expensive)
Characteristics of digital pianos:
- Less expensive than acoustic pianos (a good digital piano starts around $400)
- Lighter and much more portable, easy to pack and ship
- Can double as a MIDI controller (e.g. you can use it to control software synthesizers)
- Require no maintenance
- Good recreation of an acoustic piano sound (some better than others, obviously)
- Versatility and features (many tones/voices, built-in learning tools, layered sounds, split keyboard ranges, etc.)
- Headphones for quiet playing and practicing
What to Look For & How to Shop For a Digital Piano
Budget & Cost: Without a doubt, your budget and the price of a digital piano are often the most important factors. There is an absolutely overwhelming selection of digital pianos out there. Casio alone makes enough digital piano models to make your head spin. They do this of course to fit a large number of piano players' budgets. Whether you already have a budget in mind, or are trying to decide what to spend, as experienced piano players and gear-heads, we're here to help you get the most for your money. In this guide, we're focusing on the $400 to $800 budget range. We think this covers the beginner and intermediate player very well, as well as giving the advanced player some good options. We strongly feel that $400 is the entry level price to own a good-sounding digital piano from a reputable brand that you'll be proud to own and play.
Number of Keys: The number of keys on your piano determines how big the piano is, and also affects the price. Acoustic pianos have 88 keys, so 88 is considered “full size.” The next smallest option is 76 keys, and the smaller step after that is 61 keys. In this guide, we focus on digital pianos with 88 keys, since that's more like a proper piano. 61 and 76 keys can be limiting when you play certain songs, and as you get more serious about your piano playing we fear you would quickly outgrow anything smaller than full size.
Portability: Pianos, unlike guitars, tend not to be the most portable instrument. Acoustic pianos are certainly not portable, and are a nightmare to move around (imagine the team of people you need to lug a fragile, expensive, wooden acoustic piano up a flight of stairs). Digital pianos have the advantage of being more portable. Take a look at the weight, depth, width, and height of the digital piano you're buying to get a feel for how portable it is. Despite the minimum width taken up by having 88 keys, the variations in dimensions and weight might surprise you.
Key Weight aka “Action”: The key weight, or action, of a digital piano is incredibly important; arguably the second-most important factor after how the digital piano actually sounds. When we talk about a digital piano's “feel,” we're mostly referring to the action. When you press down on an acoustic piano key, you feel resistance and weight as the hammer moves closer to and strikes the piano's strings. A digital piano is just a computer, as you might have guessed, and thus has no hammers or strings. However, to be considered a great digital piano, it needs to replicate that weighted feel of a real piano. In general, the fancier and more expensive the digital piano is, the more emphasis is placed on the feel of the keyboard. Always, always, always look for digital pianos with “fully-weighted” keys ("hammer action" also means the same thing). Cheap digital pianos, some synthesizers, and smaller sized keyboards might come with semi-weighted keys, or no weight at all. For a piano, we very much want to avoid these.
Polyphony: Polyphony is one of those “big words” in the music world that can confuse beginners. If you've played piano or keyboards/synths before, chances are you've at least heard of polyphony. Simply put, polyphony is the maximum number of notes that the digital piano can produce at one time. Remember, a digital piano is essentially a computer inside, and thus is limited by the amount of memory and other components within. You'll typically see digital pianos have 64 or 128 polyphony (32 or 192 are also not uncommon). Example: Let's say you're playing the piano, and step on the sustain pedal to sustain or hold the notes even after you've let go of the key. Because they are being sustained, old notes don't simply go away when you play new ones; they're still there in the background, fading away. Eventually, you'll have many tones playing at the same time (a few louder because you played them more recently, and many softer and decaying because you played them earlier and sustained them). If the polyphony of your keyboard is max. 64, and you reach 64 notes that are sounding at the same time, the older ones will suddenly drop off.
tl;dr: Polyphony is the number of notes that can be played at the same time. Modern digital pianos have 64 or 128 polyphony, and that should be plenty!
Built-in Speakers: When you play your digital piano, it doesn't make any sounds by itself. You need to hook it up to speakers, headphones, or better yet, the piano might have speakers built into it. Built-in speakers might not sound as good as whatever quality headphones or external speakers you have, but they have their advantages: 1) You get immediate gratification and can hear yourself play right away, 2) maybe you misplaced your headphones, or 3) you simply don't feel like turning your speakers on. Simply put, onboard speakers are handy to have. One of our readers pointed out that he is teaching his young kids to play on his digital piano, and it's easier to teach them to just turn the piano on and they can immediately hear themselves play, rather than having to teach them how to turn on an external speaker system. This is a great point, and we completely agree!
Brand: Brand tends to be more important when shopping for a digital piano than it does for other music gear. As you shop for one, you might be overwhelmed by the amount of brands - each with dozens of models - so it's good to know which brands have more experience with this instrument. With brands like Yamaha, Casio, Roland, Kawai, and Korg, you're in good hands. These are all manufacturers that have a proven track record of creating very high quality music gear for many years. Yamaha and Kawai have many years of experience building quality acoustic pianos, which is expertise they can apply to their digital counterparts. That's not to say other brands don't - if you fall in love with a piano from another brand, as long as it's reliable and inspires you to play, that's all that really counts!
The Top 5 Digital Pianos
Colors Available: Black, White
Weight: 46 lbs 5 oz (21 kg)
Dimensions (W x D x H): 55 in x 17.5 in x 5.75 in (without stand)
What's Included: Stand, power supply, music stand, sustain pedal, owners manual
Last Updated: October 2016Previously, our top pick for the best overall digital piano was the Yamaha DGX-650. When its successor came out - the DGX-660 - we held off on recommending it until more user reviews rolled in. Well, the verdict is in, and after combing through piano forums, Amazon reviews, and testing it out ourselves, we’re changing our top pick to the updated Yamaha DGX-660. The main thing that matters with a digital piano is how it sounds and how the keys feel, and in this respect the 660 is largely unchanged over the 650. Among the noteworthy improvements to the DGX-660 is a ¼” microphone input, which lets you not only sing along, but also record both your playing & singing onto a USB drive (you can also add effects to your vocals like reverb and chorus). The polyphony on the DGX-660 has been increased to 192 (up from 128). What seals the deal for us is that the price is more or less the same. On Amazon the newer DGX-660 is $30 or so more than the older DGX-650, and we think it’s worth paying that little bit extra to get the newest, shiniest model with more features.
Yamaha has been making acoustic pianos for over 100 years, so they bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to their digital pianos. Navigating their various digital piano categories can be a bit confusing, so we'll be focusing on products from their Contemporary line - compact, stylish, and more affordable than their other offerings. Model numbers for pianos in their Contemporary line start with “P-” or “DGX-” in their name.
We’ll start with the bottom line: The Yamaha DGX-660 wins our Best of the Best award for digital pianos, and also has the distinction of being one of the top sellers on Amazon in their Digital Pianos category.
First, let’s focus on the sound. Is it the best grand piano sound money can buy? Nope. For that, you’ll need an actual grand piano. ;-) For this price-point and in the world of digital, however, the DGX-660 sounds pretty great. Given the features (which we’ll cover shortly) and the sound, we’re surprised this piano costs any less than $1000. The dynamics of an acoustic piano are all here, to a reasonable extent. The action of the keys receives high praise as well. The DGX-660 features Yamaha’s GHS (Graded Hammer Standard) action, which delivers a good piano-like feel - at least good enough for a comfortable transition to an acoustic piano. As a few reviewers put it:
“I really LIKE the action of the keys. They feel properly-weighted and not terribly different from what I'm used to in an acoustic piano.”
“I bought it mainly for the ... rather acoustic-like keyboard (I might mention it is NOT perfect but VERY similar)”
So, we’ve established the Yamaha DGX-660 sounds good. However, the less expensive Yamaha P115 sounds great too, so why is our #1 pick the DGX-660? Quite simply because it’s loaded with features. Whether for casual or pro use, performance, or practice, this piano has nearly every feature you could possibly want. Things we love:
Microphone input: An newly added feature for the DGX-660 is a ¼” jack to plug in a microphone, so you can play and sing at the same time, and both your vocals and piano sound will be audible through the piano’s speakers. You can even apply some of the DGX-660’s digital effects to the vocals.
Audio recording: On the right side of the Yamaha DGX-660 you’ll find a USB port to plug a thumb drive into. Anything you play, you can save as a recording in WAV format (including vocals through the microphone), and easily transfer it to the drive. You can then plug the USB drive into your computer, and use your recording as you wish - store it, manipulate it, share it with friends/family/students, add it to iTunes, etc. If you’re a songwriter, this is fantastic for making sure you don’t lose any spur of the moment good ideas.
Auxiliary input: If you have any recordings you’d like to play along with, you can hook up your iPhone/iPod/mobile device via this piano’s auxiliary input, and the sound will come through the piano’s speakers so you can jam along.
Onboard speakers: The other digital pianos we recommend in this guide all have onboard speakers, but the ones on the DGX-660 are particularly good quality. If you already own good speakers, or have room in the budget to buy some, we still recommend hooking it up to superior speakers for a better and louder experience. That said, having some solid Yamaha-quality speakers built into the piano is a bonus.
The DGX-660 is not without flaw. For starters, it is the least portable of the pianos we recommend. Despite shedding 3 lbs compared to its predecessor the DGX-650, it’s still heavy and bulky (46 lbs 5 oz / 21 kg without the stand), and you might need a friend’s help to move it around. Some users also complained that they expected this to come with a better, higher resolution display, especially considering the price. And speaking of price, this is one of the two most expensive of the 5 we recommend, so it might not be an option for the more budget-conscious piano players.
Bottom Line: The reason this digital piano is on the higher end of our price range is the killer combination of sound + features. In fact, for as many things as you get, it’s hard to believe it doesn’t cost more! For a beginner, the DGX-660 is a digital piano you won’t soon outgrow, and tools like Style Recommender and integration with the Chord Tracker iOS app will help you learn and have fun. In fact, this is an ideal piano for a teacher looking for something to use with beginner students. If you’re a more advanced player, you’ll find the grand piano sound and feel is pretty impressive (you also have some nice customization options via the “Piano Room” feature). All in all, this is our top recommendation and we award it Best of the Best - despite the higher price, we think this is a great value considering how good it is. In case you’re not at all interested in the bells and whistles, and want a more stripped-down digital piano that still sounds great, read on, as we’ve got some great recommendations for that as well.
Note: The DGX-660 comes packaged with a single full-sustain portable pedal. We strongly recommend that you buy the Yamaha LP7A Keyboard Foot Pedal, to give you full piano pedal functionality (not to mention it looks great, and your pedals won’t slide around as you press on them).
Casio Privia PX-160
Last Updated: October 2016We’ve updated our recommendation from the Casio Privia PX-150 to the newer Casio Privia PX-160. The white version of the PX-150 has been replaced by an elegant looking gold color option on the PX-160. Color aside, the PX-160 has received improvements all around, and nearly all the reviews rolling in are positive. Nothing groundbreaking has been added or improved, but enough to change our recommendation. Most notable are the improved speakers aboard the Casio PX-160 - they sound fuller and louder than the relatively cheap sounding speakers on the PX-150.
The Casio PX-160 is part of the Privia digital pianos line by Casio (whose model numbers are mostly prefixed with “PX-”). While Casio doesn't have the same pedigree as Yamaha when it comes to the manufacture of acoustic and digital pianos, they have made amazing strides in recent years. Their results speak for themselves, as their digital pianos are now amongst the most recommended and well-respected.
We scoured dozens of forums and groups to see what pianos people were recommending, and the the Casio PX-160 made an appearance over and over again. It's an upgrade to the popular and well-reviewed Casio PX-150; with its budget-friendly price tag it's an incredible value, not to mention we think it's one of the best looking digital pianos around (while aesthetics aren't at the top of the list of what matters, digital pianos are rather large and take up a non-trivial amount of space, so why not go for one that looks nice)!
We won't spend too much time dwelling on how good this piano sounds. Yes, it sounds fantastic (particularly, the “Concert Grand Piano” voice). It runs on the same sound engine that the higher end Casio digital pianos have, so you know you're getting a great tone. One review we found pointed out the sound is slightly on the shrill/bright side, and made some suggestions on how to correct it. It's worth reading, find it here (granted it's a review of the older PX-150, but the sound engine of the 150 and 160 is the same).
Let's talk about some of the pros and cons, and why we feel the PX-160 belongs amongst the five best digital pianos. The feel of the keys is something that users absolutely love, and point out repeatedly. We felt it ourselves, and there is definitely something special to it, especially for a keyboard of this price range. Rather than being slippery smooth, the keys feel textured, much like ivory and ebony would feel on an acoustic piano (think of it like a very light grain). This is a very nice effect, and is not only something a seasoned pianist would appreciate, but might also contribute to the keys feeling less slippery as you're playing.
The Casio PX-160 comes with a set of features you would expect from a keyboard in this price range. You get 18 instrument tones (strings, organ, etc), and you can split the keyboard and layer sounds in various ways (think strings and piano playing at the same time). You also get two 3.5mm headphone jacks on the front of the piano for easy access.
One of the downsides of this piano is the speakers don't sound quite as nice as on a Yamaha. The good news is that they have been upgraded from the ones found on the older PX-150, which were described as “cheap” sounding. They're now a little better, but for this digital piano, we recommend you hook it up to a nice set of headphones, or speakers if you want it to sound its best when you play out loud (which you can easily do thanks to the stereo line output found on the back of the PX-160).
Bottom Line: We think this review sums it up nicely:
“I grew up playing an actual piano. It is not always easy to find a keyboard that is comparable in feel and sound. This fits the bill. Very uncomplicated basic no bells and whistles. Perfect for practicing or learning.”
Another one from Yamaha's Contemporary Digital Pianos line, think of the Yamaha P-115 as the main contender to the Casio Privia PX-160. If you're looking at the P-115, chances are you're going to read or watch some kind of comparison between the two. As you read our review, It's worth keeping in mind that the Yamaha P-115 is roughly $100 more than the Casio PX-160.
The Yamaha P-115 is the successor to the popular P-105. Yamaha has been honing this model for many years, and have managed to produce a fantastic instrument at an attractive price. A good way to think about this digital piano is it's like the Yamaha DGX-660 we reviewed earlier in this guide, except stripped of all the features like USB recording and teaching tools; the sound engine on these two pianos is the same (Pure CF Sound Engine). One interesting thing we noticed in our research is that some buyers naturally place more trust in Yamaha, given the company's pedigree in manufacturing acoustic and digital pianos for many years. With as close as the Casio and this one are to each other in terms of features and sound, the brand loyalty made a difference more times than we would have imagined.
In terms of sound and features, the onboard speakers on the P-115 sound better than those of the Casio. In exchange for better speakers, you're sacrificing the textured feel that users are so fond of on the PX-160. If you buy the optional Yamaha FC3 Dual Zone Piano Style Sustain Pedal, you get two levels of sustain, which depend on how far you press the pedal. As one reviewer said, “this dampening is as close as you can get to a real piano in this price range.” In general, the grand piano sound of this Yamaha is described as being very realistic. For the ultra-picky buyers (and we think you should be picky), several users of the Yamaha P-115 in various piano forums we looked at complained that the lower range notes tend to have a slightly exaggerated bass response. We confirmed this in our testing, but it was not enough of a detriment to not recommend this digital piano. The amount of acoustic piano-like detail and nuance Yamaha managed to capture here is impressive.
Bottom Line: After playing both the Casio PX-160 and this Yamaha P-115 and reading through all the user comments and reviews, we can tell you there is no obvious winner between the two. Some minor differences emerged between the two, which might be important enough to you personally to sway you. As we mentioned, we noticed some people more naturally put their trust in Yamaha versus Casio, and thus tend to favor this digital piano. Given they both sound and feel excellent, it's very difficult to say which you should get. Since this Yamaha will run you $100 more (give or take), we recommend it over the Casio if the sound quality of the built-in speakers is important to you. This is a perfect instrument for the beginner and intermediate pianist, and a very solid option for the seasoned veteran pianist.
Colors Available: Black
Weight: ~25 lbs (11.5 kg)
Dimensions (W x D x H): 52.25 in x 11.5 in x 6 in
What's Included: Power supply, music stand, owners manual
Yet another offering from Yamaha's Contemporary Digital Pianos line, the Yamaha P-45 is the entry level digital piano in the P-series. Simplicity is the name of the game here. If the P-115 is a stripped down version of the DGX-660, the P-45 is essentially a stripped-down, simpler version of the P-115.
All things considered, the P-45 is one of the best digital pianos for the money. For as low as the price tag is, rest assured that you are not sacrificing sound quality. In just about every user review we read, owners described the sound as “great grand piano sound,” and “stunningly beautiful, warm grand piano sound.” This is a testament to the quality a legendary brand like Yamaha can provide, opting to sacrifice features before they skimp on the tone. We're big fans of that. The feel of the 88 weighted keys is something users praise as well. We came across a single user review where they claimed the keys had a plastic feel and “gummy” response, though we're not quite sure what to make of it! It's also worth mentioning that we couldn't find many reviews about the onboard speakers, but to us they sound pretty decent - they won't win any awards, but are pretty standard from what we've come to expect from Yamaha.
The Yamaha P-45 also gets high marks for portability. Weighing in at 25 lbs (11.5 kg), and given its slim profile, this piano is relatively easy to carry under one arm and be loaded in your car.
You might be asking, with a price this low, what sacrifices am I making with the P-45? For starters, polyphony. This piano's polyphony is definitely on the low end for modern digital pianos, coming in at 64. Keep in mind, that's still not too bad. By the time you have 64 notes sounding at the same time, it would be very difficult for most people to discern notes dropping off. Another con is that the P-45 is not compatible with a 3 foot pedal unit, so if this is a deal breaker for you, we suggest you look at the Yamaha P-115.
Bottom line: While the P-45 has 10 voices, users have said they are of varying quality. This thing shines where it counts, the grand piano sound. If you're not bothered by the 64 polyphony, and want a digital piano with a great feel with a budget-friendly price tag, the Yamaha P-45 is the one for you. Sure, there are no bells and whistles to be found here, but that's why the price is what it is - this is a digital piano for someone that strictly wants to play the piano. We highly recommend this one for the beginner/intermediate pianist, and the advanced pianist that's strapped for cash and wants a great sounding grand piano voice. Best Bang for your Buck.
Colors Available: Black
Weight: 33 lbs (14.9 kg)
Dimensions (W x D x H): 51.6 in x 11.2 in x 5.7
What's Included: Power supply, music stand, sustain pedal, owners manual
Just when it seemed like our research was leading us to make a list of nothing but Yamaha and Casio models, Kawai comes in with arguably the best sounding digital piano under $1000. The Kawai ES100 doesn't get the same number of mentions as the various offerings from Yamaha and Casio, but when it does, the reviews are glowing.
Let's get the cons out of the way. The Kawai ES100's speakers leave a lot to be desired in terms of volume. If you're in a small room or quiet studio, they should work well enough. Still, we recommend a good pair of headphones to fully experience this piano's sound. Unfortunately, the ES100 doesn't have a dedicated Audio Out jack, so you'll have to utilize the headphone jack for this purpose (you might have to buy an adaptor to split the sound into a left and right signal). The omission of a stereo out jack seems like a strange choice on a digital piano in this price range. Another con is a lack of LCD display. We don't think this is a deal-breaker (it's easy enough to find your way around the options), but we're generally fans of visual displays to navigate the various settings modern-day keyboards provide. On the plus side, the lack of screen makes for a pretty sleek looking digital piano.
When it comes to sound and feel, Kawai has an absolute winner on their hands. Kawai is a very well-respected name in the world of acoustic pianos, and their prowess in this space has allowed them to make huge strides in the digital piano arena. As a brand Kawai specializes mainly in grand pianos, upright pianos, electronic keyboards and electronic synthesizers. Those of you that have ever played a Kawai acoustic piano know it's no joke. The beauty of the ES100 is that the feel of their acoustic pianos has translated wonderfully over to their digital pianos, and people have taken notice.
The sound is impressively full and realistic, and the key action Kawai has achieved is renowned as far as digital pianos go. Compared to Casio's Privia line, some reviewers mentioned the keys on the Kawai ES100 sound quieter and less “clicky” when pressed.
Bottom Line: In terms of pure sound and feel, it's not a stretch to say that the Kawai ES100 is likely the best digital piano you can buy under $1000. By a small margin, we still recommend the Yamaha DGX-660, mostly due to the sheer amount of features that digital piano gives you. That said, if you're after a superior sound and feel and don't care for the bells and whistles, the ES100 would win against the DGX-660.
Whew, that was a lot of stuff to cover - but hey, nobody said selecting the best digital piano was going to be easy! In case you have information overload - or if you just don't feel like reading the whole guide - here's the bottom line:
If it fits in your budget, we absolutely recommend you go for the Yamaha DGX-660. Based on our experience playing it, and reviews all over the Internet, that's absolutely the best one for under $1000. There are three reasons why you should not get the DGX-660: 1) Your budget doesn't allow for it, 2) you crave simplicity and don't like or need a lot of features, or 3) you frequently gig or travel and portability is super important, and the DGX is simply too big and heavy. In those cases, we recommend either the Casio PX-160, or the Yamaha P-115. You can't really go wrong with either, and you'll find dozens of forum threads and YouTube videos comparing the two. Go for the Casio if you care more about the very nice textured feel of the keys, and go for the Yamaha for better onboard speakers and a slightly better grand piano sound. If you're particularly budget-conscious and want the best sounding piano for the lowest price, the Yamaha P-45 is your best bet. It's light on features, but sounds excellent and the price simply cannot be beat. Best of all you'll still feel like you own a very good piano. Finally, if you have a little more cash saved up and demand the best feel and grand piano sound (and don't care about extra features), you can't beat the Kawai ES100.
Not only do digital pianos take up less space than acoustic pianos, they can also look great in their own right and enhance the look of a room, as can be seen in this beautiful photo.