For serious piano players, professional lines of keyboards and digital pianos have come down to preference, playing style, and in some cases, performance and portability. The Yamaha S70XS is a piano for these kinds of players; at least that’s how it’s marketed.
I recently demoed the Yamaha S70XS and I have to say, I’m impressed. In this review, I’ll talk about the many things this keyboard can do, and whether it’s worth the high price tag (or whether your money is best spent elsewhere). And in order to do that, I’m going to compare it the S70XS to the Yamaha MOXF8, Yamaha MotifXF, Yamaha Motif XS, and the Kurzweil PC3 to see how well it stacks up to other popular and worthy keyboards.
I’d like to preface this review by saying that this keyboard is in no means meant for beginners. This is a professional keyboard at a professional cost. What this review will ultimately do is try and help professionals better determine whether this keyboard will provide them with enough bang for their buck to justify the high cost.
Below, please take a look at the interactive table to see how well the Yamaha S70XS compares to other great keyboards that are worthy of your attention too.
|Roland JUNO DS61||8-Track Pattern Sequencer w/Non-Stop Recording|
|Roland JUNO DS88||128 Note Polyphony|
|Korg Minilogue||16-Step Polyphonic Step & Motion Sequencer|
|Roland JD-XI||Gooseneck mic w/built-in Vocoder & AutoPitch|
|Yamaha MX88||1,106 voices, 61 drum kits|
|Behringer Monopoly||VCF, 2 LFOs, 2 envelopes, sync and cross modulation|
|Novation Impulse 61||Semi-Weighted w/Aftertouch|
Overview of the Yamaha S70XS
The Yamaha S70XS is a 76-key digital keyboard. It has full-sized, full-weighted keys, and weighs about 44 pounds. It’s black metal; accented with some red buttons and a small adjustable backlit LCD screen that displays all of the information you need. It has four audio outputs for left and right, and one for mono, and it has the option for 5-pin MIDI, USB, foot pedals like expression and sustain, a microphone input, and a headphone output.
For me, this is all to be expected for a keyboard at this price range (which, by the way, is around $2300, although if you shop around you can find it for roughly $1999). You should be able to have everything you need, and the keyboard should be sturdy and heavy so that it doesn’t break easily.
Hardware aside, the interface and sounds are the meat and potatoes of this instrument, so to speak. Every piano player wants a great interface and an amazing sound. So let’s talk about the kinds of sounds you can expect to hear on the Yamaha S70XS.
Below, please take a look at some of the best-selling synthesizers currently available online, and then see how well they compare to the S70XS by Yamaha:
|1) Yamaha MX88|
|2) Korg Minilogue XD|
|3) Roland JUNO-DS61|
|4) Roland JUNO-DS88|
|5) Behringer Poly D|
The Sounds of the S70XS
When I demoed the keyboard, I started off with the pianos like I normally do for keyboards that have multiple patches. Yamaha’s tone generators can vary from a little to a lot of effort.
Their sampling on this keyboard might be unparalleled.
Their primaries S series piano sound is sampled from a six-foot-long custom-made Yamaha S6 Grand Piano. It’s very bright, but it somehow maintains a smoothness most keyboards don’t get. Maybe that’s due in part to its hammer-graded action, but it just feels really great to play. I closed my eyes and for a second thought I might have been playing a real grand. That’s a pretty good thing to have when it feels and sounds real. Not a lot of keyboards are this powerful with their piano sound sampling.
It also comes with a Yamaha CF3 grand piano patch, which is always incredibly warm and very thick. Maybe that’s because the CF3 is a nine-foot long grand piano. The resonance is so powerful, in fact, that I had to really be careful with how I was using the sustain pedal. Too many low notes and it gets really muddy, but that’s because each note is so powerful.
That’s another sign this thing is meant for professionals; you have to know how to utilize the sustain for the right tone.
How about the rest of the sounds? Well, there are over a thousand of them, and I tried to sample as many as possible. From what I heard, nothing was really haphazard. Which is just crazy to think about, because how does one company sample so many instruments and have them all sound at least passable for their real counterpart?
Well, somehow Yamaha has done it, and I’m glad they’ve put in the necessary effort in this particular department. The strings and vintage keyboards are my favorite, personally.
Now you might think that since there are over a thousand sounds, it would be an absolute nightmare to get through them all to find what you’re looking for. Well, fortunately there’s a category button that organizes the patches—but you’re not wrong in thinking that there’s a lot of take in.
If I bought this keyboard, I’d need to spend a couple hours getting used to finding everything and remembering where my favorites are for quick access. There are even subcategories, in case you want something like brass but just want one saxophone instead of an entire brass section. So once you get the hang of how to get to everything (once you’re able to complete how to navigate the keyboard to memory), it can become fairly second nature. I’ll admit that I miss there being an onboard patch list, where you can reference categories just by numbers, like on a lot of Yamaha’s intermediate keyboards. So, it should be noted that with the S70XS, there is probably going to be a bit of a learning curve in this department.
Other Noteworthy Features
Interface-wise, you can layer sounds together, split them down the keyboard, assign different articulations to the same sound, and of course, play along to accompaniment. There are a lot of drum styles and sounds on this one, and Yamaha’s accompaniment function allows you to play at different tempos, time signatures, and each loop as an intro and outro, just in case you want to get fancy. The buttons on the left side, just above the sliders, allow you to control all of these parts.
Some Yamaha keyboards come with assignable filter controls, useful for tweaking sounds and even live modulation during a performance. The S70XS has these just to the left of the screen, and allow for control of the cutoff, resonance, attack, decay, and so much more. I love keyboards that have some form of customizability, and this keyboard definitely has them.
There’s a little grey button on the left side titled DAW control, next to some recording functions. This keyboard has some MIDI capabilities, and while I would imagine a lot of people would just use MIDI controllers, if you wanted to use it to control your digital audio workstation like Pro Tools, you could.
I think that’s a great addition by Yamaha. They want to make sure your keyboard can do a bit of everything, and I think of the S70XS as a good example of a pro keyboard that is built to do just about everything.
Okay, But What About the Negatives?
So you might be wondering whether I have any complaints about this keyboard after my initial demo. Well, I feel like for a professional keyboard, a bigger screen that labels everything more clearly is needed. I understand that all of the patch buttons are on the face of the keyboard and that everything you need to trigger can be accessed physically.
However, sometimes a visual component like a screen can a difference, like the adjustments you need to make or the layer details. These are things that can really be a benefit to the user.
I should mention that the Yamaha S70XS has been around for a long time and some of these features are a little outdated. For instance, WAV files can get big, and an onboard storage of 192MB just doesn’t seem like enough in this day and age. They’ve clearly been working on bringing some of these “professional” features to amateur keyboards, like on their much-cheaper EW400 which boasts a lot of these same features on a keyboard that, while it doesn’t feel as heavy-duty, sounds almost as good.
Here are a few S70XS specs that I feel are worth noting:
- 128 note polyphony
- Weight: 44.2 lbs.
- 1024 sounds + drum kits
- 9 onboard effects including reverbs, compressors, and more
- 192MB internal memory
- 79 weighted keys
- 25W power supply
- No External Speakers
Check out this full list of specs to get more information on the kinds of features this keyboard includes.
How Does it Compare to its Competition?
For a professional electronic music synthesizer, the Yamaha S70XS does not fail to deliver by any means. It sounds amazing, it’s easy to use, with only a few features I would tweak (like the screen, namely) to make it more relevant in today’s market. But since we’re looking at pro keyboards, it’s worthwhile to see what else is out there on the market that might be a better investment for you.
Let’s start with the Yamaha MOXF8, a music production workstation by Yamaha. If you’re more of a producer, this is a better fit for you than something like the S70XS. It has better integrated computer control, and while it has tons of sounds to choose from (actually more than the S70XS), it feels more like a studio keyboard than a performance keyboard.
Its sound design functions seem slightly more practical as you can tweak a little more a little bit easier. Definitely a great option all around, and if your budget is under two thousand dollars (this one retails around $1700), you can get a full 88 key keybed which is just so much better for those who need it.
The Motif XF 6, 7, and 8 are all part of the same series and use the same operating system. They start at $2,400 and can cost as much as $3,000.
So what makes them more expensive than the S70XS? For starters, they each have detailed screens, and they come with Yamaha’s Motif tone generator. As for how the numbers work their way into the naming of the instrument itself, do note that the 6 is a 61 key keyboard workstation, the 7 is a 76 key, and the 8 is a full 88 keys. Other than the number of keys, they all come with the same stuff. So if you want something similar but want more keys and want to pay less, the S70XS is still better. But the Motifs have big screens, and I’ll admit that’s a great feature to have.
If you want a Motif but want a cheaper version, they have an XS series that models the XF options but with slightly less impressive features. They’re still meant for professionals, as the XS8 is around $1500 dollars (and you have to get the 8 if you want 88 keys), but the keys aren’t quite as nice feeling and the organization is a little more chaotic.
Alright, enough Yamahas. Let’s try a Kurzweil PC3, from the PC3 series.
The PC3 is really cool, and if you’ve never tried one before, you should. They’re not for everyone, but the way they handle synthesis is really interesting. There’s a lot of analog modeling on this keyboard, meaning that it’s digital but it has a retro analog feel in the way it processes sounds. The piano sound feels good, sounds good, and is fun to play.
If I’m being honest, however, the complaints I had about the user interface for the S70XS seem to be equal, if not worse here. If you like navigating and exploring and you’re not in a hurry, the PC8 becomes something wonderful. But if you’re looking for something simple, you can spend the $3500 you would have spent on this keyboard elsewhere.
And if none of these sound appealing, try a keyboard forum like this one to learn more about what players think of their pro-grade keyboards and which one they think is the best. Just remember, everyone’s opinion is different, so what works for me might not work for you.
Pro keyboards can get really expensive. And most of the time, it’s worth it, since they’re designed for pro audio production and stage performance. So the question is, does Yamaha’s S70XS have what it takes to be a go-to pro keyboard for the price ($2300)?
Well, yes I think it does. The way it feels alone is probably worth its price. Is it my first choice though? That’s hard for me to say. It’s a little older and it might be worthwhile to pick up a used one if it’s in good condition. The weighted keys feel just right, and I don’t think Yamaha’s CF sampling and their S6 grand piano sounds are some of the best on the market, even after several years.
With all this in mind, if you’re a professional without a good keyboard to call your own, you might want to get this. I say “might” because it depends on what you want to do. It might be the best for some people, while other keyboards might suit someone else. I think this one is perfect for the right kind of performer: the jazzy or technical player who doesn’t need 88 keys and whose only preference is great touch and sound.
GRADE: 4/5 stars
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