Thank you for the green light to the forum! This is my first post but I have been enjoying reading thousands of posts in the past few weeks/ month in my quest to find the perfect digital piano with an acoustic action for my son (G2 Oxford) who has grown out his previous £800 instrument and needs acoustic action. The piano will be primarily for home practice, with the objective of providing him with an instrument to make transitioning to a grand as easy as possible, preferably until G8 Oxford (at which point a real grand is to be considered) and first and foremost to keep him motivated and happy in in his journey.
I am grateful for the experiences shared and thereby knowledge acquired on these forums and would like to return the favour by posting about our tryout experience, which I hope some will find useful in the future- special thanks to the pearls of wisdom shared by Kawai James, MacMacMac, Tyrone Slothrop, Cybergene, Gombessa and Osho. The findings are of course all subjective for our case and in our view only, other people might have and should have differing opinions, so please don't take it personally if we favour a certain make or brand at the expense of another.
Grand pianos in the showroom ( used for warmup and benchmarking)
- Steinway grands, models D, B, A
- Kawai grands, GX-7, LXContestants played in the showroom
- Yamaha P-515
- Yamaha CLP 645
- Yamaha CLP 675
- Yamaha B2 Silent
- Yamaha NU1x
- Kawai CA48
- Kawai CA78
- Kawai CA98
- Kawai Novus N10Honourable mentions
- Roland HP 506/8
- Roland HP 704
- Casio GP 500Why? Objectives
- in priority order
(1) Key action mimic - objectively, as close to acoustic grand as possible (thereby the benchmark grands). Before going to the showroom I thought this would be an almost exclusive priority (in addition to tone) considering our objectives of classical piano training for grands. However it turns out that other objectives have been making their way into the process, as we got more experienced with these fantastic instruments.
(2) Budget - defined as value for money, were primarily looking for the sweet spot just before the diminishing returns curve flattens out.
(3) Key action feeling - subjectively, defined as the FUN and likeability of the key action. Didn't expect this to become a priority, but it turns out that our aspiring pianist had formed his opinion on this quickly.
(4) Sound - before going to the showroom, I actually expected this to be a hygiene requirement ie. a pass for all contestants in this price range (most were above 2k). It turns out that some of our contestants were filtered out as a result of inferior sound (probably due to poor speakers) and they were not necessarily the ones I would have expected to drop out based on some youtube videos ...
(5) Tone - personal and entirely subjective. Before going, I expected this and "key action mimic" to be the only deciding factor, but it turned out that the tone was actually quiet likeable (although different) on all of the DPs we tried, so to my surprise this didn't end up to be a major differentiating factor. Makes sense in retrospect, as inferior and widely disliked samples wouldn't sell of course...
(6) Others - before going to the showrooms, I thought that things like measured downweight, the loudness of key action when played silently, the firmness of the key-bed, the texture of the key surface, the material of the key (plastic vs wood) would also be subject to consideration. In the end we decided these were not important for us at all, especially since the slicing and dicing of the higher priorities (key action, likeability, budget, sound) threw out a winner already...How? Methodology
Played some scales, then the same three pieces first on the grands, then on uprights and DPs with factory out-of-the-box settings, first on normal volume and then on silent (key action only). After the first round of elimination, we returned to our favourites for a bit of free play, just to make a final comparison to be sure we found the right winner. During the first visit we could only do the Yamahas and Kawais back-to-back (but not in the same showroom) we'll try to locate the Rolands / Casio in our area and add them to the mix if we can, which is why for now they are honourable mentions only.What? The results
I loved the Steinway grands (100-160k:) my son loved the Kawai grands (30-40k:) but then la-la-land was over and we quickly got down to business.
1- The Yamahas were all built like a tank, and if I were to leave a bulk order for my music school (where an instrument could easily see 6-12 hours of beating every day) then I would probably not consider much else. In our case, the piano at home will be lucky to see 1-2 hrs of action per day, so the build quality wasn't a decisive factor, as long as it is counterbalanced by an honest warranty
2- Interesting fact: we discovered that while the static down-weight of a Yamaha was appalling on paper (static measured at 70g), the perceived dynamic weight somehow felt heavier on the Steinway grands (static measured at 52g). Makes sense in retrospect, as the resistance of the 'escapement' or 'set-off' was more pronounced on the grand, while the first millimetre travel of the key was much lighter and easier. So the dynamism of the action (when comparing Yamaha's NWX with the Steinway grand action) felt quiet a bit different.
3- We both kind of liked the Yamaha CLPs’ crusty topping key action even when compared with the grands, but in a very different way (ie. 'if one were to design from scratch') but we couldn’t compromise as it would have been flying in the face of our top objective (grand action mimic). The CLPs were the closest to our heart in the Yammy showroom, but the 645 suffered from sound issues and the 675 from key action likeability (in my view a 645 action with a 675 sound would have been better).
4- Personally I loved the NU1x's sound (especially after the CLPs) and to my surprise even its tone (especially when compared to an upright in the same price range) but wasn't entirely convinced about the value for money, as for that sort of money one could buy a B2 upright with a silent feature already. The young aspiring pianist in the family wasn't convinced by the key action of the NU1x, as he felt that when playing pp the keys were often inconsistent (sometimes sticky, sometimes saggy, sometimes louder than expected) on that particular piano in the showroom, so that was then out by consensus.
5- Neither of us were entirely convinced by the B2 for subjective reasons we couldn't really put our fingers on (organ? tone? likeability?) so that was out too. The Yamaha P-515 scored surprisingly well in terms of tone and likeability and it is a great value for money in my view, but we found the sound to be lacking in basic hygiene (no inclination to invest in external monitors) and we also had some reservations vis-a-vis the key action, so that was out for us too.
Since there were no Rolands or Casios in either showroom... this left then the Kawais in play, and what a joy!
6- The CA48 felt absolutely fine at first, even if the keyboard felt quiet a bit looser than the Yamahas. The GF-C is reminiscent of a grand key action (not exactly twin sisters, more like distant but identifiable relatives), quiet likeable key action feel, cleared the sound hygiene test (barely but it was ok, I felt it might be lost in a bigger room, but then again we were in a showroom with lots of noise and distractions) so on a tight budget, it is definitely one I would consider. The analogue button controller of the CA48 is also quiet basic ie. we didn’t find a separate volume setting for the metronome on this model.
7- No CA58 in the showroom, so CA78 was up next: there was an immediately recognisable improvement in the sound, and a subtle improvement in the play action. The GF-2 is another GMO relative of the grand action; subjectively speaking a lovely buttery key action; we even loved the much criticised squishy bottom-out (sweet!). The sound passed the hygiene test, and we loved the warm tone esp in deep reg’s. We actually found the touchscreen controller to be intuitive and entertaining, and my son spent a lot of time challenging himself with the metronome settings, which doesn’t happen on his current piano, on which the volume of metronome is not adjustable ie too loud.
8- Interesting: the GF-2 felt very similar to the GF-C at first. Then we muted the piano and played the keys silently to be able to detect the difference, which was perceptible if you were really looking for it
We returned to the same ‘silent play’ exercise after about 15 mins of playing on Kawai grands and the Novus, and then we could immediately feel the difference between the GF-2 and GF-C, probably because by then we knew clearly what we were looking for and forearms were also getting a bit tired. So while the GF-2 is probably slightly more controllable for an advanced player, and probably slightly more relaxing due to its longer pivot, we felt the GF-C is nearly just as good for our level (could make sense, however, if you’re either super advanced, playing for hours at a time or mostly near the board).
9- The CA98 felt very much the same as the CA78 but with better sound and a board, but by then the diminishing rate of return curve was visibly flattening (y = perceived added value; x = additional cost) and we didn't feel it would be worth the extra Eur 600 for our purposes - home practice in our living room.
10- Finally the Novus NV10 - in an entirely different league of its own of course. It really felt like a properly regulated grand, much tighter than anything in the lovely CA series. Surprisingly my 9yo son found it a bit imposing somehow (an adult instrument for sure) and by this point he was constantly drawn back to the CA48/78 by their compliant and buttery soft yet dynamic and somewhat bouncy keys (he liked even that) warm tone and the likeability of touchpad controller. He said the CA48/78 whispered to him “play me more! I’m nice!” while the NV10 was more like “I let you play me. i won’t bite”
No objections from the family exchequer then, the diminishing marginal returns have already kicked in anyways! Next steps
While looking into the warranty and other details of the neighbouring stores and other sellers (we live in a tiny country) I’ll also try to locate a CA58 and perhaps some Rolands and Casios in my area. May still repeat some of today's showroom tests, if I can find a CA58 (or the Rolands, or the Casio) in my area, as I’m making an important investment into my son's music education after all!Final thoughts
The best advice on this forum is also the most controversial one. I’m referring to the "there is no substitute to trying yourself” and “it’s all personal and subjective” and “if you can’t try it, don’t buy it”. For the casual reader looking for an instant solution to a mathematical equation (X > Y > Z) this might seem like an avoidance tactic at first sight. In hindsight this was probably the best advice ever given. Most of the 2k+ digitals with acoustic action are so good these days, that the differences are mostly down to personal objectives and preferences. Many of the pianos we tried were excellent by any objective measure (apart from 1-2 examples) yet in the end only one or two delivered the necessary emotional punch (“play me more!”) to seal the deal. We had to travel a bit and it took up most of our Saturday, but we both really enjoyed every minute of the process: it made us re-discover that music is indeed an art, not an exact science.