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  • Yamaha CP50 Stage Piano - Now with Conclusions

    Seems kind of silly to do a Pro Review of a stage piano, right? So it makes piano sounds. Does the sustain pedal work? Yes? Then, end of story.



    But hold on. The CP50 is a lot more than a stage piano (and it's one that I can actually lift - the CP50 is about 46 pounds, or 21 kilograms), because it has literally hundreds of sounds above and beyond the dozen electric and acoustic pianos, as well as an internal drum machine that can provide backing tracks for "performances" based on particular sounds. What's more, the sounds use an interesting synthesis technique that gives a certain type of consistency that's hard to describe - but I don't have to, because we can (and of course, will) have multiple audio examples.



    There are also effects, editability, and master keyboard functionality - a welcome addition, because the CP50 is sitting in my studio within easy reach, so it's replacing my current master keyboard for the duration of this review. As a result, it's going to get a lot of exercise.



    As is traditional with pro reviews, I like to start off with links for more information, and a photo tour. Click here for the basics, and for much more information about the unit, there's Yamaha's main CP50 landing page. You can also check out the current pricing on MF's CP50 product page, and read a user review. There are no user reviews yet on Harmony Central, because the unit is too new. But of course, anyone out there with a CP50 is invited to chime in and add your own opinions; and questions are always welcome.



    Before getting into the details, let's look at a couple of photos. The first attached image shows the entire keyboard - you don't have to count the keys, there really are 88 - while the second attached image zooms in toward the middle of the keyboard. Although the photos have a gray cast, the keyboard is black but looks like a very dark charcoal gray in the light. The buttons are dark gray, and the knobs are all black.



    Next, let's take a look at the ins and outs.
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  • #2
    The ins and outs are not as evolved as the Motif XS, the subject of our last Yamaha keyboard Pro Review - then again, the Motif XS can be part of a computer-based network, and is overall a very different kind of animal.



    The first attached image shows the outputs, which are stage-friendly, unbalanced stereo or mono 1/4" phone jacks. The second attached image shows the power end of things and the USB options. Power is supplied by a wall wart (not a "line lump," but an actual transformer that plugs into the wall), with a longer-than-usual 8.5' cord.



    Would I prefer an IEC AC socket and line cord? Well, yes, because given the ruggedness of the CP50 as a whole, using a wall wart seems incongruous. Nor is it a "global" adapter (as this unit was shipped to the US, it's the standard 120V/60Hz). However, there are of course advantages to a wall wart: Easier/faster UL certification, and yes, it indeed costs less than a built-in AC power supply - which given the price point, is a major factor. Nor is it particularly hard to find a replacement, as it's 12V/1.5A with a positive tip.



    The USB aspect, though, goes the extra mile with both a "to host" connector (so you can hook it up to a computer) and a "to device" connector for Flash drives. We'll get into the computer aspects later, but suffice it to say it's about MIDI over USB, so you don't need a conventional MIDI interface.



    Then again, referring to the third attached image, you have conventional 5-pin DIN MIDI in, out, and thru, which is important when using the CP50 as a master controller - not a lot of tone modules are going to be expecting to get MIDI data over USB. You can also see the three 1/4" jacks for the sustain footswitch, assignable footswitch, and foot controller pedal (the CP50 comes with a suitable dual footswitch assembly, but not the pedal).



    That's it for the rear panel. You'll also find a stereo headphone jack on the front toward the left, but I didn't bother including a photo because, well, it's just a headphone jack on the left.
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    • #3
      We'll continue our photo tour with some shots of the front panel. We'll move more or less from left to right.



      The first attached image shows the pitch bend wheel. That's right - no mod wheel, which in some ways cramps the CP50's style as a MIDI controller. However, several front panel buttons transmit controller information, as do the footswitches; best of all, the expression pedal can control just about anything. Given that the CP50 is a stage piano, it's not a stretch to think that the player will have both hands occupied most of the time, so an expression pedal to do control makes sense, even when using the CP50 as a MIDI controller.



      The second attached image shows the master volume control (which probably doesn't require elaboration!) and controls for the two Parts and the backing track. The CP50 offers two "Parts," left and right, which you can think of in a split context as offering two separate sounds for your left and right hands (e.g., bass for the left, piano for the right) as well as layers that can overlap each other. The third control is for the rhythm/drum part "backing track," and also, note the buttons for turning these three elements on and off.
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      • #4
        Next up, you can see several editing buttons in the first attached image. These are a combination of live performance-oriented and editing functions; Split turns the split function on and off, while the Voice and Common buttons open up editing sections. Reverb, Pre-Amo, and Mod FX turn their respective effects blocks on and off.



        In the second attached image, you'll see the sequencer controls that affect the backing track. These are what you'd expect - play, stop, rewind, fast forward, etc.



        The third attached image shows the display and the three data knobs that alter the parameters shown in the display. Being in the middle of the unit, these knobs have a prominent place on the panel, and a prominent role in editing as they can have different functions in different situations.
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        • #5
          Before proceeding, we'll finish our photo tour of the front panel.



          The first attached image shows the navigation and performance selection buttons. This is where you go from page to page, hit Enter after choosing a particular parameter or value, call up the utility and file menu, etc. We won't get into too much detail here, as this will be covered in depth later on.



          In the second attached image, note the Bank select buttons. The Pre(set), User, and Ext(ernal) buttons choose different memory areas which have their own banks. Also note the dedicated Transpose and Master Compressor buttons - very handy for live performance. The master compressor is a very nice touch for preventing "level surprises."



          Finally, the third attached image hows the dedicated master EQ with low, mid, and high knobs. This is of course not designed for doing EQ with surgical precision, but for general "character" tone-shaping. Again, for live performance, it's very convenient to have these controls at your fingertips.
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          • #6
            No matter how "rich" rich media can be, there's no way (yet!) that I can attach something that will let you experience the feel of the keyboard...so you're just going to have to deal with my attempts to do so with words.



            First off, I like 88 keys. I like 88 weighted keys even better, and I like 88 weighted keys in a unit I can actually carry even more. This has a graded hammer technology, meaning that the lower keys have a heavier touch and the higher keys, a lighter touch. The difference isn't huge, but is definitely enough to be noticeable, as well as give a realistic "feel" as you move around different sections of the keyboard. There's also a small, but interesting, point: When you hit the keys hard, they give off a fairly muted "thunk" rather than a "clack," which I prefer.



            Yamaha has certainly made enough keyboards in their time, so it's no surprise this one is responsive. It also seems quite predictable in terms of velocity; when I hit a key with what I feel is equal force, the velocity is consistent as well. Yamaha claims they had input from concert-level pros in developing the keyboard, and I certainly have no reason to doubt that - the feel is excellent. I particularly like the slight "roughness" on the finish of the black keys.



            The keyboard's biggest limitation is that there is no aftertouch. I'm a big fan of aftertouch, although I do recognize it adds to the cost and complexity, and people arguably don't use it all that much (although my experience is that the people who do use aftertouch are passionate about having it available). Of course you can assign the expression pedal to control what you could normally control with aftertouch, but I like having aftertouch response "at my fingertips."
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            • #7
              The CP50 is not an isolated keyboard, but also has a "bigger brother," the CP5. The CP5 actually has more features than the CP50, but I asked for the CP50 because it weighs about 12 pounds less, making it easier to get into my studio.



              In any event the differences are more quantitative than qualitative. The CP5 has six parts instead of three, 5 more piano voices and 90 more of the additional voices, a power amplifier effects block the CP50 doesn't have, 5-band master EQ instead of 3-band, balanced out in addition to unbalanced out, a wooden synthetic ivory keyboard, the option for two expression pedals, and a mic input. It also draws 25 watts compared to the CP50's 7 watts, is a little bit higher, and a few inches deeper.



              It's beyond the scope of this review to cover the CP5 as well, but I do think my decision to go with the CP50 was the right one - it's very similar, and certainly, somewhat more transportable. If you want to pursue the subject further, there's a handy comparison chart (that also includes the CP1) on the Yamaha web site.
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              • #8
                I've been playing around a bit with the CP50 the past few days to get a handle on the best way to present the review; I'd like it to be somewhat organized, and not jump around too much from topic to topic. So, here's what I came up.



                1. Check out the sounds. This involves audio examples, and determining how easy or difficult it is to call up sounds in a live performance context. After all, isn't a keyboard like this all about the sounds?



                I've checked out the demo songs, and they actually give a very good idea of what the CP50 is all about. So, after posting this roadmap, I'll start posting the demo songs. This will also allow us to progress faster than if I took the time to create demo songs from scratch.



                2. About the concept of Performances, and using the backing track.



                3. Using the CP50's built-in sequencer to record performances as MIDI, as well as recording audio.



                4. An evaluation of the CP50's effectiveness as a MIDI controller for studio or live performance applications.



                5. Using the CP50 with computers.



                So...that's the plan, although of course, you're welcome to ask questions about any aspect of operation at any time.
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                • #9
                  All right, let's hear what this baby can do. The CP50 has three demo songs built in, which you access by hitting two buttons at the same time.



                  The first demo song showcases the funky, Fender Rhodes-ish type electric piano sound. The thing to listen to here is the "bark" in the lower register, which has an uncanny resemblance to the real thing. I keep expecting a Miles Davis trumpet line to appear on top of it...BTW, check out the drums, which are the backing track for this particular performance.



                  The second demo song is all about showing off the piano. Does it sound like a real piano? Well, you can be the judge of that, but if nothing else it sure sounds like a recording of a real piano. Note the dynamics - when the player hits those notes hard, they really project well and ring out strongly. Having recorded a lot of pianos in my time, and played with them live, I must say this song really gets the piano thing across well.



                  The third demo song is also all about the piano, but it demos the dynamics even better; and listen to the consistency of sound between the upper and lower register. Honestly, if I was in a bar, heard this, and couldn't actually see the pianist, I wouldn't be able to tell you for sure whether I was hearing a really well-miked acoustic piano or the CP50.



                  Anyway, that's it for Yamaha's onboard demos, so as we check out some more sounds you'll need to put up with my keyboard playing But there are definitely some other excellent sounds tucked into the CP50's ROM, and we'll check them out next.
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                  • #10
                    Now let's do some audio examples of sounds other than pianos, because the CP50 has quite a few of them...



                    As you'll find out during the course of these examples, my primary instrument is guitar . But the point here isn't to show off my chops (all the examples are played in real time, no editing, just noodling around), but rather, let you hear some of the instrument sounds. These speak for themselves, to say the least, and you don't need me to be as good as Jimmy Smith to understand that the B3 sounds are really quite nice.



                    In some examples, you'll hear a drum machine playing in the background. That's the rhythm track at work that's part of the particular performance.



                    Ready? Let's check out the organs first.
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                    • #11
                      Wow, it's hard to keep up with all the Yamaha pianos, but I do like this one. The piano sounds brighter than the P90 going by the mp3s. Organs sounds decent, not bad. Maybe they got the non-pianos sounds right this time...hope so. I'll have to check this one out.
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                      • #12






                        Quote Originally Posted by The Pope
                        View Post

                        Wow, it's hard to keep up with all the Yamaha pianos, but I do like this one. The piano sounds brighter than the P90 going by the mp3s.




                        It CAN be brighter, but there are lots of piano variations - really, way too many to make audio examples, or we'll be here until next year. If anyone was to level a criticism at the CP 50, it would definitely NOT be lack of pianos.



                        The more I investigate the other sounds, the more I find them useful. Remember this is a stage piano, not a Motif XS, so the emphasis is on bread-and-butter sounds. However, they do have that sort of big, warm Yamaha quality to them, especially the orchestral parts.



                        The attached audio example plays some choir and orchestra sounds. The last example if of choir and strings, but don't adjust the levels at the beginning: This patch has a long swell, so if you play slowly, the sound is very soft. Hold down the keys, though, and the patch goes into a louder, more dynamic mode. This kind of expressiveness is built into several of the patches, but of course, you can also use the expression pedal to add performance-oriented nuances to the sound.
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                        • #13
                          There are all splits; the first one has some left-hand bass action, but a drum track is also part of the performance. The next example is bells, both clangorous and melodic, while the third is melodic percussion and strings.
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                          • #14






                            Quote Originally Posted by Dave Ferris
                            View Post

                            Just wanted to clarify the difference between the two actions. Thanks again for your efforts.




                            Thank you Dave! That's the beauty of pro reviews...the pros get to weigh in, and we all learn something.



                            Got some more audio examples coming up tomorrow.
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                            • #15
                              Hey - how about some guitars and plucked strings? The first audio example starts off with a nylon string sound, followed by acoustic steel-string guitar. The third audio ex isample a 12-string guitar, which is one of the more realistic ones I've heard coming out of a synthesizer, followed by a sort of processed "strat" electric guitar sound.



                              The second audio example leads off with distorted lead guitar, then a harp sound which I think is really pretty sweet.
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