Tuesday, June 30, 2015

REVIEW - Williams Allegro 2 Digital Piano - Semi Recommended - New Low Price Portable 88-key model

UPDATED REVIEW - September 5, 2016 - Williams Allegro 2 Digital Piano - Semi Recommended - The Williams digital piano brand is made for and sold exclusively by Guitar Center and its affiliate companies (they own them) including Musicians Friend, Music & Arts, Music 123, Woodwind & Brasswind, and a couple of additional GC related internet sites. It's almost like a monopoly:). The Williams name piano is a product created by a Chinese manufacturer for Guitar Center and it's Guitar Center's house brand and not American produced even though the Williams name sounds like it, so don't look for it elsewhere. Guitar Center salespeople will suggest this model as a good one because after all, it's their brand name and you cannot buy it through a non-Guitar Center company as far as I know. The Williams name does not produce regular acoustic pianos and is not a brand that I have ever recommended in the past. With that being said, I do "semi-recommend" this new Allegro 2 portable 88-key digital piano ($299 store/Internet discount price) which has taken the place of the previous Allegro model. Copyright AZPianoNews.com 2015

In the world of digital pianos and trying to get a good one for a low price, the Williams Allegro 2 tries to rise to the occasion and for $299 does a good job in terms of this model having 88-keys with some weighted response to the keys, having an OK piano sound with some touch sensitivity along with 64-note polyphony which is plenty of note processing power for beginners, and having a sustain pedal connection to hold and sustain sound when pressing the pedal down. So when it comes to very basics, the new Allegro 2 has it. However, regardless of what you may otherwise see in on-line consumer reviews or Guitar Center hype, these basic features do come with noticeable limitations, at least they were things that I definitely noticed playing it, and these things could easily be a hindrance to students trying to learn to play piano. That is why I only "semi-recommend" this piano, primarily because it is a cheap price.

So here are the negative downsides to the new Allegro 2 digital piano that I feel are worth mentioning and they mostly have to do with key action and piano sound authenticity:  


Williams Allegro 2 Digital Piano Review1. There is only a small volume range of dynamics when you are pressing the keys at different velocity (speed/strength) levels. In other words, when playing the keys you really don't hear much change in volume touch sensitivity and the minimum volume never goes to zero. So no matter how softly ypu play the keys, the volume of the softest note is much too loud and comes in too quickly (more on that later). These limitations will likely not be apparent to beginners, but if you start to progress in your music as a student or you already know how to play, your music will come out in a way where it won't have much expression or musical authenticity in my opinion. Just because a piano type of sound comes out of the speakers doesn't mean the rest of what you hear and play is normal in terms of piano sound and dynamics. There is an editing function to change velocity curve touch sensitivity, but adjusting this to a different setting doesn't really help change this deficiency much at all. It just basically makes the piano sound louder, not better. 

 Williams Allegro 2 Digital Piano Review2. The keys themselves are pretty lightweight. Williams claims in their ads that the Allegro 2 has "hammer action" but this isn't anywhere close to what a real upright or grand piano feels like. It's much better than a spring action keyboard like the Williams Legato or any of the Yamaha and Casio keyboards, but as far as it having a key movement just like a real piano...forget about it because it does not. Maybe like a worn out used piano with a loose key action, but nothing beyond that. If you play on a lightweight key action like this one, you will eventually get into poor playing habits later on, especially as a student who is hoping to get the proper expression and key action response of a real piano. Beyond the lightweight spring keys, when you are pressing the keys with a harder touch, the keys bottom out and sound like they are hitting a hard surface underneath, There is very little padding or noise reduction material preventing this loud knocking noise when pushing the keys down. This issue is not uncommon with some other inexpensive digital pianos and keyboards, but unfortunately this Williams model also has this problem as do most Williams piano models I have played. It's even more noticeable when you are playing the piano wearing headphones and other people in the house have to hear this loud clunky knocking sound when the keys go down and bottom out...very distracting. If you press the keys lightly then it's not an issue, but that's not how music is played with just a light touch all the time.  

Williams Allegro 2 Digital Piano Review3. When you press a key down on a real acoustic piano or a higher quality digital piano, you are not supposed to hear any piano sound until the key touches the bottom. This is normal and helps with proper note timing, expression along with volume control, and proper technique. Unfortunately when pressing a key down on the Allegro 2, the note is heard before it touches the bottom at about half-way down. This not at all natural and will generate a piano sound before it is intended to be heard. I have played on digital pianos with this kind of unrealistic key action volume sensing before and it is something to stay away from if possible. The Allegro 2 uses old and inadequate key sensing technology which makes a sound well before it should as the key is depressed and this will throw off a person's playing in terms of volume dynamics. You can notice this issue especially if you play slowly or softly. Once again this is something which can cause poor playing habits for students as they progress in their skills and may also inhibit and distract people who already know how to play piano and want a more realistic playing experience as well. I certainly would never recommend this piano to my students if they could adjust their budget and spend a bit more on a digital piano which plays correctly and that they could grow into instead of grow out of.

Williams Allegro 2 Digital Piano Review 4. When pressing a key from a light touch to a hard touch on a real piano or on a higher quality digital piano, you would hear a number of tonal changes in the sound. I am not talking about volume changes (loud & soft), but instead I am talking about what pianos are supposed to do in terms of going from a mellow tone when pressing the key lightly up to a very bright and vibrant tone when pressing the key hard. This is called velocity tone changes or tonal dynamics. In a good piano you are not supposed to hear the tonal changes in a distinct way but instead, you should hear them in a wide range of subtle change going from mellow and on up to bright in a very small steps. On a good digital or acoustic piano, you would press the keys with your fingers from a soft touch and get

progressively harder in your touch until you are really playing hard. You will hear a subtle but noticeable increase and decrease in tonal range. Not so on the Allegro 2. There are just 3 piano tonal changes (or samples) per key...mellow, bright, very bright and nothing in between, and those 3 tonal changes are obvious and distinct instead of a seamless transition like slightly higher price digital pianos. In fact to get (hear) the 3rd velocity "very bright" sound, you really need to play super hard on the keys just to hear it, which is unnatural to begin with. When you play the keys hard, that key knocking noise will be heard which will cause you to NOT want to play hard enough to get the extra dynamic. If you do get that very bright dynamic sound, it comes in suddenly and unnaturally. So what I am saying is, even though Williams (in their web site piano sound description) may claim they have three piano velocity samples coming from a "10' 2" Italian Grand Piano," even if that is true, the execution and implementation of that sound along with the velocity tonal changes of that sound is just bad...period. In reality it's done very poorly (difficult to control what's coming out) and you could get much better playing results on a $250 Yamaha keyboard. This is all about expression and good tonal dynamics when you play the piano, and as a beginner you will likely not notice this issue because beginners don't know what to expect or listen for. But if you want to have your music come out like it would on a real piano or a good digital piano, the Allegro 2 is pretty much mostly hype and will definitely not do it because of these limitations...and believe me...I tried to get it to sound good (and I know what I'm doing) and it just did not do it. 

 Williams Allegro 2 Digital Piano Review5. When playing or transitioning from one key to the next, you are supposed to have the sound characteristics of each key be very similar to the key before it or after it. This will change a bit when going from bass, the mid range keys, and then up to high treble, but if you were only playing in the middle of the keyboard up and down, then the piano sound should be even and sound consistent. This is not the case on the Allegro 2 and in fact it sounds as if you are playing two entirely different pianos when pressing one key and then going to the next. One key may be mellow, the next instantly bright, the next quieter, the next louder, and so on. Inconsistent and unrealistic is the best way to describe this issue but once again, if you are a beginner it is unlikely you will notice this because you won't know what is normal or abnormal when it comes to playing piano. When your piano sound is different and uneven from one note to the next (this does not happen on every note, but it does happen on many) then this will affect your expression, technique, and ultimately will sound unrealistic.
 
Williams Allegro 2 Digital Piano Review
So what do I like about this Williams Allegro 2 digital piano? Well there definitely are some things that I do like including having an easy to use intuitive control panel with one touch buttons, easy editing features, very nice non-piano instrument sounds such as electric pianos, organs, and strings. The regular piano sample itself is OK but not great (sounds a bit plunky when playing staccato style), and not anywhere near in realism as compared to the slightly higher priced Yamaha & Casio portable digital pianos. The control panel buttons are pretty cool looking and work good and the panel has an intuitive LCD display with a blue backlite screen and a control knob. Editing the functions and features is really easy and is done with a press of the function button and turning the control knob to the Williams Allegro 2 Digital Piano Review function you want to edit and then just turning the knob to make the adjustment. It's a much more intelligent system than what either the Yamaha or Casio low priced digital pianos have and I am all for things being easy to use. Also, the Allegro LCD screen is not something which Yamaha or Casio has on their regular low priced portable digital pianos so that's a big plus for this piano. However the surface of the control panel is a large piece of shiny black plastic and although it looks cool, it shows fingerprints, scratches somewhat easily, shows dust, and the black plastic smears like crazy and is not Williams Allegro 2 Digital Piano Review something I would ever want on my piano. A non-smear, no scratch surface would have been much better, but remember, this thing is only $299 so you just put up with all the fingerprints, potential scratches, and smears...right? As I mentioned earlier, I do like the (optional) pedal sustain and decay time for the piano sound, so that is OK for the piano's $299 price. The Allegro 2 also offers the ability to transpose key (up or down in half steps) for singing or playing, layer any two sounds together, split two sounds apart (left hand bass, right hand instrument sound), add reverb (echo), chorus, and special effects to the instrument sounds along with changing the octave of the instrument. The functions include having a separate EQ for the brightness control as well as having rotary speed control (fast/slow) for the B-3 type Jazz & Gospel organ sound. For rhythm and timing training, there is a digital metronome which you can hear and change timing settings into 4/4. 3/4, etc. There is also an easy quick record and playback feature which allows you to quickly and easily record yourself as a 1-track MIDI file and then play it back to see how you did, which is a nice feature.  So as far as features go, the Allegro 2 does a very nice job and it has a sufficient amount to keep you busy.  

Williams Allegro 2 Digital Piano ReviewThe Allegro 2 also has a decent internal speaker system with enough volume for the average indoor space, but if you need more volume you can connect an external speaker system to the 1/4" audio outputs on the back of the piano. A headphone jack is also provided for private practice and and you can connect a sustain pedal to the piano. The Allegro will work on 6 D cell batteries which is a nice bonus when no electric power is nearby and the piano takes an a/c adapter for electric current but that adapter along with pedal and small (cheap sounding) headphones will cost you an extra $30 bucks whereas some other brands include a free a/c adapter and/or sustain pedal. There's even a USB output jack to connect to external devices like tablets, computers, etc which is pretty handy, although a USB
output jack is not unusual these days on digital pianos and keyboards and has become a standard feature where not too many years ago you didn't see a USB jack provided too often. The piano itself weighs almost 30lbs, comes with a black metal music rest, and is not too big, whereas the previous model was much heavier and clunkier. The warranty on this model is only 1 year, but what do you expect for what I consider to be a throw away digital piano...because that's what it really is. But for only $299 you really cannot expect more than what this piano offers, and after having played this model a number of times, in some ways it offers a lot and certainly a big upgrade in these ways over the previous Allegro. However, instead of investing your hard earned money into the new Allegro Williams Allegro 2 Digital Piano Review2, I recommend you save your money or spend a little more now and go up to the new Yamaha P45 portable digital piano ($449 internet discount price), Casio CDP130 portable digital piano ($399 internet discount price), or the brand new Casio PX160 portable digital piano ($499 internet discount price). The deficiencies in this new Allegro 2 that I outlined in this review are, in my opinion, too important overlook. If all you have to spend is $299 plus $30 for the adapter & pedal, plus local tax, then I suppose the Allegro 2 is better than nothing and that's why I "semi-recommend it." It's because it's such a low price. But if instead you look at the brand new higher quality Casio PX160 which is quite impressive and comes with a sustain pedal and a/c adapter at no charge ($499 discount price), once you add the pedal & a/c adapter cost to the Williams and add sales tax for most states in the US, the Allegro price comes up around $350 and for just a bit more you could instead own any of the other portables I mentioned or go up to the Casio PX160. My review of the PX160 is coming soon but I have played it as well as the others so if you want to know more about them or want my advice, don't hesitate to ask me.

Williams Allegro 2 Digital Piano Review
At the end of the day it's important to know that a higher quality key action movement along with proper key sensitivity, quality, response, weight, and other aspects of key action along with good piano sound dynamics and tonal realism costs money to produce. You just don't get something for nothing when it comes to those things. All the pretty lights, shiny buttons, cheap black plexiglass plastic, easy to use functions and nice non-piano instrument sounds will never make up for a poor piano playing experience, especially if a piano student is trying to learn to play the right way so they can avoid getting into poor playing habits. If you want a fun keyboard with some cool functions, you can do that for under $200 in a brand new Casio or Yamaha keyboard. But when it comes to piano, and playing it so it will satisfy you or your child and allow you to grow musically in the right way, you can pretend to do it on the Allegro, but you can really do it by spending a bit more money and know that you can keep that piano well into the future instead of just having a short term solution in trying to spend less money. The old saying is still mostly true..."you do get what you pay for:)" If you think the Allegro 2 is the right instrument for you, then buy it. This is, after all, your decision and not mine:). But my recommendation for worthy and dependable portable lower priced digital piano would be to look at the new Yamaha P45 ($449 internet price), Casio PX160 ($499 internet price), or Yamaha P115 ($599 internet price

Please read this - *As I have stated many times before on my AZPianoNews.com blog, the real reason you will see so many inflated positive "reviews" on certain digital pianos from some other so-called review sites is simply to get you to buy one on Amazon because those people make money (an affiliate commission) when you do that and most of them obviously don't care what they say to get you to buy one. As for Amazon user reviews, here's one I just read on the Allegro 2: "This is the best keyboard I have ever bought! It feels and sounds just like a grand piano. Highly recommended!" Really?...you've got to be kidding! That's like saying a McDonald's hamburger tastes like Prime Rib...not possible:). But fake or extremely naive reviews by unknown people are everywhere. If you believe the Allegro 2 is just like a grand piano then I have a free piece of land for you in the middle of the Arizona desert that you'll love...with no water:).

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.

4 comments:

  1. This was very helpful. Thank you for being so thorough!

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  2. Just received this piano for christmas, and you nailed the review. The action is the reason I wanted this piano as it was as close as I could get to a heavier feel while staying under $200 (hell of a local sale) and keeping the piano portable. It definitely does have a different feel compared to the grands and uprights (as you mentioned), and it does sounds a bit cheap. But you get what you pay for!

    Just making sure I wasn't the only one thinking these things!
    Thanks,
    Joe

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  3. I bought an Allegro 2 recently. I seldom play a real piano, but wanted to start. I wanted a piano-like action, and also wanted to have 88 keys since my Casios have 61 and 76. I soon noticed that the top 11 or 12 keys have no tone coming from them at all. They're kind of weak on a real piano as you get near the top, but these had zero tone, just a clunk. Then I noticed that the 2nd highest b and c don't ring out like the other keys around them. Finally, I noticed that some keys near the middle sound ok some times, but a bit dead other times. I'm going to return it and they can replace it if they think another one will be better. But if it's just very poor design, I'll get a refund.

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