Roland RD-64 Review

August 28, 2013
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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 

rolandus.com


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 functions.

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 organ tones.

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.


Conclusions

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.

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