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Obviously we have a need for a piano for my kid to learn piano, an advance from learning electronic keyboard. Instead of buying a ‘real/acoustic’ one which produces sounds by hammers and strings and requires regular/annual tuning by a professional, we went for a digital piano.
Recent technological advances in digital piano these days now offer good replication of the sound and feel of a real piano and also digital piano usually costs less than the real counterpart of the same quality. Of course a digital piano uses electronics and speakers to produce the sound but it has weighted key to mimic the feel of a real one.
One distinctive advantage of a digital piano over the real one is – connectivity to a computer and USB media. This allows the live recording of a performance on the piano for comments/revision later and sharing of the recorded piece with other people too.
Shopping and Price
Both of us are not piano players and therefore we have to rely on internet reviews, friends’ recommendations, shop demonstrations and my kid who has some experience with a few piano lessons. After some internet research and conversations with various people familiar with pianos, we have decided to go to Dawsons Music to look at and possibly to buy a Yamaha Clavinova CLP digital piano. Yes, a Yamaha digital piano because of the big brand name.
However there is an unexpected twist in the shop. While we were there browsing around and my kid was playing on one of the Clavinova CLP piano, a shop assistant approached us offering assistance. The conversation lead to a comparison of the digital pianos that would give better value for money for our budget, a bit tight comparing to other people.
There are 3 good brands available – Yamaha, Kawai and Roland. In terms of technology at that time (5 months ago), Roland beats the others with its more advanced SuperNatural sound technology. He played on a Yamaha, a Kawai and a Roland of similar spec/price range a few times and then on an acoustic piano a couple of times. Even for non-players like us, the Roland really stood out. It sounded more like the acoustic piano than the others. I hoped that it is not a ‘shop trick’ that Dawson receives more commission from Roland than the others.
At the end we were happy with the Roland HP-302 and bought it for £1,399 inclusive of VAT (just before VAT increase to 20%) and delivery. This price was a special discounted price (for some Yamaha and Kawai pianos as well) in the shop at that time and can not be matched by going online. We have checked that the online discounted price only applies to ‘used’ pianos at Dawsons, not brand new one like this one with two years manufacturer’s warranty. We have tried to haggle a bit however they wouldn’t reduce a penny further however they did offer a free basic headphone instead.
The piano that we bought was definitely brand new because the delivery was made by the manufacturer, Roland UK, not Dawsons.
Another deciding factor for this Roland digital piano is its depth, significantly thinner than the others by 3-4 inches, occupying less space.
Installation and set up
It comes with two big boxes. One is just for the piano body and the other one is for the supporting stand, leg pedals, music holder, AC adaptor, power cord, pedal cord and owner manual.
There are very clear instructions to assemble them i.e. build the stand (only 3 pieces to assemble) with the three integrated leg pedals first, put the heavy piano body on top and then connect the wires/cables together. It is quite easy and doesn’t take long to put it together within an hour.
To lay the piano body (~50kg) on top of the stand, it requires two people unless you are very strong and also careful enough not to swing it around too much to damage your wall or other furnishings. The stand is sturdy and therefore it is quite safe to slide the piano body a bit on top of the stand to match the screw holes with the brackets, without any wobble.
Once it is plugged in and is switched on, it is ready for use without going through any start up procedure. Well, if you want to use any special function, you have to look it up in the manual.
Main key features:
Full 88 keys (essential)
5 levels of touch sensitivity - to allow a keyboard player gradually adapt to fully weighted keys.
Twin piano mode – split the piano for two players to play side by side (see the next paragraph for more info).
SuperNATURAL Piano Sound – to get as close to the sound of a real piano as possible.
Internal memory can store up to 99 songs (standard MIDI format) or 30,000 notes.
Built-in Metronome (no need to buy a metronome)
USB connectivity to a PC (unfortunately cable not included)
USB slot for USB pen drive or USB CD writer (pen drive is quicker, quieter and consumes much less electricity).
Sockets for two headphones – a ‘quiet’ practice with another person e.g. a teacher.
Good and the not so good:
We have bought a satin black finish and it looks better than a Rosewood finish. There is no ebony finish for this model at the moment. For an ebony finish, the next available model is HP-307 which costs just under £3000, far out of our budget.
The best feature of this piano is that it sounds closer to a real piano in comparison to a Yamaha or Kawai of similar spec/range. However an internet expert still argues that Yamaha Clavinova has got more ‘soul’ in the sound. I am not too sure about that.
The sliding panel or the ‘key cover’ has two stages – one fully reveal the control panel and the keys and the other just reveal the keys to give it a real piano feel without any distraction from the changing LED display of the control panel.
The ‘Twin Piano Mode’ is a cool feature to allow my kid and another person to play separately or together, with an array of key combinations to adjust the zone and split point as well. In combination with the headphones, two players can play their individual pieces at the same time, without making any sound to distract each other.
The USB connectivity is good – to PC and USB pen drive/CD writer. For some reason there is no CD-ROM included which could have an electronic owner manual (for easy searching) and the device driver in it. Yes, a device driver is required even with the latest Windows 7 operating system.
For the device driver, I have to downloaded it from the Roland UK site. The installation of the current version of the device drive is a bit of hit-and-miss even though I have followed the instruction carefully. The first couple of times it only half-installed the driver. I have to try a few times to get it right.
It would have been nice to include some basic recording software too however Roland will charge you extra for their SONAR range of professional softwares. Fortunately, there is a freeware called ‘Multitrack Studio lite’ that I can download from the internet for basic recording from the piano to the PC.
As with other digital pianos of similar spec on the market, the control panel of this piano is still very basic – a 3-digits LED display and lot of keys. To get to certain function + fine adjustment e.g. to record the music to a PC, there is a combination of keys to press before anything can happen. I wish they could have a better LED display with more on-screen navigation options to achieve various functions quicker rather than using lots of different key combinations.
This is a decent digital piano with good ‘real piano’ sound quality, good features, good connectivity and two years manufacturer’s warranty, properly in line with the European consumer law.