Monday, April 1, 2013

REVIEW - Roland F120 & RP301 Digital Pianos - Same pianos with different cabinet - Not impressed with Key Action

UPDATED - July 1, 2014 - The Roland F120 and RP301 are being replaced by the new F130R and RP401R which are much better pianos for less money. Please go to the following link to read my review of these new pianos:  Roland F130R &  RP401R Review

Previous review of F120/RP301 - January 2, 2014 - I semi recommend the Roland RP120 ($1299US internet discount price) or RP301 ($1699US internet discount price). What I mean by "semi recommend" is that I do not fully recommend these models because of a few basic deficiencies which I discuss below. I do like some higher priced Roland pianos very much (the Roland HP series and others) and have used them personally for years and Roland is a great company. The Roland RP301 & F120 are the identical pianos in every way except for cabinet design, control panel/button placement and weight, and are the lowest priced Roland cabinet pianos in their home digital piano line-up for 2012/2013. 
There are many cool features on both models including "twin piano" which electronically divides the 88-key piano keyboard into two identical 44-key keyboards so you can play duets with two players simultaneously, & 30 very nice individual and layered instrument sounds on these two models. The RP301 is offered in an attractive satin brown rosewood and satin black furniture style cabinet with sliding key covers and comes with a matching bench. The F120 is offered in a black or white cabinet with a folding key cover. Although Roland is still using a smaller 24 watt, two speakers sound system in both pianos, this is enough power for pretty good volume but unfortunately for some reason the sound is a bit thin and tinny when you play the middle part of the keyboard (where most people play). The sound is actually much better through a good pair of headphones, although Roland's SuperNATURAL piano sound is not so "supernatural" in the middle octaves of the keyboard even through headphones, and it sounds unnatural to me. The lower bassier piano sounds are full and resonate, but as you get up to the middle and upper octaves, that's where the piano starts sounding somewhat electronic and thin. A first time player or someone who doesn't know what pianos are supposed to sound like may not notice this unnatural part of the piano sound when playing in middle and upper octaves, and so it may not be an issue for some people, but it is for me and that's why I am pointing it out. The dynamics and expression response on these pianos however is very good and much better than many other digital pianos, and that a big plus.

I was looking forward to seeing what new type of key action Roland would be using in these new models and Roland chose to use their Ivory Feel-G Keyboard Action found in a couple other Roland models including the FP4F and RD300NX. Roland's goal was obviously to improve the key action and piano sound from the previous models, and in some ways they did a good job and in other ways they went backwards, in my opinion.The new key action is supposed to be heavier and closer to that of a real acoustic piano, and it is, as far as being heavier. Roland did improve that part although the key movement is sluggish when playing softly or lightly as well as on flats & sharps (the black keys) where your fingers play nearer to the top of the keys. The upgraded Roland key actions in the higher priced HP models including the portable FP80 move noticeably better and more smoothly, but those pianos are $2000 and up.

Roland also claims to have added an "escapement" feature in the key action which is supposed to give the feeling of playing on grand piano keys as opposed to playing an upright piano. Unfortunately, this "escapement" feature is virtually non existent in the G-Keyboard as opposed to the escapement feature in the Roland PHA series of key actions found in the majority of Roland pianos. You just cannot feel it (I could not and I know what it should do), no matter how hard or softly you press the keys. Roland might as well as have not mentioned this on their specs because it just doesn't work based on my playing experience with them. This is not the case with the better Roland key actions as you can definitely feel this feature on those pianos and it's quite good.

Finally, with regard to key movement noise, Roland has also has a noticeable problem with a few of their models with the ivory-feel G action making a loud thunking/thumping sound when the keys are played harder when trying to achieve louder volume or being played with some force on more aggressive music. The Roland HP302 digital piano at about $2500 had this issue (that model is discontinued) and I have played many of them and they all did the same thing. Unfortunately it is no different on the RP301 and F120. So in an effort to improve the weight and resistance of the keys, it would appear that Roland did not get rid of the distracting key thunking noise, and that's too bad. The loud noise when playing the keys sounds like there isn't enough felt under the keys to prevent the keys from knocking on the keybed underneath the keys. I don't know what causes it exactly, but when you play at lower volumes or use headphones for private practice, the thumping sound from the keys is quite disturbing and distracting when pressing the keys harder, and I have had owners of Roland pianos with this issue tell me this themselves. However, if you play the keys lightly or softly on these two models, you really don't hear the thumping noise because you're not playing the keys hard enough. But that's not the way people play because you use dynamics and different expression and you will likely run into this situation, and there's nothing that can be done about it. I would have expected this issue in an off brand, but not in a Roland, especially in the $1000+ price range.

Piano key actions and the way they move, look, and feel are very important and people need to consider that before they make a digital piano purchase decision. Although all digital piano key actions on all brands produce some background noise when being played, there are some digital pianos that have obvious distracting noise that are just not acceptable to me, and the RP301 & F120 are two of those pianos, although there are a number of off-brand pianos that do similar things. On the plus side, the Roland RP301/F120 models do have good pedal sustain and decay time, useful front panel dedicated control buttons, a nice LED display information window, a handy sliding key cover on the RP301 and folding cover on the F120, 128 notes of polyphony memory which is good, an adjustable electronic metronome for timing, an overall nice acoustic piano sound (Roland calls it SuperNATURAL sound) but not as good as it should be, an 1/8" mini jack audio input to run an iPod/MP3 player through to play along with (very cool), a song recorder, reverb effects, 5 levels of touch sensitivity control, built-in music holder clips in the music rack (above left pic on the RP301), and half-damper sustain pedal for more authentic pedal expression (which is good).

My final conclusions are...if it weren't for the disappointing key action & key noise and lack of a better internal speaker system, then these models would be much nicer to own. Roland also builds an upgraded version of the RP301 called the RP301R and it has many upgrades over the regular RP301 in terms of digital technology & fun features, but unfortunately it has the same key action and sound system and is approx $1999US discount price sold in piano stores only (not sold online). The RP301 comes in two attractive colors including brown rosewood (left pic) & black on nice looking furniture style cabinets. The F120 comes in a more compact contemporary cabinet in an attractive satin black and satin white (the white looks pretty cool if you like that color - lower left pic) with a useful key cover that folds down flat over the entire piano top and also acts as the music rack backing when opened up. Both pianos are no doubt reliable because Roland makes good quality electronics and I have owned and played many Roland digital pianos and keyboards over the years, and overall, enjoy playing them and have had few problems with them. But unfortunately I am not as impressed by either of these two pianos as I'd like to be and cannot fully recommend them especially because of the deficiencies in the keyboard action and piano sound in the middle portion of the keyboard and I have already mentioned. If you still like either of these pianos and the deficiencies I have mentioned here do not bother you, then you should buy the piano because at the end of the day...it's your money and your decision and there are many things to like about these Roland pianos:). Roland is a great company and I just wish they did not have these fundamental issues on their RP & F series digital piano cabinet models.  You should also consider other options in this price range by Yamaha, Casio, and Kawai who make competitive models that (in my opinion) give you more "bang for the buck," and for less money

Casio PX850 digital piano
Casio PX850
As an example, the Casio PX850 digital piano ($1099 internet price) is an excellent choice for its price and is considerably less money than either Roland piano. The PX850 has 40 watts of sound power going through 4 speakers along with using 256-note polyphony. It also has a very smooth key action and nice recording features and is offered in three colors and comes with a 3 year factory warranty. The PX850 is also a new model than the Roland pianos and offer USB direct connect output to iPad or computer. I use a number of iPad educational apps in my studio to help children and adults have a better visual understanding of music and piano concepts and the Casio does an excellent job with allowing instant iPad connectivity. Go here to read my review of the new Casio PX850: Casio PX850 review

Kawai kdp90 digital piano
2014 model Kawai KDP90
Another good piano option that just came out is the 2014 model Kawai KDP90 digital piano ($1149 internet price). The Kawai company knows pianos because they build concert quality acoustic grand pianos used by pro musicians, teachers, churches, and schools around the world. After personally playing this new model I find that the KDP90 to be an amazing piano for the price. It has a very quiet and solid graded hammer key action & resonate grand piano sound that is quite impressive, along with a variety of functions that makes this new model an excellent buy for its price. It comes with a comfortable matching bench (I personally have sat on it) and a 3 year parts & labor warranty, along with the prestigious Kawai name on it (and it is prestigious). I have done a review of the KDP90 and you should check that one out at the following link: Kawai KDP90 review 

If you want more piano info and LOWER PRICES than internet discounts or store prices, please email me at tim@azpianowholesale.com or call direct at 602-571-1864

* I recommend eMedia educational software. If you decide to make a purchase after clicking on link below, I have arranged a big discount for you direct with eMedia for their educational software and that discount price is displayed through this link only! I want to see everyone learn to play and enjoy piano!

14 comments:

  1. What do you recommend instead of F120 then?

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  2. I have the same question.

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  3. I have to say that I've been running into this annoying key thump from a yamaha cp33. I can still return it and I'm willing to spend about $2000...what should I try. I completely understand how that thump ruins the joy of just playing and enjoying the keys!

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  4. Email me directly and I will advise you of what to do

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  5. I've noticed the thumping keys on EVERY digital piano I've played.

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  6. What can you say about Kawai cl 36,as an expert you are,what can you say me about this piano?Is it good for a child of 7 years who wants begin to study to play or could you recommend me something with some good price.Thanks.

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  7. Would you recommend the older F110 model over the F120 then?

    Thanks.

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  8. Yes & no. The F110 piano action was too light as compared to an acoustic piano but as far as quietness of keys and sound, in my opinion it was better. If a person is wanting a lower priced piano in a compact cabinet style like the Roland F120, then I would recommend the Casio PX350, Yamaha P105, or the new Casio PX750 coming out near the end of Sept 2012

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  9. I'd like to buy a Roland, with the possibility of paying a little more wich model would you recommend?

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  10. I'd like to buy a Roland, there's a better model would you recommend me, that is not so much more expensive? maximum $3,000
    thanks!

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  11. Is it worth paying the extra for the Roland 503 vs 301

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  12. I'd like to buy a Roland, there's a better model would you recommend me? I'm professional pianist. In my country (Brasil) RP 301 R it´s too expensive ~$2,000.
    Thanks!

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  13. Hi I'm looking to purchase either a Roland 301 or a yamaha ydp141 for my daughter who has just left home and her beloved yamaha u2 which she does not have room for. I would welcome your advice. Many thanks

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  14. Hi,
    I'm looking at a Roland HP 2000 which is on ebay.
    It's only for my 7yr old but I have been advised to get something with weighted keys.
    Might this be a reasonable (cheap) option?
    Mandy

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