Roland HP 302 - review

Posted by: toddy

Roland HP 302 - review - 11/23/11 07:53 PM

This is my first digital piano - it arrived about three weeks ago after I'd done a lot of on-line research, mostly based around this excellent forum. I had also been around music shops to listen to and, most importantly, to feel the ones I was interested in. Like many other people, I started by thinking a basic model with a piano keyboard-like feel would be enough: Yamaha P95, Casio CDP 100 or Korg SP 170 level, but soon concluded it would be well worth scaling up to the next or next but one price point.

When I finally found a shop with an array of different brands, it was quite easy to come to a decision. Playing the keyboards silently, at first, my original ideas (trying different models in separate music shops) were confirmed:

Yamaha P95 (and others with GHS): solid but kind of lumpy feel.

Yamaha YPD 161 (and others with GH): better, but on the heavy side.

Yamaha CLP 430 with GH3: somehow better than the above two though still heavier than I want.

Kurzweil PC 1X (?): Nice free feel but really far too light for serious balanced playing.

Kawai MP6: similar to Yamahas but too much consistent resistance for my liking - I was disappointed with this because many people rave about Kawai's DPs here. I would love to try their highly rated keyboards (on the CA series etc) but I haven't been able to find any Kawai dealers.

I was reminded with these Yamaha and Kawai actions of the type of oil-damped joints you get in some mechanical devices. It gives a feeling of weight and quality but not - for me - of a desirable piano action.

Roland HP 302 (PHA II): as when I'd tried the HP 305, I was very pleased with the action on this piano. Felt very solid, but moved freely as I've experienced on acoustics that I've liked (various uprights and Bluthner and (perhaps slightly heavier) Beckstein grands).

Roland HP LX 10f (PHA III): even better than PHA II but really very similar in feel - but with the advantage of being able to play very quick repeats of the same note.

So there was really no remotely close competition: I got the Roland HP 302 - it does not have fake ivory keys, but apart from that, it's very similar to Roland's stuff costing double, triple or more, and until now, I've had no problem with slippy keys - the finger/key contact has enough friction on the HP302.

The main piano sound is great: steely rich bass notes and sweet sounding upper notes. Plenty of timbral variety from ppp to fff dynamic levels. The string and pedal resonance are impressive (although string resonance seems confined to the first registers in the harmonic series - it will trigger a minor seventh, but not a ninth, for example (perhaps this is normal for DPs at this stage of development - or perhaps it's there but I can't hear it?). Unfortunately, these resonance features don't seem to be triggered over midi - I will have to do more experiments...

Although I love the piano sound, I feel the range around an octave to two octaves above middle C could have a slower decay - a little more sustain would probably give a warmer sound for melodies played in that range. Also, the duplex resonance in this range can sound a little overdone - very good but not yet perfect. You can actually alter most of the resonance settings and brilliance (as in more expensive models with 'piano designer') but the duplex intensity is not a user definable parameter).

The extra sounds are a considerable advantage of this piano (I think they are basically the same as on all the Roland HPs, most other DPs and the FP7f. There are good pipe organs, some great Hammonds (with Leslie imitation) and marvellous Rhodes and Wurlitzer EPs...and of course the obligatory syrupy DX7 EP. Among the orchestral/brass section sounds (mostly good or great) the ones that stand out for me are the tenor and alto saxes - very usable for arrangements or even brief solo runs. All these work fine in multitimbral mode and work with GM and GM2 with no problem, giving 16 tracks for recording on a laptop.

The amplifier & speakers (a mere 12 + 12 watts) are certainly loud enough for the room the piano is in and the sound from the piano is remarkably authentic, although hardly spectacular.
On the other hand, higher up models such as the HP 307 and Yamaha CLP 470 sound fuller, of course, but suffer from boomy speakers - nothing like a real upright or grand piano I've ever heard.

So, linking up the piano to an ancient hi-fi (100W pioneer amp into two Kef Calindas and two non-brand things I bought in Lidl) the sound is nicely filled out without booming or much colouration - sounds good! And it's better leaving the piano's own system sounding at least 50% of the volume - sounds more authentic and you get the 'feedback' vibration under your fingers.

Regarding the feel of the keyboard, I agree with most people's opinion that Roland's PHA II & III keyboards are light compared with the equivalent Yamahas and Kawais. But I cannot imagine why anyone would want a heavier feel. I do not recall either the grands or uprights that I used to play being as heavy. Also, the (admittedly brief) tries I had on some acoustic Yamahas in the music shop confirmed this experience.

There is a passage of tremelos: thirds alternating with a single note - in a Beethoven Sonata I'm trying to learn and it would be near impossible with keys any heavier than this! I dunno - maybe my muscles have atrophied over the years, but I have a sneaking suspicion that digital piano makers have overcompensated by making their imitations of real acoustics too heavy - and very fatiguing with long practice sessions.

So I'm very happy with the HP 302 - a compromise, of course, but a very good one. An FP7f would have been nice, but this is very close in most respects, has a good solid cabinet (nice for teaching and the children have started learning, too - it's unignorable, there in the living room). And this piano and cost about 30% less than an FP7f, or HP305 would have done.

It arrived in absolutely perfect condition and everything works/ looks exactly as it should.

So that's that - I'm going to shut up work on the Beethoven tremelos now or do a few jazz & blues or experimental stuff when my fingers start to complain too much.


Posted by: Brent H

Re: Roland HP 302 - review - 11/23/11 08:01 PM

Thank you for the very in-depth review.

Originally Posted By: toddy
The string and pedal resonance are impressive (although string resonance seems confined to the first registers in the harmonic series - it will trigger a minor seventh, but not a ninth, for example (perhaps this is normal for DPs at this stage of development - or perhaps it's there but I can't hear it?).


I've noticed this on a couple of software pianos, as well.
Posted by: Kawai James

Re: Roland HP 302 - review - 11/23/11 08:25 PM

Thanks for the detailed review toddy - congrats on your new piano!

One query though:

Originally Posted By: toddy
Kawai MP6: similar to Yamahas but too much consistent resistance for my liking - I was disappointed with this because many people rave about Kawai's DPs here. I would love to try their highly rated keyboards (on the CA series etc) but I haven't been able to find any Kawai dealers.


May I ask where you played the MP6, if it was not at a Kawai dealer?

Kind regards,
James
x
Posted by: toddy

Re: Roland HP 302 - review - 11/23/11 08:34 PM

James, It was at the shop with a fairly good variety of keyboards and DPs (Musicarte), and it sells the MP6 but, as I understood from the guy there, they don't deal in any other Kawai products for some reason.
Posted by: voxpops

Re: Roland HP 302 - review - 11/23/11 08:36 PM

Great review, Toddy. Thanks! Your findings mirror very closely my own feelings about the FP-7F.

The only DP I've played which gets closer to the string resonance of a real piano is the GEM Prp800. They pretty much nailed it (and that was developed over a decade ago).
Posted by: toddy

Re: Roland HP 302 - review - 11/23/11 08:57 PM

Brent H & voxpops, thanks for your comments.

Yes, the string resonance 'limit' is curious. Actually, I was on the verge of getting GEM's Promega 3 at one point as there was one going 2nd hand. But if it had had any sort of problem, I would have been sunk. There's no official support, no active user group and, apparently, no manufacturer any more. Pity, as they were way ahead with that series of digital pianos years ago.