Sure, it's a great stage piano—but check out what happens when you dig deeper
By Craig Anderton
Senior Editor, Harmony Central
Yamaha's CP series includes several models and the CP50 Stage Piano is one of the newest additions to the line. The first question I ask about any stage piano is Can I lift it? And the answer here is Yes. It comes in under 50 pounds, even though it has 88 weighted keys and sports Yamaha's Graded Hammer action.
The second question is does the CP50 have all the sounds I need? Unless you want radical synth sounds, again, the answer is Yes. You get a dozen acoustic and electric piano sounds, as well as strings, organs, clavs, guitars, pads, vibes, brass, and the like—an additional 215 sounds—and every "performance" (which contains particular sounds) can also have a backing track from the internal drum machine.
However, these aren't just "any" sounds. Having logged hundreds of hours with Yamaha's Motif XS6, I know why people consider that Yamaha has the acoustic instrument thing down; but the CP50 uses their Spectral Component Modeling (SCM) technology that combines modeling and sampling. This results in instrument sounds that seem almost "more real than real"—as if Yamaha sampled the sound of idealized acoustic instruments.
One result is that individual instrument sounds are very consistent. Consider an analogy: Guitarists know that most guitars have notes that don't "sing" as well as others, and that phenomenon is true to some degree of most acoustic instruments. What SCM seems to do is allow all notes to "sing." And because of the modeling aspect, it's possible to "mix-and-match" various components that make up the sounds, like amp types; and these elements themselves are customizable. Of course, you don't have to take advantage of this flexibility, as the sounds are perfectly fine out of the box. But if you want to create your own sonic signature, the options are there.
Speaking of the Motif XS, Yamaha has borrowed a bunch of its effects. In addition to master EQ and compression (both three-band types) and reverb, there are 49 "modulation" effects, although that's an understatement; in addition to traditional modulation effects like chorus, phaser, and flanging, you'll also find delay, auto-wah, amp sim, auto-pan, and so on.
The action—heavier on lower keys, lighter on higher keys—is a pleasant surprise, given the weight and price, with a smooth transition from one end of the keyboard to the other. Those preferring a light synth feel should look elsewhere, but the CP50 action makes you want to dig in—the velocity response provides a satisfying correlation between what you play and what you hear.
Furthermore, a master keyboard function lets you create four splits and send the MIDI outs to up to four tone generators. This is in addition to the internal split and layer functions using the internal sounds.
Gozintas and Gozoutas
The rear panel has stereo 1/4" outs, separate MIDI in/out/thru jacks, USB "to host" and "to device" connectors, two 1/4" footswitch jacks (sustain and assignable; the sustain footswitch is included), a 1/4" expression pedal jack, and a front-panel headphone jack. There's an AC adapter connector—I would prefer an internal IEC AC connector like the CP5, but the adapter approach keeps the Yamaha keyboard affordable.
More than Just Playing
I also like the "player piano on steroids" aspect. Yes, you can record and play back performances as MIDI data—but as with the latest MOTIF operating system, you can also record performances as audio to a USB stick. This is great for practicing and also collaboration, as your partner will hear the exact sound you had in mind. The backing-track drum/rhythm aspect is helpful for practicing and provides instant inspiration for songwriting (more fun than a metronome, for sure). You also receive a version of Cubase AI5, if you want to go beyond just saving the performance as audio.
The Operating System
It's worth printing out the list of presets (included on CD-ROM, as is a reference manual and a copy of the printed owner's manual) to find your favorites; recalling them isn't hard, but you need to know where they are. There are lots of front-panel buttons and knobs to control strategic parameters. Note that almost no functions are hidden—once you have your sound, modifying it is pretty easy. Although there's no mod wheel (only pitch bend), each performance has three editing knobs that control particular parameters, which in some ways is almost like having three mod wheels.
Overall, the CP50 can be very, very deep with wide-ranging sound-shaping capabilities and functionality. However, you can ignore all that, just call up presets, and play if that's your thing. That "dual identity" is one standout characteristic that sets the CP50 apart, but ultimately, it wouldn't mean anything if it weren't for the basics—sound quality, action, and portability—and the Yamaha CP50 scores 10 out of 10 on all three.
Features & Specs
- 12 piano sounds, 215 other instruments
- Extensive effects, including amp simulation
- Use it as a preset box or dive really deep
- Drum backing track available for every performance
- USB interfacing and audio recording to USB stick
- Onboard MIDI sequencer
- 3 main editing controls for each performance
- Quality weighted action, yet still portable