Review: An 88-Key Piano So Ridiculously Feature Rich It Should Be Illegal
Finally, a digital piano manufacturer that actually listens to what users have been asking for. The Donner SE-1 is an 88-key hammer action digital piano that has a feature set that trumps every existing competitor out there for just over $500
I am going to review the key-action, sound quality, various features, and functionalities of this home piano and demonstrate the onboard sounds in order to help you make a better buying decision.
One of the most important features when getting a digital piano keyboard is the key action. Just like an acoustic piano, this keyboard from Donner comes with 88 full-size weighted keys with a graded hammer action.
The keys on the lower register are heavier and get progressively lighter as you play the higher notes. The key weights are suitable for beginner to intermediate piano players but advanced pianists may find the touch a little light. The action is fast enough for demanding classical pieces but is not the fastest.
To dampen key noise, Donner incorporated a felt strip that lines the pivot points of the keys.
I would have preferred a red felt strip like most acoustic pianos instead of black but that is purely an aesthetic preference. At this entry-level price, it is great that we are getting 128 note polyphony when the big brands offer just 64 notes of polyphony. Unless you are an advanced pianist playing technically demanding pieces, beginner to intermediate musicians are unlikely to run out of polyphony.
More information and technical specs of this Donner digital piano can be found right here. You can check out my beginner piano app as well as some beginner video courses and course materials available for you. Also, do check out this free 25 Piano lesson too.
Tones Selection and Quality
In this price bracket, digital pianos usually come with 10 to 20 sounds and these sounds are the usual standard selection of pianos, organs, and strings.
Surprisingly this Donner piano comes with a wide selection of 200 tones including brass, woodwinds, and synth sounds. While the default stereo acoustic piano multi-sample is detailed and woody, one would be naive to think that all the 200 tones are top-notch.
About 70% of the 200 tones sound good however, the remaining sounds are not something that I would actually play. Thankfully, you get 8 levels of both reverb and chorus effects to sweeten up the tone depending on your repertoire.
Adjusting the effects is easy, without the need for a separate app which many of the competition required.
It is uncommon at this price but this digital piano can layer 2 voices and split different tones across the keyboard.
What is even more impressive is the volume mix of the dual and split voices can be effortlessly adjusted which is rare at this price bracket. For classical and jazz pianists, the triple pedals controlling sustain, sostenuto, and soft are useful.
For those who intend to carry this piano around without the wooden stand for performances, a single pedal is included in the box.
You can find out more about the tones and effects of this digital piano here.
The established brands really need to learn the value of having an LCD screen on their budget digital pianos. Donner incorporated a monochrome LCD screen which makes tone selection quick and easy.
The sound settings can be seen at a glance and tweaking various effects and parameters was also a breeze. All thanks to the extremely useful LCD screen which almost every big established brand leaves out in order to maximize their profits.
Rhythms and Metronome
One of the most effective ways to improve your sense of timing and musical groove is to practice with a rhythm or a metronome. This digital piano comes with 100 rhythms and a fully-featured metronome.
Unlike the competition at this price bracket, these are more than just drum beats.
Each rhythm comes with 2 musical accompaniments which you can control with chord input using your left hand. Each rhythm also comes with an intro and an ending.
If you are expecting accompaniment patterns as well programmed as those found on dedicated arranger keyboards, you may be disappointed.
However, for a digital piano at this price point, nothing else beats this. For practicing classical pieces, the metronome is highly functional and intuitive.
With the LCD screen, setting the time signature and tempo is effortless.
If you want a more powerful rhythm arranger 88-key digital piano, check it out here.
It is impressive how Donner thought through the tone and rhythm selection process. You can scroll through the voices and rhythms if you are just auditioning tones you want to use. If you already know a specific voice or rhythm, you can just punch in the exact number corresponding to that tone or rhythm.
Digital pianos at this price bracket from competing brands do not give you the ability to save your own voice and rhythm settings. When you turn off your piano, the settings which you painstakingly configured are gone and you have to reprogram your sounds from scratch. Thankfully, this piano has the ability for me to store 4 of my most commonly used sound and rhythm sets.
It would be nice to have more registration memory slots, but at this price, I cannot complain. Two headphone jacks and a USB slot for a flash drive are conveniently located facing the player.
On other digital pianos, you have to reach all the way behind to the rear panel just to plug in and out your headphones or a USB flash drive, which are commonly used accessories.
To my surprise that Donner included a pair of headphones in the box bonus for those who do not have a pair at home a nice gesture as this is never seen from any manufacturer
For those of us who sing and play or accompany other musicians on our keyboard, having the transpose feature on the panel is helpful. While this piano has a transpose feature, you have to go into the menu to access it. Therefore, this may be a dealbreaker for some of you.
If you want to learn music with an app, play with unlimited 3rd party sounds, or produce music on your mobile device or laptop, Donner includes every imaginable connection. In addition to the usual USB port for a wired connection, this piano has both wireless MIDI and wireless Bluetooth audio right out of the box.
There is no need to plug in an adaptor like the competition and there is no need for complicated pairing procedures.
Just by turning on the Bluetooth on your phone and you can immediately see the MIDI and audio connection to the piano. The biggest surprise is the inclusion of a pair of 5 DIN MIDI in/out connections which is very useful for controlling other keyboards and synth modules. This feature has literally disappeared from almost every budget keyboard and digital piano released in the last 4 years and it is awesome that Donner included these.
The onboard stereo speakers are powered by a pair of 15 watts amplifiers with a total output of 30 watts.
While the onboard speakers lack dynamic range, the volume is more than sufficient for small venues. For better sound quality you should use a pair of headphones and for larger venues, you can use the audio output to connect to a PA system. A power adapter is included in the box unlike most of the competition where you may need to separately purchase one.
Check out here for the best configuration of this digital piano that suits your needs best. Also here I have recommendations for speakers, headphones, microphones, and other connectivity devices which you might be looking for.
At just 23 lbs or about 10½ kg for those across the pond, the versatility of this digital piano is evident.
It took me only 2 minutes to remove 4 screws under the piano and this keyboard becomes a standalone unit for performances and gigs using the included single pedal.
When I get home from my gigs, it takes another 2 minutes to secure the wooden furniture stand with the triple pedal unit making this Donner piano a handsome addition to any decor.
I cannot stop being amazed that the Donner SE-1 digital piano manages to fulfill all my piano practice and home studio needs while being portable for the times I need a full-size 88-key hammer action keyboard for playing in church and busking on the street.
However are there keyboards that sound better? Yes. Are there keyboards that have a better key action? Yes. But nothing else comes close to a holistic and complete package
I hope you found my review of the Donner SE-1 useful. Do check out the links provided in this article for the latest and most updated information and prices on Donner SE-1. Do also take a look at my other articles to find the best and most suited instrument for your personal need. Also, check out my Piano App and beginner keyboard course available for you