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Yamaha CP88 Stage Piano (Portable! Digital)

This is their stage piano released in early 2019.

1st impressions from listening to Youtube demos, and some time spent playing one through a Yamaha DXR8 PA Speaker/Monitor.

Decently sampled. Best samples of any current stage piano. if you like the sound of the instruments sampled.

A new modern and bright sound (not too sure how much the DXR 8 contributed to the impression of brightness). I think in general the challenge with a lot of audio is the quality of playback however good the samples/programming.

My personal thoughts – many revered speakers, when I hear them, leave a lot to be desired. I did check to ensure that there were no EQ contours on the DXR8 modifying the sound. I do wish I could review this keyboard in my studio.

Acoustic. Direct. In your face, close miked – which is great, definitely preferred to the previous model the CP4 which sounded a bit indistinct and distant. It’s easier to add room sound than attempt to expunge it, from a sample.. The initial patches veer abit too much in the stark presentation of clinical samples, but these need some life, added to them to make them into real instruments, coupling with the air and complementary reflections.

Definitely a great idea – having the one function per control layout, without having to dig into a menu for most things (like their CP1 and CP4). So much more approachable.

A bit scared that the vintage looking rocker switches, for turning on/off each of the three sections (acoustic piano, electric piano, and other sounds) with little metal sticks, poking up from the keyboard front panel, may get damaged in transit – pretty rare to see such switches in modern keyboards../audio kit. Definitely makes them look unique. Retro.

OK Keyboard/Keybed. Hitting the higher velocities on many a Yamaha Keyboard does require some heft/welly/downforce.. and sometimes I wonder – is this a character of the Yamaha acoustic grands – not sure, it does take a bit of getting used to. I think with this keyboard I must admit there is a Yamaha keybed approach which has a thunk at the end of its travel, in comparison to the Roland keybed which has a bit of a bounce at the end of its travel. We are spoiled for choice, and have the luxury to bicker about these variations….I recall the days of lusting after a Yamaha PSR with mini keys which probably had only 4 octaves, and even that was pretty unaffordable…

As sampled, I would have loved a bit more difference in tone between the softest and loudest piano tones on the core CFX patch.. making this patch more multipurpose, a single piano that you could pretty much use for anything. The CFX tone seems a bit skewed towards classical repertoire, and the bright forte end of this spectrum, not my forte.

Sadly it did not take my breath away, and transport me to another world, the beautiful samples kept me rooted in a reality – here and now.

And then it begs the question – why music? I think a lot of music (voices, sounds, melodies, progressions) takes us into another place, away from every day reality. Pretty sure that with some effort one could program as much modulation as needed, using the provided effects, (and or external effects) to take the piano sounds into sonic nirvana land. I recall the 1st time I ever heard a DX7 played live.that electric piano variant…That is what a superb instrument should do, open the door to a new world…

In contrast – the programming on older keyboards like the Motif derived MOX8, have some of this escapism programmed into the DNA of their patches(via a combination of the samples and effects). I recall being able with very little polyphony (fewer fingered chords) to make a joyful evocative sound on the MOX8.

In contrast – there’s a wonderful electric piano patch on the Roland RD2000 which takes you into this other world and until you’ve had your fill and drunk from its excesses, you are imprisoned by its magic, and by the memory thereafter – Just for this one patch the RD2000 is worth it, especially as this sound is so unique – and unobtainable on any other keyboard.

Sadly my 1st encounter with the Yamaha CP88, played back via a Yamaha DXR 8, did not endear it to me as a prime candidate for my daily use. Great sounds, but they did not add up to a superb instrument that captivated me enough to play it for hours…- Something that the Roland LX-17 does…with ease. And which the previous Roland LX-15 oozed with an even grander darker envelope of immersive sound. The LX-15 and LX-17, I could sit and play for hours….with ease and undivided attention.

Digital pianos are definitely getting brighter, the new Roland LX-708 was way too bright, and most of its pianos disappointing, which I auditioned on the same day as the Yamaha CP88… Seriously – who is behind product design in these global businesses – do they actually play piano or love the piano? Value wise, the ROland LX-708 is not great and has only one decent acoustic piano sound, which itself is already a bit too bright, and the other pianos excruciatingly even brighter still…

A challenge with instruments such as the CP88, which need external amplification, with each different speaker you get a new version of the sound, so your impression depends on what you are listening through. What a wonderful idea it would be if Yamaha also designed a very specific monitor for this keyboard, through which you could hear it 100% as intended…removing some of the variability of the sonics.

Part of the challenge is the quality of really well sampled alternatives in software from the likes of Spectrasonics, Vilabs, Synthogy, Production Voices, and others, which subjectively or objectively take sonics to another level in both reality and evocative response, with even greater tweakability and unlimited options for enhancing the sound all in the box, using in-built effects or external plugins. And then there are the various CFX samples by Vienna Symphonic Library, Native Instruments, and Garrittan.

Even with real acoustic pianos of the same model, they do not sound the same. So its now a question of which CFX sample do I like the most – CFX by Yamaha’s or CFX by another sampled product manufacturer?

Is this a consequence of product design by committee, consensus, surveys, obtaining feedback from dealer networks, without speaking to the musicians and aspiring musicians who want to be enthralled by the sound and touch and looks? The Yamaha CP88 ticks all the boxes, yet the sound did not tug at my heartstrings…

Because it’s a Yamaha – another audition is on the cards. We’ll see.

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“Musical” Instruments – Pianos 2018

It’s been a journey, discovering music, deciding I needed to invest time and energy to solve the mystery – how is music made, and being able to make it myself.

On this blog, I have posted articles about my review of musical instruments – digital pianos in particular.

Why? I like to consider recorded or live music as the culmination and in my scenario – an acoustic piano is difficult to justify – space for one, being able to mic it up, and getting to choose one, maintain it regularly – and after all that effort I get only one piano sound – the one I bought, which is unlikely to be suitable for all the kinds of music I may wish to record – oh yes to record it properly I will need expensive microphones.

So the closest alternative has been the dream of electronically generated piano sounds. Hitherto my favorite digital piano of the non-portable kind has been the Roland LX-17 and I do not think this opinion has changed.

Unfortunately the piano I considered as a possible runner up, the Yamaha CLP 685 – the king of this line of Yamaha’s castle, has been knocked off the pedestal. I auditioned one yesterday and it finally hit me – the problem is not the piano, it is the original instrument that was sampled that does not gel with me – that CFX sound – does not – to me – say piano, Nice try Yamaha¬† – nice experiment, but I do not like the CFX sound – when I hear all incarnations of the sampled CFX – there is something in it that draws attention to a thinness – plinky almost like a harpsichord/harp sound – lacking the solidity and girth. Like a piano trying too hard to be one.

With all due respect – and in spite of my love for all things Yamaha, my personal opinion, the CFX sound is an acquired taste that does not get my approval, I also discovered that the action on the CLP 685 is odd – too hard in the default setting – too much finger pressure needed – and I play a Yamaha CP33 stage piano, which already has a fair bit of weighting – typically more than most digital pianos, so for the CLP 685 to occupy the weightier end of the spectrum – was uncanny – it was quite uncomfortable and tiring to play.

I think Yamaha should go back to the drawing board – this CFX tone “is not working for me” as my compatriots from the Gold Coast would say, and no matter how much publicity, marketing and spin, they need a new sound that does not completely attempt to be novel, and miss the mark like the CFX. My thoughts, the CFX tries to be everything to everyone ( abit of Yamaha abit of Digital, abit of Steinway, some bit of Kawai, and a dose of Bosendorfer) and ends up becoming nothing to anyone. Compromise here not being a good strategy. I have yet to audition the CP88/73 and this may change my mind about the CFX sound.. It is possible that the sampling sessions for the CLP 685 are the root cause of my aversion.

Not saying that the CLP 685 will not sell in large numbers – it will – as it has the brand – Yamaha, and a lot of these pianos are bought as furniture pieces (status symbols) anyway, so for that purpose the sound is irrelevant.

Which leads me to inspiration – I auditioned some Roland piano instruments – the RD2000 – which has lovely electric pianos, but can’t think – what did they have in mind – their acoustic pianos are a struggle to listen to – not good at all. The FP90, and less so the FP30 – but the Rolands felt like instruments – i.e. expressive – the instrument and you were one – they do have very nice keyboard action – these Rolands – you forget about the keyboard cos it feels absolutely intuitive, with the right amount of weight/resistance – play anything – fast – slow, ultra fast – it just is remarkably responsive. And their sound has dynamics like a proper instrument – you can dig in for emphasis and hear the tone change to heighten the note (more harmonics), much better expressiveness – even though the tone is clearly not as authentic as some other pianos. i.e it may not sound like a piano 100%, but sitting down to play it feels like a piano¬† – what a contradiction, but this causes you to play it like a piano and it sounds like one – an instrument for conveying expression, effortlessly. As much as Rolands may not have the most authentic tone, they have surprisingly now become my recommendation for musicianship – with the best expressiveness in their stage pianos and digital pianos like the LX-17 and the RD2000. Especially on a live stage – what you need is feel and they definitely win on feeling – in touch and sound response to touch. – If you want a hardware keyboard with sound generated outside a general purpose computer like a Mac or PC.

EDIT: If you are reading this anytime in 2019 and beyond – with respect to stage pianos, I think Yamaha are back in the game with their CP88/73 which I have not auditioned yet, at the time of this writing – March 2019, but are definitely worth considering. From demos I think they nailed it on both the acoustic side and electric pianos. Overall better sounding than the Roland RD2000 (IMHO). The pads and strings and organs on the CP88/73 are their weak points – you most likely will need another keyboard to cover these emulations at a higher standard….., for live performance…. I think after so many years, the promise of a single keyboard you can take to the stage and aptly cover a variety of emulated sounds is futile, there are no masters of everything. None. Each stage piano has their own strengths.