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  • Yamaha P-121 Digital Piano

    By Phil O'Keefe |

    Sometimes smaller (and lighter) is better



    Digital pianos have made significant inroads in the keyboard world. They are popular for a number of reasons and with a variety of musicians, from novices who are just starting out on their musical journeys to seasoned touring professionals. And why wouldn’t they be? The better models can provide very credible simulations of not only an acoustic piano, but often other sounds too, and in a package that is lighter in weight and that doesn’t have the same maintenance and tuning requirements of an acoustic piano. They’re smaller too, and it’s that portability that makes them a common substitute for acoustic pianos in live situations. And speaking of smaller, that’s where the Yamaha P-121 comes in… 


    p-121 top.jpg



    What You Need To Know

    • The Yamaha P-121 is a digital piano that uses Yamaha’s Pure CF sound engine. It has 192 voice polyphony, which means you probably won’t run out of notes, even when using the sustain pedal heavily, or dividing the keyboard into two zones.  


    • The Yamaha P-121 measures 43.86” W x 11.61” D x 6.54” H and weighs in at only 22.05 pounds, making it surprisingly light and easy to transport, and more compact than most other digital pianos with weighted-action keyboards. In fact, at the present time, it is the lightest weighted-action keyboard currently on the market. 


    • While the P-121B review unit I was sent for evaluation is black, the P-121 is also available in white. 


    • The P-121 is the first 73 key weighted-action keyboard from Yamaha. The P-121 uses a dual-sensor, graded hammer standard (GHS) keyboard for its 73 keys. The keyboard can be transposed to cover the entire 88 key acoustic piano range or for performing a song in a different key. 


    • The black keys have a matte finish, while the white keys are glossy. The action is a bit stiffer in the bass region, and lighter to the touch in higher octaves, which closely simulates the feel of an acoustic piano. 


    • The P-121 is velocity sensitive. The touch sensitivity can be user-adjusted to one of four values - Hard, Medium, Soft and Fixed, so it can be adapted to your personal playing style. 


    • Complex string and damper resonance can be simulated with the P-121’s onboard DSP. This feature can be turned off, if desired, but it does help to add to the realism when it is on, simulating the sympathetic vibrations and resonances that occurs when the dampers are lifted and you play notes on an acoustic piano. 


    • The only jacks that are visible from the player’s perspective are the two 1/4” stereo headphone jacks, which are mounted below the far-left side of the keyboard on the front of the unit. The headphone outputs feature Yamaha’s Stereophonic Optimizer, which is designed to give you the illusion that the sound is coming from the piano instead of your headphones. 


    P121 headphone jacks.jpg


    • All of the P-121’s other I/O connectors are located on the rear panel. 


    P-121 rear.jpg


    p-121 I:O closeup.jpg


    • Power is supplied by an included 12V DC wall wart. 


    • While there is a 7-pin DIN input for an optional 3-pedal LP-1 pedal unit, a basic sustain footswitch is included, along with a 1/4” jack to connect it to. It’s a small square unit, and not a higher end damper-pedal style one, but it’s functional and does the job. 


    • Yamaha also includes a basic plastic music stand that inserts into the slot on the top of the P-121 to hold your sheet music in place in front of you while you play. 


    • Yamaha offers an optional furniture-style L121 stand ($89.99 “street”that will give the P-121 a bit more of an acoustic piano vibe when it’s sitting in your living room, as well as the optional LP-1 3-pedal piano-style pedal unit ($74.99 “street”), and even an optional soft case (the SCKB750 - $89.99 “street”), so there are plenty of accessories available. 


    • The Yamaha P-121 uses Yamaha’s Pure CF sound engine. There are 24 preset sampled instrument Voice options available, including samples taken from Yamaha’s own CFIIIS acoustic grand piano. 


    • The sounds are divided into six groups: Piano, E. Piano, Organ, Clv./Vib., Strings and +Bass. Each one has a total of four different Variations, which are selected by the top panel Voice buttons. Pressing a Voice button multiple times cycles through the four Variations, with one of the options not lighting up the Variation LED indicator. 


    P-121 controls closeup.jpg


    • You get a good, if not exactly huge collection of different timbres, and most of the ones that are included are actually pretty darned good. Acoustic grand pianos, electric pianos (including a DX-style EP), jazz and rock organs, harpsichord, clav, vibraphone, strings (including a slower attack string sound), choir, a synth pad, along with acoustic, electric and fretless bass sounds are all here, so you have all the basics covered with the 24 onboard sounds. 


    • The +Bass sounds can be added to any other Voice you want - just call up a Voice, then select the +Bass key to cycle through the bass options. By default the keyboard splits at G below Middle C, with the main voice playing from G up, while the bass sound is assigned to the lower part of the keyboard, from F#2 down. 


    • Sounds can be augmented with the P-121’s onboard reverb effects, with two halls, a chamber and a club reverb as available options. Reverb depth is user-adjustable, and you can also disable the reverb entirely if you wish. 


    • Several of the options on the P-121 are selected with the fairly common “hit a button, then hit a keyboard key” method, while selecting other options requires more than one button to be pressed simultaneously, so you’ll want to keep the manual and the single-sheet Quick Operation Guide handy as you’re initially learning your way around the P-121, although there’s labeling just above the keys themselves to help make the process a bit easier. 


    • Split, Duo and Layer keyboard options are available, so you can play two different sounds at once on different parts of the keyboard, or layer two so they're played together. Yes, this also works with other sounds besides bass. You can also divide the keyboard into two halves using Duo mode, with one for the student, and one for the tutor. You can even adjust the split point, the voices used, and the relative volumes of each half of the keyboard. 


    • The P-121 has an onboard sound system with two 7W amplifiers and built- in speakers and Yamaha’s Intelligent Acoustic Control, which adapts the P-121’s EQ depending on your volume setting. The volume levels available from the onboard sound system are fine for at-home use, and might even get you by at a coffee shop gig, but you’ll want to use the P-121’s two 1/4” outputs (mono and stereo are both supported) and an external amp for anything that needs to be louder. 


    • A built-in “Table EQ” option allows you to set the P-121 on top of a table without major compromise to the sound of the piano’s onboard speaker system, which projects sound both out of the top of the unit as well as from underneath it. 


    • There’s more to the P-121 than just piano sounds. As you’d expect, there’s an onboard metronome (with adjustable tempo) to help you practice in time, as well as a two track recorder so you can record your performance and play it back. This kind of self-analysis can be very beneficial when learning how to play. While there’s only one song memory for user recordings (with 100 kb of memory - about 11,000 notes), those recordings can be transferred to a computer as a SMF (standard MIDI file) over the USB connection for storage. USB can be used to send audio from the P-121 into your computer too. 


    • There are 20 onboard drum and bass rhythm patterns to play along with. These include 8 beat, 16 beat, 3 different Shuffles, Gospel, 6/8 Slow Rock, Slow Jazz, Jazz Waltz, Samba, Rumba, KidsPop, Bossa Nova, Salsa, Swing, Fast Jazz, 8 Beat Ballad, 6/8 March and Christmas 3/4 and Christmas Swing varieties. 


    • The bass part plays intelligently, based on whatever you play. Play a C note or chord, and the bass part follows along automatically. I tried to throw it off, but it actually does a good job of playing appropriately.  


    • Would you rather just hear some piano music and not have to play at all? There are 21 demo songs and the 50 classical music piano songs included that can be easily recalled and played. Clair De Lune, The Nutcracker Medley, Fur Elise, Jesus, Joy Of Man’s Desiring, Ode To Joy, and even Twinkle Twinkle Little Star are some examples of the included songs. 


    • Yamaha also provides you with a Smart Pianist app (iOS and Android) that can be downloaded for free. When used along with the P-121 it allows you to more easily configure the various settings; essentially becoming a touch screen interface for your piano. It’s also able to analyze the audio of the songs in your device’s music library and display chords for them, and even display music notation for the onboard songs that come with the P-121 so you can play along. It’s a nice extra freebie that you definitely should check out. 


    • The Yamaha P-121 comes with a limited three-year warranty from the manufacturer. 





    • There is no hardware 5-pin MIDI I/O on the P-121, making it less well suited for use as a master MIDI keyboard controller to drive other MIDI hardware in a live situation. In the studio, the USB interface works fine for sending and receiving MIDI, and yes, you could use that live too if you’re willing to take along a computer, but considering there is also no pitch bend wheel or modulation controller on the P-121, it is still not something I’d recommend for that purpose. It will work fine as a digital piano in a live situation - it’s just not a good choice for a master MIDI keyboard controller. 




    When space is at a premium, and weight matters, the Yamaha P-121 is a great choice. You do give up a few keys, but the high-quality graded hammer action and sound quality that we’ve come to expect from Yamaha’s digital pianos are all still here. While the keybed doesn’t really break any new ground other than its shorter size, the action feels very nice and will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played any of Yamaha’s other weighted-action keyboards. 

    The selection of sounds is relatively limited (which is not at all uncommon for digital pianos in general) but still a lot more varied than what you get from an acoustic piano, and is in line with what is offered by competing digital piano models. Most of the onboard sounds are quite nice, and certainly useable for practice and performing. 

    The extra features may appeal to some, but I kind of wonder how many purchasers will buy a P-121 for the relatively large selection of onboard demo songs. On the other hand, the onboard recording capabilities and the inclusion of the Smart Pianist app for iOS will make it very useful for those who want to learn to play, whether at home or in a classroom setting. 

    Live performers who are looking for a good master MIDI controller will probably want to look elsewhere, but the P-121 would make a very good digital piano for stage use, and its smaller dimensions will make it easier to fit on to small, cramped stages. For those who like the features of the P-121 but long for a full 88 key version, Yamaha offers the P-125, which is otherwise identical. Regardless of which one you chose, you’ll be getting a very capable, nice playing, relatively lightweight, and very good sounding digital piano at a reasonable price.    -HC-



    Want to discuss the Yamaha P-122 Digital Piano or have questions or comments about this review? Then head over to this thread in the Keys, Synths and Samplers forum right here on Harmony Central and join the discussion!




    Yamaha P-121 Digital Piano ($899.00 MSRP, $549.99 "street")

    Yamaha’s product web page.   


    You can purchase the Yamaha P-121b Digital Piano from:


    Guitar Center    

    B&H Photo Video    

    Musician's Friend    

    Full Compass















    Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.  





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