PROS: Fully-weighted keyboard action in a compact, lightweight
package. Practical selection of quality piano, electric piano (tine and
reed), Clav, and drawbar organ tones. High-quality onboard effects.
Ivory-like keyboard texture is subtle but pleasing.
CONS: Reverb amount is non-adjustable (on/off only). Electric
piano and Clav sounds exhibit uneven decay when played at high
velocities. No MIDI in. Expression pedal can only be used when unit is
in MIDI controller mode, which disables internal sounds.
Bottom Line: Roland gives you the weight where you want it—on your fingers, not your back—by packing their current piano tones and action into their most compact stage piano yet.
$1,165 list | $999 street
In the stage piano scene, we’ve seen models catering to
gigging pianists who are looking for a weighted-action keyboard in a
more portable package. One way to lighten the load is to sacrifice keys
from the 88-key standard; lop off an octave and you’ve got the 76-key
format that has become ever more common in recent years. Some
manufacturers have used the classic Rhodes electric piano as inspiration
to give us 73-key models. Roland takes its cue from another classic,
the Wurlitzer electric piano, to give us the
RD-64, the first digital stage piano to offer a 64-key fully weighted
action. Does it offer the right combination of convenience and power?
Let’s dig in.
The Form Is the Thing
For a player to want fewer than 88 keys, anything calling
itself a stage piano needs some compelling attributes. Portability and
price can certainly entice you to the store to play one, and the action
and sound are what would bring it home. Since the RD-64 occupies a
unique niche in terms of form, let’s discuss this first.
Like the Wurly, which itself took a cue from a piano action, the RD-64 starts at A as the lowest key, and goes to C as the highest. Having the same low and high note as a piano creates a more pianistic atmosphere than the five-octave C-to-C
format we see in synths (most of which trace their origin to the organ
world). The RD-64 is wider than a Wurly from side to side, however,
thanks to its controls located to the left of the keyboard. This design
deserves a “pros and cons” section unto itself. On the plus side, you’ve
got convenient left-hand access to controls and a flat, clear dashboard
that allows a second keyboard to be placed in close proximity to the
RD-64. On the minus side, if I’m sacrificing two octaves of playability,
I don’t want anything making the footprint any bigger than it needs to
be. As constructed, it’s as wide as a 73-key Nord Electro. Granted, it’s
probably a matter of construction, as it’s presumably easier to build
the electronics into the left block with the action taking up most of
the interior room behind the keys.
The RD-64 weighs in at just over 28 pounds. We love the
trend towards more lightweight instruments to schlep, and getting a
weighted-action stage piano under 30 pounds puts it in rare company.
Back to that control panel, where we
see a handful of lighted buttons, knobs for volume and low/hi EQ, the
trademark Roland pitchbend/modulation paddle, and—surprise—a D-Beam
controller for using hand proximity to modulate pitch, volume, or an
assignable destination. To access the deeper editing functions of the instrument,
one must hold the Function key and strike keyboard keys labeled on the
front panel. It’s cumbersome, but it does unlock more functionality for
tweaking parameters ranging to velocity curve and MIDI controller
Rear panel I/O is grouped behind the control panel, and
includes USB MIDI and RCA audio inputs, which are useful for hosting an
iPod for backing tracks or break music.
Sound and Feel
Now that we see what this unit is made of, let’s get to
the playing experience. The key action is Roland’s “Ivory Feel G,” a
substantial weighted-action with a textured key surface. The keys are
enjoyable, not too much slip or grip. The weight of the action is plenty
meaty, though they don’t provide the quickest key repetition we’ve
encountered in a digital piano. The default touch response curve is very
dynamic, and allows zero-velocity “silent” notes, like you would find
when playing an acoustic grand.
Acoustic and electric pianos both benefit from Roland’s
“SuperNatural” technology, which by now most savvy keyboardists know
comprises sophisticated sample-switching based on your playing technique
and use of realtime controllers. Basically, when you see this term, it
refers to the most current and expertly programmed sounds Roland has
available to put into various products.
The acoustic piano category has three tones: concert
piano, bright piano, and concert mono, and all are derived from the
piano sample set. The piano tone and attitude lean towards the clean and
“classical” side, and feature simulated sympathetic key resonance. At
first I thought it was perhaps a little too clean, until I
discovered that pressing the EFX 2 button activates damper pedal
resonance. This gives the sound more life and activity, though it’s
reserved enough to not include mechanical pedal or damper noises.
Electric pianos include two Rhodes sounds (tine) and one
Wurly (reed). There are also three Clav settings and three drawbar organ
settings. The organs are surprisingly useful; they include a
properly-triggering harmomic percussion and adjustable two-speed rotary
effect. There’s also overdrive, though it’s curious why the D-Beam is
used to bring the amount up and down. It seems like more of an effect
you’d want to set and save. It’s too bad that the RD-64 will only
recognize an expression pedal when it’s in MIDI controller mode (which
disables the internal sounds); it’d be nice to use one with the onboard
Each tone has a built-in reverb (on/off only), adjustable high and low EQ,
and two built-in effects (labeled EFX 1 and 2) that are specific to the
tone category. Grand pianos have an enhancer and damper resonance
effect. The tine piano tones have EFX 1 set to a stereo panner (like a
Rhodes Suitcase) and EFX 2 set to a sweet phaser. The reed piano
features a Wurly-like tremolo and phaser as well. The Clavs have an
auto-wah and enhancer. These are astute effect choices all around. These
sounds excel in recreating these classic tones, with the exception of
the decay characteristics in some cases. When playing sustained EP and
Clav notes or chords at high velocities, I could sometimes hear a bump
in the sound—as though an envelope generator’s decay segment was set a
bit too quick. We’ve reviewed many other Roland SuperNatural instruments
that ostensibly contain some of the same sonic raw materials, and this
was either not audible or not as pronounced.
As a gigging pianist, it’s lovely to see an instrument
that balances practicality and power. Roland gets points for delivering a
stage piano that weighs under 30 pounds and costs just under a thousand
bucks. Its utilitarian nature means that you won’t find strings, brass,
synths, or basses; all the ROM is dedicated to grand piano and
electro-mechanical keyboards. Some may wish they could trade the D-Beam
for a modulation wheel, or expression pedal control for organ. From
there, it’s down to personal taste. Not every player can do with fewer
than 88 keys, but just as many others may take to the RD-64’s form
factor and exclaim, “Now this is what I’ve been waiting for!”
After all, the Wurly—which had an identical key configuration—did very
well. If you need to go ultra-compact while retaining weighted action
and high-end piano sounds, the RD-64 just might be perfect for you.