Oct 2, 2014

REVIEW - Artesia AG28 & Artesia AG40 Digital Grand Pianos - NOT RECOMMENDED

UPDATED REVIEW - August 1, 2017 - 

🎹 Artesia AG28 & AG40 digital micro & mini grand pianos - NOT Recommended -  These 2 models are discontinued and have been replaced by the AG30 & AG50. Please go to the following link to read my review of these 2 newer models: Artesia AG30/AG50 Review - Previous review of AG28 & AG40 - I have reviewed the Artesia digital piano brand before and have not recommended any of their models in the past and these models in this review are unfortunately no exception. Although the AG28 2'8" depth micro grand ($1599US regular price at Costco) and the AG40 4' mini grand ($2799US regular discount price) offer a boat load of digital features and great looks, you cannot judge a book by its cover as the old saying goes. I like to call these pianos a PSO or "piano shaped object" because even though they look like a nice piano on the outside, they do not play like a nice piano on the inside. These two models are identical pianos except for their cabinet design, size, and cost and also the larger AG40 comes with a longer, nicer bench.

It is important to know that the new Artesia AG28 & AG40 are not all bad because many of the digital features are fun to use and play with including the drum patterns, interactive auto arrangement chords, playalong songs, MIDI recording features, and additional instrument sounds. It has lots of connectivity to many external devices including iPad, computer, and external speaker systems as well as headphone jacks for private practice, so all of that is good. The AG28/AG40 have a number of sound EFX and editing features to adjust the sound and other functions so there is plenty to keep the average person busy. However, getting a piano is really all about getting a realistic and satisfying piano playing experience and this is where the Artesia AG28 falls short. All of the digital features in the world are not enough to help this piano become something that it is not...a piano. I have played $300 Casio & Yamaha keyboards that have more realistic piano sound and dynamic response than the AG28/AG40. Also, when it comes to all of the many rhythm backgrounds and extra non-piano instrument sounds, the AG28/AG40 don't come close to those $300 keyboards I was just talking about...and I am not exaggerating.

First and foremost I want to talk about the AG28/AG40 key action. In the past, the Artesia brand, which is designed and built by a Chinese digital piano manufacturer (being built in China does not mean the digital piano will be bad), was using an all Chinese designed and built key action (that can be bad) and those key actions were terrible. They were noisy, clunky, and played bad. However, on the new AG28 & AG40, it would appear as if Artesia has substituted a better key action made by the Fatar key action company in Italy. This is a good thing and a welcome addition to the Artesia pianos. The Fatar key action company produces a number of different model key actions for different purposes and have different costs associated with them. Based on my personal playing experience with the new AG28/AG40, it is easy to tell that this particular Fatar key action is the basic bottom-of-the-line key action. Although it is a better built key action than the previous Chinese made key actions, this key action is still not very realistic at all and has some noticeable key action movement noise and deficiencies when playing the keys, especially when the keys are coming back, they make noticeable action noise. Also, many of the keys emit a slight squeaking sound when they go up and down which I found to be quite irritating to me.

AG28 micro grand
When playing the keys a bit harder with more force, the keys hit the bottom of the keybed and make a noticeable knocking noise, and this is a problem with a few other key actions as well, including all the Chinese built key actions I have ever played. The keys on this Fatar key action also come back up a little too quickly and take a bit more effort to push down when playing lightly or softly (as compared to a real piano) which is referred to as static key touch weight. So is this new key action bad?...not really. But is it good?...the answer would be no, it is not good. It is just OK and certainly better than on previous models of Artesia pianos, however for a lot less money you can get a regular upright style Roland, Yamaha, Kawai, or Casio digital piano that would have much more advanced and upgraded key actions than the ones in the current model Artesia digital pianos. But of course you would have to give up that pretty shiny black cabinet:). If you are a piano student or know how to play the piano, the key action is by far the most important feature of any piano so be sure you get something that will last for many years and can duplicate the best possible, most authentic piano playing experience in your price range. Artesia claims this key action in their pianos is "teacher recommended," but if that is so then those so called "teachers" have little experience playing a real piano and any good teacher I know would never actually go out of their way and voluntarily recommend these Artesia pianos when it comes to the key action.

The 2nd most important aspect of any piano (digital or acoustic) is the piano sound itself. With regard to the Artesia AG28/AG40 pianos, the so-called "stereo" piano sound is noticeably bad. When I say "bad" I mean that the acoustic piano in these pianos sound is nothing like a real piano and isn't even as good as a basic $200 Yamaha or Casio keyboard (and I am not kidding about that). First of all, the piano sound in most good digital pianos is recorded in stereo to reproduce the movement of natural acoustic piano tone from the left hand up through the right hand. Although the Artesia brand claims the AG28/AG40 piano tone is recorded in stereo, if it is, it's the poorest sounding stereo I have ever heard because it sounds just like basic mono! Stereo piano tone moves from left to right or right to left as you go up & down on the keys. This piano sound does not move at all, it just comes out in the middle, like mono. Clearly this is a cheap piano sample of a real piano. Not only that, the piano sound itself is very thin and "toy-like" as compared to a real piano and most other good new digital pianos. I was quite surprised how cheap the piano tone sounded as compared to better sounding low priced digital pianos and keyboards. The sound is simply not beautiful or even near being beautiful, especially as compared to a real piano. It is true that there are some piano shoppers who have little or no piano playing experience and may not recognize a poor quality acoustic piano sound when they hear it. So for those people the Artesia AG28/AG40 may actually sound good to them. But in reality, it's a poor recreation of what a real piano sounds like and doesn't come close to some of the good Casio, Yamaha, Kawai, and Roland digital pianos for under $1000. There are only two acoustic type pianos sounds on the AG28/AG40 grand piano and bright piano. The grand piano is not grand at all...it sounds like a toy. The bright piano is even worse and does not really sound like a piano and it does not fade out like a piano does when you hold down a key, which makes that bright piano tone actually sound like an organ because the sound keeps going until you let up on the key. So essentially these Artesia pianos have just one acoustic piano sound and it's definitely not very good in my opinion, and I have played hundreds of digital pianos and acoustic pianos. Most other good digital pianos have a selection of anywhere from approximately 3-10 different grand piano sounds with noticeable actual stereo imaging so those brands offer a good variety and good quality, but the Artesia pianos do not.

The 3rd most important aspect of the piano is its ability to smoothly and accurately control the dynamic range and tonal color of the piano sound. What I mean by the that is the differences between soft and loud, mellow and bright, and everything in between. When playing easily/softly on a piano keys you should be able to get a really quiet sound out of the piano and when you press the keys harder and harder you should get a smooth transition of volume going up to very loud. This key playing action will also cause the character of the piano sound to go from more mellow when playing the keys lightly to brighter and sharper when playing the keys hard and more aggressively. When a person is a beginner these variable aspects of piano sound response is not so important because beginners don't get into that right away. But as a person progresses in their piano playing and they become a bit better, then having a piano sound that responds to your touch in the correct way is very important! The Artesia AG28/AG40 does a very poor job of this and it shows in the tonal dynamics and expression being choppy, unpredictable, and not easily controllable. In fact when the piano keys are being played faster and harder, the sound dynamics and volume is almost impossible to control, it misses some notes altogether, and the sound gets stuck in a lower volume range no matter how hard you press the key, when it should be playing the note at a higher volume. In my opinion all of these deficiencies are due to bad key action electronics, low quality and low number of key sensors under each key, giving the player a less than desirable piano playing experience. Beginner piano students would probably not notice these things but anyone who plays piano (even just recreationally) will likely notice them. Even with all that being said, a person can still have fun playing this piano but don't expect it to work like a real piano in these important ways.

AG28 micro grand
The next and final fundamental aspect of playing a piano is the three pedals down below the piano. On the Arteisa AG28/AG40, these pedals look good and feel good and do as intended, but with a couple of exceptions. One notable exception is that when you press up and down on the right sustain pedal when playing a song on the AG28 micro grand, which is what is used 95% of time as opposed to the other two pedals, the entire piano shakes and moves. This situation is very distracting when playing the piano, and as far as I am concerned, not acceptable. This piano cabinet shaking and moving back & forth when pressing on the pedal is due to the construction and design of the piano legs. The legs are tapered from top to bottom and there seems to be little physical support (of the legs) in this way to keep the piano from moving and wiggling like it does. The larger AG40 doesn't have that same problem because the piano is larger and the legs are larger and they have casters on the bottom of the legs. The sustain pedal is also listed as being able to control and activate half-pedalingfunction which is a medium amount of sustain when the sustain pedal is pressed down half-way. Although this half-pedaling feature does exist on these new Artesia pianos, it doesn't work very well as compared to the name brand pianos and the effect is just OK. But at least they tried and it's better than nothing, so that's a good thing. As I have said over & over, just because a piano looks good does not mean that it is sturdy and plays, sounds, or feels good.

OK so now that I have pointed out the most important features in what to look for when shopping for a good piano, I want to talk about the other less important features that many digital pianos offer which can add to the overall enjoyment of playing a digital piano . The Artesia pianos have 136 built-in instruments sounds (including the 2 piano sounds) such as strings, brass, woodwinds, guitars, organs, electric pianos, harpsichord, bells, synthesizer, etc. There is a split & layer function to take any two instrument sounds and mix them together of play them on either side of the piano keyboard simultaneously. These pianos also offer 99 interactive rhythm and accompaniment arrangements such as rock, jazz, Big Band, swing, march, waltz, country, Latin, etc, a built-in metronome for timing, editing controls for special EFX, autochord features for playing 1-finger or 3 finger left hand chords, a 16 track MIDI song recorder and player which can play General MIDI files from a USB flash drive, a auto-harmonizer for playing single notes and getting the entire chord, and the list goes on. There is even a digital function to turn the 88 notes (bass and treble clef) into two 44-note keyboards that play the identical octaves. In other words, two people can play at the same time and play the exact same notes in the same octave even though one person os on the bass note side and the other playing the treble note side. This function is called the duet feature and is useful for teacher-student or any two people who want to play together and learn the same song. So when it comes to "fun features," there is really no shortage of those things on these pianos. But is that really the most important thing when considering a new digital piano purchase...I don't think so.

Although the polyphony chip in this piano is only 64-note polyphony, it does a pretty good job of handling beginner through intermediate level players as long as you aren't playing big chords, large arpeggios, or layering two sounds together.The non-piano instrument sounds and interactive auto accompaniments are OK with some sounding pretty good and others not so good. This is typical in pianos like these but they are overall fun to play. However the instrument sounds and auto accompaniments in many other digital pianos under $1000 are much superior to these Artesia pianos, but those pianos are not in a polished ebony upright style or mini grand piano case like the Artesia's. It's a trade off for either getting a much better musical instrument with substantially more music realism, or a better looking piano with basic low quality instrument sound and accompaniment backgrounds which gives you much less musical realism.

The buttons across the control panel are easy to see and the LCD user display screen lights up nicely and reads out info to tell you what functions you are using when you press a button. So as control panels go, it's a good one and there is a new data entry knob that allows for easier access of the many features in these pianos, so that is a good thing. However I found that the buttons themselves are quite hard to push and not that comfortable to use. If the button switches were of higher quality, they would likely have been easier to press and go from one to the next. The material and surfaces of the buttons and control panel are fine, it's just the resistance of the buttons to pushing on them that bother me. It may be a small issue to some people, but if there are going to be a lot of buttons, they should be easy to push, and they are not. It is interesting to note that some of the aspects of these control panels, knobs, buttons, and LCD display screen have been on previous Suzuki digital pianos which I have reviewed in past years such as the low priced Suzuki SD10 compact vertical piano, which I did not like. So I suspect the Chinese digital piano company who produces this Suzuki piano is also the same company who supplies the Artesia brand pianos. I am not surprised as there are a lot of similarities among many Chinese built digital pianos.

The Artesia pianos are definitely attractive pianos, they have loud built-in speaker systems with 120 watts of power and 6 speakers, and as I mentioned earlier, the pianos do a lot of things and have many enjoyable functions. These pianos also have very good connectivity to external devices including blue-tooth access to iPad fro audio streaming, USB connectivity to computer, audio output connectivity to external speaker system, audio inputs to connect other devices to the piano like a microphone along with independent volume control, and MIDI to connect to other MIDI devices. There are headphone jacks for private practice and listening and a USB flash drive input to access songs to play on the piano for playalong and/or singalong. Artesia even includes a USB flashdrive with pre-loaded songs to play on the piano, which is nice. However, most of the preloaded songs are not very good, you probably would never have heard of many of them, and they are just free songs that mean very little to most people. However there are some familiar songs that most people would recognize including Christmas songs, some classical tunes, and some pop music. It's hard to complain when the music is included for free:).

So here's the bottom line: if you want a digital piano that looks great (they also come with a very nice matching padded benches) and can be fun to play, the Artesia pianos are a good choice. The AG40 has upgraded cabinet design and hardware over the AG28, but it also quite a bit more money too. However, if you want to be sure you get a digital piano which allows you to have a decent quality piano playing experience when it comes to reproducing what a real piano is actually like, then the Artesia pianos are definitely not going to do that as far as I am concerned...and I don't think I am being too picky about that. These pianos are pretty to look at and have fun extra features that are entertaining and even useful to some degree. But as a piano, it doesn't pass the test...not even the basic test. There is a reason for this and it's called MONEY. It typically costs a lot more money to produce a great looking piano cabinet that has equal quality piano playing realism. That is why the well known major brands normally cost a lot more money for their pianos...they sound and play good like pianos should:).

AG40 mini grand
It is because of the fundamentals of what a piano should play and sound like at basic levels that I do not recommend these new Artesia pianos. If you want a pretty toy then there are certainly other things you can buy when it comes to that. If you want a good piano 1st and the toys second, then look elsewhere because you won't find it here. Oh, and one more thing; the Artesia company piano warranty is only 1 year parts & labor according to their company info, which is a small warranty time compared to the name brands which offer 3 year long warranties. In my opinion a 1 year warranty is not nearly enough time especially for an "off-brand" like Artesia who doesn't actually design or build their own pianos. It is difficult to say how long these pianos will last when it comes to build quality so you also need to take all of that into consideration before you purchase anything. Your real shopping questions on these Artesia pianos need to be; "do I want a pretty shiny black cabinet and a fun musical toy as my primary reason for buying a digital mini grand piano, or am I more concerned about it actually playing and sounding more like a real piano ? It certainly would be nice to get a beautiful cabinet AND have it be a good piano (that's what everyone really wants), but that's going to cost you more money and unfortunately the Artesia pianos won't get you there in my opinion. There are some good options out there so if you want info on good alternatives, just contact me and I'll be happy to give you some advice.

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.

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