Did you know that our homes in the U.K. are the smallest in Europe? With living space at a premium, recent reports suggest that smaller beds, sofas and other household items are more popular than ever. But how compact can you make a piano? Dr Chris Stanbury reviews Casio’s solution: the new Privia PX-770 and PX-870 digital pianos.
It may be a cliché, but to experience the best in small-scale design you have to look to Japan. For nearly fifty years, Japanese product designers have shown how to put some incredible ideas into space defying shapes. Since the 1980s, cameras, computers, music players and televisions have all evolved into more compact versions to make them easier to live with. However, it was only in 2003 that Casio revolutionised the world of electronic musical instruments with the PX-100 Privia, an ultra compact digital piano designed for small living spaces.
Fast forward 14 years, and with over half a million instruments sold, Casio are keen to show me their new PX-770 and PX-870 Privia pianos. The success of these instruments is very important for the company, as the Privia range of pianos are not only some of the best-selling slimline pianos in the industry, but they also continue Casio’s design renaissance that began in 2015 with the highly-acclaimed Grand Hybrid instruments.
It’s not until you see these pianos up close that you realise just how compact the Privia is. All the important elements are there, such as the 88 note, weighted keyboard (with ebony and ivory textured keys), three pedals and an impressive speaker system, but they’re combined into a format that takes up half the room space of a traditional digital piano. As well as being incredibly stylish, the ingenuity of Casio’s design means that the Privia range are the most compact digital pianos on the market today.
With a price of £799, the PX-770 is currently the best value slimline piano on the market. I spent a long time listening to the piano sound and was hugely impressed with the clarity and depth of tone. Casio say that they have used new sound processing technologies in this latest range of Privia pianos, paying particular attention to the way a piano sound changes as you hold a key for a longer time, and the results are certainly quite stunning.
The keys themselves have had a refresh too, with a new surface texture that feels more subtle and less artificial than previous designs. They felt good to play too, and I was surprised at how expressive I could be on an instrument that is just the first step in the range. Casio say this is because the keyboard action and the main piano tone is the same as that used in the top of the range instruments and they don’t limit entry level models by using a more basic keyboard or piano tone. This is done to extend the lifespan of the instrument: to take you from the first steps right up to more advanced pieces with one piano.
As I’ve mentioned playing pieces, I should say that the PX-770 has something called Concert Play. This a library of built-in recordings of one of Japan’s most prestigious orchestras, the NHK Symphony Orchestra. In this collection are some new arrangements of famous classical themes which you can play along to (the music book is included with the piano). I’ve never seen or heard real orchestral recordings used in this way before, and I can imagine music students of all ages finding this really inspirational.
If it’s true that all Privia pianos use the same piano tone and keyboard action, how different can the PX-870 be? As I found out, the answer is “massively”. The PX-870 feels and sounds like a completely different beast, even though it has the same compact dimensions.
Firstly, the piano sounds a lot bigger and more expansive, as the speaker system in this model is more than twice the size of its smaller sibling. Casio have used more speakers in the PX-870 too, as well as including sound ‘ports’ all the way along the back of the rear of the cabinet to increase sound projection. Together with a rear resonance panel, this system delivers a lot more punch and a wider dynamic range, which makes a huge difference.
The sound processing technology has also received a very significant upgrade in the PX-870. The piano tone now includes extra string resonance (to give more warmth and colour) and there is also something called a Lid Simulator. This recreates the change in sound you would hear if you opened or closed the lid on an acoustic piano. Of course, this is all done virtually as there are no physical parts to open and close, but the effect is really convincing.
The PX-870 has lots of other interesting features too. There isn’t space to name them all, but amongst my favourites are the new Headphone Mode (where the sound is remixed automatically when using headphones for a more natural balance), USB Audio (making it possible to record and playback WAV files on USB memory stick) and the Hall Simulator (where the piano recreates the acoustic of famous concert venues across the world, such as the Berlin Philharmonic Hall or the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris).
Overall, both these instruments are very impressive indeed. The PX-770 is the ideal instrument for families looking for a space-saving first piano which would easily see them through the first five years or more of their piano journey. I can see the PX-870 being a firm favourite with established players who are looking for a compact solution without compromising on sound or features. With these two instruments, Casio’s new reputation for design innovation looks set to continue.