Introduction

We’re going to be tackling another comparative shootout today between two giants of the digital piano market: Roland and Yamaha. We’ll be comparing the companies’ respective flagships of their portable digital lines. We’ll be breaking down the action, sound, and features and comparing every detail of two of the most popular portable digital pianos: Roland’s FP-90 and Yamaha’s P515.

While this is not a perfect apples-to-apples comparison given that the Roland FP90 is more expensive than the Yamaha P515, when comparing the piano playing experience specifically, it is a relevant discussion to have as many customers compare these models when shopping.

Without further ado, let’s dive into the Roland FP-90 vs Yamaha P515.

Background

As mentioned, the Roland FP-90 is a more expensive instrument which is justified given the extra features that it provides in comparison to the Yamaha P515. For instance, the FP90 has a mic input and vocal effects, excellent onboard controls such as an editable three-band equalizer, Bluetooth audio playback, Bluetooth MIDI, and an impressively powerful amp and speaker system comprised of two powerful main speakers and two dome tweeters that deliver the sparkling top end. So, simply put, there are a few things that don’t make this a fair fight exactly. However, these are two instruments that are constantly being compared by a lot of people in the market, which is evident by the huge number of Google searches that “P515 versus FP90” receives. Because of this, we want to be able to help you answer some important questions and understand which one of these instruments might be the best fit for you.

The first thing we’ll dive into is the sound of these two incredible portable electric pianos.

SuperNATURAL vs Pure CF Sound Engine

The Yamaha P515 offers up 256-note polyphony, which is certainly ample for the majority of playing situations. For people who don’t know what polyphony means, it’s essentially the maximum number of notes that a sound engine can produce at one time. That’s pretty much it. On top of the 256-note polyphony, this also has 40 watts of total power. There are several impressive preset piano samples to single out such as the CFX Grand and the Bösendorfer Imperial (Bösendorfer is owned by Yamaha). Upon a careful listen to each, it is instantly clear that they have some excellent renderings of those amazing concert pianos.

On the Roland side, the FP90 has several core piano sounds such as the concert piano and ballad piano via their SuperNATURAL Piano engine. There are some really big differences in how these two pianos are generating their respective piano tones.

Focusing on the tone generator specifically, the Yamaha P515 is driving off a sample, which means that they have recorded an actual grand piano with microphones playing each note. By using this approach, there are some other important nuances that are captured such as string resonance and damper resonance. Those samples are being presented as a single tone when you press the corresponding key. Simply put, all of the sound is coming from an actual acoustic sound. For the most part, that’s how the majority of higher-end digital pianos actually work.

On the Roland FP90 side, we’ve got something that’s quite a bit different and rather unique for this price range and for a portable digital instrument. The FP90 is using modeling technology, which means that, rather than the tonal source being a sample, it is actually a computer algorithm that’s synthesizing the sounds. It’s the manipulation of waveforms that digitally reproduces the piano tone and all of those extra layers of piano nuance. In theory, this actually should give you that much more control over every tiny, little aspect of the sound. Controlling these parameters is accessible through Roland’s Piano Designer software which is available both onboard and through a separate app that can be used with your iOS or Android device. From here, you have the ability to edit the lid, key-off noise, hammer noise, duplex scale, damper pedal resonance, key off-resonance, soundboard type, cabinet resonance, reverb, ambience, transpose, and much more. You can even get rotary speaker effects and an array of modulation effects. It’s crazy how many parameters you can select and manipulate.

You also have the ability to edit quite a few of the same parameters on the Yamaha P515. With the P515, you’re actually editing the sound by increasing the volume or decreasing the volume of a sample whereas, with the FP90, you’re actually manipulating the sound through a computer program. A good analogy would be live motion and the way it is presented, such as the difference between live-action movies and computer graphics. Of course, there will be plenty of heated debate surrounding which approach creates a better sonic imagine, but it will always come down to the subjectivity of the player.

Once you move out of the acoustic piano real of the Roland FP90, you’re into their supernatural engine with 384-note polyphony. It’s hard to imagine that ever being used up, but, nonetheless, that is the ceiling for maximum polyphony. Personally, it’s hard for me to say which one is going to be more enjoyable. I know that the Roland may be technically more impressive, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will like it more. However, given that there are more opportunities to manipulate the sound on Roland’s FP90, it would be safe to say that there’s probably a better chance you’ll find something you’re going to like sonically. However, the best bet will always be to get in front of both instruments and try them for yourself.

In regard to the onboard speakers, Yamaha’s P515 is rated at 40 watts versus 60 watts on Roland’s FP90, which equates to 50% more power. As many people know, output power and perceptual loudness is not a linear correlation. However, the greater headroom certainly helps for performance and richness in specific frequency bands such as the lower register of a piano. With that said, this will be of little importance for gigging musicians that will be running these instruments through external amplification.

In terms of other instrument sounds, both pianos have a good variety of e-pianos, organs, and synths to choose from. For those looking for organ varieties, it is important to note that the FP90 does have a few more organs to choose from in comparison to the P515. The FP90 also provides users with 30 registrations for storing their favourite sound setups. Ultimately, when it comes to the sheer number of sounds, it is not precisely a fair fight between these two instruments. The FP90 has a full General MIDI 2 patch while the P515 does not. Sometimes, these instruments can actually have secret General MIDI 2 capabilities if you are playing MIDI files through them, but they’re not immediately accessible. In the case of the Yamaha P515, I don’t think there’s any way for users to access the General MIDI 2.

I hope that comparison between the sound engines gives you a good sense of the types of sounds and key differences between these two pianos. Every player will gravitate towards different sounds ultimately and there are definitely very different textures and timbres between the Yamaha P515 and Roland FP90 digital pianos regardless of whether you’re comparing the acoustic piano sounds, e-piano sounds, organ, or other instruments.

Legendary PHA-50 Action vs Yamaha NWX Action

Roland PHA-50 Action
Roland PHA-50 Action

The action on these two pianos may appear to be very similar on the surface, given the specs and design messaging that both Yamaha and Roland talk about. From that information, you should be sitting down to a pretty similar tactile experience. However, that could not be further from the truth. What you get with Yamaha’s NWX action is a wood hybrid type of action. From a textural standpoint, there is an exaggerated ebony texture on the black key. The Roland PHA50 Progressive Hammer Action’s keys on the other hand have a much more subtle texture. On the white keys, Yamaha’s action has an almost perfectly polished top. It’s not necessarily the most comfortable playing experience because it does make it a little bit difficult to slip on when you need to do so to execute specific playing techniques. The Roland has a more purposeful attempt to look and feel like ivory, which may very well be the preference of some players.

When we get into the actual motion and the movement of the key, both pianos’ actions are equipped with escapement or let off. Let off or escapement is basically the simulation of the mechanism in a piano that allows the hammer to fall away from the string after the key is pressed. You don’t feel it when you play at normal tempos, but it’s there to simulate what an acoustic piano feels like. Yamaha’s action also has it, although it’s almost undetectable. Some players may find that to be a good thing or a bad thing depending on their preferences. My personal preference is an action that simulates the nuances and sensations of an acoustic piano as closely as possible. It’s also important to note that, while both pianos offer touch sensitivity, the Roland FP90 offers 100 different levels of sensitivity versus the Yamaha P515’s five.

Another important note about Yamaha’s keyboard action is that the keys are 10 to 20 grams heavier than what you would expect to find on an acoustic grand. I’m not sure why Yamaha made the decision to make the key this heavy. I know that in other models in the past, like the CP300, which was a huge stage piano with two big speakers, the actions were quite heavy. So, perhaps, Yamaha’s user base is used to it and find that heaviness to be useful to the playing experience. At the end of the day, these are all subjective musical personal preferences. My goal is simply to point out these differences. It is not my position to say which one is better or worse. That will be your job!

In summary, we have a very heavy action on the Yamaha P515 and an action that feels a lot more consistent to what you would normally get on an acoustic piano in the Roland FP90. Both pianos have triple sensors, meaning that they are going to be quite responsive and provide really nice accurate MIDI output.

Conectivity & Additional Features

To wrap things up, we will tackle a few other comparisons of these instruments’ additional features. As mentioned earlier, the FP90 does have some pretty interesting add-ons and features that the Yamaha simply does not. For instance, the Roland FP90 features a mic input, an auxiliary input that has independent mic level control,  Bluetooth connectivity (both Bluetooth MIDI and Bluetooth audio). There is also an onboard EQ and the General MIDI 2. Yamaha’s P515 certainly doesn’t have nearly as many of those, but it is equipped with double-quarter-inch connectors for mono or stereo output. It also has a USB connection that allows you to connect the instrument to your computer. It even has Bluetooth radio, which is a neat feature that turns your piano into a multi-purpose sound system. In regard to the piano experience exclusively though, both pianos ultimately have the ability to edit the acoustic piano sounds in a meaningful way.

In terms of cabinetry, both instruments have a music rest and are available with triple pedal units as well as matching stands from Yamaha (LP1 and L51) and Roland (KPD90 and KSC90) for those that require more than the supplied sustain pedal. The Roland FP90 also has a floating triple pedal option available through their RPU3 system. As usual with digital pianos, the other two pedals in the triple pedal system are for sostenuto and una corda. I would strongly recommend investing in these proprietary stands to ensure that the playing experience is as stable as possible. These are heavier instruments and generic X-style keyboard stands might not always do the trick, especially for musicians that are gigging with these instruments. Both instruments also have the ability to record WAV files onto USB, which is a very handy feature. However, given that it’s so easy to record onto a device or computer, I have a feeling this feature might be something that starts to fade away moving forward with future generations of these instruments.

While fairly modest in size, both pianos feature an LCD display and headphone jacks. One small, but the convenient difference in terms of the control panel is the Roland FP90s volume slider. In terms of warranty, Yamaha edges out Roland by supplying three-year coverage versus two-year coverage. With that said, the durability of both units is quite comparable.

In addition to the Piano Designer app, the Roland FP90 can also be paired with Roland’s Piano Partner 2 app. Piano Partner 2 allows players to access songs, display sheet music, play with accompaniment rhythms, and build music skills in an engaging and interactive way. These are particularly useful tools for beginners. For instance, playing along with rhythmic accompaniment lets students develop timing skills in a far more interesting way than using a simple metronome (which is also included on the FP90 of course).

I hope you’ve enjoyed the comparison between the Yamaha P515 and the Roland FP90 and have found it helpful. While they are not exactly the same price point, this is a common comparison players in the market are making. In summary, the major differences between these two pianos exist in the action, tone engine (sampling versus modelling), and speaker power (40 watts versus 60 watts). As I always say, do your best to get to a piano store where you can play these two instruments for yourself. My thoughts and observations only go so far. Ultimately, before you invest in an instrument like this, you’re going to want to ensure that you love the experience it provides. You’re going to want to enjoy playing it to death.

Happy shopping. and thanks so much for stopping by for another piano comparison here at Merriam Music!