Yamaha CP33 Stage Piano
Earlier this year I bought a Yamaha CP33 Stage Piano to use both as a piano and a midi controller for the PSR 3000. I had been using a semi weighted 88 key dumb controller for years, for better feel and full size keyboard, but wanted a quality piano sound, and had long decided that none of the arranger keyboards could give this. The 61 key PSRs and Tyros are ok if you use the piano sound only as a lead line, but pretty poor for full piano keyboard playing.
I thought some of you would appreciate my review of this after owning it for several months.
I also recorded a couple of songs so you could hear it for yourself.The first, It's Impossible, is using the CP33 as a straight solo piano. I don't think I had played this song for 25 years, but recently someone posted a nice vocal version on the PSR Tutorial, and it was rolling around in my head when I was trying to think of something to play as a demo piece. I played live by ear to record this and the arrangement is just what popped out of my head, but it contains some unusual harmony and key changes, so even if you are not interested in the CP33, I think its a nice piece that works well as on solo piano.
The second piece, I Should Care, is a piano jazz arrangement of an old Sinatra song that is one of my favorites. Here I am using the CP33 as a controller for the PSR 3k. I play the CP33 two handed live, and just let the arranger follow along. The style is a simplified jazz st../yle, with only drums, guitar and bass are activated channels. When you play this way the arranger might have a few issues here and there following the chord changes and timing, but not really too noticeable. Since I got the CP33 I play this way a lot.
My buying priorities were excellent piano sound and feel, but I also wanted simplicity of operation as a controller, portability and a size, weight, shape that fitted nicely into my set up.
I am fortunate to live in a large city and had extensive access to compare pretty much every make and model from $600 to $6,000. I found that all of the mainstream manufacturers (Roland, Korg, Yamaha, Kurzweil) had models in the $1,500 to $3,000 range that were very good. Some of the more expensive models had more bells and whistles and additional voices, rather than better piano sound and feel, and with owning the arranger I realized I would not use them much. The $6,000 Roland V piano had great sound and feel, but was not a very portable instrument, and it was not that much better than less expensive models. I liked the Kurzweil but it was a bit heavy. I eventually homed in on the CP33 and the Roland 700GX. Decision was sealed when my local dealer dropped the CP33 price to only $1,000. The Roland was over $2,500 and I think I would have paid $500 more for the Roland, but not $1,500 because to my ear and touch it was not really better in the things that mattered most – sound/feel - it just had a couple of neat features and looked nicer.
The CP33 is solidly built, and looks neat, and feels like it would take a bit of gigging abuse in a decent case. It comes with a proper piano style sustain pedal.
The basic operation is very simple. It has several piano sounds and a selection of other voices. The keyboard can be split, sounds layered, and there is some control of the effects. I plugged in the midi cable and it worked perfectly as a controller straight away.
The voice selection is simple, and layering is achieved by simply pressing two buttons. There is a pair of sliders, which lets you set the layering level for each voice. Splitting the keyboard is also simple, and again the sliders now can control the level of each section of the keyboard. There is a lot of additional functionality which is controlled by using various input buttons and +/- buttons, and this is a bit complicated using a very small screen with some numbers on it. For most people this will not be an issue as this keyboard is designed primarily as a simple piano, and, thankfully, those functions are all pre-set and very easy to access.
This keyboard is all about the piano sound. Although some of the other voices are good particularly the electric pianos, they were not a decision maker since I already have the PSR voices. The piano sound in even the best digital pianos do not completely reproduce a top quality piano although I am told that the latest Yamaha digital piano costing about $20,000 can fool even a concert pianist. At that price, it should, but since I never got to try it, I cannot comment! But the piano sound from most of the better makes comes pretty close. They are all a little different – as are all pianos - and the one you like best is probably more about taste and preference than accuracy in reproducing a piano sound. I thought the CP33 had a very good piano sound, with good resonance in the lower ranges, and when sustain is used. After several months at home, I still think I made a good choice. Judge the sound for yourself from the recordings I attached. As a comparison, I tried the Clavinovas, and I think the CP33 grand piano sounds and feels about the same as a top level Clavinova.
Other sounds – the piano variations are OK, the electric pianos very good, the strings acceptable and I particularly like one of the jazz organ sounds. If you have an arranger, you will probably never use any of the other voices.
The CP33 has weighted key graded hammer action, and I thought it felt great from the first try and still do. The CP33 feels not just like a real piano, but a very good real piano. There has been a lot of discussion on the PSR Tutoral forum about the size and feel of a keyboard and many people say it is not important to them or even that they prefer the light feel of the PSR/Tyros. If you have come to the PSR via accordions, organs, other arrangers or synthesizers, this might be the case. But most people with a strong piano playing background will prefer a full size keyboard with full size keys and weighted, graded hammer action. For me this is not a small difference, it’s a major step up from the PSR/Tyros keyboard.
Set Up and Use as a controller
I already had the PSR set up to work with the dumb controller and I just plugged in the CP33 and it worked perfectly first time!
My sound set up is to connect both keyboards separately to my M-Audio BX5a powered monitor speaker system or headphones via a mixer. This way I get stereo sound from both keyboards simultaneously. I plug in a jack plug to silence the internal speakers on the PSR 3000.
As a side note, I bought the M-Audios at the same time as the CP33, and they are a major improvement on the internal speakers. I originally thought the internal speakers were pretty good but when compared to the sound from the M-Audios (which are neat looking, and cost less than $150 for the pair) they actually sound very ‘tinny’. The M-Audios seem to have the perfect balance for a medium to large room, the bass is prominent but not overpowering, which it was on my other external speaker system. I have the speakers on stands at ear level, and there is so much ‘punch’ in hand that I suspect they would work well for small public venues, like nursing homes, restaurants etc. Through the M-Audios, the CP33 really sounds surprisingly like my baby grand. When buying these, I compared them to the Yamaha speakers that they sell for the Tyros and thought they sounded better, and had significantly more punch.
My typical fingering set up on the arranger is ‘full keyboard’. This way I can play the CP33 just as I would play piano – two handed - yet still drive the accompaniment. At first I had it set up like my dumb controller where it completely reproduces the accompaniment and LH and RH voices just as if you are playing the PSR keyboard. This has the advantage that you can layer the PSR and CP33 voices together and get some amazing sounds. I found this to be something of an unexpected bonus, because the combinations can be awesome – it’s a lot of combined sound generation. However, it has the disadvantage that to get the CP33 piano sound by itself the voices on the PSR have to be set to ‘off’. This is not a problem, but I realized that if I could leave a voice set on the PSR – let’s say for example tenor sax – but have it so it didn’t play from the CP33 keyboard, then I could very seamlessly play that voice in sections without pressing buttons just by switching my RH to the arranger.
After some advice from Bill Grosse, I was able to change the midi settings so that the CP33 only drives the accompaniment and not the RH/LH voices. This way I can have voices set up on the PSR and change voices while playing by swapping back and forward between the two keyboards. I really like this method of changing voices because it is easier than pushing buttons while playing live, and sounds more natural because the sounds can be overlapped by using sustain at the change.
This is the set up I use the most, but I stored both set ups and can easily swap between them. If I want to use sounds layered from both keyboards simultaneously, I just switch to the other midi set up.
Another bonus is that I can now plug in an extra foot pedal, because I keep the sustain pedal on the CP33, which means I can use the two pedals plugged into the PSR for other purposes. Currently I have one set to pitch bend, and the other for style on/off. But it’s easy to change these to say, swell and harmony on/off. If you have a Tyros, you could have four pedals set up.
The CP33 has been an excellent buy for me, good sound and feel and works trouble free as a controller for the arranger. When I set out to add a good digital piano to my set up, I expected to spend about $2,000, but I got the CP33 for half of that. I expect the Kurzweil and Roland would also have been good choices, but after several months I still feel satisfied with the choice I made. I think it has significantly enhanced my playing experience.
I love to play piano, but I also like the accompaniment features of the arranger, and the access to other voices on the arranger. I always thought that the Clavinova was the perfect instrument for me, but it was expensive and not portable, and now I essentially have the features of the Clavinova at a fraction of the cost and portable into the bargain.