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Electronic piano vs acoustic piano: which should you choose?

Electronic piano vs acoustic piano: which should you choose?
(Image credit: Yamaha)

If you're looking to invest in an instrument or begin learning with the best online piano lessons, you'll want to make sure you buy the right piano. What is the difference between the traditional piano and the plug-in type of instrument? How do you decide which is the right choice for you? First, there are two main categories to divide pianos into: acoustic and electric:

Acoustic vs Electronic: Types of piano on offer

Acoustic pianos
Acoustic pianos are the traditional type most people associate with the term piano. Like the acoustic guitar, the sound is produced with metal strings; in the case of the piano, when you play a key a felt-tipped hammer strikes the appropriate strings.

Electronic pianos actually fall into three categories:

Electronic piano vs acoustic piano: which should you choose?

There are three types of electric piano(Image credit: Yamaha)

Digital pianos
Digital pianos produce sounds digitally through sound samples from quality acoustic pianos using amplifiers and speakers. The action often replicates the weighted keys found on an acoustic piano.

Electric pianos
An electric piano is similar in concept to an electric guitar. Vibrating strings and striking components are amplified to produce sound.

Electronic piano (or electronic keyboard)
The third, the electronic piano is commonly referred to as an electronic keyboard. They offer sampled sound or synthesized sounds to produce music. The keys can be weighted like the traditional piano, but often are not. This third type is the most popular of the three and the most widely used; however, most people group all types together with the common moniker of electronic keyboard. We recently used one to update our review of PlayGround Sessions, which tops our guide to the best online piano lessons.

Electronic keyboards usually have more components than an acousitic piano, including speakers and headphone jacks. One factor in their favor, loved by parents all around, is the ability to practice in silence by using headphones to listen to the music. You can also pair them with piano apps to further advance your skills. Many brands offer the ability to record and then play back what you have played. Fun and innovative synthesized sounds, including percussion, are often available as accompaniment tracks on these models.

Electronic piano vs acoustic piano: which should you choose?

Electronic pianos offer the advantage of portability, but some have a less authentic sound. (Image credit: Yamaha)

Which is right for you? 

Now that you understand the difference, what factors usually account for the decision to choose one over the other? 

Price
Price is a key ingredient. Electronic pianos can start as low as a couple hundred dollars (these are usually smaller types without stands and contain fewer than the standard 88 keys) and as high as $5,000 and up if customized. This is significantly less than an acoustic piano where most reputable brands sell new consoles at the low-end price of $5000, and if you move into the grand piano range the price can surpass the cost of a luxury automobile. 

Size
Size and portability are also factors to be considered in your decision between the two piano types. Many electronic pianos are portable and easy to move around as needed. This factor is definitely not the case for acoustic pianos, no matter whether they are a console or a grand. 

Sound quality
Probably the biggest drawback for most people when considering an electronic keyboard is the sound quality. It is almost impossible to replicate the rich tone of a well-made acoustic piano with that of the plug-in kind.