Though not an easy decision, I recently opted to replace my Kawai MP (master controller) with the new Roland RD700GX.
I have detailed post on my personal blog including some pictures, but have copied the musician-oriented portion below... again, allow me to preface that this a subjective opinion coz we all know that it comes down to simply that: your personal preference...
My full blog posting with pics
Let me start by saying that this was not an easy decision because the Kawai MP8 is a fantastic board with some distinct advantages particularly if you’re accustomed to the feel of an acoustic piano - and are primarily interested in just piano. As you probably know, the Kawai MP8 series uniquely employs real wooden keys making it the benchmark in terms of an authentic weighted-key experience. Since its introduction, the MP8 has since been replaced by the MP8-II, and while this is subjective, I personally believe the MP8-II is a step backwards from the original MP8. The MP8-II has a notably lighter feel, BUT it still has that same “soft bed” of the MP8 so you find yourself unable to dig into the notes the same way encouraged by the MP8. That’s the best I can describe it, and while Kawai claims to have improved the “speed” of the action, I don’t equate a lighter feel to providing greater speed; the response is equally important. Lastly, I’m not sure what they put on the key surface, but it feels like a “cheap plastic” almost like a toy (dare I say)? Let’s just say that when the MP-II came out, I drove a long distance to test it, and walked away from the unit in less than 5 minutes. This was the background that created my curiosity for Roland’s then forthcoming RD700GX. I always liked its predecessor, but the action of the earlier RD700SX was no where near the MP8, but it wasn’t that far off. Given that Roland was professing the benefits of its new PHA II “Ivory Feel” with escapement action, I was sufficiently intrigued.
Roland first showed the unit at the Winter NAMM ‘08 show here in Los Angeles, but had the damn thing literally “locked down” - very few people were able to sneak in any playing time as if this was some threat to national security? I suppose they’re aware of how fast the word travels these days good or bad! Regardless, there was really no way to test drive the unit until it finally hit the Streets in late May. And of all places, my local Guitar Center had one on the floor, and my first impressions were pretty strong, but alas, Guitar Center is no place to evaluate an instrument. That said, I spent a lot more than 5 minutes on it! Turns out, my good friend is even a more ambitious early adopter than am I so he picked one up (before me) and I had the opportunity to spend an entire afternoon testing it in a proper room.
No question that the claims of the PHA II action are entirely valid! It’s a lighter feel than the MP8 (owed to not using wooden keys) but it’s a much faster action than the MP8 - a compromise I’m willing to live with and arguably advantageous for longer sessions. The response of the action is very impressive and combined with the on-board expressive patches you can really play an amazing range, much more than any board I’ve experienced to date. And that “Ivory Feel”, well I wasn’t expecting too much, but it’s pretty damn good - it sure as hell beats the glossy plastic surfaces you routinely find and feels quite nice to the touch.
Clearly, this unit is aimed at the live performing musician (which I am not); for example, having 4 physical MIDI outs - very cool, as well as balanced XLR outputs. Having 4 mappable Zones is also quite handy both for live performance as well as inside the Studio.
I haven’t had the unit long enough to dive into all of the sounds and editing, but I’m duly impressed. Up until now, my reference piano sources have been Ivory (on the Muse Receptor) and/or various Gigastudio libraries (such as PMI). I’ve never fancied on-board piano samples, but the new Roland provides some very convincing patches. The escapement provides the sympathetic resonance only found in more substantial (multi-gigabyte) libraries. Sure, in a head to head test, Ivory will probably win out, but the Roland is by no means a distant second. I envision that my composition process will greatly improve owed to my ability to now dial-up some very inspiring sounds by simply turning on one device! I haven’t tried the backing track capability provided by the USB memory interface, but I suspect that will also help with productivity…
It’s probably worthwhile listing the other keyboards I’ve recently owned and since replaced for various reasons just to provide some additional perspective of my personal taste:
Kawai MP8 - Great feel, but the action didn’t quite have the speed I was looking for…
Yamaha P250 - Great board, but too much bulk and limited as a MIDI controller
Yamaha S90ES - Doesn’t hold a candle to the Yamaha P series in terms of action/feel.