Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Hands-On Product Review: Yamaha YPG Portable Grand Keyboards

Hands-On Product Review: Yamaha YPG Portable Grand Keyboards
Powerful portables with enhanced piano focus
By Gerard Manley
Yamaha YPG Portable Grand Keyboards

The new YPG Series keyboards add yet another dimension to Yamaha’s amazing portable keyboards, expanding them beyond the extensive and impressive PSR Series boards. The PSR keyboards are made for rock stars in training and are suspiciously low in price, but they deliver the real goods and perform way beyond their prices. You might say the Yamaha affordable portables are blessed from above—there’s a lot of Yamaha’s good stuff in them.
Enter the YPG Series

YPG stands for Yamaha Portable Grand which is a bit of an oxymoron. It might even seem overly grandiose if it weren’t Yamaha’s own designation and actually does describe what the YPGs are about. The YPG boards are an offshoot of the PSR series and share many features with the upper-end PSR instruments. What makes them different is an emphasis on "piano-ness." They are portables that draw features from Yamaha’s digital pianos and digital grands to make them more piano-like in size, sound, and feel.

There are three YPG models: the YPG-225, YPG-525, and YPG-625. All are piano-centric in feel, sound, and function. They are attractively designed to be living-room friendly. The YPG-625 boasts wood panels making it even more suitable as a home piano. Its styling, along with its piano-like keyboard and action, makes the YPG-625 a real alternative to an acoustic piano—it’s akin to a full-tilt digital piano but without the heftier price.

Grandizing the portable

Portable keyboards have always been more synth than piano, with short keyboards with smaller, hollow keys and soft action. They play differently than a piano and require a different technique, so moving from one to the other can be difficult. The first thing Yamaha addressed was the keys. To make the YPG more piano-like, it made the keys standard piano size and shape, and solved the short keyboard problem by making it longer. The YPG-225 has 76 keys, an octave more than a portable’s customary 61 keys. The YPG-525 and 625 have the full 88.

Playing feel is even more critical. Portables have always had hollow key feel and soft synth-type action. Two of the YPGs are the first portables, at least in this price range, to feature weighted action. The YPG-225 has a synth-type action, but its 76 piano-style keys make it easier to move to an acoustic. The YPG-525 is lightly weighted and a big improvement over synth action, enough that piano technique is possible. The YPG-625 takes it a step further. It has fully weighted keys and graded hammer action–a real piano feel on a par with Yamaha’s higher-end digital pianos.

What really makes the two 88s worthy of the "portable grand" designation is the quality of the grand piano sound. Yamaha has created high-definition stereo samples for its higher-end keyboards, and the YPG-525 and YPG-625 have been recipients of this technology. This grand piano sound has to be the richest and most realistic ever found in a portable keyboard in this price range.

The quality of the samples in each of the three models is supported by a two-way, full-range, true stereo speaker system. It provides excellent sound and is fully able to produce the tonal subtlety and dynamic expressiveness of the samples.
Synthesizing the grand

In addition to their piano-like attributes, the YPG models are powerful synthesizers with a host of features and capabilities. Their basic strengths include 32-note polyphony, 16-voice multitimbral capability, split keyboard and dual voice, and extensive sound sets (over 400 voices in the 225 and 500 in the other two). All contain selections from Yamaha’s realistic Sweet! and Cool! Voices, 12 drum and SFX kits, and all have onboard DSP effects. In addition, the 88s feature Live! Voices (two Live! Grand Piano samples and one Live! Orchestra).

But the YPGs go way beyond strong basics. All three include Yamaha’s acclaimed Education Suite, a group of interactive programs that assist you in learning to play. They also have auto-accompaniment so you don’t have to play alone. Easy Song arranger is another cool function. It allows you to change the musical style of your backup band on MIDI files. For critical performances, Performance Assistant corrects your wrong notes as you play them. There are also 100 songs to learn and the YPG-525/625 display the music and words onscreen.

The YPG models add yet another big capability, a six-track sequencer that allows you to make multitrack recordings. With this feature, the YPG becomes an easy-to-use workstation—a creative tool on which you can record arrangements of your own songs. Songs can be stored internally on all three models and/or saved to optional USB devices (like memory sticks) on the YPG-525/625.

The YPG Portable Grands offer a solution for those who want a portable with a more piano-like playing feel, or for those seeking a more affordable alternative to a digital grand or a real piano. The YPGs can serve in the living room or go to the gig. They offer all the sounds and functions of a powerful synth. The YPGs give you a lot to like for an affordable price.
Features & Specs:

* 76-key (YPG-225)
* 88-key lightly-weighted action (YPG-525)
* 88-key fully weighted with Graded Hammer Standard (GHS) action (YPG-625)
* Standard piano-size and shape keys
* Matching wooden stand included on YPG-525/625 (optional for YPG-225)
* XGlite sounds plus expressive Cool! and Sweet! Voices (all 3 models) and Live! Voices (YPG-525/625 only)
* 8 digital effects, brilliance, pedal effects, and DSP
* Stereo-sampled grand piano voice (all 3); High resolution sample on YPG-525/625 only
* 12 drum/SFX kits
* 150 accompaniment styles plus user styles
* Music database with 267 songs
* USB/MIDI; USB storage support on YPG-525/625
* 6-track sequencer
* 16-part multitimbral capability
* 32-note polyphony
* Easy Song Arranger
* Performance Assistant
* Score and lyric display onscreen on YPG-525/625 only