The new series includes the CLP535 (store discount selling price $2499US in satin black, satin mahogany, or satin rosewood), and polished ebony version ($2999US store discount price). The next model up is the CLP545 in satin black, satin mahogany, satin rosewood (store discount price $3199US), and the polished ebony version (store discount price $3899US. The CLP575 comes in satin black, satin rosewood ($4299US approx store discount price) and the polished ebony version ($4899US approx store discount price. The top of the line CLP585 comes in satin black walnut ($5499US approx store discount price) and the polished ebony version ($5999US approx store discount price). The CLP565 mini grand comes in polished ebony only and that model has a store discount price of $5199US It is important to note that Yamaha also has a lower priced CLP525 ($1999US store discount price) which I have previously reviewed on this blog. Although the CLP525 is part of the Clavinova 500 series, it is a completely different model and does not have most of those features of the CLP535 and above and much more basic and closer in piano playing experience to the lower price Yamaha Arius series model YDP163 ($1499 internet selling price). If you want info on the Clavinova CLP525, please read my review of that model at the following link: Yamaha CLP525 Review
The fundamentals of any good piano are key action realism, piano sound realism, and pedaling realism, whether the piano is acoustic or digital. The new acoustic piano sounds in these CLP pianos starts with Yamaha sampling (recording) two distinct acoustic piano sounds which includes their big CFX acoustic concert grand piano which I have played before, and a Bosendorfer concert grand piano, of which Yamaha is the owner of the European Bosendorfer piano company from Vienna, Austria. I have also played the Bosendorfer acoustic Imperial grand piano and it is always a joy to play that model and other Bosendorfer models. Yamaha is well known for producing some incredible acoustic grand pianos played by professionals all over the world and when it comes to Yamaha and Bosendorfer, it's difficult to get much better than that, although Steinway, Fazioli, Kawai, and a few other grand piano manufacturers produce fabulous pianos as well, and I have played them all and enjoy each one.
It's important to know that although most piano companies which produce digital pianos "sample" or record the original piano sound from a real acoustic piano, this sampling process does not mean that you will actually hear that same piano "sound" with all of its complex organic structures and nuances coming out of the digital piano, and this is true for all brands that "sample" real acoustic pianos. What helps determine the actual sound you hear in the digital piano is the amount of digital memory that is allocated for that piano sample, the sampling process, and if it was done correctly and completely including staccato and legato samples. Also, if the organic overtones, vibrations, and resonances were captured in that sampling process and how it was done, the type of microphones and placement of those mics around & in the acoustic piano, if the dynamic range of tonality of the piano sound was captured and can be reproduced correctly, and how many layers of dynamic sampling was done for each note. Other things of importance would be if the notes were sampled individually or in groups and the length of those samples, if the pedal sustain decay range is natural and has long damper decay times especially in the middle to upper octaves, if the EQ of the sound has been done correctly, how many notes polyphony it has, and finally how does the final sound get translated through the internal speaker system of the digital piano. Yikes!...that's a lot of stuff to consider and it can get a bit confusing in my opinion. However, the speaker system in a digital piano is very important and needs to be accurate as possible. Without a high quality built in audio system, the original piano tone may come out sounding unnatural and not real. Getting a good realistic piano sound in a digital piano is a complex matter (as you can see) and not easily reproduced no matter what the piano manufacturer may lead you to believe and this is true of all the major (and minor) brands.
OK...now that I have thoroughly confused you:), when it comes to all models of Yamaha Clavinova CLP 500 series including the CLP535, 545, 575, and 585, (the CLP565GP is a mini grand model with the same digital features as the CLP535), they all have the same piano sounds built in which originate from the same acoustic pianos...the highly respected Yamaha CFX grand and the Bosendorfer Imperial grand as I mentioned earlier. However the CLP575 and CLP585 have some special organic digital piano effects which they call "VRM" otherwise known as Virtual Resonance Modeling which adds some natural organic resonance nuances to the original piano sample. The Yamaha CLP535 and CLP545 do not have this added feature, but everybody's ears are different in terms of their hearing and frequency range and sound tends to be more subjective (personal) than objective. With this in mind the added organic VRM may or may not be necessary or easily recognized by the average person, although it is still definitely a good thing to have and I like having it as it does add more natural organic tone to the overall piano sound.
I have been playing these newer models many times over many months now, and I have decided that overall they personally don't inspire me musically as much as I would have liked, nor do I care for their operating systems (buttons, display placement, etc). So why would I say that especially with Yamaha being such a well known respected brand producing some impressive music products and given the fact that I own so many Yamaha musical instruments? It's true that there are likely people who will enjoy playing these pianos and already own them. The pianos are built well and are reliable and have many useful and impressive features. But overall, I just did not care for the piano sound, operating system, and key actions very much except for the top model CLP585 in terms of key action and internal speaker system. There are a number of reasons why I feel this way and here are some of my thoughts on the subject:
1. The default piano sound on all of these models coming through the speakers is the Yamaha CFX acoustic piano sample (from large acoustic grand) and it's a big, bold sound, but it's also a bit mid-rangy for me, although overall I like it. I think was expecting too much probably because I know what the "real thing" sounds like and the new CLP's don't sound like any real Yamaha CFX acoustic grand piano I have ever played, and it probably has to do with lack of dynamic tonal and volume range which I talk about more below. In the lower price range I much preferred the lower priced CLP525 over the CLP535 & CLP545 when it comes to the piano sound because it was clearer with more expression (dynamic tonal range) although the overall total volume power and bass response is not anywhere near the CLP535 & CLP545, but that is to be expected given the smaller and less powerful internal speaker system. If you play these pianos side by side then you'll be able to judge this better for yourself, but that's the way I feel about it. Dynamic tonal and volume range is especially important because that is where "expression" comes from and the CLP535 up through the CLP575 just did not "cut it" in that way for me. It's like the sound is compressed without the ability to get louder or brighter as you play more forcefully and strike the keys harder. The piano tone starts out fine when playing lightly and builds up to a certain point and I liked it very much up to that point, but the dynamics just don't go any further based on what I was hearing and that's not the way good upright or grand pianos behave. This is true for all CLP500 series since they all share the same piano samples (with the exception of the CLP525). All of these models have string and damper resonance along with key-off samples so those extra "organic elements" do help the sound in those particular ways, but they do not change the overall expression or lack thereof. If you play any CLP500 and compare it to almost any Yamaha acoustic upright or grand piano, there is a difference in that dynamic range of expression as far as I could tell.
2. The default Bosendorfer Imperial grand piano sound in these pianos is supposed to reproduce the softer (more mellow), sweeter tone of a real Bosendorfer acoustic grand piano made in Austria. However, I was surprised by how unnatural this digital Bosendorfer piano sound really was coming through the internal speakers or headphones of these pianos. I have played real Bosendorfer grand pianos for many years and the Bosendorfer sound in the CLP500 series sounds nothing like the real thing as it has a digital and unnatural tone to my ears, and I am not expecting perfection here. A real Bosendorfer piano sound compared to a real Yamaha grand piano sound is more subtle, beautiful, more mellow, and overall a different piano sound listening experience compared to a much brighter and bolder Yamaha grand piano sound. However, the Bosendorfer acoustic concert grand can still be bold and powerful for sure and it has big volume coming out, but the tone is definitely different and just more beautiful and it would appear that Yamaha tried to recreate this sound experience in their digital pianos but did not actually do it in my opinion. When it comes to the Bosendorfer grand sound in the new CLP's, it is unnaturally muted, muffled, mid-rangy, and is not clear or distinct under normal dynamic playing levels, at least it wasn't when I have played them. The "Bosendorfer" sound in the CLP's do sound digital and unlike any acoustic grand piano I have ever played...and I have played hundreds of them. It is not a bad sound and for many people they may even like it since it is definitely different than the Yamaha CFX piano sound in the CLP's. But in terms of what a Bosendorfer really sounds like and the expression you can get out of a real Bosendorfer, the new Yamaha Clavinova pianos just don't do it for me. My feeling is...if you are going to sample and try to reproduce a real Bosendorfer grand piano sound, then spend the money on it and do it right or don't do it at all. For me, the whole idea of a great new piano sound in the CLP's called "Bosendorfer" is more hype than reality and it is surprising because Yamaha owns the Bosendorfer piano company. But if anyone should be able to recreate that special Bosendorfer grand piano sound, you would think Yamaha could do it well. It's a good sound overall as digital pianos go, but certainly not impressive to me and definitely lacks expression, tonal realism, and dynamic range of the real thing. As I mentioned above with the CFX piano sound sample, all of these models have string and damper resonance along with key-off samples so those extra "organic elements" do help the sound in those particular ways, but they do not change the overall expression or lack thereof. If you don't believe me on this one, then just compare the CLP Bosendorfer sound with a real Bosendorfer acoustic grand and then you'll know what I am talking about. There is no comparison.
4. The key actions on the Yamaha models are definitely reliable, sturdy, and quiet when being played and the actions have 3 key sensors per key for better repetition response which is also becoming a standard feature (3 key sensors) on higher price digital pianos. All models have the simulated ivory feel piano keys and satin black simulated ebony on the black keys so the key tops do feel good and help absorb sweat from fingers and give a smoother, no sticky playing surface. The CLP535/565GP has an all plastic key action referred to as the GH3X and the CLP545 and above have the NWX actions (W=wooden key). The X stands for "escapement" and with that escapement function you're supposed to feel a slight hesitation or notch in the movement of the keys which you get on a real grand piano when playing keys very slowly and lightly. Roland and Yamaha digital pianos have had this feature for many years but this is the first time in which Yamaha has incorporated it into their key actions on all models of the CLP500 series. Although I like the fact that Yamaha did this and now has finally caught up to the other brands in this way, the escapement feature in the CLP pianos actually feels like it is almost non-existent. By that I mean that when you press the key slowly, you can just barely feel the escapement movement of the key whereas on Roland and Kawai it is more distinct and noticeable and feels much more realistic to me. Having the escapement feature is a nice upgrade in these Yamaha pianos but in reality it does not impress me because of how subtle and non distinct it is. Some people may like it just fine, but to me it's like not having it at all when compared to a real grand piano....and if you cannot feel it under normal playing circumstances then what's the point of having it?
5. In terms of the weight and movement of the CLP key actions, the CLP535 plastic key action is noticeably stiff in its resistance to the pressure it takes to press down the keys as compared to the other major digital piano brands including Kawai & Roland and also as compared to most real acoustic grand pianos. This heavier resistance to the touch is called key down-weight or "touch-weight" resistance. This is also true for the less expensive CLP525 and the lower priced Yamaha Arius digital pianos. In my opinion playing the CLP525 and CLP535 can be somewhat fatiguing after awhile and not as enjoyable to play as the other digital pianos in this price range. If anything, the key actions on the CLP525 & CLP535 pianos feel more like some upright pianos I have played, and although the GH3 actions aren't bad in terms of overall feel and there are people who like them, it's just not what I personally enjoy playing. In the CLP545 & CLP575, Yamaha has the wooden key (NWX) action but only the white keys are made of wood and the installation and construction of the key mechanism is really not much different than the lower priced plastic key actions except thatthe CLP575 & CLP585 have individually balanced keys which is offers more incremental weighting of the keys from one to another which is a good thing and helps with balance. The resistance of the keys when initially pressing down is a bit lighter and easier to play than on the CLP535 action, but it still feels a bit stiff to me, especially compared to many acoustic grand keys, including Yamaha acoustic grand pianos that push down with much less resistance. Finally, the CLP585 key action is improved over the others because that key action is a new model key action for Yamaha has individual key weights in the key mechanism that are referred to as counter-weighting. This counter weighting makes the key actions feel lighter, less resistant, and more responsive. The CLP585 new key action is the only one I really liked, and in my opinion Yamaha should have used this counter-weighted key action in all of their CLP models, but unfortunately they did not.
6. The user interface control panel has a new position on the piano as compared to previous models. After years of having the buttons above the keys and in front of you, Yamaha has now put the piano controls on the left side of the keyboard and included a larger LCD display screen to display the functions along with control buttons under the display screen. I am personally not a big fan of display screens on the left side of the keyboard because you have to look over to the left every time you want to make a function change rather than in front of you above the keys. Kawai also does the same thing on their higher priced digital pianos as do other digital piano companies. Their thinking is that the control panel on the left side of the keyboard makes the piano have a more minimalist look and I would agree with that. But...my preference is for the control panle buttons to be above the keyboard cenetered in the middle for easier access. The Yamaha control panel also uses a shiny black plastic plexi-glass where the buttons are in and that plastic can easily smear and show fingerprints and dust after use. I would have preferred a non-smear non- shiny material such as what Kawai uses that would not show fingerprints and dust. If you're going to have an interface on the side, at least use a more upgraded material that won't show smudges and dust as easily. Besides those issues, a number of the useful functions accessed through the LCD display requires multiple button pushes just to find them which can be tedious and confusing. As an example, if you want to balance the volume between two instrument sounds layered together (which is a popular function), you would need to do 7 button pushes just to get into that mode to make the adjustment. Making 7 different button pushes (different buttons) just to get to that function is, in my opinion, taking way too much time and effort just to change a function. I could not find any other way around this although some other functions don't require as many button pushes and there are other piano brands that run into these issues as well. A sound layer volume balance control is something that I find to be very useful and that adjustment should only take a couple of button pushed to enter the mode. Accessing the piano and instrument sounds through the buttons on the CLP models is fairly easy, although when using function buttons there is no separate "enter" button so I couldn't tell if I had entered the actual function or not. I would have preferred an "enter" button so that I know that I have accessed the feature or not, but maybe this would have added too many more buttons pushes...I just don't know.
I have just listed the reasons why I am not as impressed as I thought I would be with the new CLP 500 series pianos. However, there are some things that I really do like and they include other piano sounds such as "bright piano" and "Jazz piano" as well as the non-piano instrument sounds such as strings, choir, organs, harpsichord, electric pianos, guitars, etc. They are generally very good tones and quite realistic and are enjoyable to play. The first 3 models (535, 545, 575) have 34 total instrument sounds each, but the CLP585 has 48 proprietary instrument sounds along with an additional 480 Yamaha XG (a proprietary Yamaha format) instrument sounds which include the full compliment of band and orchestral sounds from brass, to woodwind, strings of all kinds, and about anything else you can think of. The CLP585 is the only model in the line-up to give you all of the sounds possible which is especially useful for recording and for just having fun playing different styles of music. The Roland company on the other hand is consistent with their line up of new pianos offering approx 317 instrument sounds in every model (6 of them) instead of in just one model as Yamaha does. All Yamaha 500 series Clavinova models have a large 256 note polyphony processing power which is the maximum polyphony that most good digital pianos have using digital sound sampling and allows for advanced pieces of music to be played without "note drop out" do to low polyphony processing when playing single or layered tones, as well as recorded songs on these pianos.
Speaking of recording, something else that I like is that all models have the capability of 16-track MIDI recording which is pretty cool which most digital pianos do not have. That means you can record up to 16 different instrument sounds one at a time, one on top of the other so that you can listen to all recorded parts play back simultaneously as one fully arranged song. This 16 track MIDI recorder is not available on higher priced Roland or Kawai digital pianos so Yamaha definitely has an advantage there, assuming that multi-track recording is important to you. I find that most people are satisfied with 2 or 3 tracks/parts of recording and playback, so 16 track recorders are very nice to have but in my experience most people don't use all or most of the tracks. You can access the recording feature directly from the control panels buttons so it's fairly intuitive and easy to do. Each CLP model from the 535 on up also has a 1-track audio wav file (CD quality) recorder built in. This allows for the recording of the actual instrument sound you are playing whereas the MIDI recorder only records the notes being played and not the actual instrument sound so if you play a MIDI recording on some other playback device other than in a CLP piano (like a computer), the MIDI recording "instrument sounds" will be entirely different than what you would hear being played directly on a CLP piano. An audio recording reproduces the actual instrument sound in any audio wav file playback device exactly as you heard it on the piano. All Yamaha recorded songs can be saved on a USB flashdrive for storage or you can load in new songs to be played on the Yamaha pianos. However on all CLP pianos except for the CLP585, any new multi-track MIDI songs you load in from the internet may not play back correctly because those CLP pianos so not support General MIDI, XG, or GS formats like the CLP585 does. Only the CLP585 has the ability to playback all formats of General MIDI songs just as they were originally arranged with all the correct instruments playing back on the proper tracks. So when it comes to recording and playback, it can be a bit confusing if you have not done it before. but the CLP585 does the best job of it by far compared to the other models. By comparison, all Roland digital pianos playback all MIDI formats and are not limited in that way. More more info on General MIDI record and playback please click on the following link: Play Piano using General MIDI songs
All CLP models have the the same sound editing and performance functions such as reverb/echo, chorus effects, rotary control for organ, brilliance control, master effects, transpose, digital metronome, tuning mode adjustments, acoustic control, instrument split & layering for having two different sounds with one on the left side and one on the right side, and layering which is combining two sounds together to play at the same time, All models except for the CLP535 (and the lower priced 525) have 20 very nice drum rhythm patterns including rock, Jazz, Latin, country, waltz, etc which are lots of fun to play along with depending on the kind of music you like. It also helps with rhythm and timing training and the pattern tempo can be adjusted to be slower or faster depending on what you want and how well you play. The CLP535 does not have the rhythm patterns which is too bad because that feature could have easily been included without raising price in my opinion. Rhythm patterns are in $100 Yamaha keyboards so you know that function doesn't cost much. They probably left out rhythm patterns in the CLP535 to give you a reason go purchase the higher priced CLP545...typical sales up-sell by these companies. It really bothers me when these companies take out or don't include features in certain models which cost the company nearly nothing to include, especially 20 cheap (but nice sounding) rhythms. Oh well...Roland, as an example, has no drum rhythm patterns in any of their higher priced models, but at least they're a bit more consistent:).
When it comes to piano pedals and their importance, this part of digital pianos cannot be overlooked or overstated as to its importance in playing piano. Although there are three pedals on a real acoustic piano, most people only use one of those pedals which is the right sustain/damper pedal. This pedal is what holds or sustains the notes so you can hear them without those notes cutting off immediately. Good sustain/decay time make the notes more beautiful when you're playing a song as opposed to not holding the pedal. The left pedal is referred to as a "soft pedal" or sometimes refereed to as an "una corda pedal" on Grand pianos. In either case, the left pedal softens the volume of any note when that pedal is held down when notes are played on the keyboard, and both the right and left pedals can be used simultaneously if necessary for long sustain, but softer volume. The middle "sostenuto pedal" is not used much anymore and is only useful on certain kinds of classical music and also for special musical effects or passages. The CLP's do a good job of pedaling and all of them have the half-damper sustain effect allowing for more levels of sustain on the right pedal instead of just on & off sustain. Half-damper effect is fairly standard on top name digital pianos now but the CLP575 & 585 go a step further and adds what they call GP Response Damper Pedal. This feature makes it feel like the pedal get's a harder to press down from the first push until the pedal gets to the bottom of its pedal travel because it adds resistance to pressing the pedal down. This gives a person more of a feeling like what a grand piano would do because it takes more pressure to press a damper pedal as it gets to the bottom because it simulates lifting up a damper rail in a real piano. This can be considered a good thing to have this extra pedal simulation, especially for advanced players who have played grand pianos or will be playing real grand pianos. But for beginner through intermediate players, it's unlikely it will make a difference in their piano playing enjoyment and the fact is. the down weight or resistance of the pedals to pushing them down can actually be a negative thing if it takes too much pressure to press down the pedals. I have played many acoustic grand pianos and sometimes pressing those pedals down can become a bit fatiguing after a while depending on the piano, so it's really all about your enjoyment playing the piano whether it's a digital,piano or an acoustic piano.
|CLP535, 545, 575 connector array|
Another very useful connectivity thing all these pianos can do is their ability to use WiFi to connect to special Yamaha designed MIDI iPad apps and the internal song library built into these pianos which consists of hundreds of classical music songs for playback and learning. Yamaha does not have a lot of apps yet but what they do have, including Yamaha NoteStar, is very cool and allows you to interact with them in a variety of ways without need to connect a cable. The NoteStar app allows you to play along with digital sheet music to learn your favorite songs while listening to a full rendition of that song completely orchestrated and arranged for its type of music along with a bucket full of other very motivating features including live vocal parts. It's important to note that "NoteStar" can be used with any digital piano having a USB port, although it will not be a wireless experience. However, connecting a USB cable to your external device is easy to do and the connection is always more stable on digital pianos than a wireless connection. You can find out more about the Yamaha wireless apps on the Yamaha website as well as info on the optional Yamaha WiFi adapter (sold separately).
With regard to the piano cabinets, they are all understated but yet elegant and very attractive in a simple way with very good build quality which is a trademark of Yamaha pianos. The CLP535 comes in a variety of cabinet finishes including satin black walnut, satin rosewood, satin mahogany, and polished ebony. The polished ebony finishes are always quite a bit more money than the satin finishes and this is true for all the other top brands as well. The CLP545 has the same finish offerings as the CLP535, and the CLP575 has the same finish offerings with the exception of the mahogany. The top of the line CLP585 is offered in satin black-walnut or polished ebony only. The CLP585 has a much different cabinet style and design than the other CLP models and looks more contemporary with a speaker cloth grill all the way across the top front of the piano. The CLP585 also has a convenient slow-close key cover than slowly folds down over the keys instead of pulling out like on the other models. However, the CLP585 music rack is small and not near as deep or as robust as the other models with a larger traditional music rack and some people may or may not like that.
So here's the bottom line: In the final analysis, Yamaha has a very prestigious name and makes great music products and as I previously mentioned, I personally own many Yamaha music products. The Clavinova CLP series has proven to be solid, reliable, enjoyable digital pianos over the years and this latest series will overall be enjoyable for most people to play and I do recommend them for many people looking for an attractive, well made digital piano in the higher price ranges. However, I just happen to know what real acoustic pianos sound like and play like and the CLP500 series is not what I would personally buy as compared to other digital pianos such as what the new Roland or Kawai digital pianos are offering. However, the Yamaha CLP pianos may be the perfect choice for you or for someone else so please don't let my opinion get in the way of what you think would be best for you. I have played the CLP535, 545, 575, 585, and 565GP enough times and for enough hours to get a pretty good feel for them and there are just some important things that just don't excite me about these models, with the exception of the CLP585 which I do like more, but I am still not liking the Bosendorfer sound very much, the operating system control panel, or the more limited playing expression for tone and volume. There are still quite a few editing controls and effects that I did not talk about on these pianos which are actually quite nice and can be useful, but are secondary to the things I have already discussed. I much prefer the Yamaha NU1 digital piano which has a much more realistic key action and piano sound in every way as compared to the Clavinova 500 series, and the cabinet looks very nice too. But the NU1 is approx $5000 discount price and has very limited digital features. I also really like the more expensive Yamaha CVP700 series of digital pianos and have played the CVP's for many years, but they are a much different kind of animal with different speaker systems, control panels, etc as compared to the CLP series. I recommend you do your research and your homework before making any digital piano buying decision and if you need some advice, please contact me and I will be happy to help.
|Casio Celviano AP700|
If you want more info on new digital pianos and LOWER PRICES than internet discounts, please email me at email@example.com or call direct at 602-571-1864.