Digital Pianos vs Keyboards vs Synthesizers: An In-Depth Comparison

The world of music has been enriched by the evolution of various instruments. Among these, digital pianos, keyboards, and synthesizers hold a special place. The history of these instruments dates back to the early 20th century, with the invention of the electric piano.

However, it was not until the late 20th century that digital pianos and synthesizers became popular. These instruments have revolutionized modern music by providing musicians with an array of sounds and functionalities that were previously impossible to achieve.

In today’s music, these instruments are indispensable. They are used in various genres, from classical and jazz to rock and electronic dance music. The versatility and convenience they offer make them a favorite among both amateur and professional musicians.

What is a Digital Piano?

what is a digital piano

A digital piano is an electronic musical instrument that simulates the sound and feel of an acoustic piano. Unlike traditional pianos, digital pianos don’t have strings. Instead, they use digital sampling technology to reproduce the sounds of an acoustic piano.

Key features of digital pianos include:

  • Weighted keys that mimic the feel of an acoustic piano
  • High-quality piano sounds
  • Ability to connect to amplifiers or headphones
  • Often more portable than acoustic pianos

Common uses for digital pianos:

  • Practising piano at home without the need for tuning and maintenance
  • Performing live, especially in settings where an acoustic piano is not practical
  • Recording music in studios

Digital pianos are especially popular among beginners and intermediate players due to their affordability and convenience. Check out this comprehensive guide on keyboards and synthesizers for more information.

What is a Keyboard?

what is a keyboard

A keyboard is a versatile electronic musical instrument with a row of keys similar to those of a piano. However, keyboards are generally more compact and lightweight compared to digital pianos and offer a wider range of sounds.

Key features of keyboards include:

  • A variety of instrument sounds, such as organs, guitars, and strings
  • Rhythm and accompaniment options
  • Often lighter and more portable than digital pianos
  • Ability to connect to computers for music production

Common uses for keyboards:

  • Live performances by bands and solo artists
  • Music production and composition
  • Learning and practising music at home

Keyboards are popular among musicians who need a portable instrument with a variety of sounds. They are also widely used in music education.

What is a Synthesizer?

What is a Synthesizer?

A synthesizer is an electronic musical instrument that generates audio signals and processes them to produce sounds. Unlike digital pianos and keyboards, synthesizers are primarily used for creating and manipulating sounds.

Key features of synthesizers include:

  • Oscillators for generating audio signals
  • Filters to alter the sound’s timbre
  • Envelopes to control amplitude over time
  • Modulation options for dynamic sound shaping

Common uses for synthesizers:

  • Sound design for films and video games
  • Electronic music production
  • Live performances, especially in electronic and experimental music

Synthesizers are essential tools for sound designers and electronic music producers. They allow for the creation of unique sounds that can be tailored to fit any project or genre. Synthesizers can be standalone instruments or software-based, integrated into digital audio workstations (DAWs).

Synthesizers have been a driving force behind the evolution of electronic music and have also found their place in various other genres. They are invaluable for artists who want to experiment with sound and create something truly unique.

Differences Between Digital Pianos, Keyboards, and Synthesizers

When choosing a musical instrument, it’s essential to understand the differences between digital pianos, keyboards, and synthesizers. These instruments, though similar in appearance, serve different purposes and offer distinct features.

Sound Generation

  • Digital Pianos
    • Digital pianos use samples of real acoustic pianos.
    • They focus on replicating the sound and feel of traditional pianos.
  • Keyboards
    • Keyboards have a wide range of sounds, including pianos, organs, strings, and more.
    • They often use synthesized or sampled sounds.
  • Synthesizers
    • Synthesizers generate sounds through oscillators and can shape these sounds through filters, envelopes, and modulation.
    • They are used for creating new sounds and textures.

Key Action and Feel

  • Digital Pianos
    • Typically have weighted keys to mimic the feel of an acoustic piano.
    • Some models feature graded hammer action for an even more realistic feel.
  • Keyboards
    • Generally have lighter, non-weighted keys.
    • Designed for easy playability across a range of sounds.
  • Synthesizers
    • May have weighted or non-weighted keys.
    • Often include knobs, sliders, and other controls for sound manipulation.

Sound Variety

  • Digital Pianos
    • Primarily focused on piano sounds.
    • Some models include a small selection of other sounds.
  • Keyboards
    • Offer a wide variety of instrument sounds and accompaniments.
    • Suitable for playing different styles of music.
  • Synthesizers
    • Unlimited sound creation possibilities.
    • Ideal for sound design and electronic music production.


  • Digital Pianos
    • Generally bulkier than keyboards but more portable than acoustic pianos.
    • Suitable for home use and live performances where piano sound is essential.
  • Keyboards
    • Lightweight and portable.
    • Ideal for musicians on the go.
  • Synthesizers
    • Vary in size and portability.
    • Rack-mounted and module synthesizers are highly portable.

Digital Pianos

Digital pianos have become increasingly popular among musicians and learners due to their ability to emulate the sound and feel of acoustic pianos without the bulk and maintenance.

Types of Digital Pianos

There are several types of digital pianos, each catering to different needs and preferences:

  • Upright Digital Pianos
    • Designed to mimic the look and feel of an acoustic upright piano.
    • Often used in homes and music schools.
  • Stage Pianos
    • Portable and designed for live performances.
    • Typically don’t have built-in speakers and require an external amplification system.
  • Grand Digital Pianos
    • Emulate the sound and feel of a grand piano.
    • Often used in professional settings and concerts.
  • Portable Digital Pianos
    • Compact and easy to carry.
    • Suitable for musicians on the go.

Benefits and Drawbacks

Digital pianos offer several benefits:

  • Realistic sound and feel compared to acoustic pianos.
  • No need for tuning and maintenance.
  • Volume control and headphone jacks for silent practice.
  • Often more affordable than acoustic pianos.

However, there are also some drawbacks:

  • Sound quality might not fully match a high-end acoustic piano.
  • Less prestigious compared to owning a grand or upright acoustic piano.

Ideal Scenarios for Use

Digital pianos are ideal in various scenarios:

  • Home Practice: Their volume control and headphone options make them perfect for practicing at home without disturbing others.
  • Live Performances: Stage pianos are designed for live settings, providing portability and professional sounds.
  • Music Education: Used in music schools and institutions for teaching piano without the need for tuning and maintenance.
  • Recording: Digital pianos can be directly connected to computers and recording equipment, making them ideal for studio use.

Popular Brands and Models

There are several brands known for producing high-quality digital pianos:

  • Yamaha
    • Known for their realistic sound and key action.
    • Popular models include the Yamaha P-45 and Yamaha Clavinova series.
  • Roland
    • Renowned for their SuperNATURAL sound engine and high-quality build.
    • Popular models include the Roland FP-30X and Roland RD-88.
  • Kawai
    • Known for their wooden key action and rich piano sounds.
    • Popular models include the Kawai ES120 and Kawai CA series.
  • Casio
    • Offers a range of affordable digital pianos with impressive features.
    • Popular models include the Casio Privia PX-160 and the Casio Celviano series.


Keyboards are versatile electronic musical instruments that are widely used by musicians, producers, and learners. They are known for their portability and the variety of sounds they offer.

Types of Keyboards

There are several types of keyboards, each serving different purposes:

  • Arranger Keyboards
    • Come with accompaniment patterns and a variety of instrument sounds.
    • Suitable for solo performers and composers.
  • Workstation Keyboards
    • All-in-one keyboards with advanced features for music production.
    • Include sequencers, samplers, and sound editing tools.
  • MIDI Controllers
    • Do not produce sound on their own.
    • Used to control virtual instruments and software on a computer.
  • Synthesizer Keyboards
    • Similar to synthesizers but with a keyboard interface.
    • Used for creating and manipulating sounds.

Benefits and Drawbacks

Keyboards offer several benefits:

  • Wide variety of sounds and accompaniments.
  • Portable and often lightweight.
  • Suitable for beginners due to lower costs and built-in learning tools.
  • Versatile, can be used for performance, composition, and production.

However, there are also some drawbacks:

  • The key action is often not as realistic as digital or acoustic pianos.
  • Sound quality might not be as rich or authentic as specialized instruments.

Ideal Scenarios for Use

Keyboards are ideal in various scenarios:

  • Live Performances: Arranger keyboards are great for solo performers who need backing tracks.
  • Music Production: Workstation keyboards and MIDI controllers are essential tools for music producers.
  • Learning and Practicing: Keyboards with learning features are excellent for beginners.
  • Sound Design: Synthesizer keyboards are used for creating unique sounds and textures.

Popular Brands and Models

There are several brands known for producing high-quality keyboards:

  • Yamaha
    • Offers a range of keyboards from beginner to professional.
    • Popular models include the Yamaha PSR series and Yamaha Montage.
  • Korg
    • Known for their workstation keyboards and synthesizers.
    • Popular models include the Korg Krome and Korg Minilogue.
  • Roland
    • Offers keyboards with high-quality sounds and features.
    • Popular models include the Roland JUNO series and Roland FA series.
  • Akai
    • Renowned for their MIDI controllers.
    • Popular models include the Akai MPK Mini and Akai Advance.


Synthesizers are electronic musical instruments that generate and manipulate audio signals to create sounds. They have been a cornerstone in the evolution of electronic music and sound design.

Types of Synthesizers

There are several types of synthesizers, each with unique features:

  • Analog Synthesizers
    • Use analogue circuits and voltage to generate and manipulate sounds.
    • Known for their warm and rich tones.
  • Digital Synthesizers
    • Use digital signal processing (DSP) to generate sounds.
    • Offer a wider range of sounds and effects.
  • Modular Synthesizers
    • Comprise separate modules that can be connected in various ways.
    • Offer limitless possibilities for sound creation and manipulation.
  • Software Synthesizers
    • Virtual instruments that emulate hardware synthesizers.
    • Run on computers and are used in digital audio workstations (DAWs).

Benefits and Drawbacks

Synthesizers offer several benefits:

  • Ability to create a vast array of sounds, from classic to experimental.
  • Essential tools for sound design and electronic music production.
  • Modular and software synthesizers offer endless possibilities for customization.

However, there are also some drawbacks:

  • Can be complex and have a steep learning curve for beginners.
  • High-quality hardware synthesizers can be expensive.

Ideal Scenarios for Use

Synthesizers are ideal in various scenarios:

  • Electronic Music Production: Essential for creating the signature sounds of electronic music genres.
  • Sound Design: Used in film, TV, and video games to create sound effects and atmospheric sounds.
  • Live Performances: Used by electronic and experimental musicians for live sound manipulation.
  • Music Education: Used in educational settings for teaching sound synthesis and electronic music production.

Popular Brands and Models

There are several brands known for producing high-quality synthesizers:

  • Moog
    • Renowned for their analogue synthesizers.
    • Popular models include the Moog Subsequent 37 and Moog Mother-32.
  • Roland
    • Offers a range of analog and digital synthesizers.
    • Popular models include the Roland JUPITER series and the Roland Boutique series.
  • Korg
    • Known for both hardware and software synthesizers.
    • Popular models include the Korg Minilogue and Korg Volca series.
  • Native Instruments
    • Renowned for their software synthesizers and virtual instruments.
    • Popular models include Massive and FM8.


In summary, digital pianos, keyboards, and synthesizers are all incredible instruments, each serving different purposes in the world of music. Digital pianos aim to closely emulate the acoustic piano experience, making them ideal for pianists and learners. Keyboards are versatile and cater to a wide range of musical styles, making them suitable for beginners, educators, and gigging musicians. Synthesizers are the powerhouse of sound creation and manipulation, essential for electronic music producers and sound designers.

When choosing an instrument, it’s important to consider your musical goals and preferences. If you are focused on classical piano playing, a digital piano might be the best choice. If you need versatility and portability for live performances or are just starting your musical journey, a keyboard is a great option. For those looking to dive into the world of sound design and electronic music production, a synthesizer is indispensable.

In the end, the choice between a digital piano, keyboard, or synthesizer depends on your individual needs and aspirations. Each instrument offers a unique set of features and possibilities, opening doors to different avenues of musical expression and creativity.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between keyboards, synthesizers, and digital pianos?

  • Keyboards
    • Typically lightweight and portable.
    • Offer a wide range of sounds and rhythms.
    • Generally have non-weighted keys.
  • Synthesizers
    • Specialized in generating and manipulating sounds.
    • Used for sound design and electronic music.
    • May have various controls like knobs and sliders for sound manipulation.
  • Digital Pianos
    • Aim to replicate the sound and feel of an acoustic piano.
    • Typically have weighted keys.
    • Focus on piano sounds, though some models offer additional sounds.

Should I get a digital piano or synthesizer?

  • Choose a digital piano if:
    • You want to focus on playing piano pieces.
    • You prefer the feel of weighted keys.
    • You need an instrument mainly for practice or performance.
  • Choose a synthesizer if:
    • You are interested in creating and manipulating sounds.
    • You are into electronic music production or sound design.

Which is better, a keyboard or a synthesizer?

  • A keyboard is generally better for beginners and those who need a versatile instrument with various sounds and rhythms.
  • A synthesizer is better for sound designers and electronic musicians who want to create and manipulate sounds.

What is the difference between a digital keyboard and a digital piano?

  • Digital Keyboards
    • More portable and versatile.
    • Offer a wide range of sounds.
    • Typically have lighter, non-weighted keys.
  • Digital Pianos
    • Focus on emulating the sound and feel of an acoustic piano.
    • Have weighted keys for a more realistic piano feel.
    • Generally bulkier than keyboards.

Hi, my name is Pallav, and I've been playing the piano for over 20 years. I'm also the proud owner of Digital Keyboard Piano, an online platform where I share detailed reviews of the latest MIDI controllers, digital pianos, and related equipment.

Leave a Comment