01 Jan Best Digital Pianos Under $500 | REVIEW | 2021 | Update!
By: Professor Tim
Best Digital Pianos Under $500 | REVIEW & REPORT | for 2021 | LOWER PRICE HERE | Korg B2, Casio CDP-S350, Casio CDP-S150, Yamaha P-45, Yamaha P-71, Roland FP-10. In the under $500 category for digital pianos, the only digital pianos you should consider are models made by the top brands which include Yamaha, Kawai, Casio, Korg, and Roland. Although there are some other brands advertised out there in this “under $500” category (especially on Amazon) which include Williams, Artesia, Suzuki, Alesis, Lagrima, and Medeli among others, we definitely recommend that you DO NOT buy any of those other brands because based on our experience with them, those digital pianos are really just a “PSO” which means Piano Shaped Object. They may look like a digital piano on the outside and have 88 keys with some “fun” bells & whistles,” but most of those brands use sub standard parts and they play like toys, and even some cases worse than toys with noisy, clunky key actions, terrible piano sound, and very poor pedal response..and that’s why they are priced so low!
The old saying is true most of the time…you do get what you pay for and if you want to be “under $500” for new digital piano you are not saving money in buying one of these “off-brands” because the money you save will quickly be thrown out the window once you realize what you have purchased and how quickly you will grow out of that so-called digital piano. Stick to the name brands like Yamaha, Korg, Roland, and Kawai pay just a bit more and you will be able to keep those pianos for a long time, be able to grow into them rather than quickly grow out of them, and you will be proud to own one of those top best brands rather than be embarrassed that you bough one of the off brands.
I am a professional piano teacher and pro pianist having played literally thousands of acoustic and digital pianos and know what I am talking about so STAY AWAY from a “PSO!” Just so you know, all of the 5 top brands that make digital pianos under $500 are “portable” digital pianos. They do not come in the more traditional furniture cabinets although you can purchase an optional matching furniture style stand and triple pedal unit for most of them. If you want a more traditional’ “furniture cabinet model” with built-in sliding key cover then you’ll have to spend a bit more money closer to $800 on up.
Learn 5 top “shopping tips” in looking for the best digital piano under $500:
1. Buy the model that plays most like a real piano which includes most realistic key action, piano sound, pedaling response, and speaker system
2. Do not buy a digital piano because it’s “flashy” and has a lot of “bells & whistles.” Those type of “under $500” models are generally more like toys
3. Don’t buy “cheap,” buy “BEST,” spend a bit more money on a top brand and get something that will last and allow you to grow musically
4. Don’t buy a cheap PSO (Piano Shaped Object) brand just because it’s pretty or a cheap price…you may likely come to regret it
5. Buy a digital piano that is programmed with good permanent tuning, good polyphony, responsive key action, and has the latest piano technology
Korg B2 digital digital piano | $499 internet price (optional furniture stand and triple pedal unit $100 extra price) | The Korg B2 offers by far the best and most natural piano playing experience of all digital pianos under $500. It is the newest model of all the top brands that make digital pianos under $500. This newer B2 is noticeably more advanced in offering a natural, organic playing experience compared to the other brands right now in the same price range. The smooth moving dynamic key action on the Korg B2 is really quite good especially given this model is just $499. The keys and key-bed feel good under the fingers when playing the keys and key action is our #1 most important way in how we determine a good digital piano from a bad one. Piano sound, pedaling response, and internal speaker system are the other 3 ways we can determine a good digital piano from a poor one.
The piano sound chip in the B2 is light years ahead of the other digital pianos here primarily because Korg took the new stereo high definition technology from their $2200 pro stage digital piano called “GrandStage” and put some of the acoustic piano sounds from that model into the Korg B2. The Korg company of Japan is well known around the world for decades of producing high quality professional stage digital pianos and keyboards which sell up to $5000 and more and you can see them on stage all the time used by top name musicians. When it comes to the complexity of reproducing a real piano sound in a digital pianos, you normally need to be in the $1000 price range (or more) to get a digital piano that actually sounds “real” instead of fake.
Under $500 most of the digital pianos out there including the other top name brands have some definite short-comings when it comes to reproducing the “piano sound” and all of its resonances, nuances, and organic content with string vibrations, overtones, etc, especially when it comes to the sustained piano sound when using the sustain pedal. Also, the advanced stereo grand piano sound technology that Korg uses in this model does not have any discernible repeating “sample loop noise” which is typically heard in low priced digital pianos like this one (especially in older models)…another testament to how good this model is at producing high quality acoustic grand piano sounds. It’s expected that the top name brand digital pianos under $500 will be OK or maybe pretty good, but not great like our playing experience we have had with the newer Korg B2.
One of the weakest points of digital pianos in the $500 range is lack of sustain/decay time and quality of sustained piano sounds when using the pedal or holding a note (key) down for a longer period of time. Sustain/decay time and resonance across all 88 keys is what can make a song sound extra beautiful and the B2 breaks those barriers with huge, resonate sustain time with lots of string vibrations and natural resonances mixing together evenly and in high definition stereo up and down all 88 keys…just like in a real piano. and we have not heard this type of reproduction in any other digital piano under $500, not even close. The piano sound technology in the B2 offers 5 distinct stereo sampled grand piano sounds from acoustic Grand pianos made in Germany, Austria, Japan, Italy, and the USA. All other digital pianos under $500 have one piano sound If you know anything about what a real Grand piano sounds like you will be “blown away” when you hear these pianos in the B2. They are absolutely amazing in every way and the expression you can get out of these high definition stereo piano sounds are impressive.
We are not exaggerating when we say that this new B2 has gone way beyond the previous standards in digital pianos under $500 when it comes to getting an impressive piano playing experience whether you are a beginner or seasoned pro. Personally, I would not pick any other digital piano under $500 as far as pure piano playing goes unless you just want a lot of extra “bells & whistles” that the Korg B2 may not have or you simply don’t have the $500 bucks to buy one and need to get under $400 (which is difficult to do for a good one). But for just a bit more money, getting this piano will be more than worth the money in our opinion and some of the other features this model offers are also impressive such as USB MIDI connectivity and USB audio streaming.
There are a few features that I would like to have seen on this model including recording and playback, layering/mixing or splitting 2 instrument sounds together, and having separate audio outputs which are found in other brands and models. The Casio CDP-S350 is a good example of an impressive digital piano for only $50 more at $549 that has all these features and more which I talk about later in this report. So I would definitely consider that one as well. The B2 more than makes up for its shortcomings in being able to put out the kind of organic and natural piano playing experience that you would never expect to hear in this price range. The Korg B2 is a newer model and will be out for at least the next couple of years well beyond 2021.
Yamaha P-45 digital piano | $499 internet price | The Yamaha P-45 has been out for a number of years and we do anticipate that it will be replaced at some point in 2021 or 2022. This is because the competition to this model including the Korg B2 and new models from Casio and Roland and much more advanced with regard to newer technology and the overall piano playing experience. The P-45 has just 64 notes of polyphony power which is rather small as compared to the competition and the piano sound is just coming from one sampled piano using older sampling technology. There are a total of two piano sounds coming from one actual piano (regular and bright) whereas the Korg B2 pianos come from 5 distinct and different concert grand pianos with twice as much polyphony piano power. The P-45 has 10 instrument sounds in this model including strings, organs, harpsichord, etc.
There are 2 speakers being driven by 12 watts total amplifier power which is somewhat weak especially compared to the new Korg B2 which has a giant 30 watts of total power and makes the piano sound a lot bigger and fuller. The P-45 does look good, and has a fairly easy to use control panel. The key action is Yamaha’s GHS entry level weighted key action which is good overall, but definitely not great as compared to higher priced models, although we like the Korg B2 key action even better and it’s only $499 right now. Overall the P-45 is a good low priced digital piano with good features such as duo model and layer/mix sound mode along with adjustable digital metronome and reverb effects. An optional furniture style stand is available but no triple pedal unit.
Roland FP-10 digital piano | $499 internet price (furniture stand and single half-damper pedal optional) | The Roland FP10 is one of Roland’s newer low priced portable digital pianos so we do not anticipate any changes in this model for the year 2021 or even in 2022. Roland is known for producing some very nice digital piano product in many different price ranges and this is Roland’s first and only digital piano under $500. This model has 4 piano sounds although they all come from the same sampled acoustic piano, but the piano sounds are good and offer a lot of resonance and expression, much more so than on the Yamaha P-45 where the sound dynamics and expression are fairly compressed. The FP10 has 96-notes of piano polyphony which is OK and certainly better than the older Yamaha P-45 and is fine for most amateur players. The key action is called a PHA4 standard key action which is a bit on the heavy side in terms of touch weight in getting the keys to move downward when you are pressing down with your fingers, but overall it is a good weighted key action.
The internal speaker system includes 12 watts of total power going through 2 speakers but the fullness of the piano sound along with bass frequencies is much better and stronger than the Yamaha P-45 because Roland has a unique speaker baffling system inside to enhance the sound so overall the FP10 has enough volume and frequency range. There are a total of 15 sounds with 4 of them being acoustic piano tones all coming from a single stereo sampled acoustic piano. You can layer 2 instrument sounds together which is nice and there is a Duo mode for 2 people practicing the same song at the same time with the same notes. Other features include USB output to computer, transpose mode, digital metronome, and touch sensitivity curve settings which the other digital pianos have as well. The control buttons are easy to use and light up to make them easier to see (especially in darker rooms) and to access the different sounds is fairly intuitive. The Roland FP10 also comes with a proprietary app for tablet so that you can control some aspects of the piano from your color touch screen along with being to see some sheet music notation and other interesting functions for the piano…so we like that quite a bit.
Roland FP-10 (continued) | Out of Tune? – The FP10 did have one major disappointment for us that we have not found in any other digital piano in this price range…the FP10 is OUT OF TUNE in our opinion. OK…we don’t want to scare or mislead you…it is not out of tune for every note on the keyboard, and some people would never know it is out of tune because they just don’t know enough about piano sound (and tuning) or play well enough to realize that. Many of you may not know that real acoustic pianos are tuned with a method called “stretch tuning.” Piano techs use this method to tune pianos so that that the more than 200 strings in a piano will harmonize and resonate together in a way that allows various notes to be played together in various intervals and all sound good together. Stretch tuning means that as the notes are getting higher and going up on the piano from middle C, the technician “over-tunes them and stretches that string a little bit sharp while at the same time stretches some strings below middle C in lower octaves a little bit flat so that when these strings are heard the resulting sound can compensate for a variety of tones that these strings make that would not near as sound good musically if a “stretch tuning process” was not used.
So as to not complicate matters here, if the strings are stretched TOO far sharp and TOO far flat, then when you play a number of different notes together the result is that the piano sounds noticeably out of tune like the strings have not been tuned properly. It would be like two people singing 2 different harmonizing notes together with one of those singers being way too sharp in their note as compared to the other singer…it makes you want to cover your ears or get a new singer. We know that we do not have problems with our ears and I have never heard any other top name digital piano under $1000 have such an issue and this same thing also exists on the next Roland model up called the FP30 ($699 price) which uses the same sound technology. Not ALL notes are out of tune with each other in the FP10 and in some octaves all is good. But with certain notes when played together, the result is not pleasant, and for me, I would never play any piano that sounded like that…it’s like scraping your nails on a chalkboard…it’s that disconcerting for us.
In a real piano, adjustments can be made to the tuning if necessary so that you can fix this issue of what I call noticeably “poor stretch tuning”…or, I would just fire the technician and find another one who knows how to tune a piano properly. In a digital piano, there are many models in other brands where you can adjust the “stretch tuning” and either turn it off so you don’t have to deal with it at all, or you can electronically adjust the “stretch amount” and reduce it so it’s not so noticeably “out of tune.” What’s interesting is that Roland has a newer upgraded piano sound chip called “Physical Modeling” in their new HP702 and HP704 models which sell for between $2000 to $3000 and those pianos have no issues at all with stretch tune and they sound perfectly fine. But in these lower price FP models, that’s where this situation occurs. Unfortunately not only does the FP10 have this issue based on our personal playing time on this model, but the “stretch tuning mode” is permanently “on” and cannot be shut off and it even says so in the Roland specifications for this model.
Bottom line is this, if you are not sensitive to an instrument being in or out of tune, don’t know what a piano is supposed to sound like, or you are a pure beginner then you may not notice this situation. If if you play piano or are progressing in your playing skills then you may want to try piano out BEFORE you buy it. We are generally pretty lenient when we critique and review a digital piano but in this case there is just no excuse for “bad stretch tuning” and we have had the tuning measured by piano technicians to see the data for ourselves…but our ears hearing it first hand is where the “rubber meets the road” and in our opinion for all of its good qualities, we would not purchase the FP10 because this tuning cannot be altered…unless Roland updates it in some way…which could be possible but based on our experience with more than one of these FP10’s recently, it’s still the same.
Casio CDP-S150 digital piano | $479 internet price | The new Casio CDP-S150 is a more basic digital piano but does have some notable features for its low price. It is one of the lowest price regular 88-key weighted key digital piano that we recommend under $500. It has an older 64-note polyphony piano sound chip in it that Casio has had for a number of years (although it still sounds pretty good overall) along with a small library of 10 instrument sounds with one regular piano sound, a digital metronome, transpose feature, USB output, and a few more things in a very small and compact cabinet that weighs just 23 lbs and works on batteries too. The internal sound system has 16 watts of total power going through 2 speakers. The new model comes with a music holder and small sustain pedal and we do recommend it but for just $20 more (at the moment) the Korg B2 is more advanced in its ability to replicate a real piano that to us it’s more than worth the difference in price. The CDP-S150 is a relatively new model so it will be in available throughout 2021 and beyond.
Yamaha P-71 digital piano | $478 internet price | The Yamaha P71 is the identical digital piano to the Yamaha P45 but the difference is that the P71 is available only on Amazon and is a proprietary model number exclusively for Amazon. The price is also $50 less money than the P45 but with Amazon you would need to pay sales tax so for most people the difference in price is very small. The P71 has the same entry level GHS key action as in the P45 along with the 10 instrument sounds and 1 piano sound. The P71 includes the power adapter and small sustain pedal with purchase. So if you like the Yamaha P45 then you also like the Amazon P71 model. The P71 has only been available at Amazon for about 3 years so it may or may not be discontinued at some point in 2021 or 2022, but since the technology in this piano is getting a bit old and the competition such as Casio and Korg are getting far out in front, we may see a new model. But in the meantime for beginner players, the Yamaha P71 should be fine.
Casio CDP-S350 digital piano | $549 internet price | The new CDP-S350 is the upgraded model in some very big ways over the Casio CDP-S150 so for just $49 over the $500 price range in this review & report, we thought it needed mentioning. The differences are very large with the CDPS350 over the S150 model with the S350 having better piano sound realism and many more instrument tones (700) along with an enormous amount of extra fun features. In reality the S-350 is really a combination of the S-100 piano plus a cheaper Casio “fun keyboard” all put together in one model with more access buttons, a large LCD display screen, all for another $100 more.
To us it’s a “no-brainer” in terms of which piano to get when considering both the CDP-S100 and the CDP-S350…for another $100 the CDP350 is more than worth the difference in the “under $500 price range.” The keyboard action in the S350 is the same as in the S100 along with the internal speaker system and pedaling. So as a piano, both pianos are the same but with the S350 having a slightly better piano sound sample. However, the S350 still has the older 64-note polyphony piano sound chip so that has not changed. The S350 is a newer model and will be available through the year 2021 and likely well beyond. For around $500 this model in our opinion is the “best bang for the buck.”
If you want much more of a real piano playing experience that will allow you to grow into it instead of grow out of it as your playing ability improves, then get something better and more realistic in that way such as the Casio CDP-s350, Yamaha P-45, or Korg B2 also under $500. Again, if the Roland FP-10 did not have the issue with the poorly done “stretch tuning” which is permanent and always on in that model, we would have also included the Roland FP-10 in our “buy” list. If a technician does not “stretch tune” a piano properly then your piano tuning will be messed up in a big way…and I have personally seen and heard this happen to a variety of pianos.
But unfortunately the original piano recorded into a digital piano is not tuned well then that digital piano will also be “messed up” in different ways when playing certain interval notes together and unfortunately that’s been our experience with the Roland FP10, but not on some other Roland pianos such as HP and GP pianos. Although it can be a complex subject, if you want to know more about “stretch tuning” and how it works and why it’s necessary “(if done right), go to the following link to learn more on that subject: Stretch Tuning Explanation Video. But do stay away from the other off-brands we mentioned at the beginning of this review as there are plenty of options here in the good name brands without needing to get an off-brand that you may come to regret buying as many other people have done. Don’t buy a PSO…buy a better piano! Also, Please check out our review on many other digital pianos under $2000 and under $1000 at the following links: Top 10 Digital Pianos Under $2000