Have the latest digital pianos from the likes of Roland, Yamaha etc at last managed to correctly simulate the weight/feel and touch of acoustic pianos keys? I've been lead to believe from adverts and demo videos that the digital pianos are greatly improved but I'm not convinced. What are your thoughts?
It depends on the types of music that you play. Digital piano is great for contemporary/pop music as it offers a great selection of effects and sounds.
Piano is definitely a must if you are playing classical music as the sensitivity to touch, tone and timber is not something that current technology of a digital piano can perfectly emulate.
As a piano teacher, I will advice my Classical students to buy an acoustic from the very beginning or switch to an acoustic piano by the time they get to Grade 3. For the Pop students, they will do just fine with a digital as the Trinity and Rock School Exams require candidates to set up the digital piano during the exam.
The very expensive ones have been using the exact same physical mechanism as a real piano for decades.
The cheaper ones never will.
Disclaimer - I used to work for Yamaha in the 90s so I'm slightly biased towards them.
I play a variety of styles, and for the last few years have been very happy playing a Roland - not too expensive at around £600 ish. The feel is one of the better 'cheap electronic piano' actions, and I'm not looking at changing it any time soon, daily using a nice studio 'proper' piano as well. So, yes, there are pianos out there that do a very realistic job for less than £1000s. It also has the ability to produce loads of other sounds, although playing very realistic Hammond sounds on a piano feel k'bd. is rather weird.
It’s a very valid question, as both types of piano give you a different feel, and you may also wonder which piano is more suited to your needs - digital or acoustic upright?
An acoustic piano, in general, produces a warm and resonant tone sound through a hammer mechanism, while a digital piano produces its sound through playing pre-recorded audio samples. Some may say the acoustic piano sounds better because of its resonant tone, but that is not always the case. A well-made digital piano with consistent and beautifully-recorded audio samples, can sound better than a mediocre acoustic piano. Nevertheless, based on my experience, I have a better control over articulation and expression of the songs I perform on an acoustic upright piano, than on the digital piano.
In terms of sound maintenance, the acoustic piano requires more maintenance than the digital piano does, therefore, you need to be wary about the future costs of tuning the acoustic piano. The greatest aspect about the digital piano is its versatility, meaning it can produce other instrumental sounds, record your practices, change the volume and it is portable.
In terms of frequent pedal usage, it really depends what kind of music you play. For music in the Romantic period, acoustic upright piano is the way to go. Some acoustic pianos have three kinds - the soft pedal, sostenuto pedal and sustain pedal, but not all do. Similarly, digital pianos of reputable brands like Yamaha have three pedals, but not all have them.
In terms of genres, an acoustic upright piano is preferable if you are playing classical music, while a digital piano is more suitable for those playing pop, rock or funk music.
Hope this helps!
Liberty Park's answer already mentions differences in feeling between acoustic and digital piano, but I wanted to give my personal experience as someone who has always played on a digital piano.
TL;DR: Some newer digital piano seems to be a good choice for earlier training. But they still lack the physical feedbacks of an acoustic piano, mainly the vibrations you feel when you play them. That, and electronic parts in the digital piano are less likely to last a century than an acoustic upright piano that is well taken care of.
I started learning piano with a digital one with good action, and I believed that I would eventually upgrade it with another digital piano, because I did not want to have to tune it.
So I visited a piano store to try a digital, a hybrid and an actual upright piano to see what upgrade I should consider, and to know whether or not the newer digital piano can reproduce the feelings of an actual acoustic piano. I was only interested in the piano aspect of it, so I will not mention the different options you have in digital piano (changing sound, recording, metronome, etc.).
The digital piano I tried was one of the latest model, albeit still a year or two old. The action looked good for training, the sound was nice. But it still "sounded digital" to me, because it came out of some speakers. Even when I tried putting on some high quality headphones, it still had that "digital feeling", which kinda put me off. Maybe it would have been more accurate if I tried a digital model that came out in 2020, but the store did not have any.
The hybrid piano was slightly younger than the digital piano. My untrained ears did not hear much difference between them. The action felt funnier, because it was working like an acoustic upright piano (meanwhile digital piano usually simulate grand piano action). Beside that, I still had the "digital feeling" because the sound was coming off of speakers.
When I tried an upright acoustic piano, what surprised me was the "feedback" of the piano. Upon pressing a key, you would feel the vibration going into you finger through the key you pressed. Same goes for the foot on a pedal. Upon pressing a key and releasing it, the sound would still shyly resonate inside of it. On an upright piano, some model also have a training pedal for the middle one, which allows you to play silently even though it is not a digital piano.
So, there you go. Even though the digital pianos have made some progress lately, they still don't reproduce the actual feelings and feedbacks an acoustic would give you.
Beside that, a digital piano will last as long as its electronic parts are working. I am not an expert, but something tells me they don't hold as well as an acoustic piano, which if proper care are given could last a lifetime.