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Review: Casio CGP-700 and Privia PX-560

OWEN LOVELL (Spring 2016)

MY HISTORY with Casio keyboards is long: I remember riding the bus to school in sixth grade and pulling from my backpack my Casio VL-Tone keyboard, with its keys the size of calculator buttons (come to think of it, it doubled as a calculator), and picking out melodies of pop songs by ear. In junior high, I saved birthday and holiday checks until 1988, when I could buy my first full-size keyboard. It was a Casio, and I remember the feeling of superiority that washed over me: I had selected a keyboard with touch sensitivity. Two decades later, as a young music professional in 2007, I needed an inexpensive, portable, lightweight, 88-key digital piano for practicing on the road, and bought a Casio Privia PX-200. It logged thousands of miles in the trunk of our car without complaint.

For those who haven't been paying attention, over the last decade Casio has won the lion's share of the market in inexpensive, portable digital pianos. A new release this year, their CGP-700 Compact Grand Piano, shows how much Casio can pack into a digital piano for a very affordable street price of $799. In January, I tried the CGP-700 and Casio's Privia PX-560 ($1,199 street price) at the notoriously noisy National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) show in Anaheim, California. Casio also provided me with samples of these models to play at home over several days.

Casio CGP-700 with color touchscreen menu.

The CGP-700 is akin to a several-hundred-trick pony: it does an amazing number of things, most of them quite well. Let's start with its size and shape: Although it's called a Compact Grand, it looks like a small console-style digital piano, with a stand and low-range speakers included as standard equipment. The low-range speakers are bolted to the stand as part of an inconspicuous cross-member, or the lightweight keyboard (26 pounds for both the CGP-700 and PX-560) can be separated from the stand assembly and used as a stage piano with a keyboard stand of any type. Although four rows of buttons are provided for selecting sounds and rhythms, operating the song recorder, and storing assignable "registration memory" settings (customized settings that can be saved for instant recall during live performance), the primary control interface on the CGP-700 is a central 5.3" color touchscreen that duplicates many of those functions and provides others.

CGP-700 Selected Features and Specifications

  • Sound Source: Sampling
  • 550 voices
  • 200 rhythm patterns
  • 128-note polyphony
  • 88-note, triple-sensor, weighted and scaled keyboard/action, with simulated ebony and ivory keys
  • Comes with single-pedal on/off switch. Supports half-pedaling (with optional SP-33 pedal unit).
  • 6 speakers, 40-watt amplifier
  • Two ⅛" headphone jacks, two ¼" line-out jacks, one ⅛" audio-in jack
  • USB external storage
  • USB port to computer
  • 100 song, 16-track MIDI recorder
  • 100 song, .WAV audio recorder
  • Included stand with speakers can be separated from instrument
  • Available in black finish
  • Dimensions (with stand): 52" wide x 11.5" deep x 31.2" high; 56.7 lbs
  • Dimensions (without stand): 52" wide x 11.5" deep x 5.5" high; 26.2 lbs.
  • Warranty: 3 years, parts and labor
  • Price: $1,099 MSRP; $799 street

Note that models, prices, and specifications may have changed since this article was first published. See www.pianobuyer.com for current information.

The CGP-700 is equipped with two line-out jacks for use with external sound reinforcement, but I think many people will be shocked by how much sound this digital piano can deliver on its own. Its speaker system has a frequency range that rivals that of a good home stereo system, ample power (my ears gave up long before I reached the volume knob's halfway point), and the sound was devoid of the unnatural, bloated quality produced by the "enhanced" speaker systems of some other digital pianos costing many times this model's price.

The Privia PX-560 is a gigging power user's dream. Although it belongs to Casio's Privia line of portable digital pianos, this Pro model combines an onboard speaker system with many of the features of their legendary PX-5S synth/stage piano, all in a lightweight, portable package. It can be outfitted with an optional CS-67P fixed stand, but I suspect that the PX-560's target market includes players who are likely to gig with the instrument and opt for a portable stand. Although its speakers' modest size and power contribute to the PX-560's light weight of 26 pounds, they work well enough for smaller spaces and solo practicing, with minimal distortion or coloration. The PX-560 has the same graded hammer action, color touchscreen, and case design as the CGP-700, and adds three prominent control knobs on top and, on the left, a pair of synth-like pitch-bend and modulation wheels. The PX-560's case is finished in an attractive and unusual electric blue.

With the Privia PX-560, customization is the name of the game. Through the color touchscreen, sounds can be layered, split, and edited, and effects added, all to impressive extents. The three knobs on the top panel can be assigned by the user to do literally dozens of different tasks on the fly, from simple EQ adjustments to reverb, chorus, delay, and panning. Instead of limiting the player to a selection of preset sounds and rhythms, the PX-560 lets you save hundreds of your own customized creations, including drum tones and hex-layer synthesizer sounds.

The CGP-700 and PX-560 each include 200 or more rhythms and myriad instrument sounds: 550 and 650, respectively. Casio describes the meticulousness with which they have recorded and sampled a concert grand piano for their digital pianos, and the result is painstakingly detailed in ways that may surprise those expecting a sanitized, Photo Shopped, "perfect" piano sound: You can hear duplex noises in the treble, the break between the bass and tenor strings, a false beat or two (a string anomaly that can make in-tune strings seem very slightly out of tune), even a note that might be voiced brighter than its neighbor. Following the sound of the hammer's attack, the PX-560's grand-piano sound seemed to have a comparatively more natural sustain and decay reminiscent of those of a good acoustic piano — perhaps a result of its 256-note polyphony (vs. 128 in the CGP-700). The scaled, hammer-action keyboards of the two models are identical, with a pleasant touchweight that I didn't find fatiguing in longer practice sessions. The sharps are textured to credibly simulate ebony, and the naturals to look and feel like ivory, though this latter texturing was a bit exaggerated for my taste.

Casio Privia PX-560 front and back.

Sometimes, digital pianos offer a multitude of extra instrument sounds that lack the finesse of their piano samples. In the case of Casio's CGP-700 and PX-560, this is absolutely not the case. The electric piano, organ, and synth patches alone are real pleasures to use, and offer a diversity of sampled and synthesized timbres. Unusual in low-priced digital instruments, the guitar, wind, and brass sounds are actually usable, instead of being embarrassing substitutes for the genuine articles. You can even hear how the sounds of these instruments change with the volume level.

These models share a multitrack MIDI and USB audio recorder that is seamlessly integrated into the touchscreen interface. USB audio files that I created on either Casio were easy to then play on my home computer with no added steps, though the USB flash drive must be formatted by the Casio keyboard before it can be used (this erases any data already on the drive).

Does either model have any weaknesses? Not many, particularly considering their modest prices. The included pedal switch is merely an on/off affair: to get realistic half-damper pedal, sostenuto, and una corda functions, you need to buy the optional SP-33 pedal attachment ($75), which fits securely into the stand (included with the CGP-700, optional with the PX-560). If you hold notes of the piano samples for several seconds, you can hear subtle looping artifacts in the sound as it decays, but most won't experience this in normal playing. The action makes a bit of a clunk when a key is released; this may be noticeable to others nearby if you play while wearing headphones in silent practice sessions, but it won't be bothersome when these pianos are played through their speakers.

I predict that the Casio CGP-700 will appeal to a wide variety of users. Its light weight, pitch-bend wheel, and assignable registration memory functions will prove useful for those who want a stage piano. Its meticulously sampled piano sound, duet mode (ability to divide the keyboard range into two shorter keyboards), and dual 1⁄8" headphone jacks are great for beginning pianists. The ability to layer and mix sounds, and easily record in MIDI and audio file formats, will appeal to composers and improvisers. With over 500 instrument sounds, this would be a wonderful pit instrument for musical productions, and could be used to play missing parts from a band or orchestral score. The PX-560's focus on user customization, and adaptability during performance, combined with its portability and lightweight onboard speakers, makes possible greater flexibility of use than a typical stage piano can deliver, and at a price that aggressively challenges models from competing brands.

PX-560 Selected Features and Specifications

  • Sound Source: Sampling
  • 650 voices
  • 230 rhythm patterns
  • 256-note polyphony
  • 88-note, triple-sensor, weighted and scaled keyboard/action, with simulated ebony and ivory keys
  • Comes with single-pedal on/off switch. Supports half-pedaling (with optional SP-33 pedal unit).
  • 4 speakers, 16-watt amplifier
  • Two ⅛" headphone jacks, two ¼" line-out jacks, one ⅛" audio-in jack
  • USB external storage
  • USB port to computer
  • 100 song, 16-track MIDI recorder
  • 100 song, .WAV audio recorder
  • Optional stand CS-67P
  • Available in blue finish
  • Dimensions (without optional stand): 52" wide x 11.5" deep x 5.8" high; 26.5 lbs.
  • Dimension (with optional stand): 52" wide x 11.5" deep x 30.4" high; 48.5 lbs.
  • Warranty: 3 years, parts and labor
  • Price: $1,599 MSRP, $1,199 street

Note that models, prices, and specifications may have changed since this article was first published. See www.pianobuyer.com for current information.

Dr. Owen Lovell is Piano Buyer's Piano Review Editor, and Associate Professor of Piano at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire. He can be reached at [email protected].



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