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OR DECADES, Roland Corporation has enjoyed well-deserved recognition among the major makers of quality digital pianos for product lines such as the powerful and reliable HP series, the RD stage pianos, and especially the V-Piano, a pioneer in hardware-based, physically modeled piano sound. Until recently, however, Roland had not made significant inroads into the market for entry-level digital pianos costing less than $1,000, even as brands such as Casio and Korg have flourished by offering many models for beginners and players on a tight budget. So it's noteworthy that, in 2016, Roland introduced the FP-30 digital piano, with a street price of $699 for the slab version, which comes with a single on/off pedal switch; and the vertical or console version, the FP-30C, with a street price of $873, which includes a fixed stand with three built-in pedals.
The FP-30 has a simple, elegant design. Pretty much the only visual distraction from the keyboard is a row of illuminated buttons toward the left end of the top surface. These buttons control volume, metronome, the song recorder, and instrument categories; selecting options requires pressing one of the piano's keys while holding down a button (these functions are inconspicuously marked above the keys, on the instrument's top panel). Headphone connections (&frac18:" and ¼" jacks are provided) are slightly recessed into the front panel, and the USB memory and USB MIDI connectors are on the rear panel. In general, the design elements of the FP-30 seem chosen to keep the piano's footprint compact.
Despite the low price, the experience of playing the Roland FP-30 is anything but entry level. The company's SuperNatural sound engine provides a realistic piano sound through a combination of complex physical modeling and traditional sampling (as opposed to sampling alone) of the piano's tone and behavior when played at different volumes. The sustain and decay of the piano sound — often problematic with low-priced, sampled digital instruments — are more authentic than those of its low-priced competitors. The FP-30's 88-note PHA-4 standard action, with ivory-feel keyboard and escapement, is also very quiet compared to those of other low-priced portables. This can be helpful if you frequently play while listening through headphones and don't want to disturb others nearby.
The technologies trickled down into the FP-30 from Roland's more expensive models aren't limited to its piano sound. Classical musicians will very much enjoy its good harpsichord and celeste samples, which are unusual in this price range — many competitors use an artificial-sounding, synthesized tone for these instruments. The drawbar, Hammond-style Jazz Organ presets were also favorites of mine. Another noteworthy feature is the FP-30's ability, via Bluetooth, to wirelessly turn pages on an independent mobile display. This requires a music-score app such as those from piaScore (http://piascore.com) or Hal Leonard's Sheet Music Direct (www.sheetmusicdirect.com), and uses the piano's middle and left pedals to turn to the next or previous page. The FP-30 also includes typical digital-piano functions such as split keyboard, twin-piano mode, and metronome, and comes with 35 voices and eight basic rhythm patterns.
The FP-30's internal recorder can capture your playing to USB memory, and you can also play along with .WAV and standard MIDI files. I loaded onto a USB flash drive a .WAV file of a recent concerto performances by one of my students, and was able to play along with the recording on the FP-30. Particularly noteworthy was the ability to adjust the tempo of the recording without altering the pitch. The FP-30 appeared to lack the ability to fast-forward or -back within a track, but the speed control is a worthwhile teaching tool that I can see being used by tech-savvy teachers and students.
I recommend the console version for piano students and those looking for the most realistic playing experience possible, as the three-pedal unit that comes with this version supports half-pedaling, to more realistically emulate the pedaling on an acoustic piano. Alternatively, buyers looking for maximum portability (the FP-30 weighs only 31 pounds) can use a generic portable stand and damper pedal — or, better yet, Roland's DP-10 single-pedal option. A new twist in inexpensive, portable, single-pedal products, the DP-10 is a continuous-detection damper pedal that supports half-pedaling and costs only $35. With many other brands, the only way to get half-pedaling is to buy an instrument with three pedals already fixed in place.
Although the FP-30 has many positive attributes, low cost and maximum portability come with some tradeoffs. This model lacks dedicated line-level outputs for connecting an external amplifier or PA system; it's still possible to do this through the headphone jacks, but that solution requires careful monitoring of the output volume level. Although brightness of timbre, reverb, and the keyboard's touch response have basic adjustments through the control interface, the myriad refinements and tweaks that are theoretically possible with a modeled sound source — and actually are possible with many of Roland's more expensive models — are limited on the FP-30. Its two full-range speakers, powered by a 22-watt amplifier, are hidden beneath the cabinet; the addition of a tweeter might have resulted in a more enveloping sound. Last, I compared the FP-30's action with those of three other digital pianos and with that of my own, well-regulated 7' acoustic grand piano. I found that, while the ease of rapidly playing a series of notes at lower volumes on the FP-30 compared favorably with my other instruments, repeating chords and octaves at louder volumes was a bit of a chore — the FP-30's action didn't provide enough key-release force to facilitate fast repetition without tiring my hands.
Today, the digital-piano industry is enjoying a period of exciting competition among brands. A continuous stream of new products, with shorter periods between models and their successors, ensures the inclusion of the latest innovations and features, with simulations of fine acoustic pianos at levels of sound quality that were unimaginable even just ten years ago. Those shopping for a budget-friendly first piano, owners of older digital pianos looking for a modern upgrade, or seasoned players wanting to augment their fleets with a low-cost portable would do well to consider the Roland FP-30. Its combination of superior sound quality, quiet action, portability, Bluetooth page-turning feature, and low price make it a new standout in its class.
|FP-30 Selected Features and Specifications|
[Note that models, prices, and specifications may have changed since this article was first published. See www.pianobuyer.com for current information.]
Acoustic & Digital Piano Buyer
Copyright 2016 Brookside Press LLC