Reviews on digital pianos costing 1700 - 2300 EUR (year 2012) confirm that in this price range the products from Roland, Kawai and Yamaha are just excellent ones, and everyone to his taste prefers the one or the other product depending on personal feeling of the dynamic key touch and the sound of the principal piano tone. As recommended, I tried to myself compare the pianos in a store, in order to find out what individually would be the best for me. Limited by local scantiness of demonstration equipment here in the province, I haven´t got the chance to experience any Kawai. So, comparing the Yamaha and the Roland I quickly found my decision: I am the fortunate owner of a Roland HP 505, now. I am perfectly happy with my decision, and enjoy this great digital piano. No doubt about the quality of the keyboard and principal piano sounds.
But I seriously have to criticize some aspects of the HP 505. It is about the additional features besides the key touch and grand piano sounds, the other things for which I also paid for. I am here disappointed. I owned a Technics KN800 entertainer keyboard about 20(!) years ago, and I blindly expected that technology comforts of that time would certainly be included in any today´s digital instrument. I will comment you on the disappointing aspects here.
Let me first summarize how I came to my decision, to emphasize all the good things of the Roland HP 505.
As I never played piano before but played electric organ in the past, I followed the recommendations from pianists as published all over in the digital piano internet discussion forums. I think this topic is best summarized by Graham Howard: “The most important thing you need from a digital piano when you're learning is a realistic touch. A good piano sound and minimum of 4 touch sensitivity levels (pp, mp, mf and f) are also important. Factors such as dimensions, weight, colour and 'bells and whistles' shouldn't really be the deciding factor in your purchase" (taken from his web site: http://www.ukpianos.co.uk/
). It is to be pointed out, that this especially applies to people who are l_e_a_r_n_i_n_g to play piano. As I seriously now want to learn playing piano and know that I am biased by my organ experience, I gave highest priority to carefully follow this recommendation. I believe that the plenty pianists around, who commented in the internet that the keyboards of this price range of digital pianos (> 1700 EUR) would come pretty close to a keyboard feeling of an acoustic piano can´t be wrong all together, and therefore I was right away searching in this price range. I could clearly feel on the Roland keyboard of a HP 503 the extra weight of the keys and necessary extra force for the key strokes (in comparison to an organ keyboard), and most important: for me it felt very well balanced, while the Yamaha keyboard of a CLP 430 behaved somehow imprecise as if some wiggly springs below the keys would slightly impact the up and down movement of the keys.
I was searching for a peaceful sound, good to play some dolce and warming music, of course still providing also some exhilarant spring season mood. I was not searching for a bright tune valid for jazz and ragtime music, and not in any need of the piano to stand it´s ground in the context of playing with a band or a choir. I personally felt overwhelmed by the Roland sound in respect to my wishes.
Touch and sound decided for a Roland HP 503, but the promise to get an even better (the best available) keyboard from Roland with the HP 505, and to get an even better loud speaker system delivered made me spent some more money and finally blindly bought the HP 505. It was delivered within 2 days, and I am REALLY happy with it – as a piano. Its touch and response feel just perfect to me and make me enjoying playing it, and the sound of the piano can´t be distinguished (neither with very high quality headphones nor very high class HiFi-loudspeakers) from the sound of a grand piano recorded on a purchased piano music CD. My digital piano to me appears even warmer and fuller in sound than what´s coming from CD. Wishes fulfilled.
As there are no comments on a HP505 on Graham Howard´s site, grab some further information from this comments, who in the one or other aspect are also representative for the HP505. I think they express what I myself experience on the 505:
Read the comments from Carey Humphreys, Brendan Clifford and Dennis Morton here: http://www.ukpianos.co.uk/roland-hp307-review.html
, and read this two pages to get an impression about which class of keyboard and sound we are speaking about: http://www.ukpianos.co.uk/roland-hp507.html
Don´t miss to study his site and reviews therein before purchasing your digital piano - to me the most helpful one I found in the internet - especially because descriptions and comments to my own experience really well describe the situation.
Disappointing Aspects of the Roland HP 505:
a) You would expect that there are 10 piano sounds provided? Piano sounds 2 and 3 and 8 are (nice though) variations of sound 1. But sounds 5, 6 and 7 grouped in “Piano-Grand” are unfortunately the concert grand piano sound no 1 layered with strings, pad or choir, and sound no 4 called “Magical”, is described as “a dream like sound” and indeed, it has nothing to do with a piano but sounds like some synthesizer sound. If you then press enough times the “+” button you will finally reach sound no 8, a variation of the sound no 1. This one is described “a grand piano sound notable for its clarity” and is thus perfectly described. Practicing every day for hours, I actually prefer this sound to sound no 1, because it sounds exactly the same beautiful but without the quite noticeable reverb of sound no 1. If I power on the piano I would like to be welcomed with this sound, because practicing is what I do all the day. If I then from time to time want to present myself and just listen to my advances in piano playing, I could still change to the reverberation concert grand. Unfortunately the HP 505 can´t save in the settings which sound should be on by default.
Similar critics on the unfruitful organization of the sound blocks can be applied to all other sound banks as well. There unfortunately is no logics in the grouping of the available sounds. It would be very helpful to group all Piano sounds in a block (uninterrupted from layered and synthesizer sounds), all Pipe and Church Organ sounds in a block, all E-Organ sounds in a block, all brass instruments in a block, etc. . I would like to have a chance to switch between for instance E-Organ sounds by just pressing a button, or only very few times pressing a “+” or “-“ button. But not changing from no 7 to no 32 and back because they are separated so far from each other. That´s just useless to do with the “+” and *-“ buttons. Check and judge yourself on the organization of sounds, it is published on page 54 in the owner´s manual (http://media.rolandus.com/manuals/HP-505_HP-503_OM.pdf
b) As listed in the section “troubleshooting” of the owner´s manual: ”The sound of the higher notes suddenly changes from a certain key: On an acoustic piano, the approximately one and a half octaves of notes at the top of the keyboard will continue sounding regardless of the damper pedal. These notes also have a somewhat different tonal character. The unit faithfully simulate this characteristic of acoustic pianos. On the unit, the range that is unaffected by the damper pedal will change according to the key transpose setting.” (http://media.rolandus.com/manuals/HP-505_HP-503_OM.pdf
The difference in sustain is so extreme, that I contacted the Roland service because I first thought my digital piano would not work correctly. Now I understand that it is not a failure, but a feature. But I still can´t fully accustom myself to this feature: why is it not possible to provide a parameter in the settings which would let me choose if I want this “classic piano” feature simulated, or if I want a “modern” electronic implementation which overcomes this historical limitation in mechanical damping technique? Instruments can improve and do not have to stay stuck in the past. This is why we play pianoforte today and not anymore fortepiano, or?
c) The high tones of the concert grand piano (sound no 1) sound is clearly dominated by the noise which the hammer mechanics produce on an acoustic piano. I almost can´t hear the sound coming from the piano strings, because the hammering is so loudly simulated. You can call this again a feature, but I do not see the point to suffer it, if it would be so beautiful in a digital piano to hide it and just hear the swinging string harmonics. For sure in the past the engineers tried hard to keep this hammering noise as low as possible, but to a certain extend couldn´t do it better. Now we could! Again: why is it not possible to at least provide a parameter in the settings which would let me choose if I want this or not?
d) There is a “Piano-Early” group of sounds. Unfortunately it is only described to expect “early, mellow, or brilliant” sounds of a fortepiano. Would be nice to know which instrument from which year is simulated. And again (see critics mentioned in (A)): why to group here a sound “Dolcechd”, described as “a dream-like sound that can sound like a pinao or harpsichord”? Finally, we find here also a harpsichord layered with the sound one octave higher ”Hpsd8+4”. Did this really exist in history, or is this just a fantasy variation? Such bad organization of the sound banks really annoys and unnecessarily depreciates the otherwise excellent experience with this digital piano.
e) On my system, also some of the organ sounds change significantly in their sound harmonics, from a certain key on. It is so extreme, that playing a scale from the low to the high tones sounds as if you would change the instrument in between. If the central C is called C4, this then happens on G4 and/or on G5, depending on which sound is selected. Again a feature? For the ear for sure a severe failure!
f) Several parameters can´t be saved in the memory and have to be newly adjusted each time you power on the piano again. This are important functions like the MIDI Local ON/OFF setting, the adjustment of the volume of the audio input, or some HP 50x specific functions like the CPdl Fnc and Oct Shft parameters. Also, the last used sound settings are not memorized after powering off and on the equipment. It would be really comfortable to find already activated in the Piano-Grand/Piano-Early/E.Piano/Strings/Other sound groups the last used sound memorized as before switching the system off. This are features, which usually have been implemented on other electronic instruments already 20 years ago. It is disappointing to still not find such simple things on a brand new and costly > 2000 EUR valued equipment.
g) In times that any mobile device like a cell phone or even a cheap MP3 player comes with an elegant and easy to use display (even touch screen) and menu structure for handling its features, it is disappointing to still have nothing comparable on a brand new hitting the market (2012) over 2000 EUR costly electronic device.
h) The volume controller acts much too heavily between the second and fourth scale points. Around scale point three I find all the volume settings between very quietly practicing and already bothering my neighbors. This range is just the interesting one on a digital home piano. Unfortunately it is extremely hard to fine adjust it in this range. Actually I can´t say how it behaves up to the top of the volume scale, scale points 8 or 10? I did not even check where it reaches the end. Anything louder than 4 will for sure make me see my neighbors quickly, but preventing me from this is the reason to have a digital piano and not an acoustic one. Having in the HP 505 the more powerful speaker system, especially more speakers, is really a win to the HP 503, but precise volume adjustment capability in the lower range should still be a serious focus of a digital home piano.
If the key touch and feel wouldn´t be so extremely good, and the primary piano sounds wouldn´t be so extremely good, than I could not recommend the HP 505, because most other electronic function surprisingly does not take advantage of the state-of-the-art in current electronic device handling. I do not know how Yamaha and Kawai perform in this respect, but from what I saw on the commercials I wouldn´t expect Kawai to be better in this, neither. Maybe Yamaha is?
The HP505 is an excellent digital piano which I really enjoy and would hardly like to exchange for another digital piano – used simply as a piano and not in desire to change any sound within a song or in desire to frequently change sounds or parameters from song to song. The high tone´s sound behavior regarding its un-damped sustain and the very loudly implemented hammer noises deserve your closer attention when doing your own sound check.