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Digital Pianos

Digital Pianos

Digital Pianos continue to close acoustic gap

Versatility and choice is one clear advantage that the digital piano enjoys. With the spectrum of sounds now broader than ever, along with all manner of built-in songs to play along to and learn, these contemporary alternatives certainly have more tricks at their disposal.

Adam Savage observes the progress manufacturers have made recently in this market

Having moved on considerably from the dodgy 1980s models, digital pianos now have their acoustic brethren looking nervously over their shoulders. Adam Savage sees how close they’re getting to the ‘real thing’…

It seems almost inevitable – and virtually unavoidable – when attempting to provide an overview of the digital piano sector to go back once again to the old argument of acoustic versus digital pianos.
 
As every year goes by, and manufacturers unveil yet more new or updated versions to add to their various lines, it cannot be ignored that – while running the risk of getting an earful from the traditionalists – technological advances are bringing these young upstarts ever closer in terms of quality to the acoustic counterparts they endlessly strive to emulate.

But that’s a clear point right there – emulation. The main selling points of today’s best digital pianos often revolve around how similar they are to the ‘real thing’, so, if you had to choose – and budget wasn’t an option – why not just go for an acoustic?

Versatility and choice is one clear advantage that the digital piano enjoys. With the spectrum of sounds now broader than ever, along with all manner of built-in songs to play along to and learn, these contemporary alternatives certainly have more tricks at their disposal.

For many homeowners, a piano is one of the most desirable pieces of furniture they can acquire in order to create the ideal lounge environment, but until the digital piano came along, price and space issues were the most common reasons as to why so many were forced simply to carry on dreaming.

Now, it is much easier for that dream to become reality and although a large percentage of owners would probably still secretly wish for that corner of the room to be home to a nice acoustic, today’s offerings are capable of delivering such startling similarity to what they aspire to, many modern ivory tinklers can no longer think of many reasons not to go digital.

What follows, then, is a quick look at what the new decade has so far brought to this constantly evolving market.
  
For piano purists worried that converting to digital would result in a drop in quality – in areas such as performance, feel and appearance – Roland has come up with something that is about as close as you can realistically get to the very top-end acoustic instruments, the V-Piano Grand.

With the use of new grand piano modelling methods on top of what was already available from the V-Piano, this sublime piece of kit offers extremely realistic sound, touch and response and a one-of-a-kind multi-channel sound system that syncs with the user’s own personal performance style.
 
Another nice touch is the Deluxe PHA III Ivory Feel keyboard with escapement, which helps enforce the counter argument against those that turn their noses up at these modern alternatives, saying they don’t have the same feel of quality under the fingertips.

From a completely different area within this sector, the RD-300NX stage piano is another newcomer from Roland. The company’s innovative Supernatural sound engine has previously been exclusive to the more bulky and immobile models from the brand, but this represents the utilisation of this unique technology in a portable, gig-worthy format.

An Innovative Sound Focus feature makes sure that each note is clearly audible within the mix without affecting the sound and it also comes with the  One Touch Piano feature and an attractive graphic LCD.

A huge selection of top quality sounds is accessible and this is another piano to be installed with the new Ivory Feel-G keyboard, complete with escapement.

Another fine option is the FP7F, which involves the integration of four key components into one model – the Supernatural Piano engine, the PHA III Ivory Feel-S keyboard with escapement, an onboard looper and a mic input along with harmony effects.
 
This piano also comes with a DP-10 damper pedal and the option of an RPU-3 triple-pedal unit or KSC-44 keyboard stand and is perfect as either a professional stage piano or home-based instrument.
  
The clear boss in this particular MI department, however, is unquestionably Yamaha, whose digital piano offering is so successful for some retailers, many can’t think of a reason to stock any other brand in this area of the market.

Musikmesse will see the launch of several new digital pianos from the corporation, with the highlight being the new CLP400 series.
 
This range will include various new technologies to help create what Yamaha calls Real Grand Expression and includes models starting at £1,500, going all the way up to £4,000.

Yamaha’s Avant Grand range will also be getting a new member, the N1. This will become the entry-level of what is the peak of the company’s digital piano technology and the firm claims it is capable of delivering the same tone and touch delivered by the CFIIIS concert grand, but in a smaller and (far) more affordable package.
 
The N1’s piano action has been developed to accurately match that of a grand piano with detailed sensitivity and its speaker setup ensures that the sound is heard best at the pianist’s position. This three-way system is comprised of a woofer, mid-range and tweeter speakers that accurately reproduce the soundboard’s resonance.

The market leading Clavinova range has also been updated with the CLP Slimline series. The CLP-S406 and CLP-S408 have been designed primarily for in-home use and areas with little floor space. This new line has been enhanced with an improved piano touch and tone and is available in Black Walnut and Polished Ebony finishes.

Both models boast an Intelligent Acoustic Control function, which helps create a complete, rich sound and can plug straight into a house sound system, using the built-in speakers as monitors.

A key player in the acoustic piano sector, Intermusic has also been making in-roads into the digital market over the past few years with its Bentley line.

This year, Intermusic is introducing a new stage piano to the Bentley lineup, the Stage Pro. This Chinese-made instrument has been developed to reproduce a keyboard response similar to a digital piano’s hammer action keyboard, but all in a compact and easily transportable package.

With its 88-note hammer-action keyboard, multi-layer sampling technology and touch sensitivity control system, this model gives the user excellent control over the piano sound and also provides top quality touch and feel. The standard Stage Pro includes a graded hammer keyboard developed by Orla and the Stage Pro Light utilises a lightweight, Italian-made Fatar hammer action keyboard.
 
Also from Bentley is the Compact stage piano, which features four levels of touch sensitivity, 64-note polyphony, a real-time record and playback function and eight PCM voices, including quality grand piano, two electric pianos and harpsichord samples.
 
Bentley’s Classic digital piano offers sustain, soft and sostenuto pedal controls, eight demo songs and a backlit LCD display and the Concerto provides 137 voices with PCM stereo digital sampling, 100 auto-accompaniments, a deluxe cabinet with forward facing speakers and a multi-track USB record and playback feature.
    
The big current news in the digital piano arena from Korg is its new SP-170S, which will be launched at Musikmesse and will hit the UK in May. Featuring clean and streamlined controls for easy sound selection, this model is equipped with Korg’s new natural weighted hammer action, which helps deliver an acoustic touch, as well as a key touch control system, with three sensitivity levels that matches the keyboard’s response to the user’s playing style.

The SP250 from Korg features well-sampled concert grand piano sounds and an RH3 real weighted hammer action, which offers different key weights in each register of the keyboard. It also gives the user access to a wide library of sounds, including church and jazz organs, string, choir and even mallet percussion options.

Its sound system is made up of two 10cm dual-cone speakers, a pair of 11-Watt amplifiers and a bass-reflex speaker system, which helps recreate the deep resonances associated with grand pianos.

Yet another brand that’s gone for the grand sound is Casio with its Celviano AP-420. Four dynamic levels of stereo piano samples have been combined with its Linear Morphing system, resulting in very realistic grand piano emulation, seamless transitions and an impressive dynamic range.

Realistic simulation of an open string sound when the dampers are raised has been achieved by the use of Acoustic Resonance DSP on the pedal and a total of 16 built-in tones can be selected, with the option to layer two sounds or split the keyboard in order to set up a bass sound for the left hand, for example.

For a good stage piano solution, the Kurzweil SP4-7 is a sensible choice. Borrowing a number of features from the PC3 range, the SP4 series offers a nice variety of acoustic piano, vintage electric piano, strings, organ, mallet, drum, bass and guitar sounds, giving the musician plenty to mess around with.
 
Its four programmable zones make it easy to forge splits and layers with a simple button press, making sound adjustment in a live setting a piece of cake. There are also downloadable sounds available online, such as extra electric pianos, KB3 organs and more.

Launched at NAMM, the SP4-8 – an 88-note version – is also soon to hit these shores – bound to please with a retail price of just £880.

Yamaha CLP-430PE – £TBC
Its weighted piano-style keys are highly effective in developing and maintaining good finger technique and the CLP400 is also equipped with redesigned cabinetry and a Panel Reveal key cover that masks all the button and technological gadgetry, giving it a more traditional appearance.

Roland V-Piano Grand – £14,166
This stunning instrument features an improved sound generator and a Progressive Damper Action pedal, allowing it to deliver an uncanny similarity to the response of an acoustic grand.

Bentley Stage Pro – £699
Over 480 sounds can be accessed from the Stage Pro, including a high quality stereo grand piano and its built-in USB disk allows for easy recording of musical data.

Kurzweil SP4 – £816
Weighing in at just 11 kilograms, the SP4-7 is one of the lightest models available from Kurzweil, making it easy for transporting between gigs.

Casio AP-420 – £929.99
The AP-420 delivers 128 notes of polyphony and can load more songs via the SD card slot, as well as connect easily to a computer thanks to its USB connection.

Korg SP170S – £TBC
Using the reverb effect gives the sound added depth and chorus provides gives extra warmth to the performance and its new speaker system offers enhanced speaker quality and improved resonance.

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Tags: Yamaha, Roland, korg, casio, kurzweil, digital piano, red lion york

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