|DP603 polished ebony|
|HP603 upgraded piano store model|
What is the difference between this new Roland model over the previous Roland models as well as compared to their their competition from Yamaha and Kawai? To start off, for the first time Roland has created a hybrid key action unlike anything they have done before. Each key consists of a combination of wood and plastic (instead of all plastic in the previous Roland models) and Roland claims this gives the key movement more authenticity and natural weight as well as eliminates maintenance of the all-wood key actions. Roland's claim is that these new keys give the key structure more durability and more rigidity (with the addition of an inner stabilizer pin which also reduces lateral key movement) while allowing the action to feel more authentic with the wood in the keys to vibrate a bit from the sound waves when the "digital strings" are vibrating, as a key would normally do in a real acoustic piano. In other words, the key is not all plastic and not all wood as you would normally find in the other popular digital piano brands and Roland would claim this is the best way to produce a key in a digital piano. I personally don't know if it's the best way to make a key and I doubt that the small amount of wood in the key does too much other than look nice, but as long as the keys move smoothly, are balanced well, and are graded weighted in a satisfying way, then that's what I look for, and I believe this new key action called the PHA50 does all that. It is an upgrade to the previous key actions called the "Premium Action" which Roland had in their previous DP90e. Although I always felt that the Premium Key Action was very good and enjoyable to play, this new PHA50 action is even more so and I did notice some upgraded advantages.
It is definitely worth mentioning that the new top-of-the-line PHA-50 key action is on all of the new Roland models in the higher price ranges as well as these 2 models here. This is not the case with Kawai and Yamaha digital pianos where they reserve their best upgraded key actions for their more expensive models. In fact, Yamaha's best (CLP) digital piano key action is exclusively in their most expensive Clavinova piano called the CLP585 which retails for $6299US. So price alone in a digital piano does not necessarily determine quality or realism when compared to a real acoustic piano. Acoustic piano key actions vary from one piano to another, one brand to another, and there are differences between grand piano key actions and upright piano key actions. So when it comes to digital pianos key actions, the new PHA50 composite action (plastic + wood) in the DP603 is without question and upgrade to what was previously available in this price range before with regard to Roland digital pianos. This allows Roland to be more competitive with the other brands in this price range although the other major brands still have very good key actions. But as far as Roland goes, it does not matter which new furniture cabinet model you get at this point starting with the DP603 and going up from there...they all have the identical key action and well as the same digital features.
The new Roland key action also has the "escapement feature" which simulates the movement of grand piano keys when you press them down slowly and easily and you feel them slightly hesitate or have a notch or bump that occurs as you press the key down. This type of feeling is a natural occurrence on a real grand piano and helps with key control when playing music legato and slowly. You can actually distinctly feel this "escapement" key action feature in the Roland pianos. However in all of the newer Yamaha digital pianos in this price range, they do not have the escapement simulation feature. Kawai does have the escapement feature which they call "let-off" and that key action is in the new Kawai ES8 and all of their other digital pianos in this price range. Yamaha does offer the escapement key action feature but only in their full size cabinet pianos starting at around $2500US. But just because the feature (escapement) may be there doesn't mean it's working well, and in my opinion the Roland escapement feature is more authentic but is still a simulation and not the real thing. Kawai also uses the escapement feature, which they call "let-off" (just another name for the same thing) and the Kawai feature is more pronounced and more similar to Roland in that way.
Another thing I noticed about the new Roland key action was how much more quiet it was as compared with their previous models when the keys are moving up and down. By nature, regular acoustic piano key actions do make some noise when the keys are moving, but because those pianos are always so loud and they don't have a volume control or headphone jack like digital pianos do, you cannot hear the key action noise when playing the piano. However in a digital piano, when you have the volume somewhere between low to medium level or when you are using headphones, then you can definitely hear the key action moving and noise is more of a concern. I can say for sure that the key action noise level on these new Roland pianos is the lowest that it's been on any Roland digital piano and has surpassed the previous models for an even lower key movement noise reduction level. The previous models were already pretty good and more most people were satisfied with the fairly low ambient noise level of the moving keys. But the new PHA50 key action has definitely surpassed this and has become quieter and smoother in key movement and this is something that I think many people will appreciate, especially if you play at a higher skill level or you use headphones a lot. Gone are the days on older model Roland key actions when all you could really hear were the "thump" of the keys going down. When you combine this new Roland hybrid key with the quieter, smoother graded-weight (quick response) key movement along with good key action "down weight" & "up weight" return (measured by actual weights - left pic), you really feel like you can express yourself in a more authentic musically correct way as compared with previous models, at least that's the way that I felt about it when playing this new key action. Then you add the nice escapement feature in the key action that I talked about along with Roland proprietary synthetic ivory & ebony feel keys (they do feel good), and the Roland company has really stepped up to the plate in a big way by improving upon what they already had in the previous models. This key action is not a major breakthrough in my opinion compared to previous models, but I believe that beginners through advanced players will appreciate it very much. The new PHA50 key action is available in all of the new Roland piano models rather than just in selected higher priced models such as what other brands offer.
When it comes to piano sound and getting as close to approximating or matching a real acoustic piano, there is no digital piano that can exactly reproduce a real acoustic grand piano sound regardless of what anyone else may say. It simply has never been done and no digital piano brand can rightly claim that they have done it. So the next best thing is "how close can a digital piano get to a real acoustic piano sound playing experience?" If you knew how complex a real acoustic piano sound actually is and what is actually happening in a good grand piano when it comes to the piano sound itself (what it does and how you hear it), you would probably drop your jaw open and think it would be impossible to recreate digitally because there are certain piano sound elements that happen in "real time" that are always changing depending on how fast or slow you play the keys, how hard or soft you hit (play) the keys, the type of wood the piano is made of, how much soundboard space you have in the real piano, the types of hammers and key felt that is part of the key action, the vibrations and overtones of the 230 strings (give or take) in a real grand piano and how they all interact with each other including the random vibrations, sympathetic noises, frequency changes, tonal dynamics, string thickness, string windings and materials, the scale design, the piano iron frame, dampers and their affect on the sound, decay and sustain time of the sustained strings, volume, duration of the tone and changes in velocity, among other things. Even the the style of music you play such as chording, voicing of chords, staccato and legato of the notes, and the interaction of the string vibrations on the body of the piano all contribute to the final outcome of the sound. Not only are the key action elements quite complex in a real acoustic piano, but in a lot of ways the piano sound is even more complex and trying to get that "perfect" reproduction which people are looking for in a digital piano is very difficult given the current technology that most digital piano companies are using.
I am a long time piano teacher and pro musician of 40 plus years having taught thousands of students as well as owning, playing on, and teaching acoustic guitar. When it comes to natural grand piano sound, to me that is what it's all about...beauty, soul, feeling, the piano sound being alive and not digital sounding, and feeling like when you play a song, you can play it may times and every time it comes out a bit differently because a real piano sound is "alive & breathing" and changes, and is not canned, digital, dead, plunky, or without taste or expression. I mention all of this so that you will better understand what I am about to share with you. Up until now, Roland, Yamaha, Kawai, and Casio, the four main digital piano companies out there, have been using "sample recording" technology to capture piano sound from a real piano and then put it into the digital micro-processor chip in the digital piano so that it comes out of the speakers and sounds as much like a real piano as possible using that sampling technology. The "samples" or recordings are of each piano note (not each string) on a particular brand and model of acoustic grand piano at different velocity levels when pressing the keys and those recordings, which are done by microphones inside and over the acoustic piano, are relatively short samples of the sound due to digital memory constraints. This is true for all major brand digital pianos. Yamaha uses Yamaha acoustic grands, Kawai uses Kawai acoustic grands, and so on. The sample is then electronically "looped" into a continuous virtual circle/loop so that it will sound like it is continuous in real time linear playback. But when you play a real piano, the piano sound starts when you first touch the key and hear the sound and then it stops when you let go of the key and pedal. That acoustic piano sound is one straight continuous ever-changing sound in real time. Sampled recording is actually taking a slice or piece of that original piano sound and then is looped in a virtual circle, as I just mentioned, so it plays over & over and is not actually changing in real time. Picture a hula-hoop going around & around. The hula-hoop is a circle fastened together at a starting & ending point much like a sample recording is done. This is the way piano sound is heard on a digital piano. Depending on how and where the loop is electronically fastened together, you may or may not hear a noticeable or slight anomaly (depending on how the loop was put together) or a slight anomaly tone when the loop starts over. In other words, the sound will end and then quickly start over while you are holding the piano key down. It just depends on your ears and how sensitive they are to a real piano sound and how good the sampling process was on the brand & model. Kawai, Yamaha, and the new Casio Hybrids all do a very good job with their sample looping and hearing the loop point is virtually impossible on some of those models, but the off-brands are where you notice problems in the sampling process.
|previous model DP90e|
However, Roland has now gone beyond the standard industry piano sound sampling technology by introducing a new sound technology for the DP603 called SuperNATURAL piano Modeling. Modeling (aka: modelling) is different from sampling in the way the sound is created and the way you hear it when the piano is being played. Along with this technology being implemented to create an all new piano sound not found in any other major brand, Roland is putting it in all of their new models instead of just a few at the top of the price range. This means that you can get this new technology of piano sound reproduction starting at around $3000 in their cabinet models. It is typical for digital piano companies to reserve their best features for the most expensive models to get you to spend more money but Roland did not do this, and that is impressive to me and I commend them for that. So exactly what is SuperNATURAL Modeling technology and what makes it different then all other digital pianos? In Sampling technology, the sound elements in a real piano need to be recorded with microphones, as I previously mentioned, and then those recordings need to be translated into computers and then saved in the digital piano sound chips on circuit boards. The recordings can be of a number of different things in a piano including the sound reproduction as you strike a key at different velocities and the noise the hammer makes when it moves, just to name a few. Sampled sounds take a larger amount of computer memory to do it correctly (or as close as can be done), and that may or may not drive up the cost of those instruments. But those sound element recordings never change and cannot "think" on their own such as what real acoustic pianos do in the natural physical world. The technology is also limited by the recording microphones and their ability to get a pure organic sound through the air.
Physical Modeling sound is not recorded from an acoustic piano but is created through non sampling computer mathematical algorithms. I am definitely not a mathematician so the best explanation I found on the subject which I believe is important to understand (at some level) so that you can appreciate this new piano sound technology, is as follows: "In sound synthesis, physical modeling synthesis refers to methods in which the waveform of the sound to be generated is computed by using a mathematical model or formula, being a set of equations and algorithms to simulate a physical source of sound, usually a musical instrument. Such a model consists of laws of physics that govern the sound production, and will typically have several parameters, some of which are constants that describe the physical materials and dimensions of the instrument, while others are time-dependent functions that describe the player's interaction with it, such as plucking a string, or covering toneholes. For example, to model the sound of a drum, there would be a formula for how striking the drumhead injects energy into a two dimensional membrane. Thereafter the properties of the membrane (mass density, stiffness, etc.), its coupling with the resonance of the cylindrical body of the drum, and the conditions at its boundaries (a rigid termination to the drum's body) would describe its movement over time and thus its generation of sound." That's the explanation I found that best explains this technology although if you don't understand it...don't worry, a lot of other people don't either:).
In piano sound physical modeling, that technology is dealing with things such as the energy/force you put into the playing the keys, the interaction of the tonal dynamics, piano hammers, felt movement on the hammers, string movement over time, overtones that excite other moving and non-moving parts of the strings and wood cabinet, and many more physical aspects of a real acoustic piano.,..and all of these physical properties in a real piano are recreated by computer computations. It's like a powerful computer that draws a "virtual picture" of every aspect of the best acoustic grand piano possible and then that "virtual picture" instantly comes to life as that actual acoustic piano played instantly in micro seconds with no repetition or sameness. This gives you the feeling that the piano sound which you're hearing is being generated from an real acoustic piano, when in fact is is all done in the virtual technology world.
Roland has tried to emulate the Steinway Concert grand piano sound over the years and that's what they have done here with these new digital pianos in trying to get them to behave much the same way as the real thing does. Having this kind of technology gives the player an approximation of Steinway grand sound characteristics without the large size and expense of that acoustic piano. In fact, it could be said that the new Roland digital piano sound is so lifelike and organic that it sounds a bit like there are no speakers in the digital piano itself and that the sound is naturally occurring within the cabinet and not coming through speakers...but obviously there are speakers and to a trained ear like mine, there is still a noticeable difference between the "real thing" acoustic piano and these Roland digital pianos...but I expected that. An example of the new Roland sound is when you press any one key on the Roland piano without having any additional reverb or sound effects on, that one note will also trigger natural occurring "overtones" for that specific note that you would normally and naturally hear in a real piano. Just take my word for it, it really does do that and no other major digital piano brand has that capability at the moment. Also, just when a person thought that 256-note polyphony processing power for the piano sound was a lot, the new Roland physical modelling technology has jumped that polyphony number up to...infinity and beyond:)...in other words...unlimited polyphony. There is no limit because of the way the sound is generated in the virtual physical world. However, the 256-note polyphony in other name brand pianos is way more than enough to power even some of the most complex piano music that a person can play. The unlimited polyphony on the Roland pianos is for the acoustic piano sounds only but not for the non-acoustic piano instruments such as electric pianos, strings, organs, choirs, brass, etc. Those sounds offer 384-note polyphony which is also more than the other brands do, but once again, not something that you'll actually notice when playing these instrumental sounds. Also, polyphony power has nothing to do with the actual instrument sound samples and the authenticity of those tones. However, when you combine that polyphony power along with a 3-sensor key action, the musical expression and dynamic tonal & volume range you get in these new pianos is very impressive. From very soft pianissimo to extra loud Forte volume. these new pianos go beyond what a person might otherwise expect out of a digital piano, particularly a Roland digital piano.
|Physical Modeling Virtual Technology|
I did want to mention something about pedaling and the fact that without proper pedaling response and reproduction, the pedal movement, sound, & sustain that occurs from pedaling, especially with the right damper pedal, would not be nearly as enjoyable and could even create some poor pedaling habits. The right damper pedal is critical for allowing the music that you play on a piano sound good. The right pedal produces the sustain which holds the notes for a duration of time after you play the key(s) while the right pedal is held down. Physically it's a fairly simple process overall pushing down the pedal and playing the notes, but in reality the process is much more complex as far as what you will actually hear and experience when doing that. In the world of digital pianos one of the most noticeable things that occurs with the right damper/sustain when holding it down (while playing notes) is the lack of sustain/decay time, especially on the middle octaves up through the last octave. In other words, the decay time of the notes die off more quickly than they should when the sustain pedal is held down. Therefore the song is more choppy and the transitions between notes and chords are not nearly as realistic as they should be. In a real acoustic piano when you press the right damper pedal down, you will not only get long sustain time but also the sustained volume will stay louder and stronger over time as well as the interaction of the sustained strings sound more complex with noticeable overtones, harmonics, and a variety of vibrations all happening in real time. The new Roland DP603 does an excellent job of trying to recreate a real pedaling and piano note sustain experience using this new physical modeling technology. However, occasionally when playing certain chords or notes together in various octaves, especially in the middle octaves, I did notice too much mid range sustained tones (especially when I was using the damper pedal) that were unlike a real piano. This gave me the impression that the sustained piano tone (while using the damper pedal) was somewhat overdone and not natural like a real piano is. I tried to compensate for this by editing the piano sound in different ways with sound editing functions as well as reducing sustain/decay time with less pedaling, and that did help a little, but did not eliminate it altogether and it was still noticeable to me. As with all new technologies, physical modelling is not perfect yet and Roland will no doubt get it to become better over the years to come, but for now it's still very impressive. Roland also uses continuous pedal recognition which follows your incremental pedal movements instead of having just the standard half-pedal recognition found in other brands. Nevertheless, it was very nice for me to experience all these features in these new Roland pianos and until you get to a more advanced piano playing skill level where you can really appreciate these features, it may not matter to you...but I guarantee it does make the music become more alive and sound more authentic. The middle and left pedals do function well and will stand up to more advanced players. But because those pedals are not played near as much as the right pedal, then the right pedal is the one most people will be familiar with and if that's what you want then overall you should be very happy with the pedaling functions and features.
With regard to all of the fundamental parts of piano playing which I have just talked about including key action, piano sound, and pedaling. if all there was on this model was that you just turned on the power and started playing piano, that may be enough for some people. But for other people who enjoy "tweaking" and customizing the sound, feel, and overall piano playing response, Roland has included a huge amount of editing functions called "Piano Designer" just for that very purpose. In fact many of these functions are quite useful and allow people the opportunity of personalizing the playability along with the piano sound to their particular tastes and playing experience in a number of ways. These features are fairly easy to use although they may be "over-the-top" for some people, but that's OK because it's better to have them then to not have them in my opinion. In regular acoustic pianos there are ways that a piano technician-tuner can personalize and customize the piano sound and key action but that can be an expensive process. In the Roland digital pianos this process is in the "digital domain" so it's free, right at your fingertips by the press of a couple of buttons and you use your ears, fingers, and foot to determine what you like and don't like. Once you make a change to the overall piano sound you can then save it to a power-up memory. However the piano also has an instant memory feature which saves your changes as you go without needing to do anything extra...a very cool feature that I have not seen before in pianos like these. If you don't want those saved changes anymore you can then just reset the piano easily to the factory default settings. Some of the sound editing changes that you can do include Grand Piano Lid height position, Key Off Noise, Hammer Noise, Duplex Scale adjustment, Full Scale String Resonance, Damper Resonance, Key Off Resonance, Cabinet Resonance, Soundboard Type, Damper Noise, Single Note Tuning, Single Note Volume, Single Note Character, 100 levels of key touch velocity (the way the keys respond to your touch) along with multiple levels of Ambience/Reverb and Brilliance customization. All of the functions and buttons are accessed along the top the keys on the control panel. In my opinion this is the most intuitive and usable placement of controls, display screen, and button placement on a digital piano although Kawai has the same control panel placement and that's a good thing. So when it comes to just playing the piano, you can do it the old traditional way and simply power up the Roland piano and play, or you can edit and personalize the sound in just about any way you want to and see what you're doing in the nice LCD display screen in the center of the piano above the keyboard.
Ok...so now it's on to some of the useful digital features and non-piano sounds and functions these new pianos have. The new Roland pianos have 4 Physical Modeled grand piano sounds including Concert, Ballad, Mellow, and Bright with the ability to edit them in 100's of ways as I mentioned earlier. It is not the quantity of individual piano sounds that count but it is the quality. Beyond those physical modeled sounds are the addition of 8 more piano types including upright, ragtime, and Forte pianos. There are a total of 307 instrument sounds on the new Roland cabinet pianos including some outstanding symphony string orchestras, vintage harpsichords, vintage electric pianos, pipe and pop organs, church and pop choirs, concert harp, classical guitar, oboe, concert flute, jazz saxophone, bluegrass banjo, synthesizer, movie sound effects, and just about anything else you can think of. However, the new Roland pianos have an annoying issue with regard to changing instrument sounds when you are playing live in real time (including the piano sounds) that they did not have on previous models, and this is called "all notes off" function. This means when you change from one sound to the next such as piano to harpsichord, concert piano to mellow piano, electric piano to strings, guitar to flute, etc, if you are holding down or playing one or more keys (and/or holding down your sustain pedal) to continue to hear the current sound you have and then changing sounds in the control panel to go to the next sound you want, the current sound immediately cuts off and stops playing until you re-key and start playing again. This is especially annoying when playing in a live setting, event, etc, and wanting to change sounds in the middle of a song. The sound to sound transition is not smooth, but instead it's choppy and just irritating. It's interesting to note that on previous Roland models they did not have this problem and changing sounds was smooth, flowing, and worked fine as it does on the other major brands and models. However perhaps this issue is due to the new Physical Modeling technology and Roland has not figured out a way to overcome this noticeable anomaly. I personally play in a lot of "live situations" and count on being able to change sounds quickly and smoothly during a performance with any "hiccups." But on these new Roland pianos this is not possible unless Roland can come up with an update to solve this problem.
Speaking of connectivity, the DP603 (just like the home cabinet models above it) have good connectivity to external devices with outputs and inputs including dual headphone jacks, stereo mini input audio jack to connect tablets, computers, iPod, etc to hear audio through the piano, two 1/4" audio output jacks for stereo connectivity with external sound systems, USB flashdrive input, and USB output to device. This kind of connectivity is generally sufficient to meet most needs although all the jacks themselves are located under the left front of the pianos. This is fine for some connections but I would have much preferred to see the audio input and output jacks along with the USB output located on the back of the piano like most of the other brands do. It would be the more practical position for those connector jacks in my opinion, but perhaps Roland had a reason for locating all of them up front underneath the piano...maybe it was less money for them to do it that way...but I don't like it near as much as on the back for those specific connectors. If you want to run an external device such as an iPad or computer to your piano then the audio cable needs to be routed to the front of the piano and same is true of a USB connected. Cables and connectors, especially audio output cables, should not be seen or get in the way of the player, but they do on the new Roland pianos and that would have been easy to do differently such as on past Roland models. It's definitely not a "deal breaker" for me but it is an annoyance.