Thursday, December 1, 2016

REVIEW - Artesia DP150e, AG30, AG50 Digital Pianos - Semi-Recommended - New Pianos at Costco - Low Price

REVIEW - Artesia DP150e, AG30, AG50 Digital pianos- Semi Recommended - The new Artesia digital pianos at Costco include the vertical upright style DP150e ($999US discount price) at 34" tall and 20" deep and 121 lbs, the 32" deep micro grand AG30 ($1499US discount price, and the 48" deep mini grand AG50 ($2399US discount price). These 3 specific Artesia digital pianos are only sold at Costco in the US and only available as an on-line purchase. The Artesia brand is part of the "Virgin Musical Instrument" company in the US and the pianos themselves are designed and made in China by a Chinese are other piano brands. Artesia themselves is not a piano manufacturer, unlike Casio, Kawai, Roland, and Yamaha who are digital piano designers and manufacturers.

I have not been favorable to past Artesia digital pianos because simply put, they have not been good. The key actions, piano sound, and pedaling were a poor excuse for a piano. They suffered from toy-like sound, unrealistic, clunky key action, as well poor pedaling response. The secondary digital features and functions were OK but certainly no substitute for poor piano performance even at the beginning level. The good new about these new models of Artesia is that they have gotten better and are almost acceptable...almost! Again, when it comes to digital pianos, for me it's not what the outside cabinet looks like nor is it any of the extra "bells & whistles." It's all about the piano playing experience and whether or not a particular digital piano can replicate or come close to being like a real acoustic piano. Although these new models have definitely been improved in some ways, the DP150e, AG30, and AG50 are just not there yet, although the manufacturer who makes these pianos for Artesia is getting closer, so I do appreciate the fact they are trying to make that effort.

So where do these pianos fall short? Well it has to do with key action, key sensors under the keys which control the repetition response, piano sound realism and response, and pedaling. One of the first things I noticed was even though the weight of the piano keys was better and more realistic than past Artesia key actions, the physical action movement was a bit too light for me as compared to real pianos or better digital pianos, although it still is acceptable, especially compared to poor playing digital pianos such as the Williams brand. However the key action was a bit noisy when the black & white keys were moving, and if you are a better, more enthusiastic player and playing with some force in the fingers, the keys made a noticeable knocking sound when they went down and hit bottom, almost like there wasn't padding below the keys (in the key bed). Past models of Artesia pianos have had this issue and it is especially noticeable when playing at low volumes or when wearing headphones where other people in the room can hear the knocking sound when the keys go down. So that's an issue for me personally, but maybe you will be OK with it.

When it comes to the electronic key sensors under the keys and the piano sound generating electronics in general, these are things you cannot see but do make a big difference in the way the piano sound behaves. As an example, when you are playing a real piano or a good digital piano, when you press down a key it makes a piano sound and that sound sustains naturally until you let go of the key. As soon as you let go of the key the piano sound should immediately stop, assuming you are not using the sustain pedal. In other words, if you play a key quickly, when the key is coming back up the piano sound is supposed to immediately stop playing (being heard) on any key that is being played that way. This kind of piano playing is called "staccato" piano playing and it is very important that the piano can do this so you can replicate the music as it should be when you are playing. Unfortunately on these new Artesia models, the piano sound does not stop immediately when the key is let go and then coming back up, and the sound lingers on for about a second or so after the key is released. This is something that is not acceptable in my book and there is no way that I can find to change it on these pianos. This has nothing to do with reverb or any special effects because this happens by itself without any effects or sustain pedal. It is simply a problem with the piano and its inability to behave normally with regard to staccato playing. I don't think it is something any beginner would notice, but as you progress in your playing ability it will become an important aspect of your music.

Another piano sound issue for me on these models is when you play a key and it goes about half-way down, you can hear the piano sound come in softly which is not supposed to happen. In other words, the piano sound volume is triggered (although its at a low volume) when you press a key down half-way, whereas on a real piano and good digital pianos you should not hear any sound triggered at all until the key is all the way down and touches bottom. For a beginner this will likely not be an issue, but as you progress in your playing ability you'll want the piano sound to come in like it does in a real piano, and these Artesia models will not do that and there's no way to change it. Another thing I noticed about playing the keys was the dynamic volume and tonal response. What I mean by this is that is when the keys go up and down the tonal dynamics (piano sound) are mellow when pressing the key down softly and slowly and the piano sound is supposed to brighten up when you play the keys harder. The volume response also should work the same way at the same time with the tonal dynamic range with less volume when playing the keys lightly and more volume when playing the keys harder and it needs to be even and gradual for best response. On these Artesia pianos, the volume response and tonal control (expression) is noticeably uneven and jumpy to me going from one key (note) to the other. So while you are playing a song, there may be one key you are playing that has a much brighter piano sound and the next key over has a more mellow sound...or you may hear one key/note be louder and the key next to it may be quieter using the same finger pressure. Also, when playing one key softer to harder, the dynamics also tend to be a bit jumpy. These kind of piano sound anomalies generally do not happen on good acoustic and digital pianos because the tone, volume, and overall dynamics (expression) are even from one key to the next up & down or on the same key whether playing softly or harder. This kind of uneven tone/volume and lack of tonal "color" out of the key action and cheaper quality key sensors is quite annoying to me and definitely does not inspire me to want to play on these pianos. But for beginners and non-players, it won't matter and they should be fine for awhile.

With regard to the piano sound itself, it definitely sounds mostly digital to me and not organic or natural, especially if you know what a real acoustic piano sounds like or a good digital piano with a more realistic piano sound chip. These Artesia models do sound more realistic than previous models so that is good, but in real pianos there are natural, organic, resonate elements of the piano sound that a person can hear and that kind of thing gives a piano its character and personality with many expressive "colors" of music. The DP150e, AG30, and AG50 have none of the natural, organic qualities of an acoustic piano other than some uneven tonal dynamics which Artesia calls "3-layer and 3-D instrument sound samples." Yes there are definitely 3 layers of piano tone per note (mellow, medium, and bright when playing softer to harder) but as I said, that sound is very uneven & somewhat jumpy and not at all like a real piano. The so-called "3-D" sound samples are not really "3-D" as far as I am concerned. The classic definition of the name 3-D is "an object that has height, width and depth, like any object in the real world." The piano sound in the Artesia's has no actual sonic height and no depth. It just has width because the piano sound uses stereo sound samples which is nice, but nothing out of the ordinary as far as digital pianos are concerned.

Sonically, for a lot of uninitiated people who don't play piano, the Artesia piano sound is OK and in fact, you may even like it and it is noticeably better than previous models of Artesia. But to equate it with a real acoustic piano or a good digital piano by famous brands such as Kawai, Yamaha, Casio, or Roland, is like saying a McDonalds hamburger tastes as good as a quality cut of prime's just not possible...and so it is with the Artesia DP150e, AG30, and AG50. They "look good & smell good" and they may even fill you up for a short time, but these pianos are definitely not "pianos" in the sense of playing and sounding like any high quality acoustic upright, grand, or digital piano I have ever played. When it comes to Artesia pianos, that company states the following in their advertisement for these pianos: "Its (their) advanced hammer action design offers excellent response and smooth playability that will satisfy even the most demanding teacher or performer." There is no way that I know of for a "demanding teacher or performer" (I am one of them) to be interested in playing these Artesia pianos to perform or teach on unless, for some reason, there are no other options available to them, which is unlikely. Most of these digital piano companies exaggerate the reality of their pianos (they almost all do that) so that you will buy it, and that is not unusual. So don't be sold on something just because the maker of the product says you should be, because it's all about sales for them. Just understand that you get what you pay for and that is true with these Artesia pianos. Just because it looks good does not mean it's near as good on the inside.

As far as the pedaling goes, it is OK and just average, not great but acceptable. The pedals are full size and nice looking, but do make a noticeable amount of knocking noise each time when they come back up after pushing them down with your foot. That can be a somewhat annoying especially if you have played acoustic pianos or some good digital pianos with a quieter pedal movement. The pedals work appropriately and the sustain decay time is actually quite good so I do like that. However the piano sound when sustaining it with the damper pedal sounds very digital and does not any organic, natural character to it. This is due again to the fact that the piano sound elements of pedal and string resonance are not present in the piano sound chip so all that is heard is a linear digital type of piano sound when being sustained. But for the average person who knows little about piano sound and what it is really supposed to be like, they may not notice this issue and in fact like the sound. But for me, it is not at all something that I would personally enjoy and it just sounds like sustained noise to me. But hey, most of you out there are not at my skill level of piano playing nor have you likely been playing real pianos for any length of time, so again, you may not notice the sound being as unnatural as it is when using the damper sustain pedal.

OK...on to the fun stuff, and this piano has plenty of it! These pianos have lots of instrument sounds, interactive accompaniment styles, along with a variety of rhythm patterns. Rock, Latin, jazz, waltz, march, country, and so on. Electric pianos, harpsichords, strings, bells, brass, woodwinds, horns, reeds, special effect sounds, etc with some that sound good and some not very good. Some of these overall features are useful and some not very useful, but that is to be expected, especially in these price ranges for an Artesia piano. However overall the functions are plentiful, useful, and fun to use and I enjoyed them. There's no doubt that many families will also enjoy many of these features which includes 136 instrument sounds, 99 accompaniment patterns and drum rhythms with variation, intro, and ending on each one along with being able to easily control tempo faster/slower, auto harmonize, and layer & split any two instrument sounds. There are adjustable special effects such as reverb & chorus for the piano and other instrument sounds along with a duet feature which digitally splits the 88 notes into two 44 note keyboards so that 2 people can play the same notes at the same time with the lower part of the keyboard being electronically converted to the same octave piano sound as the upper portion of the keyboard. useful for 2 people playing the same notes in the same music at the same time. I must admit that does not happen too often but it is useful when needed. Many other digital pianos have these fun and educational features as well so Artesia is not the only one.

It is important to note that there are only 2 acoustic piano type sound selections on these pianos with only the first one called "grand piano" and sounding more like an acoustic piano, although to me not a grand piano sound as claimed, even though they may have sampled the sound from a grand. The 2nd piano sound selection called "bright piano" is, in my opinion, a very poor sound sample which has some noticeably poor stretch tuning problems that causes the piano to be noticeably "out-of-tune" sometimes when using that piano sound and playing a variety of chords on the piano. There's also some noticeably poor tonal/volume dynamics as well and I would never use the bright piano sound because of these issues. What's interesting is that I don't hear any of the stretch tuning issues on the 1st piano sound like I do on the 2nd piano sound, although there are still erratic dynamic tonal and volume issues when playing the keys using either piano sound, as I have previously discussed. Many other digital pianos in this price range have more variety of acoustic piano sound samples which are noticeably better and also not out of tune. The piano sounds are the main reasons people buy pianos and everything else is secondary. So when it comes to acoustic piano variety and quality using preset buttons or through the menu on these pianos, there are only two of them and the 1st one is the only one worth playing at all when it comes to a piano sound. But some of the other non piano instrument sounds are nice and can be fun to play.

To access the many functions on these pianos there are direct access buttons on the control panel above the keyboard for the instrument sounds in groups and the instrument sounds in groups, as well as a small but useful LCD display screen to see what you're doing, which I like. There is also a small knob called a "data wheel" on the right side of the display screen, which you can turn to move through the selections at a quicker rate or you can move through them with +/- buttons one at a time, so when it comes to controlling the features such as accompaniment or keyboard volumes, etc, overall I do like what these pianos have to offer. There is also 3 large knobs on the left side of the control panel which give you instant access to the master volume of the piano including bass and treble control of the sound. All digital pianos have a master volume control but not necessarily treble and bass control knobs although they may have treble and bass adjustments in the functions of the display screen. So I do like the quick access knobs for these volume and frequency adjustments and they have been on past Artesia piano models and are useful to have to make the adjustments to master volume along with the bass & treble tone of the piano.

With regard to the digital features there are also other ones including adjustable digital metronome, 16 track recording & playback, transpose, octave shift, tuning, 36 registration memories to store your own favorite settings that you created, and many more. One of my favorite things to do on a digital piano is to be able to play General MIDI song files on the piano through a USB flash drive and play or sing along with them. These Artesia pianos can do that and some of the song data (title, etc) is taken from the USB flash drive and displayed in the blue LCD piano display screen. So when it comes to playing along with and listening to favorite songs, this piano can do that very well assuming you have the necessary MIDI song files that you like It is also useful for learning new songs because you can adjust tempo with the tempo control on the piano along with muting out different tracks. As I mentioned before, the Artesia pianos do have some useful fun features but unfortunately at the expense of the piano key action and overall piano playability. To get a better playing key action piano and better and more realistic piano sound, you can still do that along with having these fun features for about the same price, but you'll need to give up the nicer cabinet to do that or spend more money...and that's because you don't get something for nothing:).

Underneath the left side of these Artesia pianos is a connector box which includes two 1/4" headphone jacks, a MIDI output, USB output to external device, stereo audio in and out RCA jacks, a volume knob to control line level volume, and a Bluetooth connector for a Bluetooth adapter provided with these pianos. Basically the connector box has everything you would need to connect just about anything you want including being able to stream audio files from your external Bluetooth device (phone, iPad, etc) through the piano speaker system.Most pianos in this price range do not have all those connectors so the Artesia pianos do a very good job in this area and I wish more companies would have this kind of connector variety.

The internal speaker system of these pianos are more than adequate with the vertical style DP150e having four speakers (2 larger/2 small) going through 80 watts of power (although each of the 2 larger speakers is only rated at 20 watts/6 ohms), the AP30 micro grand having 6 speakers with a total of 120 watts of power, and the AG50 mini grand having 6 speakers at 150 watts of total power. So when it comes to volume in these pianos, there is plenty of that, however volume does not necessarily equate to quality tone and the speakers and amps in these pianos could be a little better in that way, especially on the DP150e. The sound on the DP150e is a bit muddy (dark) to me and makes the piano sound have a much more digital (fake) tone and not near as good as listening to it through a good set of stereo headphones. If the internal speaker/amp sound was as good as listening through a good pair of headphones, then that would be a lot better, but the frequency response and dynamic range of the internal speakers/amps have a lot to be desired, but for the average person they may be fine.

The best thing about these pianos is the way they look. There is no question that they are quite attractive in their polished ebony cabinets, sliding key covers, with matching benches, and that's something many people like to have. Speaking of the benches, although they are nice looking and comfortable, they definitely are not wide enough to be considered real "duet" size benches. Duet size benches are typically about 30" wide and the Artesia benches are 24" wide...definitely not enough room for 2 average size people or one adult and one child to sit on comfortably together so they are really single size benches. The factory warranty on the Artesia pianos is only one year whereas other digital piano brands in these price ranges are anywhere from 3 years to 5 years in length. So if you are wanting a good, long warranty, Artesia pianos don't have them like other brands do.

In the final analysis, these Artesia models DP150e, AG30, and AG50 are fun to play, look good, and have many fun features built in, but as pianos go they are just barely average (or below average) as far as piano playing authenticity goes compared to any of the more well known piano brands. You definitely do get what you pay for and with that in mind, I do semi-recommend these pianos (just barely) because they are OK when it comes to the piano playing experience and better than previous models which I did not recommend at all, as well as looking good and doing a lot of fun things. If you are a beginner and don't know how real pianos play including the more authentic digital piano brands and how they behave musically, then you could likely be happy with your purchase of any one of these Artesia models because you just aren't at a skill or experience level to notice it yet. That is really the issue...what is most important to you and how much money are you willing to invest to get it? Once you make a purchase you will likely be keeping it for a very long time so be sure you make the right decision because once the fun of the drums, automatic chords, recording, and song play start wearing off and getting a bit old (and it can do that after awhile), what you will have remaining is the piano and the way it acts and behaves as a piano, and I believe that is the most important thing to consider when spending your hard earned money:). There are other brands and models to consider as well, and if you have questions about what else is available out there, please contact me for more info.

If you want more info on new digital pianos and LOWER PRICES than internet discounts, please email me at or call direct at 602-571-1864.

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