Friday, April 19, 2013

REVIEW - Korg SP280 & Korg LP380 Digital Pianos - SP280 NOT RECOMMENDED

Korg SP280 digital piano
UPDATED REVIEW - September 22, 2014 - Korg SP280 & LP380 Digital PianosSP280 NOT recommended but LP380 is recommended. The Korg Keyboard & Pro Music Products company has been popular with professional keyboard players for many years and I do like many of the products they make and have used them professionally. You see the keyboards on stage and in a variety of venues all over the world and they make great synthesizers, keyboard workstations, and a bunch of cool pro products. However, they are not really a "player" (haha) in the digital piano world:) They used to make a number of home/portable digital pianos like Roland, Yamaha, and Casio do but they just have 4 basic 88 key models now including the SP170S, LP180, the SP280 portable piano, and LP380 compact furniture cabinet pianos. The SP280 ($699 internet price) replaces the popular SP250 which Korg had out for the last 7 years or so, and the compact furniture style piano LP380 ($999 internet price) which was just reduced from the previous $1199 internet price, is available now and replaces the older LP350. They both come in black and white cabinet finishes. 

Korg LP380 digital piano
When I first heard that Korg was replacing the older SP250 ($699 internet price) with an updated version I thought this could be a very good thing and in some ways they did a good job with new upgrades. However I was disappointed to find out that the top of the line Korg RH3 key action that was in their older SP250 has been replaced in the new SP280 with Korg's basic NH key action which is not near as good in natural key weight and movement in my opinion as compared with what was in the SP250. The new LP380 still has the better RH3 key action which is a good thing and so I do recommend that model:) The Korg RH3 hammer weighted key action is one of the main reasons the older SP250 did as well as it did although the sound volume & polyphony was not as good as the new SP280. After playing the SP280 a number of times I feel that the new NH key action in the SP280 is sluggish and somewhat unresponsive (in my opinion) when playing softly and trying to use dynamics, and it just doesn't feel right to me, especially when compared to a good acoustic piano. However, the NH key action is physically quiet and doesn't make much noise when the keys move, so I give high marks to Korg for that. Korg is using this NH key action in other models as well and there is a noticeable difference in the two key actions (NH vs RH3) although the NH action is weighted and feels more like a piano than keyboards do.  I will admit my opinion of the NH key action is subjective and other people may have a different opinion, but I like the key actions in Casio, Kawai, Yamaha, and some new Roland pianos, I would not personally choose the Korg NH action given a choice. 

Korg SP280 digital piano
As far the piano sound goes, Korg increased polyphony piano memory from 60 notes to 120 notes on both the SP280 and LP380 so that is a nice upgrade and much needed for better extended note sustain and sound layering. The main stereo acoustic piano sound is big and full and has good sustain decay time (with half damper control) when using the piano sustain pedal included with the SP280. Although I do like the acoustic piano sound on these new pianos, it has noticeably limited sound dynamics when playing soft to hard, delicate to loud, etc as compared to Casio, Yamaha, Roland, and Kawai in similar price ranges. In other words, when you try
to express yourself and want more natural "color" to the music as you play the keyboard, the Korg SP280/LP380 just doesn't cut it for me. It's like the piano sound itself is good but doesn't change character much as you strike the key harder or softer like a real piano would. Also when the volume knob/slider is up somewhat loud, when you try to play more quietly and strike the keys easier, it is somewhat difficult to get a quieter touch volume...it's like the the volume is automatically too loud to strike the keys easily enough to get a quiet response. This is not true on other good digital pianos I have played where the volume knob or slider was on loud. On some of those better pianos you could still play lightly at a very soft volume because the dynamics-tonality and/or added key sensors allowed for more natural response. But if you are a beginner (or you just don't care) you may not notice this right away.

The bottom line is, music has tonal dynamics, color, tonal changes, and expression and when you play a good musical instrument correctly (piano, guitar, violin, clarinet, etc), you will be able to achieve those tonal dynamics, full expression, and color and then you'll be happy the instrument can do that. As I mentioned earlier, in the beginning it does not matter much about dynamics and tonal changes, but as a student progresses (or if you already play well) they'll not be able to play more intermediate & advanced music in the way it was intended to be played and heard, and so that would be a deficiency of the SP280 & LP380 in my opinion.
One of the impressive features of the SP280 as well as the LP380 is the internal audio power and speaker system. These two models both have 44 watts of total power (22 watts per side stereo) with nice sized built-in speakers, so if you are looking for a big loud piano sound, both pianos do that nicely and the SP280 is especially impressive in that way for its low price. In fact it has the most powerful speaker system in this price range of all the major brands. However, the sound on the SP280 comes up towards you through its speakers on top of the keyboard and if you have the volume up much past 1/2 way -3/4 volume, it gets to be much too
LP380
loud coming right up at you. The speakers are in a different place on the LP380 so it is not the same in that way and sound is dispersed in a better way below. As a comparison, the new Yamaha P105 portable piano ($599 internet price) has only 14 watts of total power but it also has 4 speakers as opposed to two in the Korg, and the Yamaha in my opinion is plenty loud and full because the sound is projected in a different way and using 2 additional speakers helps too. So you would think that at 44 watts for the Korg, which is 3 times the power of the Yamaha, the sound would be better and fuller than the Yamaha P105, but it really isn't in my opinion...it's just louder, but louder does not always make for "better." In fact, the SP280/LP380 is much louder through headphones too so you cannot play much past half volume that way either. If you were playing in a large crowded noisy room either professionally or at home, the extra volume would be helpful, but even then it can get too loud for the person playing it as opposed to people in the room hearing it at a distance.

Korg SP280 digital piano
SP280 control panel buttons
The SP280 does have a nice contemporary new design and styling with its rounded corners, back, and sides and the control panel buttons are easy to use, nicely laid out and accessible with buttons centered above the middle of the keyboard. Korg did a great job with that, although the features themselves on this piano are somewhat basic (same as LP380) but they offer good control over the functions. The LP380 compact cabinet piano is also nice with its flat closing top although I do not like as much where the control panel buttons are located on the LP380 on the far left side above the lower keys. Roland does the same thing on their similarly priced F130R ($1299 internet price) compact digital piano and it would have been better and easier to use had the control panel buttons been centered above the middle piano keys like on the SP280. I suppose placing the buttons on the left side had something to do with the compact nature of the cabinets, so it's something you can eventually get used to.

Both pianos offer 30 very good instrument sounds including electric pianos, strings, organs, choirs, etc, layer two sounds together, reverb echo, transpose, 3 key touch sensitivities, adjustable metronome for rhythm timing, stereo audio outputs, and other useful features including duet partner mode. Partner mode is the ability of the piano not have a recording feature nor USB direct connection to computer or iPad and when I noticed that I was a quite disappointed especially because other brands do have them and those features are useful. The SP280 does come with a basic metal keyboard stand/legs
included in the price which mounts to the piano and allows for good leg room when sitting at the piano, although I don't personally like the look of the stand unless this will be on-stage or in a bedroom. The stand is functional but not very attractive in my opinion. Both the SP280 and LP380 do digitally split into two identical 44-key pianos so that two people can play the same notes at the same time for practice (such as teacher student). This feature is also available on competitive Yamaha & Casio digital pianos but have different names for the same function. The SP280 also has a number of preset temperaments or tunings including tunings for middle eastern and Indonesian music which is very cool.

Korg SP280 digital piano
Many things use USB connectivity these days and I am a big fan of using an iPad in my studio for teaching, learning, etc, but at least Korg included standard MIDI in & out connectors which you could connect to a MIDI to USB converter if you wanted to, although that is not preferrable. Korg obviously designed these pianos for people who just want more of a basic digital piano with basic features combined with a very loud internal speaker system, but they should have kept their better RH3 key action in the SP280 and not just have it for the LP380. It's the key action that makes the LP380 so much better than the SP280 and the key action is the #1 most important factor in any piano regardless of whether it's digital or acoustic.

Casio PX350 digital piano
Casio PX350
My general assessment of these pianos is that if you are wanting to spend somewhere between $700-$1000, there are better choices as far as key action, piano dynamics, and functions in Yamaha, Casio, and even Kawai with their newer digital pianos including the Casio PX350 compact portable piano ($699 internet price - left pic shown with optional stand & 3 pedal unit), and the 2014 model Kawai ES100 ($799 internet price - lower left pic shown with optional stand & 3 pedal unit). You'll get much more realistic, more responsive key action, better piano playing dynamics & tonality for piano sound (very important), more overall useful features, USB direct connect to iPad and computers (on the Casio's), and the portable Yamaha, Casio, and Kawai pianos are much lighter than Korg. The Korg SP280 portable weighs in at about 40lbs and the Yamaha & Casio weigh in at about 25lbs each. Having 30 sounds and huge audio volume is great but having less sounds with
Kawai ES100
better key action and sound dynamics is even more important in my opinion and you can always connect external speakers to these pianos for more volume if needed. Both Korg pianos are essentially the same pianos in different cabinets with the same features (except for the difference in cabinet and key action) and I believe that a person could be happy with either the Korg SP280 or LP380 (the key action of the LP380 is much more realistic than the SP280) depending on your musical goals, playing skill level, music experience, and expectations. I actually know people who seem to the like the NH key action in the Korg SP280. But I personally would not recommend the SP280 because the action is noticeably sluggish and not very responsive, especially when playing softly and gently.  I do like many of the Korg piano products, but in a similar price range I believe there are better options such as the ones below:

Casio PX850 review
Casio PX780 review
Casio PX350/150 review
Yamaha P105 review
Yamaha YDP142/162 review
Kawai ES100 review
Kawai KDP90 review

Roland F130R
One final note: There is a new digital piano just released by the Roland company that I really like. It has a similar cabinet to the Korg LP380 and the new Roland model is called the F130R (left pic). It has some amazing features, especially for its size and price, and I have written a detailed review of that model. Please take a look at it while trying to make a good buying decision on what digital piano will be right for you and let me know if you have any questions.

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


12 comments:

  1. Hi there, I'd really appreciate your input :-) what's your verdict on the korg LP350 at £699? I'm not interested in the digital stuff, different instruments etc, only in the key action, the colour as you said - having the keys respond well to different touch, the pedals etc and a real piano sound. I know its older technology but is it good value for money and usable for someone who wants to play grade 6/7 pieces. I loved playing it and would like one for myself. Thankyou for any advice.

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  2. Here is the link that will take you to my blog review of the Korg LP350. Hopefully this will help you: http://azpianonews.blogspot.com/2011/11/review-korg-lp350-sp250-digital-pianos.html

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  3. Are LP380 sounds worst?

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  4. I love how every review always ends in you plugging Casio.
    I have a SP280 and it is an excellent piano for its price. So, even though the speakers sound better, you would actually rate speakers higher that are muffled yet facing downwards?
    The Korg SP280 sounds far clearer and more natural than the PX x50 series.
    It is just that you might get a better commission from Casio.

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  5. I don't recommend the Korg 280 mainly because of its sluggish key action and limited dynamic range. I especially do not care for the key action. As for Casio, I do recommend them in the lower price range and they have speakers pointing up or forward depending on the models. I recommend many pianos incl Roland, Kawai, Yamaha, Casio, Kurzweil, and others. It just depends on the price range and overall playability. There are people that may be happy playing the Korg SP280 and that is fine and I hope they enjoy it. I don't work for any of those companies and my opinions are my own.

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  6. I think that Casio PX-350/850 are not even close to Korg SP-280/LP-380.

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  7. I hope you enjoy your Korg as ultimately it is about enjoyment and expression

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  8. Hi, I appreciate your reviews and would like your advice...
    Last year i gave my daughter a Casio PX 850.. I like it, and now it is my wife's turn, for a new piano, and this one I will play on as well..
    question 1: is there anything better today (or coming up shortly) than the PX850 in the same price range (± 200$)?
    question 2: does the Celviano range feel and sound any better?
    question 3: I already have a decent sound system ( marantz etc).. will I gain quality if I play the piano through a sound system?
    Thanks

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  9. my answers are

    1. no, not yet
    2. no, it does not in the same price range
    3. it might...you can only know for sure by connecting it and seeing what happens

    If you want more specific info on these pianos & lower prices, please email me directly.

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  10. Hi! Here (in PerĂº) i found a Korg LP380 for 460 $. For this price, it would be a good option? Thanks!

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  11. Hello,
    what do you think about new Korg LP 180 piano? I'm looking for piano for my 7yr old daughter who has just started to take lessons.

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  12. The Korg LP180 is basically just a repackaged version of the Korg SP280 for the same price, but in a "furniture style" cabinet with less sounds and less powerful internal speaker system. It would have the same key action, dynamic range, and piano sound of the SP280. Although I have not played this model yet, I would give it a low rating because Korg is using the main functionality of the SP280 in the LP180 which I find not to my liking. You would be better off buying a Yamaha or Casio piano in this price range when it come to key action and piano sound realism.

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