Which piano to choose: digital or acoustic?

Pianists, from professional musicians to new learners, will know that the quality of the instrument you play can have a significant impact on your experience.

Our comprehensive review will help you make an educated decision between acoustic and digital pianos, considering their costs, required maintenance and sound quality.

What are acoustic pianos?

Acoustic pianos, with their centuries-old legacy, are traditional, stringed instruments celebrated for their rich, resonant sound and profound dynamic range. These are the types of instruments Steinway & Sons is renowned for producing and selling. Acoustic grands are most often seen in concert halls and on stages, whereas acoustic uprights are found in educational settings and private residences.

However, the elegance and authenticity of acoustic instruments come with a higher level of maintenance. These instruments require regular tuning to maintain their optimal sound, a process that involves adjusting the tension of each string. They are also sensitive to environmental conditions like humidity and temperature fluctuations, affecting the instrument’s overall sound and longevity. Regular care, repairs and professional servicing are part of the maintenance routine for acoustic pianos.

What are digital pianos?

Emerging in the late twentieth century, digital instruments represent modern technological advancements in music. They are electronic instruments that reproduce sound by employing digitally sampled tones from real acoustic pianos. The appeal of digital variants lies in their multitude of features, including adjustable volume control, a broad range of sound options, headphone compatibility for quiet practice and built-in learning tools that are invaluable to beginners.

Digital pianos offer enhanced portability due to their lighter weight and compact size. They are also practically maintenance-free, bypassing the need for regular tuning and sensitivity to environmental conditions that acoustic pianos experience. Despite these conveniences, it’s important to note that digital pianos can only imitate the acoustic instrument’s sound and feel, leading to inevitable differences in tone and touch.

What are the similarities and differences?

Acoustic and digital pianos share some fundamental similarities, including:

  1. Purpose: The primary purpose of both is to create music. They facilitate the creation and performance of various musical genres, regardless of how they produce sound.
  2. Key composition: Most pianos, both acoustic and digital, have a standard keyboard layout of 88 keys, comprising 52 white and 36 black keys.
  3. Design and structure: Acoustic and digital variants come in various sizes and styles, accommodating different player preferences, budgets and space constraints.

More important are the differences between digital and acoustic pianos. These differences are what will impact your playing experience and influence your decision-making process.

  1. Sound production: Acoustic models operate on the principle of mechanics; sound is produced by a hammer striking the strings when a key is pressed. Digital options reproduce sound by playing back recordings of acoustic pianos that are stored on a computer chip and are triggered by an eclectic switch.
  2. Playing experience: New players benefit from honing their skills on an acoustic model, as the dynamics of the notes played will vary based on their touch. This supports their development of a unique sound as they expand their artistic repertoire. Digital instruments are limited to their stored recordings and will never differ.
  3. Tonal quality: An acoustic piano’s wooden soundboard amplifies the sound produced by the strings, generating a natural reverberation that lends a unique depth and warmth to the tonal quality. Digital pianos lack this intensity and beauty.
  4. Maintenance: Acoustic pianos demand regular tuning and are sensitive to environmental factors such as humidity and temperature. Digital alternatives require minimal maintenance and are less susceptible to environmental conditions.
  5. Costs: Cost is an important difference to note. Digital pianos tend to be cheaper than acoustic pianos and have virtually no maintenance costs.

Choosing the right piano for you

Selecting the right piano involves carefully evaluating your needs, budget, available space and long-term goals. If you seek an authentic, nuanced experience with unmatched tonal richness, an acoustic instrument from Steinway & Sons may be your perfect match, whether that be from our extensive range of grands or more affordable Boston and Essex brands.

While some buyers may prefer the maintenance-free digital option, there is no match for the vastly superior, high-quality acoustic piano.


What are the main differences between acoustic and digital pianos?

The key differences between acoustic and digital pianos are in sound production, maintenance and costs. Acoustic grands and uprights produce natural sound, require regular maintenance and are generally more expensive. Digital options, however, generate sound digitally, require minimal maintenance and are cheaper.

Which are the best to buy: digital vs acoustic piano?

The "best" instrument to buy depends on your needs. Acoustic variants offer a superior sound quality ideal for advanced players or those who value an authentic playing experience. Digital pianos are good for those who need a more portable or maintenance-free instrument.

What are the costs of digital vs acoustic pianos?

Acoustic instruments are more expensive than digital models, both in upfront cost and maintenance. A new, high-quality acoustic instrument can cost from several to hundreds of thousands of pounds, not including tuning and repair costs. Digital keyboards can be purchased for a few hundred to a few thousand pounds, with virtually no upkeep costs.

What is easier for maintenance, digital vs acoustic piano?

Digital models are significantly easier to maintain than acoustic instruments. They don't require tuning, are less affected by environmental conditions and are generally more durable. Acoustic options, meanwhile, need regular tuning, are sensitive to humidity and temperature changes and will need repairs over time.