Monday, October 26, 2020

Casio Digital Piano (CDP-S150)

So we normally play on our Kawai KG2 Baby Grand which is really an amazing instrument.  We've had it for over 20 years now, and it still sounds really nice for the most part.  The hammers are hardening a bit making higher notes sound a bit off but other than that it is still pretty great.  It's a bit heavier action especially when compared to like a Yamaha.

So why a Digital Piano when we already have a nice piano?  Mostly it is to have a portable option.  We wanted something we could bring to the parents house and our kids could still practice if they wanted to.  My youngest is now much better than  I am.  We also wanted something that could be battery powered so that limited our options much further.  If the power ever goes out you can still play!  Also, having headphone option so as not to disturb the rest of the house is great too.  No need to tune it every year either so that's quite a nice maintenance cost savings.

We first tried a Roland GO:PIANO88.  It sounds good and has some great modern connectivity options like bluetooth midi and speakers.  It has semi weighted keys and well if your are intermediate or better I would say that's just not going to cut it.  The weight and action all just felt way light, cheap, and plasticky.  Remember, we are coming from only really ever playing on that Kawai so for a beginner who hasn't had much play time with a particular piano this might not be that big of a deal.  So I returned it and grabbed this Casio.  It has fully weighted scaled hammer action keys and they feel SO MUCH BETTER.  I really like the texture on the keys too.  Everything felt so much more premium.  It costs and weighs quite a bit more than the Roland but I feel it is definitely worth the money.  Also, it can run 6-13 hrs on 6 X AA batteries.  I didn't like the sound quite as much and I felt the samples were way too short but those are pretty easily fixed.  The one thing you can't fix/upgrade on a digital piano are the keys so I think that is where you should spend the money.  The short pivot point does make it bit harder to play deep into the keys but it wasn't that bad and with a bit of practice you get use to it.  

Full Setup:

  • Casio CDP-S150: $479.
  • M-Audio SP2 Sustain Pedal: $25.  The included pedals on all these cheaper pianos are hot garbage.  Definitely get an upgraded one.
  • PageFlip: $90.  A must have if you use an iPad for all your sheet music.  I use my left foot to turn pages with this incredibly handy bluetooth device.
  • Yamaha UD-BT01 - Wireless MIDI Adapter: $55. This will convert the standard usb midi on the Casio to wireless bluetooth midi to easily work with iOS devices.  If you have a newer iOS device then this is must since you will need to use a lightning to headphone jack adapter.  Works well with GarageBand and Ravescroft 275.
  • Piano Stand: $119.  Built for this piano model.  Pretty sturdy though there is still a little bit of front to back movement.  Side to side is very stable.  Uses 4 big oversized thumb screws to attach the piano to the stand so it's very easy to remove by hand.
  • Piano Bench: $45.  Cushioned, lots of height adjustments.
  • ForScore: $15. Amazing iOS app for all your sheet music needs.
  • Ravenscroft 275: $36 Amazing sounding piano samples.

So to overcome the short samples and sound of the Casio (which really isn't that bad to begin with) I use the Ravenscroft 275 app.  It can run in the background.  I have an iPad Air 2 connected to the keyboard using the bluetooth midi adapter.  Just go into the midi settings in the ravenscroft app and connect to the UD-BT01.  Then, make sure you tick the checkbox.  If you don't check the device after pairing it won't actually use it.  This had me stumped for a while.  After that just use a standard stereo 3.5mm cable to connect it from the ipad headphone jack (or lightning adapter) to the aux in on the keyboard.  Turn the volume all the way down or change the midi setting on the keyboard so you only hear the sounds from the iPad which is then piped into the keyboard aux in and out the built in speakers.  I leave everything at default settings in the app. It sounds really good especially on headphones and the samples are nice and long for much better sustain pedal use.  It does occasionally glitch in sound with a bit of crackle but it's very rare.  It could be it's because this is a pretty old model of iPad.  Overall, it's a very noticeable improvement over the built in keyboard sound.  I use around 10% iPad battery for about an hour of practice.

I spent around $760 total for this setup (some things I already had and are also really useful with the real piano).  I've done a few long practice sessions with it, and no it's still not the same as a real piano but it's darn close and really quite good for the money.  Any practice on this setup will translate very nicely to a real piano.

UPDATE 10/31/2020:
So for the ultimate low latency solution you can go all wired:
  • a cheap usb sound card like this one.  I haven't tested that particular model but I had a logitech one lying around and it worked fine: $8
  • USB 3 camera adapter: $39
  • I had this cheap little unpowered usb 2.0 hub sitting around but I'm sure any usb hub would work: $8
So lightning to usb (didn't need to add power.  worked fine without).  Then the usb hub and finally connect the casio and usb sound card to the hub.  Then headphones to the sound card.  It all worked great and I was able to use my newer iPhone XS which I'm happy to report produced a clean glitch free sound.  I still use my iPad but only for forscore now.  It's a little less convenient than the bluetooth midi dongle, and really it's still only one lightning cable you need to plug into your iPhone, but overall I feel the results are worth it: Zero lag and cleaner sound!

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