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When I was in my youth I played the violin for about a decade, and therefore, I suspect, I have become heavily attached to acoustic instruments. Now I’m in my mid thirties, bored of the violin, and have instead started to learn piano. All I got access to is a digital stage piano albeit a good one (Korg SP-250: weighted keys, decent banks). I also got high quality headphones, AKG K702.

But, despite the good equipment I find the sound utmost uninspiring. When I sit down at the acoustic piano at my parents’ house it’s as if I come alive with the complexity in the tonal picture that this instrument generates. The whole thing vibrates and what is playing is not just one sample per pressed key, it is a very complex picture involving this whole analog mass.

I now wonder, can I improve the electrical situation I am in? Sometimes I think the volume is low despite being at max. Is a headphone amplifier the way to go? I currently use the builtin headphone jack.

I also find that the sound is rather thin. Apart from the lack of complexity, it lacks “warmth” and “punch." I don’t know if an amplifier fixes this, or how much the sound from the piano can be improved. Is an equaliser(and/or amplifier) an alternative?

Or should I get a sound-bank and just use my piano as a MIDI-controller? (Costs is an issue because I'm a student.)

  • Am I allowed to object to someone merely in their thirties referring to their 'youth' as though it was a long time ago? ;-) – Tetsujin Nov 2 at 19:23
  • There are people who can't tell the difference between a real piano and a potato. You talk about the thing vibrating and all, so I guess you're one of the people who appreciate real instruments. The only object that can feel like a physical acoustic piano is an actual acoustic piano. Sorry. Good virtual pianos are better than bad ones, but there's no trick to make a stage piano vibrate under your fingers and come alive in the room. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Nov 2 at 19:23
  • What you could do is, forget about comparisons with an acoustic piano, and take the digital instrument for what it is. Connect it to loudspeakers or an instrument amp and use it like an electric piano. With a guitar or bass amp, an emulated Rhodes or clavinet sound can be very inspiring and credible, it's just a different instrument and it is used for different things. Choose a style of music that you can do in an impressive way with the instrument you have. :) – piiperi Reinstate Monica Nov 2 at 19:48
  • Have you ever tried an electric violin? What would you tell someone who wanted theirs to sound and feel like an acoustic? The best digital piano is "dead" in a way the worst acoustic one isn't. It doesn't bother some people, but if it bothers you (and it sounds like it does) then there's nothing you can do about it. – Bob says reinstate Monica Nov 3 at 18:53
  • First proposal to address the volume problem would be to find a different headset. If you can determine the electrical impedance of yours, be sure to get one with a lower impedance. – guidot Nov 4 at 14:30
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I actually have the same keyboard, and it seems off that you don't think it's loud at max volume. I play with an 1/4" headphone jack plugged into the front port and I can't turn it up more than halfway or it starts to hurt... You're not trying to plug in an 1/8" jack into there without an adapter or something, are you? Can you try with another pair of headphones with a 1/4" jack to see if it makes a difference?

So that makes me think that you're just missing a lot of the sound complexity from whatever is stopping you from hearing it at normal volume.

That said, my opinion is that I love acoustic pianos but I think the Korg voices are plenty rich especially with reverb turned on. And be sure to leverage the main benefit of a digital instrument which is all the different voices, remember there are 3 banks for each voice. I usually play it set on the Fender Rhodes soundalike voice (Electric Piano 1) or the jazz organs, but the Piano 1/2 banks are great too.

  • I believe the perceived volume will depend on the impedance of your headphones. OP's AKG have 62 Ohm impedance, which is reasonably low. Maybe you are using some kind of studio headphones with higher impedance that usually require preamps? – Ian Nov 5 at 15:11
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Acoustic and electronic instruments are two different breeds. Yes, they both have black and white keys, and some even have similar actions, but that's where the similarities end. Just like you can't get a Rhodes or organ sound from an acoustic piano, you can't get a really authentic acoustic piano sound from an electronic piano - unless you pay thousands.

If it were mine, I'd be getting a nice little stereo amp and speakers - 50watts is plenty, and plug the keyboard into that. My Roland keyboards feed a 50w+50w amp into a couple of DAS 8" speakers, and that's sufficient for most halls that'll hold 200 audience - way too much for a small rehearsal studio, but the sound is as close as it can be, considering.

Good quality cans should be doing the job for you, but with an amp/speakers set up, you could plug the cans into that, to not upset the neighbours.

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  1. What happens when you listen to a recording of an acoustic piano via your headphones? Part of what you're missing may be the acoustics of the room.

  2. A headphone amp helps only if the problem is a matter of volume.

The amount of volume a set of headphones produces is determined by:

  • the sensitivity of the headphones (the amount of noise it produces when it's fed with 1W of power).
  • the impedance of the headphones, and the ability of the headphone amp to deliver power into that impedance.

A good headphone amp has a bigger power reserve than the standard circuit used in many instruments.

What a headphone amp can't provide is a sound (complexity) that's not there in the samples it's playing back.

So see if you can try a headphone amp, or a different set of headphones, or connect the piano to a set of loudspeakers.

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The Korg SP-250 is a very competent instrument, but it's definately in the low-mid-range price bracket. Closer imitations of an acoustic piano are available, but at a price!

Cheap steps first. Yes, a headphone amp (or a more effecient pair of headphones) will make it louder. Have you got a computer with a low-latency audio interface and a DAW program? Try layering some computer sounds, adding some reverb... (You'll need a mixer to hear everything at once, but a dirt-cheap little Behringer or similar will do.)

What sort of music do you play? If you're aiming for Chopin and Rachmaninoff you're not going to be content until you can afford (and house) a Steinway. If you get off on 'River Flows in You' you can spend rather less!

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