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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Q. Which speakers will be best for digital piano playback?

I currently have a Yamaha P300 piano, which has built-in speakers and amplification and is ideal for me. However, I’m thinking about getting a Roland RD700-series piano that would be mainly for home use, and I guess I would need to get some kind of amplification/speaker system for it. Are you able to recommend a reasonably priced setup that would do the job? Would decent-quality home hi-fi speakers cope with the wide range of frequencies that the piano can generate?
Geoffrey Clarke via email
SOS contributor Robin Bigwood replies: 
Built-in speakers are certainly a handy feature for many applications, including home use. However, you’ll probably find that some kind of external amplification for your RD700 will give more flexibility, and quite possibly an improvement in sound quality too. At the very least, you’re going to want to match what your P300 offers, which is a stereo amp rated at a modest 20W per channel, driving a pair of one-way 13cm (5-inch) drivers.

A pair of KRK RP6s, mounted on stands behind a digital piano, would be an excellent choice for reproducing its sound in an accurate and pleasing way. However, if you only need the speakers to hear piano playback and they don’t need to double for mixing or other monitoring, a set of quality hi-fi speakers, such as the Wharfedale Diamond 8.2s shown here, will do the job well. They can also be picked up cheaply on the secondhand market.
One option would be to look at a dedicated keyboard ‘combo’ amplifier. Most are essentially mono (even if they have stereo inputs) and won’t give you much of an immersive piano sound experience. However, stereo models are available and these also sport two-way speaker systems (ie. a main driver plus a tweeter) that should provide clarity as well as ‘oomph’. Roland’s compact KC110 may well match your P300 for scale, if not stereo separation and, with a handful of stereo and mono inputs and a battery‑power option, could be a useful thing in and out of the home. The KC880, which costs considerably more, is the bigger, gym-obsessed, steroid-taking brother, and knocks out 320 Watts via 12-inch woofers. Probably overkill for your particular needs.
Better still, though, I think, would be to go with a pair of active monitors, mounted behind and at either end of your RD700, perhaps on a shelf or tall stands. A pair of KRK RP6s, for example, would turn in a performance markedly superior to what the P300 offers. Similarly priced products by the likes of Mackie, Yamaha and M-Audio are also a safe bet, and, if you can stretch to greater expense, offerings by Dynaudio, Adam, Focal and Genelec will be that much better again. Many active monitors also have an upgrade path, so to speak, in the form of a matching subwoofer: that could help generate a feeling of scale and bass extension on a par with a real piano. It’s useful, too, that all the recent RD700 models — certainly from the SX onwards — have balanced XLR audio outputs, so getting a good interference-free sound from directly connected active monitors won’t be a problem.
You mention the possibility of using home hi-fi, and since you’re primarily going for a good piano sound, rather than ruthless accuracy for mixing, this makes perfect sense. Some really high‑quality 1990s vintage amplifiers and speakers can be had for peanuts on the secondhand market, yet they offer excellent performance and should have no trouble managing the RD700’s full-range signal. One thing to watch for, though: most domestic amplifiers will have unbalanced inputs on RCA phono sockets, so make sure you keep the line-level cable runs from the RD700’s quarter-inch outputs as short as is practical, to avoid picking up unwanted RF interference.

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