Given how much choice you have when it comes to all the other furniture you bring into your home, it seems a little odd that most digital pianos look pretty much the same. Sure, you can often pick from a couple of colour options, but finding a piano that deviates from the design norm is surprisingly difficult.
Enter the Donner DDP-80, which emphatically does not look like every other home digital piano on the market. In fact, with its brown wooden casing (alright, MDF casing) and mid-century styling, the instrument it most closely resembles is the classic Clavinet D6. And, rather than having a stand with end cheeks and a back panel, the DDP-80 simply has four flared-out slimline legs that are screwed to the bottom.
You’ll also note the absence of any visible controls. In fact, the only things you can press or turn are the power button and volume control on the rear panel. These are joined by 1/4-inch audio and headphone outputs, a sustain pedal input, a USB port for MIDI connection to a computer or other device, and a socket for the power supply.
A further connector – used to plug in the supplied three-pedal unit – is located underneath the piano, and there’s a music stand (emblazoned with a gold Donner logo) that screws to the top.
If you’re wondering why there aren’t any sound selection buttons it’s because the DDP-80 bucks digital piano convention again by only featuring a single, non-editable grand piano preset. Powered by the ‘DREAM’ sound engine, this features samples from a “French grand piano”, captured at multiple velocities with the aim of giving you plenty of scope for expression and control over musical dynamics.
This is played on an 88-note keyboard with a progressive hammer action, so the low-end keys feel a little heavier than the top-end ones, as you’d find on a real grand piano. Finally, there are two downward-firing built-in speakers that are powered by a 2 x 20W amplifier.
When it comes to talking about whether you should buy the DDP-80 you have to start with the design. In our view, it’s a breath of fresh air in what is, aesthetically, a fairly conservative market, but we’re aware it won’t be to everyone’s taste.
Get up close and you may be able to spot that this thing is MDF rather than ‘real’ wood, but given the DDP-80’s price point, that’s fair enough.
If we were being hyper-critical, we’d point out that the metal legs are a slightly different shade of brown to the piano itself, so there’s a lack of consistency there, but our biggest problem with the look of the DDP-80 is actually the pedal set, which is very obviously plastic and comes in a further shade of brown that makes it look like it doesn’t quite belong. Tucked away down on the floor is definitely the best place for it.
We’re fully onboard with what Donner has tried to do with the look of the DDP-80, though, and it’s nice to have a flat surface on the top to write notes or put your coffee down on. Just make sure you use a coaster, yeah?
You might also want to factor in some budget for the companion piano stool, which will complete the look.
We’d call the DDP-80’s sound acceptable rather than stellar. It’s bright, but with a slightly synthetic tone that you don’t get on the absolute top-end digital pianos. The keyboard is reasonably playable, if a little clunky and loud at times – if you’ve got the volume turned down fairly low the sound of the keys can be a little distracting.
Speaking of which, while we like the DDP-80’s clean lines, putting the volume control round the back feels like a compromise too far. This is unlikely to be a ‘set and forget’ knob – particularly if you switch between using the speakers and headphones – and turning it either up or down is fiddly to say the least, particularly if you’ve got the piano up close to a wall.
The speakers themselves, though, sound really rather good – certainly loud enough to fill a room, and with no noticeable distortion. In fact, it would have been nice to have a line-in and Bluetooth audio support, so you could stream music through the speakers and play along with it.
It would be easy to criticise the DDP-80 for only having one sound, but we suspect that most of the people who are interested in buying a design-led piano like this won’t really care if they don’t have Rhodes, organ and vibes presets – much as they wouldn’t worry about it if they bought an acoustic piano.
What’s more, it’s now so easy and affordable to get hold of a stack of other sounds (and a different selection of acoustic pianos) on your computer, tablet or phone that there’s a very simple workaround, particularly as the DDP-80 can be used as a MIDI controller. You won’t be able to play these through the built-in speakers, though.
Of course, the DDP-80’s one-trick nature could be a problem if you want to use it as a one-for-all stage piano – it’s light enough to lug around, and the legs can be removed/attached very easily – but again, an iPad and a few apps will help you get around that.
We’d say that Donner is on to something with the DDP-80, then. If it looked the same as every other digital piano on the market it’d be nothing special – and if you want multiple premium sounds and a top-notch key action then you’ll need to look elsewhere – but if you’re taken by the design and the aforementioned limitations aren’t a concern, this is a unique, slightly daring purchase that will make far more of a statement in your living room than its identikit rivals.