HISTORY AND BACKGROUND
Yamaha, along with Roland, can be rightfully credited with creating the world of digital pianos that is now as commonplace as an apartment-sized piano once were back in the 1950s or ’60s. They were one of the very first musical instrument companies to develop an Integrated Circuit to run their early models and has led to them being the largest manufacturer of pianos (and musical instruments generally) in the world. They led the industry with lines such as Clavinova and Avant, all while maintaining their relevance in the professional product’s market as well with products like Motif, Montage, CP, and MX.
Yamaha digital pianos generally have several hallmarks in terms of sound, user interface, build quality, actions, and features.
Whether intentional or not, both Yamaha digital and acoustic pianos have a reputation of being brighter & more biased towards a treble sound. Since many of the Yamaha acoustic pianos that have been sampled to create the digital counterparts are typically brighter to begin with, this is a natural consequence…but there seems to be something of a philosophical trend towards this generally in the company.
Everything from their studio monitors to their guitars are known to be clear and sharp in their acoustic presentation. (Only very recently have their acoustic pianos started to trend towards a more subdued voicing technique from the factory, a change generally welcomed by the North American buying audience). Yamaha’s ‘pad’ sounds and patches have always been lush and complex, as have their string patches and organ sounds. Their piano tone – like any manufacturer’s – is a matter of taste, but always highly functional and professional in grade.
Yamaha digitals compete directly with Kawai in all home digital product segments, and with Roland in-home digital and professional digital product segments. All three are considered peers within the industry and a choice between them is one of musical preference, vs brand or product quality.
With few exceptions, Yamaha’s reputation as a solid builder continues to this day. It’s an unusual occurrence to hear a Yamaha owner complaining of quality issues or an unfulfilled warranty commitments. Not only is the factory quality generally always high, but the company stands behind the products.
The Cabinets are well crafted and resist aging and damage extremely well; the speaker and amplifier quality is reliable and seldom requires replacing or fixing, and the electronics can go decades before any type of short or deficiency presents itself.
Yamaha produces several different quality levels of piano action, ranging from the GHS plastic action all the way up to a fully acoustic action found in the N-series digitals. Like Kawai and Roland, their actions are well regarded and easy to service. Where Roland and Kawai have strived for consistency of touch and weight regardless of the action quality, Yamaha has provided a greater variety, with some ‘fully weighted’ actions below 40 grams, while others are above 80 grams.
The actions are also known for a more subtle let-off than those of Kawai or Roland, and they come fitted with either a double or triple sensor. More advanced actions are fitted with optical sensors such as the Kawai Novus series.
The vast majority of Yamaha digital piano products have their primary acoustic piano sounds based on one of 4 acoustic pianos – all made or owned by Yamaha: The CFIIIS (last-gen 9’ concert grand), the CFX (current-gen 9’ concert grand), the Bosendorfer Imperial Grand, and the Yamaha S6 mid-range hand-built 7’ piano.
Most models also typically feature a range of DX-7 inspired sounds, EP and Wurlitzer sounds, and a range of synths as well. Yamaha digital pianos offer many of the same basic features that other top brands offer, and most of the following are now considered ‘givens’ in the marketplace:
- Layered Sounds
- Split Keyboard
- Basic Onboard Recording
- USB Midi Connections
- 3 Pedal Systems
- A variety of onboard sound options
More Advanced Features
- Full 16 track sequencing
- External Microphone Input
- Audio WAV/MP3 Recording
- Auto-Accompaniments with
YAMAHA VS ROLAND
Yamaha And Roland offer a very similar range of digital piano products, with both companies offering portable digitals, stage pianos, basic home digitals, advanced home digitals, digital grand pianos, and high-end hybrids.
One of the biggest differences between the two companies is the high level of commonality in design and interface amongst Roland models, vs Yamaha which – besides the brand itself – leaves little trace of its various product lines in and amongst themselves. For example, Roland RP102, F140, RP501r, share the same interface. The DP603, GP607, GP609 share interfaces. The HP702, 704, LX705, LX706, and LX708 also share the same interfaces.
As a result, there’s generally a trend towards greater intuitive usability on Roland at the sacrifice of certain functionality (though much of that functionality is made up for through Roland’s companion app “Piano Partner 2”), whereas the onboard feature set of many of the Yamaha’s is extensive and highly specific, but with near model-specific menu structures that bear little resemblance to one another and often requires a greater level of investment into the manual.
The tone of Roland digital pianos has often been compared to that of Steinway, whereas the Yamaha of course is more characteristic of their namesake acoustic products. The Rolands can – in some cases – sound overly processed in earlier models or with clumsy settings, but more recent versions of their Supernatural Piano series have added some warmth and natural complexity that has raised the bar and created one of the top tones in the industry.
The Yamaha piano tone from the CFX and Bosendorfer Imperial piano samples are meticulously captured and outputted on some of the higher-level instruments with extreme precision and success, such as the Avant series, their higher-level CLP series, or even the P515 stage piano.
A significant departure in approach has been (to date) Yamaha’s disinterest in exploring Bluetooth connectivity with most of their entry to mid-level products like the Arius, or P series, though Bluetooth audio creeps into the lineup at the CLP745…but generally, Yamaha has been unafraid to maintain a wired connection for its users and their devices. This stands in contrast to Roland, who introduces Bluetooth MIDI on their entire line without exception. So either Roland is offering a solution that no one asked for, or Yamaha’s fundamental architecture with many of their products simply don’t allow for the introduction of the technology without a complete overhaul of the circuit boards.
YAMAHA VS KAWAI
Yamaha and Roland’s intense rivalry over the several decades since digital pianos became commonplace is well documented. The same can’t be said for Kawai, who up until the late 2000’s was simply not considered in the same league; it suffered from highly fragmented product lines and unfocused bursts of tech development. While the brand was never known as a low-quality option, its identity within the marketplace was hard to define.
What a difference 10 years makes.
Starting with a complete refocusing of their entire digital instrument lineup that saw them shed synthesizers, lower-cost portable digitals, organs, and eventually large bulky ensemble instruments like the Yamaha CVP series, and a significant re-investment into R&D and key strategic technology partners such as Onkyo, Kawai has been gaining significantly in market share leadership with many of its products. Models such as the VPC1, MP11SE, KDP110, ES110, CN29, CA99, and NV5 / 10 have carved out reputations as being the best sounding and best feeling in their class, and actions such as the RHIII and GFIII are in use by boutique makers such as Nord and Ravenscroft.
At present, most major markets around the world have equal representation of both the Kawai and Yamaha lines, and in select cities in Canada, United States, Australia, and Europe, Kawai has overtaken Yamaha in sales leader on both the digital and acoustic side, according to publicly available import data.
From a product comparison standpoint, Yamahas and Kawais have very similar quality and price options in the high-end and mid range, which begin to diverge the closer to the entry-level one looks. Customers will have their preference between a NU2 or an NV-10 hybrid piano, but both are excellent products that are well-made and draw on similar levels of technology. The same can be said for products like the CLP7*5 / CA*9 matchups. Contrast that with products in the Yamaha Arius line vs Kawai’s KDP and CN line, and the tech simply doesn’t match up with the budget.
In this range, from the size and complexity of the samples, the action sophistication (texture, escapement, sensors), polyphony, or speaker size, dollar for dollar the Yamaha feels a bit ‘last generation’ whether then ES110-P125, KDP110-YDP144, or CN29-YDP184.
Spec and dollar value begin to align more equitably with match-ups such as the ES920-P515, CA-49-CLP735 etc., and their current CLP lineup is a clear expression that they know Kawai’s been nipping at their heels for several years now.
The playing experience is quite different between the brands; like their acoustics, Yamaha’s digital pianos aim for a clean straight-forward tone that doesn’t dwell in overtones or lots of cabinet resonance but presents a lovely bell-tone attack and lots of clarity regardless of thickness of harmonies. Kawai’s goal on the other hand seems to be to capture and recreate as much colour and texture as possible, which presents both a wider stereo image as well as more layers of upper partials.
The actions from Yamaha vary greatly in both quality and nature – their wood-core actions on models such as the P515, CP4, CLP series (upper) are quite similar in configuration to the well-known Roland PHA-50 action. The full digital hybrid actions of the Avante / N series are quite a compelling option. The GHS actions are entry-level plastic actions with basic configurations, and with one action further below it on the quality scale. The weight and nature of each action is perhaps the most varied of any of the major manufacturers, with key weight ranging from the low 40 grams to close to 90 grams.
Kawai actions also vary greatly in configuration, though the weight and response is more unified across the line. The most popular actions include RHIII, GFIII and the NV series hybrids.
YAMAHA VS CASIO
Casio has made significant inroads into the entry and mid-range digital piano markets around the world of late, and no brand has paid a greater price than Yamaha, whose market share has been in steady decline for the last decade. Casio’s aggressive presence at major retailers such as Costco and Walmart, placing $1000+ instruments in front of main-stream customers, has been as much to blame for this as has their rapid rise in quality and technology levels.
Casio’s Privia Line (PX) now includes several models that compete with both Yamaha’s P series and YDP series pianos, such as the PX770 (vs P125) or the PX870 (vs YDP144). The AP and GP lines also have contenders that threaten their CLP and N series pianos.
In several side-by-side comparisons on Youtube, general themes emerge: although most people generally still prefer the Yamaha tone, the Casio feature set as well as many of their actions are offering an authentic touch with good durability for less dollars, or in some cases, out spec the Yamahas on multiple fronts such as sound variety, speaker volume, polyphony, and recording capability.
When it comes to the tone, Casio has ventured further into the world of signal processing, offering up listeners a greater variety of stereo field manipulation and various compression settings which give the sound a ‘livelier’ feel, whereas Yamaha has focused on incorporating larger and more complex sample sets from its Bosendorfer and CFX acoustic pianos.
For pianists with a lot of experience with acoustic instruments, this gives a clear edge to the Yamaha digital pianos. For those new to piano, the Casio’s arguably more dynamic output may seem more complex and interesting to uninitiated ears…perhaps this is exactly the point.
One of Casio’s more recent efforts, their GP310 and 510 hybrid action pianos, has also narrowed the gap between the high end. These two models have highly convincing grand actions co-developed with C. Bechstein which easily rival the authenticity of touch that Yamaha’s NU1 or N2 deliver, for a very similar price point.
An area of strength for Yamaha remains the sheer depth of their lineup – where Casio fields barely a dozen instruments across their entire range, Yamaha has nearly triple that. Although as Kawai learned in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, quantity doesn’t always equal quality.
YAMAHA MODELS & PRICE
|Model||Finish||Est. Street Price*||Voices||Rhythms / Styles||Polyphony||Speakers / Watts||Bluetooth|
|P45||Bk||$500||10||64||2 / 12||No|
|P125||Bk/Wt||$650||24||20||192||4 / 14||No|
|P515||Bk/Wt||$1,499||40+480XG||40||256||4 / 40||Yes|
|CP300||Bk||$2,500||50+480XG||128||2 / 60||No|
|CP40 Stage||Bk||$1,400||297||128||0 / 0||No|
|CP4 Stage||Bk||$2,000||433||128||0 / 0||No|
|CP1||Bk||$5,000||17||128||0 / 0||No|
|YDP144||BkW/R||$1,100||10||192||2 / 12||No|
|YDPS34||BkW/R||$1,000||10||192||2 / 12||No|
|YDP164||BkW/R||$1,500||10||192||4 / 40||No|
|YDPS54||Bk/Wt||$1,350||10||192||4 / 40||No|
|YDP184||R||$2,200||24||256||2 / 60||No|
|CSP150||Bk||$3,500||721+480XG||470||256||2 / 60||No|
|CSP150||EP||$4,000||721+480XG||470||256||2 / 60||No|
|CSP170||Bk||$4,700||721+480XG||470||256||4 / 180||No|
|CSP170||EP||$5,300||721+480XG||470||256||4 / 180||No|
|CLP735||EP||$3,200||38||20||256||2 / 60||No|
|CLP735||Bk/DW/R/W||$2,700||38||20||256||2 / 60||No|
|CLP745||EP||$4,000||38||20||256||4 / 200||Yes|
|CLP745||Bk/DW/R/W||$3,500||38||20||256||4 / 200||Yes|
|CLP785||EP||$6,600||53+480XG||20||256||6 / 300||Yes|
|CLP785||WtP||$7,591||53+480XG||20||256||6 / 300||Yes|
|CLP785||Bk||$5,800||53+480XG||20||256||6 / 300||Yes|
|CVP701||Bk||$3,999||777+480XG||310||256||2 / 50||No|
|CVP701||EP||$4,799||777+480XG||310||256||2 / 50||No|
|NU1X||EP||$6,362||15||256||4 / 180||Yes|
|NU1X||WtP||$6,635||15||256||4 / 180||Yes|
|CVP805||Bk||$7,400||1315+480XG||525||256||4 / 130||Yes|
|CVP805||EP||$8,000||1315+480XG||525||256||4 / 130||Yes|
|CVP809||Bk||$11,800||1605+480XG||675||256||7 / 260||Yes|
|CVP809||EP||$12,500||1605+480XG||675||256||7 / 260||Yes|
|CVP809||WtP||$13,000||1605+480XG||675||256||7 / 260||Yes|
|N1X||EP||$9,453||15||256||6 / 180||Yes|
|N2||EP||$12,362||5||256||12 / 500||No|
|N3X||EP||$18,816||10||256||12 / 500||No|
|CLP765GP||EP||$5,500||38||20||256||4 / 184||Yes|
|CLP765GP||WtP||$6,300||38||20||256||4 / 184||Yes|
|CLP795GP||EP||$7,500||53+480XG||20||256||7 / 300||Yes|
|CLP795GP||WtP||$8,500||53+480XG||20||256||7 / 300||Yes|
|CVP809GP||EP||$16,000||1605+480XG||675||256||6 / 260||Yes|
|CVP809GP||WtP||$17,000||1605+480XG||675||256||6 / 260||Yes|
*Disclaimer: Merriam Pianos offers the above information for the educational benefit of customers world-wide, and does not constitute an endorsement by – or imply representation of – the various manufacturers. For a full selection of the brands Merriam Pianos proudly represents, please click here.
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