Casio Privia PX-3

October 1, 2010
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PX3BK_nrHere’s the review: The Privia PX-3 is the most insane value out there in a stage piano right now. Want acoustic and electric piano sounds that stand tall at any gig? Want solid non-piano sounds? Want splits and layers? Want 88 weighted keys that feel a lot more expensive than they are? Want to carry it under one arm almost as easily as you would a four-octave MIDI controller? Want it all for less than the cost of eight first dates at a toney gastropub? Get a PX-3 and be happy. If, however, you think “Casio” connotes keyboards played only by irony-seeking hipsters and actual children, keep reading. You’re going to feel like Woody Allen in Sleeper.

More after these Web Extras:

Standout Sounds

0.00newkeybuyAre the main piano sounds better than they should be? That’s the understatement of the year. The dynamic and harmonic transition through the full velocity range is so smooth that if Casio didn’t say there were four layers, I might guess eight to ten. “Grand Piano 1” is the full but bright-leaning sound you’d play standing up in a cover band; “Grand Piano 2” is mellower and more suited to jazz and classical.

My favorite electric piano is the effect-less “Elec. Piano Pure,” which sounds just like a Mark I Suitcase, from the not-overdone tines to the low-end brap. My second favorite is “60’s Elec. Piano,” which sounds more full-bodied than many ROMpler Wurly presets. In both the acoustic and electric piano banks, a couple of presets add strings or pads so you don’t have to use up a layer.

Clavs cover the right bases, from “Superstition” sharp to “Use Me” warm, but “Wah Clav” has a bit too much filter resonance. Though Casio didn’t include the virtual drawbars of some other Priviae, organs range from percussive to 16’-and-1’ reggae skank to all-bars-out. The rotary effect doesn’t compete with dedicated clonewheels, but you can trigger slow/fast speed with an assignable button.

The “Others/GM” bank hides some gems, including Oberheim-like synth brasses and Moog-y saw, square, and pulse leads. The ten drum kits at the end are very punchy. “Synth Set 1” in particular is a credible TR-808 emulation, right down to the cowbell.

Controls and Editing
PX3BK_SD_nrSplitting and layering is pretty easy: Zone Select buttons on the left choose which of four parts the panel affects, while Layer and Split buttons on the right determine what you actually hear. You set the split point by striking a key—nice. The limitation here is that the keyboard does only a two-way split of up to two layers on each side; you can’t, for example, reassign an unused left-hand layer as a third right-hand part.

You get driverless, drag-and-drop backup when connected to a computer via USB, and SMF songplayback from the onboard SD card slot.

A global EQ with sweepable frequency on each of four bands provides major flexibility for sculpting your tone to the room or P.A. At the per-part level, the PX-3 goes beyond basic mixing and panning to provide some synth-style tweaking: envelope attack and release, filter cutoff (but not resonance), velocity response, portamento time, and LFO-based vibrato. Oddly, there’s no monophonic mode, which should be an option for synth leads. That said, the polyphonic portamento is sweet.

The Spartan button layout and small LCD keep the price low, but the tradeoff is that nearly every button does more than one thing. For some tasks, you press one button while holding another. For others, you hold one down a couple of seconds to engage its alternate function. Overall, this makes for some manual-diving and “How’d I do that last time?” moments, at least at first.

The 64 Registrations make up for this by storing the entire state of the PX-3: sounds, split/layer status, effects, EQ, those synth-like settings, transposition, you name it. Pre-program some before the gig and you’ll be golden. I’d like to see assignable knobs, or at least a data slider instead of just up/down buttons, but again, moving parts add cost and take up space.

In Use
Our PX-3 made rounds between me, composer Richard Leiter, and New Orleans-style piano rocker Josh Charles (see CD review on page 18), to whom I rushed the PX-3 when the club he was gigging at didn’t have a piano. After pounding out NoLa stride and boogie all night, Josh offered, “This has to be the best lightweight digital piano out there. The mono piano sound really cuts through the band, too. I’m quite impressed.”

Leiter praised the weight: “My fat cat weighs almost as much. It’s a little odd putting it on the stand—the PX-3, not the cat—because it’s so light. Once you start playing, though, it feels as solid and responsive as any 75-pound keyboard.”

All who tried the PX-3 raved about the feel. Though it has plenty of weight for serious piano practice, there’s a fluid, non-fatiguing quality that made Josh say, “Usually, my hands hurt after playing a digital piano all night, because I’m digging in too hard, trying to draw out something that’s not there. Not this time.” I agreed completely. The black keys do have a bit of side-to-side movement, but this was never an issue in actual use.

Conclusions
Doctor Who’s TARDIS is famously bigger inside than out. Casio seems to have employed similar sci-fi technology to put such a serious piano action in an instrument that weighs next to nothing. The least expensive step up in features and sound would be something like a Yamaha CP50, at literally twice the street price and weight. That illustrates the ground the PX-3 stakes out: It’s damned good—more than enough for most realworld gig use—and to get any better, you’re looking at multiples of price. That’s the kind of value we call a Key Buy.

Specifications

Pitchbend_nrPROS: Smooth, detailed, playable piano sounds. Great EP and synth sounds. Impossibly light given the great-feeling weighted action. Supports halfpedaling with optional three-pedal unit.

CONS: Editing is fiddly using the buttons and small LCD. No aftertouch. No sweep pedal input, just two footswitch inputs.

CONCEPT Ultralight stage piano with split/layer ability.

POLYPHONY 128 voices.

ACTION Fully weighted and graded.

KEYBOARD ZONES Upper 1 and 2, Lower 1 and 2.

EFFECTS Global chorus and reverb plus a DSP multi-effect sharable by two zones/parts.

W x D x H 52.04" x 11.25" x 5.31".

WEIGHT 23.8 lbs.

PRICE: List: $999.99
Approx. street: $800

priviapiano.com

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