I would love the majestic presence and dynamic acoustic sound of a grand piano in my living room.
But as you will likely relate, there just isn’t enough room for a grand piano in my small city apartment.
Fortunately, there are cheaper and more compact digital pianos with a decent acoustic sound quality.
I have done all the legwork, researching the many models and brands that are out there, to find the best digital pianos made for smaller spaces.
Read on to discover my selection tips and top 5 choices selected for their cost, function, and space economy.
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Why a Digital Piano is a Convenient Option for Smaller Spaces
Let’s tackle the elephant in the room first:
You won’t get the same acoustic sound quality from a digital piano as you would from an upright grand piano.
So we will not labor the point that you can necessarily replace an acoustic piano with a digital.
The common attraction for digital pianos is their considerable space economy.
And because they are significantly lighter, digital pianos are also easier to store away in between uses, and aren’t such a hassle when you have to move house.
Not Every Electronic Keyboard Can Qualify as a Digital Piano
Digital pianos are essentially electronic keyboards with different acoustic piano sounds and other instrument voices pre-recorded.
But they aren’t made the same.
Some have less than the standard 88 keys, and the acoustic sound quality, resonance, key weight, and touch sensitivity differs wildly across brands and models.
I will say this though, your digital piano should have all 88 keys.
The school of thought that a beginner pianist needs to start off on a simple stage keyboard with fewer keys because 88 keys will intimidate them is wrong for at least two reasons:
Most music, especially classical piano, is written with the expectation that it will be played on an 88-key piano. An adequately motivated student won’t be intimidated by a few more keys.
It is best to just start off with a proper 88-key digital piano, even if you may not immediately use all the keys, as you will not stay a beginner forever. If you are going to be playing regularly you will discover a 49 or 61-key keyboard will start to limit you before long.
From my research, there is a consensus that 88 keys are the standard, especially for classical piano. Even if you don’t play many classical pieces at present, you may want to in future.
What to Look for in a Digital Piano
A high end digital piano can cost as much as $20k. Yet you can get a lower end model for as little as $200.
Ultimately, you get what you pay for.
But for a more pragmatic purchase, you need to know which features are basic and which aren’t.
Some features that come with the pricier models are more whistles and bells, which you can skimp on.
1. Weighted Keys With Touch Sensitivity
Weighted keys are an absolute must for anyone who wants to practice with the feel of a real acoustic piano.
While a digital can’t realistically reproduce the acoustic sound of a grand piano, a good one must have keys that feel like a grand’s.
The hammer action needs to mimic that of an acoustic piano to the point where you can’t easily tell the difference.
You will need to train the weight you put behind your strokes as it is a fundamental skill that determines the volume you play at when you use a real acoustic piano.
Touch sensitivity is thus an important consideration when shopping for a digital piano.
2. All 88 Keys for a Complete Grand Piano Playing Experience
As stated earlier, a proper piano must have all 88 keys.
If you are getting a digital piano because you can’t afford a grand or have no space for it in your apartment, then 88 keys should be the absolute bare minimum.
The exception would be for those who travel with their instrument and need a very portable keyboard, or if you are on a very tight budget.
3. Headphone Jack, So You Can Play Without Annoying the Neighbours
If you practice frequently, there will come a time when all the noise will start to annoy the people you live with, and perhaps your neighbours as well.
Headphones will allow you to practice at odd hours, when most people are asleep, without disturbing anyone.
Secondary Features to Consider
The first two essentials we discussed above determine what a digital piano should have to be considered remotely capable of reproducing the sound and feel of an acoustic piano.
Almost all the features building on these will be non-essentials that are intended only to upsell the piano.
The price point you eventually settle on will, thus, largely depend on what you can afford.
Speakers - Most digital pianos come with speakers, although they aren’t always the best quality. External facing speakers are the best.
Maximum polyphony - This is a measure of the maximum number of notes you can play at once. Anything between 64 and 128 will be acceptable.
A protective lid/cover - A replaceable lid on your digital piano will protect your keys and shield the piano from dust.
Recording capabilities - This is a handy feature that digital pianos don’t always come with. It will allow you to record yourself playing so you can play back later and analyze yourself.
USB connectivity - This allows you to hook up a computer and other supporting equipment. A must if you learn with software like Playground Sessions.
Portability - This is an absolute must if you travel a lot for gigs or practice. It definitely helps if the piano is light enough to carry.
The Best Digital Piano Reviews
The digital pianos reviewed here were chosen for their superior space economy and acoustic sound quality compared to similar models in the same price range.
I also gave points for how well the pianos measured up to the feel and experience of playing a grand piano, as well as the other features and benefits discussed above.
Let’s go shopping:
This model is part of Casio’s Privia line, which is reputed for the remarkable portability of its digital pianos.
The Casio PX 760 features a new keyboard action and more powerful engine, which the brand reckons produce a better grand piano sound experience.
The piano also benefits from a proprietary AiR (Acoustic Intelligent Resonator) technology that produces a more realistic acoustic sound quality, as part of Casio’s Privia line, which is reputed for the remarkable portability of its digital pianos.
Pro and Con List:
- A tri-sensored hammer action keyboard has good touch sensitivity.
- Ebony and Ivory textured keys that reproduce the feel of a grand piano keyboard.
- An integrated triple pedal damper unit for superior resonance control.
- "Concert Play" function, which has 10 pre-recorded orchestral songs with changeable tempo.
- USB connectivity with Windows and iOS compatibility.
- An engineered wood stand, though not particularly eye-catching, is nice and sturdy.
- A keyboard cover, which protects the keys and keep the keyboard dust-free.
- The piano’s keys are grand weighted, but some may consider them a tad too heavy, especially for classical songs.
- Not the best quality speakers.
This fully weighted Yamaha P71 digital piano is offered as an Amazon exclusive deal, but is essentially a standard P45.
The acoustic sound quality is premium Yamaha that you will get with the brand’s pricier models.
The piano is not feature rich, but it is a good low budget option for younger and even older learners.
The Yamaha P71 is great value when compared against others in the same price range. Plus, its inconspicuous presence makes it a great choice for cramped spaces.
Pro and Con List:
- Affordable price for its acoustic sound quality.
- Graded Hammer Standard action, for progressively weighted keys.
- Simple, one button operation.
- AWM (Advanced Wave Memory) stereo sampling system, which creates a richer, deeper sound.
- A built-in metronome, which is a handy tool for beginners.
- Remarkably compact, with excellent portability.
- It is said to have weighted action, but some buyers have complained it just has an acoustic-like resistance without any touch sensitivity.
- The volume is adjustable but the sound tends to flatten out when you play more notes simultaneously.
- The damper pedal is cheap quality and light, which makes it difficult to press and ground.
Another of the great Japanese piano makers, Kawai has a proud reputation for making grand stage and digital pianos of the highest quality.
With this offering, the brand tried to produce an affordable digital piano that both amateurs and professionals can be comfortable with.
They just about succeeded with the acoustic piano experience.
But, for the Kawai ES100’s price, you can’t help but feel they looked past features that have come to be accepted as standard.
Pro and Con List:
- Graded hammer action that simulates the feel of a grand piano.
- 100 different drums and rhythms to play along to.
- Fallback Hammer Noise and Damper Rail Noise, which reproduce the mechanical sounds you would get from an acoustic grand.
- A lesson mode library featuring pieces from Burgmuller 25 Etudes and Alfred’s Song Books, which students will find quite handy.
- A polyphony with up to 192 notes, including 8 different notes for piano alone.
- For its limited features and price, you would at least expect the Kawai ES100 to come with a stand.
- No USB port, which seems an anomaly for a modern digital piano.
- No digital display panel, which makes the user interface somewhat primitive.
Yamaha is a colossus in the piano industry. And for good reason. Their digital pianos produce significantly superior acoustic sound quality for all their models.
The Yamaha YDP 163B boasts a rich and dynamic acoustic sound quality, with samples recorded from the brand’s celebrated Yamaha 9' CFIIIS concert grand piano.
The piano is suitable for both beginners who may want something to grow with, as well as the more advanced players looking for something of acceptable acoustic sound quality and feel.
Pro and Con List:
- Graded Hammer Standard weighted keys with realistic touch sensitivity, all of which ensures better playability and trains you for proper acoustic piano finger technique.
- Half damper pedal control with proper stereo sustain quality.
- A headphone jack with a Yamaha exclusive Stereophonic Optimizer, which produces a whole new synthesized sound for a more realistic acoustic sound and natural listening experience.
- Pre-loaded with ‘50 Greats for the Piano’ classic piano songs to enrich your learning experience.
- USB and wireless connectivity, as well as a ‘Digital Piano Controller’ app with iOS compatibility, which greatly improves the instrument’s functionality.
- A built-in recording functionality that enables players to record themselves while they play, from just one touch.
- The cabinet, bench, and stand are a solid elegant, construction, and are quite easy to assemble.
- A convenient sliding key guard.
- Not as compact and maybe too heavy to be portable.
- The chair may be too high for people with smaller frames.
As I researched digital pianos and read through forums and reviews, there is an overarching issue people decried:
It is the lack of a wider colour choice in the digital pianos on the market.
It seems if it isn’t black, then it is white. Not much else. And Nord seems to be the only brand addressing this anomaly, albeit with a price to match.
Because of the striking bright red colour, this Nord Piano 3 model won’t be hiding in plain sight.
But this piano is not all about good looks. It is a mean music production machine that will perform just as well as it looks, in your home as well as on stage.
Pro and Con List:
- Virtual Hammer Action, which simulates the dynamic sound of a grand piano and ensures good key response.
- Triple pedal system with precise sustain control, which recreates the thomp and sizzle sounds of a grand piano.
- A Triple sensor keybed, for precise touch sensitivity and volume control, which results in a more dynamic playing experience.
- 1 Gig worth of piano sounds, with dedicated 256MB sample library and a Nord Sample editor to create your own sounds and instruments.
- Transposing, sound layering, keyboard splitting, and other cool effects.
- OLED display with all the sound editing trims.
- CD player and MP3 connectivity, so you can play and jam along to pre-recorded music without the need for an external sound system or mixer.
- At $3,000, Nord Stage 3 does not come cheap.
The Final Selection
The more I consider the Nord Stage 3, the more I want to have it.
It is a good stage piano that is easy on the eye and has the best features and good acoustic sound quality.
But, at $3,000, I have to caution myself, particularly regarding features I may never get to use. If budget isn’t an issue for you, go ahead and indulge yourself.
The Kawai produces a good acoustic piano sound and feel, but it is a bit expensive for its rather limited features.
The Casio PX 760 and the Yamaha P71 are priced fairly, and will do their job decently well, without being remarkable.
But for the greatest value I have to settle on the Yamaha YDP 163B.
There is a reason why it has so many positive reviews on Amazon, among all the options at its price point.
It is a good piano to learn and grow with. You won’t feel an immediate need to upgrade.
The piano’s acoustic sound quality is unmatched for its price. And the sturdy and smart cabinet and bench makes it a great package deal.
It is not the cheapest of the bunch, but the Yamaha YDP 163B gives you the most bang for your buck. Click here for a sales price.
How limited is your space?
If space is a big concern and you can't fit an upright piano in your studio, then your next best option is the Yamaha P71.
Not Quite The Real Thing, But a Good Option for Small Spaces
A digital piano won’t produce an acoustic sound of exacting grand piano quality.
But with its excellent space economy, it is the best option for people with space as well as budget limitations.
And you won’t have to worry about grand piano issues like spending money on tuning, or humidity messing with your piano’s resonance.