Best Digital Piano Keyboard – The Secret Every Pianist Should Know About
Review by Andreas Moller
If you are anything like me, then you probably have a strong dislike for digitals pianos for a number of reasons.
- They just don’t feel like the real thing. You simple don’t have the control with electric pianos that you get with acoustic instruments.
- The sound produced by digital pianos is quite poor. These instruments may sound okay with headphones but when you connect your electric instrument to speakers you will be undoubtedly disappointed every time. (Later in this review I will reveal my secret on how to make any digital piano sound much more organic and alive.)
- Electric pianos are usually quite unattractive.
Now let’s quickly go over the advantages of digital pianos:
- You can easily transport them to your gigs
- You can adjust their volume
- Digital instruments are much more affordable.
I think that’s it!
Kawai VPC1 Electric Piano – What is this?
Before you continue reading I want you to listen to this demonstration of the instrument by the amazing pianist Ruslan Sirota playing this digital instrument with these great speakers so that you’ll know if reading this long article is worth your time.
Now let’s take a look at the instrument and here it is. It is quite beautiful actually. My Kawai VPC1, which stands for ”Virtual Piano Controler”. So what is this?
This is actually just a MIDI controler but what makes this model so special, other than its clean design, are its keys. What we have here is actually something like an acoustic instrument with real hammers inside, ultimately making the instrument feel much more like a real piano.
Since this is just a MIDI keyboard we’ll also need piano samplings to produce sound. We will also cover this topic in my review.
Why Kawai VPC1 is the best digital piano
I have had many expensive, top electric piano keyboards before, such as the Roland V piano ($7,000) and the Yamaha CP1 ($5,000). So I was admittedly surprised that this ridiculously low-priced alternative was much better than these very expensive digital stage pianos. I immediately knew that this would be my preferred live performance setup for many years to come.
Most pianist prefer traditional stage pianos because they are quick and easy to set up when performing and they have real physical knobs on the keyboard itself. However, there’s one important reason why I think this MIDI keyboard is the best investment you can make…
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The First Evergreen Electric Piano in history
The one major problem with investing in electric pianos vs acoustic pianos is the fact they’ll soon become outdated and you’ll be forced to invest in a new expensive digital instrument within just a few years.
The big advantage of the Kawai VPC1 is the ability to change the software/sampling libraries anytime if you prefer different piano/keyboards sounds in the future.
Unless Kawai or a competitor comes up with a new MIDI controler unit with even better hammer action control I don’t see any reason why you would need to purchase another electric piano in the next 5 or 10 years.
Kawai VPC1 + Ravenscroft samplings = Best Result
I have tested a lot of different sampling libraries and I can safely say that the best samplings I have found is the ”Ravenscroft samplings” by VI Lab. I think they sound amazing! It doesn’t really matter if it’s for classical music, jazz or pop. If you play soft, hard, bright or mellow stuff, it simply reacts and sounds much like a real grandpiano which I will now demonstrate..
The Ravenscroft sampling libraries comes in a laptop version or as an app for tablets like iPhone, iPad, Android devices etc.
The Ravenscroft samplings include 5 different sampling libraries:
- Ravenscroft 275
- Ravenscroft 275 Close
- Ravenscroft 275 Player
- Ravenscroft 275 Room
- Ravenscroft 275 Side
However, this great software provides plenty of options to alter almost any possible parameter needed. Effects, timbre, key sensitivity etc.
Kawai VPC with Wurlitzer and Rhodes Piano sounds
When I bought these Ravenscroft samplings I also got a few electric piano/keyboard sounds as a bonus. What this means is that if you like to play instruments like Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer you can now play such an instrument with real hammers and actually have way better control than with the original analog keyboard!
And now time for some fun, I will now create a hybrid instrument with Ravenscroft Piano samplings and Fender Rhodes samplings..
Connecting The Piano to Sampling Libraries
Connecting your Laptop and this digital instrument is a snap. You simply plug the USB cable into your computer and connect it to your audio interface via USB for best output results.
If you have an iPhone 6 you can literally keep your whole setup in your pocket (this does NOT include the digital piano itself 😉 )
Adjusting velocity of keys
Although you can adjust the key sensitivity (velocity) within the Ravenscroft software, I highly recommend that you also do manual adjustment with the Software that came with you Kawai VPC1 keyboard like shown in the video below for best results.
Speaker Setup – My Secret Hack
In the beginning of this review I promised to show you my own hack on how to make electric pianos sound more alive and here it is…
This is my speaker setup. I have a Genelic 8030C monitor which sounds great, especially the higher notes, and I also have my good old Roland SA-1000 stage amplifier which is the special ingredient. I’m not entire sure why this works but I believe this is like ”the wall of sound” principle when you double an instrument or vocal and get a much richer sound like they do in a recording studio or a symphony orchestra.
You might already know that if you use two cables between your keyboard and your monitor you will get a better sound even if they are only connected to the same speaker and you don’t have the real experience of stereo. But I was surprised to find during one of my gigs that I would achieve much richer sounds by using the microphone input in my amplifier. Now let me show you…
Unlike in the demo that was recorded in garage band, the sound you hear now is not that great because it’s recorded using the build-in microphone of my iPhone, but I hope you can hear the difference and imagine what it would sound like if you were in this room.
Final test – Gaspard de la nuit
And now it’s time for the final test for this digital MIDI keyboard.
I’m now going to play my favourite piece, which is ”Gaspard de la nuit” by Ravel. The reason I have chosen this piece is because Mr. Ravel wrote this piece with the goal to break the record and write the most difficult piece to play. In other words, you need a high end grand piano to play this piece properly (and in my case a few hundred hours to practice it 🙁 ).
I think I did a good job, but I had a hard time repeating the same note in high tempos. This is a common problem with upright pianos, but not grand pianos. So the conclusion to this test is that this electric keyboard sounds like a grand piano and feels like an upright piano, which is considerably better than any other alternatives.
So here you have it, a great alternative to an acoustic grand piano that is affordable and will never be outdated by simply replacing the samplings if you find anything better in the future.
I hope you enjoyed reading this review.
Below you’ll find links to the products mentioned and I’ll try to get a discount code for my readers and post it below as well.
In case you are looking for something slightly more affordable, more lightweight or a traditional stage piano, below I have put together a short list of other top digital pianos to consider..
High End Electric Pianos:
Low Priced Electric Pianos :
If you have any questions then please leave a comment below.
– Sounds like a real grand piano
– Great key control with real hammer action
– Much cheaper than any other high end electric piano
– No need to replace hardware ever again
– Beautiful design
– Takes more time to connect everything
– You will probably also need an audio interface for best results
- Rated 5 stars
- Kawai VPC with Ravenscroft Samplings
- Reviewed by:
- Published on:
- Last modified:
Categorised in: Product Reviews
I have a Yamaha Motif XF and would like to use the VPC1 for that special feel while playing through the Motif which I have tons of purchased Sample Libraries for. Do you think this is a logical and simple enough function? Motif XF6 does have MIDI IN/OUT/THRU in back. Many of my Sound Libraries are not just piano, but basically everything instrument you can imagine. I am new to all of this. Thank you in advance.
Hi Andrea, beautiful review, I’d bought the VPC1 yesterday and I’m looking for some combinations of hardware and software. I have the Ravenscroft, Ivory American D, Quantum Leap Pianos, and the Fazioli Motu Machfive version. I think the Ravenscroft is the most versatile. I will try to get better results making a custom velocity curve like you show in your tutorial.
For iPhone iPad configuration what piano app do you think sounds better. I have kong Module with ivory, Ravenscroft and Crudebyte Colossus, but for me this apps are behind the computer version.
Thanks for your review
I prefer using the laptop version of Ravenscroft. The sound is more rich than the iPhone app. If you use the mobile app then you might wanna try the “old jazz” preset. I like than mellow piano sound.
Hello Andreas Moller, I just bought my Kawai VPC1 and i was unable set it up on my Mac pro.
After looking at your reviews and question and answer i feel like I’m in the right place. I am
currently using Pro tools 12 with the fast track ultra. Can you tell me if the VPC1 editing software
and Ravenscroft Samplings are compatible with my computer and interface. If so, can I buy these
products over the internet. Thanks
It should be compatible with any PC or Mac.
I just got my VPC1 and am struggling to set it up. I am disappointed that Kawai does not have drivers for a MAC. I have a MacBook Pro and really don’t want to have to get a PC to use this piano. Any suggestions?
Thank for this blog by the way. It is very helpful and was part of the reason I bought my VPC1.
I’m also using a Macbook and had never had any problems with the VPC1. What do you need a driver for? The VPC1 editing software works with a Mac for sure! If you are using the Ravenscroft Samplings makes sure to check your audio and MIDI settings by clicking on “File” in the UVIWorkstation. I hope that helps.
Hi Andreas, I just wanted to thank you for a great review demonstrated by yourself and that very good jazz pianist. That made the review totally complete.
I plan to use the VPC1 with an iPad setup and the Ravenscroft app. Do you know of any problems with such a setup? And you are a most excellent player! Thanks again! Mike
Hi Mike, Thanks for your kind words.
I have been using the the Ravenscroft App with my Iphone 6 when I got to a place with a bad sounding electric piano to spice it up a bit. Using an Ipad should be the same if it has “audio out”
If i’m gonna bring my VPC1 to a gig I would also bring my laptop. The Laptop version sounds better than the mobile app in my opinion.
I have the VPC1 and can agree with every statement in your article 🙂
A magnificent playing experience with Ravenscroft275 and Pianoteq!
The VPC1 weighs 65 lbs which is heavy and that’s without a case so figure over 80 lbs not exactly back friendly. I bet it feels great but for that kind of money it should feel great as there are no built in sounds included
I agree, a light weight version would be amazing. I use a flight case (14 kg) with wheels. You can get the Ravenscroft iPhone app for $35.99. Yes, it does feel great 🙂
Thanks for this article, very interesting!
I have a Kawai MP11SE which I bought only a couple of weeks ago. The onboard sounds aren’t bad and they are very tweakable, however I doubt they can compete with the sounds I hear here. So I’m now thinking Virtual Instruments is the way to go.
So, my first question: is the MP11SE just as capable with Virtual Instruments as the VPC1?
In terms of keyboard and touch, I believe the MP11SE is actually superior (it has the Grand Feel I action). But I am not sure that the MP11SE has the same midi controller features of the VPC1….
My second question regards Audio Interfaces with Virtual Instruments: is it necessary/better to use one and does it have to be a high end audio interface? Latency, I believe, is one issue for which it would be better to use one that has Thunderbolt (requiring a computer with a thunderbolt connection i.e. MAC, which I have already).
My last question regards computer spec requirements for Virtual Instruments: I’ve read that, apart from latency due to the type of connection between Audio Interface and Computer, the Computer itself should be powerful enough (i7 processor, SSD and at least 16GB of RAM). What can you say about this in your experience?
Thanks in advance for your advice!
So far I have not seen any digital pianos with keys that comes even close to the feeling of real hammers like in the VPC1. If you like the touch of your MP11SE and want to try different samplings I suggest you try the Ravenscroft samplings. You just need a laptop or download the iPhone app which is super cheap. Probably all modern electric keyboards have MIDI built in.
You already spent a lot of money on an instrument. Your audio interface is probably not where you want to save money.
Latency is from my experience not a problem with Ravenscroft and their UVI workstation software. However, Using a Thunderbolt cable is recommended so you won’t experience any interruptions when playing.
I don’t know how well it will work on an old and slow computer. I personally stopped buying computers without SSD drive a long time ago, that really makes a difference.
Very helpful article. I’m amazed by the piano sound in the videos. Why don’t Roland and Yamaha make something similar?
Probably because they wouldn’t be able to sell people a new model again. No need to upgrade hardware = no profit for them 🙂