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The Yamaha Digital Piano Stuck Between Two Worlds!
on 20 December 2012
Yamaha would like to think that their new "Piaggero" series of budget marked digital pianos will set the world alight for buyers who are eager to play or first time learners who may feel that a digital home keyboard may be too elaborate. It is a market that has already been filled by Yamaha for some years now, giving musicians the opportunity to either consider an elaborate "home keyboard" or a digital piano, by confusing the issue in my experience! Or for media/advertising loving consumers, the fact that for the more expensively priced models, Jamie Cullum has been at the forefront for the entire promotion of this digital keyboard family, online.
What you get is a black keyboard with white coloured decal and rubberised buttons. There is some quality felt from the general plastic build on offer here and the NP-11's winning card is that it is very compact to the eye., has simple buttons and quality to the touch. Though each key is manufactured from glossy white plastic, Yamaha have tried to mimic a proper piano keyboard to the point of including the general design of an individual piano key in the way it tapers off at the bottom as opposed to the open design of a home keyboard. Although there is the obligatory red felt that has been added at the top of the keys, it is more of an afterthought and its only purpose serves as a way of minimising dust if the keyboard isn't covered in general use.
Sadly though for Yamaha, I'm a big fan of their products with my first keyboard being the PS 20 from the early 1980s to quite a handful of digital home keyboards such as the PSR 175, PSR 340 and from last year's model line up, the PSR E323 model. As a classically trained pianist first and foremost, I don't scrimp on the brands I love to play. Requiring a digital piano for gigging outside and external events was therefore justifiable for considering the new Piaggero NP-11 by Yamaha as it seemed to me to offer what I was looking for.
From the moment it is switched on, the NP-11 is playable and easy to play on. The keys are full size by trade but the length of the keyboard is compromising though compact, you'll still need a table with the length of around 105cm to accommodate this keyboard. An adjustable stand for home keyboards with the pull ratchet or cogged lock wheel style is far cheaper than the optional cost stand that Yamaha sell which bolts onto the base of the NP-11.
Sadly the Yamaha NP-11 is saddled with the poor slot in music sheet stand that can only accommodate something like an executive folder binder of music sheets. I have tried putting A4 sized books on the stand but it bends down far too easily and the slot in stand doesn't feel well made, even though it has Yamaha's name stamped on, proudly.
The control panel is a basic set of eight buttons, able to add a variation of noise, able to put two voices together as well as six other voices creating 10 voices in total. The voices range from strings, electric piano, harpsichord, pipe organ, vibes and even the sound of a grand piano; so by combining two voices you just push two of the buttons together to get the desired effect. All of this is designed around a seamlessly smooth black PVC plastic build that most owners of existing Yamaha products may recognise - and if you are not a Yamaha owner already, then the buttons are clearly labelled and everything is smooth and tactile to the touch.
For me where my first ever keyboard (and countless others since then) has always been from Yamaha, there is an air of familiarity with this keyboard though. The buttons are tiny little round black dots that light up in red whenever each function is selected and the rotary dial for the volume harks back to my 1990's Yamaha PSR-340 home digital keyboard, that also has a far lighter twist movement on the NP-11. Light to carry and light controls doesn't exactly weigh up the pros and cons of this product automatically.
For the more experienced players out there, the all-important question for the Yamaha Piaggero NP-11 must surely come down to whether it is suitable as a conventional piano in terms of touch sensitivity. Well, the NP-11 tries hard with its touch sensitivity level, able to offer three levels of touch sensitivity for the most sensitive for light players or heavy pianists who demand a more controlled touch if they hit the keys harder. However the light plastic keys certainly remind me instantly that I'm playing a digitally sampled electronic piano and not a proper piano, helped along by the awkward noise as the keys gets moved about under my fingers. This digital piano is stuck in between two worlds of the digital piano type and the home keyboard type, and viewed from that angle, the NP-11 has disappointed me rather than delighted me.
The keys themselves are slightly disappointing. I feel they lack any heavy action imposed by a conventional piano alone and this is a compromise you must make between the cheaper cost price of a digital piano keyboard as opposed to a heavier or bulkier conventional piano that may cost thousands of pounds bought brand new or £300 to £500 for a second hand quality piano.
However, by type alone though, you'll get the instant bonus of the NP-11 being far more infinitely transportable, helped along by the fact that it has 61 keys and multi-polyphony that allows a total of 32 notes to be played all at once as opposed to budget digital home keyboards that don't offer as much and lets face it, with ANY digital piano you'll seldom need to tune it compared to a traditional piano. What it offers against a conventional piano is the next possibility of being able to practice personally due to the addition of a headphone socket that also acts as the multi-aux output jack if you need to amp the sound up through a portable amplifier. The NP-11 also comes with 10 built in piano demo songs, just incase the need arises!
Sound quality isn't a problem for the Yamaha NP-11 because it has a level or balanced sound of bass richness dependent on the voices chosen helped by the four levels of reverb. However the NP-11 definitely lacks the power of volume and sound together I've come to love about the previous generation of Yamaha digital pianos like the P-120/150 series that has a wonderfully rich tone control slider that gives the opportunity of being able to perfect the tinny or muffled sound of the digitally sampled piano noise that Yamaha sample in every keyboard they produce. That keyboard will cost you £500 and it will take two people to transport, as it is extremely heavy compared to the one-person 4kg weight that this keyboard weighs alone!
Thus, the total power output on this keyboard isn't very high, so don't go expecting to blow away an appreciative audience without an additional amplifier tagged on! There are only 2.5 watts per speaker on this keyboard which is loud enough to entertain a room of about 60 to 80 people, but the longer I keep the volume to its highest setting, there can be hiss created by some of the other voices with the exception of the original piano sound.
Though the NP-11 does sound like a piano, at times the sound is too tinny for its own good, and unless you are giving a solo performance, this isn't the keyboard of choice for that purpose alone. It does have MIDI in and out points though - so it does offer versatility on its side if used as an electronic device fed through a computer or other device.
There are a couple of other downsides too. For the fact that it has 61 keys and twin stereo speakers either side, the length of this keyboard is longer than both my digital home keyboards, both of which (PSR E323 & older PSR 340) fit compactly into the bargain keyboard soft transportable bag that Argos sell - the NP-11 fits in "just," pushing its not needed length to the sides of the bag, to the point that the zip could burst if I really tried to accommodate this far-longer keyboard by length into the bag.
Another issue is that despite the industry standard of compact digital keyboards having 61 keys, it can be restrictive if trying to play classically based music that require a larger amount of octaves, thus necessary to look for a bigger amount of keys of up to 76. This would have been far more helpful to me instead of the limited number on offer here.
Also the control panel is limiting in so far as being able to access features to make the sound better. Yamaha may have wanted the NP-11 to have an uncluttered appearance but it doesn't work in the favour of the owner who may want to change default settings! This comes down to the reverb setting with the NP-11's ability to create a concert stage sound, adjusting the octaves on the piano to changing the settings for the touch sensitivity control, transposing or tuning. All of these features have to be accessed through the control panel by pressing two buttons - Yamaha really need to return to separate controllers here - or at least an LCD panel that could be better to see what you're activating rather than leaving it up to guess work and having to read the complicated user manual each time you require to change a setting - and please Yamaha, for heavens sake return to putting a tuning dial on the back of the keyboard instead of having the owner to push certain piano keys to get the desired effect!
To conclude then, if you are after a digital piano in your home to try your hand at learning the piano, I'd say go for a cheaper priced home keyboard that Yamaha sell with touch sensitivity. Yes, really! Any of their full sized keyboards such as the bargain priced PSR 170 and upwards (no longer sold on the high street but available second hand online) or E323 or E400-series have a lot more features and at least you can change the sound quality far more easily as well as being open to a lot more delights on offer like rhythms and lots of other voices AND an LCD panel with a far easier approach to visuals activated by the functions.
For the more experience of pianists out there, the Yamaha NP-11 is a good compromise between a conventional piano and a home keyboard that may be appear to be confusing on feature alone. Though the sound quality is slightly tinny, this is more of a suitable digital piano for more experienced pianists who require a home piano to those who have learnt the piano before but left it a couple of years only to require a digital piano for the basics and to re-start the joy of playing again.
However, because the controls can be limiting in not being able to offer a fast approach for customizing, the NP-11 looks and feels professional but isn't really when it comes to choosing a piano to fit your needs, unless you have all the time in the world to fiddle about with the settings and have the user manual close to hand. That and the lack of power behind it really doesn't suggest that it is suitable as a universally approved digital piano - not when the home keyboards that Yamaha sell that offer the same level of touch sensitivity and the same lightness on the keys kind of takes away the belief that the Piaggero NP-11 is a specialised buy - and for Yamaha - that's a great downside. Thanks for reading. ©NR2 2012.