• Acoustic Or Digital?

    The term ‘acoustic’ piano is used to describe a piano which relies on making its sound purely from the natural acoustics of felt covered hammers hitting high-tensile steel wire strings. A ‘digital’ or ‘electronic’ piano has no strings or hammers, but instead utilizes electronics in one form or another to produce the sound.

    That in a nutshell is the difference between an acoustic and a digital piano. So which one should you buy, is one type better than the other? There exists a market for both acoustic and digital pianos. As to which one is better for you, read on to discover the pros and cons between the two types. You will then be better informed to make a choice which will ultimately suit you better, rather than relying on what other people have said, or what you’ve heard. This is a subjective issue, so an informed decision looking at all of the facts is really the only way to go.

    Where In The Home?

    Your new piano has to go somewhere in your home. But just where is the best place? Realistically there will only be a couple of options for the average sized house. Where this space is, what type of home you have and your living circumstances will all play a part in your decision.

    An acoustic piano needs to be located in a room where the temperature doesn’t fluctuate too much, as this may cause tuning issues. The room should be acoustically separated from neighbours and other living areas, so that there is limited restriction on practising due to external factors. If there is no suitable location for an acoustic piano, then you should turn your attention to a digital piano.

    A digital piano occupies much less space than an acoustic piano and doesn’t require tuning, therefore they can be placed in most rooms regardless of temperature and humidity. Whilst their footprint is similar to an acoustic upright piano, their height is approximately half that of an acoustic piano, allowing placement under windows etc. A digital piano can be played through headphones, therefore eliminating the necessity to locate it in a room where it will not disturb others.

    Differences Between Acoustic & Digital Pianos

    Whilst a digital piano may seem to offer everything an acoustic piano can whilst having the benefit of easier placement within the home, it must be bore in mind that the sound reproduced by a digital piano does not recreate many acoustic nuances of an acoustic piano, which is why some purists will always dismiss the digital piano. Music however should be readily available to everyone, regardless of their circumstances. It is injudicious in my opinion to say that a digital piano is not good enough, if that is the only option presently available for a potential student. I know of many music professionals who have worked with less than the best during their early years. Remember the instrument is second to the musician. A good musician can make even the poorest of instruments ‘sing’.

    So where do digital pianos presently lose out against their acoustic counterpart? The sustain pedal on some digital pianos is a discrete on/off action, whereas on an acoustic piano it is a gradual process.

    The action of the keys synthetically mimics the complex action of an acoustic piano, which can make for a different feel and response. The digitally reproduced sound may imitate individual notes very well, but when played in harmony, subtle overtones formed by sympathetic string resonance is often not reproduced, generating a sound which is artificial in colour and not true to a living breathing acoustic instrument.

    However, like acoustic pianos, the more you pay for your digital piano, the better it will be. Indeed some of the top flight digital pianos from key manufacturers such as Yamaha & Roland do have continuous sustain pedal actions (half-pedalling), they also have an action which surpasses most budget upright acoustic pianos, by incorporating the ‘double escape’ mechanism normally only found in grand pianos. And with advanced audio technology, even sympathetic string resonance is now recreated, generating a sound which is very difficult to distinguish from the real thing.

    It is more advisable to purchase a good digital piano than a cheap acoustic piano. A cheap acoustic piano will doubtless have tuning issues, quite often being unable to tune to concert pitch. The action can be quite terrible on cheap acoustic pianos, making it near impossible for the player to inject tone and colour into the performance. The sound is usually thin and lifeless, tiring the ears easily. Countless to say, there will be numerous fixes required to keep the piano in a playable state.

    The Case For An Acoustic Piano

    You have a suitable place in your home for the piano to be placed in. This place is in a room where humidity and temperature are stable within reasonable tolerances. The room is free to use everyday, where the sound of a piano will not disturb other family members. The wall that the piano is placed against will not leak sound into other rooms or your neighbours house. You have a reasonable budget, of at least $3000. You have no other prerequisites for the piano other than to learn, play and enjoy piano music.

    The Case For A Digital Piano

    Space is limited in your home. The room you will place the piano in is often occupied by other family members or may cause disturbance to neighbours. The piano may have to go against a heat vent. Whilst you have a desire to play the piano, you are also interested in other types of music. You may also want to explore composition and arrangement. Your budget is below is $3000.

    Buying An Acoustic Piano

    New or Second Hand?
    If the budget allows, go for a new piano. Source this from a reputable piano retailer, where you can go and play the piano prior to purchasing it. No two pianos are ever the same, even if they are from the same manufacturer and are the same model. All pianos differ in terms of touch and tone. The choice of piano from here is yours.

    If a new acoustic piano falls outside your budget you may consider a second hand one. Again your local reputable piano retailer will probably have some good examples to show you. However, be careful when choosing a second hand piano. Many are very old and will be more susceptible to tuning issues. The action may we worn, hammers and dampers may need attention. Whilst these pianos may claim to have been ‘restored’, invariably corners are sometimes cut, which will be at your cost. Avoid imports, as these pianos are not manufactured and acclimatised for this country. There are many pitfalls to be wary of if you are purchasing second hand. It is therefore advisable to take someone knowledgeable on such matters along with you. At this stage, also consider a digital piano.

    Upright Or Grand?
    An upright piano has strings running vertically, whilst the grand piano has strings running horizontally. Generally, due to space limitations, there is a maximum height that upright pianos can go to. Grand pianos on the other hand face no real restriction in this sense and can therefore produce a much longer string length, a great desirability factor in an acoustic piano. The choice for you is simply down to a matter of space and budget. If you have both, then a grand piano will make a superb investment.

    The action (complex system of levers and links connecting the keyboard to the hammers) in an upright piano is above the keyboard, whilst on a grand piano the action is behind the keyboard. Both types of action are mechanically different due to this placement and string direction difference, giving quite a different feel to the piano, so again make sure you play any piano prior to purchasing it.

    Overstrung Or Straight Strung?
    In an overstrung piano, the strings run diagonally in two sections across the piano. The bass string section crosses over the treble strings, which are in turn running diagonally behind the bass strings. A straight strung piano on the other hand simply has all of the strings running parallel to one another, in a vertical line, with no crossing over. Due to the increased string length, it is desirable to have an overstrung piano. All new piano designs now incorporate overstrung strings.

    Overdamped or Underdamped?
    An overdamped piano has the string dampers placed above the hammers, whereas an underdamped piano places the dampers beneath the hammers. Due to their more centralised position on the strings, an underdamper action is usually the more effective system and is indeed the system used on all new upright pianos manufactured today.

    More Money Buys What?
    The bigger the budget, the greater the choice. You will generally find that as you go up the range, the piano will get bigger, giving a longer string length, greatly enhancing the tonal qualities of the piano. The finish of the piano, traditional or modern, whether satin or polished and the colour, will all play a part in the price too.

    Buying A Digital Piano
    Your ultimate aim here is to purchase a digital piano which feels and sounds as close to an acoustic piano as possible, whilst fitting your budget.

    Generally there are three types of digital piano: Digital Piano; Ensemble Piano; Stage Piano

    Digital Piano
    A digital piano built into a cabinet with a full 88 note keyboard, a small palette of sounds and usually a built in metronome. Some basic recording features may also be found.

    Ensemble Digital Piano
    A digital piano build into a cabinet with a full 88 note keyboard, a large selection of sounds with an auto accompaniment section similar to that of a keyboard. As well as a metronome, there will be a vast recording section allowing for compositions and arrangements to be undertaken.

    Stage Piano
    Similar to the digital piano but without the cabinet. This allows for greater portability, should the piano need to be gigged with or moved/stored around the home.

    As a pure alternative to an acoustic piano, consider the digital or stage piano. Only consider the stage piano if portability is a requirement. The downside to a stage piano is that they don’t look as attractive in the home and with the pedals being free standing, they tend to move around, which can be awkward for the uninitiated.

    If you have a desire to explore other aspects of music rather than solo piano playing alone, then consider the ensemble digital piano. This will give you access to a vast palette of sounds and rhythms, along with auto accompaniments, allowing many varied styles of music to be played. The onboard recording is also very useful for working on compositions and arrangements.

    With all types of digital piano, you also have access to MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) – allowing connection to a computer, opening up a whole new world of music technology.

    More Money Buys What?
    The greater the budget, the further up the range you will be able to purchase. This will see improvements in the following key areas:

    • Polyphony
    • Amplifier & Speakers
    • Quality of Keyboard Action
    • Main Piano Sample Memory Size

    Other bells and whistles will also be encountered, but these are the key elements which you want to pay your money for.

    Conclusion

    In the real world, a pianist should be converse with playing both acoustic and digital pianos. As technology advances with digital pianos, they edge ever nearer to competing with acoustic pianos in terms of their feel and sound. As such, the pros are now far outweighing the cons, with more and more venues now utilising this technology. Indeed many venues have replaced the guts of old and defective pianos with digital replacements, giving an authentic look but with digital reliability. Digital pianos are now accepted by most music schools and music boards. If your goal is concert pianist full stop, then nothing but a quality grand piano will do. For everybody else, use the information presented here to make your own informed decision.

    Once you decide on which piano to purchase be sure to call Calgary Piano Movers to safely move your piano from one location to another.  We have over 24 years experience moving every type of piano made and understand the value and delicacy of each instrument so we will ensure your piano arrives safely to it’s new home. Call today at (403) 805-3427 to make an appointment or fill in our online rate quote form.