Tuesday, February 4, 2014

REVIEW - Kurzweil SPS4-8 Digital Piano - Semi-Recommended - Portable and fun to play

UPDATED REVIEW - April 1, 2016 - Kurzweil SPS4-8 Digital Piano Orchestra - Semi Recommended - Kurzweil digital pianos are well known by professional keyboard players who play Kurzweil pro stage pianos, but not as well known by mainstream families looking for a good digital piano. The SPS4-8 is a portable 88-key digital piano with a full sounding built-in speaker system and a weighted hammer style key action. It is a very good instrument in some ways but in other ways it's not so good as compared to the name brand digital pianos in its price range such as Kawai, Roland, Yamaha, or Casio. The non-piano instrument sounds on this Kurzweil model are really nice such as concert strings, organs, guitars, brass, woodwinds, percussion, electric pianos, and other sounds including synths, and these sounds are much better than most other digital pianos in this price range. However, the acoustic piano sounds are just OK and for this instrument's $999 internet price including furniture stand and music rack, the acoustic piano tones and the key action sound dynamics should be much better.

I have been playing Kurzweil pianos and keyboards ever since the introduction of their famous K250 pro digital piano in 1984, which had the first Steinway acoustic grand piano sample (incredible sound at the time in a real musical instrument), and I still really enjoy the Kurzweil piano sound to this day. The Kurzweil digital piano sound technology has always been advanced over some other brands throughout the years and they still put out some great instrument sounds, although other brands have caught up and surpassed  them in some areas. 

Kurzweil digital piano technology was created and introduced many years ago by the the well known American inventor Ray Kurzweil (pictured left in his younger years - the pianos are named after him). Kurzweil piano's big claim to fame in the beginning days of that company was the fact that Ray was able to reproduce the sound of the grand piano, concert strings, concert choir, and brass/horns in a much more realistic way than was ever done before in consumer digital keyboard instruments back in the '80's & '90's. 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, choir/voice sounds, and brass/horn sounds in various movies & shows, it's likely that they used a Kurzweil piano to do that. 

Stevie Wonder with Kurzweil piano
One of the reasons Ray Kurzweil created his new digital piano technology was at the request of Stevie Wonder many years ago. Stevie wanted a digital instrument that had the highest quality acoustic piano sound possible based on technology in those days along with a more realistic piano touch and a few other high quality instrument tones. Stevie already had an association with Ray Kurzweil because Ray invented and produced the acclaimed "reading machine" for the blind, which Stevie Wonder was using. Ray Kurzweil is known in music and scientific circles around the world and in fact, Ray even predicted the rise of the Internet back in 1988 before it was here. So there is certainly a celebrated history in the Kurzweil company. Kurzweil did go through some growing pains in the last 20 years and was sold a few times and had some company difficulties until the gigantic Hyundai company bought them some years ago. Kurzweil now produces a full array of pro and home digital pianos some of which are very good and I have reviewed other models on my blog.

Kurzweil SPS4-8 digital piano
In the case of the SP4-8 digital piano, it is simple in its concept by focusing directly and exclusively on producing higher quality stereo instrument sounds and effects. What I mean by that is there are no automatic drum rhythms, no auto-chords, no recording features, no USB flashdrive recording, no built-in lessons or educational features,  and no 3-pedal option as it only comes with one sustain pedal. What the SPS4-8 does have is 128 high quality stereo piano & instrument sounds and effects (most digital pianos in this price range only or mostly have simple mono instrument sounds and mono effects) along with another 64 authentic stereo instrument sound combinations (2 or more preset tones at one time). This piano also allows the user to create their own sounds or combinations and save
Kurzweil SPS4-8 digital piano
those special set-ups into 64 user memories for recall at any time. So you get individual 128 factory sounds, 64 individual factory combo setups, and 64 of your own setup memories giving you access to 256 instruments or instrument combinations at any time you want...and that's a lot of  instrument sounds and power in one instrument. In fact, you can even load in brand new stereo instrument sound samples from your computer to the piano using a large library of new sounds provided by Kurzweil on a special website download page. Few other companies have anything like this available to the user (as far as I know) which allows you to expand the sound banks on your piano in this way. Any and all of internal and external Kurzweil sounds aren't just run-of-the-mill instrument sounds, but they are realistic tones (as I mentioned earlier) that may make you believe the actual violin, guitar, organ, clarinet, synth, electric piano, etc, is right there playing live in your home, church, studio, school, or stage.

Kurzweil SPS4-8 digital piano
Kurzweil SPS4-8
The SPS4-8 looks fairly attractive as a portable piano and is considered lightweight at just 41lbs not including the furniture stand which comes with the piano at no extra charge. The SPS4-8 has an easy to read LCD user digital display screen which allows the player to see what functions are being selected and what's going on in the piano where many digital pianos in this price range either have no digital display or have simple LED displays which can be hard to understand. The SPS4-8 can also be useful for more advanced digital piano owners or professionals for live performance because you can layer/combine up to 4 instrument sounds at a time, including grand piano. You can put 4 sounds of your choosing together in a layer and play them all at once like a complete orchestra. You can control the volume, transpose key, special effects, and other aspects of each sound separately from the other sounds...just like in a real life orchestra or band. Most digital pianos in this price range cannot do this.

Kurzweil SPS4-8 digital piano
You can also select up to 4 different areas of the 88 keys on the piano and split up to 4 instrument sounds to be played in real time independently of the other sounds. In other words, you can have a set of keys play a piano, another set of keys play organ, another set play trumpet, and yet another final set of keys play a concert flute, and you can pick whatever instruments you want to have. It's like directing an orchestra where one instrument can be played after another in real time. So you could assign four sets of 22 keys each on the piano which equals a total of 88 keys. Each key area is referred to as a "zone" like the end zone of a football field. A zone of keys is generally considered to be a part of the 88 keys and you can have up to 4 zones as long as they add up to 88 keys. This is good for live performance or for recording up to 4 instruments played one at a time into an external audio recorder which is great for home studios.

Kurzweil SPS4-8 digital piano
For people who want to "tweak the sound just a bit" the SPS4-8 has editing buttons for changing brightness levels, key touch levels, reverb echo levels, and other aspects of the piano so you can customize your own sound if you wish. There is also a pitch bend control which gives an instrument slide movement for authentic reproduction of  clarinets, saxophones, and guitars as well as a modulation control to add vibrato in real time to an instrument (like a violin) whenever you want. Kurzweil has designed this piano to be your own personal piano orchestra whether you are a beginner or professional so you can be the conductor of a full orchestra:)

Kurzweil SPS4-8 digital piano
As I mentioned earlier, Kurzweil is known for it's realistic instrument sounds, but its grand piano tones are from prior, older piano sample technology which in my opinion falls far behind the other major brands in terms of a realistic piano sound playing experience. The Kurzweil grand piano sounds were great in years gone by, but these sounds are a bit stale and plain without a lot of life, especially in terms of expression and tonal dynamics. When you play the keys easily or softly you cannot get the piano volume to a zero (0) level. In other words, before the key strikes the bottom of the keybed, the piano sound is triggered to a minimum volume but cannot get softer than that, which limits the expression and realism a person needs when playing piano. If you are particular with your piano playing and want the piano volume response to be more realistic then there would be other digital pianos which could a better job. Kurzweil chose to use a cheaper Chinese made key action for this model and it is not very realistic in terms of weight as well as being somewhat noisy when the keys are moving up & down.  Overall the key action is definitely better than the "off-brands," but any of the name brands mentioned earlier would be a big step up. Although there is a nice variety of acoustic piano sounds in the SPS4-8, they don't have pedal resonance effects or hammer noise acoustic elements, etc, that are in newer digital piano technology from companies like Roland & Kawai. These new organic piano elements (along with other organic elements) used by the name brands allow their piano tones to far surpass that of the Kurzweil SPS4-8 in terms of acoustic piano sound realism.

Kurzweil SPS4-8 digital piano
As far as other useful & important features go, the SPS4-8 has some great connectivity including MIDI & USB connectors to connect your laptop, desktop, or iPad to the piano for use with software and apps. Also this piano has balanced audio input jacks and output jacks for connecting external sound systems or running the audio sound from a computer or iPad back through the piano speaker system so you can hear your computer sound or iPad/Android sound coming back through the piano internal sound system or through the piano headphone jacks. There are two stereo headphone jacks for private practice and the piano power is connected by an external power supply included with the piano.

Kurzweil SPS4-8 digital piano
Some of the more common functions of the SPS4-8 which are equally nice to have is the key transpose feature as well as easy layering and splitting of sounds. With regard to the key transpose function, this feature is nicely setup and accessed on the piano making it easy to transpose keys in half-steps while playing the song or in the beginning of a song before you start. This is great when wanting to sing in a different key than the actual key of the sheet music or when you want to change keys just so you're not always playing in the same key range. On other pianos the key transpose feature can be much harder to access and more difficult to use. Layering two sounds together is fun and there is a also relative volume control for those two sounds making it easy to control the volume of both instruments. Splitting the keyboard electronically into 2 different sides offers you the ability to have a different sound on the left hand and and a different sound on the right hand at your choosing.

Kurzweil SPS4-8 digital piano
The SPS4-8 has a surprisingly powerful speaker system for a portable piano with 38 watts of total power in stereo into 4 separate speakers with the main speakers housed in what is called "ported enclosures" which adds to the bass response and fullness of the piano sound. The piano and its control panel seem very durable and well made with easy to see buttons, and the size & weight of the piano seem quite reasonable for what it is. The weight is only 41lbs (without the included furniture stand) and the dimensions are 52" wide by 15" deep.

Kurzweil SPS4-8 digital piano
So what are the downsides to this new model? There really isn't anything major if you understand what you're really getting and how this piano is supposed to play and the limitations that it has. The piano polyphony memory is 64-note polyphonic which is on the low side of polyphony these days as far as the number is concerned. However, Kurzweil has a proprietary system that offers which they call Dynamic Voice Allocation. Simply put, the 64-notes of polyphony on this model is enough for most piano players unless you are doing layering with more complex instrument sounds. This is true for many other digital pianos as well, but for me, I would have definitely preferred at least 128-note polyphony processing power (especially at this price) to be able to play larger chord progressions so the notes do not start dropping out for lack of polyphony, which they do. As for pedaling, a 3-pedal option is not available so if you plan to use 3 pedals for piano playing then you'd want to look at another piano. However, many people playing recreationally or even professionally typically only use the one sustain pedal (furthest right pedal on a piano) so one pedal is good enough unless you or your piano teacher think you need more than that. The piano damper pedal on this model only has on/off switching like a keyboard pedal and does not support a piano half pedaling feature which for me, is a disappointment. Half-pedaling is on most of the major digital piano brands these days (even down to $500) and helps to replicate the change in sustain time as you press the damper/sustain pedal down and then release it back up. However this may not be an issue depending on your skill level and musical goals. The cabinet and stand on this model is contemporary and "open" in its design & appearance unlike a more traditional furniture cabinet look. A bench does not come with this model so that would be an optional purchase but many benches are available on-line at a fairly low cost.

Kurzweil SPS4-8 digital piano
With a nice, well positioned user interface control panel with buttons, easy to read backlit LCD display screen, lots of useable functions and features, well designed connectivity, exciting  instrument sounds and OK piano sounds, all housed in an attractive portable cabinet with stand & music rack (incl single piano pedal) along with an unusually nice internal speaker system, this Kurzweil SPS4-8 is still a good overall choice in the lower price range near $1000. Also, this piano does a lot more than I mentioned in this review with regard to more professional applications and control, and in case you are interested in that info, you can check it out on the Kurzweil web site. Copyright AZPianoNews.com 2014

Kurzweil SPS4-8 digital pianoThe Kurzweil SP4-8 does not have any MIDI or audio recording & playback features, no drum rhythms, no microphone inputs, no automatic accompaniment chording, and it is also not as lightweight as other portable digital pianos under $1000. For portable or standard cabinet model digital piano options that may be more traditional and have these other features, if that is what you prefer I would recommend you look at my reviews for digital pianos under $1000 and also for digital pianos under $2000. At the end of the day, it's all about making beautiful music that moves your soul and in my opinion this piano can help you do that but you should also look at some of the other brands and models too. Two such new models are the 2016 Roland F140R digital piano with an internet discount price of $1199 and also the very impressive Casio PX560 pro piano/synth, also at $1199 internet discount price. Go to the following links to read my reviews on theses new pianos and are very big step ups in piano realism and features over the Kurzweil SPS4-8:
Roland F140R Review
Casio PX560 Review

- The following link will take you to a Kurzweil webpage with audio recordings of the realistic stereo sounds from the SPS4-8 which you may enjoy...I certainly did:).  
*Make sure you listen to these sounds through a good set of stereo headphones of stereo monitors connected to your computer, iPad, cell phone, or any device that you are using to listen to these sounds

- Piano & orchestra, and synth sound demos

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.

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 sofware and that discount price is displayed through this link only! I want to see everyone learn to play and enjoy piano!

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!


  1. Thanks for the review! At this point, this board is my first choice... What is Kurzweil's reputation for customer support, and how difficult will it be to repair this board in the coming years when compared to a Yamaha or Casio? I love the number of realistic sounds this keyboard has. I was thinking about the Casio PX 350 because most sounds are great and it has a great recording sequencer onboard, but the string sounds are not up to par - say when comparing it to a Yamaha or Kurweil. The Kawai ES100 was also in the running, but it does not have enough quality sounds... Please clear up any misconceptions I might have. Thanks...

  2. I wonder why Kurzweil only offers a 1 year warranty on this model but 3 years on the SPS10 and 20 - less expensive models? Is it because the latter are designed primarily for the home and this one for the home and as a stage piano, as it is similar to the SP 4-8 - which is primarily a stage piano? I suppose they figure stage models are more apt to be bumped and dropped more since they will most likely be used for gigging and playing in multiple locations... Thanks for any insight you might have.

  3. you are exactly correct in your assumptions. Stage pianos typically have a shorter warranty than home pianos. It doesn't mean they are any less reliable, it just means stage pianos are typically moved often and have the potential to be mishandled and/or dropped frequently.