3rd time lucky? – CP88 aftertaste

Another hour with the CP88.

I had noticed something on the most recent review, which I needed to investigate further. It has two stereo analog outs.

  1. A set on 1/4 inch jacks, with the Left also labelled “mono”, implying that if this is the only output plugged in, the piano would sum both channels. This is a feature pretty common on all the Yamaha digital instruments, I have ever used. In many circumstances, especially when playing live, you may have only one channel on the mixer assigned to the keyboard, for convenience, and one of the reasons why this may be acceptable is because most audiences at a live event are listening in mono.
  2. Another set on balanced XLR’s with the Left channel ominously not having any additional labeling, regarding “mono” summing.

Because the balanced XLR’s did not explicitly have any “mono” designation on their Left output channel, it was foolhardy to simply assume that this feature would apply to them also. Solution to my inquiry – test and hear if there was a difference.

I did and true to the omitted “mono” labeling, the balanced XLR Left channel does not sum Left and Right. So Yamaha to their credit labelled this accurately.

What’s the difference? The mono summed 1/4 inch jack left channel has a collapsed depth of field, and sounds tiny, and I no longer enjoyed the sound. My earlier audition had the keyboard connected via one cable to the speaker, on the left XLR channel., and reverting to a balanced XLR connection, after listening to the mono summed version via 1/4 inch jack, I definitely preferred the non-summed sound via XLR.

It would have been great to hear what the right XLR channel, on its own would sound like, solo, but I had already bothered the store attendant more than probably anyone else reviewing this keyboard over two session, that I felt reticent to ask for more.

I could write a whole piece about auditioning pianos in a store, digital in particular

This really changes things….., and as much as I gave the Yamaha a glowing recommendation, in this configuration, via mono summed 1/4 inch left output only connected, this is not a piano sound I would recommend.

The other thing that nagged me was this unshakable impression of stumpyness, a heavy footedness in the piano sounds especially the acoustic,  where you had to really make an effort to play delicately, a bit more so than on a Yamaha CP33 stage piano, which I play most days, and am pretty familiar with. So the CP88 does the forte well, but no piano (soft)…the lower velocities having not been sampled very well…., especially on the acoustic pianos.

The Utube video at the link or image below, sheds light on this challenge of digital pianos. I do find that the more expensive hybrid Yamaha pianos do a better job of this dynamic range, however playing them is not as even handed in touch as pianos like the CP88, which are so well regulated. I guess it takes a lot of money to regulate the more expensive actions perfectly, cos there is so much more physics and components to get right.

So it really depends on what kind of music you make, and how much you want in one keyboard. Not too sure if the default sound on the CP88 would do classical very well (not that that is my genre). While most of my review to date has been to hear what the basic pianos in each category sound like, especially without all the effects, to hear the pure sound as much as possible, well I kinda left the reverb on – it was not distractive and in the default setting adds just a bit of effective realism to all the sounds, otherwise everything sounds too close miked. Distractive – is that a real word in the English language??

The third category of the CP88 sounds, with acoustic and electronic being the 1st two broad categories, which are all individually layerrable, has accompaniment sounds like strings, pads, organs, and let’s say I was underwhelmed, Yamaha should not have bothered. If you want lush strings, look elsewhere… what I heard in this category is unmissable.

So if looking for a recent single stage piano, in hardware form, keys and sound engine on one device, the current alternatives would be :

  1. Nord Stage 3
  2. Nord Piano 4
  3. Nord Grand (soon to be released – which bumps up the piano memory from the 1GB on the Nord Piano 4 to 2GB, and replaces a Fatar action with one from Kawai)
  4. Roland RD2000
  5. Korg Grandstage
  6. Korg Kronos
  7. A used Yamaha Motif XF, XS or S90ES
  8. A used Roland RD800 or RD700NX.
  9. A used Yamaha CP33 or new/used Yamaha CP300 (Yes this 9+ year old keyboard can still be bought new, and has great sounds – Yamaha still makes them…new)

A little research indicates that the Nords also have a challenge with the difference in the sound of mono and stereo, in their case having a dedicated mono button, but I have it on good advice that similar to my experience with the Yamaha, some prefer to avoid using it., and make do with the subordinate sound of one half of the stereo pair, in circumstances where only one channel is amplified, or recorded.

I have not tried the comparison of the RD2000, in stereo/mono, so cannot say.

Why bother with all this minutiae? Partly because a lot of the demos one hears of these instruments, on Utube, are in stereo, and if you think this is what you will hear on a live stage connected with just one audio channel active, think again.

This challenge is as old as the invention of stereo capable digital pianos, and I am a bit surprised to find out that it is still a major issue, if you are picky about your piano sounds. And I think you have to be, if you wish to be as emotionally authentic, and/or give value to your paying or non paying audience. If the experience of listening to you play is or should be an important one, then you want to get it as good as possible.

While the samples may not be as pristine and accurate, it was comforting to discover a more satisfactory resolution of this stereo summing issue, when I got back later in the day to play the CP33, which IMHO, has a more balanced resolution of the dynamic (forte/piano) challenge, and it’s mono sound when using only the Left 1/4 inch jack output, is acceptable….

I am tempted to have one more go, to review what are known as Yamaha’s Live sets, which are combinations of the three main sound categories, kind of like their master programming of production ready sounds which you can use without having to tweak yourself, i.e part of what you pay for is Yamaha’s expertise at creating combi sounds, something they should be good at – should – from their EX5, Motif and Montage pedigree. But that assumption, like everything else needs to be verified.

The video at this link gives an example of the end user having to tweak a Roland RD2000 piano sound to provide something more suitable for classical music.

So this is something to consider, do you want to become a piano engineer, or want to focus on creating music, practice, and performance and composition. In the old days of synthesizers, you had programmers whose job was to create great sounds, and got paid for it, the most successful being Eric Persing of Spectrasonics/Roland fame. So when you got a keyboard it came with great sounds. It’s part of what you paid for.

So only you can determine if the sounds of a specific keyboard work for you or not. And the more I look at things, the dream of having a single keyboard from Nord, Yamaha, Roland, Kawai, which has ALL of the following features is slim, based on their current or announced offerings.

  1. Great keyboard action
  2. Excellent piano sounds – acoustic, electric.
  3. Very good other sounds, organ, etc
  4. Solves the mono issue.
  5. Comes with great patches in the box, so tweaking is a bonus
  6. Has some easy to use tweakability, which allows you to tailor and examine options, to create your own sound over time, but out of the box you do not have to do this, cos there are a good number of sounds close enough to what you have in mind.
  7. Durability.
  8. Of course not too heavy to take to the gig.

The ultimate solution, may be a two keyboard rig, one weighted keys for pianos action, and another like one of the Nord Electros for other sounds.

A good example of this is here. In conclusion it is not likely to be inexpensive. Or like him you rent as needed. Note all the videos are in stereo, so not sure how they will sound on stage..!! in mono… At this time, the Nord’s get the nod for an all in one that comes closest to the wish list above. – but do beware – that Fatar action has never been the most reliable, but I guess with gigging pianists in some parts of the world, not their problem, they only have to rent the item, and its someone else’s headache when the keys fail.


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