Wednesday, October 13, 2010

REVIEW - Suzuki MDG-100 Micro Grand Piano - STAY AWAY!

UPDATED REVIEW - April 24, 2013 - SUZUKI MDG100 Digital Piano is now discontinued and replaced by the new MDG200 - MDG100 & MDG200 NOT RECOMMENDED - MDG200 REVIEW Coming Soon.

MDG100 review here: Have you ever heard the saying "you can't judge a book by it's cover?" We'll that saying is especially true when it comes to the Suzuki MDG100 micro grand digital piano. It looks nice in its shiny black cabinet, but that's where the nice stops.

Suzuki (the brand) does not make its own pianos but they use an unknown factory in China to make the pianos for them. In my opinion it really doesn't matter where a piano is made but it's who makes it and the quality and parts that go into it. Yamaha & Kawai have pianos made in China, but those pianos are in a different class, and it shows. As an example, the black shiny cabinet finish can be just a thin coat of material or multi layers of material that stand up to wear & tear. So it's the materials & workmanship that cause the price to go up or down, and then you get what you pay for. If you don't want to pay a lot of money for a cute little micro grand, Suzuki may be perfect for you, however you will eventually notice the difference as well as big deficiencies.

There is very little else that I like about the piano except the fact that it looks cute. The piano doesn't play good, doesn't sound good, the cabinet is normally flimsy and wiggles & wobbles if you barely move it, and the controls and sounds are extremely weak as far as quality, based on everything I have seen from this piano so far...and I am not exaggerating. This model has been carried by Costco for awhile and also by a couple of on-line music dealers.

When I first saw this piano at Costco, I got a chance to play it extensively in their store. I was fortunate that it was not busy while I was there so I could spend some time on it. What was interesting to me was, as people approached this piano in the aisle way and saw it (while I was standing there), the first reaction from a shopper was always "it's so cute and pretty, I would love to have one." I was not surprised by this emotional response as it is expected because the piano is cute, but once you get past the cuteness, you'll probably wish you had bought a better musical instrument, in my opinion. Yeah I know you can bring it back to Costco (in almost any condition) and they'll give you your money back...but do you really want to go through all that time and hassle?, I wouldn't.

Costco's price has been approx $1499 on this model which seems low, but what shoppers don't understand is once you get past the cute cabinet, you have (in my opinion) a very poor musical instrument with inferior technology, which is too bad.

On one occasion at Costco, I tried to slide/push the key cover open  where it slides up into the piano and then it got stuck real tight (not a good sign). The key cover would hardly move when I tried to slide it out again and then got stuck again going back up. OK, maybe that can be repaired, but the piano was a new model in their store and it should have worked properly like they usually do on the 'good brands.' This is a red flag to me on what the workmanship on this piano could be like in other ways too. I have played and examined thousands of digital pianos over the years and rarely encountered anything like that on the higher quality digital pianos brands that I have used extensively including Roland, Yamaha, Kawai, and Casio, and others.

However, what really got my attention was the piano key action expression and key velocity reaction time. In other words, as I was playing a song, the volume of the notes I was playing were very choppy and irregular as I pressed the keys lighter and then as I gradually played with more pressure on the keys. It was like adjusting the volume on your TV remote and having it start out somewhat loud (no soft volume) and then jump to a much louder volume with nothing in-between. That would not only be very annoying, but does not allow for normal smooth musical expression, especially when playing lightly and that is not a good thing for piano students either. This is the way the Suzuki micro grand was obviously designed and there's nothing that can be done about it including changing the velocity sensitivity (a function)...nothing helped.

The physical keys themselves felt OK on the piano but they had a very noisy plastic sounding key action movement to them. And when I tried to play a bit faster with more repetition while using the sustain pedal (which is a normal way to play), some of the notes didn't respond at all, as if they were silent (dead)). I suppose if you always play slow then that wouldn't be a problem..but that's not realistic when playing in a normal fashion. So the key action was, to put it mildly... bad, and I've run into this before on some other "off brands" I have played. The piano sound itself was very basic and tinny in tone quality overall (you may not notice this unless you have heard how real pianos sound). In fact, Costco sells a Casio 88-key portable piano with weighted keys for $449 that plays and sounds better than this Suzuki in my opinion, and that doesn't say much for the Suzuki.

When a person is playing piano, they also need to use the sustain damper pedal (right pedal), although if you are an absolute beginner, you may not be using the pedal until you understand the keys and notes first. But it won't be long until you will need to do that and the piano needs to respond with a good piano sustained sound and resonance when the pedal is pressed down. Unfortunately, when I was holding the sustain pedal down (the right pedal) with my foot on the MDG100 piano, as I played the keys, the piano notes would decay (fade away) very fast. If you've never played an acoustic piano much or at all in the past, then you might not know that the piano sustain pedal on the right is supposed to sustain or hold the notes for a longer period of time than the Suzuki does.In other words, this is a deficiency for those piano who would be at a higher skill level than a beginner.

There are a total of 138 instrument tones on the piano with some sounding unrealistic (compared to many other digital pianos in similar price range). In fact, I have personally heard new Yamaha & Casio keyboards under $300 do a much better job at recreating realistic instrument sounds than this Suzuki. The same situation is true for the drum patterns and chord accompaniments. As far as other features of this piano, the built-in speaker system has (according to Suzuki) a total of 120 watts of power (2x60 watts stereo). That would be a a very good volume and hearing it should be no problem, but bigger audio power is useless if the piano and instruments sound cheap and play poorly...and in my opinion they do. That's like someone who sings bad who then sings louder to make up for singing bad (like on American Idol sometimes). How does that help anything?...it doesn't.

There is an SD card slot and an iPod docking station on the piano but it's all for show and no go as far as I'm concerned. Not long ago I reviewed a digital micro grand piano called the Williams which is sold by Guitar Center, and it and the Suzuki are not much different except the Williams had even worse physical problems on the one I saw then did the Suzuki. Regardless of what the manufacturer or store might otherwise say or believe, my advice is...just stay away from this instrument if you are looking for a satisfying piano playing experience and want a good piano investment for the future. 

I am not only a musician but also a piano teacher and it grieves me to know that parents may purchase one of these pianos for their children or themselves to take lessons or play on, not realizing what they bought was actually just a P.S.O. (aka: a Piano Shaped Object). It looks good but won't help someone to learn to play correctly or smoothly because the player will have to be compensating for the pianos inability to play the way it should play. And I'm not one of those teachers who demands perfection from my students...quite the opposite. I want them to learn and have fun, but it's no fun when you learn that your piano can't do the basics of what a regular piano should be able to do.

Yeah I know...it's CUTE! But if you can get past that and know that "at the end of the day" you need it to be a reasonably good musical instrument, then I advise you to opt for something else...unless you have very low expectations. I have actually seen some "positive reviews" of this piano out there by individuals who have apparently bought one, but as the old saying goes, 'ignorance is bliss," and if people can't notice the issues I have mentioned, it doesn't mean they are not there, it just means those people have not discovered them because they do not have prior piano experience. The deficiencies in this model is not limited to just one specific piano that I played on. The fact is, all MDG100's will have been made exactly the same and play exactly the same, deficiencies and all. 

Samick SG110
So save your money and pass on this one if you want a much better playing experience and want to be sure your piano will play at minimal levels for basic piano lessons. You usually don't get something for nothing and a good digital piano in a micro/mini grand cabinet that will work correctly and sound good is going to cost more money (generally around $3000 - $4000 for a decent one). If you want to stay in the "under $2000 price range" (or thereabouts) then I suggest you look at the Samick SG110 mini grand (above left pic). The Samick company is a well known acoustic grand & upright piano manufacturer which has been in business for many, many years. Their new SG110 mini grand is very nice in my opinion, and although it is sold in piano stores for substantially more money than $2000 (around $3000), I can show you how to get a new one for nearer to $2000. I have done a review on that model if you go here:  Samick SG110 Review.

Another option is to consider buying a digital vertical/upright piano from Kawai, Yamaha, Casio, or Roland. My two favorite models right now are the Kawai CE220 ($1899 internet price) and the Casio PX850 ($1099 internet price). Both pianos are fine instruments and have realistic piano tone, hammer action key touch, and very cool digital features that many people will enjoy. The Kawai CE220 is by far the better piano and even a professional piano player could feel comfortable playing that model because the key action (keys) comes from real wood full size acoustic piano keys along with having an incredibly smooth grand piano tone that far surpasses anything else in the under $2000 range. So if you are looking for super high quality piano reproduction and don't necessarily have to get a "grand piano look," then the Kawai CE220 would be my recommendation and a much better long term investment over something like the Casio PX850. But as for the Suzuki MDG100 or any other Suzuki MDG model, in my opinion you should stay away if you are looking for a good piano playing experience no matter what skill level you are at.

FURTHER MDG100 UPDATE: When a model is discontinued, sometimes there are used ones for sale by stores or private owners by that time. In the case of the MDG100, I have noticed you can find many used MDG100's for sale and some of these pianos are being sold in "as is" condition with problems and non working parts. This is an indicator of that model  being somewhat unreliable and having had enough problems where they are showing up that way. Suzuki is not the only brand with these issues but they are definitely occuring on the MDG100 so be careful what you buy regardless of price and regardless of brand.
                               
If you want more info on these and other pianos and lower prices than internet or store discounts, please email me at tim@azpianowholesale.com or call me direct at 602-571-1864

28 comments:

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  2. I was just down to Costco today, and saw this piano as I have been looking at digital pianos lately. I don't know much about pianos, but I had to agree with you that this thing is a piece of junk. When I first sat down on the bench, I knew it was crap. I turned the bench seat over just to look at it because it was flexing and making strange noises. The action of the keys did not feel good at all, and the felt piece along the top of the keys was starting to fall out. I then looked at a $450 Casio at the same Costco. It was much better in every way. Nicer action, solid seat (the seat looks cheaper, but it is more solid), and it ironically seemed like it was louder.

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  3. Thanks for your comments. Hopefully people will research and try out this particular piano (like you have) and will also stay away. Yes, even the cheaper portable pianos from Yamaha & Casio under $600 (like that Casio you mentioned) are nicer instruments in almost every way. I didn't really pay attention to the bench on the Suzuki but thanks for mentioning that.

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  4. Thanks so much for your review. I was enchanted with the fact it was a "grand", something I have always wanted. I received my first piano when I was about 4, in 1939, a Wurlitzer spinet, which sits in my living room refinished in a beautiful glossy cream, instead of the brown leatherette it originally came in. It was never intended to be an antique so it is never used; however, it has memories. I also have a Panasonic Technics digital piano, SX-PX665. At 75, my hands and fingers aren't what they once were and generally don't do what I ask them to, but I still love the sound of Bach on the organ, Mozart on the harpsichord, Beethoven on the piano, so the digital is a dream come true for an old lady with no room for various instruments. But that little grand -- so charming. I was ready to sell memories and the Technics to acquire a "grand" --such a noble and fine name -- but I discovered your website just in time to prevent me from making a major mistake, and I am most grateful. Thank you from San Diego.

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  5. Thank you for this feedback! I saw this pso at Costco yesterday and was wondering if it was any good because it wasn't plugged in to hear how it sounded. Glad to know it's not worth the money. I must admit I was a little charmed by it's mini grand look though. :) Thank you from New York City!

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  6. You're welcome. If you are thinking about buying a digital piano, there are good alternatives as I noted in this blog article, and the alternatives are not just limited to these pianos. Please feel free to contact me for more details about other pianos should you want one.

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  7. thank you for the review. My husband -- who doesn't play the piano -- was almost sold by the "grand" look.
    I know you've mentioned casio, my sister has a Yamaha, so I was thinking of checking out yamaha Clavinova. Any input on that? Thanks!

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  8. Your welcome. Yes I do have some additional input I can give you. Best way is to email or call me directly

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  9. I think you must have played another piano. I tried this and it worked well and sounded nice. If you adjust the action to the hard setting it gives you complete control over the expression,

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  10. I only do reviews on the specific pianos that I have actually played. Regardless of which velocity curve-touch setting the piano is set on, it responds poorly and is not sufficient for any student who is serious about learning correct piano touch and technique whether it be for classical, jazz, pop, or other styles of music.

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  11. Thanks for your reviews. Keep in mind if you test demos in the store, they are not in brand new condition. People mess with those things all the time. You never know what treatment these electronics have had to endure. Who's to say some kid came along and spilled their soda all over it. That could explain the stuck cover. Just sayin...

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  12. I have played more than one of these pianos in other stores since then. They are all exactly the same

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  13. Thank-you for your helpful insight. It's price is attractive, as is its appearance. But after your assessment, I would rather spend 6k on a better quality "grand look" keyboard...What a shame on this one - Whatever happened to quality, aesthetics & affordability???

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  14. Wow, thank you SO much for doing this review. You saved me a lot of money! I was about to buy it for me this month, I even had the page in amazon in favorites!! But then I saw that it wasn't available, so I was looking in the internet more pages where I can find the piano and I ended here THANKS GOD!

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  15. Thank you for your review. I teach piano lessons and a new student has this piano. I always take time to "get to know" my students instruments, and I was very disappointed when I played this - heavy, unresponsive touch, uneven, thin tone, the pedals don't work... Music lessons are expensive and I wish that parents, particularly those who have never played, would take the time to learn how to choose a good instrument or seek the help of a professional before they make their choice. I always advise people to buy the best instrument they can afford and there are good digital pianos and keyboards in all price ranges. Poor quality instruments won't inspire anyone to play them and too often are the cause of dropping out of lessons because music is "too difficult to learn". I agree - stay away from the Suzuki MDG-100.

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  16. I played this last night at Costco (I had not seen your review) and thought, "Horrible!". I am so looking forward to the Kawai MP-10 that I hope will be on the way soon.

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  17. I just purchased this piano two weeks ago and already having problems with it. The four middle keys will not play. I called up Suzuki and explained the situation with the keys not playing and the tech guessed the exact keys that were not working...imagine that?

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  18. Thank you so much for your review. It's very helpful (and saved me the trip driving to Costco and back to return).

    Now, what would you recommend as a digital piano in the $1000 - $1500 price range?

    Thanks!

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  19. Thank you for your very honest review. We nearly bought one today and are glad we reviewed this before doing so. Thank you so very much.
    T.Biro

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  20. Hi Tim. I too, was nearly fooled the "cuteness" of this PSO. But after reading your blog and as result, doing more research, whats your opinion of the Adagio 4'1" Digital Baby Grand Piano?

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  21. Tim you are wrong about this piano. Once you set it up properly it sounds lovely and feels lovely too. I think you use this site as a forum to sell your own pianos, and thats fine, just be up front about it.

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  22. I do stand by my review and it is indeed subjective. However, the word "lovely" can apply to many things, but not to Suzuki digital pianos based on all my years of experience with them. By the way, I do not have a store or warehouse and refer people to many brands and models of pianos depending on their musical goals and playing experience. I hope you enjoy your piano because if you do then that's all that really counts.

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  23. Hi , thank you for your Blog. Its very helpful! Is there any other digital piano "mini grand" piano you recommend? I really like the way it looks (grand style), but I do want something better than the Suzuki.

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  24. Thanks so much for saving us from headache. We're just about to buy one digital suzuki "mini grand" piano but we decided to stick with our yamaha clavinova. yOur blog is a great help!
    God Bless!

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  25. Our local COSTCO is selling the last one of these for $700. I have to ask - is it worth that? I have a Yamaha spinet myself and a 22 year old son who lives in a condo who is just getting back in to playing a little (he took lessons as a child). He is currently using a $69 Casio and hates it (obviously).
    Thank you~

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  26. I think you saved me money and time with this review.
    I consider it is excellent: very objective and down to the facts.
    Thank you for making such information freely available.

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  27. Hi Tim. How about the Artesia AG-28 micro grand? Is it better than the Suzuki micro grand? And what about the new Kurzweil baby grand? Thanks. Alex. :)

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