Speakers and Speaker Power: The number and quality of speakers will affect the "trueness" of the sound over the ranges of both frequency and volume. A larger number of watts of power will allow the music to be played at higher volume without breaking up. However, if you're planning to play through headphones, this spec is irrelevant.

Recording Tracks: If you're just after basic recording as a practice aid, any of these instruments will suffice. Two tracks give you the ability to separate the left and right hands in recording. Three tracks let you split out the bass and harmony parts of the left hand. Beyond that, you need to consider 8, 16, or more tracks. (If the ability to record multiple tracks is a central concern for you, you probably have software on your computer that vastly exceeds the capabilities of even the most advanced digital piano.)

USB to Computer: This is purely a matter of convenience and cost. Even if your piano doesn't come with this feature, you can buy a MIDI-to-USB cable for $30 to $50 and still stay within your budget. Of course, if you have no intention of connecting your digital piano to your computer, you can skip this one.

Warranty: This is basically a tiebreaker. If you're down to two models and just can't decide, then the better warranty may sway you.

Looking at Table 1, we can see that the Roland DP-990 is a standout in every way except for speakers and speaker power, where it's comparatively weak. This model could be the best choice if you plan to use it exclusively through headphones. If you're willing to spend another $100 to $150 for an amplified speaker (discussed below), you could make this instrument into a real winner. The Orla CDP10 and the Yamaha CLP-320 offer the smallest number of voices, and are less impressive in some of the other specs as well, but would still be more than sufficient for basic uses. The other models shown are somewhere in between.

Not shown in the specifications is the fact that there may be a tradeoff between features and appearance. The Roland is able to offer so much for the money in part because its cabinet design is quite simple. The Yamaha and Kawai, on the other hand, would look good in any living room.

Slabs and Stage Pianos

Next we'll consider the option of a slab or stage piano. For this option, we have to leave room in the $1,995 budget to accommodate a stand, a bench, and (unless you'll be playing exclusively through headphones) amplified speakers, as most stage pianos don't come with these features. A double-X stand (think of the X formed by, say, an ironing board's legs, then link two of them together in parallel) offers the best stability and load-carrying structure for the price (about $50). Avoid single-X designs, as these tend to wiggle during playing, and struggle to support the heavier stage pianos. A folding-style padded bench can also be had for about $50. A few are available for substantially less, but they tend to have less padding, and can have weak seams that may split.

Table 2: Slab or Stage Pianos in the $1,995 price range after adding accessories and amplified speaker
USB to
Kawai ES6 32 192 26/6 2 Yes 3/3 $1,699

Kawai MP8II 256 192 0/0 0 Yes 3/1 1,895

Roland RD-300GX 366 128 0/0 0 Yes 1/90 days 1,599

Yamaha CP50 322 128 0/0 0 Yes 3/3 1,699


SPRING 2010 -- page 150

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