Keyboards, Digitals, and Hybrid Pianos
It’s All on a Spectrum From Totally Digital to Totally Acoustic – And Beyond!
We often have families that ask us “Is it ok to learn on a digital piano? Is it just like an acoustic piano?” The short answer is that no, there’s nothing quite like a real acoustic piano, but yes, there are some very high-quality digitals that students around the world have been very successful on. That being said, there’s a pretty wide range of options that we carry, from an unrealistic “piece of plastic with a spring” to a fully acoustic action. To help you make an informed decision, we wrote this guide from least expensive to most expensive, with some examples of products that we carry.
This guide is meant as a starting point – we encourage you to stop into our store and try the different instruments we carry, since that is ultimately the best way of determining what you’ll like (and what you won’t). Please note that due to vendor agreements, we can’t advertise prices on our website or discuss them over the phone, but take heart in the fact that in our store, our instruments are clearly labeled with our lowest possible “No Haggle” prices. We pride ourselves on staying up on the current technology and learning in-depth about each model that we carry, so that we can help you make an informed, confident, and comfortable decision in a no-pressure environment.
Advantages of an Acoustic Piano
- The “Gold Standard” because they typically offer the best feel and sound.
- A properly regulated piano action allows the player maximum control over volume, tone, and expressiveness.
- A well-tuned, quality piano offers an incredible depth of sound – there’s so much character in the hammers, the strings, the soundboard – it’s difficult to fully capture 100% of that nuance in a digital piano.
- Does not require power; isn’t affected by power surges.
- While it will certainly vary by from piano teacher to piano teacher, most recommend learning on a quality acoustic piano if practical.
Advantages of a Digital Piano
- Doesn’t need to be tuned.
- Can practice silently with headphones.
- Can choose different sounds, like strings, organs, harpischord, etc.
- Can choose different rhythms to play along with, rather than a “boring” metronome. This can be fun and motivational.
- Lighter weight, typically doesn’t require a skilled piano mover.
- Can record your playing for easy playback or for easily turning into sheet music.
“Piano-Style” (Unweighted) Keys
The cheapest kind of keyboard features the simpliest mechanism – a piece of plastic with a spring and a basic sensor. There are also a full range of synths that include these unweighted and semi-weighted keys, since the focus is on creating specific sounds, not learning classical piano. Not recommended for piano students.
- Small – often 61 keys or smaller, sometimes features smaller “mini-keys”
- Helpful for non-piano students learning music theory or non-musicians who want to casually explore making music.
- the feel is not very realistic and often can’t convey different levels of expressiveness.
- can cause students to develop bad technique, get frustrated, and have higher rates of failure.
This portable keyboard features light-up keys and some educational features.
Price Match Policy
We will price match any advertised price from Amazon, eBay, other stores, etc. for any instrument that we carry. We want you to choose us for our expertise and customer service – and not just because you’re getting a good deal from us.
We can order any instrument from any of the vendors that we work with. So if there’s an instrument that you see from Kawai or Casio that we don’t have in stock, just ask us and we can get it in for you. (Deposit required). Ask for details!
This workstation features a lot of sounds and rhythms for the money.
Graded Hammer Action
This is the best-selling style of action for students looking for an affordable, but quality instrument. Each of the manufacturers will do some tweaking and improvements over time – and often naming each iteration, so it seems like there’s a thousand different types of graded hammer action. But behind the jargon, most actions of this style feature 3 sensors, counterweights, and let-off simulation.
- Affordable, yet high enough quality for learning on.
- Excellent control over expressiveness and volume.
- Lighter weight than wooden keystick actions – ideal for stage pianos.
- Pretty good, but there are better actions (on more expensive instruments)
The most affordable of the 88-key, fully-weighted, graded hammer action class of keyboards. Its sleek design packs a surprising number of nice features.
Features an awesome 5.3″ color touchscreen, powerful speakers in the stand and an incredible array of features, this is our best selling model of new keyboards.
Has the really nice feel and sound that Kawai is known for, at a great price. Sports 2x 20 watt speakers, keycover, bench, bluetooth midi, and more.
The “big brother” to the Kawai CN-27, with over 350 sounds, 256 polyphony, and a lot more control over your sound.
Wooden Keystick Action
A wooden keystick action is almost always a noticeable upgrade from a standard graded-hammer action, although there is still some variation from the different manufacturers in terms of style and realism.
- Best class of digital keyboard action (short of using a full acoustic action)
- Wooden keysticks transmit tiny vibrations of feedback and a little bit of flex when played, adding to realism.
- Heavier (only noticeable on stage instruments)
- More expensive.
Developed in partnership with Bechstein, this features an incredible wooden keystick action and the sounds of 3 legendary 9′ concert grands.
Features more beautiful tones, added realism with simulated mechanical key/ pedal sounds and
Aliquot string resonance, plus a beautiful polished ebony case.
Features a Kawai wooden keystick action and their latest and greatest sound technology, this stage people gives you an incredible control over your sound.
This beautiful instrument features a polished ebony case, a minimalistic (but very useful) control panel on the side, and powerful speakers.
Wooden Soundboard Hybrid
The Kawai CS11 is arguably the finest digital hybrid that we have in stock. It has over 100w of power, with a max sound output rivaling our 9’4″ concert grand, but adjustble down to a soft whisper. The default sound is a handmade Kawai concert grand that you’ll love. You have to try it to believe it!
On the back of acoustic upright pianos is a thin piece of wood called the soundboard. It vibrates to project the sound – otherwise, the string in the piano wouldn’t be very loud at all. Arguably, the soundboard is the “soul” of the piano, with the characteristics of the spruce adding much of the tonal character of the overall sound. Unlike a normal digital, where the sound has to come out of small 6″ or 12″ metal and plastic speakers, an acoustic upright piano produces sound over a vibrating piece of wood perhaps 1300 to 1800 square inches, creating a more expansive sound. The best hybrid pianos, like the Kawai CS11, has a soundboard to add this level of expansive realism, made less sterile because it’s created by vibrating wood.
- Distinctly improved sound rivals high-quality acoustic pianos.
- All the advantages of digitals – doesn’t need tuning, has headphones, can choose different sounds, etc.
- Lighter weight than an acoustic upright – no cast-iron plate or strings.
- Most expensive digital option – about the cost of an entry-level new acoustic piano.
Totally Acoustic + Digital Hybrid
The Kawai K-200 ATX2 is available in our showroom today for you to try out. I encourage you to watch the short video above to learn more about this incredible instrument.
Kawai offers the “Anytime Pianos,” which are factory-installed only. However, feel free to ask us about installing a similar option on pretty much any acoustic upright or grand out there.
Also, if you want to take your experience to the next level, read this article about super high-end “software pianos.”
There are 100% acoustic pianos with a special “silent system” installed. You flip a switch and a bar inside the piano flips into place, blocking the hammers from quite stricking the strings, so no sound is produced. Yet, there are sensors under each key, that go into a little computer, re-creating the sounds through a headphone jack, allowing you to practice in total silence.
Additionally, you can choose to have the 100% acoustic piano augmented by the digital signal, if you run it through a stereo system instead of headphones. You can have a 9′ concert grand play on top of your acoustic upright piano sound and it sounds amazing. Or you can augment the piano sound with orchestral strings, which is another favorite option.
- You get a completely authentic upright acoustic piano action, not any simulation.
- All the advantages of acoustic pianos AND digitals, without any compromises.
- You can play silently or with an augmented digital/acoustic sound.
- More expensive than the purely acoustic piano equivalent (but not too much more!)
Request An Appointment
We’d like to block out some time to work one-on-one with you – showing you the differences between our products, answering all of your questions, and making any necessary logistics for a smooth sales experience for you.
Please note that due to vendor requirements, we cannot discuss prices until you’ve visited our physical location. However, once you do visit, you can can clearly see each piano labeled with our competitive prices.
Our showroom is open 7 days a week:
Monday-Thursday: 10:00 to 7:00 pm
Friday & Saturday: 10:00 to 5:00 pm
Sunday: 12:00 to 5:00 pm
Other times may be available by appointment.
Appointments aren’t required, but are recommended.
Family Piano Co
118 S. Genesee
Waukegan IL 60085
Free Parking in Our Lot on County St!