You can’t go wrong with a Roland digital stage piano as far as I’m concerned. They’re built like tanks, the piano sounds are fabulous and the FP range are great for the musician on the road. They play like a dream, with some of the best weightings of any manufacturer – by far out-trumping Yamaha’s equivalent stage piano range (P115 and P255, for example) and they have some of the best sampling technology on the market.
Roland are a relatively young company, having been founded in 1972. They were the first to develop the touch-sensitive keyboard and have been leading the market ever since. I personally own both a Yamaha Clavinova (an ancient CLP50) and a Roland stage piano (FP3) and I’ve always preferred the Roland both for feel and for sound. The FP3 looks great, but is on the heavier end of the stage-piano spectrum, which is certainly a consideration for the gigging musician.
But in this article, we’re going to tackle the topic of the Roland FP50. Is this a digital piano that’s worth your money? And how does it stack up to other pianos, like the Kawai ES110 or the Yamaha P55, or even the Roland FP30? We’ll find out that an even more in this review today. And, in order to better help you compare the Roland FP50 against other notable instruments, please use our interactive table below.
|Nord Stage 3
|Nord Piano 5
Roland stage pianos are certainly the keyboards that ate all the pies, with their tendency to be on the heftier end of the market. The FP30 is about 31 pounds (14.1kg), whilst the FP50 is 36 pounds (16.5kg), which is quite a weight to cart about with you. My FP3 is positively elephant-like at about 40.7 pounds (18.5kg). And while it has been a constant joy to play, it’s a nightmare to transport.
It’s certainly no fun lugging it up a flight of stairs.
An equivalent stage piano is the Kawai ES110. Many of its features are comparable with the FP30 and it’s a feather-weight at just 26 pounds (12kg), so for the traveling musician aiming to travel lighter, the Kawai is a good choice. But it depends on what you’re looking for, I guess – the Kawai offers greater portability, but the Roland has a superior play and feel. The weight-mass of the FP50 is down, in part, to Roland’s superior weighting – there aren’t many stage pianos this portable with such a great feel. So, unless you’re really aiming on traveling light, what you get for the extra weight has a great pay-off.
On the other side of the fence, we have the Yamaha P255 – whilst it contains many of the same features, it weighs in at 31 pounds (17.3kg), which, I think, for an instrument that is going to do lots of traveling, is verging on too heavy.
Obviously, with physical weight comes decent keyboard feel but consider that gig where the lift has broken and you’re playing on the fourteenth floor. If you want a great keyboard that is going to sit at home, then weight isn’t really an issue – but then I’d go for something more substantial like a Clavinova or one of the great Kawai CN range or Roland LX range.
And before we move on, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling digital pianos currently on sale online, and see how well they stack up to the Roland FP-50.
|1) Casio PX-770
|2) Yamaha YDP-145
|3) Roland RP-701
|4) Yamaha YDP-165
|5) Casio PX-870
Play and Feel
I don’t think I’ve ever sat at a Roland keyboard and not lost a good hour before I realized that I was still there. The key-action is superlative: you get a genuinely pianistic feel with the FP50. This instrument is a great choice for the traveling musician – with an impressive built-in speaker set, you get great sound, amazingly realistic piano-action and the genuine key-weight and sensitivity of a grand piano.
The keys are built from Roland’s Ivory G-Feel technology with Escapement (the ability to play a repeated note without fully releasing the key). With a textured matte finish, they ooze tactility and make playing a pleasurable experience. There’s a genuine responsiveness underneath the fingertips that makes you really feel like you’re in the driving seat. Combined with Roland’s amazing SuperNATURAL sample engine, you’re in for a real treat with the FP50.
I guess the big question is whether to go for the FP30 at around the $700 range or the FP50 at the $1,200 range. Is it worth almost doubling the cost? Do you get much more by way of play-feel and sound quality?
In short – not really.
Both keyboards use the same key-action mechanisms, use the same sample set, the same touch sensitivity receptors. In terms of play-feel, you’re pretty much getting the same instrument. The FP50 has a slightly superior key-build with a different playing surface, but I’d say that the feel underneath the fingertips is negligible – certainly not worth doubling the price.
What Is the Sound Like?
Excuse the science – but here goes – this is why Roland’s SuperNATURAL is probably the best sound engine on the market. Really early digital keyboards used basic sampling technology. The sound you triggered when you hit the key was a genuine instrumental recording, but touch sensitivity is a much more complex beast than just soft and loud.
An acoustic instrument amplifies itself using a chamber that resonates – the hole in the guitar, the sound board of the piano. Each note has its specific frequency (ie, A4 is 440Hz for example) but there are overtones and harmonics that the ear cannot easily differentiate, but we notice a change in tone quality if they are missing.
So the big challenge for digital piano manufacturers is in how to model these subtle changes. Early technology addressed the subject with filters – when you hit a key harder, the same sample would play, with less top end frequencies filtered out, giving the sound a brighter tonal quality. This was fine, but had the edge of artificiality about it.
SuperNATURAL has taken things a step further. It has 5 samples per pitch, recorded at different velocities to capture the unique quality of the tone generated under differing playing attacks. But it goes further, replicating the characteristics and response of the genuine instrument. The SuperNATURAL engine chooses parameters that react to performance dynamics, making it one of the most realistic sound reproducers on the market.
So, you can be reassured that this instrument sounds great. The big difference between the FP30 and the FP50 is in the array of sounds available.
The piano sounds are the most important, of course – and you absolutely won’t be disappointed with the FP50. They are full of clarity and bite, with a wide variety of characteristics that will suit whatever style you play. The electric piano sounds are great – the FP50 has a brilliant array of funky clavs, including one with a built-in Wah Wah which is immense fun.
You’re getting quality instrumental sounds here.
The FP50 is twice the price of the FP30, so when I was trialling it, I was really looking out for the justification. And it’s got to be said, I struggled. Yes, the FP50 has more instrumental sounds – but one realistic piano sound is very similar to another and the choice on the FP30 is ample for a stage-piano.
In my seventeen years of using the Roland FP3, I don’t think I’ve ever swapped sounds mid-gig. Where the FP50 demonstrates a vast improvement, however, is in the user interface which is miles better than the FP30 and infinitely better than the super-clunky Kawai ES110.
The user interface is a simple digital display, alongside a number of dedicated buttons that allow you quick and simple access to the various on-board instrumental sounds. For such a small, backlit LCD display, it provides a surprising amount of information, including instrumental name (albeit often abbreviated), the rhythm section title and tempo etc.
It’s easy to switch between instruments and scroll through their options with the + and – buttons. In short, this is a decent, if basic user-interface. If you’re a gigging musician, you want simple, so this makes it the perfect companion for the musician on the road.
The Backing Section
The Backing Section is impressive and quite surprising. You arm the feature with a dedicated key (“Rhythm”) and scroll through various choices of “backing tracks” using the + and – keys. I expected very little from this feature, but I was actually quite blown away at how clever it is. It provides a drum track and (depending on the choice of backing track) rhythm guitar, bass guitar and various synths – all playing along perfectly in sync with whatever you play on the keyboard.
The keyboard recognizes the chord you’re playing and the backing track plays along in complete harmony with you. It works perfectly with absolutely no latency. It was impressive and gives the feel of playing along with a full backing band. So, is this what justifies the higher price?
Albeit impressive, I’m not sure I would really use it. OK – we’ve all done gigs where people have asked you to play a Venga Boys track and it’s you and the piano and not really possible. Perhaps I need a more discerning client base. But, for that type of situation, this feature is really useful. There are 90 backing tracks to choose from, so you would probably have enough there for a gig. Some of the tracks were really convincing; others were not. It’s certainly an impressive feature, but I genuinely don’t know how often it would come in handy for the average musician on the go.
The speakers on the FP50 are certainly more powerful than those on the FP30, and certainly more so than with the ES110. Situated at the back of the instrument, the FP50 is delivering sound where it’s likely to be required — out into the audience. There’s a LINE out for external amplification, but there are 2 x 12 Watt on-board speakers, which are easily loud enough if you’re playing solo.
The FP30 has 2 x 11W, and the ES110 has a bit of a measly 2 x 7W. The Yamaha P255 has 2 x 15W speakers which is impressive for a stage-piano, so if volume is what you’re after, then perhaps the P255 is for you.
Either way, the sound delivered through the FP50 speakers has a genuine clarity and will fill a room quite sufficiently.
The FP50 has all the standard outputs you would expect — Stereo LINE out, a mini-jack Stereo in, 3 pedal connections for Damper, Sostenuto and Soft foot pedals (sold separately) and 5 pin DIN MIDI out and in. Through USB Memory, you can enjoy WAV files, but it should be said that there is no USB output for MIDI (check out the video below for more on this).
Additionally, there is Bluetooth connectivity, allowing you to wirelessly couple your FP50 to an iPad (or Android equivalent) running a synth or DAW application and control it via the keyboard.
All-in-all, the FP50 is a great keyboard. I’m a bit torn as to whether I feel that it’s worth the extra money over the FP30, as they have an almost identical build and similar sound sets. If you’re considering buying a digital piano, either would be a great investment. They both sound excellent and feel totally amazing to play.
I guess it comes down to whether you want the extra features and the improved user interface. Either way, this is a great keyboard for the gigging musician and I’d snap one up in a second.
And lastly, here are a few key specs of the Roland FP50, which is of course an 88 key weighted digital piano:
- Roland’s SuperNATURAL piano sampling
- Great portability
- Powerful built-in speaker drivers
- Intelligent rhythm “follow” feature
- Roland iPad partner app
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