The Yamaha Clavinova series is one of the most enduring, durable and recognizable brands in the digital piano world. Step into the music department of any music college and you’re likely to wade through a sea of the things, drowning in graffiti and the rings from the bottom of coffee cups. They really do stand up to heavy use, they have quality instrumental samples driving the core piano sounds and they often have lots of “fun” features that suit the non-piano player with aspiration and interest in pursuing piano lessons.
That said, when you compare it with the advances that other manufacturers have made, specifically in build quality, this is certainly a solid contender, yes, but perhaps not one that’s going to get you immediately sprinting to spend a large sum of money.
Please take a moment to view our comparison chart below so that you can directly compare the Yamaha CLP-635 against other excellent upright digital piano on the market.
For the price (a little less than $3,000), you’re getting:
- Yamaha’s patented GH3X keyboard action, creating a heavier feel at the bottom end of the keyboard and a lighter feel at the top end
- Samples from two world class grand pianos
- An easy-to-use user interface
- Excellent speaker drivers that deliver a beautiful sound
- A rugged instrument that will last for years
Play and Feel
The CLP 635 has synthetic ebony and ivory keys. This is essentially a resin with a slightly matt finish that doesn’t necessarily have the weight of a wooden key, but does have a satisfying tactility on the skin. There’s none of the polished ivory feel of the traditional piano, but the finger-touch is pleasant. The weight of the keys is reasonable – it feels OK, but I’d say it lacks the immediacy and responsiveness of the Roland LX range.
That said, the key-on feel is good – there’s a decent pianistic downward travel and a nice landing underneath the fingers that really makes this a joy to play. But it’s the key-off action which lets the instrument down a little—it feels a little too sprung and enthusiastic to reset to its neutral position and diminishes the pianistic experience a tad.
Surprisingly, the CLP 545 has an infinitely better play and feel. The keys are wooden, and they appear to be weighted almost exactly as a grand piano. The swap to solid synthetic ivory, for me, is the big downside for this instrument.
The Clavinova 600 range uses Yamaha’s GH3X technology (Graded Hammer 3X). The key arms are longer on a grand piano at the bottom end of the instrument (playing the low notes) than at the top end of the instrument (playing the high notes). The Graded Hammer action emulates this action. The higher up the 600 Series you go, the more the efficacy of the technology improves, with proper weighting and closer grand piano key lengths with the 685, but for the 635 the touch feels a little artificial.
However, the 635 is way more than an entry-level piano and is perfectly acceptable as an instrument. I had a Clavinova as a teenager and spent thousands of very happy hours at the keyboard. But if you’re going for a true pianistic experience, then I’d recommend the next model up – the 645.
The CLP 645 has wooden keys and the higher up the range you go the attention to pianistic detail improves. However, the price also increases significantly as you scale the model range (no pun intended!). The 635 has an impressive feel to it and I could have played this instrument for hours. For the price, this is a brilliant instrument aimed at the home player looking to spend many blissful hours at the keyboard—it’s jus not perfect, despite the high price tag.
There are 3 foot pedals which offer impressive functionality. They perform the traditional roles – soft, sostenuto and damper/sustain, but can also be customized to control pitch bend, rotary speed of the organ sounds and can be used to play or pause recordings.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling upright digital pianos currently on sale at Amazon, and see how well they compare to the Yamaha CLP-635.
The “Piano room” allows you to adjust settings such as lid-position (an emulation of the sound produced from a grand piano with the lid open is much brighter than with the lid closed, for example), to adjustment according to your playing strength. So, for what is let down by the key-action build quality, is made up for in software capability.
Yamaha has sampled two concert grands – the Yamaha CFX (Yamaha’s first acoustic concert grand piano) and Bösendorfer’s Imperial. Both are high quality grand pianos noted for their rich tone. Yamaha’s VRM (Virtual Resonance Modelling) technology gives you great editing capability so that you can get the sound just right for you.
Most aspects of the play-feel are customizable – from the sensitivity and resonance of the damper pedal to the sensitivity of the keys – if you’re a light finger player, for example, you can get more response from the instrument. I’m not entirely sure why you would want that, myself, because you ultimately sacrifice the authentic pianistic quality with a feature such as this, but for particularly heavy-handed players, I can see the benefit in decreasing that sensitivity.
A particularly impressive that feature helping to create the impression that you’re playing a real piano is the Binaural Sampling feature – when you play the lower keys of the piano, the sound comes from the left hand side of the speakers, vice versa for the upper keys, much in the way a real piano produces its sound. This effect is particularly effective when using headphones, helping to envelope you in the sound for a more immersive experience.
When you power up the instrument, the sound defaults to CFX Grand but it’s easy to switch over to the Bösendorfer using direct buttons on the control panel. For me, the CFX has a really smooth, rounded sound. It’s easy on the ear and expressive. However, there’s something slightly electronic about it’s smooth edge – it feels a little processed.
In comparison, the Bösendorfer has a darker tone. There’s something of the nasal about it, but it appears to have a more responsive touch, expressing dynamic play with sensitivity. The Bösendorfer has a much clearer, more realistic piano sound with a real mid-range gutsiness that makes this a beautiful sound for both sensitive classical music and more upbeat jazz and soul grooves.
The Electronic Piano sounds are great – ranging from the classic vibesy vibrato so indelibly associated with Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are” to the more funky Fender Rhodes sound so familiar with 70s funk, edging into Clav sounds heavily associated with Superstition by Stevie Wonder. The Rhodes, in particular, feels really authentic with that classic edge of distortion slightly biting the upper register and that throaty, 80-Marlboros-a-day grind of the lower register keys. I felt that the grand piano sounds were a little underwhelming really – I’ve heard much better in Rolands and (believe it or not) Casios – but this instrument really comes to life with it’s electric piano offerings. I could have played the Electric Pianos for hours.
I find the Clavinova range, at times, a little overly processed – it makes the piano sounds a little artificial. Obviously, the higher up the range you go the more the sound improves, partly because of improvement in the driving of the speaker systems. At the top of the range you have fantastic spruce cone speakers that really drive the sound into the room, but, obviously, that comes at a premium – the 685 is around 3 times the price of the 635.
This is a fun instrument, capable of a really wide range of expressive play. I’m not sure you would see this instrument in a studio, but it would certainly be a great fun piano to have around the house.
There is a lesson mode feature that allows you to play along and learn up to 25 pieces of classical music. This is a good function, but pretty limited – I doubt whether it’s ever going to replace the value of a real piano teacher sitting next to you.
There are a number of preset rhythms you can play along to, controllable from the foot-pedals which is a useful feature. The drum sounds are OK – they’re fine for a family get-together – I wouldn’t use them in a studio recording. Which is what helps place this instrument into its market. This Clavinova is a great tool to learn on and give you hours of pleasure as a leisure instrument.
There are a number of split voice facilities that allow you to layer sounds together – for example, you might want a piano sound layered with strings or a choir. To be honest, I always find that this feature gives your playing all of the instantly recognizable (but probably unwanted) charm of Muzak; great if you’ve got a gig in a lift, or playing over the tannoy at your local DIY superstore, a bit pointless if not.
There is also a duo mode that makes piano lessons more bearable, allowing you to split the keyboard down the middle, but control the same octave range.
The CLP635 has all the usual connection capabilities – 5 pin DIN MIDI (in, out and thru), USB MIDI and USB audio recording that lets you capture your performance and transfer it onto a memory stick as a WAV file. Also included is Auxiliary In, allowing you to connect an external keyboard or sound source that will play through the CLP635’s speakers and AUX out so that you can record the instrument or play it through an external amp.
If you jump up to the CLP 645, the instrument also has Bluetooth capability allowing you to control synth apps on your iPad or Android tablet (such as Novation Launchkey) and wirelessly beam the audio through the speakers of the CLP635. This is really impressive technology and offers almost endless possibilities to the home studio fanatic. For the price, I’m surprised that the 635 doesn’t have Bluetooth capability – this is a major oversight.
The CLP635 comes in a variety of finishes and I’d really recommend you shop around for the finish that you want. The instrument I trialled had a slightly unimpressive metaled dark walnut casing. But it’s also available in polished ebony which I personally find far more stylish. It looks funky in white as well.
The higher up the range you go, the more the build quality improves. The 685 has the look of an upright piano and is a lovely piece of furniture as well as a great instrument.
One of the things that Yamaha does really well is pack a product full of little touches designed for musicians that are easy to overlook. One of these is the music rest – they have incorporated adjustable clips either end of the rest to hold your pages open. This might seem a bit inconsequential, but any musician who has played from a Real Book or a compendium will understand the value in this really simple but essential feature.
The control interface is really easy to navigate. The feature hierarchy is clear and easy to follow and I felt at ease with it after a couple of minutes. It gives you direct access to the two main piano sounds and the many editing facilities, including direct button access to “Piano Room”. Real attention has been dedicated to the design of the interface.
You can access the on-board metronome directly from the key-panel, as well as the in-built rhythms and recording facilities. The LED display is easy to read and, most importantly, lacks clutter. Where the feature hierarchy is more complex, it’s a simple point and click system, easily controlled via the cursor buttons. I would say that this was particularly impressive.
If you’re buying a digital piano, then the CLP 635 is certainly a fierce contender. There’s a lot to love in a Clavinova. They’re built to last which isn’t something that you can say for a lot of technology-driven items these days. I’ve had my Clavinova CLP50 for over thirty years and it’s still going strong and it’s had many thousands of hours of battering over the years. Whilst I don’t think the CLP635 is the best digital piano I’ve played in the price range, it’s an instrument that is going to be loved for many years to come.
There’s not a massive difference, as far as I’m concerned, between the 635 and the 545 which I thought felt more pianistic to play. It has wooden keys, a more sturdy cabinet and there were very few differences in the available features. All-in-all, if you can still get hold of the discontinued 545, I would save yourself some money and buy that. Both instruments are great for learners and the passionate home-player alike. If you were buying for a restaurant or bar and have a larger budget, I’d go for the 685. Either way, this is a lovely instrument and I would gladly spend hours at the keyboard.
Our Rating: ★★★ out of ★★★★★
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