By Stephen Fortner
In the fall of 2019, I reviewed the Casio Privia PX-S3000, a digital piano that impressed me in several ways: keyboard feel, the realism and depth of its acoustic-piano sound, accompaniment features, connectivity with a companion smartphone/tablet app to enrich the playing experience, and more. Now comes its successor, the Privia PX-S3100. It looks the same, offers the same controls layout, and does the seemingly impossible by packing everything into the same 25-pound form.
Does the PX-S3100 include enough new features to justify giving it a full review, or is it merely an incremental upgrade of the S3000 that deserves little more than a follow-up paragraph or two? Having spent just over a month with the Privia PX-S3100, I’m happy to report that it definitely deserves our full attention. Let’s find out more.
The Privia PX-S3100 is in a category that the digital-piano industry sometimes calls “lifestyle”: a fully realized piano sound and action wrapped up in a smart-looking visual design that’s portable, or attractive enough for semipermanent residence in a small or crowded living space. But this lifestyle piano checks off many more boxes than those—“lifestyle” doesn’t do it justice.
The main piano sound, which Casio calls “German Grand,” is painstakingly sampled from a high-end German piano (though Casio doesn’t say so, I assume it’s a Hamburg Steinway). In addition to the main piano sound are 700 instrument sounds (Tones) in every conceivable category, plus 200 Rhythms; the Rhythms can be played as drums-only or as fully arranged auto-accompaniment parts. Accompaniment mode also incorporates easy-play features such as simplified chord fingering. In Song Mode, the PX-S3100 can internally record the player’s performance as a MIDI file, or as CD-quality (16-bit/44.1kHz) audio to a memory stick plugged into the USB port on its rear panel. A variety of digital signal processing (DSP) effects can be added to the sound for recording studio-like enhancements, and the dedicated Sound Mode button broadens the sound coming through the built-in speakers using reverb and/or a pseudo-surround effect.
Like the PX-S3000, the PX-S3100 has a sleek visual design. There are only five physical controls: the main volume knob and power button toward the left end of the top panel, and on the left cheek, two assignable control knobs and a pitch-bend wheel. All other operations—Tone selection, Rhythm and accompaniment, registration recall, etc.— are performed via a touchpanel with backlit virtual buttons.
Speaking of price, the PX-S3100 retails for $879.99. Included in its shipping carton are a WU‑BT10 Bluetooth wireless adapter ($79.99 when bought separately) that plugs into the USB‑A port on the rear panel, a simple switch pedal for sustain, a music rack, and an AC power supply; the PX-S3100 can also run on six AA batteries.
Keyboard Feel and Scaling
In my review of the Privia PX-S3000 I mentioned that its keyboard action felt on the light side when I played with the power off. That’s also true of the PX-S3100, but as I played exercises and arpeggios silently, the new model’s action felt smoother and more balanced than its predecessor. Of course, power the instrument on and everything changes. The five Touch Sensitivity settings (plus Off) range from very light to very heavy; for general use I preferred the second-heaviest setting, Heavy1.
Scaling, or grading, refers to the design process of making a digital-piano keyboard feel heavier toward the bass end and lighter toward the treble. In doing this, it emulates the feel of an acoustic piano, whose keys vary in touch weight according to the weight of the hammers—heavier in the bass, lighter in the treble. Most digital pianos are scaled by dividing their keyboards into several sections, each section calibrated to a given touch weight. This weighting includes components physical (varying the actual mass of the keys and action parts) and virtual (varying the velocity sensitivity to create the perception of varying touch weight). To reduce the overall mass of the instrument and thus make it more portable, Casio uses a greater degree of virtual than physical scaling, and varies the touch weight key by key rather than in sections, in a process the company calls Smart Scaling.
As a result of this design, using the main GrPnoConcert Tone, I was able to get all the subtlety I needed for a composition of benchmark gentleness such as one of Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies, then shift gears into two-fisted boogie without exhausting the piano’s dynamic and harmonic headroom. I felt it was a more realistic playing experience than should be possible from an instrument of this weight and size, let alone price.
Acoustic Piano Sound
The Privia PX-S3100’s principal piano sound comprises the same core set of digitally recorded samples as is used in the PX-S3000—which is the same German concert grand used in their Celviano Grand Hybrid. However, these samples have been tweaked and optimized for the S3100’s action. The sample ranges and the four velocity layers of some notes have been remapped, and any sample loop points made even less audible. As before, transitions between velocity layers are not all-or-nothing switches, but smooth crossfades in response to your playing.
Casio told me that they paid particular attention to upgrading the PX-S3100’s Acoustic Simulator, that part of the Privia’s electronic brain that models acoustic-piano characteristics such as string resonance, damper-pedal-down resonance, and noises made by the key and pedal mechanisms. All of these can be adjusted in the Privia’s Function menu, but more easily in Casio’s Music Space app (see sidebar below).
In comparing the PX-S3100 and PX-S3000, I could hear a difference. The sound simply seemed more as if it were emanating organically from an acoustic space. Setting the damper and string resonance to their maximums and playing aggressively to bring them out, I heard them more clearly, and could imagine notes bouncing off a wooden soundboard. Such good reproduction of these sorts of nuances is usually found in digital pianos and software libraries costing more.
Specs-wise, the PX-S3100’s built-in speakers look identical to those in the PX-S3000: two 16 x 8cm oval drivers, each powered by an 8W amp. But to my ears, it sounded more as if Casio shoehorned a pair of two-way speakers with 6" woofers in there. The PX-S3100 served up more bass, more volume, and more clarity than I’d thought possible from its slim dimensions (52" W x 4" H x 9.1" D).
I would have no concerns performing, on the PX-S3100 without external amplification, a night of solo jazz or Great American Songbook material in the corner of a chatty hotel lobby. I think it would even be fine to add an upright double bassist and drummer playing brushes on a cocktail kit—any louder ensemble would summon a scowling manager long before it drowned out the piano. If this Privia works in that context, it will work in your family room.
Playing the PX-S3100 through a decent PA or studio monitors opens up another world. I tried it through a pair of QSC K10.2 powered stage monitors, and would have no qualms using it for my primary piano sound in a lively rock or dance band.
On the lower part of the left cheek, facing the player, are two ⅛" stereo headphone output jacks. This is further enhanced by Duet Mode, a function that splits the keyboard into two adjustable pitch ranges, so that two players can share notes in the same range—ideal for lessons.
As I mentioned, Casio’s WU-BT10A Bluetooth USB adapter is now included with the Privia PX-S3100. This enables the piano to send wireless MIDI to a paired computer or other device. If you want to use the Privia to control virtual instruments in a program running on a computer (e.g., GarageBand), you might as well just run a USB cable from its USB-B port to the computer. However, the included dongle is a definite convenience for MIDI communication with tablets and smartphones, which sometimes require special kits or cables for wired connections.
The Bluetooth adapter also lets you stream audio to the PX-S3100 from a paired device, which is then reproduced through the piano’s built-in speakers so you can play along. You can do this using your music app or, better, with Casio’s Music Space app, which offers independent adjustment of the streamed song’s pitch and tempo.
It’s somewhat difficult to compare the Privia PX-S3100 with its direct competition, because I’ve found few instruments with this array of features at anywhere near its price. Yamaha’s P series is the obvious first place to look. At $699, their P-125 offers excellent piano sound and action, but simpler accompaniment features and far fewer instrument sounds overall. Their next model up is the P-515—at $1,599, or almost twice the Privia’s price.
Instead, I’ll say that the Privia PX-S3100 is a more than worthy successor to the PX-S3000. The improvements in sound and feel increase the sense that Casio has taken the acoustic-piano experience seriously. At the same time, the PX-S3100 retains the fun factor, convenience, portability, and cool design that earned its predecessor so much attention. It all adds up to the Privia PX-S3100 hitting a particularly sweet spot: It’s available for well below that important psychological threshold of $1,000, but plays as if it costs quite a bit more.
Casio Music Space App
Fig 1. Casio Music Space Main Menu
Casio used to have several different mobile apps, to accompany various models and musical tasks. Now one app rules them all, and I applaud Casio for this exercise in total integration. When connected, whether via Bluetooth or a USB cable plugged into the Privia PX-3100’s USB-B port, Casio Music Space pairs with the instrument and knows exactly what features to display. Available features are shown on the Main Menu (Fig. 1). I presume the two grayed-out blocks on the right are for features included in other Casio instruments but not the PX-S3100. Note that Bluetooth audio streaming is handled not here but in your device’s Bluetooth settings menu.
Fig. 2: Piano Remote Control screen
Piano Remote Control
This screen (Fig. 2) accesses different areas of control over all functions and operations of the PX-S3100. Anything you can do by tapping buttons and accessing submenus on the piano you can likely do more conveniently and quickly via the app.
This lets you play along with the songs in your device’s music library. The biggest deal is the ability to change pitch without changing tempo, and vice versa—ideal for learning a song or transposing it to your vocal range. You can even set loop points to make, say, a piano solo play repeatedly. Be aware that shifting the pitch or speed by a large amount could produce some undesired effects. The Cancel Melody and Cancel Accompaniment functions make the Music Player a practice and karaoke powerhouse.
Caveat: Songs need to reside in the permanently purchased section of your music library. While some desktop and mobile music apps are making this area ever harder to find, Casio Music Space immediately found it and populated the app’s Songs tab.
Fig. 3: Score Viewer song-selection menu
This displays complete musical scores for Casio Music Space’s trove of built-in songs, as well as imported PDFs (Fig. 3). How many scores? I lost count, but there are eight categories, including Easy Arrangement and Concert Play, and others focusing on specific composers or suites of skill-building exercises. The emphasis is solidly on the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic periods; it would be nice to also see some contemporary selections (Ellington? Elton?) in this otherwise well-curated repertoire.
Select a song—up pops the score, and the PX-S3100 enters Song mode. Press Play, and the song plays through the PX-S3100’s speakers. The vast song library is stored in the app, not the piano, though a song can be transferred into one of the piano’s ten user song slots.