In the above video, Stu Harrison of Merriam Pianos reviews the Roland RP501R digital piano, a fantastic all-around digital piano that’s going to suit a really wide range of users, and brings enough authenticity that it could very well be the affordable family piano you’ve been looking for. It’s Bluetooth-enabled, it comes in a lovely contemporary rosewood or contemporary black finish, intelligent accompaniment onboard, tons of additional sounds, and loaded with the Supernatural technology that Roland’s become famous four. He’s going to be talking about its sound, it’s touch, review its features, and of course, doing a little bit of playing as well – both in this video, as well as a separate video where all I’m gonna do is essentially play this instrument. So, let’s get started right away and thank you so much for joining us.
Roland RP501R Review Video Transcription
For anybody who is looking at a digital piano, the key action or mechanism is always a critical component to consider. If you’ve got a teacher who’s out there helping you with shopping, the action is going to be something they’re asking you a lot of questions about. And of course, if you’ve already been playing for a few years, and this purchase is either an upgrade or a secondary instrument for you, you’ve already developed a keen sense of what type of feel you prefer.
The specific name of the action is the Ivory Feel PHA-4 Keyboard with Escapement. That essentially just means that this is the second-best action that Roland makes. This action has escapement, it has a really nice ivory texture on the top of the key, the only thing this is really missing in terms of spec would be it’s got one less level of sensor quality on it. And also it doesn’t have the wood core that you get with their PHA-50 action. But besides that, this action is gonna rank very, very well in the world of digital pianos, and certainly when compared with similar price points from the likes of Casio, Yamaha, or Kawai.
The PHA-4 standard keyboard has a nice weight to it – what I’d describe as a very dynamic keyboard feel – neither light nor heavy, it’s sort of right down in the middle of the road in terms of its resistance. I don’t find that it replicates an acoustic grand piano nearly as well as the PHA-50 does, but it certainly replicates a 44″-46″ upright piano very authentically. Which means that as a potential ‘first piano’, this would be a great candidate.
Roland has done a really nice job of packing this instrument with some good, warm bass tone when played through the onboard speakers. As I play through the rest of it, it sort of has that characteristic clear, sharper treble that a lot of Roland instruments are known for. (Even their amps tend to be a little bit bassy and a little bit trebly – not a bad thing, and in fact very consistent with the EQ curves that people are used to from Streaming, and smaller satellite speaker systems with small sub-woofers.)
The wattage is nice and sufficient but the warmth out of the base is something that I really have to commend Roland on. It’s not something that you typically find until you get up into the $2,500, $3,000 price range; the RP501R definitely comes in at a competitive price. It makes it a great home piano because there’s no need to plug it into an amp or additional stereo. From a polyphony standpoint, this piano sort of falls into the middle of the pack, it’s got 128 for single voice playing, meaning you’re only playing one sound at a time and you’re usually just playing on your own. 128 is more than sufficient, you do hear about some keyboards getting up into the 192 or 256. There are times where you actually will get value out of that higher note or higher number. But for most playing situations, 128 is normally sufficient.
But I have to say that the hidden gem underneath the hood of this piano because the interface would not normally reveal this, in terms of sound, isn’t so much quality, although it’s the SuperNATURAL piano sound engine does deliver a fairly authentic tone of an acoustic grand piano quite well. It’s the quantity of sound is fantastic. When you first sit down at this instrument, you’re thinking to yourself, “Oh, maybe this has, you know, five, six, eight sounds,” , based on the number of buttons. However, Roland has spent a lot of money innovating how to connect their pianos with digital interfaces like tablets and phones and this instrument is no exception. So, if at first this digital piano felt a little on the plain side, before you had the tablet, it completely comes to life once you add the apps that are right out of the box and free from Roland.
Piano Partner 2 & Piano Technician
Roland and digital technology are practically synonymous; beyond the sound and action innovations of the past several years, Roland has led the way in making Bluetooth MIDI and general Bluetooth connectivity a standard feature across virtually their entire line; and at the centre of that effort is their app called Piano Partner 2. This is where you get to access the onboard rhythm accompaniment and ensemble backing styles that the RP501R has, and select from different rhythm styles to play along with. The app also includes an extensive onboard song library including the sheet music.
You can also access the standard features like the metronome, dual mode, twin piano mode which allows teacher and student to sit side-by-side, split mode, and also record wirelessly. It’s also provides a convenient user interface to navigate through it’s more than 300 piano tones, e-piano tones, pads, strings, and an array of other instruments from the GM2 sound bank.
Lastly, it also gives you the option to use flash-cards for early piano learning, take lesson notes, and generally a wealth of practice-friendly features. The app is available for Android or iOS.
Beyond Roland’s Piano Partner 2 though, there is a treasure-trove of android piano apps and iPhone or iPad-compatible apps that customers can download either for free for for a low price off the App Store or Google Play Store – available from a number of publishers – which extend the educational features and capabilities of the piano and extend the experience beyond that of a traditional piano. Whether you’re using a tablet or a smartphone, the RP501R is clearly built for app use.
Cabinet, Connectivity and Pedals
The RP501r is available in three finishes: Contemporary Black, Contemporary Rosewood, or White finish. All are nicely compact, but still provide a robust cabinet for reliable, long-term ownership. The piano comes with a key cover, and an ‘auto-off’ function so that you never forget to turn the piano off.
The piano is equipped with two separate jacks for headphones so that users don’t have to keep track of an adaptor. You get their “Headphones 3d Ambience” effect which allows you to control and create a multi-dimensional sound experience.
Beyond the headphone jacks, there is a USB-A and USB-B port to hook it up to a computer, or to dock a USB memory stick for playback or recording of SMF files. (Their onboard SMF recorder function is actually quite good for a non-workstation). They also have a 3.5mm audio jack in AND out, something of an unusual feature, and clearly intended to be hooked up to a computer speaker system.
The piano’s pedals are also something of a treat, as both the sustain/damper pedal has continuous response for half-pedaling, as well as the soft pedal. The middle sostenuto is also capable of continuous response, which makes this more satisfying for classical players who are more likely to apply traditional acoustic piano techniques. and one more reason this is a great piano for the money.
In summary, the Roland RP501r is a great home piano loaded with premium features, a dynamic keyboard feel, an authentic piano tone, with a progressive damper action pedal. It has all of the expected standard features like metronome, transpose, twin-piano mode, split and dual mode, and a nice selection of piano tones. However, it extends those with Bluetooth wireless connectivity to access a whole other world of internal songs, intelligent accompaniment, and a wealth of practice-friendly features.
The integration with the tablet works exceptionally well, and it’s easy to set up. And if I can speak to Roland’s general quality, anybody who buys this is probably gonna be still looking at a completely fully functional instrument 10 years from the day they buy it, even if they’re using it for a couple of hours a day. I’m a long-time user of Roland products and I always speak very highly and we with a lot of confidence when we talk about the quality of the product. Let me know what you think in the comments and of course, let us know what you thought of the video as well. Good luck with your shopping, again. I’m Stu Harrison, and you’ve been here with Merriam Pianos.