Saturday, October 1, 2016

REVIEW - Casio AP700 Digital Piano - Recommended - Top Celviano model under $3000

UPDATED REVIEW - January 23, 2017 - Casio AP700 Digital Piano - Recommended - The Casio company produces a line of digital pianos under $3000 called the Celviano Series traditional digital pianos. The top of the line in this series is called the AP700 ($2499US store discount price) and under this model is the AP650, AP460, and AP260. The AP700 is not available for sale on the internet in the US and only found at "selected" Casio piano dealers. That just means it is not widely available. The AP700 is a "crossover" piano in the sense that the piano sound chip and digital features in this model are taken from their higher priced professional home series Grand Hybrid digital pianos and then combined with a few of the important features of their lower price AP650 Celviano piano. The features in the AP700 that are from the Ceviano AP650 include the triple sensor ivory & ebony key action, the identical upgraded satin black furniture cabinet with adjustable opening lid, the LCD display screen, control panel button placement, and adjustable matching bench. The internal speaker system in the AP700 is also the upgraded from the AP650 which includes 6 speakers going through a total of 60 watts of stereo power.

At $2499US retail price, the Casio AP700's biggest competitor is the Yamaha Clavinova CLP535 which has a discount price of $2699 based on the Yamaha advertised web site price. The Yamaha company certainly has a great name in pianos as they are famous for acoustic upright and grand pianos as well as digital pianos. In fact, the Yamaha name would be more popular than Casio for that reason alone...that they make real pianos and have done so for years. However, Casio is also a famous company for the millions of high quality digital products that it makes including watches, calculators, cameras, professional and home keyboards, and large line of digital pianos which they've been producing for well over 30 years. So when it comes to digital pianos, Casio knows what they are doing and based on my experience with them, believe it or not, I believe they offer more overall "bang for the buck" in the their digital pianos in similar price ranges than does Yamaha and some of the other brands out there.

The Casio AP700 has a custom piano sound chip built in with over 12 different acoustic piano sounds including the same high quality sound samples from their more expensive Grand Hybrid digital pianos which start at $3999 retail price. Those piano sounds come from 3 distinct grand pianos which include the German Steinway Hamberg Concert Grand Piano, the Bosendorfer Viennese Austrian concert grand Piano, and the Bechstein Berlin concert grand Piano. The Bechstein piano company in Germany in conjunction with the Casio company produced all of the new piano sound samples in the AP700.

The competitive Yamaha Clavinova CLP535 offers 2 distinct piano samples from the Japanese Yamaha Concert Grand and the Bosendorfer Austrian concert grand both of which are great pianos. Although I do like the Yamaha acoustic concert grand very much and have played them many times, I do not like the Bosendorfer sampled grand sound in the CLP535 very much at all. It just seems too muted, muffled, and indistinct to me and I have played the CLP535 many times. I have played real Bosendorfer concert grand pianos a lot in my music career and the Yamaha CLP535 sample of a Bosendorfer doesn't sound like any real Bosendorfer I have ever heard. However, the Casio Celviano AP700 Bosendorfer sample is much more pleasing and realistic to my ears and I like it quite a bit. The Steinway piano sample in the Casio AP700 is excellent and very expressive and my favorite piano sound. Yamaha does not use a Steinway sample and instead has their own Yamaha grand sampled sound which I like...but not nearly as much as Steinway Concert Grand. So when it comes to the ever important grand piano sound, I prefer what the AP700 has to offer over the Yamaha CLP535. It should be noted that Yamaha uses the same sounds that are in their CLP535 also in their higher priced CLP models as well. The unique piano sound samples in the AP700 are the same sound samples in the higher priced Grand Hybrid GP300 as opposed to the piano sounds in the lower priced Casio AP650.

The Casio AP700 has 256 notes of polyphony processing power as does the Yamaha CLP535 and a few other piano brands and models, which is the most polyphony power offered in a sampled sound digital piano. the 256-note polyphony sound chip is more than enough to handle complex musical scores and passages and also allows the player to combine 2 sounds layered together such as piano &strings, etc for an even more beautiful piano playing sound experience. Other similarities between the Casio AP700 and Yamaha CVP535 include both having a 60 watt audio power sound system although Casio has 6 speakers and Yamaha has 4 speakers, power consumption under 30 watts for both models, both models have USB audio wav file recording and playback, both have USB flashdrive input for saving and playing songs, both have good connectivity with audio input, audio output, USB output to external device, dual headphone jacks, string resonance and damper resonance, and a few other features.

But one of the things that really separates the Casio AP700 from the Yamaha CLP535 and all other vertical cabinet style digital pianos in this price range is the adjustable open top lid. If you look closely at the pictures of the AP700, you'll notice that the lid can open and be propped up to allow the piano sound to also come up and out towards the player as opposed to the sound staying inside the piano like in the Yamaha CLP535. In fact, the Yamaha internal speaker system only has 2 speakers, although they are slightly larger than the main speakers in the AP700. But the AP700 has 6 total speakers (4 mains and 2 tweeters) along with the lid opening system like a little mini grand piano, so the sound disbursement in the AP700 is very impressive in its price range and I like it. If you do not want the top lid to be opened then it can remain flat like it would be regular digital pianos.

Key action is very important in a digital piano and in fact is the most important feature in any digital piano in my opinion, followed by piano sound and pedaling. The key action in the AP700 is the same key action that's in the lower priced AP650 which allows for a more natural piano playing experience with regard to key weight, resistance, response, and overall key movement. I like the AP700 key action very much and it has the synthetic ivory & ebony keytops which try to simulate the old grand piano key feel when the keys were made from real elephant ivory and real ebony wood many years ago before those materials were banned from being used on consumer products like pianos. Although the Yamaha key action is a bit quieter than the Casio key action in terms of noise when the keys move up and down (all piano actions have some mechanical noise), real acoustic piano key actions are fairly noisy when they move up and down except you just cannot hear the key noise because acoustic pianos are always so loud all the time and that volume covers up the key noise that you might otherwise hear. However, I like the key weight and key movement much better on the Casio AP700 as it takes less effort to press the keys down as compared to Yamaha CLP535 key action with the GH system. When I play the Yamaha CLP535 key action, it feels fatiguing to me after awhile and the down-weight (aka: static touch weight) of the keys is just too heavy and not realistic as compared to a good grand piano down-weight based on my experience playing these pianos. The Casio AP700 just feels better and allows for quick key action movement and more accurate repetition with Casio's triple sensor electronics under each key. The key action expression is very good, especially for a plastic key action, which most of these pianos have in this price range.

Piano pedaling is also an important aspect of any good piano and the Casio AP700 is no exception. The pedaling offers half-damper control for variable sustain amount and duration of time. The piano pedaling also triggers damper resonance which is when the dampers in a real piano are off the strings and there is natural resonation of the strings occurring along with the note that is played. Casio has recreated this experience in the Celviano AP460 and it certainly is nice to have for those that are used to a real piano. The middle sostenuto pedal and left soft pedal also work like a real piano and give people the added benefit of reproducing the functionality of those pedals as well, although the right damper sustain pedal is the primary pedal used more than 90% of the time for most recreational piano players.

The Casio company has its worldwide headquarters in Tokyo, Japan (left pic) and has been producing digital pianos for over 30 years. They also produce keyboards, pro synthesizers, as well as being famous for calculators, advanced digital cameras, sports & consumer watches, advanced digital technology for communication devices, and some very impressive new digital computer technology. Casio produces their own computer chips and proprietary micro technology and is able to do it at a fraction of the cost of some of it's biggest competitors and that is why Casio tends to have lower prices than many competitors. Some people equate lower prices with lower quality and think you need to spend a lot more money or get a "name brand" in pianos to get something really good. However, in my opinion, this latest model Casio AP700 is very impressive for its lower price and easily competes with the other popular digital piano brands including Yamaha (as I mentioned), Roland, and Kawai for features, cabinet construction & style, and overall piano playing experience realism.

Another impressive feature to me is the fact that Casio has included "wav file" audio recording in this model. What that means is that you can record yourself as an audio recording (CD quality) and save it to a USB flashdrive in the piano. Then you can take that recording in the flashdrive and plug it into your computer and email that song to your friends and relatives to let them hear it on their computer just as you played it! Beyond that, you can import that music into computer music programs for music education, composing, song arranging, etc for further musical interaction and even turn the wav file recording into an MP3 to play as an iTune on your iPad or iPod. The other major brands such as Roland, Kawai, or Yamaha does not have this feature in this price range. Another recording feature that is very useful and I use it in my teaching studio, is the ability to record right and left hand playing independently on 2 separate MIDI recording tracks and then play back both hands simultaneously. This feature is very helpful in allowing piano students to practice and record one hand and then play that recording back while they play the other hand "live" along with the recording. It's like having your teacher there playing along with you to give you help in understanding your rhythm and timing better and it's also more fun to practice this way. You can also save this recording and other song recordings you have done to a USB flashdrive for storage so you can come back later and work on and play along with those pieces again.

The Bechstein-Casio Grand Hybrid pianos are quite a bit more money and they start at $3999 with the GP300 model, but those pianos offer an actual wood grand piano hammer action with real moving hammers using a synthetic resin to construct the hammers. The AP700 offers the identical digital features as the higher priced GP300 with the exception of the GP300 having a larger display screen, more audio power, the wood key action (very expensive to produce) and a different cabinet. Speaking of LCD display screen, I personally like the control panel and display screen of the Casio AP700 over the Yamaha CLP535. If you notice the pictures, the Yamaha display screen is all the way over to the left side of the keyboard and is more difficult to use because of that. Even though the Yamaha CLP535 display screen is larger, it's not as intuitive and placed in a position that makes it much less easy to use. The AP700 control panel and display screen is above the keys in front of the player for easy use, easy to see position of the display screen, and intuitive buttons which better access the piano sounds and functions of the AP700.

A few other very cool features of the AP700 include a new music library that consists of 10 full orchestra classical songs (plus more you can download from an internet site) which you can play along with using the piano sounds in the piano. The 10 orchestral songs are in an audio wav format (recorded from live orchestra) and sounds just like a real recording of the instruments as you would find on a regular CD recording of an orchestra. These new songs are independent in their sounds and format (the piano itself does not have these sounds) but you can interact with them by playing along live with the music. The 10 songs are standard classical music and although they are fun to play along with and do sound good, you would need to be able to read music (or play by ear) and play along at the song skill level so that you could interact with the music properly. You can slow down the songs, mute either right or left hand playback sound for live playalong and do a few other things with the orchestra accompaniment which are all quite fun to do, sound great, and helpful for learning. It's a nice feature and certainly sounds good but they're all in the classical category which is certainly good, but I also like other styles of music too. At the very least, you can pretend that you know what you are doing and that's OK:).

It is important to note that the AP700 piano does not have built-in drum rhythms, automatic chords, music styles, hundreds of instrument sounds, multi-track General MIDI recording & composing, etc that can be useful to some people (such as is on the Casio AP650), but it was not designed to be that way. The AP700 is focused primarily on piano playing and is a very satisfying instrument for its price that can handle many playing skill levels. However, it does have some useful "fun features" that I like but if you want even more additional interactive fun and educational functions/features, then you can easily connect to an iPad and experience some very cool interactive piano technology which both adults and children will enjoy. I use many iPad music/piano educational apps in my music studio to teach from and enhance the piano learning experience for both kids and adults. But as far as piano playing goes, this digital piano has a big, loud, bold piano sound which can replace a regular upright piano along with enough digital features to make the learning and piano playing experience fun and gratifying for most people seeking a quality instrument in a lower price range under $3000.

Speaking of fun features, you can connect an external device directly like an iPad or laptop computer using the AP700 high speed class compliant USB MIDI connection which allows for instant connection with external computer devices without the need of downloading drivers or having to convert a MIDI signal to USB. Since kids are growing up in the "iPad world" I recommend to all piano students that they utilize the exciting Apps available for tablets (and iPad in particular) to enhance their playing and practice experience which will make them better students and better musicians overall. Besides that, it's super cool to do this and when you've experienced the interaction of the Casio AP700 with an iPad (or Android) tablet and what it can musically and educationally do for you and your family, you'll be amazed at all the possibilities!

Other features of the AP700 worth mentioning is more realistic instrument sounds (26 of them) which are taken from the higher priced Casio GP300 Hybrid digital piano including noticeably improved strings, harpsichord, organs, and electric pianos which can be split into two parts on the piano, layered together, and you can also use the "duet" function that allows 2 people to play piano at the same time. Another interesting feature is call Hall Simulation which gives the stereo acoustic piano sound a more spacious effect such as you would hear in a large concert hall or church where there is natural echo that occurs when playing an instrument. There are a variety of "hall" simulations and it adds to the sonic presence of the acoustic piano sounds and makes the piano more enjoyable to play depending on the kind of music you like. I have heard these kinds of effects before in other higher priced digital instruments and they can add to the realism of piano playing which is always a good thing.

The bottom line is...this top of the line Casio Celviano AP700 is a piano for people who want to focus on the piano playing experience in a medium price range (under $2500) without too many "bells & whistles to get in the way." With a very nice cabinet design that looks great and has a full back privacy panel, sounds big through its impressive internal speaker system, and uses a proprietary piano sound chip designed in part by the Bechstein grand piano company in Germany, the AP700 would be one of my top recommendations in its price range especially given the fact that it out performs many of its competitors in my opinion. Along with a big factory warranty of 5 years parts & labor with in-home service and a matching Casio height adjustable bench, it's a complete package that would be quite good for anyone looking for a more upgraded digital piano at a very reasonable price.

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment