In one regard, this would be a dizzying way to get started. Have you seen the diversity of digital piano offerings these days? Thankfully, my shopping would be pretty narrowly focused. I would dismiss any digital piano that didn't have 88 fully weighted keys, and I would dismiss those that retail for more than $1,000. And since I have started playing all this Einaudi music, I have found that I absolutely require three pedals. Which means a stand is also a necessity, otherwise those pedals would be all over the place. Thankfully, this would drastically reduce the offerings under consideration.
I would also restrict my search to known, reliable producers. I have read far too many horror stories from folks who purchased Williams, Behringer, and other anonymous Chinese remakes of 10 year old Rolands. Why take that chance when there is modern technology to be purchased for roughly the same price? In theory, my shopping list could still include Kawai, Roland, Korg and the Yamaha Clavinova line, but the entry price for each of these is generally over $1,000 (YMMV), so they're out. This means that in two paragraphs, I have restricted my search to sub-$1,000 offerings from Yamaha and Casio, including a stand and three pedals.
The next thing I would do (you know, if I were in the market) is try the remaining options out myself. Thankfully, I haven't always been as busy as I am these days, so earlier in the year, I did indeed have the opportunity to sample some Casio and Yamaha digital pianos. In general, to my tastes, I found that I preferred the sound of the Yamahas, but I preferred the feel in the Casios. I also found that when you compared models with similar features, Casios tended to underprice Yamahas by about 15%. I think Casio is still fighting a branding / image problem, with people associating them with cheap goods. I am fully pursuaded that their digital pianos are as good as anybody's.
In either case, I found something to like, and something that gave me pause.
At this point, I would look at things like polyphony (the number of sounds the piano can sustain simultaneously), connectivity options (USB, flash memory, that sort of thing for recording purposes), and, of course, price. You may delighted to know that I am not going to walk you through that decision process today. Instead, here are the four digital pianos I would be looking at, in order of preference. If I were in the market. Which I'm not.
(Retail prices are what I commonly see these going for... nothing official, mind you.)
Fourth Place - Yamaha YDP-S30
Retail - $799
Pros: Low price; Nice sound
Cons: Cheap stand and pedals; clunky feel; no USB connectivity
Verdict: A nice entry point for Yamaha
I was elated the first time I saw one of these. A Yamaha with 64 note polyphony, a stand, and three pedals for under $800? What's not to like? Well, after about 5 minutes of Little Brown Jug, I had the answer to my question. Everything about it felt cheap. Depressed keys, after I let go of them, snapped back more quickly than I could get my fingers out of their way. The plastic pedals felt like they'd break any minute. And the thing wobbled on the stand as if it were too heavy for it. (Later, I found that this was a common thing.)
The lack of USB connectivity means I would have to shell out another $30 or so for a cord to connect it to my laptop.
That said, that sweet Yamaha sound is hard to top, even with puny 6 watt speakers. And once in awhile, back when I was watching eBay with annoying tenacity, I remember seeing these there for $584. (A strange figure, $584, but more than once, I saw one of these available for that price.) I'm guessing the street price is in the mid- $600 range, which would make it a pretty compelling offering, warts and all.
Third Place - Casio PX-720
Retail $799 (?)
Pros: Great feel; metal pedals; Costco has an insane deal on these
Cons: Cheap stand; sound not quite as good as Yamaha's; no USB connectivity
Verdict: Best QPR in the market today
Supposedly, this piano is not available in the United States. Curiously, it has been on sale in the rest of the world for nigh on a year now. Is the rest of the world our QA department? Did they get all the kinks out? Is the piano finally ready for prime time?
The piano itself is the base Privia, the PX-120 (which itself retails around $500). To that, Casio adds a stand, metal pedals, and some upgraded (if ever so slightly) speakers. This should, in theory, push the price up into the $800 range. But Costco, in their mysterious way, found a way to sell these for $649. Including a bench. I can't explain that, but, if I were in the market, I would try to find a way to relieve them of one of these. I regard this as the best buy in the low-end digital piano market.
I still have some complaints, of course. The stand is cheap. I'd still have to buy a cord to connect it to my laptop. But at this price, it's funny how little that matters.
Second Place - Yamaha YPG-635 (or its twin, the DGX-630... don't ask)
Retail price - $699
Pros: Looks and sounds cool, USB connectivity, Jillian likes it
Cons: Clunky feel, Optional stand and pedals are not only cheap, but, well, they're optional (IE, cost extra)
Verdict: If IKEA made a digital piano, this would be it. Cool, stylish, perhaps a little overpriced.
If it were simply a matter of buying a keyboard, putting it on a tabletop somewhere, and plugging the thing in, this would be my choice. It looks cool and modern. The settings are easy to dial in. There is a little LCD display showing you the notes you are playing. You can hook it straight up to a laptop with a USB connection. And it sounds really nice. Yamaha has marketed this less as a digital piano (which, of course, it is), but more of a learning tool. They have lots of neat little features for beginning piano players and students. You know, like me and my children.
The problem is this is not quite the bargain that it first seems. Adding a stand and pedals puts you north of $800. And though, for that price, you get an attractive keyboard with nice sound and features, you still have a cheap, somewhat wobbly stand and plastic pedals. Which wouldn't be so bad if there weren't a better all-around package from Casio...
First place - Casio AP-200
Retail price: $799
Pros: Cheapest entry point to a solid, furniture-style stand; great Casio feel; better speakers than anything else on this list
Cons: No USB, speakers still wimpy compared to other furniture-style digital pianos
Verdict: The whole package.
There are probably 10 to 15 digital pianos I might consider for $800 to $1000. Some Yamaha's in that price range have upgraded keyboards, which are equal to the Casios in terms of feel (to my experience). Others have lots of voices (irrelevant to me, but maybe fun for parties). Otherwise sneer at the little 8 watt speakers in this thing, and come back with big ole house-vibratin' 40 watt monsters. "Honey, you're waking up the neighbors!" There are some very compelling offerings at the same price as this Casio, and even beyond it.
... if you gave me $1,000 to purchase a digital piano, I would buy this $800 Casio, and spend the rest on a nice dinner with Sue at Fogo de Chao. (With a Catena Malbec, of course. Great grilled meat wine.) This piano has almost everything I would be looking for, but doesn't price itself out of the market with unecessary features. It's a bare-bones, no frills, no nonsense digital piano, on a solid, heavy stand.
Of course, if I were in the market, I would be giddy at the thought of playing any of these.
If, that is.