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Yamaha CP50 Stage Piano - Now with Conclusions


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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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 smile.gif 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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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 smile.gif. 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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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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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. smile.gif 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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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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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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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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I still have a few more audio examples to post, but have a question.

Do you want me to continue with more audio examples, or move on into more of the various functionalities? I can go either way.

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Quote Originally Posted by Anderton View Post

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.
A question regarding the AP demos-Are both demo songs #'s 2 & 3 the default CIII ?

Those two examples are good...how did you record them ? I downloaded both of them into Itunes and I'm A/B ing with a Roland RD700GX with the Super Natural upgrade and I prefer the Yamaha CP50. It sounds like the Roland has a blanket over it by comparison. I'm listening with AKG 240s and Dynaudio BM6As MKII.

When I've played the CP50 in the store I found myself partial to the second sound, the "Mild CF Grand" I believe it's called. That would be more suited to my needs..mainly Jazz piano.

I wouldn't mind knowing how you can access or scroll through all of the different drum grooves and basses to check them out without going to each individual patch. In other words, are there more drum grooves and basses in the CP50 that aren't part of those sequenced grooves ?

Thanks Craig.
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Quote Originally Posted by Anderton View Post
I still have a few more audio examples to post, but have a question.

Do you want me to continue with more audio examples, or move on into more of the various functionalities? I can go either way.
I am finding this very informative.Please go on to the other functions.

Thanks
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Quote Originally Posted by Dave Ferris View Post
A question regarding the AP demos-Are both demo songs #'s 2 & 3 the default CIII ?
Actually, I don't know how to find out. When you play the demo, you're locked out of using the buttons, and when you exit, you end up back to whatever preset was "live" before calling up the demo. Maybe someone from Yamaha can help out?

Those two examples are good...how did you record them ?
I just sent the audio outputs into an Emu 1820 interface, and recorded the audio into Sonar...nothing fancy, and no processing.

I wouldn't mind knowing how you can access or scroll through all of the different drum grooves and basses to check them out without going to each individual patch. In other words, are there more drum grooves and basses in the CP50 that aren't part of those sequenced grooves?
I'll be checking that out, haven't gotten that far yet!
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Quote Originally Posted by Dave Ferris View Post
Thanks for the excellent and comprehensive review Craig.

I just wanted to add that " pro input", at least as I'm led to believe, is directed more toward the new NW (new wood) action found on the CP5 & 1
Do you have any opinions as to the sound of the CP50 and the CP300? I have a CP300 and a P250 which I love, but they are back breakers. I have not found any of the other Yamaha pianos (P120, P90) however to be as expressive or sound near as good....so I'm still lugging around my CP300 and P250. Basically, if the CP50 sounds and feels as good, I would gladly get one. All the other sounds (and they sound very good in these demos) would just be gravy to me.

Funny how before electronic pianos that actually sounded like pianos came out, I wasn't so picky. I played what was available. Now my piano is much more personal. Like a guitar player, I have bonded...smile.gif
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Before moving along to Performances and how they work, one aspect of the sounds that's worth pointing out is that the instruments are very uniform across the keyboard - it's almost impossible to find split points where one sample stops and another starts. I auditioned lots of sounds and tried to find split points, but the only one I could find that struck me as noticeable was in the jazz acoustic bass.

Now, perhaps someone from Yamaha could comment on why this is so, but they do tout a new type of synthesis engine and maybe it combines aspects of sampling and modeling...after all, modeling doesn't have split points. Or maybe they're really good at doing crossfades, or most likely, it's a combination of multiple techniques that allows for this uniformity.

In any event, it was such a striking characteristic to me I felt it was well worth mentioning. Furthermore, I think this may be one of the factors that contributes to the realism - you're not reminded every time you switch particular octaves that you're playing a sample-based instrument.

I hope that someone from Yamaha can stop by and clue us in about this but of course if it's some kind of proprietary technique, I respect that.

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I'm used to synthesizers where the basic unit of sound is some kind of preset, and if you want to create something more complex, you assemble multiple presets together as splits and/or layers in more complex sound units called combis, performances, etc. But the CP50 isn't a synthesizer, it's a stage piano. Its basic unit of sound is the Performance, which bundles several elements together.

The Performance consists of two parts (four on the CP5, along with a mic input that the CP50 doesn't have). You can think of these as splits to create left hand/right parts, layers, or splits with layers (e.g., an overlap area in the middle of the keyboard, but otherwise left and right parts).

The next part of a Performance is the optional backing track, which is basically a drum machine/rhythm pattern. These are of course sampled drum sounds - we've come a long way from the buttons that selected "waltz" and "cha-cha" in the home organs of several decades ago smile.gif.

There's also signal processing. Although signal processing can be incorporated into a part, the Performance processing is global. There's a Reverb block - essentially a "send effect" for the various parts - and two "master" effects that process the entire sound, compressor and equalizer. The equalizer is a basic three-band type (low, mid, high) with dedicated front panel controls, so it's designed more for general, fast sound-shaping rather than any kind of "surgical" EQ.

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The CP50 has three main memory areas to store sounds: Preset, User, and External.

Preset consists of the "factory patches." These can be edited as you play, but not saved to their original locations - they need to be saved to the User or External areas. Although a lot of instruments take this approach, I favor gear that lets you overwrite the factory presets if desired, with the option to restore the presets to their original form.

Performance organization is multi-layered: There are three banks of Performances within the Preset memory block (PRE1, PRE2, and PRE3, logically enough) which you access by hitting the Pre button multiple times; its associated LED glows green, yellow, or red to indicate the bank - a nice touch.

There are four groups (A, B, C, D) within those blocks, each with its own dedicated button. Furthermore, there are 10 Performances within each group - 120 Performances total in the Preset block.

Finding an actual preset is not intuitive; there's no browser, or obvious organization by instrument type you can see in the display. The documentation includes a Data List document that shows which sounds live in which Performances, and I found myself referring to it a lot.

Basically, the way selection works is as follows. You choose the memory area you want, like Preset or User. Then you select a Bank within the block. The display starts flashing, but you don't know what's in the Bank. Then you select a Group from within the Bank; when you hit one of the 10 number buttons, then you finally see a Performance name in the display. At this point you can jump around among the 10 number buttons and instantly see the selected sound in the display, but as soon as you go to a different group, you again see a flashing display but have no real idea of what you're about to select.

This points up the importance of the User memory area, which initially mirrors the Preset area (including having 120 presets) but lets you organize Performances any way you want by saving to specific User area locations. I think it's doubtful the average player would need more than a couple dozen presets over the course of an evening of playing, so you could just save your favorite/most needed presets to User Bank 1, Groups A and B, and have 20 Performances at your fingertips.

Although this doesn't relate to storage per se, it's worth pointing out that when you call up a Performance, you have three real-time control parameters brought out to the three data knobs underneath the display for real-time tweaking. If you turn the knob, you add to or subtract from the existing parameter, which shows in the display as soon as you turn the knob - no jumps to unexpected values. Even better, if you push down on the knob, the display shows the parameter name in more detail, and the current value (which you can of course modify). This is a very useful feature, in large part thanks to the readable display and large, easy-to-turn knobs.

We'll wrap up our memory discussion with a look at the External option. You can save data from user memory to a USB flash drive, and even create directories with multiple memory areas. You can then load a set of Performances from the External memory into a dedicated section of the CP50's internal RAM. You can also set up the CP50 to auto-load a particular set of Performances from the USB drive on start-up.

There is one more memory option, although it involves a computer so we're getting a bit ahead of ourselves...you can do a bulk dump via MIDI sys ex into a DAW, then have the DAW play that back into the CP50 to restore the settings you saved.

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For those who want to delve deeper into what kind of Performances, Voices, and Drum Patterns are available, I've attached the PDF of the CP50 data list included with the CP50's documentation. As you'll see, it not only gives you an idea about the various sounds, but also, the type of processing that's used and a variety of other parameters...it's well worth checking out.

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