FIG. 1: Casio''s very playable PX-3 keyboard instrument can be used onstage or in the studio.
To help celebrate its 30th anniversary of making musical instruments, Casio has released its most focused and playable keyboard instrument yet: the PX-3 (see Fig. 1). This stage piano represents Casio''s most serious foray into the pro keyboard market in recent years, and it aims to create a true-to-life playing experience that sounds and feels good enough to be considered a real choice on the stage or in the studio.
Although it has enough features to make it flexible and powerful, Casio has managed to keep the price relatively low ($799). It weighs in at only 23.8lbs., which is incredibly light for a keyboard with real hammer action. The PX-3 offers a lot of value for the money, delivering on its promise of playability and portability.
BEGGING TO BE PLAYED
The PX-3''s Ivory Touch keys—which use a slightly rough-matte coating that gently grips the fingers in a similar way to the real thing—are a big part of what makes the piano feel authentic. Casio uses a three-sensor system combined with what feels like well-crafted hammer-action moving parts inside. Combined with the Ivory Touch, the PX-3 gives you a convincingly real playing experience. The keys have a measured evenness to their vertical throw and an even more evident key-to-key consistency.
The click of the secondary hammer is just enough to help the fingers subconsciously align, giving an even return/upswing that propels the fingers forward without kicking too hard or sticking too long. The PX-3''s keyed action is my favorite of its features; in that department, it really shines.
The main Grand Piano patch (see Web Clip 1) is reasonably good, although it doesn''t stack up from a realism standpoint against some of the more expensive, name-brand digital pianos I''ve heard. But compared to other 88-key, weighted-action keyboards in the same basic price range (for example, M-Audio''s ProKeys 88, which costs about $200 less), it sounds quite good.
Using Casio''s version of velocity layering (called Linear Morphing), the PX-3 does an effective job creating tonal variation using four stereo AIFF samples per note. Combined with the great key action, you get a much more engrossing playing experience than with other digital pianos in its price range. Many of the PX-3''s other patches aren''t quite as strong, but the main piano patch is believable and very playable, as are a few of the electric pianos (see Web Clip 2). I also liked some of the synth patches, especially when tweaked with the PX-3''s DSP effects and filters.
HOW TO READ THE MENU
Though the PX-3 has no sliders or knobs (besides the dedicated Volume knob), there is always instant access to Transposition, Bend Range (for the pitch bend wheel), Brilliance, EQ On/Off, and dedicated On/Off buttons for reverb and chorus. There are also two assignable buttons that perform patch-specific on/off functions. Because there is no mod wheel, these act as similarly utilitarian controls for Modulation, Portamento, Rotary Effect, assignable CC# output, and more.
Any further setting changes require a series of button pushes that take a bit of getting used to, especially on an unlit stage. The LCD screen is a tad small, resulting in the displayed information being a bit condensed, and making foreknowledge of the system layout important for making fast adjustments. The buttons themselves are slim with thin white text.
On the left-hand side of the piano are two grids filled with parameters. Pressing the Zone Edit button surfs between the five Common Parameters menus listed in the right-hand grid, the first being the default choices mentioned above. The front panel A/B/C/D buttons select each of the four values at the bottom of the display, and the Edit Up/Down arrows change the setting. Hold them down to move quickly, or hold the Shift button to jump by 10. A single slider or knob would have made the process easier.
DIVIDE AND CONQUER
The PX-3 has basic layer and split features that can be combined to create four unique zones, two layers on each side. Each zone can load a patch. Including the main piano there are 250 total patches: 92 highly customized flagship patches along with 158 GM Level 1 patches. These can be played directly from the piano or used with MIDI files from an external sequencer or a card in the PX-3''s multifunction SD card slot.
Registration data can be saved into 64 presets or backed up to the SD card, which will recall settings for layer, split, reverb, chorus, and more; plus Patch information for the four Zones. Holding the Zone Edit button for two seconds brings up Zone Parameter mode, which contains seven menus of zone-specific parameters for mixer and MIDI, DSP-effects, ADSR envelopes and filters, and more.
Despite the complex menu system, the PX-3 is packed with user-friendly design elements. I love that the rear ports are listed on the top so that I can patch without having to turn the unit around. Along with the ¼-inch stereo output are ¼-inch inputs, although they are routed as is—they have no onboard volume control. There''s also a MIDI file player built in, which can play back sequences to internal sounds or external devices and transmit SysEx. The USB port lets you back up your data and can also be used to transmit MIDI (in addition to the standard MIDI In and Out jacks).
GETTING IN FOCUS
Though it may not be perfect, the PX-3 represents a landmark moment in Casio''s focus on remaking its image in the eyes of keyboardists. What the PX-3 lacks in interface clarity it certainly makes up for in quality physical action that will help it find a home in many rigs simply as a great hammer-action controller. Because Casio is making the PX-3 in limited quantities, it may not find as widespread acceptance as it should, but hopefully it will inspire the next addition to its PX family toward an even more keyboardist-centric design.
Asher Fulero is a pianist/keyboardist and tech-savvy electronic music producer with a long résumé and endorsements from Moog and Nord. Visit asherfulero.com to hear his newest independent release, The Green Piano.
Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Casio Privia PX-3 product page.