NAMM2018 - Why digital
keyboards are the hot buy
By Naughty Mickie
The music instrument industry has been
seeing a steady growth in digital keyboard sales over the past
year. The trend can be attributed to a combination of things,
including companies offering more quality amenities on their less
expensive instrument lines and people’s better acceptance of
This year marks the 35th anniversary of
Yamaha Corporation of America’s Clavinova line. During the NAMM
music trade show in Anaheim in January, product manager, portable
keyboards, digital pianos and Clavinova keyboard division Ben
Harrison said that 1 in 4 musical instruments sold worldwide are
made by Yamaha and one of the key factors driving digital keyboard
sales is “the quality is reaching a certain level where they are
now an acceptable alternative to an acoustic piano.”
Yamaha’s current biggest seller is the
P-115, which costs $599 and boasts 88 weighted, graded keys,
replicating the touch of an acoustic piano.
“The feel of it for that price point is
unparalleled and then of course the instruments that are in it,”
Yamaha demonstrator for digital pianos and Clavinova keyboard
division and pro music division instrument trainer Gabriel Aldort
said. “There’s a very faithful concert grand piano that is the
primary voice. There are 14 voices in a P-115 and what also
appeals to people is the USB connectivity. You can connect it to a
computer, which musicians like to do these days to do songwriting
and record it into a computer program.”
Yamaha has also released its first app,
the Digital Piano Controller, to accompany the P-115, which allows
users to put the entire piano interface on a touchscreen making
the features more accessible.
Yamaha’s top line amenities also gradually
trickle down to its lower end models.
“I think what we’re going to see is the
sound quality, right now our top of the line digital pianos
feature high quality samples of our concert grand piano and our
lower end models feature the high quality samples of our previous
concert grand piano,” Harrison said.
Casio’s electronics expertise
keeps costs down
Casio America, Inc. has been around for
more than 60 years. It began making keyboards in 1980 and still
does things, such as making processors and assembling components,
that are outsourced by most other companies.
“Casio has incredible electronics
manufacturing expertise and they can do very high quality work,
which helps keep the costs down at retail,” Casio product
marketing manager, EMI division Richard Formidoni said.
The CTK and SA series are Casio’s best
inexpensive portable keyboards that sell in mass market. They have
61 keys, built-in recording features, lesson functions with voice
prompts and display, run on batteries and come with a power
supply. Most of the keyboards made by Casio have class compliant
USB, which means you can simply plug them into whatever computer
you have and play.
“The value is incredible. For $100-$150
you can get a keyboard that has 400 sounds, full-sized keys and
the keys might light up depending on which model you get,”
Formidoni said. “What you can expect from Casio is more great
offerings that will inspire people to get into music, keep playing
it and to stretch themselves musically.”
Roland sees success in both high
and low end keyboards
Roland Corporation U.S. channel strategy
manager, hi tech Duane McDonald believes that the growth in
keyboard sales is partly tied to trends in music and partly
cyclical. He handles professional instruments and cites the
RD-2000 digital stage piano as the biggest seller at $2499.
“What drives that, really anything with
piano in the name, the first thing that’s going to matter is the
piano sound. It uses our top modeling technology,” McDonald said.
Like other brands, Roland’s RD-2000 has
realistic progressive hammer action, but what sets it apart is the
control and integration with software instruments. It has a single
USB cable to connect with your laptop to run software programs
which you can control from the piano.
“For parents who were exposed to
electronics growing up an electronic keyboard doesn’t seem like a
compromise, it doesn’t seem like a foreign thing,” Roland product
strategy manager, piano Corey Fournier said.
For students, Roland is offering its
lowest priced keyboards ever, the Go:Keys at $299 and Go:Piano at
No experience is required for the Go:Keys,
a hybrid between deejay, music-maker and keyboard, as it allows
you to create music by pressing one key. Additionally it has a
program that integrates with Scratch, a software developed by MIT
that helps students learn computer coding and programming.
The Go:Piano is a portable entry level
piano and comes with the Piano Adventures book series, as well as
accompaniment for the songs in the books.
Both products have on-board bluetooth
speakers and bluetooth midi connection that allows you to interact
with apps on your phone, tablet or laptop.
Pipes ‘sound engine’ is the future
The NAMM show also offered a peek into the
not-so-distant digital sound future in the way of Pipes from the
Synesthesia Corporation of Laurel Canyon.
“Every year 2 million devices sell which
are musical instruments, but they don’t have sounds in them or the
sounds that they have are very low quality and not a very
expansive collection,” Synesthesia Corporation founder and
chairman Vince De Franco said.
Plus those devices are meant to connect to
a computer and work with software, he added.
Pipes, which De Franco calls a “sound
engine,” is a dedicated, standalone box containing a library of
sounds and effects that can be plugged into a keyboard, drum or
other digital instrument, as well as any combination of
Besides being small and easily portable,
Pipes biggest advantage is that its sound samples are in its
memory and available to trigger any time without a lag when
changing them, unlike using a computer which takes time to load
each new voice.
“Our box has been streamlined with small
computers inside to just answer your needs for sound,” De Franco
Pipes is wifi and bluetooth compatible and
allows you to add sounds to your library from an online
repository, as well as other programs you may already have. And
perhaps what is most innovative is that it not only has a
proprietary audio circuit, but also an open source user interface
which you may reprogrammed to your wants and needs.
De Franco hopes that digital keyboard
manufacturers will want to license Pipes’ technology, but he plans
to launch a Kickstarter in April to put the box into production.
Pipes will cost $399 and units should be shipped to buyers
beginning in September.