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Digital Pianos

Postby OneWorld » Wed May 23, 2018 9:37 am

I know it is so hard to make an objective comment when it comes to 'best this that or the other' but I am in the market for a digital piano.

A friend of mine has an elderly Yamaha (CLP-170 I think) and I was very impressed by the sound and keyboard action - it felt like a piano.

I want a used one, about £500, but the vast choice is bewildering, and that is the Yamahas alone. At first I was fixed on a Yamaha, and the choice seems to be between CVP (Arius) and CLP where the CVP has more bells and whistles and the CLP is more like a piano, the sounds are restricted to electric and acoustic piano, organ.

But I do like the idea of a 16 track MIDI sequencer the CVPs offer, though it seems both CVP and CLP have a 2 track recorder.

But, am I right to disregard Roland, Kawai, do they offer equally convincing acoustic piano emulations?

My partner is resolutely in favour of keeping the acoustic piano we have, but she is on holiday with her mother at the moment and so now I can swoop on a digital piano while she's gone, and the next door neighbour says he wants to buy the acoustic piano, so everything is falling into place, once I get a decent digital replacement.
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Re: Digital Pianos

Postby The Red Bladder » Wed May 23, 2018 9:47 am

All digital pianos sound dreadful. People hardly realise how nasty they sound, until they record them and try to put them into a mix. Like digital versions of Hammond organs, too quiet and they can't be heard, too loud and they only annoy. The real thing on the other hand always adds something organic and special to a mix and what they add is decided by where they are in the mix.

That said, the Yamaha digital pianos are the best of a sorry bunch. They actually sound more or less like pianos (given the right amplification!) and not like someone playing a Casio sampler inside a tin can.

I'm with your partner on this one - by all means get a Yamaha piano keyboard (there absolutely no point in buying a digital piano that tries to look like a piano; that is a total waste of money!) but keep the real piano.

Better still, spend the money on a proper synth (plenty of good used synths out there!) and keep the real piano. Only a real piano can sound like a real piano!
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Re: Digital Pianos

Postby garrettendi » Wed May 23, 2018 9:49 am

I use a Casio Celviano AP-250 and it's simply amazing. It cost me almost exactly £500 and the shop I bought it from (a local chain called Ackerman Music) included the delivery and building the piano from the box for free (if memory serves me).

It feels good to play, good weighted action, and the keys are "ivory feel" which feels a bit more special than plain glossy plastic. It doesn't do a lot of sounds, it has about 3 pianos, a couple of organs, an electric piano and strings, but the piano sounds are excellent and the rest is just filler really.

It has a USB Midi which is great for connecting to Pianoteq when you want extra realistic sounds, although the sound from the piano direct is still pretty nice.

My only real critique is that it doesn't have an audio out, so you have to connect the piano to mixers etc using the headphone output, although this does give perfectly acceptable results. The AP-250 is discontinued but I believe that the Celviano range is still being made, so I'd heartily recommend them.

The Yamaha's are better, but more expensive so for better features at a certain budget, the Casios are well worth the look. Don't buy online, but if you do, check them out in a shop first.

[I'm not being paid by Casio, it just is a good piano I enjoy]

As for Red Bladder's comment, yes digital pianos don't sound as good as an acoustic, but the weighted action you get on the better ones make playing it much more comfortable and a LOT more realistic than a synth. Just buy the cheapest Pianoteq, connect it to your computer and there you have it. A piano that sounds and feels like a Steinway!
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Re: Digital Pianos

Postby ConcertinaChap » Wed May 23, 2018 9:55 am

OneWorld wrote:My partner is resolutely in favour of keeping the acoustic piano we have, but she is on holiday with her mother at the moment and so now I can swoop on a digital piano while she's gone, and the next door neighbour says he wants to buy the acoustic piano, so everything is falling into place, once I get a decent digital replacement.

You do that and I suspect you'll be enjoying the pleasures of a single life for some time to come. My wife has a real piano and we've recently bought a Yamaha P-115 for live work which is a pretty fair digital piano keyboard, but neither it nor any other digital piano we tried, some costing much more, is a true replacement for a real piano whatever the ads say. If your partner wants to keep the real piano you'll be on a hiding to nothing trying to persuade her to change.

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Re: Digital Pianos

Postby garrettendi » Wed May 23, 2018 9:57 am

As an amendment to my earlier post as I didn't read the OP properly:

Yes I agree that you should keep the acoustic piano as well. A digital piano is great, especially with Pianoteq, but if you have a decent acoustic, keep it regardless of anything digital you buy.
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Re: Digital Pianos

Postby Dave Rowles » Wed May 23, 2018 9:42 pm

Digital pianos are a solution to a problem. They offer the ability to practice with headphones, they generally take up less space, they are far more portable and they don't need tuning.

But they aren't real pianos. Keep the real one. I ALWAYS prefer to play a well maintained real acoustic piano.

That said, the yamaha's are quite good, but I've played around with the casio privia stuff and they do a good job too.
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Re: Digital Pianos

Postby resistorman » Thu May 24, 2018 5:10 am

It's true... digital pianos will never be this inspiring...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5mqgtXoIxs
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Re: Digital Pianos

Postby ef37a » Thu May 24, 2018 6:26 am

Right! I know nothing except.

There are few 'domestic' speaker systems that can reproduce the frequency range and SPL of a decent piano, certainly not a concert grand.

IMHO you would need to spend at least £1000 per channel just to get a repro system that could do a piano signal full justice.

(And FCS! Don't upset 'er indoors!)

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Re: Digital Pianos

Postby OneWorld » Thu May 24, 2018 10:09 am

ef37a wrote:
(And FCS! Don't upset 'er indoors!)

Dave.

That's me told :-)
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Re: Digital Pianos

Postby OK1 » Thu May 24, 2018 1:19 pm

Not a plug, just happens to be relevant - every year or so I spend a bit of precious time auditioning as many of the digital pianos, and end up posting my opinions on my blog. Been doing this for at least 5 years.

This is the most recent summary(link below), if you would like to go into a bit of detail. In my case the sound and keyboard feel are the most important elements, as I have little use for the Yamaha CVP style of sequencing and auto-accompaniment, band in a box orchestration, features.

https://olakunleodebode.wordpress.com/2 ... late-2017/

Of course no digital piano will ever replace a well tuned decent quality acoustic.

The most important aspect of the illusion is the sound - I am fairly certain that in addition to better sampling and digital processing/converters, the most enjoyable digital pianos use the best and the largest number of speakers, and place them well. More about this is in my blog posts.

For a few years my piano has been a Yamaha CP33 stage piano, played back through Alesis studio monitors - which was ok at 1st, and over time as I have optimised the sound using a number of approaches - all primarily dealing with the sound reproduction, and attempting to optimise the source audio. This gives me a portable solution, without the bulk of a non movable casing - an eco unfriendly waste of so much good wood that gets thrown away every time these pianos are upgraded/replaced!!!

1. Every piano sound, including acoustic pianos are the result of some form of equalisation choices, whether this are decisions implemented in wood or steel strings, or digital/analog eq, reverb etc. - Kawai sounds different to a Yamaha cos someone took a different set of decisions - hammers, felt, etc and the cabinet of the piano.

2. So much of a piano's sound is also the room - I recall playing a Yamaha digital piano in two different stores and it sounded much better in the store that had lovely space, and reflections from the windows near the piano.

3. Feel - only you can determine what you prefer. You have to try it out for yourself.

Based on these foundations, here is a process similar to what mine adopted over the years.

1. Identify the piano with the best sound source - only way to do this is - a very good pair of headphones plugged directly into the piano, or listen to the better demos on youtube via a reference grade pair of speakers/studio monitors. This way you will immediately hear which piano has the richest most realistic original sound.

2. Then if the piano has speakers listen to it in situ, so you can deduce how well the speakers are enabling the sound or restricting it. For example on a P115, you never really hear what those samples sound like on such small speakers - which are really only there for basic practice. To hear them properly you will need a proper set of monitors. Bear in mind that the room/hall in which you rehearse or perform will have its own impact in what you hear. Some redecoration to add or remove natural reverb may be in order, at home.

3. For a digital piano/stage piano with excellent sound samples, playback can be improved by pairing with really good speakers - if you have the luxury of space and partner who will allow this at home. Now to achieve really good speakers, you have three approaches

a) Get a high end digital piano - which has good speakers - very expensive usually

b) Get a high end PA type speaker/monitor - very expensive - and tune it with EQ to improve it even further.

c) Get a good PA type speaker/monitor - and use an EQ to tune out its excesses - you may need a measurement microphone and need to develop your own technique to achieve this.

4. Beyond speakers, many digital pianos are very poorly featured in the quality of their onboard EQ to tune the piano sound to your taste. So you may need some other external EQ, with much more control, via a mixer to get the sound you want. It's similar to the job that a piano technician may be asked to do - to adapt a piano to some style of music - jazz, funk, ballads by changing its setup, felt, more pin pricks on the hammers, etc......Stretch tuning etc..... Elton Johns acoustic piano would be worked on to give him something more suitable to his music. - Not likely that he would be using a Bosendorfer or Kawai for that sound - not likely. SO look at "piano tuning" as the compendium of alterations that you have to make to a digital piano sound to get it "prepared" for you

Here is what my current setup looks like.

1. Yamaha CP33 stage piano - so it is portable yet with excellent weighted keys and a good basic set of piano sounds.

2. The audio goes into an EMU 0404USB audio interface, which was chosen specifically for its very good audio specs. Its a bit dated and I would suggest something more current like an RME Babyface Pro, Arturia Audiofuse or a Focusrite Clarett USB or Thunderbolt.

3. Then into my Reaper DAW via ASIO drivers, where I add three stages of processing.

a) Reverb plugin - Waves Trueverb - on auxiliary channels

b) Speaker correction EQ for each of my speakers, based on extensive measurement experiments and iterative tuning - listening to tons of reference music, until I'm satisfied - well 95% satisfied, that its as close to perfect as I can get this to - by ear.

c) Piano EQ via a 10 band Waves Q10 parametric - which is the piano tuning, and this allows me to save presets that optimise the each of the piano sounds, so for example the main piano acoustic patch on the CP33 has probably 20 or 30 variations, which I can call up for different genres and moods, via a change in the EQ preset in my DAW - saved in Waves Q10 or in Reapers plugin preset management system.

For the other sounds like electric piano, over time I build EQ presets for a range of target sounds. So the piano you hear is a combination of selecting the right patch on the stage piano and the corresponding EQ patch in Reaper/Waves Q10

4. Then out to my speakers. And depending on which speaker I wish to listen to, I have a keyswitch in MIDI which allows me to activate the speaker correction EQ for the current speaker.

You will need to experiment with lots of issues - some mono compatibility feature on most digital pianos, may degrade the stereo sound. Try listening to the mono only channel, ensuring that you have nothing plugged into the second channel of the digital pianos stereo outs.

There's a lot more fine details to achieve the perfect sound, but you get the drift - it is possible. To take things even further - I am absolutely sure that some of the better sampled pianos in software easily outclass the samples on many digital pianos, if you want a certain sound, especially classical piano.

Quick tip - I run the DAW at 96K for stunning audio capture/processing and reproduction, which is higher than the sampling rate of most inexpensive digital mixers and the DSP in most digital pianos., also it helps lower the round trip latency.

So to recap -

-Choose your sound source through critical listening

-Amplify it as best as you can

-Tune the piano sound.

When you pay for a high end digital piano - they've done most of this for you, so you can just plug in and play - but its not portable.

The setup I described above is portable - portable speakers/monitors, piano, and computer(a laptop) - and in my opinion a whole lot more flexible and sounds really good - and you can keep improving it, without having to junk and replace it in entirety, like you would with a digital piano. Yes it took me a lot of time, a lot of trial and error and a lot of learning - and that never stops but the end result is more like what you want to hear, and so much more tweakable than a digital piano. If you insist you need a non portable digital piano, nothing stops you from enhancing it with better speakers, and the aforementioned processing, which you do not need a computer to do - a simple small portable analog mixer with digital effects or better still one of those inexpensive Behringer digital mixers which you can control via an iPad or laptop, could achieve a similar result.

This way I also do not need two pianos, one at home and another for gigs, I can take the same sound with me - which has its own benefits. I can take the savings and optimise the one piano "system"

Nothing will replace a good acoustic piano - Nothing, I am still saving up for my Steinway, Yamaha and Kawai and the country manor with enough room for them all, but for now I can get a lot closer than the typical features on any digital pianos afford, with the approach described above, especially with respect to the sound and flexibility with the piano tone.

Furthermore to upgrade, should something better sounding become available, I can do this piecemeal or in a complementary manner - adding a new digital or stage piano, better digital effects, or upgrading my speakers, does not lead me to throw out or sell everything. I only upgrade the component whose time is up.

For your sequencing and orchestration/auto accompaniment needs - as much as I have not used it - take a look at Band in a Box, for a software equivalent - used to be very popular a while back - in the 90's...

As long as you are not using software samplers for your piano sound, you do not need a very powerful laptop to run the reverb and equalisation adjustments described above. A recent Intel i5 laptop should do well enough - mine is a 2013 i5 dual core mobile processor, with a processor released by Intel in 2012.

And you could start this whole journey with your current P115 piano, upgrading just this piece in the future, as funds and your quality demands dictate.
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Re: Digital Pianos

Postby ConcertinaChap » Thu May 24, 2018 2:55 pm

OK1 wrote:And you could start this whole journey with your current P115 piano, upgrading just this piece in the future, as funds and your quality demands dictate.

I think it was me that mentioned the P115. I'm not the pianist, only the technical support. However there is some interesting stuff to think on there and the point about the speakers is well made. I have a pair of Genelec 8030 active studio monitors that since they are not my main monitors could easily be repurposed to hang off the P115 and would represent a very significant speaker upgrade. I think I'll have a bit of an experiment with this.

Cheers,

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Re: Digital Pianos

Postby OK1 » Thu May 24, 2018 4:55 pm

ConcertinaChap wrote:
OK1 wrote:And you could start this whole journey with your current P115 piano, upgrading just this piece in the future, as funds and your quality demands dictate.

I think it was me that mentioned the P115. I'm not the pianist, only the technical support. However there is some interesting stuff to think on there and the point about the speakers is well made. I have a pair of Genelec 8030 active studio monitors that since they are not my main monitors could easily be repurposed to hang off the P115 and would represent a very significant speaker upgrade. I think I'll have a bit of an experiment with this.

Cheers,

CC

An excellent start - Genelec 8030's, this should be so much better than the speakers on most mid priced digital pianos, and could rival the speakers on the better ones, with a bit of EQ.

You will be shocked at the clarity of the outcome, though one downside is that this will also reveal the shortcomings in the original samples of the P115 - sound, a natural outcome of good speakers - they reveal everything, the good, bad, ugly. Nevertheless the gain from using the inbuilt speakers should be like night and day - punch, more volume than you will ever need, clarity, inspiration.

Should you need to play live - which the Genelecs are not best suited for(portability for one), you may try an Alto TS310 or an ALto TS312 - Each speaker is under £300 including VAT. Once you can tame their upper frequencies and a little bit of the low end with an EQ.

Out of the box their default EQ curve still has a bit of a smily presentation - boosted highs and a bit of boosted lows, which is ok for DJ duty and uninitiated PA mixing engineers. It sounds ok from a distance, especially outside, due to high frequency attenuation in air, but especially for close up listening, ideally its best to turn down these default EQ tendencies.

They are a new gem in the PA world - IMHO, shockingly clear - very low distortion, further to adjustment(unfortunately they do not have any EQ in built so a mixer or a graphic EQ - even one with a as few as 9/10 or 11 bands would be good enough.

I own an Alto TS310 - and even I was shocked - they have replaced my erstwhile studio monitors as my preferred listening, piano practice and studio speaker. They are like a thoroughbred - lots of horsepower in tow, which you need to tame a bit, - They go very very, very loud and very clear - for close monitoring in a live scenario, you are unlikely to run them at more than 1/4 the maximum line input range. Be careful with the ALTO's the volume dial has an upper range intended only for amplifying dynamic microphones, and full line in signals amplified in this range will distort, but that would be user error - not the fault of the speaker/manufacturer.
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Re: Digital Pianos

Postby ef37a » Thu May 24, 2018 5:15 pm

OK1, I was surprised to read of the 0404USB interface, I have not seen it mentioned anywhere for a couple of years.

It used to be THE AI to get back a while and I always fancied one but never quite got around to it. Can I ask what PC OS you are running it on?

You mentioned thinking of a replacement? I would like to put the Native Instruments KA6 into the list.

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Re: Digital Pianos

Postby ConcertinaChap » Thu May 24, 2018 7:54 pm

OK1 wrote:Should you need to play live - which the Genelecs are not best suited for(portability for one)

You might be surprised. They came free when I got a pair of KH120s for the studio and since then I've found all sorts of uses for them, including a number of portable requirements which they've always been good at. Clearly they aren't PA speakers but I wouldn't use them for that and they will work nicely in the context of an otherwise acoustic ensemble. They are excellent monitors and run the KH120s surprisingly close. At 1k the pair I'd be surprised if many upmarket digital pianos could match them.

Anyway this is rather off topic. Thanks again for getting me thinking.

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Re: Digital Pianos

Postby OK1 » Fri May 25, 2018 2:12 pm

ef37a wrote:OK1, I was surprised to read of the 0404USB interface, I have not seen it mentioned anywhere for a couple of years.

It used to be THE AI to get back a while and I always fancied one but never quite got around to it. Can I ask what PC OS you are running it on?

You mentioned thinking of a replacement? I would like to put the Native Instruments KA6 into the list.

Dave.

The other interfaces I mentioned earlier were only suggestions for others - cos of the caveats I've outlined below, for my current purposes for portable or use in my home studio, I'm not planning to upgrade - until the device no longer runs on the current version of Windows.

If you are happy to geek - I would still definitely recommend it - if for any reason, it does not work at all - unlikely though, you will have lost only a small investment - at the current secondhand(ebay) prices. about £60 max including post.

I am aware of some drivers for Mac, but I cannot confirm how well they work, cos I do not use any Macs.

I started running the Emu0404USB in Windows 8, then 8.1 and upgraded to WIndow 10 Home Edition.

All went well with the upgrades, until one day Windows 10 autocratic upgrades did something that took my audio interface out of action - completely.

I spent a terrible 24 hours thereafter without sleep until I found out how to install the device, searching and some trial and error, but for posterity I've posted the steps that worked for me here:

https://www.gearslutz.com/board/music-c ... e-how.html

Some things to watch out for. If you log in (on 8.0, 8.1 or Windows 10) via a non-administrator account, you will not be able to run the control panel.

This is not a major issue cos the main uses for this tool are :

1. To manually switch sample rates

(but in most cases this is something you can do from your DAW or in the WIndows audio configuration dialog windows - if you wish to use something like Windows Media Player which does not include this capability)

OR

2. Switch between the internal clock and and an external clock - e,g when connecting to other devices via optical or coaxial digital connections.

(For most people its unlikely that they will bother to use this device with other digital audio devices for input/output, so the default internal clock setting is fine and will never need to be changed).

I have had a lot of respect for the perky attitude of EMU audio devices - sterling audio specs at hobbyist prices, and very reliable, excellent low latency especially on their PCI/PCie devices - Sad that they and Echo Audio moved on from the business of professional audio interfaces.

I got a laptop and needed a USB audio interface and was not willing to spend hundreds on this - it's a serious hobby for me - not yet a money earner (not yet).

For the price - the specs are in the same league as the RME Babyface Pro, and these are real specs - which are corroborated by independent tests, which you can find online, so I plunked for a second hand one on ebay.

What I like about it.

-Low Cost - about 1/9th the price of a new RME Babyface pro. - and always available on ebay.
-Really good quality audio, including all measurements on all inputs and outputs, including the headphones, which are powerful and clean to listen to. Very transparent audio - IMHO - nothing added or taken away - best audio I have ever heard on an interface.
-Acceptable low latency - but not as good as the RME and the more recent higher end USB interfaces, but definitely as quick as the Native Instruments KA6, going by info on the massive latency database on gearslutz.
-Super reliable - does not have the capacitor aging issues associated with the early professional EMU devices. - runs for months without a reboot.
-Clean preamps , with lots of gain - unless you ave some vintage ribbons microphones and are recording an orchestra from a long distance - you can add color externally via other preamps, if you wish.
-Simple - nothing to route in the software controller - unlike the RME's - so no complexity here. 99% of the time, no apps to bother with - cos all the controls are either via your DAW or hardware controls on the device itself - routing, mono, levels and even the sync has its own hardware button - so you can change it from there.
-Very nice level indicators on the inputs.
- Via digital audio - you can add two extra ins and outs.
-It has very good MIDI - proper standard 5 pin ins and outs - unlike the Audient interfaces which omit MIDI.

What I do not like

- No audio routing for Windows apps, when you run your DAW in ASIO, so you either run all apps using one of the Windows native audio protocols - e.g WASAPI, if you need more than one app accessing the device outputs. With devices like RME - both audio protocols are active at the same time and the device mixer (which the EMU0404USB does not have) is responsible for mixing ASIO and Windows audio to the desired outputs.

-So ideally you are either running your DAW in ASIO or WIndows apps. but not at the same time. There are workarounds but not elegant ones.

-I find that the quality of the absolutely zero latency(not near zero like the RME - although in practice you'd be hard pressed to detect any difference in the timing) analog direct monitoring audio,which is not routed via the computer, is a smidgen degrading. Sounds like some compromise - however slight was made here. I am a bit picky about these things. Routing in and out of the computer via my DAW is more transparent than the direct monitoring, which makes me deduce that there are probably some shortcomings with the analog routing components - most will not notice this though.
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Re: Digital Pianos

Postby ef37a » Fri May 25, 2018 4:00 pm

You are quite a fan then!

Thanks for that, I shall look out for one for the interest and probably to pass onto my son in France who is struggling with a pretty old laptop which we upgraded from XP to W7 32 a few months ago so he can run Samplitude Pro X 3 (but not a lot of it!) .

I am mostly W7 64 bit but do have a 'test' PC with W10 on it which I must hook up sometime and see what the latest updates do to it.

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Re: Digital Pianos

Postby bill555 » Wed May 30, 2018 3:21 am

The Red Bladder wrote:All digital pianos sound dreadful. People hardly realise how nasty they sound, until they record them and try to put them into a mix. Like digital versions of Hammond organs, too quiet and they can't be heard, too loud and they only annoy. The real thing on the other hand always adds something organic and special to a mix and what they add is decided by where they are in the mix.
Pretentious nonsense. May have been true in years past, but no longer. Tech has come a long way, to the purists' chagrin. Shop around. You can get something VERY close to the real thing now days. And Yamaha hardly has a lock on the market.
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Re: Digital Pianos

Postby forumuser810278 » Wed May 30, 2018 9:04 am

I am very fortunate to own a Bechstein model B grand and a Nord Stage 88. Does the Nord, a very expensive synth/organ/piano sound like the Bechstein?

Of course not.

The Bechstein breathes and sings in a way that the Nord can’t, even through Genelecs.

But neither is it feasible to gig with it. The Nord doesn’t need regular tuning, doesn’t need a decent sized room to live in and it makes some very nice sounds in addition to an acceptable (and very recordable) piano.

The Bechstein records beautifully providing next doors dogs don’t start barking and the sparrows keep it down a bit.

But really. If it’s a decent acoustic piano, keep it keep it keep it.
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Re: Digital Pianos

Postby Dave Rowles » Wed May 30, 2018 10:16 am

We've just got a Casio Privia PX5s. Quite happy with it, although as a stage piano and not a home piano it doesn't have it's own speakers. Sounds awesome through my PA floor monitors though!
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Re: Digital Pianos

Postby mick.n » Wed May 30, 2018 6:52 pm

Dave Rowles wrote:We've just got a Casio Privia PX5s. Quite happy with it, although as a stage piano and not a home piano it doesn't have it's own speakers. Sounds awesome through my PA floor monitors though!
Got one of these as an Xmas present around 4 years ago. The keybed alone is worth the asking price...... though the keys are a little bit shorter than my other 88 note weighted hammer action controllers.
Only disappointment, IMHO, are the EP,s.
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