Casio’s CGP-700 Home Electronic Piano - Your “Studio B?”
By Anderton |
Casio’s CGP-700 Home Electronic Piano - Your “Studio B?”
Yes, it’s a home electronic piano...but there’s more to this than meets the ear
by Craig Anderton
My home studio is fairly heavy-duty, because I do a lot of audio and video projects. Rendering and backup can tie it up for long periods to time, and furthermore, it’s away from my main living area. Between getting to it and booting up everything, sometimes song inspirations get lost. Because I always have a smartphone within reach, I can use TASCAM’s free iPhone recording app for capturing a quick guitar or vocal inspiration but that’s all it can do: capture.
I needed a “Studio B” for songwriting and just plain relaxation. I didn’t want it to be computer-based, because of OS updates, needing an interface, and the like. I looked at all-in-one recording options, but preferred something more hands-on and immediate...what to do?
The answer turned out to be something I didn’t really expect: Casio’s CGP-700 electronic piano, which streets for around $800. If you want to get into the nuts and bolts, there’s a deep and very accurate review (that also compares it to the other products) at azpianonews.com. This is a site that’s part of Arizona Piano Wholesale so you might expect it to be sales-oriented, but it seems the author’s goal in writing the review was to help people make a truly informed buying decision. If you want to know all the product details, check out the article; I’m going to concentrate on what makes the CGP-700 ideal for the “Studio B” in the picture below.
THE BIG THREE
Of course there are a ton of sounds, a refined acoustic piano, auto-accompaniment options and the like that are fast and fun, but these three elements have really proven themselves over time.
Multi-track sequencing: Onboard keyboard sequencers can be complicated and non-intuitive—not so with this 17-track scratchpad. It doesn’t do quantizing, velocity scaling, and other fancy editing, but it does have punching and can do basic edits. It’s basically designed to (and excels at) grabbing ideas. What’s more, you can record the results to a USB stick as either MIDI data or WAV audio—so if you come up with something amazing, it’s easy enough to transfer to “Studio A.” But a large part of what makes all this work is...
The 5.3" touch screen: Casio’s experience with touch-based consumer devices shines through here. There’s no parsing buttons to functions; just touch and go (you can even swipe). There’s also an alpha dial for making additional selections and overall, Casio has done a great job with the “operating system.” Play the CGP-700 enough, and when you go to an instrument with a color screen, you’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t respond when you touch it.
The internal amplifier: I’m not a piano connoisseur. My primary instrument is guitar, but I’ve doubled on keyboards since synthesizers first appeared, and have become a decent keyboard player over the years (and thank you, MIDI, for amplifying my abilities). To my ears, an electronic piano will never be able to simulate the full experience of all the vibrating wood and metal in a grand piano, but technology gets us ever-closer. A lot of the perceived realism comes from the feel—you feel like you’re playing a piano thanks to the graded-hammer action, excellent velocity response, and imitation ivory keys, but the amplifier brings it home. There are four speakers in the keyboard itself, and two low-frequency drivers in the included stand; there’s enough level that you can not only annoy your neighbors, but have a satisfying musical experience that doesn’t sound weird and tinny.
The 12 groups of 550 sounds provide a pretty rich selection. Many of the sounds are excellent although as you might expect, this isn’t going to replace Kontakt (with a bunch of expansion packs) or a Korg Kronos. As a guitar player, the guitars aren’t particularly stellar but overall, the most important aspect is you’ll find the sounds you want to use, and they will sound anywhere from “okay, I can use that” to “excellent.” This is also why audio recording is welcome—you can record audio for an instrument that might not have a MIDI-driven equivalent in “Studio A.”
The strongest sounds are, perhaps not unexpectedly, the keyboards. The Grand Piano (which benefits from the 128-voice polyphony) is deemed so important Casio has put a dedicated button that takes you to it immediately regardless of where you are in the OS, but there are plenty of other acoustic and electric piano sounds, as well as organs. Everyone will have their own favorites, but you’ll find plenty of candidates. I also think the basses are above average...they’ll keep your left hand happy when doing splits.
If you’ve played other consumer-oriented electronic pianos, one aspect you will notice immediately is that the drum sounds actually sound good. The drums are good enough to be an inspiring. The result is more than just an overachieving metronome.
As expected, you can split and layer sounds, transpose, and the like. But there are some goodies as well. A Duet mode that splits the keyboard into two sections with the same pitch range may seem teacher-oriented, but if you’re laying down two complementary parts in the same range, this is something most other keyboards I’ve tried don’t have. There are also auto-accompaniment and “instant harmony” features which “real” players might diss, but when you’re writing songs, they can get you where you want to go faster. They can also give you different musical perspectives that roll over creative blocks. Sure, you’ll find that some auto-accompaniment sounds kinda toy-like, but on balance, I’m very glad it’s there. Casio has definitely upped the ante to where the CGP-700 starts to resemble the higher-priced arranger keyboards (or as I call them, “license-free music libraries”).
Another extra, although it’s not a sonic one, is you can remove the CGP-700 from its stand and carry it around—it’s only 26.2 pounds. It’s 88 keys so you have to make sure it will fit in your car, but wrap it in a thick blanket to protect it, and you’re good to go.
Although the CGP-700 responds to MIDI control via USB, it does not have a mod wheel, nor can you add an expression pedal and assign it to modulation (although there is a sustain pedal). Also, although there’s an audio in jack, you can’t record an incoming signal—only what’s generated internally. And while the line-lump AC adapter cuts down on cost and regulatory approvals, it does cheapen the feel somewhat.
Finally although this isn’t really a problem, be aware that there is some assembly required with the stand, and the combined package of piano and stand is heavy. It’s not difficult to put together, just follow the instructions. The stand does seem like it could use a little more reinforcement on the bottom to stabilize it, but as long as something like a Great Dane dog doesn’t barrel into it, expect it to stay standing. Then again the piano’s depth is impressively compact, so you can place its back against a wall and minimize the chance of any accidents.
At first glance, it would seem the CGP-700 has a lot of competition but at this price point and with this level of functionality, there’s less competition than you might think. Don’t underestimate the value of the touch screen—it really does make navigation simple and effective, as well as maximize the virtues of a well-thought-out operating system. So many “consumer” products have fairly daunting interfaces, but by and large, the CGP-700 avoids that. Yes, there are enough features that you will need to read the manual, but you can get way beyond just scratching the surface very easily.
At worst, the sounds don’t get in the way and at best, they’re inspiring. The piano sound is very satisfying, but you’ll find plenty of other gems in there. Combine tons of sounds, easy operation, realistic keyboard feel, and excellent “scratchpad” sequencing capabilities—all at a very competitive price—and there’s your “Studio B.”
The CGP-700 ($799 "street") is available from:
Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages. Stream his latest "video album" at craiganderton.com.