December/January 2023

by Alan Brown

Gear Review: Casio Privia PX-S7000 Digital Piano

by Alan Brown

Gear Review: Casio Privia PX-S7000 Digital Piano

Tāmaki Makaurau-based keyboard player Alan Brown reviews Casio’s Privia PX-S7000 digital piano.

The look of Casio’s latest top-end Privia digital piano incarnation, the PX-S7000, is modern and striking – a minimal design aesthetic and uniquely attractive. The piano I reviewed is a sleek black, but it also comes in white and mustard, with an rrp price tag of $4999.
The beech wood stand is lovely, the three pedals solidly attached and feel great. In fact, the whole thing is really solid – virtually no movement however hard you play it, quite unlike typical keyboard stands! It’s apparent that Casio are appealing to apartment dwellers or others who don’t have a lot of room but want a piano that is a nice piece of modern furniture, not just an oblong black box in the corner.

The same minimal aesthetic is obvious in the functionality. The front panel only has a power button and a volume control. The left-hand side of the keyboard contains a pitch wheel and three assignable hardware buttons (the top one is set to a cool arpeggiator by default). Upon powering up, an LCD display appears, plus 12 surface backlit ‘buttons’ and a virtual selector dial.

The looks are great, but of course, the most important aspect is the sound. No digital piano is going to provide a perfect re-creation of an acoustic piano, and likes/dislikes around a particular piano sound are very subjective. However, this does sound good.
At first, I felt the upper and lower ranges were great, but the mid-range a bit harsh. There are a number of parameters which can be adjusted to your taste, and after a bit of fiddling with the velocity, brightness and sound settings, I managed to achieve a tone that I rather liked, and was happy to spend time with.

The main three piano sounds are HG, NY and BN, corresponding to Hamburg, New York and Berlin. My favourite is the Hamburg piano – a full piano sound with good dynamics. Each piano is represented by a standard, bright and mellow version. I found each of the bright settings a bit too bright, but I’m sure they would work fine in a group context.

An interesting and fun feature that Casio have included in their top-of-the-line 2023 offering are various piano patches, replicating well-known songs. For example the Lennon-inspired Image piano, Coldplay Clocks piano, Jamiroquai V.Insane piano and so on. Possibly a little gimmicky but they’re certainly fun to play and I’d much rather have patches identified like this instead of meaningless labels such as ‘Piano 1’!

To the right of the selector dial are three category buttons for Piano, E. Piano and Others, so it’s easy to get to the selection of sound types you want. The Privia’s electric pianos are really nice and I totally enjoyed playing these.

Of course, they also have names like ‘Taxi EP’, ‘FlyingButter EP’ (think Herbie Hancock), ‘Just The Way EP’ etc. My only complaint here is that the Rhodes-type sounds aren’t as dynamic in timbre as I would like – for me they don’t display enough of the ‘bark’ in the upper-mid range when you strike the keys hard. However, they are all perfectly usable and do sound great. I especially enjoy the wide tremolo on the Rhodes sounds (e.g.the ‘Diamond EP’ patch). With the in-built speakers, the sound is so immersive and as close as you can get to dialing up the vibrato intensity when sitting at an original Suitcase Rhodes.

The ‘Others’ category contains your more bread and butter sounds such as Clav, Harpsichord, Vibes, Organ, Strings, Choir, Guitar, Bass etc. These are all well-sampled and fairly authentic – the Vibes patches particularly sublime!

The other important aspect for consideration when you’re thinking of spending $5000 on any piano is the piano feel. This unit is not very deep at all (just 24cm), meaning the keys have quite a short pivot. I was pleasantly surprised by the feel, however. The keys have spruce sides and the action responds well (Casio call it a smart hybrid hammer action). Although a bit of a lighter feel than I prefer it’s a positive action, and the keybed at the bottom of the keystroke feels good. There is also none of the loud mechanical acoustic clatter of many weighted-key actions – this one is pleasingly quiet.

The in-built 32-watt speaker system produces a clear, spacious sound, plus there is a further option to have ‘Surround Types’, which is more of a stereo widener but the effect is generally pleasant. The Type 1 setting suited me, while Type 3 seemed a bit too wide. One really nice feature is that you can also set the speaker response depending on the location of the piano e.g. Wall, Center, Table. The Wall setting compensates for the sound reflecting off the wall for instance. The default is Standard, and as I had this in the middle of my studio room, changing it to Center actually made a significant difference and I was a lot happier with the sound.

The under-the-hood features are what make this instrument very powerful. I always try to see how far I can navigate around before opening the manual and I was able to achieve most things I needed in this case. The selector wheel frustrated me at first as it doubles as a cursor switch – so when I wanted to scroll sounds I would sometimes change the cursor position inadvertently. Not really ideal but you do get used to it. It also helps to have the selector ‘click’ sound turned on. Anyway, here is where you can easily set registration settings, layers, splits, effects, metronome, transposition, velocity curves, tuning. It’s great that various tuning systems are included such as Kirnberger, Werkmeister, Meantone plus various Arabic and Indian microtonal scales! (A pity one can’t engage with microtonal adjustment though.)

It’s excellent to find a range of acoustic simulations here too, offering string, damper, aliquot resonance, pedal and key noise. These are set by the patch (tone) by default, but can easily be adjusted. The variation can be subtle, but being able to define all this goes a long way to create a sound and interactivity that suits. I find it strange though, that while this level of adjustment is included, there isn’t more control over the velocity curve and tone as there are only a handful of preset curves and an overall Brilliance control. The audio input has multiband EQ, so I’m not sure why that isn’t included within the tone section?

Yes, the Privia has a dedicated mic input which you can route through EQ and effects to create your own performance centre – perfect for home concerts. Not only that, but the keyboard can also function as a giant bluetooth speaker that sounds really good too! You can record MIDI of your own playing, or even record audio of your own singing and playing.

With class-compliant USB and wireless MIDI (connecting with Casio’s own free app), this is a really full-featured instrument – much more than a simple digital piano. It even can be powered by eight AA batteries, a staple Casio inclusion harking back to the 1985 vintage SK-1 sampler which I still have!

This is a great digital piano which, precisely as I imagine it was designed, would be perfect for homes and rooms where space is a big consideration. The in-built sound is clear and loud enough for nearly all situations. I also demoed it through my studio speakers and the sound was full with a nice stereo image. If you’re after a decent home digital piano with a decent range of sounds that can do a bunch of other things and look amazing, this would definitely be a place to start.

Alan Brown is an Auckland-based keyboard player with a rich history in the local jazz scene. He has also been producing his own ambient albums – the most recent, ‘Murmer’, was released on Rattle Records in November 2021. Alan is a kaiako/lecturer at SAE in Auckland, where he teaches on the Music Production and Audio Engineering programmes.