Yamaha Clavinovas - In Depth

Jul 7, 2006

The Bottom Line Whether you are a novice user or a serious musician, Yamaha Clavinovas offer you a great sounding, great feeling digital piano.

Being an owner of two Yamaha Clavinovas, as well as a Yamaha P-120 electronic piano, I have had both good and bad experiences with Yamaha's line of digital pianos, and I have much to say...so let's get started!

(Note: I use the term "piano" to refer to a real, non-digital piano.)

First of all, Yamaha has, by far, the best sounding product in the digital piano field. You have probably heard a friend or a performer with a "digital piano" that sounds more like a player piano in a metal crate being plucked rather than played. Yamaha uses what they call "Dynamic Stereo Sampling" (DSS) in their Clavinovas. This means that they separately sample a real Yamaha piano being played in each dynamic range (pp, p,..., f, ff), as well as separately sampling the piano with its sustain pedal down. This creates an extremely faithful reproduction of the nuances that most digital pianos fail to catch.

As a serious musician (albeit non-professional), the one thing I would have to say is a must in a digital piano are weighted keys. Yamaha has what they call "Graded Hammer Effect" keyboards. This means that the action of their keys closely resembles the real action of a piano's keyboard. Many low end digital/electronic pianos do not have this action, making them difficult to play with any dynamics or real accuracy. It's comparable to trying to type fast on a laptop keyboard vs. typing on a real keyboard. No matter what digital/electronic piano you get, be sure it has weighted keys.

Now, which Yamaha Clavinova should you choose?

I'm certainly not going to go over each model, as there are many in Yamaha's line. However, I will help you decide what general line to look in, as well as explain to you more of the features that I find useful in the Clavinovas I own.

There are two basic lines under the umbrella of Yamaha Clavinova: the CLP and the CVP:

The CLP line is designed for users who want the afore-mentioned DSS, and Graded Hammer keys, but who are not looking for all the "extras". Most CLPs come with a few voices (generally speaking - pianos, electric pianos, harpsichords, organs, strings, vibraphones, and basses), and they may have limited in-house recording capabilities. (If you have music software, you can hook up any Yamaha digital piano via a MIDI/USB patch cable and have much greater recording capability.) If you simply want a great sounding digital piano for practice or performance, the CLP is the way to go. If you travel a great deal, I would also recommend an electronic piano, like my Yamaha P-120. It has all the features of the CLP, but in a more portable package.

The CVP line offers users a much wider variety of features- so many, in fact, that I cannot possibly list them all. But here are some of my favorite features:

640 x 480 VGA Color LCD: Although all CVPs come with an LCD screen, I really enjoy the larger, color LCD screen on my newer Clavinova. The LCD screen allows the CVP user the greatest amount of functionality compared with the CLP line (which does not have an LCD screen). Almost all the functions of the Clavinova can be controlled on the screen, which has 3 sets of buttons around it for entering in commands (unfortunately, there is no LCD touchscreen available at this time). The Clavinova operating system takes a little while to get used to, but it is relatively simple.

Natural!/Cool!/Live! Voices: These are voices that Yamaha has used technology (like DSS) to create an amazingly realistic sound. With some instruments, like the Live! Nylon Guitar, Natural! Vibraphone, Natural! E.Piano, and Sweet! Flute, you can close your eyes and you'd swear you were listening to the real instrument! You also have the ability to tweak each instrument to your heart's desire, using the Sound Creator button.

Accompaniment Styles & One Touch Settings: If you know anything about chords and chord progressions, you will greatly enjoy this feature. The Accompaniment feature splits the keyboard, allowing you to play the chords with your left hand and the melody with your right. When you play the chord, the piano will automatically accompany you with the Style you choose (e.g. Bossa Nova, Swing, 70s Disco). There are tons of Styles to choose from in many different genres. Plus, each style has 2 pre-recorded Intros/Endings and 4 Main progressions (A, B, C, D) each increasing in intensity. You can even program the chord progressions into the Clavinova, freeing up both hands to play. The One Touch Setting (OTS) feature goes hand-in-hand with the Accompaniment Styles, automatically choosing 4 instruments to play with each Style. You can choose which instrument you want to play using the OTS buttons, or You can choose to link each instrument with the Main A ,B, C, D, using the OTS Link button. This allows you to go through a song as though you had a whole band playing along with you.

Digital reverb and digital effects: Each instrument automatically has an associated digital reverb, making it sound like it is in a room, music hall, or stage. Turning the reverb on/off using the Reverb button shows you the difference a reverb can make. Again, many less expensive digital/electronic pianos do not have this feature, making them sound tinny rather than natural. You can further tweak each reverb by pressing the Mixing Console button. You can also play around with the digital effects, creating a sound that is very unique.

16-track Recording: For songwriters or composers, this is probably the most important feature. Unlike the CLP series, which has at most a 2-song, 2-track recording capability, the CVP allows you to record an infinite amount of songs, each with up to 16-tracks (tracks are layers of instruments). With some practice, songs can also be edited on the CVP. You can replace an entire track, or set the Clavinova to record over certain areas using different signals. The CVP allows you to record to its internal memory, as well as to floppy disks, and SmartMedia memory cards (in some models). This is a useful way to transfer songs (in MIDI format) from Clavinova to computer, and vice-versa. Most MIDI songs are available for free on the Internet, too! Yamaha is also offering the Internet Direct Connection feature on newer models, which allows the Clavinova to connect to the Internet and download songs (for a price, however). In addition, MIDI songs not recorded with the Clavinova's voices can automatically be set to playback with the Natural!/Cool!/Live! voices.

Karaoke function: This is the most fun way to use the Clavinova. You can open a MIDI file that has lyrics, plug in a microphone, and sing along to your favorite songs. A unique feature of the CVP is the Vocal Harmony function. This amazingly adds backup singers along with your voice as you sing along to a karaoke song (programmed with chord progressions). You have to hear it to believe it!

Speakers: All the Clavinovas have excellent speaker systems, with subwoofers, giving you all the richness and full sound you'd expect from a real instument.

Again, these are just some of the features of the CVP line. I, myself, discover new features everyday. Now on to the last section.

The good, the bad, and the ugly.

So far, you have heard nothing but praises from me about the Yamaha Clavinova - and I'll admit, I do really love the Clavinovas I have had. But the Clavinova isn't perfect, either:

Play it safe: My newest Clavinova, the CVP-207, is especially prone to broken keys. Right now, I have four that are broken: two E's and two B's. They cost me $75 a piece to repair, and I've heard its a common problem with some models. I had owned an older CVP, and never had any problems with broken keys, so beware! If you can afford it, the CVP-309 series Clavinovas come with a Natural Wood Keyboard. This feature would save you the headache of having to replace so many keys.

Be Patient: Although you can play it right out of the box, it takes a great deal of time to learn how to use all of the functions on the Clavinova. And some features are well hidden. Take, for example, the digital effects. To get there you have to press the Mixing Console button, tab over to Effects select Main and select Type. Also, editing a song can be a very long and frustrating process. But once you become used to the way the Clavinova is set up, you can have loads of fun with it!

The Bottom Line:

Whether you are a novice user or a serious musician, The Yamaha Clavinova offer you a great sounding, great feeling digital piano.

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