In this article, we’re going to be taking a look at Yamaha’s P515, the flagship of Yamaha’s P series. We’ll be looking at the action, the sound engine and obviously talking about the rest of its features and what other instruments you could be looking at in parallel to the Yamaha if you are on a search for a portable instrument in that $1,500 to $2,000 price range.
Yamaha P515 Digital Piano Review Video Transcription
We’ll start by discussing the sound. The P515 happens to be equipped with a pretty advanced tone engine, with 256 maximum note polyphony. For people out there who aren’t too sure what polyphony is or why it’s potentially important, a given digital piano’s polyphony count represents the maximum number of individual tones that this can sort of simultaneously play at one time. We have detailed video on our YouTube channel explaining polyphony in more depth if you’re interested. 256 note polyphony means you could technically hold the damper pedal down, sweep all the way up and down the piano voices three times before the processor starts dropping notes. Under any normal playing circumstance, 256 notes polyphony is plenty and has become the standard for higher quality instruments, starting around the $2,000 price point and going and up from there.
In terms of the sound engine itself, the main acoustic piano samples Yamaha has used here is their Yamaha CFX concert grand piano as well as the Bosendorfer Imperial concert, both 9 ft concert grands. Yamaha refers to their sampling process as Binaural Sampling, which is then enhanced by Stereophonic Optimizer technology for headphone use. These samples sound quite distinct from one another with the CFX sample bring quite colorful, bright and very dynamic, whereas the Bosendorfer Imperial piano sample is a darker natural sound with a more compressed dynamic experience. There’s of course some other acoustic piano samples as well making up a pretty good variety of tones to choose from. Overall, the acoustic piano sample here offers an all around authentic piano playing experience, especially with the CFX and Bosendorfer Imperial piano samples.
There’s this function called Piano Room, which operates very similar to what like the Roland’s Piano Designer, Kawai’s Virtual Technician apps. The piano room app allows for intelligent acoustic control of some of the finer nuances of piano tone. For example, some of the parameters you can edit are lid position height, the brightness of the hammer, touch response curve, reverb depth, metronome, master tuning, damper resonance, string resonance, virtual resonance modeling(VRM), and aliquot resonance. As you can guess, that allows the user a lot of control to customize the piano tone, which is something that’s essentially becoming a standard feature on most digial pianos at this price point. It’s nice to see that Yamaha is also doing a really nice job with this here. I enjoy the graphic nature of the user interface here, as some instruments leave it up to shortcut command and you can’t really visualize what’s happening, so having the display makes the whole process more intuitive.
The onboard speakers are rated at 40 watts in total. There’s 15 watts per side for the main and then it also lists two 5-watt tweeters. The main speaker is basically a two-way speaker system with a main speaker inside the cone. Embedded on top is an additional tweeter and they rate those separately. 40 watts is enough to fill a small room, and certainly enough that you don’t need an amplifier to enjoy private playing. It’s probably not enough to gig with, but likely fine for lighter rehearsals.
Other sound categories here include the standard E piano stuff, including a nice Phaser EP. There’s also a patch that sounds like a Wurlitzer, as well as a “Disney” patch, labeled DX. Once you get into the clav, the vibes and the strings patches there’s a little bit of hit and miss in how well these sound come across, but the acoustic piano and E. piano tones are definitely very well executed. The Yamaha tone is quite specific – a totally different experience than playing, for example, a Kawai which tends to be a little thicker in terms of the tone and maybe a little warmer. Roland’s generally have wide selection of sounds and once you get to the FP-90, there’s sound modeling which is a totally different experience. Some people really like that, and others don’t. For people who are a fan of the Yamaha style of tone, I think they’ve done a really great job and the piano should work in a variety musical genres.
That’s basically a wrap up of the discussion of the tone engine, and a quick review of the types of sounds that are included on-board, and a few other thoughts as well.
Let’s talk about the action on this P515. There are things about the action that I like, and then there are things about the action that I would say is important that you be aware of it. I’m not going to necessarily categorize these aspects as positive or negative, but rather a buyer beware. We’ll go through these observations one by one.
The action Yamaha has put into the P515 is what they call the NWX(Natural Wood X) action. This action is a wooden key/plastic key hybrid and both visually as well as in a tactile sense gives you a smooth release and greater feel of an acoustic grand piano. Many digital pianos in this price range offer a featured referred to as escapement or let-off. Escapement is the sensation on a key that is caused by the jack slipping off the knuckle on a grand piano. Basically, you’ve set the hammer in motion, it swings up, hits the string, without being physically connected to anything so it can bounce back freely, and reset the action. On a real piano this sensation is readily apparent, and within the last 5 to 10 years, digital piano manufacturers have started including that sensation in the portable design of their keyboards to make it feel a little bit more like an acoustic grand piano. I was always puzzled by this because I always thought that this sensation was an unintended sensation on an acoustic piano, to begin with. In any case, it does make you feel more familiar when you’re in front of digital technology if you’ve got some experience playing an acoustic piano.
While Yamaha advertises that the P515 has escapement, I actually double-check that with the specs because after I first played one, I didn’t really feel the escapement sensation at all. For people who are looking for a keyboard where that escapement is a little more prominent in terms of the sensation it gives you, this action may fall short of the mark. For people who don’t like the feel anyway, just ignore the specs and carry on.
The key surface on the white keys is basically a polished white plastic. This is a very different approach than what most high-end digital pianos have taken within the last few years, which is to go with with a pretty porous white surface to give a greater sense of texture. In the case of Roland or Casio, they’ve actually gone with a full ivory keytops texture, so Yamaha’s choice here is a little bit unusual. The drawback with a polished key surface is that they tend to be quite grippy anytime you’re in a more humid environment which can make it a bit more difficult to play intricate music that requires precision of finger position. Otherwise, it’s just a personal choice that’s neither good nor bad, just something to be aware of.
The black keys on the other hand have a very grooved, deep texture. The feeling is similar to that of a new Mason & Hamlin acoustic piano from the last 10 years or so, for anyone whose had a chance to play one. It sort of feels like an unfinished ebony wood type of texture. Again, this quite a bit different than what you get on most digital pianos, and it’s something that some folks will love, and others will not. The NWX uses a triple sensor which means you’re going to have very accurate MIDI output, which is great.
Coming to the last subject and probably the one that needs to be addressed most directly is the weight of the keys. Before I’d played the P515, I’d been on a number of forums to read about other people’s impressions, and the weight of the keys is a topic of discussion quite often, as several people had made the comment that the keys were heavy. I come from an acoustic piano world originally, and an acoustic piano should have a key weight (meaning the amount of weight that it takes to put the key in motion) anywhere from about mid-40s at the very lowest up to about 60 grams at the very heaviest. Most concert technicians usually try and weigh the key depending on whether it’s at the bottom of the piano or the top of the piano, anywhere from the low to high 50 grams. These keys on the P515 are considerably heavier than that. In that respect, it’s consistent with some of the larger Yamaha stage pianos of the past like the CP300. I played one of those for years in a pit band and it had really heavy keys as well. This is something that Yamaha’s user community may be used to and appreciate, but for somebody who’s not used to it, playing on this instrument for an extended period of time is somewhat fatiguing. I’m someone who’s used to playing multiple gigs per week and having those gigs be three to four hours long, so my playing muscles are well conditioned and I find this action tiring.
I hope this isn’t coming across as necessarily a negative, as some may love it and It may be exactly what you’re looking for. For people who are looking for a strong sense sense of depth to the key, perhaps this action exactly what you’re looking for. But it’s something to be aware of that the keys are in the 70-gram range, heavier than a grand piano action.
The Yamaha P515 is comes standard with a few extra accessories, and offers some optional add-on’s as well. With wooden accents and polished details, the P-515 looks as good as it sounds. This is consistent with what you generally find in the market from your major manufacturers. Good comparisons to the P515 would be the Roland FP-60 or FP-90, as well the Kawai ES8. The first thing that’s included with the P515 is a very solid sustain pedal unit (FC4A). I really like the inclusion of a robust sustain pedal, and it’s really frusterating when digital pianos come with those little plastic square pedals that just skid all over the place. This pedal is much more stable and it offers the ability to perform half-pedaling.
The P515 also comes with an integrated music rest, as well as a standard PA-300C power supply. In terms of optional add-on’s, you’ve got available a matching keyboard stand for the keyboard itself, which compliments the furniture and makes the instrument look a little bit more like a stationary piano. There’s a triple pedal system that you can be added on as well, and the inclusion of both the stand and triple pedal essentially turns the P515 into a home digital piano.
In terms of connectivity on the back of the instrument, the P515 features an independent 1/4-inch aux outs and aux in, a mini-jack audio input and a Bluetooth radio for quick connection to an iPad or other device. I have to give kudos to Yamaha in terms of how easy it is to turn on and off the Bluetooth audio function. On many digital pianos this feature can be somewhat hidden and require a look at the manual to switch on, so the ease of use of the feature here is most welcome.
Last but not least, there’s USB connection that heads out to the computer that also acts as a USB audio connector. This mean the Yamaha P515 is going to work really well if you’ve got some external software instruments that you’re using, such as Ableton, with the P515 functioning as a MIDI controller. There’s no need for any of this external mixing as it all goes in and out through the USB connector, so this is super handy. On the front of the P515, we’ve got a USB device port. This is for things like audio recording, so you can plug that in and you can record WAV straight to here – another super useful feature.
When it comes to features, the P515 has all the standard kinds of digital piano features that you would expect. There’s transpose, split, dual mode, sound boost, and EQ. Navigating all of the features is very easy via the user interface. One last function I’m going to highlight here is the rhythm function with onboard accompaniment. There’s a lot of control here, and this function would work great for fun at home or light professional applications.
Yamaha has also made available the Smart Pianist app for iOS, which creates a remote control touch screen interface, super cool. The Smart Pianist app also has the ability to access the songs in your iOS device’s music library and create chord charts to make for easy play along with your favorite songs.
This pretty much wraps up our review of the Yamaha 515 – an instrument that is definitely focused on delivering a high quality, authentic piano experience. I’m very impressed with the acoustic piano sounds, the E piano sounds and how easy it is to use the piano editing module. Be aware that this is a heavier action featured here, and somebody who isn’t accustomed to that or isn’t expecting that this might feel a bit of buyer’s remorse if they purchase the instrument before trying it. Otherwise, this is a capable instrument and certainly anyone who is in the market for a high-end all-in-one portable digital piano, should have this instrument on your wish list to check out, along with the Roland FP60, FP90 and Kawai ES8. Thanks for reading!