Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Kurzweil CUP2 Digital Piano - REVIEW - Not Recommended

UPDATED REVIEW: August 1, 2015 - Kurzweil CUP2 Digital Piano - Not Recommended - I have been playing Kurzweil pianos and keyboards ever since the introduction of their famous K250 digital piano in 1984, which had the first authentic Steinway piano sample (incredible sound at the time in a real musical instrument), and I still enjoy the Kurzweil sounds to this day. In fact I still use one of their famous midi sound modules because I can't get those sounds anywhere else. 

Kurzweil piano technology was created and introduced many years ago by the the renowned American inventor Ray Kurzweil (pictured left some years ago - the pianos are named after him). The Kurzweil piano's big claim to fame was the fact that Ray was able to reproduce the sound sample of the grand piano, concert strings, and concert choir in a way never done before up until that time. The Kurzweil sounds have been used extensively in movie & TV music production and are used by popular bands and musicians around the world. In fact, when you hear grand pianos, full concert string symphonies and choirs/voice sounds in various movies & shows, it's likely they used a Kurzweil piano to get that. 

In fact, one of the reasons Ray Kurzweil created his new digital piano technology was at the request of Stevie Wonder over 30 years ago. Stevie wanted a digital instrument that had the most realistic piano sound possible with a few other high quality instrument tones along with a satisfying piano touch. Stevie already had an association with Ray Kurzweil because Ray invented and produced the revolutionary "reading machine" for the blind, which Stevie Wonder was using. Ray is known in music and scientific circles around the world and in fact he even predicted the rise of the Internet back in 1988 before it was here and is now into nanotechnology.

Kurzweil CUP2 Digital Piano
Over the years the Kurzweil piano company has gone through many changes including bankruptcy and being bought and sold by different piano companies. During those days Kurzweil service and parts went downhill and the company was nearly extinct. Then the current owners (Hyundai) brought them back to life with an influx of cash and now Kurzweil has, among other models, a compact upright style home digital piano called the CUP2 at $4299 in polished ebony, $4599 in polished white, and $3699 in their new satin rosewood. Utilizing select sounds and features from their PC3X pro digital stage piano and put into a beautiful slimline contemporary cabinet, the CUP2 would seem to be a good instruments to own...but unfortunately it has some noticeable deficiencies.

Kurzweil CUP2 digital piano I have played the CUP2 many times since it came out and was initially impressed by its beautiful contemporary cabinet and big acoustic type piano sound through its powerful 140 watts of  bi-amped internal stereo sound system.  Here are the specs of this piano below. Click on picture for bigger view of the piano.

~ Graded hammer piano action with semi-wooden keys
~ 64-note polyphonic with dynamic voice allocation
~ Triple strike stereo Grand Piano
~ 88 instrument sounds taken from the pro PC3X piano
~ Powerful 140 watts bi-amped 4-speaker pro sound system 
~ 64 sampled drum rhythm patterns
~ Layer, split, pro quality effects, and relative volume control
~ 2-track full MIDI recorder
~ Recessed low profile sliding control panel box
~ Slow close piano fallboard
~ USB & MIDI connectors
~ No tuning needed
~ Designer cabinet with functioning chrome pedals

Kurzweil CUP2 digital piano rosewood
CUP2 rosewood
With regard to piano polyphony power in a digital piano, 128-note to 256-note polyphony are now becoming standard in higher priced models. Unfortunately the CUP2 in this price range price should have at least 128-note polyphony to give added power for more complex piano & instrument layering and playing, but it does not have that. The polyphony power is only 64 notes total (in mono), so that is a disappointment to me although it may not be an issue for some players depending on their skill level. The lack of polyphony processing power is most evident when you are layering two sounds together at the same time and/or playing more complex pieces. In some new Kurzweil piano models they do offer a new 128-note polyphony sound chip, but not in the CUP2. For that reason alone I would not buy this model because in this price range all other major brands have at least 128-note polyphony. Kurzweil also does not have the new organic sound elements that other brands have including pedal resonance, hammer noise, sympathetic vibrations, etc, so they have a lot of catching up to do in that way.

Kurzweil CUP2 Digital Piano
Unfortunately when it comes to pedaling using the damper pedal, the CUP2 right damper pedal is not capable of allowing for more advanced pedaling technique which includes having the pedal recognizing the "half-pedaling" function found on all other major digital piano brands such as Yamaha, Roland, and Kawai. When playing a regular acoustic piano, you are able to press the right damper sustain pedal and get a variable amount of sustain (depending on how far you press the pedal down and then let it up) which is known in the digital piano world as half-pedaling or continuous detection pedaling. Kurzweil does not have either one and instead uses a keyboard style on-off sustain function which is very basic and not something that I enjoy using. Even though the right pedal looks like a piano pedal, it does not really operate like one and that's a big disappointment as well, and this function should be standard on any digital piano in this higher price range. To further add to my frustration with this model, the piano pedal sustain time (aka: decay time), is quite short in the middle to upper octaves...not at all like a real piano in that way. In this price range you would expect that when you press a key and a piano note is heard, while you have the damper pedal pressed down, you would expect the sustain.decay time of the piano sound to be reasonably long. However, it is not. The piano sustain/decay time is short and fades out quickly so that the notes don't continue to resonate through the piano. This is a big deal for me when I try to play beautiful legato music using damper pedal and expecting normal length sustain time, but it's just not there for the acoustic piano sound. Very disappointing. This is possibly due in part to the low polyphony processing power among other things. In any event, I don't like it at all. Even the new $600 Yamaha portable digital piano is better than that.

Fatar TP40 key action
Another big drawback to this model in my opinion is the key action. The key action realism is the #1 thing that shoppers should be concerned about when looking for a good digital piano in this or any price range. Although the CUP2 uses a key action movement with graded hammer style semi-wooden keys made by the Fatar key action company in Italy (Fatar is known to have some better key actions), the action is quite stiff to push down on both white and black keys (black keys are really stiff to push) and the action is also sluggish in my opinion, especially when playing softer, gentler piano music. The keys don't play consistently (evenly) in movement across the 88 keys  when pressing gently on the keys. This key action situation is referred to as heavy touch weight. 
Fatar TP40 key action
That means how much pressure your fingers must exert to get the keys to go down from normal key resting position. I have played the CUP2 model many times and personally do not like its key action because of that reason and was hoping for a much better experience. There is no way to change that deficiency in the CUP2 other than changing the electronic key touch sensitivity, but that does not solve the issue. Even though the Fatar key action company makes some good, enjoyable key actions to play which are in a variety of digital piano brands, this is not one of them. I am actually surprised at how stiff the key action is and this includes both black & white keys up & down the keyboard. Whether it is an installation issue with this action or the action is this way before its installed into the Kurzweil CUP2 cabinet, I wouldn't know. But it doesn't feel good to me and is not like any good acoustic piano I have ever played.

Kurzweil CUP2 white
Kurzweil CUP2 white
With regard to the piano sound volume coming out of the cabinet, although the internal speaker system is big and loud when it needs to be and I do like it that way, the piano bass section comes off way too boomy and bassy as compared to the piano treble section of the piano. In other words, the left hand can easily overpower the right hand if you are not careful how you play and there is no way to really adjust that volume balance issue between right and left hand as far as I know. This may be due in part to lesser quality Kurzweil key sensors under each key or other reasons, I just don't know. But I do know I don't like it much, however, the actual piano sound itself (despite the deficiencies) is enjoyable overall. It's just that the issues with polyphony, sluggish key action (based of my playing experience with them), poor damper pedal realism, and uneven relative volume balance from left to right leaves me very disappointed because this instrument could have been awesome. 

Roland LX15e digital piano
Roland LX15e
If you are wanting a reliable, elegant home furniture cabinet like the Kurzweil with a big, realistic resonate grand piano sound along with many other very cool features, then you should also look at similar pianos from Roland, Kawai, & Yamaha as they would be a much better choice in my opinion. Also getting service & parts for those other brands tends to be much better & much easier based on all my experience with this brand. The Roland piano company has two new elegant digital pianos that I like and they're called the HP508 and LX15e. I have done a review of those models and you can find them at the following links: Roland LX15e Review,  Roland HP508 Review In my opinion these new Roland pianos are definitely worth the money especially if you plan on keeping it for a while and want a great piano playing experience, Roland reliability, which is well known in the piano business, and some very cool functions & features. Copyright AZPianoNews.com 2014

Kurzweil CUP2 Digital Piano
So what do I like about this piano? I like the cabinet & volume, and to some extent, how the controls are mounted in a little pull out drawer under the left side of the piano so that it can be tucked away and not seen which makes the piano minimalistic in its looks. But that little drawer control panel can also be a bit frustrating to use because the controls and buttons are not in front of you above the keys for quick selection. You have to pull out the drawer every time you want to use something new and/or have to continually look down to your left side to use the buttons on top of that little pull-out box. Personally, I prefer all controls, buttons, display screen, etc above the keys within easy reach and access. But the biggest thing that I absolutely do like are all the NON-acoustic piano sounds including electric pianos, strings, choirs, brass, synthesizers, guitars, organs, etc. When it comes to those sounds, well...they are awesome, no question about that. Kurzweil has always been known for its ability to produce full, resonant sounding instrumental sounds and the CUP2 does not disappoint in that way. Big, lush, and beautiful tones. In fact when I play on that stiff key action, it's not as much an issue when playing those sounds because your not playing in a regular acoustic piano style which would need a better action. However, a better more realistic easier to play key action would make playing the other sounds much more enjoyable. 

Kurzweil CUP2 digital piano rosewood
CUP2 rosewood
If and when Kurzweil comes out with a new model that replaces the CUP2 (it's been out for awhile now) and they address the issues I mentioned and add some new useful features like some of their big competitors have, then they may have a great product which can stand up to those competitors...but only time will tell. In the meantime, unless you don't care about the negative things I mentioned here as problems for you, then you should buy this instrument because at the end of the day, it's about moving your musical soul and being able to express yourself musically. That's what it's all about for me and if the acoustic piano sound realism, key action movement, pedaling realism, and other piano fundamentals are not great, then the other things the piano can do (USB/audio connectivity, additional sounds, drum rhythms, etc) and how it looks is unimportant to me. It's first and foremost about playing the piano and everything that goes along with that, and that's why I cannot recommend the Kurzweil CUP2 at this time. As they say on the Shark Tank TV show here in the US, "and for those reasons...I'm out." 

If you want more info on this Kurzweil as well as other digital pianos and lower prices than internet discounts, please contact me at tim@azpianowholesale.com or call direct at 602-571-1864 

1 comment:

  1. How would you rate Kurzweil MP-10?
    and is there way I can get little cheaper than $1500.00.

    Thanks

    ReplyDelete