Digital pianos have made it much easier for anyone with an interest in learning to play the piano to get started, but there is a bewildering array of instruments to choose from and a significant price range to go with them.
If you’re just starting out as a beginning or returning piano player and want something reliable and of high quality which won’t break the bank (or your back) then take a look at what the major digital piano manufacturers are offering as their “entry level” instruments.
Entry level doesn’t have to mean skimping on quality. We have featured the best (usually) sub-$500 digital pianos offering very good, realistic piano sound and keyboard feel, and the basic necessary features. Any one of these models will set you up very nicely for learning and improving your piano playing technique.
We compare these eight models’ specifications and features so you can get an idea of which one may be right for you.
Our main criteria for comparison are
- number of keys;
- sound generation technology,
- number of notes which can be played at once (polyphony);
- structure and feel of the keyboard;
- basic connectivity such for pedals, MIDI, audio, USB and such like;
- additional features such as metronome, recording, accompaniments, other sounds, and so on;
- the overall dimensions and weight of the instrument;
- any extra equipment included as standard.
Primarily, though, it’s the feel and sound which will score the highest, and it’s also the area where you can only make a true judgement by playing it for yourself.
The eight models we’ll be looking at come from seven well-known musical instrument manufacturers:
- Alesis Recital
- Casio CDP-S110
- Kawai ES110
- Korg SP-170S
- Kurzweil KA50
- Roland FP-10
- Yamaha NP-32
- Yamaha P-45
Most of the digital pianos in this category have a similar look, with a fairly block-like instrument body housing the keys and any additional controls. They are not supplied with any kind of stand by default, though the manufacture often has a matching or compatible stand available for additional cost.
Most are finished in black coloring. Several models are also available in white. The gloss or matt finish on the casing varies between manufacturers.
One advantage of our chosen instruments being fairly basic in functions is that they afford quite a minimalist look. They certainly would not look out of place in any living space or home music studio.
Even the basic digital pianos of today have high-quality, realistic acoustic piano sound which even high-end digital instruments of a few years ago would not have been able to match. This is thanks to constant development and reduced technological cost of sampling and processing real-world instrument sounds for faithful digital reproduction.
It’s true that more expensive instruments may have subtle additions to the sound palette which true piano aficionados will be able to notice, but (particularly when not comparing side-by-side with other instruments) the sounds produced by these models is more than acceptable for the amateur and improving pianist.
|Manufacturer/Model||Number of Tones||Polyphony||Sound Technology|
|Alesis Recital||5 – Acoustic Piano, Electric Piano, Organ, Synth, and Bass||128||Unknown|
|Casio CDP-S110||10 – Grand Piano Standard/Mellow/Bright, Electric Piano 1/2/3, Harpsichord, Strings, Pipe Organ, Jazz Organ||64||Unknown|
|Kawai ES110||19 – Concert Grand 1&2, Studio Grand 1&2, Mellow Grand 1&2, Modern Piano, Rock Piano, Classic Electric Piano, ’60s Electric Piano, Modern Electric Piano, Jazz Organ, Church Organ, Slow Strings, String Ensemble, Wood Bass, Electric Bass, Harpsichord, Vibraphone||192||Harmonic Imaging Sound Technology|
|Korg SP-170S||10 – Piano 1&2, Electric Piano 1&2, Harpsichord, Clavichord, Vibraphone, Pipe Organ, Electric Organ, Strings||120|
|Kurzweil KA50||16 – Piano 1&2, Electric Piano 1&2, Organ, Church Organ, Clavinet, Harpsichord, Vibes, Harp, Nylon Guitar, Steel Guitar, Strings, Choir, Fantasia, Electric Bass||32||Acousta Ridge|
|Roland FP-10||15 – Grand Piano 1/2/3/4, Electric Piano 1&2, Harpsichord 1&2, Vibraphone, Jazz Organ, Church Organ, Strings 1&2, Synth Pad, Jazz Scat||96||SuperNatural|
|Yamaha NP-32 / P-45||NP-32: 10 – Piano1&2, Electric Piano1&2, Organ1&2, Strings, Vibes, Harpsichord 1&2|
P-45: 10 – Grand Piano 1&2, Electric Piano1&2, Organ1&2, Strings, Harpsichord 1&2, Vibraphone
|Advanced Wave Memory (AWM) Stereo Sampling|
All keyboards in this range have an entry-level touch and feel keyboard. This does not mean it is of low quality, but it will not be constructed with the same higher-cost components found in more expensive digital pianos.
Each manufacturer will have developed their own synthetic systems for replicating the feel of the black and white keys, as well as their “weight”, a factor which differentiates a piano from an organ or synth keyboard.
This makes them ideal for piano playing but perhaps a bit heavy for playing organ or electric piano parts where traditionally the keyboard are lighter in touch.
Some of these digital pianos are “semi-weighted” which potentially offers a little of each. The touch sensitivity can also usually be adjusted. This does not alter how the keyboard feels but does change how it responds to playing strength.
|Manufacturer/Model||Keyboard Type||Sensitivity Control|
|Alesis Recital||88 key, Semi-weighted||Off, 1-3|
|Casio CDP-S110||88 key, fully weighted||Off, 1-3|
|Kawai ES110||88 key, fully grade weighted, Responsive Hammer||Off, Normal, Light, Heavy|
|Korg SP-170S||88 key, Natural Weighted Hammer Action||Light, Standard, Heavy|
|Kurzweil KA50||88 key, Natural Balanced Keybed||Fixed, Low1, Normal1, High1, Low2, Normal2, High2|
|Roland FP-10||88 key, PHA4 with Escapement and Ivory Feel||Fixed, 5 types|
|Yamaha NP-32 / P-45||NP-32: 76 key, Graded Soft Touch|
P-45: 88 key, GHS (Graded Hammer Standard) keyboard with matte black keytops
|NP-32: Fixed, Soft, Medium, Hard|
P-45: Fixed, Soft, Medium, Hard
Pianists will certainly want the ability to connect at least a sustain pedal, as playing the piano without one can be tricky at best, and likely sound awful. More advanced musicians may also appreciate other pedals such as the soft (una corda) pedal. It is unusual to find a sostenuto pedal on entry level models, and in fairness, even many experience pianists have no real knowledge or need of it.
Apart from these connections, there may also be the desire for various audio connections such as headphones, for private practice; audio out for connecting to other speakers or to record audio externally; audio in for mixing sounds such as vocals or a backing track; plus MIDI capability for pairing with a computer or other digital musical instruments.
|Manufacturer/Model||Sustain Pedal||Soft Pedal||Headphones||Audio Out||Audio In||MIDI|
|Alesis Recital||Y*||N||Y||Y||N||Y – USB|
|Casio CDP-S110||Y||N||Y||Y||Y||Y – USB|
|Korg SP-170S||Y||N||Y||Y||N||Y (Out only)|
|Kurzweil KA50||Y||N||Y||Y||Y||Y – USB|
|Roland FP-10||Y*||N||Y||Y||N||Y – USB|
|Yamaha NP-32 / P-45||Y* / Y||N / N||Y / Y||Y / Y||N / N||Y – USB / Y – USB|
Ultimately, price is a major contributing factor in any instrument choice. Bear in mind that the price shown is just the manufacturer’s recommended one and there may be discounts, offers or bundles available. It’s also important to ensure you get everything you need, if not initially, at some point after owning the digital piano. Some models do not come with stands, pedals or other accessories as standard and you may wish to have these to improve the playing experience.
It’s also worth noting that manufacturers are notorious at not showing the RRP up front, or without having to do a lot of digging around. I don’t know if this is because they do price deals with various retailers, but it’s annoying when it comes to getting the original price. It shouldn’t feel like it’s some big secret.
|Yamaha NP-32 / P-45||$399 / $599|
Some additional features each manufacturer has added to its instrument are listed here. They may not be considered as essential but may be nice to have if the model is one you are interested in buying.
|Alesis Recital||– Voice split/layer|
– metronome with tap tempo
– reverb and chorus effects
– pedal resonance effect
|Casio CDP-S110||– Voice split/layer|
– reverb and chorus variation effects
|Kawai ES110||– Voice split/layer|
– song recorder
– accompaniment rhythms
– Bluetooth connectivity
|Korg SP-170S||– reverb and chorus effects|
|Kurzweil KA50||– Voice split/layer|
– reverb / chorus / EQ effects
– MIDI song recorder
|Roland FP-10||– metronome|
– Bluetooth connectivity
|Yamaha NP-32 / P-45||– Voice split/layer|
– reverb effects
– Song recorder
There are many ways to learn to play the piano, from finding online courses to hiring a piano tutor who can teach you locally. Not everyone has access to these, though, and sometimes a little push from automated built-in systems can help a beginner on their musical journey.
Manufacturers have to find a balance between cost and features, and ironically it is the entry-level instruments which might be more suited to beginners, and hence benefit from on-board learning systems, that often don’t have then due to the additional cost and potential interface complexity this might bring.
That said, some of these models do feature basic onboard tutorial systems or can link up with an Apple iPad or online services.
|Alesis Recital||Has a “lesson mode” which divides the keyboard into two areas with the same pitch and voice. This makes it easier for a human tutor to interact with the student. There is no automated onboard tutorial system.|
|Kawai ES110||Built-in lesson function allows aspiring pianists to study classical piano using a collection of Burgmüller etudes, or learn time-honoured standards from the popular Alfred Basic Piano course books.|
The left and right hand parts of each etude or song can be practised separately, with the built-in metronome and adjustable tempo controls helping to improve timing and rhythm.
|Yamaha NP-32 / P-45||None|
For more detailed information about these instruments you can visit the manufacturers’ product pages to find specifications, demonstrations and downloads.
Which to buy?
You may be disappointed to learn that we aren’t going to give a definitive answer to which of these eight models is best. We have our favourites, but this is a very subjective decision based on the feature sets you want and how much you are willing to pay.
We have always rated the Yamaha and Roland digital pianos highly across their range of price points and instruments, but that is not to say that the other manufacturers have not created very good musical instruments which would make a very good entry into the world of digital pianos for any beginner or improving amateur musician.
If you can visit a showroom to experience the feel and sound of an instrument before you purchase, so much the better. That said, we don’t think you’ll go far wrong with any of these instruments even if you choose to buy online.