As for the amplified speaker system, my first choice of one that will provide solid audio performance without breaking the bank is the Logitech Z2300. This robust, 200-watt, 2.1 (two satellite speakers and a subwoofer) system has a list price of $150, but is typically available for a little less. You can certainly get by without this power level, but these speakers will work wonders on the sound of most digital pianos (including some of the consoles mentioned earlier).

Altogether, then, you should allow $200 to $250 for accessories, leaving $1,750 to $1,800 for the instrument (or, leaving a little wiggle room, $1,650 to $1,900). Once again, looking at the chart of Digital Piano Specifications and Prices, we find the following instruments that match our requirements: Kawai ES6, Kawai MP8II, and Yamaha CP50. And although it's priced slightly under our budget range, we'll also include the Roland RD-300GX, which offers features similar to the others for a little less money. Table 2 shows how these choices stack up against one another.

As you can see, the Kawai ES6 differs from the others in this category in that it has built-in speakers. It also comes with 100 rhythms and automatic accompaniments, making it the sole entry here that falls into the ensemble category, and therefore the one that may offer the most flexibility. With only 26 watts powering an unusual array of six speakers, you might not be completely satisfied with the onboard sound, but remember—the budget includes an amplified speaker system.

The other three models in this category are powerhouse, pro-level stage pianos, a topic covered more completely in the online edition of the Fall 2009 issue of Piano Buyer. (There, the Kawai MP8II is reviewed, as are the Roland RD-700GX and Yamaha CP300, more-expensive cousins of the models shown here.) Although they don't have built-in speakers, these stage pianos do come with a huge number of voices, and the Roland also comes with 200 rhythms and some onboard recording capability. The Yamaha CP50, which also comes with 100 rhythms, is a new addition to Yamaha's stage-piano arsenal. It combines traditional (in digital piano terms) sampling technology with emerging physical modeling technology. (See "Other Methods of Voice Production" in "Digital Piano Basics, Part 1: Imitating the Acoustic Piano," elsewhere in this publication.)

Software Pianos

Finally, let's explore an option you might not have thought of when looking for a $1,995 digital: the software piano. In a software piano, the piano sound is provided by specialized software that runs on your computer, the digital processing is supplied by your computer, and the keyboard controller (and possibly the audio system) is usually supplied by a digital piano. (A basic introduction to software pianos appears in the article "My Other Piano Is a Computer," elsewhere in this publication.) Now there are more puzzle pieces to play with, adding to the picture both flexibility and complexity. Here, every choice becomes part of the budget-balancing act: In addition to the stand, bench, and speakers in the stage-piano option above, now we need to look at software, revisit the keyboard, and evaluate the computer. Since it's likely that you already have a computer that will handle the entry-level to midrange software pianos available, we'll focus on the rest of the elements required for this option.

We can stick with the same stand, bench, and speaker choices established for the stage piano at around $250; this leaves $1,750 for a keyboard and software. A number of piano software packages can be had for $350 or less, leaving $1,400 for the keyboard. Just in case you need to spend a little money on computer upgrades (more memory, bigger hard drive), we'll cap the digital-piano budget at $1,200. This price yields several excellent but very different options (see Table 3). Note that while we could go with an 88-note weighted MIDI controller keyboard and save some money, using a digital piano as the keyboard for the software piano offers the flexibility to use the instrument in situations where the computer isn't handy.

Here we have a Kawai MP5 stage piano with hundreds of voices but no built-in speaker system, similar to the model MP8II mentioned earlier, but with a less-advanced action, and plastic (instead of wood) keys. Two other instruments, the Yamaha P155 and Orla Stage Player, each has only a modest number of voices, and a lightweight onboard speaker system that would benefit from the amplified speaker our budget includes. However, if you do use a separate amplified speaker system, or if you use headphones exclusively, the Kawai appears, from the specs alone, to offer somewhat more for the money—but any of the keyboards listed could be an excellent choice as the keyboard for a software piano. The Yamaha or Orla might be preferred for their onboard recording capabilities, or if an internal speaker system is sometimes needed.


SPRING 2010 -- page 151

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