I’ve been writing about different topics for this series, “How to Choose a Digital Piano”. Please read my past article.
How to Choose a Digital Piano Part 1 - The Features of Digital Pianos/Keyboards
Previously, I wrote about the general features of digital pianos and keyboards. This time, I would like to talk about the sound, which is fundamental in choosing a digital piano and keyboard.
As for the sound, it’s best to actually try the keyboard out before you choose what you like, but for those who can’t do so, I would like to tell you about what to pay attention to with regard to the sound on the spec sheet.
■ Number of Speakers
Most compact digital pianos have a speaker on each side, but as the grade goes higher, some models have multiple speakers on both sides. The more speakers the piano has, the more textured, three-dimensional, and natural the sound will be. If the piano has a speaker under the keyboard, the piano should sound especially as if the whole instrument is resonating.
There are two speakers each above and below the keyboard.
This model is equipped with 8 speakers including the left and right ends of the main unit and the foot part. It gives the sound a spacious feel just like a concert grand piano.
■ Comfort with Headphones
Some people might need to wear headphones when playing piano, so it’s important to know how the piano sound changes with headphones.
Some digital pianos are designed to give a three-dimensional and a spacious sound even while wearing headphones.
Manufacturers have features with different names as mentioned below.
Roland “Headphones 3D Ambience”
Yamaha “Stereophonic Optimizer”
Kawai “Spatial Headphones Sound”
You can find it in the spec of the model with this feature.
■ Maximum Polyphony
Maximum polyphony is the maximum number of notes sounding at the same time as one note is played. This is supposed to replicate the natural resonance that occurs in acoustic pianos. If you try to play more than this number of notes, the note that was originally played will be cut off
Even affordable models commonly have a maximum polyphony of 64, and some high-end models have as much as 324, or will even go to an unlimited number when using piano tones.
You may think it’s a lot, but please understand that when you press one key, the number of polyphony is counted as two notes if the model has two speakers. Also, if the sound is sustained with the sustain pedal, the sustained sound is also counted. Therefore, the maximum polyphony can be unexpectedly insufficient. In particular, it is said that when you play classical music the sustain pedal is used a lot, the polyphony may not be enough. However, since the sound fades out naturally, it’s not noticeable and may not be problematic.
■ Number of Tones
The number of tones can vary greatly depending on the model, which could range from around 10 to over 300 tones. Those who usually play the keyboard with only a basic piano tone may not care about the number of tones, but perhaps you may want to try some of the featured piano tones. Some models have German piano and Italian piano tones, as well as tones that reproduce the concert grand pianos from famous piano makers. It is fun to compare them and change the tones depending on the song. You can also find a tone from other instruments that can produce a clear tone. This is a function unique to digital pianos, so the next time you are playing a keyboard, try it out.
■ Tone Adjustment/Effect
There is also a setting on some models that allow you to fine-tune the brightness of the sound of the same tone. In addition to adjusting brightness using the speakers, the next time you try to listen with headphones the brightness of the sound may sound different, so it is a good idea to adjust it then. The amount of reverb can also be adjusted even on many inexpensive models. High-end models even have effects that reproduce the reverberation of different environments such as concert halls and churches. Of course, you can turn your room into a concert hall by selecting the rich concert grand piano sound, which can also be helpful when simulating a performance in the concert hall before a recital.
Now, I would like to introduce some sound-related functions rather than the piano sound itself.
Transposition is a function that changes the key. It is a useful feature for accompanists who wish to respond immediately to key changes of singers. Those who learn classical piano may rarely use it, but it is a standard function on most models. If you think you may use it, choose a piano with transposition function.
■ Fine Tuning
Fine tuning refers to the pitch adjustment function that is finer than a semitone level. It can be used to match the pitch with other instruments in an ensemble. Some models can be set to just intonation as well as equal temperament.
Lastly, here is a useful tip regarding sound when practicing with a digital piano.
■ Play It Louder!
If the volume is set low, of course you can’t make a loud sound even if you try to do so. Therefore, you may easily start a habit of straining your fingers, or you may not be able to develop a more delicate touch for softer dynamics. You are also susceptible to hurting your fingers and hands from the excess strain. Play it at an appropriate volume to get a sense of dynamics. It depends on the model, but playing at about 50-70% of the full volume should be appropriate. If you are concerned about the noise bothering your neighbors, you can use headphones to stay at a sufficient volume!
How to Choose a Digital Piano series is to be continued.