Roland HP-505 review, comparison to Yamaha CLP-440 and Kawai CA-65.
Here I give a mayor summary of my former comments on the Roland HP-505, which I recently posted within different threads of this forum (you can find those by clicking on my name and selecting the popping up forum function “view posts”).
I write especially to those of you who want to play piano as a hobby with true ambitions to advance well with it, but without the need to perform professionally with the instrument, for those of you who just want to enjoy to listen to themselves playing piano. This really looong assay might be a help for the ones of you still searching for your instrument, and it also shall be my contribution to the forum - as a THANK YOU for all the information and orientation which I found and still find in your posts.
I thank the team of the store FORSYTHS (Manchester, UK) who let me study their 2 plants of pianos for hours, in a morning shift when no other customers and noises interfered my experience. I as well thank Darren from the store DAWSONS (Manchester, UK), who let me access their huge collection of Roland DPs for a side to side comparison of the different Roland models, and especially for clarifying to me open questions on the configuration possibilities of the Roland digital pianos, even making use of his good contacts to Roland by calling them for me about some sophisticated technical details. And I want to thank Eduardo from the store MUSICAL EDUARDO (Vitoria, SPAIN), who gave me the best service of all stores around in a 100 kilometers distance from the town where I am living in, and therefore was chosen to locally sell to me my new HP-505. Actually, I feel honored to have purchased from him.
I tested the keyboard action of acoustic upright and grand pianos.
I tested the keyboard action of the Roland HP-500, Yamaha CLP and Kawai CA series.
I especially compared the HP-503, HP-505, HP-507, CLP-430, CLP-440, CLP-470, CA-65.
I also touched a Roland FP4F, Kawai CS6, Yamaha NU1, Korg Kronos, and others.
I was especially on the search to investigate personally what it is really all about in the plenty of threads in this forum about key action (mechanical feeling and mechanical movements of the keys) and responsiveness of the action (translation of the mechanical action into sound).
As my qualification to comment on the responsiveness is so much constrained by not being an experienced piano player at all, I right away wanted to skip this part of the investigation. I finally found that the all over sound differences and the responsiveness between the digital pianos significantly allured me, while the quite noticeable mechanical keyboard differences did not.
ACOUSTIC PIANO KEYBOARDS
I have had the chance to feel the touch of keyboards of acoustic pianos in the price range between 3500 EUR and 80.000 EUR, upright pianos from Yamaha and Kawai to grand pianos from Bechstein, Steinway and Börsendorfer, just to name some well known brands besides all the others exhibited in the great piano store I visited. The keyboards of the acoustic (upright and grand) pianos to me appeared very diverse in the feel of their individual mechanical touch. Generally spoken, the more expensive instruments (>10.000 EUR) to me appeared having a quicker acting mechanism, allowing for pressing keys at higher velocities. Some felt so light weighted, that I wondered about the so often in forums expressed claim for heavy weighted keys on a digital piano. Well, the cheaper acoustic pianos (<6000 EUR) often felt to have heavier keys or more sluggish actions. And if lighter key actions have been present on those instruments then they often felt a kind of wobbly.
DIGITAL PIANO KEYBOARDS
In my opinion a ROLAND PHA-II action of a tested HP-503 imitated best the light weighted acoustic keyboards, featuring a slightly perceptible "see-saw" point half way pressing down the key, like I thought to have felt it also on the light weight keyboard (cheap and expensive) acoustic pianos. This "see-saw" point in conjunction with the lighter keys to me let the keyboard feel a little bit less stable / less precise / a little bit wobbly in its mechanical action, though. Well, but this does not differ at all from my impressions gained at the (cheap and expensive) acoustic piano keyboards. I did not feel any “see-saw” feeling on the PHA-III keyboards (HP-505/507), which in my test felt to provide slightly heavier keys, giving in my imagination higher precision and stability to the PHA-III. It felt more mature than the PHA-II. Interestingly I could not confirm this difference between PHA-II and PHA-III in my comparison on the same instrument models in a different store. There the PHA-II was not wobbly and without “see-saw” feeling, it just felt lighter than the PHA-III.
The keyboard of the KAWAI CA-65 in my opinion imitates best the weight of the heaviest acoustic piano keyboards (of some of the acoustic pianos priced < 8000 EUR). The keyboard of a KAWAI CS-6 to me appeared slightly lighter, but of almost the same character in the felt key movement. I imagined to have felt some “see-saw” point, but much(!) hidden and closer to the start of the key movement.
The YAMAHA GH3 keyboard of a tested CLP-440 clearly felt heavier than a Roland PHA-III but not as heavy as the Kawai CA-65 or CS-6 keyboards. Its weight is closer to the Kawai CS-6, and then to the CA-65, than to the Roland PHA-III. The keyboard of a tested CLP-470 felt so close to the 440, that I wouldn´t know how to describe the difference to it. But something was different, it was somehow more, may I say “alive”? Interestingly, a GH3 keyboard of a tested CLP-430 in a third store appeared light weighted and wobbly, although it by specification should have been the same as the one in the CLP-440.
I wonder, if either the fabrication of tested Yamaha GH3 and Roland PHA-II keyboards right away produces significant variations in the mechanical characteristics of these keyboards, or if the instruments might have changed their characteristics from being treated to hard in the expositions. I didn´t ask in the stores, how heavily the instruments have been used, but knowing that the HP-503 with its PHA-II is only half a year on the market, I more believe in production variance. Having then noticed that on several Kawai digital pianos in different stores, keys haven´t been mounted all to the exactly same height, and reading in the forum about uneven spacing between keys found sometimes on Kawai keyboards, I believe even stronger in production variances.
Speaking about fabrication issues: the keyboards built into a ROLAND HP 500 cabinet clearly made louder noise, than the keyboards built into a YAMAHA CLP 400 series or KAWAI CA series cabinet. You yourself practicing will not hear that noise. But it might disturb your family watching TV next to you practicing with headphones. The wooden noise seems to develop from the furniture. There was no noise to be heard from the same type of keyboard mounted into stage pianos.
I experienced that each individual acoustic piano has its own keyboard character. And I experienced that the imitations of the digital pianos from the current keyboards of the Roland 500, the Yamaha CLP 400 and Kawai CA series so do as well, covering the full spectrum of typically present acoustic piano keyboard characters without generally straying beyond that. And I became aware that a keyboard as a mechanical construct can vary from individual instrument to instrument within the same model make. So, from the mechanical feel it seems to be all about choosing the right character to accompany you, and I personally felt attracted to the character of DP keyboards like this: acceptable 430, good 503, very good 505/507, excellent 440 and 65, and to fall in love with 470.
Let me remind it once more: my qualification to comment on the responsiveness is so much constrained by not being an experienced piano player at all, that I should not seriously do so. But I of course noticed some differences. While I know for the ROLAND keyboards, that there should be an advancement from the HP-503 (PHA-II) to the HP-505 (PHA-III) by implementing a third key sensor, and to the HP-507 (PHA-III) by additionally implementing a more sophisticated electronic exploitation of the key signals, and that also the pedal actions would be respected to various extend in the different models, I did not notice these things. But comparing the response of a YAMAHA CLP-440, KAWAI CA-65 and ROLAND HP-505, I clearly noticed that the ROLAND responded most alive. It of course became louder upon a key hit harder, but additionally it stronger emphasized some trenchant overtones after the first attack, which then nicely disappeared while major piano tones still decayed much slower. The Yamahas and Kawais appeared much more boring to me in this sense. That´s all about responsiveness I can say.
Let me finally point out, that the speaker system in the digital pianos do really influence the all over impression significantly. How many speakers, which sizes, which power, where located, which sound shape arising from the cabinet´s geometry/volume and material? If you think about playing only with headphones or with some third party amplification and speaker system, or using the digital piano only for practicing off from your main piano without the need to own it as your lovely sounding single instrument, then this section of my assay will not be of much interest for you. But if you are searching like me for a furniture styled piano, which should spoil yourself with a complete solution, then it might be of importance for you, especially that I by now did not find this topic treated enough in the forum threads.
I experienced all the digital pianos by just sitting in front of them and listening to what I was playing, the same way as I was doing it in front of the acoustic (upright and grand) pianos, and the same way as I love to do it from time to time at home when the day time and repertoire (thus my neighbors) allow it.
Experiencing an acoustic piano, I would describe as "being inside the sound", not being in front of it. The spatial origin of individual notes coming out from the acoustic piano can´t be localized as easily in detail, because the sound of the notes smoothly seem to surround you, engaging you more from the one or the other direction, but without staying notably defined in their direction of pathway when magically filling the room (and my ears). The acoustic pianos showed quite different quality in doing so (not always related to price), but they all did so, quite warming the cheapest upright ones, and impressively emotional the most expensive ones.
The digital pianos mostly did not at all. All Yamaha and all Kawai digital pianos which I listened to appeared to sharply distribute their sound from a single speaker mounted centrally somewhere above the keyboard. I don´t care if there in reality is one or more speaker in the furniture. They at least sounded like having just one central speaker in front of me. All the pleasant keyboard touch experienced before became forgotten by this.
Did I mention that I first checked the DPs without having them powered on, then went to touch plenty of the acoustic pianos, and then came back to play the DPs with their sound system on?
To me the very good sound experience at the economic Roland 503 almost completely balanced for its not as competitive keyboard. I therefore would rank it in the all over impression equal to the Kawai CA-65 and Yamaha CLP 440 with their excellent keyboards, because the latter instruments have disappointing speaker systems. Remember, I didn´t compare the instruments with headphones on, but with the original speaker system on.
The 505 (better keyboard and better sound system than the 503) to me then even sounded _significantly_ better than all the competitors. The 505 brings you quite some way "into" the sound (what the 503 still didn´t do), and its sound is really "full". Of course, it can´t bring you "inside" as an acoustic piano does. But for sure away from the poor feeling to get the sound shot on you from in front of you installed speakers. It at least clearly perceptible intents to imitate this part of an acoustic piano sound. The competitors seem to not even have caught up the idea that a well done spatial sound distribution is also part of a piano sound. The 507 brings you even close to forget about having speakers to be present in the cabinet but guides your ears to just listen to your full furniture. Again, it still can´t bring you as "inside" as an acoustic piano does. Unfortunately, you would have to increase your budget for getting the 507.
IN ONE SENTENCE
So, the 505 is really something to recommend: it provides a very good keyboard, a nice overtone response upon the dynamical play, and has a significant better speaker system sound than any of the other brands have it.
In my former comments I pointed out some drawbacks of the 505, and you should read about them as well. I in the meantime confirmed that the KeyOff and Damper resonance settings properly do their job. The KeyOff parameter is one which you might want to adjust to its maximum. It will enrich the sound of the lower notes nicely. You won´t hear much change on medium and higher notes, though. It is only a very subtle change, not easy to detect, but once detected I became sure that it is one of the tiny details in a sound which lets your ear rather feel than hear that there is somehow life in a sound. The Damper resonance affects the sound when using the sustain pedal, and a maximum value nicely colors the sound for that moment somehow fuller without smearing it. All the parameters affecting the expression of the sound are accessed via the "function" menu of the 505. The 507 additionally groups them (together with some few more parameters not available on the 505) in a separate, so called "piano designer" menu, which allows you to quicker access them. But that´s not really a big deal. Two of the three additional piano sound setting parameters the 507 provided are for the adjustment of the hammer influence on the piano sound, something I was urgently missing on the 505! But even if with the for me relevant parameter set to the minimum value, the mechanical hammering noise overlayed to the top octave to me still remained bothering loud. So, I don´t miss this parameter on the 505, it would anyway not comfort me my way. To my ear, the relevant hammer noise parameter clearly changed only the frequency equalizing of the hammer noise from "wood-y” to "stick-y", but not influencing the volume balance of it. I confirmed that the 505 runs with the neutral hammer noise value set, which is at least a 'natural woody' sound. The 507 then has a parameter simulating the amount of the opening of the lid of a grand piano, but this to me again only appeared to somehow change a little bit the frequency equalizing of the all over piano sound. I have to admit, that I didn´t check if the lid parameter would feedback to the cabinet resonance coloring of the sound and that I spent too little time on this parameter to reliably judge on it. At least it didn´t impress me first hand. So far, even if I would have the money, I didn´t became convinced to spend extra money for the few extra parameters in the "piano designer".
The display of the 507 is a little bit bigger (more digits) and easier to read than the one of the 505, and this is an important enhancement. Roland meanwhile also provides a somehow more user friendly access to the parameters of the 505 by publishing a graphical user interface (GUI) for it, which you can run for free on an Apple iPad or iPhone, which you can connect to some Roland digital pianos. It should work at least with the 505 and 507, I am not sure about the 503, better check yourself about this. For sure there will come up a thread about this by others, soon. Unfortunately there is no version of that GUI published for an Apple Mac architecture, and also not for any PC architecture. So, iPad and iPhone users can be happy, while any user like me equipped with whatever other laptop type can´t profit from this. Thus, I continue to stay angry about the old fashioned and annoying limitations of the 505 in accessing the parameters and other sounds.
All sounds in the sound banks of the 503, 505 and 507 seem to be exactly the same. What annoys me on some organ sounds (especially No 30 in the OTHERS sound bank), appears to generally be bad in the samples of the HP 500 series sounds. All HP-500 models suffer it (I didn´t check this for other Roland series).
And the unbelievable inability for the piano to remember the last chosen sounds and sound settings upon powering off and on the instrument is unfortunately something which also all pianos of this series suffer.
Maybe I at last should mention that I am not in any way involved in the musical instrument selling business and here solely expressed my personal opinions. I also did not receive any advertising revenues for expressing my love for my new instrument and my comments about the competitors. Actually, in a former thread of mine and here again I also clearly state on the bad sides of the HP-505.
All the best! Marco.
learning Piano on my Roland HP-505
before playing Drums in adults bluesband on handpicked set; before crashing E-Guitar in kids garage band; raised on home entertainment Organ and Keyboard models Eminent Solina P240, Farfisa Maharani 259R, Technics KN800, and on Mouth Organ, Recorder and Accordion