Yamaha CP5 Review

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The CP5 is one of three recent Yamaha stage pianos that use Spectral Component Modeling (SCM), a sound engine that starts with real piano samples and models various stages in the sound-production chain. The CP5 sits right in the middle of the CP Series, between the top-of-the-line CP1 and the more budget-conscious CP50. Each is different in subtle and significant ways. These instruments are the brainchildren of Toshi Kunimoto (aka Dr. K), the man most responsible for Yamaha''s advances in virtual circuit modeling. In the mid-''90s, Dr. K designed the first commercially available, physical-modeling synthesizer, the VL1. Since then, he has designed many other Yamaha instruments that rely on emulating actual electronic components.

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FIG. 1: The CP5 is one of three new Yamaha keyboards that rely on Spectral Component Modeling to realistically emulate acoustic and electric pianos.

Like most Yamaha keyboards, the CP5 has a sleek, no-nonsense industrial look (see Fig. 1). At almost 56 pounds, it''s solid enough that it feels like a real piano, but lightweight enough that I was able to carry it up the stairs by myself.

The fully weighted, 88-note, hammer-action keyboard has keys made of wood and covered with subtly textured, ivory-colored plastic. Although the action may feel a bit light if your primary instrument is acoustic piano, I loved it. The CP5 offers four preset velocity curves to accommodate your playing preference, as well as a fixed setting that ignores how hard you play and sends whatever constant-velocity value you specify. There''s a single spring-loaded wheel for pitch bend, but no mod wheel, which may be a problem if you like to manipulate two wheels with one hand. (Options for applying modulation include assignable aftertouch and three assignable foot controllers.) A ¼-inch stereo headphone jack is located on the left-front corner, below the pitch-bend wheel.

The controls are logically laid out on a brushed-aluminum panel spanning the width of the CP5''s otherwise all-black housing. From left to right are the microphone input''s gain control; the large Master Volume knob; and an assortment of six knobs and 20 buttons whose functions include enabling Parts, providing sequencer transport, and accessing effects parameters. In the center, rather than a backlit LCD Yamaha has opted for a 2-line-by-24-character vacuum-fluorescent display, which is very clear, bright, and easy to read at any angle. Below the display are three push-knobs corresponding to whatever parameters appear in the currently selected page. To the display''s right are 25 buttons—17 of them used for selecting sounds—and five knobs dedicated to the 5-band master EQ. A USB port conveniently located on the far right accepts a Flash drive for storing and recalling patch and sequencer data.

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FIG. 2: The CP5''s rear panel offers a wealth of connectivity. An additional USB connection is topside and a headphone jack is on the front.

On the rear panel, a second USB port connects to your computer for exchanging MIDI, but no other, data. (Notably, you can change patches by sending bank and program-change messages from your DAW.) Also on the rear are a combo XLR/TRS microphone input, two balanced XLR and two unbalanced ¼-inch audio outputs, and MIDI In, Out, and Thru (see Fig. 2). Alongside a jack for the included sustain pedal are inputs for an assignable footswitch and two assignable footpedals.

The mic input is just one feature distinguishing the CP5 from the CP1 and the CP50. It allows a singer to route a mic signal to the same outputs as the piano and process it through the CP5''s reverb and other effects. The mic input also has its own set of effects that include a compressor, noise gate, and 3-band EQ.

CP5 presets are called Performances, each containing up to four Parts and a backing track. Along with the microphone input, all Parts in a Performance can be processed by a single reverb, whose settings are saved along with the Performance. Each Part comprises four so-called Blocks: Voice (the instrument sound), Pre-Amplifier (piano-specific parameters), Modulation Effect (including distortion, EQ, and more), and Power-Amplifier/Compressor (suitable for specific instruments).

By mixing and matching various Blocks, you can create custom Parts to combine in user Performances. Parts are split or layered within a Performance. All Parts and Blocks can be enabled or disabled at the touch of a button, and holding down the same button accesses user parameters for the associated Block.

The CP5 stores Performances in two internal memory Areas for factory and user-created presets, and externally on a USB Flash drive if you want to store more than 240 Performances. You access those three Areas by pressing buttons labeled Pre, User, and Ext. Each Area has three banks, and each bank contains four memory groups. If that sounds unnecessarily complex, that''s because it is.

Unless a Performance happens to be in the same memory bank and group as the currently selected preset, you must press the Pre button numerous times to scroll to the desired bank, press one of four Group buttons to select the performance group, and then press one of 10 numbered buttons to select the desired Performance. This confused me at first because the numbered buttons are also labeled with instrument types (E.Piano, Guitar, Strings, Brass, etc.), but what I heard when I pressed them bore no relation to their labels (which, it turns out, are intended for selecting sounds within the Voice Block).

Spectral Component Modeling gives you tremendous control over processing Voices, which are either multisamples or the product of analyzing and resynthesizing multisamples. To construct a Program from scratch, you begin by selecting a Voice from within the Voice Block. Every other block relies on modeling physical components: preamps, soundboards, effects, speakers—whatever. The CP5 demonstrates that those elements contribute more to the resulting sound''s character than you might expect.

Take electric pianos, for instance. Only computer modeling could produce a virtual Fender Rhodes as versatile and nuanced as this one. Yamaha created the source sounds by sampling real Rhodes pianos, analyzing the spectra of those samples, and then resynthesizing them. Those sounds are shaped using Yamaha''s Formulated Digital Signal Processing (FDSP), allowing you to customize them on a note-by-note basis. You can alter parameters such as the shape and material of the tine or other resonator, the pickup position, the hammer stiffness, and even the noise the dampers make when you lift your fingers from the keyboard. In addition to Rhodes, you also get Wurlitzer, Yamaha CP80 and CP88, and FM-synthesized DX7 pianos.

In the Voice Block, you use one knob to scroll through 10 instrument types and another to make selections within each type. The piano category offers just two selections: CF Grand and S6 Grand, corresponding to two sampled Yamaha acoustic pianos. The keyboard category gives you 48 choices; most are organs, but you also get some outstanding Clavinets. I was impressed with the absence of any obvious velocity switching in any of the multisamples.

Between the two sampled acoustic pianos, CF Grand sounded more tonally balanced than most Yamaha grand pianos I''ve played, which are often too bright for my taste. Unfortunately, the piano samples didn''t ring out long enough before looping kicked in, making their decays sound lifeless and static. Nonetheless, the acoustic pianos still reflected the character of their source instruments, and for most applications they sounded quite good after I made some minor adjustments to the factory settings.

In addition to two acoustic and 15 electric pianos, the CP5 contains 305 non-piano sounds. Most players will be happy with the CP5''s selection of uniformly high-quality instruments borrowed from Yamaha''s Motif synthesizer line. The Modulation Effect Block delivers 49 Motif-inspired effects types that include everything you''d probably expect, along with some Yamaha exclusives that are rather difficult to describe. Modulation effects are an integral part of piano sounds and serve as insert effects for other instrument types.

The backing-track function can be useful for songwriting or for accompaniment onstage. The CP5 offers three kinds of backing tracks: preset drum patterns, WAV files, and user-recorded sequences. You can assign one backing track to any performance. Selecting PreDrum lets you choose from 100 factory-programmed loops in an assortment of styles and switch between different drum kits. Built-in rhythm tracks provide all the usual advantages of an onboard drum machine. You''ll need to supply the other two types of backing tracks yourself. Playing WAV files could be helpful when you''re trying to learn a song by accompanying a recording. You can also record your own playing, switch to a different Performance, and then accompany yourself for live multitrack playing.

Because you can split the keyboard into as many as four zones, each transmitting on a separate MIDI channel, you can use the CP5 to control other MIDI instruments. You''ll still need to control those instruments'' MIDI parameters from their own front panels, however, as the CP5 offers no externally assignable controls whatsoever; along with its lack of a mod wheel, that makes it less than ideal as a master controller.

Among the onboard sounds, the electric pianos are the real standouts here. They''re quite versatile and allow you to tailor them in numerous ways for a variety of musical styles. They not only sound like real electric pianos, but they sound like pianos overflowing with personality, as if they''ve been well-maintained and gigging for 20 years. Taken strictly as an electric piano, the CP5 has a lot to offer, and the stereo grand pianos also sound terrific in most situations. You get hundreds of additional sounds to flesh out the instrumental palette, making the CP5 a versatile performer that deserves a closer look if it suits your budget.

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Click on the Product Summary box above to view the CP5 product page.