Author: Jay Gough (Roland Canada)
As a lifelong piano player, I’m pretty picky about my piano tone and feel. So, when we received our first RD-800 Stage Piano back in the middle of November 2013, I was curious how it would stack up to its great predecessor, the RD-700NX.
Appearance and Construction…
When I first took the RD-800 out of the box, the first thing I noticed was that it was substantially lighter than the RD-700NX. Hey, 8 pounds is 8 pounds (55 lb. vs. 47 lb.). And trust me when I say that I spend as much time hauling gear between my apartment, music stores, and our office as many gigging pros do back and forth to their gigs. So the weight savings were welcomed by me—and Air Canada too, I’m sure! The RD-800 in a proper flight case actually comes in under their 70 lb. weight limit.
The overall design of the RD-800 is slightly narrower than the RD-700NX, and the new matte black finish and curved design really looks great. However, one thing that didn’t change was its sturdy design. It’s really built quite well, and just as roadworthy as the RD-700NX. I’ve hauled my RD-800 all over Vancouver in a soft gig bag (the Roland CB-88RL), and so far, not even a scratch.
New Piano Action: PHA-4 Concert Keyboard…
There’s a new action on the RD-800 called PHA-4 Concert, an evolution of the previous PHA-3 technology. It’s still Ivory Feel, and still features escapement, but it feels different than the previous action. A couple of things I noticed right off the bat was that the keys have a very positive and reactive feel. But one improvement that got my attention was when the keys hit the end of their throw, or “bottomed,” they didn’t hit nearly as sharply as the previous action did. The engineers that designed the RD-800 told me that they decreased the mechanical “thump” of the action as well, and they didn’t lie.
Since I was used to the previous action, it took me a little bit to get used to the new feel. When I did, I found that I could be more expressive with pianissimo passages and could play faster and more cleanly when I wanted to. After a somewhat extended session, my hands and forearms were not nearly as tired as I had experienced on other piano actions from both us and other companies.
Updated SuperNATURAL Piano Tones…
When it comes to piano tone, everyone has their own preference. Over the last few years, I’ve really grown used to the SuperNATURAL Piano engine that has been in all Roland digital pianos. When I was told that SuperNATURAL Piano had been redesigned and improved, I knew that I really had to dig in and be critical. So I’ve spent the last couple of months comparing the old and new SuperNATURAL Piano tones. (I should note that the new piano engine is not only in the RD-800, but also in our new HP and DP pianos, as well as the LX series and HPi series.)
The new engine is different than what you might be used to from Roland. It still has that very transparent and mellow quality to it, with lots of harmonic content and nuance, but there’s a certain something about it that is hard for me to explain. If you hear it through something other than a high-quality set of headphones or really good monitor speakers for the first time, you might find it difficult to notice the difference. (I first heard it with Roland RH-300 headphones, and the first speaker system I plugged it into was the Roland CM-220).
Concert Grand is the very first piano patch that’s dialed up when you switch on the RD-800. Redesigned from the ground up, it lays the foundation for our new tone. There are several tone variations on that main piano, including rock, bright, mellow, and compressed. Also, the core SuperNATURAL Piano from the RD-700NX remains (along with all its variations), so you have a basis for comparison to the previous generation.
Create Your Own Piano Tones…
With the RD-800’s Piano Designer function, there are so many adjustable parameters that I could use to make the piano sound and response my own that it took quite a while to tweak everything to the “perfect” sound for me. But once I got there, I was blown away by my new piano tone. It just made me want to play, and that’s always a good thing!
Beyond controlling many of the different resonances and acoustic nuances, you can really change the overall sound of the piano to suit both your taste and the playing situation (i.e., live solo, ensemble, etc.). One of my favorite parameters to mess around with is called Character. Some parameters for piano editing from the flagship V-Piano also made their way into the RD-800. Things like Individual Note Voicing—which includes micro tuning and character adjustments per key—really make for a very customizable piano tone.
Now we get to something that I’m very excited about: upright pianos! From the character of the bass, to the shorter decay and more percussive sound, and even the way the stretch tuning is applied, I was sold the second I started playing the first upright tone on the RD-800. When I found out that the full Piano Designer is available for the upright tones too, I was in upright piano heaven!
Coming in Part 2: EPs, Tone Color, & More…
Want more RD-800? Next time, I’ll dive into some of the newer electric pianos, and show how easy it is to use the new Tone Color knob to make global tweaks to many different sounds on the RD-800. I’ll cover Live Sets and MIDI controller capabilities as well.
Roland RD-800 Stage Piano First Look
Published by: KeyboardMag1
Jay Gough is the Piano Products Sales Manager for Roland Canada. Follow Jay on twitter: @rcmpianoguy.