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Piano Buyer's Guide - part 9

Acoustic v Digital

For many, this is a no-brainer - no digital piano can ever come close to the sound of a good acoustic piano. But for many others, there will be no easy answer to this question. Many factors play into this seemingly simple decision, some practical, some not. Ideally, perhaps, the answer should be "Both"-take advantage of the "organic" qualities and connection with the tradition of the acoustic piano, as well as the extreme flexibility of the digital. But assuming that, for a variety of reasons, "Both" isn't an option, careful consideration of the advantages and disadvantages of each will probably quickly reveal which will be best for you.

The advantages of the acoustic piano start with the fact that it's the "real thing," inherently capable of nuances that are difficult for the digital piano to emulate. The experience of playing an acoustic piano-the harmonics, the vibrations, the touch, the visual appeal, the interaction with the room, the connection with tradition-is so complex that digitals cannot reproduce it all. And, provided that it's a decent instrument and properly maintained, the acoustic will continue to serve you or a subsequent owner for several generations, after which it might be rebuilt and continue to make music.

If you're a beginner, the tone and touch of a good-quality digital piano should not interfere with the elementary learning process for a while, but is likely to become less satisfactory as you advance. If your aspiration is to play classical piano literature, the choice is clear: A digital may serve as a temporary or quiet-time practice instrument (some well-known classical pianists request that a digital piano be placed in their hotel rooms for practice and warmup), but the first time you play an acoustic piano that stirs your soul, there will be no turning back. Although digitals continue to draw closer to the ideal, there is, as yet, nothing like the total experience of playing a fine acoustic instrument.

The downside of an acoustic piano? Initial cost is generally higher, they're harder to move, the best ones take up a lot of space, and tuning and maintaining them adds a few hundred euro a year to their cost. And-most importantly-all they will ever be or sound like is a piano.