Types of Keyboards/Digital Pianos
INEXPENSIVE NON WEIGHTED KEYS
These would include any instruments that were priced from $100-$300 and had light (non piano type) keys. A popular example would be the Yamaha PSR E343.
This category is very popular among families with young children, mainly because of their low price. Typically, these instruments have 61 keys (approx. 5 octaves) but in some cases 49 keys (approx. 4 octaves). They most often have a large assortment of sounds to choose from and in most cases they have drum rhythms built in as well. Along with the drum rhythms, they often have automatic accompaniment capabilities as well.
While all of the keyboards in this category have NON weighted keys, a small few would have NON touch sensitive keys as well, most would however, be touch sensitive. It is always important to confirm one way or the other.
From least expensive to most expensive, the differences would be mostly the number of features and the overall quality of the sounds. The less expensive keyboards would have less sounds, less rhythms/accompaniments and little or no onboard MIDI recording.
MORE EXPENSIVE NON WEIGHTED KEYS
These would include instruments priced above $300. A popular example would be the Yamaha S550
Like their inexpensive cousins these instruments have non weighted, light feeling, touch sensitive keys. What you get for the higher price range is a combination of better quality sounds, more of them, better quality rhythms/accompaniments and more elaborate recording capabilities. In general, their keyboards (the actual keys) are a superior feeling quality compared to cheaper instruments. Other enhancements include better speaker systems, bigger screens, more buttons etc.. These keyboards are generally not the choice of an entry level player mainly because of the higher price range. As well, their advanced features may go wasted on a very young or senior age player. That said, there is no reason why a student can not enjoy the some of the benefits of a higher quality, higher priced instrument of this nature.
INEXPENSIVE WEIGHTED KEY INSTRUMENTS
These instruments range in price from $500 - $1300. A popular example would be the Yamaha P105
As the name implies, these instruments have weighted keys and almost always 88 of them which is the same number of keys as a regular, acoustic piano. In this price range, most of the instruments are still formatted like a keyboard in that there is no permanent stand build right onto the instrument. Rather the keyboard sits on separate stand and is considered portable. With their weighted keys and their relatively inexpensive price range, this category of instruments is a popular starting point for many as well as a popular upgrade from a non weighted key instrument.
From low to high price ranges, the number and quality of sounds in these keyboards increases. At the low end, the sounds (primarily piano) are very good sounding but there are usually only a few other complimentary sounds and often no other features or recording. As you move up in price, you tend to see more sounds and improved sounding piano sounds as well as recording capabilities in many cases.
In most cases, as mentioned before, these keyboards come in the format of a keyboard, without a built in stand and pedals. Often, people opt to buy an inexpensive stand to put it on and use the supplied portable pedal. While this option is popular (almost always because of the low price..approx $49) it is definitely not the best option. Portable stands tend to be wobbly and prone to unwanted movement. This dramatically takes away from the “piano type” playing experience. So, while the keys are weighted, the whole instrument is bouncing around on the stand which is not very piano like at all. Most models have a more substantial stand option and while more expensive (approx $129-$200) we encourage people to go this way. The proper, wooden stand provides a much more stable base for the instrument and while not perfect, reduces movement dramatically compared to the portable stand. As well, many manufacturers offer an expanded pedal unit for their instruments that give you all 3 grand piano pedals. This option is great but not necessary for an entry level player and could be put off until such time as the player needed the extra pedals.
MORE EXPENSIVE HOME STYLE WEIGHTED KEY INSTRUMENTS
These instruments range in price from $1500 - $4000. An example would be the Yamaha CLP 535.
For someone my age (48) when I think of digital pianos, I think of this type of instrument. In fact, up until approx. 2001 almost all digital pianos came in this format. A home style instrument is a digital piano that has a full stand built right into the keyboard portion of the instrument, making it look like a small upright piano. They traditionally came in a rosewood style finish but more recently have become available in all sorts of different wood finishes and colors. The big difference between these instruments and their less expensive weighted keyboard cousins is the stand. The stand portion of these instruments are not only more substantive in nature, they often house and support a much larger speaker system that in turn delivers a much bigger, more full sound. Also, the keyboards that these larger home style instruments use is often higher quality in terms of its feel authenticity.
As with the other categories of instruments there is a range in price with this category. On the low side, again you get basic feature sets and good sound quality. As you move up through the price ranges, sound quality almost always improves, often the keyboard feel improves and as with the others, you can expect more and more features/sounds as well as enhanced recording capabilities.
Home style instruments, while less popular then their cheaper cousins these days, are still among the best instruments when it comes to playing experience for the money. Their substantive stands and robust speaker systems combined with their higher quality keyboards provide a vastly superior experience over their keyboard format counterparts. While significantly more expensive, they are truly that much nicer to play. This may not make any difference to a new student but as they develop, it most certainly will.
These instruments range from $4300 - $15000. An example being the Yamaha N2
Hybrid pianos are the newest incarnation of a digital piano by a long shot. The first hybrid hit the market in and around 2010. As of this date Oct 2014, Yamaha is the only company that produces a hybrid digital piano.
A hybrid digital piano is an instrument that has an actual “acoustic” piano keyboard in it, complete with all the wooden levers and mechanisms. Instead of the hammer of the key action striking a string (like in an acoustic piano) it strikes a rubber bar and by way of a fiber optic laser, triggers a digital sample. How is this different from a regular digital piano? In a regular (non hybrid) digital piano, the keyboard is a much more compact version of a real “acoustic piano” keyboard. While regular digital pianos have weighed keys, they only feel “close” to the feel of a real acoustic keyboard. The biggest difference between a real acoustic piano and a digital piano has always been the difference in the way they feel. Up until Yamaha created the hybrid series, no manufacturer had ever created a replica keyboard that felt “a lot” like the real thing. Real, acoustic keyboards are big, heavy, contain a LOT of moving parts and are generally quite difficult to manufacture which is why they just didn’t ever make sense to be used in an inexpensive digital piano. So, what Yamaha has done by creating an instrument with one of their own “acoustic” keyboards combined with some of their best digital sounds is made a whole new class of digital piano instruments, the Hybrid.
In the world of hybrid pianos, there are only a few variations. Yamaha’s line starts with a model that replicates an upright piano key action. This is there most inexpensive and subsequently their most popular, it is called the NU1. Then they have 3 more models that employ a more elaborate and more expensive grand piano keyboard. The upper two models also have a technology that actually vibrate the instrument like a real piano vibrates when being played.
As you can imagine, in the world of digital pianos, the hybrids are the closest thing to playing an actual acoustic piano but with all the benefits of a digital instrument. While playing a real acoustic key bed, you still get the benefit of volume control, sound variations, recording, headphones etc.. Also, hybrids never need tuning which beyond the financial savings, is a real bonus to always be greeted by a perfectly tuned piano.
The hybrid instruments are clearly the most expensive and for good reason. They are rarely the choice of a new student but they would be the very best digital instrument that you could possibly purchase for the task of learning. For serious recreational and more professional players, the hybrids have become a very viable option to purchasing a real acoustic piano. They do not need much maintenance and they are not sensitive to temperature changes and humidity conditions like their real acoustic cousins.