For decades, keyboard companies have been trying to make digital pianos that sound like the real thing.
Simply put, Roland’s new V-Piano is the closest anyone has come yet to accurately reproducing the feel and sound of several different pianos in keyboard form. It’s startling how good this keyboard sounds. The $6,000 retail price tag is a little jolting too. But for touring pianists who can’t afford to haul around a concert grand, and studio owners who don’t have the space for one, the V-Piano is a great choice.
The V-Piano is the latest addition to Roland’s V family, which includes the V-Accordion, V-Guitar and V-Drums. The folks at Roland took a novel approach when making the V-Piano. Most digital keyboards are made using samples of acoustic pianos. Using high-quality microphones, engineers record the notes played on a concert grand, and process them with EQ and various other effects. The V-Piano, on the other hand, creates sounds from the bottom up, simulating the specific components of acoustic pianos. The result is a versatile keyboard with authentic, nuanced sounds.
With the 88-key V-Piano, you can easily adjust specific mechanical aspects of the traditional piano sound. When you hit a key on an acoustic piano, a damper lifts, a felt-covered hammer strikes as many as three metal strings (depending on the piano) and the note reverberates inside the instrument. The V-Piano lets you adjust the tuning of the strings, the strength of the hammer and the richness of the resonance.
You can choose to tweak the tuning of the whole piano or just certain groups of keys. This can give an already muscular low register some extra wash, or make the middle register sound just like an old home piano. Turn the hammer setting all the way up and the notes really pop; bring it back down and they’re soft and muffled. Open up the resonance as far as it will go and it’s almost comical how similar the sound is to a cheap digital piano. The V-Piano’s user-friendly interface also lets you work with the music’s gain and frequency. If you’re not satisfied with the presets, you can create your own personal piano sound.
The V-Piano has 24 piano presets—that’s it. No electric piano, no synthesizers, no song and dance. It’s not trying to be anything but a top-notch acoustic piano emulator. The first dozen or so presets are modeled after traditional-sounding acoustic pianos. They range from the bright, shallow tones of the fortepiano to the more classic studio piano sound. A honky-tonk setting was a good idea, but the preset sounds too straight-laced, even with the tuning a little out of whack, to be a real honky-tonk piano. The “all triple” preset is possibly the most dynamic of the 24. It’s truly stunning to hear a keyboard generate such a robust piano sound.
But the V-Piano doesn’t just sound like an acoustic piano—it feels like one, too. The keys, designed with Roland’s PHA-III (progressive hammer action), feel remarkably similar to the real thing. Their action is spot-on. The thick, heavy pedalboard includes soft, sustenuto and sustain pedals.
There aren’t many knobs or buttons cluttering up the V-Piano’s face, either. The only two knobs are volume and ambiance. The first is self-explanatory, and the second adds depth and space to the notes. With the ambiance at a minimum, it sounds like you’re squeezed into a tiny, sound-proofed room. At maximum ambiance, you could be performing in an empty concert hall, or composing the soundtrack to a horror movie. The instrument’s back panel is covered in jacks, including both digital and analog outputs, MIDI and MIDI USB jacks, coaxial, Roland’s V-Link and three additional effects pedal jacks. There are also left/right 1/4-inch input jacks. A minor quibble: The top of the keyboard hangs over the jacks, which means you have to bend over the back of the keyboard quite a bit in order to properly see them, which can be frustrating. USB and headphone jacks are conveniently located at the front of the V-Piano.
Moving the V-Piano is a two-man job for all but the burliest of keyboardists. It’s big and cumbersome (nearly 5 feet long and almost 2 feet deep) and weighs about 85 pounds. Of course, compared to a baby grand piano, which can easily weigh 10 times that much, the V-Piano is considerably more portable.
The V-Piano’s accompanying KS-V8 metal stand takes some time to set up, but is a little more portable than it looks. It’s U-shaped, which gives you plenty of legroom. The keyboard connects to the stand with knobs, and doesn’t rock back and forth, even on carpeting. The stand also comes with detachable cover plates you can use to hide the wiring.
The V-Piano will no doubt draw comparisons to Yamaha’s AvantGrand, which also debuted at the 2009 Winter NAMM show. The Grand is said to be one of the best recreations of a concert grand yet. But the more parlor-friendly AvantGrand isn’t a keyboard so much as a keyboard/piano hybrid. And with the AvantGrand selling for about $20,000, it’s a little like comparing apples to oranges.
Few—if any—digital pianos give the user such freedom and range as the V-Piano. From the flexibility to the outstanding piano tones, it’s clear Roland has a winner with the V-Piano. Hopefully with time, Roland’s asking price for the V-Piano will come down a bit, allowing more amateur keyboardists to enjoy this excellent piano emulator.