As part of a huge renewal process, Kurzweil completely redefined its SP stage piano by adding four new products in the intermediate price range: the SP4 (which includes three models, from 61-key to 88-key versions) and the SP5 (exclusively in the 88-key version).
One of the most interesting products is the SP4-8, an 88-key hammer weighted action stage piano that offers a lightweight chassis (despite Kurzweil’s history of very heavy products) and some other useful features for live musicians, in addition to the classic piano, electric piano and strings sounds from the US-based manufacturer.
The Kurzweil SP4-8 replaces the best selling SP88/X and represents the most affordable keyboard currently offered by the company founded in 1982 by genius Ray Kurzweil.
Thanks to the four programmable zones for split and layers, and the compatibility with the PC3-series sound library, this stage piano promises to be one of the best all-in-one solution for gigs.
But is it worth your money, especially when compared to the SP4-8’s competition? That’s what we’re here to determine.
And below, please use our table to compare how the Kurzweil SP4-8 stacks up against some of its competitors:
|Roland RD-88||PHA-4 Standard action, ZEN-Core sound engine|
|Nord Stage 3||OLED Display|
|Casio PX5S||Tri-Sensor Scaled Hammer Action II Keyboard|
|Nord Piano 5||Polyphony: 120 Notes (piano section), 46 Notes (sample synth section)|
|Yamaha YC88||128 Notes (AWM2/Organ), 128 Notes (FM)|
Phaser, Flanger, Chorus, Vibe, Pan, Tremolo and more
|Casio PX-560||5.3” Color Display|
Breaking Down the Kurzweil SP4-8
Let’s see what is included inside the box:
- Kurzweil SP4-8 stage piano
- AC adaptor plus power chord
- Switch pedal
- USB cable
- 4x self-adhesive feet
The first downside for a $999 product is the lack of a real piano-style sustain pedal: the included footswitch is not suitable as a damper pedal and would be helpful only if used for changing the sounds with your feet.
There’s no half-pedal or triple-pedal support here at all either, and this is an unforgivable omission for a product of this price range. It’s worth nothing, too, that similar products from other competitors, such as the Roland RD-300NX and even the Yamaha CP-33, ship with an included piano-style sustain pedal and support for at least one of the aforementioned functions.
This Kurzweil digital piano comes in a black finish and features a very compact frame. The TP-100 88-key hammer weighted action keyboard from Fatar contributes to keep the SP4-8 extremely lightweight (only 39 pounds) and allows users to easily carry it over their gigs and rehearsals.
The SP4-8 offers the traditional Kurzweil interface and includes two wheels on the left side (used for modulation and pitch), a volume slider, a multi-purpose knob that can be used to edit the sounds, ten function buttons, a LCD display with two navigation buttons, and nineteen more buttons on the right side to manage the sounds.
On the rear side, we find a MIDI I/O, two controller inputs (one for sustain pedal, the other for CC or expression pedals), a USB-to-MIDI port, two-balanced outputs, the power jack, a headphones output and the power switch.
And before we proceed onward, please take a look at some of the best selling digital stage pianos online:
|1) Casio PX-560|
|2) Nord Piano 5|
|3) Roland RD-88|
|4) Korg D1|
|5) Roland RD-2000|
One of the most interesting features of the Kurzweil SP4-8 is certainly its PC3-derived sound engine, which offers up to 128 sounds taken from the workstation-series, including the classic Triple Strike Grand Piano, the renowned strings tones, several KB3 organs and KVA synths sounds.
Users can even import other factory programs from the PC3 into the SP4-8 ROM using the USB port. Of course, not every program from the PC3 is compatible with the Kurzweil SP4-8: you won’t be able to add your user samples or any Legacy K2 preset.
The Kurzweil Desktop Editor, sold separately, will be very helpful to quickly create very complex sounds and editing the V.A.S.T. engine for your favorite synth sounds.
But how does this engine sound under the fingers? Well, not as good as expected.
The major problem is that the Fatar TP-100, chosen by Kurzweil to keep the chassis as lightweight as possible, is good for almost everything… except for playing the piano properly.
Here’s a demo of the SP4-8 someone posted to YouTube:
In fact, the keys are too soft in zones where you would expect them to be heavier, and the feelings derived from playing the SP4-8 are very far from the sense of realism achieved by other stage pianos.
While the keyboard had to offer an optimal compromise for playing both piano and other sounds, the main role of a stage piano is obviously to allow playing piano in the most natural way.
That said, the SP4-8’s piano experience is very far from being realistic. Of course, you will get the usual Triple Strike Grand Piano tone, which has been one of the most authentic emulations of the last decade, but the industry has much evolved from then in several ways.
If you consider the lack of half-pedal or triple-pedal support, the limited 64-note maximum amount of polyphony, and no support for any kind of mechanical emulation, you will easily understand why it may be worth your time to at least consider a few other options.
SP4-8 VS. SP5-8
Unfortunately, the Kurzweil SP5-8 is not one of those solutions. This more expensive model shares too many features with the SP4-8 to justify its higher price, and despite the heavier LK40GH 88-key hammer graded action keyboard, the choice to opt again for the same PC3-based engine and 64-note maximum polyphony condemns it to the same judgment.
Of course, there are still some improvements that you can only find in the SP5-8: a bigger LCD display (which is more user-friendly during live shows), 861 factory programs derived from the PC3 workstation (against the SP4’s 128 presets) and four additional sliders to manage the four available zones without using an external software.
Yes, what is the point of having four available zones if you can’t quickly manage them live in the SP4-8? Do I have to connect my laptop during a gig to simply increase the volume of a layered string section? Of course, if you aim to do a lot of layering and splitting, keep in mind that only the SP5-8 model will allow you to control and manage the balance between the four sounds on-the-fly.
The differences between the two models end here: both SP4-8 and SP5-8 offer a limited FX editing with 10 different units to enrich your sounds, and both have no internal memory to sample your own, unique sounds.
A SUPERNATURAL ALTERNATIVE
It is worth nothing that Kurzweil SP4-8 and SP5-8 ship respectively for $999 and $1399, and while it’s easy to find a cheaper price on the Internet, if you can afford a similar budget, it’s strongly recommended to focus on a more complete stage piano, such as the $1299 Roland RD-300NX.
The updated 2.0 version of the RD-300NX stage piano added so many great innovations to an already convenient formula, such as the instant selection of the favorite live sets, a new live editing, and the option to connect the piano to your iPad both wired and wirelessly to manage and create your sounds via the RD-NX Editor.
The RD-300NX features the SuperNATURAL technology, first introduced by Roland with the Fantom G workstation-series, which offers many stunning piano sounds and a brand new electric piano derived from the Fantom G’s expansion ARX-02. You can create your sounds and combine up to three layers and choose between 939 different tones.
Comparing the SP4/SP5 with the Roland RD-300NX, it’s easy to notice some differences: the first is obviously the 88-key Ivory Feel-G keyboard, which is so fabulous and allows for an extremely natural way of playing the piano sounds while not loading too much weight on the chassis: in fact, the RD-300NX only weights 38 pounds.
Add a maximum polyphony of 128 voices, half-pedal support with the DP-10 damper, the compatibility with Roland’s RPU-3 triple-pedal and a USB slot for use your flash memory for media playback, and then you’ll get a real winner. Once you’ve tried that, you’ll never come back.
Kurzweil really needs to do something if the company wants to achieve the same quality and completeness of its competitors. Despite the efforts to keep its stage piano lightweight and ultimately create a compact digital piano with a good sound spectrum, the SP4-8 is unfortunately far from being able to offer a natural and realistic piano experience. Its numerous flaws make it in fact hard to recommend it for professional uses.
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