Monthly Archives: September 2017

Insight – Digital Pianos – Late 2017

If I recall rightly I concluded the most recent post with the resolve that we already have enough, to get us to the next step in our journey. I believe that God provides this, and by this we can be expectant for the great future ahead, yet content that we are already in a good place to propel us into the next step.

I hear a lot about mindfulness – my interpretation of this is – being aware of now or who/what/where/why and how we are at this point in time.

Further to my most recent review of digital pianos, Yamaha released their Clavinova CLP 685 which replaces the CLP 585. Let’s see how this changes the current status quo, in non portable digital pianos.

The 685, from what I can see and hear, the key changes, of import to me are :

  1. A new keybed known as GrandTouch, which now adds escapement, more ivory like keys.
  2. To my ears, a more digitally accurate version of the piano sample. More present, especially in the higher and lower frequencies. May be improved Digital to Analog converters, or analog circuitry and what sounds like better speakers.

The latter improvement is two edged, on the one hand, it exposes a really transparent start naked, nicely oiled version of the sampled pianos – CFX and Bosendorfer, in a remarkable way, but with absolutely no wart, pimple, not a spot – very very clean.

But sometimes as with everything digital, too much accuracy can take away from the reality of a natural instrument. In this case, it lays the CFX samples, in particular, so bare that you have Marmite moments, you either absolutely love the CFX samples or do not.

From infrequent auditions over a few months, and also as I discover, as my understanding of piano sounds has improved (to my delightful surprise), I discern things that I was not aware of before.

For some songs, the CFX and Bosendorfer samples have too much of a strong character, and particularly with the CFX, a bold attack, lots of nice sustain, which you need to keep in check with diminished use of the sustain pedal, and I found myself needing to elicit the una corda (soft) pedal, to tame certain passages, such as the ending of phrases, cos the power of the piano was almost like a wild. Good foot and tummy exercise, seems to do wonders for the core.

In comparison to other digital pianos, there seems to be less dynamic range in volume and tone, needing you to play quite delicately to unleash the velvet tones, without using the una corda.

From one perspective this is probably an accurate representation of the CFX sound – bold, concert piano, that rings out loud, calling all to attention, from all of the land. Playing soft, and obtaining aural feedback of the softer tone, with less overtones, and a less prickly attack, is somewhat hard work, as the fundamental tone of pianissimo is not far off from forte, only lower in volume. The softer lower velocity notes are not wrapped in felt gloves, delicate, but rather ring out a bit too much, for some music. Pianoforte takes a fair amount of adjustment, difficult to reign in this runaway horse. It is hard to please everyone, with one piano sample – all comments above refer to the numero uno CFX preset. Some of the other presets like the Ballad piano – do provide a more emotionally engaging intimate piano, for contemplative genres.

At the same listening session, I found the Roland LX17 to have a more natural transition between soft and loud, though the piano samples are also a bit Marmite – if less so than the Yamaha – LX17 clearly an attempt to replicate a Steinway grand tone. Richer overtones than the CLP 685.

Auditioning the Kawai CA97 at the same session, revealed something I had not heard so distinctly before, too many overtones, resulting in a strident tone, so many frequencies competing for attention, that focus is diluted, and distractions like a smear on the camera lens, obstruct the main subject. It would be really hard to fall in love with this tone.

I came out of this with an impression that the CA97 is at one extreme of tone – lots of string sound, percussive overtones, harmonics, buzzing, busy bee, while the CLP 685 was at the other extreme, clinical, ascetic, bare, digital, modern, with the LX17 as a happy in between – superb key action, great dynamics, capable of being bright when you dig into it with force, zero learning curve – no need to resort to the use of una corda restraints, unless you really want to, as variances in note velocity were sufficient to “adjust” the piano sound to suit a significant spectrum of desired tone and volume, on each note.

Not unsurprisingly, the LX17 also is the most expensive of the aforementioned. I only wish the LX17 included the wonderful darker tone of the previous Roland flagship, the LX15.

Regrettably, there also seems no point in purchasing many of the non flagship digital piano non portable models from Yamaha, Roland or Kawai, cos the real mackoy is in the flagship model, if you want a great tone encased in a traditional piano cabinet simile.