With its innovative modular approach to sound engines, this powerful stage keyboard should suit the needs of most performers!
Reviewing a stage piano is something of a poisoned chalice, as every stage keyboard player I know has strongly held views about the requirements and expected qualities. Perhaps that’s why there are so many ‘stage pianos’ on the market today, with manufacturers like Yamaha, Roland, Nord, Korg, Kawai, Kurzweil and others offering numerous models, usually with versatile multi‑instrument sound capabilities. And for the purists, there’s always the gorgeous Rhodes Mk8, of course which we reviewed in SOS January 2022!
However, what makes the Italian manufacturer Viscount’s new stage piano range particularly unusual is that it can be personalised and customised through the installation of as many (or as few) bespoke, high‑quality sound‑generating modules as needed. Before we get into the details of those sound‑generating modules, though, let’s look at the core instrument itself.
Viscount’s Legend branding depicts a range of modern realisations of classic vintage instruments. The Legend Organs range evokes Hammond’s timeless tonewheel console instruments in five alternative forms, while the Legend ’70s Pianos pay homage to the eternal Rhodes and Wurlitzer stage instruments.
There are three variants in the Legend ’70s portfolio. The model supplied for this review is the Compact, fitted with a 73‑note Fatar TP100LR hammer‑action keybed. This instrument nominally weighs a very manageable 16.2kg (half the weight of the Rhodes Mk8) and measures 1120mm wide, by 180mm high and 475mm deep.
The Artist version has a full 88‑note Fatar TP100LR key‑bed, weighing a couple of kilos more at 18.8kg, which is the same as my reliable old Nord Stage 88 Classic. Its height and depth dimensions are the same as the Compact model, but the extended keyboard pushes its width out to 1330mm.
Topping the model trio is the Artist‑W, which also has an 88‑note keyboard, but a bespoke, graded hammer‑action design with wooden keys. Despite its more complex construction, I was surprised this only adds a further kilo over the standard Artist instrument, weighing in at 19.5kg, which is still very manageable and far lighter than the Rhodes Mk8. The Artist and Artist‑W models share the same overall dimensions.
The keybeds in all three Legend ’70s stage pianos use triple‑sensor technology for the velocity sensing, and touch sensitivity can be adjusted through five settings from ‘very light’ up to ‘very hard’, which should cater for the preferences of most players. There is also a fixed‑velocity mode (with adjustable MIDI note value) for applications that don’t require touch sensitivity. The left‑hand cheek panel of all three models also carries pitch‑bend and modulation wheels, with the pitch‑bend at the front and the modulation behind it. It’s an unusual arrangement, but Viscount didn’t have any alternatives, really, and I found the arrangement workable.
When it came to unpacking the instrument, I had to call on some assistance, as the sturdy carboard packaging has extraordinarily wide flaps. While these undoubtedly provide good protection during shipping, they make it impossible to lean over and lift the instrument directly out of the box. Instead, I found it best to stand the box on its end and shuffle the (now vertical) keyboard out — with assistance to prevent the whole thing toppling over!
Included with the instrument is a simple sustain pedal (although half‑damper or triple pedals can be used, if preferred), an IEC mains cable, a hefty user manual (70 pages in English and the same again in Italian), plus a simple but stylish metal music rest. Available as optional extras are a dedicated and pleasingly sturdy metal stand, and protective soft‑bags for schlepping the instrument (and stand) around.
The Legend ’70s piano has a distinctly vintage style, with black wooden side‑cheeks and panels, highlighted with aluminium strips. When placed on the dedicated stand, its four angled aluminium legs enhance the retro styling of the whole ensemble very nicely. From a purely practical perspective, the piano’s wide, flat top is really handy as it allows a synth, laptop, mixer, or whatever else to be placed directly upon it without wobbling or rolling off!
Rear‑panel connectivity is the same for all models. Four audio outputs are presented on quarter‑inch sockets, but although the manual says “mono quarter‑inch jacks should be used for all connections”, these are, in fact, impedance‑balanced outputs — so TRS cables can be used to advantage when connecting to balanced inputs on consoles or interfaces. Standard unbalanced TS instrument cables will work perfectly well with amps and DI boxes too, of course.
The two primary outputs are labelled Audio Out Main, and provide a stereo signal from a built‑in reverb processor. Two further outputs are labelled Aux 1 and Aux 2 and sounds can be routed to these as required from individual modules and/or the instrument’s two internal effects engines as set up through the main control panel configuration menu.
Additionally, there’s a quarter‑inch stereo headphone output on the front left‑hand side of the keyboard below the keys, and a 3.5mm unbalanced mini‑jack input in the middle of the rear panel for connection of a smartphone or MP3 player to play backing tracks directly through the instrument’s Main outputs. It’s worth noting, though, that the replay level must be adjusted on the music player itself — it is not affected by the instrument’s master volume control and there is no volume setting for this signal path.
A grounded IEC mains inlet accepts 100‑240 V AC, and the external controller facilities include connections for a dual‑switch input to nudge the current program up or down, a sustain pedal, two assignable footswitches, and two assignable foot controllers. These pedal, switch and controller inputs can all be configured individually for different switch actions, wiring polarities and pot ranges.
MIDI In and Out are provided on standard 5‑pin DIN sockets, as well as via a USB‑B port — the latter providing a ‘To Host’ connection for a computer or tablet. Stereo audio (44.1kHz only) can also be replayed from the computer over this USB link and is routed through the Main outputs just like the mini‑jack input. However, while performance MIDI can be recorded in the computer, there is no facility to record the instrument’s audio signal over USB. A second USB socket (a Type‑A ‘To Device’ port) accepts a flash drive for saving and load instrument settings and programs, as well as loading firmware updates for both the main instrument and individual modules.
Moving back around to the player’s side of the piano, a near‑vertical panel carrying all the user controls runs across the entire width of the keyboard above the keys. This is subdivided into a one fixed and several removable modules, and all three Legend ’70s models ship with the main control panel (fixed) in the leftmost position, the Electric Piano module second, and the Sound Collection module in the third slot. The Artist and Artist‑W (88‑note) variants have three further blanked slots available for installing additional optional modules, while the Compact version has two vacant slots.
The main panel’s controls start with the master output volume control, three vertical sliders to adjust a three‑band EQ (the EQ parameters are fully customisable), and the stereo reverb controls (program, dry/wet mix, on/off), all of which modify the signals routed to the Main stereo outputs. Included reverberation programs cover the usual list of large and small rooms, small, medium and large halls, two different Stages, medium and large plates, two springs and two “tape reverb” effects; and the quality is pretty good. The two tape options are unexpected, but I found they worked really well with the EPs when seeking a vintage sound character.
Next along are controls for two internal effects engines, labelled FX1 and FX2. The facilities include selector and on/off buttons for each engine, as well as amount and rate controls. A rotary switch selects the required program from tremolo, chorus, flanger, phaser, wah, amp, delay and ‘others’ (such as compression, EQ, and more). Modulation parameters in the two engines can be synchronised either to an internal or an external MIDI Clock, or they can run independently.
Despite the small size, the screen is actually very readable, and the screen space is used well.
The final portion of this main panel is given over to a small monochrome OLED screen and the associated menu navigation dial, buttons and configuration controls. Despite the small size, the screen is actually very readable, and the screen space is used well. This panel probably looks more complicated than it really is, as all operations are logical and the menu screen provides clear options and feedback on the configuration and program editing processes.
Most things can be edited from the control panel, but Viscount also offer a free, downloadable Legend ’70s Editor. This runs on Windows, Mac OS and iOS, and it makes configuring the keyboard and editing parameters very much easier and faster! Oddly, though, the instrument and module firmware cannot be upgraded from the app; firmware has to be copied to a thumb drive, plugged into the USB‑A port, and initiated through the keyboard’s menu system.
From a performance perspective, the Legend ’70s offers a total of 256 individual program memories arranged as 16 banks (A to P) of 16 programs (1 to 16) — although programs can also be named to aid recognition. The selected program is displayed on the OLED screen, which shows the program location (for example B.02) and name (Epiano+Strings, say) along with little graphical blocks indicating the contributing sound modules. As shipped, 224 of those program locations contain factory presets, the vast majority of which are genuinely useful and sound, to my ears, very good indeed. They certainly make great starting points for tweaking to meet personal preferences!
Programs can be selected sequentially up and down either by turning the control dial, or pressing a suitable dual footswitch. However, a more practical option for gigging players is to use a feature called Song Mode, in which each programmed Song loads four different programs into the four Set buttons on the main panel for instant recall. You could, for example, assign the first location with a program used for the intro of a performance piece (I mean song, of course, but that term could get confusing here!), another for the verses, a third for choruses, and a fourth for the solo break.
Even more usefully, up to 40 Songs can be stored together to make a List, and you can have up to nine Lists, which makes accessing pre‑arranged sounds for different setlists a breeze. Naturally, there are facilities to edit Lists and move Songs and programs around, as required. Expanding this idea further, the Software Editor adds an option to create Live Sets, which are displayed on the computer screen as a table grid of 24 selected programs which can then be recalled directly as required.
The current sound module range comprises: Electric Piano, Acoustic Piano, Clavi, Sound Collection, Synth‑8, and External Control (see boxes for more details). Some of these modules employ physical modelling while others are sample‑based, but the Synth‑8 is a real analogue hardware synthesizer! Regardless of the underlying technology, all of the modules appear to be well‑built and sound very good indeed — and not just for a stage piano.
For this review I was supplied with the Compact model instrument fitted with the standard Electric Piano and Sound Collection modules. Also pre‑installed were the Clavi and Acoustic Piano modules, and the Synth‑8 module was included in its box; I substituted this for the Clavi during the review period.
Installing or swapping modules is straightforward: the aluminium strip along the top of the control panel is unscrewed along with a couple of screws that hold the module (or blanking plate) in place. The new panel is connected to a short ribbon cable, much like a modular synth, and once connected and secured, and the top rail refitted, the instrument can be powered up. The control section is then instructed to search for the new module, to recognise its location and functions, and then it’s business as usual.
Individual sound modules can be configured to respond either to a global MIDI channel, or to different MIDI channels (for example E.Piano on Channel 2, A.Piano on Channel 6, Synth‑8 on Channel 7, and so on). This allows an additional keyboard or a MIDI sequencer to play sounds from modules independently, if desired.
Every module has its own on/off (mute) button and a volume control, and its output signal can be routed either to the Main stereo outputs (via the master reverb and EQ) or to one or other of the two Aux outputs, via one (or both) of the internal effects engines, if required. The two mono effects engines can be used completely independently, or they can be combined in series or in parallel, and multiple modules can be routed through the same effects engines if necessary, too. Signal routing is set up from the configuration menu — so it isn’t something you’d want to change during a gig! — but there’s huge scope to send different sound modules through different effects and, if required, to different physical outputs, providing enormous flexibility on stage. To help show how each module is configured in a particular program, LEDs indicate when the signal is routed to either of the FX engines, and also if the transpose or keyboard split modes are active for that module.
Naturally, each program stores myriad settings and parameters allowing radically different sounds, signal routing, and effect setups. The front‑panel editing system is logical, with separate menu pages for different parameter subsets, and it is pretty comprehensive. For example, the Common section covers things like keyboard splits, assigning which sounds apply to which section, and the note ranges covered by each sound module. Footswitch and foot‑controller types and assignments can also be configured here, with lots of options, and the Effects page accesses the audio signal path routing along with dozens of parameters for each of the different effects.
Impressively, each effect type has several alternative bases (such as 4‑, 6‑, 8‑ or 12‑stage phasers, four different types of chorus and flanger, three different wahs...) with adjustable parameters for the ususal things like feedback, delay, EQ, modulation rate, depth and sync, L/R phase‑shifts (for fake stereo effects), dry/wet balance, and so on. However, using the software editor makes it quicker and easier to access and alter parameters, and in many cases a greater range of parameters is available than through the instrument’s menus. So, if you want to tweak something, the parameter is in there to do it!
Each module has a similarly comprehensive array of adjustable parameters, although the specifics obviously vary considerably with the different modules. Again, there are far more options available from the software editor than through the keyboard’s panel. For example, the E.Piano module has options for the signal routing, detuning, transposition, velocity sensitivity (±5 steps relative to the keyboard’s overall setting), pitch‑bend and mod‑wheel actions, tremolo effect settings, amp model settings, and more. For those who like to customise and fine‑tune their instruments, there’s plenty of scope here!