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I am 33 years old and new to the piano world, planning to learn piano. And I am planning to have my daughter (3 years old) learn piano as well next year.

Due to my budget, the piano store is recommending digital pianos to me. The one they recommended is a Kawai CN37 and I am pretty impressed with that.

But since I am new to this area, I am not exactly sure whether it is a good deal or not. Since I am in Australia, when considering digital pianos, Kawai and Roland seem to be the brands that stand out. So what should I consider when buying my first digital piano? And is the Kawai CN37 a good choice when compared to its competitors? Say Kawai CA17, CA67 and Roland HP603, HP605?

  • Without too much comparison, I can say I never regretted getting the Kawai CN37. But I only compared it briefly to a Yamaha and a Roland of similar price range, though of course in person and not just online – Tobias Kienzler Sep 7 '17 at 10:40
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    I consider the feel of the keys to be most important. Especially if the end goal is to be capable of using a real piano, you need heavy, realistic keys. I highly recommend Korg's digital pianos. the keys are heavy and feel a lot like a grand piano. The sound is fine, but not best-in-class. They have no complex features; you're only paying for piano. They're relatively cheap. Current model is SP-280. – Birchlabs Sep 7 '17 at 10:59
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    I was thinking about having our daughter start learning the piano, so I'm curious why you wouldn't consider a relatively low cost keyboard to start on rather than a full piano? – JPhi1618 Sep 7 '17 at 17:32
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    Here is a review site which I read, and found useful, before I bought my digital piano: azpianonews.blogspot.com I own a CN34, which is the predecessor to the CN37. I decided to upgrade to an acoustic grand, but I was very happy with the CN34 for what it is. The CN37 should be still better. – Anonymous Sep 7 '17 at 18:15
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    @LanceShi they're trying to make a sale. There's plenty of "full size" digital pianos (that even come on furniture style stands) for way less than the Kawai. – Alnitak Sep 8 '17 at 8:46
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Both Kawai and Roland are reputable brands. But Kawai CN37 is a brilliant digital piano. From my experience with some digital pianos, I wasn't able to use a great range of dynamics, but with Kawai CN37, I can somehow control how my dynamics are expressed on the piano, and it's quite comparable to the likes of an upright acoustic piano. I haven't tried Kawai CA17, CA67 and Roland HP603, HP605, so someone else on this platform might be able to contribute your question. How much is Kawai CN37 in local currency?

There are six things you need to consider buying a digital piano:

1. The sound

The digital piano produces sound by playing pre-recorded sounds of acoustic pianos. The method and equipments used to record these tracks affect the quality of the sound. A good digital piano should sound warm and less digital, closely mimicking an acoustic piano. With that said, everyone prefers different sound quality, and it is important to choose a piano that sounds nice to you.

Apart from the general quality of the sound, you should also listen for the articulation and the decay—the start and the end—of the sound. A digital piano with better control over articulation and decay more closely resembles an acoustic piano and thus sounds more natural.

2. The number of keys

A full-sized piano consists of 88 keys. However, some digital pianos come with only 61 or fewer keys. For advanced piano players, a piano with 88 keys is required. Therefore, if you’re a beginner who’s serious about learning the piano, it is advisable for you to get a full-sized piano.

3. Polyphony

Polyphony refers to the maximum number of sounds that a piano can produce at any time. This means that a piano with 32-note polyphony can produce up to 32 notes at once. Intermediate players should get pianos with at least 64-note polyphony. For advanced pianists, getting a piano with 128-note polyphony or more is desirable.

One question that I frequently hear is this: a full-sized piano has 88 keys, why should there be a piano with 128-note polyphony? This is because the use of the sustain pedal allows the piano to produce many notes at once. If you’re playing a long string of notes while using the sustain pedal, the piano could be producing more than 88 notes at some point.

4. The touch response of the keys

Touch-sensitivity refers to how responsive a piano is when you play a key with different amounts of strength. The keyboard is able to sense the velocity with which you play the key and correspondingly produces a sound of appropriate volume. A touch-sensitive piano gives you better control over the music’s dynamics, which allows you to play more expressively.

5. Weight of the keys

A digital piano can have keys without added weight, semi-weighted keys, or fully-weighted keys. Manufacturers introduce weighted keys to mimic the heaviness of acoustic piano keys. A digital piano with fully-weighted keys is considered the best option, because its keys most closely resemble those of an acoustic piano. It is a good option for pianists who are planning to buy an acoustic piano eventually.

6. Extra features

Other Instrument sounds

A digital piano has the capability to produce sounds of almost any instruments, ranging from a saxophone to a choir. While this isn’t essential, picking a piano with a large number of instrumental tracks will allow you to choose the sound that suits your music best.

Learning tools

Some common learning tools include:

  • Keys that light up for you to follow

  • Dual-mode, in which the keyboard splits into two sections so that you can play in the same octave as your teacher or friend

  • Built-in metronome

These features act as learning aids, which are especially useful for beginners. However, not all learning tools are useful. Thus, it is important to find a piano with extra features that suit you. You can read my colleague's article if you want to compare a digital piano to acoustic piano.

All the best for choosing the piano that is most suited for your needs! Feel free to reach out if you have any more questions.

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    In Australia, it costs around Aud 2500 for CN37. I guess it is more expensive than in US, but so does everything else. I guess the only thing I am concerned here is whether wooden keys are an important factor here. But it seems no though. Thank you for the detailed response. – Lance Shi Sep 7 '17 at 10:07
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    +1 for everything except light-up keys... they make the learner rely on the lights; same for any 'wait til I play the right note' system. I would always avoid them, even if the machine is equipped. – Tetsujin Sep 7 '17 at 19:56
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I have played piano for about three years now, and as a beginner, the feel of the keys was the most important aspect of my digital piano. Specifically, you will want 88 full-size, weighted keys with good touch and sensitivity to velocity. Much of your early piano education will revolve around developing evenness and sensitivity in your touch, and so the tactile experience of your keyboard is crucial.

After the keys, the pedals are another important physical element of your piano. Ideally you will want two or three pedals with half-pedaling capability. Again, you will want a good tactile experience that will transfer well to other pianos. Avoid pedals (or keys!) that are just simple switches. You will want hardware with a good approximation of a mechanical piano.

A built-in metronome is handy, but for a beginner I find a recording/playback system even more helpful. Recording yourself and listening carefully to the playback is a great way to train your ear and assess your progress. A headphone jack is also useful, and a USB or MIDI output is great if you have any interest in music production.

A good digital piano with all of these features need not be very expensive. I am quite happy with my Yamaha P-105 with the L85 stand and LP5A pedals, for about a third of the price of the Kawai CN37. I would definitely recommend their current model, the P-115, with the same options.

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So what should I consider when buying my first digital piano?

Something cheaper!

I very strongly endorse the suggestion to go for an 88-key fully weighted piano, but If you're only just starting, I wouldn't be looking to spend £1400 (the UK price for the CN37) on something that may not get used in the long term, and/or is going to be used by a very young child.

My teenage daughters get on very well with their Korg SP-170 which cost less than a third of what the Kawai does.

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Only one company has the mastery of building acoustic pianos and is also fully vertically integrated electronics company.

Yamaha.

I recommened the Clavinova line of digital pianos. They were the first 30 years ago and have been the best since. The Clavinova digital piano was included in Time magazinea top 50 most influential gadgets.

Source: Im a piano technician.

  • Well, the reason I am considering Yamaha is the price in Australia. Say if a Kawai and a Yamaha is of the same price in US, the Yamaha one would be something like 1000 dollars more expensive than the Kawai one in Australia. That's quite weird though – Lance Shi Sep 7 '17 at 23:16
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I've been learning the piano for some 9 months now and I initially bought a low price Yamaha keyboard just to see how I got on with it. Having decided I really wanted to learn the piano (as opposed to sticking with a keyboard). I checked out the main makes such as Kawasaki, Yamaha, Roland etc and in the end I bought a Clavinova and I'm very happy with that. The important thing for me was to choose a piano that had a key action that was as close as possible to an acoustic piano such as weighted and graded keys as I was planning on taking piano lessons and the teacher I was going to use only used acoustic pianos. I also felt that it was important to have a good enough speaker system to deliver give good rich tones of the base keys as well as to be able to handle the upper registers. I understand the polyphony, although important is something that a beginner such as myself wouldn't really appreciate until much later on on in the learning experience. Basically I went for a piano that had as many features that were considered to be 'important' as I could afford. Having said all that I think while having a good piano to practice on is important don't forget to keep some money back so you can pay for a good piano teacher as well as this is something I've come to realise is probably the most important thing of all.

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I've played Kawai electronic pianos and liked them very much.

I would say that whatever piano you choose, if you're going to be practicing with headphones on, it's a much more pleasant experience if you can add reverb to the piano sound. Also consider the quality of the built-in loudspeakers - it's important that they can deliver the same volume as an acoustic piano, without any rattles or distortion.

Other posters here mention features of pianos that they find important. I'd agree with most of them apart from polyphony - my piano has just 16 voices - but the only time I notice this is if the cat lies across the keyboard as I'm playing. In normal use, 16 voices is not a problem for me at all.

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Yamaha is the leader in this segment without question. Better resale too. I suggest starting with a yamaha p45 to see if you will stick with it. If you do, you could upgrade to something more expensive.

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