🎹 Roland Digital Piano Actions | PHA 4 - PHA 50 - Hybrid Grand | Digital Piano Actions Explained🎹

If you’re diving into the world of Roland digital piano actions, you may have noticed that they have several different configurations going into models throughout their lineupp. This is the case with other digital piano manufacturers like Kawai, Casio, Korg and Yamaha as well.

In this article and companion video instead of a digital piano review, we’re going to take a close look at the three most common Roland action designs featured in their 88-key digital pianos with weighted keys, as well as some synthesizers, stage pianos and workstations- the PHA-4 Standard Keyboard, PHA-50 and relatively new Hybrid Grand action. The Ivory Feel-G is still used in some models, but it’s largely been replaced by the PHA-4.

Roland of course also has some semi-weighted actions that they use in synths and certain keyboards, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll only be focusing on weighted key actions.

These are the three action designs circulating amongst Roland’s FP line, F series, RP series, HP series, GP series and flagship LX series. We’re going to cover the exact differences between these three action designs and provide a detailed breakdown of exactly what each action has to offer.

Roland Digital Piano Actions – Background

Roland Digital Piano Actions - Background
Roland Digital Piano Actions – Background

In terms of the hierarchy of these three key action designs, the PHA-4 (PHA stands for Progressive Hammer Action) is found throughout the lower half of Roland’s lineup in terms of pricepoint, the PHA-50 keyboard action is found throughout much of the upper half, while the Hybrid Grand is currently used exclusively in only the top two models of the LX series – the LX706 and LX708.

The PHA-4 and PHA-50 have been out for several years now, but are both still considered very relevant in the marketplace and some of the best actions available at various price points.

The Hybrid Grand is considered one of, if not the top digital piano action available before jumping to the full hybrid category with models like the Kawai NOVUS series or Yamaha Avant Grand series with their full acoustic piano actions.

What really separates these three keyboard actions and what are the characteristics that you can expect when you’re playing on them?

Differences – PHA-4, PHA-50, Hybrid Digital

Pivot Length

The biggest single difference between all three of these actions isn’t necessarily what you might expect, such as differences in the materials or hammer design, which also do exist. Instead, the biggest difference is actually the pivot length.
What do we mean when we say pivot length? Pivot length is the distance between the front of the key to the point at where the key is hinged, which serves as the fulcrum.

The reason that this is such a huge factor here is that distance determines how much motion there is at the front of the key versus the middle of the key, and thus how much of a change in how the action feels depending on how far out or in on the action you happen to be playing. The longer the pivot length, the greater sense of control afforded to the player.

The PHA-4 has a fairly standard pivot length compared to the average digital piano action available for under $2,500, while the PHA-50 gets a little bit longer, before finally getting to the Hybrid Grand which boasts a pivot length that is on par with what you’ll find in some 6 and 7-foot grand pianos.
All three of these actions have escapement and use a triple sensor, so while there shouldn’t be a difference in terms of the MIDI accuracy from a sensor standpoint, the player can manipulate the key with more accuracy with a longer pivot length, so the MIDI information will, in theory, be more accurate as the pivot length gets longer.

Materials & Construction

Roland Hybrid Grand Hammers
Roland Hybrid Grand Hammers

Now that pivot length is out of the way, we can come to materials. The PHA—4 hammer action is an all-plastic action, which means that the top key surface, the sides, and the hammer are all plastic. There are obviously some small metal electrical parts, but all of the critical materials here are plastic.

With the PHA-50 and Hybrid Grand action, the sides of the keys are made from wood, and this goes beyond aesthetics as it better simulates the dynamic feel of a grand piano key. It’s also arguable that the presence of wood also makes the action as a whole more durable.

Stabilizing Pin

The third key difference is the stabilizing pin, which is the pin right in middle at the top of all of the keys that sits and serves the same function as the balance rail pin does on a real acoustic piano. This pin allows you to align the key laterally and provides strength to ensure that the keys don’t twist or torque to one side or the other when force isn’t applied directly downward.

So essentially, the center pin protects the key and adds durability. There is no center pin present on the PHA-4, whereas there is on the PHA-50 and on the Hybrid Grand.

As a result, the PHA-50 and Hybrid Grand actions are going to be much more durable over a longer period of time.

Keytops – Materials & Finishes

The last key difference between the three actions is the finish on the keytops. The white keys on all three actions use very similar material, in fact, we think it’s actually the same. However, the black keys are definitely different.

The black keys on the PHA-4 have a satin finish with a slight texture that feels somewhat like a genuine ebony key. On the PHA-50 and Hybrid Grand, the texture is more visible, to the point that you actually see the wood grain. The result is a more pronounced texture that feels even more realistic.

The Playing Experience

PHA-4 Action

The PHA-4 is a little different than the others in that the static resistance on the PHA-4 is actually a little bit higher than the dynamic resistance, and this is definitely pronounced when playing this action right out of the box before it’s been worked in (most actions, but the PHA-4 especially requires a breaking in period.)

But even once the PHA-4 has been broken in, there’s still about a 10-gram weight difference between what it takes to get the key in motion and what it takes to keep it in motion. This difference in weighting creates the perception of a deeper keybed, which is interesting to note.

Our observation is that for people who are more in the pop or jazz realm, this weight difference actually reduces the number of false strikes that are quite common if your playing isn’t 100% accurate. Or, if you plan on playing primarily with non-acoustic piano tone patches like electric pianos

PHA-50 Action

Roland PHA-50 Action
Roland PHA-50 Action

You don’t have this weighting difference on the PHA-50, or the Hybrid Grand action for that matter. It’s actually quite noticeable when you play and also makes the PHA-50 better suited for classical music, as does the extra pivot length which offers greater control.

Secondly, you can actually feel the presence of the stabilizing pin as there is literally no give or lateral motion on the keys.

Aside from the durability benefits, the feel of the stabilizing pin is really just a personal preference but something to be aware of, especially if you’re a more heavy-handed player as you’ll be putting the keys under a great degree of physical stress.

Hybrid Grand Action

Moving to the Hybrid Grand action, and really, you can think of it as a stretched version of the PHA-50. The technology is the same, the only real difference is the longer pivot length that the Hybrid Grand possesses.

The result, as we mentioned above, is an even deeper sense of control, and in the hands of a skilled pianist, the amount of detail this action is able to coax more out of the new Roland PureAcoustic modeling technology sound engine (and Roland’s SuperNATURAL piano engine for that matter) is remarkable.

For our money, the Hybrid Grand action is among the top two digital piano actions currently available in this price range, with Kawai’s Grand Feel III operating as the only true direct competitor.

Roland Hybrid Grand Digital Piano Action
Roland Hybrid Grand Digital Piano Action

Model Rundown

Finally, let’s do a quick rundown and cover exactly which musical instruments feature these three different key actions.

Models with PHA-4 Action

The PHA-4 hammer action keyboard is available starting with the Roland FP-10 (an unbeatable beginner/entry-level piano), and can also be found in the Roland FP-30X and Roland FP-60X, with the FP-90X as the lone holdout from the FP series.

You can also find the PHA-4 in the Roland RP-102, RP-701 and F-701, as well as the Roland RD-88, FANTOM-08 and even the upper mid-range HP-702 home digital piano.

Models with PHA-50 Action

The PHA-50 is available once we get into a higher price point. In terms of portable digital pianos, the aforementioned Roland FP-90X uses the PHA-50 (a great piano for gigs), as do the Roland RD-2000 FANTOM-8, though it’s a workstation and not portable per se.

From there, the PHA-50 is available in the Roland DP603, Kiyolo KF-10 (only available at select Roland dealers), the Roland HP704, and the entry model to the flagship LX series with the LX705.

Lastly, the PHA-50 is also currently the action of choice for Roland’s GP-607 and GP-609 digital grand pianos.

Models with Hybrid Grand Action

Roland Hybrid Grand LX700 Series
Roland Hybrid Grand LX700 Series

As mentioned above, the only two models to currently feature the Hybrid Grand are the LX-706 and LX-708 flagship home upright pianos – definitely two of the best digital pianos currently available due to their exceptional onboard speaker systems with powerful amplifier (called Roland’s Acoustic Projection system), cutting edge piano sound with limitless polyphony, and latest piano technology like Piano Designer, Bluetooth and extensive connectivity jacks.

We suspect that subsequent digital grand piano models in the future will get the Hybrid Grand, but Roland hasn’t announced any new grand models at this point so that might still be a way down the road.

Closing Thoughts

We hope this breakdown of the exact differences between Roland’s main actions has been helpful. As we said above, each action is well-built and well-regarded, but there are definitely some major differences between them.

Hopefully, this article has cleared up these differences. Stay tuned for another article breaking down the different Roland sound engines like the SuperNATURAL sound engine, SuperNATURAL piano modeling and PureAcoustic piano modeling. Thanks for reading!