Yamaha PSR-S970 review

Yamaha’s PSR series is on the cutting edge of keyboard workstations, offering a plethora of useful tools to help the player compose, mix, and create music seamlessly. The Yamaha PSR-S970 may be the most impressive product in the series, giving consumers the ability to not only experiment built-in sounds and effects, but to also record external audio into the workstation and layer electronically-generated, real-time vocal harmonies and vocoder effects.

But is it worth the money?  Find out in our in-depth article.  And to better help you, we encourage you to use the interactive table below to directly compare the Yamaha PSR-S970 to other notable workstation keyboards on the market.

Yamaha PSRSX700
Roland E-A7
Casio WK 6600Casio WK-6600
Roland E-A7
Korg EK-50 L

Keyboard Workstations

Many people I have spoken to about purchasing a keyboard tell me that they get confused about what kind of keyboard they need. They don’t know the purpose of a keyboard workstation and how it differs from other keyboards on the market.

If you’re unfamiliar with the unique functions of a keyboard workstation compared to, say, stage pianos or synthesizers, you are not alone! Without having played a variety of keyboards, pianos, and synths, it can be difficult to determine what the different electronic keyboard categories offer and what is the best for your needs.

First of all, a keyboard workstation is a keyboard with a built-in sound module and music sequencer. This means you aren’t simply purchasing an electronic instrument that realistically imitates piano sounds—you are also purchasing a miniature audio-editing computer, which allows for composition and production.

When you look at the Yamaha PSR series, for example, you will notice a large screen with many buttons and knobs for editing—this is a keyboard workstation that utilizes the internal computer to allow for many avenues of music production. This is a similar to how a Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW, functions.

DAW refers to music software (Ableton Live, Logic Pro X, Pro Tools, Cubase, etc.) that can be installed on your computer to produce and compose music. This is what a keyboard workstation offers, but to a lesser extent.

Stage Pianos are a different category of electronic keyboards that don’t offer the built-in computer for music production and composition. The purpose of a stage piano is to recreate realistic piano sounds and key action for touring musicians that don’t want to haul a grand piano around. These pianos are continuing to evolve as developing technology allows for more realistic sound and feel.

Synthesizers share some similarities with keyboard workstations—they are both meant for audio editing, first of all. However, synthesizers aren’t meant to produce full songs internally. Instead, their audio editing capabilities are focused on manipulating sound waves through various means to create new, interesting sounds.

And below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling instruments currently being sold online (and see how well they compare to the PSR-970 throughout this article).

1) Yamaha P-515
2) Casio PX-S3100
3) Casio PX-870
4) Roland FP-E50
5) Roland FP-30X

Portable and Sturdy Enough

Out of the box, you will notice the Yamaha PSR-S970 is small, portable, and light. This makes it a great instrument for taking on the go if you need. The instrument itself feels fairly sturdy and durable for normal transport, but I feel it would not fair to well if it were dropped. And that’s fine—you shouldn’t be dropping your keyboards anyway.

The main display screen on the front panel was built with great attention, and it is great to read. The screen is backlit and perfectly clear, so you can read it from any angle and not struggle to understand what you’re doing. I think the screen is a good size as well—any smaller and it would be a pain to read and navigate your recording options.

I would not complain if the screen was expanded another half inch in future models—I like to clearly see my editing parameters without any clutter, and I think if the screen were a little bit bigger, the whole process of editing would be a bit easier.

You control what is on the main display by navigating the various buttons just outside the parameter of the screen—there are corresponding buttons to the vertical axis and horizontal axis of the screen. This is fine, but in our modern world of touch screen devices, it can be a bit cumbersome to navigate a display in this roundabout way. I would like to have a touch screen display for ease of use, though I don’t know what logistical issues this may cause in production—it’s just my thought.

Every button, key, and knob on the keyboard is very responsive and easy to navigate, but there’s something about the feel that just doesn’t seem of high quality. I owned a cheap Casio model years ago (the Casio WK-3300 to be exact), and it boasted knobs, wheels, and buttons that responded fine, but you could tell right away that the keyboard wasn’t worth more than $400. The Yamaha PSR-S970 feels very similar to my old Casio model. That would be fine, but I expected a higher build quality from a $2000 instrument than from a $400 instrument.

Building Styles

The sound and editing options of the Yamaha PSR-S970 helps me understand why this is a $2000 instrument despite having the build and feel of a cheap keyboard. The first sound that starts up when you plug the workstation in for the first time is a grand piano, and although it doesn’t measure up to modern stage piano realism, it is still perfectly satisfying and of high quality. Whether the track your building is a piano-centric jazz ballad or rock anthem with a piano background, the sounds of the PSR-S970 will suit your needs perfectly.

Overall, the MIDI sounds generated from the PSR-S970 are great and boast a certain depth that I wasn’t expecting from such a small instrument. The guitar and bass sounds can be made more realistic with different amplifier and pedal options, strings can be edited to have a faster or slower attack/decay, and the drums feel rich and full. The following effects can be used to edit any of your sounds:

  1. Reverb
  2. Chorus
  3. Compressor
  4. Master EQ
  5. Virtual Circuitry Modeling (pedals and amplifier effects)

For acoustic instruments, such as brass, the pedal can be used to add a further sense of realism—you can choose to fall off the note or add a small breath that a real player would naturally give. These kind of details can add a lot to the convincing realism of your tracks.

The Yamaha PSR-S970 also contains “Audio Styles,” which replace a rendered MIDI track with a sampled audio track. So, for example, if you select the Flamenco dance as your style for a song, there will be real-world, sampled claps and background singing in the Flamenco style that will add a strong sense of realism to your recording. Another example is the trance style, which includes sampled industrial percussion (sounds of hammers on tin and sticks on aluminum) and vintage synthesizers that really make your songs feel very authentic. All of these real-world sounds were recorded in a high-end studio.

The PSR –S970 adds new vocal options to the PSR series, and these options are a fantastic addition to the workstation work flow. The first new option is the inclusion of a vocal harmonizer. When you plug in an external microphone to the workstation and select the vocal harmonizer, you can play the keys, sing into the microphone, and the keyboard will generate vocal harmonies from your voice in real time. This is a really fantastic way to demo out your harmonies and achieve some really interesting vocal sounds seamlessly.

The second vocal option added to the PSR-S970 is a vocoder. This is similar to the vocal harmonizer, except it will turn your vocals into a more electronically processed sound, using synth-styled patches of the keyboard and combining them with the consonants and vowels of your speech. This produces a somewhat robotic effect that is interesting and fun to play with.

Target Market

The Yamaha PSR-S970 is a worthy addition to the PSR series, and it provides a seamless workflow for those wanting to start producing songs. However, this is not a keyboard for everybody—this is a keyboard for the composer or producer that wants to be able to record easily straight from the keyboard itself.

The target market for workstations is tricky because those who are interested in producing, recording, and composing can purchase a digital audio workstation for the computer at a fraction of the price of the Yamaha PSR-S970. The main selling point for a keyboard workstation such as this is that you can produce and record music straight from the keyboard itself without having to boot up a separate computer and software.

The price point is a bit steep, close to $2000, so you may want to decide if the vocal harmonizer and vocoder is worth the extra money to you. If not, you can get the Yamaha PSR-S770 for a bit cheaper than the S970.

RATING: 3.5/5

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