May/June 2019

by Allister Meffan

Gear Review: Yamaha CP88 Stage Piano

by Allister Meffan

Gear Review: Yamaha CP88 Stage Piano

Among no doubt plenty of other new instrument offerings, Yamaha has this year unveiled the CP73 and CP88 stage pianos, boasting new key hammer technology and an upgraded system of sounds and effects. The slick black aluminium chassis, along with dedicated realtime controls make these two keyboard models serious players in the competitive and very visible world of top stage pianos.

The CP88 I have for review is the new flagship digital piano from Yamaha, retailing at $4195 rrp, with improved sounds and connection capabilities from its predecessor. Actually, it makes 2015’s CP4 Stage look positively naive.

The immediate thing that stands out is the look of this keyboard. It’s busy with mixing console-sized rotary knobs and push buttons, but not confusingly so. Tagged by Yamaha as being “…for the discerning pianist”, the CP88 has 88 graded, triple-sensored keys, with synthetic ebony and ivory tops that make for a very nice playing experience.

The body of the CP88 is aluminium, making it ideal for gigging and travel, weighing in at just over 18kg. In my experience, having a stage piano over 20kg makes life that little bit harder than it should be, especially when flying! (The smaller CP73 is just a shade over 13 kg, hence its alternate sales tagline “…for the gigging keyboardist”.)

The layout is very intuitive, with every section (Piano, E Piano and Sub) having a dedicated selection of sounds and effects, including yellow, red and green rocker switches that are used to scroll through the instrument variations in sounds – a homage (I guess) to Yamaha’s classic CS-80 synth.

Factory sounds on the CP88 are pretty standard in terms of what’s expected, but there are a couple of gems hidden inside. There is a fantastic Bosendorfer Imperial 290 sample that sounds like the real thing and a big selection of electric pianos, organs and synthesisers.

A huge tick from me is the ability to upload your own sounds from online, which is becoming standard in the performance keyboard world. Soundmondo social sound sharing gives access to thousands of free sounds, making the possibilities endless for this keyboard.

Actually, in general, the connectivity of this keyboard is great, covering any situation you might be thrown into on stage or in the studio. Having both balanced XLR and unbalanced 1/4î stereo outputs is a great touch. Dual 1/4″ AUX line inputs connects second keyboards, mobile devices and more. For backing tracks, this is a great little hack. There is also a two channel USB Audio/MIDI Interface for audio recording and playback.

Yamaha have obviously been taking note of competitor stage piano brands, with every control having a dedicated knob, making adjusting and effecting sound on the fly a far easier task than previous models which required going via a menu.

The effects unit is very cool with a lot of processors I haven’t seen before on a stage piano. Yamaha have developed Virtual Circuitry Modelling that re-creates the sound and behaviour of vintage effects and high-end studio signal processors by modelling the circuits down to the original analog component level. This is a very nice touch, allowing the user to create a huge variation in textures.

There is a Master delay, reverb and EQ effect with dedicated real-time controls and a switch to select which section you would like to effect. You can also use multiple sections at the same time, which allows for some very phat sounds. My favourite was putting a big ‘70s E. piano under the Bosendorfer Imperial 290 sample which created a huge bottom end on the piano.

Creating these patches on the fly can be very fun but in a live situation patches that combine Piano, Electric Piano and Sub-samples – as well as the Delay and Reverb effects ¬– will take too long to program. This is where the Live Sets come into their own.

These are accessed via the panel of buttons to the left-hand side of the interface. There are eight selector buttons, plus a further two to let you navigate the 20 pages.

There’s also Seamless Sound Switching between them, meaning that you can select a different Live Set while the previous one continues to be heard. This also works while changing any sound on the keyboard, which makes changing any sounds live a far smoother task.

Overall, I think that Yamaha have produced a fabulous live performance keyboard that will challenge the competition currently out there. The CP88 has great feel, intuitive usability and is built like a tank. I can tell you this won’t be like a new iPhone, where every year a new one comes out making the previous one insignificant. It feels like a keyboard that will stay current for years to come. Yamaha look to have spared no expense in developing this keyboard, and it shows. If the four grand plus price tag is beyond you then give consideration to its smaller sibling CP73 at $3395 rrp, I’m guessing that it won’t disappoint either.

Allister Meffan plays keyboard in Auckland pop band Alae.