I want to provide my impressions on the V-Piano and its direct competitors from first-hand experience, and give some tips on how to listen for the differences yourself. I am a hobby jazz pianist doing user interface research for a living, so I tend to be particularly hard to please when it comes to ease-of-use.
I needed to replace my old DP that broke down recently. I play in a jazz combo, and my DP was for our band's practice room, and for gigs. My top priority was to get the most realistic piano sound and feel
. A few days of online research at pianoworld and elsewhere revealed these candidates:
- Roland V-Piano
- Roland RD-700NX
- Yamaha CP1
- Nord Stage 2 / Nord Piano
- Update: Added Kawai MP10 and Roland FP-7F - see page 2
I then spent half a day at a large music store that had all of the above set up and ready to play near each other. Tip: I had primed my ears beforehand by playing on my acoustic piano, carefully listening for the small things that make its sound come alive, and by listening to good piano recordings on CD.Tip: bring your own headphones, noise-canceling or at least closed if possible.
I took my own Bose QC 15 noise-canceling headphones for playing - highly recommended to block out the background cacophony in these stores. The sound was much, much clearer than with the Sennheiser HD 205 headphones provided by the store.
In the end, my findings largely confirmed what has been said elsewhere here in the forums (just search for V-Piano):The Good
Here's where the V-Piano outperformed the competition from my personal experience is (most important points first).Touch
. The V-Piano has the most realistic, grand-like keyboard feel to it, in part because it simulates escapement (Tip: press a key down very slowly - if you feel a trigger point before you hit the bottom, escapement is simulated, otherwise it's not).
The 700NX feels very similar (supposedly featuring the same PHA III keyboard technology), but the V-Piano weighs 84 lbs - much more than any competitor, and I think part of this weight goes to a more elaborate keyboard mechanism and a heavy, piano-like feel of the entire device. The ivory-like touch also greatly enhanced the playing experience for me; it's a bit rougher and feels much more like an old-school grand than the slicker plastic keytops of the competition. Tip: Drag your fingertip across the white keys - if they look matte, with a slight cream color, and feel almost powdery, that's the ivory-like material. Otherwise it will look and feel more like shiny plastic. Check out a real grand for comparison, and see what you like.
I like the ivory style because my fingers neither stick when dry nor slide when sweaty.Sustain
. Tip: Turn down the volume, hit a key hard and hold it, then turn the volume all the way up to hear the entire sustain phase. Also try with the damper pedal pressed.
The V-Piano kept varying the sound (I knew what to listen for from my acoustic at home); the others (except the 700NX) tended to sound more lifeless and static in the sustain phase. With the damper pedal pressed, the sound became more roomy due to string resonance - but this is something all competitors seemed to offer, although the CP1 created a strange, pulsating background noise in this case.Realistic Sound
. This was the other key criterion for me. I wanted my DP to sound as much like a real one as possible - especially in the difficult sustain phase, but also when played for real, with smoothly changing, natural percussive and harmonic effects as a player moves through different dynamic ranges. Tip: Listen to the demo songs on each DP (pick piano solos only). Which ones allow you "suspension of disbelief" and let you imagine you're listening to a CD of a pianist playing a real piano?
To me, this worked best on the V-Piano.Spielvergnügen
("joy of playing"). Volkswagen used "Fahrvergnügen" in their ads to describe that hard-to-capture feeling of joy when everything's working smoothly, with perfect control. That's a good concept to use here too. As others have described here before, playing the V-Piano I found myself getting lost in it (in the positive sense) - it tickled my creativity, something I hardly got from the other, sample-based pianos. It feels like I could play more expressively, with more control over each note, and since the V-Piano's physical simulation actually means that notes sound much less repetitive than with sampling technology, I guess there's a good explanation here. In short, it's just a joy to play.Sound Tweakability
. It's very easy to adjust basic parameters, and to anyone who knows a bit about how a real piano works, they make immediate sense. Apart from the standard volume and reverb knobs, you can adjust the hardness of the hammer felts and the relative tuning of the strings for each note (from perfect unison via typical tremolo to honky-tonk sound) directly from the home screen while playing. More advanced settings like string resonance with damper pedal down are a menu away, but most settings even there make sense. I was able to quickly create a sound that closely resembled my acoustic Yamaha YUS-5 upright. The very graphical, intuitive software editor for Mac and PC makes tweaking even easier, although an open communications protocol would have been nice so hackers could write more powerful editors. The only thing that's a royal pain in your musical behind is changing preset names on the piano - turn the dial, then click, to select each letter. Reminds me of all those wasted hours as a kid dialing song titles into my first SONY minidisc recorder.Usability and design
. The Roland's user interface is straightforward, the iPod-like clickwheel has nice notches for haptic feedback and works well; I didn't have to look at the manual to find my way around. The most popular sounds are on 4 shortkeys, all others can be selected directly using the clickwheel. Of course, it's also much simpler because it doesn't have to provide control of the large additional sound banks of its competitors. Fewer blinky lights, and high-quality knobs and buttons. The entire outside design oozes quality. In contrast, the CP1 in particular has buttons and knobs whose feel I didn't like - too plasticky and cheap for me, but maybe that's a vintage thing.The Bad
Here's where I feel the V-Piano falls behind its competitors (again, most important points first):Price
. The V-Piano has the highest price tag among the competition.Small Sound Selection
. This is a piano, not a sound workstation. You don't even get a Rhodes - just some two dozen pianos (including fantasy models with all-silver, all-triple strings that actually sound useful), and these are eminently tweakable, but that's it. The hundreds of built-in General MIDI sounds cannot be played using the keyboard, only from external MIDI sources (a stupid design decision). Every competitor offers more choices here. Workaround: Add a MIDI expander to your setup if you need non-piano sounds.
To be honest, I have always found myself using the main piano sounds of my boards almost exclusively, both in practice and performance, so this was not a big deal for me. I just wanted a great digital piano.Big'n'Heavy
. 84 lbs 4 oz, or 38.2 kg is heavier than all the competitors. In a flightcase, 2 people can still move it comfortably, but it's not an easy one-person job. At almost 21" (53 cm), it's also deeper than all the competitors. Tip: Get a flightcase with strong wheels or with a separate rolling board (and a friend) to move the V-Piano.No Music Stand
. Did the Roland engineers think the V-Piano is so inspiring that we don't need to look at musical scores anymore? What were they smoking? Workaround: Get a heavy-duty desktop music stand like the ProLine PL53 ($20) to put on the flat top (but see next point).Untouchable Surface
. Anything will leave a stain on the black, brushed-aluminum flat top of the V-Piano. I mean, not only beer bottles, but also fingers. Even staring at it seems to leave a smudge. Not very practical. Workaround: Get a thin cover sheet from wood (add rubber below), or just a rubber mat, cut to size at your local Home Depot if you care about these things.
That top won't remain empty in the heat of your next gig. Of course, the other stage pianos in this competition don't have that empty space at all, but they are also smaller - see above.Lame Sequencer
. I'll admit that I have always used built-in MIDI sequencers just to record my left hand, then play my right hand over it, and the V-Piano's sequencer does that. But more than one track would have been nice. Also, the sequencer interface is buried in the menu - no dedicated Record / Play / Stop buttons.Expensive, Non-Folding Stand
. I like to keep my legroom free of crossbars and such, so I got the KS-V8 Roland recommends. It's beautiful, practical with detachable cable tunnels, top quality and rock-solid which is important to me to avoid the dreaded Wobbly Keyboard
when pounding on it. But it's also expensive, and to collapse it, you need to remove 8 bolts with a hex wrench (included). Otherwise it takes up a lot of space (see its manual online). Workaround: You can save money by getting the cheaper KS-G8, which is at least height-adjustable, or just buy a much cheaper, regular collapsible table-like stand - if it doesn't wobble.The Verdict
At the end of that half-day of testing, I drove home with a V-Piano
and stand (note to self: do not try this with a compact car again). Why? Because the V-Piano left its entire competition in the dust when it came to my top priority: the most realistic sound, control and feel.
Of the competition, the 700NX
felt closest in these aspects - it has a very similar mechanical keyboard, and Roland has added some V-Piano technology to its sample-based sound synthesis. But it still couldn't quite match the V-Piano when it came to feeling like a real piano. This is probably due to different internal construction, as the V-Piano's 50% higher weight indicates.
offers the e-piano sounds that the V-Piano is missing. While I don't like its retro interface with its many, plasticky buttons and knobs, it does offer an ivorite keyboard, and the piano sound was very good for a sampled piano - as you'd expect from Yamaha. But the liveliness, realism and Spielvergnügen weren't quite as good as the V-Piano's.
have a promising concept, with all their sample banks being updatable with new sounds. But each individual sampled sound will likely still lack that certain liveliness that Physical Modeling seems to be able to provide, especially with respect to sustain and cross effects. And I didn't enjoy playing their escapement-free, plastic keyboard mechanics as much as the Roland PHA III keyboard of the V-Piano and 700NX.
Of course, the V-Piano itself does not really feel or sound exactly like a real grand either. Not even like my YUS-5 upright, which easily beats the V-Piano in terms of sound dynamics, expressiveness, note control, and Spielvergnügen (see below). But the V-Piano got much, much closer to that holy grail than any other DP I've played. And that's what counted for me.
Don't take my word for it. Search for "V-Piano" on the pianoworld forums, and check out other reviews, like this V-Piano - CP1 comparison
. Definitely download the V-Piano User's Manual from Roland's V-Piano page
to spice up those online rumors with some hard facts. Larry Fine's excellent Piano Buyer
book includes online articles on buying a digital piano
. And, of course, always get your hands on these pianos yourself before buying.
Oh, and if you've got some extra money and space to spare, check out Roland's latest update to the V-Piano, the V-Piano Grand
Here are some more impressions of my first two days with the V-Piano at home.
Setting the piano up in the living room for testing was easy with a helping hand, except for the rather low initial WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) when I pushed those gigantic boxes in through our front door. Well, it's going to our band's practice room soon. Really.Suspense of disbelief
. Playing the V-Piano demo songs through my $500 Yamaha A/V receiver and its speakers again made it easy, at least for us, to believe we were listening to an actual CD recording of a real piano. We're not audiophiles, nevertheless I think that's quite an achievement for a DP.Sounds and plays better than a top hybrid upright
. My acoustic piano is actually a 2009 Yamaha upright YUS-5 SG Silent Piano that can also be played as a sampled digital piano at night or for practice (the hammers get stopped before they hit the strings in this mode). The V-Piano still sounds somewhat better than the Yamaha digital - and I actually like the V-Piano keyboard better than the one of the (real!) Yamaha! (The Yamaha is an upright with a fairly heavy action, while the V-Piano simulates a light grand piano action.) Of course, the real, acoustic piano inside the YUS-5 still sounds much better - more dynamic, more alive - than the V-Piano.Headphone white noise
. My V-Piano headphone output generated a fair amount of white noise on my BOSE QC 15 headphones, even with volume turned all the way down. Workaround: I connected the V-Piano's coaxial digital out to my receiver mentioned above and used its headphone output instead, and the noise went away.
Maybe a simple headphone amplifier attached to the V-Piano's line outputs would also do the trick. Update:
The white noise goes away when you set your BOSE headphones to the LOW level using the tiny slider on their cable connector.
OK, that was a long review post. Comments are most welcome. Do you have a V-Piano? I intend to post more on my experience as I get down to play with my V-Piano, so stay tuned (no pun intended)!