rd-64_angle

The problem with the music instrument industry releasing all their new stuff at the same time – as they do annually at the USA’s NAMM trade show – is that useful but not-particularly-sexy stuff can easily get lost. So, here’s one example that I think a number of pianists and keyboardists wanting mobile keyboards might really appreciate.

Digital pianos, done right, might live up to this scene from the movie Crazy People.

There are plenty of digital pianos. They tend to fit in two categories: good, but massive and heavy, or light, small, and … slightly crappy. (At least if you suffer through the onboard sounds.)

So, Roland’s RD-64 is a pretty simple value proposition. You get the number of keys you’d normally need: 64 of them. It still has the feel of a hammer-action piano (scaled down a bit so you get the majority of that feel without a huge amount of weight). It’s a piano a pianist would be comfortable playing or practicing on – in terms of sound and feel – but that that same pianist could actually lift.

Weight: approximately 28 lbs, Roland tells CDM. (about 12.7 kg)

The onboard SuperNATURAL sound set for acoustic piano, vintage electric piano, clav, and organ likewise covers 95% of what most keyboardists need, rather than covering the remaining 5% by doubling the weight and cost.

Roland has also seen the light on class compliance – thank you, iPad – releasing a driver-free USB implementation that will work with everything from iPad to Linux to Windows and Mac without driver installation.

You don’t get any knobs, but onboard you’ll find the classic Roland-style pitch/mod wheel and D-BEAM touchless infrared controller. And while there are other compact keyboards, Roland’s sounds – twelve of them, plus EQ, reverb, and multi-effects – set it apart. SuperNATURAL isn’t quite as deep as one of the bigger sample libraries available in software, but it gets in the same ballpark of playability and quality without having to switch on a computer. And it easily bests, I believe, other controller keyboards in this price range by a pretty wide margin. There are even sound features like damper resonance, and the organ and electric piano parts sound lovely, too.

rd-64

The keybed, for its part, has the textured feel of piano keys and sensors, escapement, and other details that should make this comfortable for trained pianists and keyboardists to play.

And since you can use it with an iPad, this is a reasonable solution without having to work out where to put a laptop.

Due around March, for US$1195.

RD-64 Digital Piano [Roland Connect]

And it’s hatchbackable.

So compact, you don't even need to be an American with a truck to have enough space to carry it around. (That's a Toyota, right?)

So compact, you don’t even need to be an American with a truck to have enough space to carry it around. (That’s a Toyota, right?)

  • markLouis

    “SuperNATURAL sounds” — Peter, do you or does anyone know what development environment Roland works in to create SuperNATURAL sounds? Are SuperNATURAL sounds developed using custom computer-based tools? Or on a V-Synth? Or (?) a Fantom?

    • http://www.noteloop.com/blog/author/NLPsajeeth/ NLPsajeeth

      You may find what you are looking for in this limited tech brief about Roland’s SuperNATURAL tech:
      http://cms.rolandus.com/assets/media/pdf/jupiter-80_tech_brief.pdf

    • markLouis

      Thank you for that link. I’d already seen that. Also The Jupiter 8 looms large… Sound on Sound has spoken a little about the intricate details of superNatural sound. My suspicions are that like circuit board design or integrated circuit design, I suspect corporations have high-level tools which can juggle all the resources (hundreds of oscillators interacting) using artificial intelligence and other design procedures and “create” a complex sound better than a person trying to set and re-set hundreds or thousands of parameters. But I wonder if such tools will become available to independent musicians?

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Actually, this stuff is usually voiced and put together by hand, based on conversations I’ve had with these vendors (and the people doing the voicings, though I know more of those folks with someone like Korg than Roland – partly because the Roland people are in Japan)

      I mean, as far as independent musicians doing this, the easiest way is with something like Kontakt, etc. You can get there with those tools. SuperNatural is really a brand name for Roland’s own proprietary sound design and platforms. So, no, you can’t program the Roland thing, but that isn’t really the point – and if you do want to make your own version, you’d tend to want to use a computer software sampler!

    • markLouis

      I do know sounds get made by hand, and often a selling point of a synth is that you can use the presets to learn to program it, to see how experienced sound designers handled the resources. But (at least) two things: 1) SuperNATURAL “expansion packs” for, say, the Fantom, include cool graphic illustrations depicting and explaining a little all the variables of the sound structure a musician can customize. Creating visual metaphors like that is non-trivial and I don’t know that synths by themselves can duplicate such things, I think you have to use computer tools; 2) Consider this glance at the structure of a SuperNATURAL synth sound from SOS:

      * … a Supernatural Synth Tone as a whole, and those that programme the three miniature synthesizers (‘Partials’) that comprise it. A Partial is a powerful synthesizer in its own right. Its oscillator appears to offer eight waveforms, but the six analogue‑type waves each have three variants, and pulse width and PWM are programmable where appropriate. The depth of the Super Saw (the seventh option) is also programmable, while the eighth option allows you to select any one of 380 PCMs that include many of the underlying waveforms from earlier generations of Roland’s digital synths. There’s also a dedicated AD pitch envelope, a ring modulator between Partials 1 and 2, and a waveshaper that can act upon any of the resulting sounds, whether Virtual Analaogue or PCM digital. Similar flexibility is apparent when you turn to the multimode (low-pass, high‑pass, band-pass and peaking) filter with its 12dB/oct and 24dB/oct slopes, and to the amplifier. There are even two LFOs …*

      Possibly such structure can be created by hand, from scratch, but I just believe such complexity is somehow handled at the corporate level by artificial intelligence or, at least, by something like a compiler language for sound design. And even if it could be worked out by hand, if you are composing a score for a film or a video or even dealing with the inspiration to write a song, who would _want_ to work at that level? Certainly very few people do with circuit board design and nobody does for integrated circuit design. My impression–and I certainly may be wrong–is that sound design has gotten to that level of complexity for really comprehensive sounds.

    • DW

      I can’t understand why Roland insist on putting knobs and controllers at the left of the keys instead of along the top. Having a pitchbend is certainly not a priority on a piano. They could have fitted another octave on the RD64 or made it even more compact by redesigning the control placement. I’m surprised this wasn’t a priority as they were particularly aiming in the portable market. I have a RD700NX which I love, but it niggles me that there is unnecessary length.

  • http://www.noteloop.com/blog/author/NLPsajeeth/ NLPsajeeth

    “The keybed, for its part, has the textured feel of piano keys and sensors, escapement, and other details that should make this comfortable for trained pianists and keyboardists to play.

    And since you can use it as an iPad, this is a reasonable solution without having to work out where to put a laptop”

    Did you mean to say you can use the keybed or keyboard “with an iPad” rather than “as an iPad”? The latter doesn’t make much sense.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Yes, fixed this.

  • lw1020

    Another option in the “portable piano” category is the Casio PX-330. It has 88 graded hammer action keys, and only weighs 26 lbs. (under 12 kg). I was able to take carry mine to school, which involved about 3 km of walking and a couple of crowded trains, without too much difficulty.
    Also has built in speakers, SD card slot, basic recording, tons of cheesy rhythms and auto-accompaniment patterns, MIDI in and out, and some other features that you may or may not need.
    I had no trouble using it with my iPad (USB cable into the Camera Connection Kit).
    Mind you, I have no idea how the piano sounds compare with the Roland.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Absolutely, Casio looms large as the competitor. And on weight and price, it has an edge on Roland – and feels great. I think SuperNatural sounds better, though. And while the weight is roughly the same, that Honda pic (thanks, reader) is a pretty good example of why having 64 keys is handy – 88 keys does take up a lot of space, even if it’s light.

  • http://torley.com/ ▓▒░ TORLEY ░▒▓

    Fascinating how it shares a common design with the also-new Roland A-88 controller, but with reduced keys and onboard sounds.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Yeah, I should have mentioned that. Normally Roland would keep a common identifier, so it’s unclear why this isn’t called an A-64. Maybe because of the sound set difference. On the other hand, I will say squeezing this down to 64 keys is a smart move for lugging it around, as very few instances really need a full 88-key keyboard.

    • TagPass

      Perhaps there’s an A-64 on the horizon then? The same form factor, but without the built-in sounds. As an Integra-7 owner, and someone who’s looking for a new MIDI controller, there’s nothing right now between the (bus-powered only) A-49, and the (super long!) A-88. An A-64 would be ideal for someone who already has the sounds — especially the SuperNatural ones — already covered.

  • burdt

    That’s a honda insight.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Ah, thanks!

    • gene

      I think it’s a Prius not an Insight. Haven’t seen that color so I’d say it’s custom or photoshop-ed.

  • Aaron

    Did anyone else click on the Baby Kaely video? b00m b00m b00m.

  • Yamaha

    The Yamaha P-35 costs less then half and is truly awesome.

    You should try it, if you wanted to buy for the purpose discussed here.

    • markLouis

      These are very good days for piano sounds and emulated instruments in general. Yamaha has great stuff, and their high end so-called “Megavoices” are extraordinary. Someone above mentioned Casio, and it’s worth mentioning the Casio CTK-7000 not only has very good–not magical, but good–stereo piano sounds and is a complete, if complicated and Casio-like, workstation [!] with audio recorder, sequencer, patterns and arps all for around $400 (and you can plug a Kaosspad 2 into the line-in and play along with that stuff!). It’s a great time for budget good sounds–but I’m still inclined to think SuperNATURAL is something special and I wish Roland would release more development info and tools.

    • http://www.facebook.com/sadfactory Aaron Levitz

      It’s funny; in soft-samplers, when I have my choice of countless grand pianos in front of me, I always gravitate towards Yamaha over Steinway or Bosendorfer or any of the others. But sitting down at a Yamaha digital piano, I’ve never been impressed by the sounds. I don’t know whether that’s a hardware limitation (storage limiting number of samples, memory limiting length of samples, bitrate limiting quality of samples, etc), a practical compromise (default EQ to sit better in a mix), or simply the result of better recording engineers applying their craft to those other libraries. By all rights, Yamaha’s digital stage pianos should sound as good as any sampled Yamaha piano.

      With the Yamaha line, I’ve yet to put on a pair of headphones and believe I was playing a piano. I hope someday that will happen, but in the meantime, Roland does deliver on that promise. For me, at least.

      Still, as you say, the P-35 costs less than half. And it certainly isn’t less than half as convincing. For most users, the cost/benefit ratio is a no brainer. It’s well worth checking out.

    • Yakmash

      Yes, in terms of sound, there might be a lot of headroom,
      but I mostly posted this comment because I find the keys quite amazing for the price.
      Also it’s lacking a line out and the ports are on the back only, which can be really inconvenient.

      But I’ve got the feeling that contrary to what a lot of (sales)people tell you,
      in this case the “pay just a little more to get the next better model” woulnd’t have been worth it. I paid 480€ for the P-35 and the models where I quickly and enjoyably felt a big difference were in the 1200€ range.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sadfactory Aaron Levitz

    I may have to sell my RD-700SX when this comes out. (I love it to death, but I can’t carry it down the stairs from my apartment, and it won’t fit in my car) Too early to say, though — I need to evaluate the weighted keybed hands-on.

  • Afiez Azam

    Yes! Now i can go to a lower B and Bb without having to carry a wider keys. Even those 73 key weighted keyboards are a bit wide. They should make a 64 keys synth action keyboards too… Maybe every new keyboards must be 64 after this.