Yamaha provided both a C7X and a C7 from its concert reserve at Yamaha Artist Services in New York City, for a side-by-side comparison in the Piano Salon — a small, multipurpose performance space housing some dozen concert grands. Although the C7 was not new, it had been beautifully maintained (tuned, voiced, and regulated) by their concert technicians, and played as well as any C7 I've tried. Formidably long at 7' 6" (admittedly, larger than the instruments we typically review in Piano Buyer), the outgoing C7 model sees frequent use in recording studios, churches, and concert halls. I wanted to see — away from trade-show noise and sales hype — what Yamaha was really after with the new CX series: an evolutionary step, or a complete departure from the tonal characteristics, both positive and negative, that are attributed to the C series and to Yamaha pianos in general.
The exterior of the new CX models has many subtle design touches that modernize the grand piano's traditional appearance. Particularly noteworthy are the piano's arms, which have a more expressive, sculpted shape. The lyre on the new model has a clean, modern look, and the legs are straight, without a flare at the bottom. Also, the shape of the music desk has been simplified in an elegant way that matches the rest of the case.
A look under the lid of the C7X at the plate, strings, bridges, and tuning pins revealed no changes from the C7 obvious to the naked eye. From my seat at the keyboard, however, I could see that the pronounced curve at the front of the C-series sharp keys (something I found a little unusual on later C-series pianos) has given way in the CX models to the more typical slight taper, and I was told that the sharps were now made of real ebony. The white keys of both the new and old models are made of Yamaha's synthetic Ivorite. This material is less slippery under the fingers than other plastics, and provides the more matte look of ivory keys.
While it had always been my experience that Yamaha pianos possessed a clean sound quality with a clear attack, the company appears to have been voicing its pianos less brightly in recent years, a point also made by Rhonda Ringering in her review of the 48" U1 vertical (Piano Buyer, Spring 2013). That was certainly what I heard from the C7 at Yamaha Artist Services, which I played first. This piano had been voiced to have a surprisingly warm midsection tone. Although the attack sound was still clearly defined, this expertly voiced sample didn't begin to sound edgy until I really pushed the volume to fortissimo, or attacked the keys rapidly with my fingers. Chick Corea's delightful set of 20 Children's Songs — pieces I occasionally program in solo recitals to clear the air between denser or longer works of the traditional classical literature — were a delight to play on the C7. Re-creating Corea's senses of articulation, inflection, and atmosphere was effortless in Children's Song No.4; and the piano's low-bass section was chest-thumpingly visceral in No.12. The C7 also had a sustain long enough to play long phrases and slow tempi in the more contemplative Nos. 17 and 19, while the action was controllable enough to allow me to pull out inner voices from the texture whenever I wished. The characteristically clean sound quality was still present in sustained treble notes, though it's worth noting that some pianists find this sound a bit sterile and lacking in complexity, one of the stereotypes of Yamaha pianos in general.
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