Yamaha CP88 – The 2nd coming of a 5* stage piano

I gave this stage piano a 2nd audition. And in my most honest opinion this is a keeper – it gets 5 stars from me.

Playback was via a Neo Acoustic LA10 speaker, this is an in-house brand of Dawsons, at the time of this writing – £349, one of those column speakers on a stick, with a subwoofer as the bass and base. As I played the piano in a sitting position, the speaker extension column was removed so that the section containing tweeters and midrange speakers was lowered to just above the base/bass, and closer to my ear height – just below.

If I may add, playback is such an important aspect of any electronic instrument. Not that I advocate their purchase, but many of the budget keyboards like the Yamaha P45 sound definitely better when played through other speakers instead of the tiny little speakers on the keyboard, which do no justice to the sounds on any keyboard. I strongly advocate that one needs a speaker with a woofer of at least 10 inches (if using a PA speaker) or at least 6 inches (if using a studio monitor), to really hear what the instrument sounds like, and this makes a huge difference to appreciating its sound.

With that out out of the way, I adjusted my seat, positioned the tweeter column angled towards me, and the audition began.

As the piano had been switched on in the store, next thing was to sort out the volume, ensure there that all the bass, and treble controls on the speakers and on the keyboard were set to flat.

What can I say?, about 80 minutes of non-stop playing ensued, and this is one of those keyboards, that has earned the kind of reverence I had for the Roland LX-17 and Roland LX-15 pianos. Three words, satiety, clarity, punch. This is one keyboard that deserves the very best of speaker amplification, it is worth every extra penny you spend on amplifying it optimally. I am pretty convinced that some of the advantage of the Roland LX-17, Roland LX-15 and the Yamaha-CLP 585 and 685 are their higher quality speakers.

By default, certain features are turned on such as damper resonance (most likely also related to a similar feature on software based samples of pianos – aka sympathetic resonance), and a bit of reverb also turned on. It’s very easy to turn these off as the CP88 provides a good number of controls without having to dig into menus.

Unlike the Roland RD’s which attempt to assuage you with lots of sounds, a lot of which is simply several different variations on the same theme – you find this approach on instruments like the Roland Fantom, lots of patches all sounding almost the same, based on the same fundamental piano samples…, the CP88 taks the less is more approach, 2 or three different main pianos is each category – Acoustic Grand, Uprights, CP (which is sampled from the original Yamaha CP80), and similar in the section for electroacoustic instruments emulating Rhodes, Clavinets, Wurlutzers and includes a DX7 electric piano sample. Rather than lots of variations of each, you get just a few typically no more than 3 or 4, and you can use the controls that are easily within reach, to tweak the sound to taste

Of any keyboard I have ever used, this was more like sitting at an instrument like the old Rhodes piano, and being able to tweak to taste with controls right in front of you. Add or reduce reverb, compression, chorus, wah-wah, and more, and the real highlight for me was the EQ, very effective, albeit I would say, I have spend far more time than I dare to admit, using EQ’s as a mixing engineer, and also adjusting eqs for pianos in a mix, so this comes more naturally to me, if I hear a sound, I know exactly what frequency and what filters to change to get me the sound I desire. So for me – the Yamaha EQ section is a big plus. With a few turns you can dial in pretty much most of the sound you want, on any piano.

So each default piano patch is only a starting point. Its easy with a few quick turns to take it much further in the direction of your intentions. With this and the volume knob, I could do 80% of whatever I wanted and that’s never happened on any digital piano – never…, and I can achieve all of this in about 10 seconds, max, on any patch….

Now to the CP88 sound, this applies to all the sounds, bold, clean, very clean, in your face, a bit bright, stark naked, warts and all, hanging it all out there in full view. Yamaha have taken a huge risk to create an instrument that is very revealing of their original samples. This is the new Yamaha sound to define a whole new world of gigging professionals. This is an instrument that does not rely on effects to cover up shortcomings. Shockingly I was very satisfied with using the sounds – plain, turning off ALL the effects on each sound, relying only on EQ to take the sound where I wanted it to go, for a particular piece of music, darker, brighter, all done with ease – and no modulation or time based effects… The sounds stand up to the utmost scrutiny – very well sampled.

At the heart of this instrument is honesty like I have never heard in a digital instrument, you may not like some of its sounds, cos this is about presenting Yamaha’s vision of piano, in digital form. You may not like the sound of the Yamaha and Bosendorfer, acoustic pianos, in their default presentation, but with some tweaks of the eq, they will take you at least 70% of the way towards most of the sound you want to hear. Yes you will probably need to adjust your chords and polyphony and inversions to suit this instrument, but I daresay, this is a keyboard that will make you a much better pianist, and I explain.

On one end of the digital emulative piano are instruments like the Korg M1, and the Motif or Fantom and the Korg Triton/Trinity, whose pianos are obviously not as authentic as the real thing, with a sound that has lots of harmonics, rich and luscious in comparison to a real piano, for pop music with minimal polyphony (fewer notes in a chord) and minimal playing, you get a fully featured result. On these instruments you are not encouraged to attempt any complex classical music, they would sound like garbage, cos too much would be going on.

The CP88 is the other extreme, pared back, not too much harmonics on each note, with very strong fundamentals, so there is no hiding place, but you have all 88 notes to create the richness you need, so hammer away, all fingers blazing, create any chord your fingers can get away with, and every single note will ring out distinctly, without any smearing. This keyboard looks at you and says – is that all you’ve got, it will take any level of complex playing, deliver all the notes with aplomb, and stare back at you without breaking a sweat. You will need to up your game on this keyboard, no two fingered chords will do here….In simple terms this is a keyboard for the pianist who can play, it will force anyone to play better and improve. It’s the closest to a high quality concert level piano in portable digital form, allowing you to perform at that level if you have the ability.

The black keys – now this is special, rather than gloss or matt, they look like some kind of wood with a grain (may be plastic but I’d have to check), which has friction, surprisingly no one else seems to have highlighted this unique feature. So the black keys are the most non slippery I have ever come across, and they look cool. Unfortunately there’s no way to see this in any of the publicity photos, you have to audition the keys in person, to see for yourself.

After a few minutes of acclimatization, the keybed is one of the best I have ever laid hands on, very, very fast response, weighted but not too heavy, not tiring, you can play anything on this keyboard if you have the chops. Very even response on every key, – its got wood in the white keys for sure, a very high quality keybed, that is a joy to play.

Overall the keyboard is a professional instrument, big, bold, but not as bulky as the Roland RD2000, a good balance between having no controls like on the Yamaha CP4, and having too many controls and blinking lights and sliders, like on the Nord Stage 3, Nord Piano 4 and the RD2000 (which could be good for lighting Xmas trees – lots of lights), once you’ve tweaked the few controls you need, the vista in front of you is relatively uncluttered and you can be on your merry way focusing on the music, no light houses like the Yamaha Montage !!. The black is demure, and invisible. I can imagine though it should not take too much to get someone with the competency to change the color to something more individual – if I was a gigging pianist, or a major label artist, I’d have mine in color bands like what Elton John might have had commissioned.

As you dig into the higher velocities, this keyboard opens up, on any of the instruments, acoustic pianos, electric pianos, whatever, and more so than the authenticity of emulation, is this aspect – it behaves like an instrument, not the instrument that was sampled, but this new incarnation of the original, at your service, to deliver a performance that translates a human emotion. Now that’s what an instrument does – convey something from the ethereal and make it plain for others to see and hear – the CP88 does this more effortlessly than any other digital portable piano, to date. Does it have its own signature – yes, but in a way this is also good, it does not sound like any other instrument, and each time you play it, you can make it distinctly your own instrument, by the settings you prefer and the way you play. Rather than impose its signature on your sound, you are in control of the wheel to steer the CP88 where you want to go, with your tweaks and your fingers, and feet at the pedals.

It oozes confidence, looks like a keyboard that will wear well, and be in use in 30+ years from now and still be in contention with any keyboard of the future, no matter how good future keyboards become. Very, Very well built metal casing. You know you are playing one of the best, electronic instruments ever made.

I own a Yamaha CP33 stage piano, and get a lot of joy from it. While I was not pleased with the more recent stage pianos from Yamaha like the CP1(too expensive), CP4 (samples not very good sounding), the CP88 restores Yamaha’s leadership of portable digital keyboards, if piano is your main instrument. It may not excel at other sounds – pads, strings, etc, but what it does it does very very well. I think for an instrument with the clarity of what I have heard, that does not need any hiding place, a keyboard that looks like you will never need to replace it, and a musical instrument that may outlive you, it’s worth every penny – if you can play it – not a keyboard for beginners, but any beginner on this piano will soon become a piano giant, with consistent practice, it will force you to get better, cos it can take anything you throw at it without breaking a sweat.

If you need a good portable piano, this is the one to get, that you will never ever be ashamed of, no matter what else comes in the future, or whatever anyone else owns.

I won’t bore you with feature lists, you can find that elsewhere on the web and on Yamaha’s site, but I do hope I’ve been able to convey the heart and soul and feel of this INSTRUMENT, that translates human emotions very well, with very little coloration of your intentions, if any.

It is not the keyboard to end your need for other keyboards, but the keyboard to form the firmest foundation, of what is available today, of highly expressive tones to build your songs, encourage you to practice, guaranty your confidence at any rehearsal, bathe your audience in delight, afford your recordings a level of unashamed clarity that will stand the test of time…, and not break your back when you need to move it.

Whatever you do check with Yamaha about getting a good case for it. This is a keeper that you want to preserve in pristine condition, forever. I am certain this will be a classic…Get one while you can. My concern is that Yamaha may with its success add features to a new model and discontinue it too soon, the CP88 however reminds me of the Yamaha CP300 the godfather of stage pianos, another classic, that at the last check, is still in production well over 7 years after it was released… This must be the CP300 reincarnate.

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