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 technology.

YamahaThis 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.

CasioCasio’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.”

RolandRoland 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 $329.

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 of sound

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 instruments.

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 said.

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.

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