Gig-Ready Stage Piano with Great Sounds and MIDI Implementation
There’s a new player in the digital piano market. Dexibell is a newly-minted subsidiary of the Italian music equipment manufacturer Proel, staffed by many former employees of Roland Europe R&D. The Vivo is the new company’s first line of digital pianos for the stage.
And that is exactly what this is—a digital stage piano, first and foremost. As I will describe for you in this review, it does acoustic and electric pianos very, very well. All its other sounds, some of which are quite nice, nevertheless should be considered utility sounds, or simply bonuses. Pianos are the name of the game here.
Weight and Action
The Vivo S7 is pretty light for a digital piano, weighing in at only 38.5 lbs. In my career, I’ve had the pleasure of owning several 88-note keyboards with weighted/hammer actions (and silver-metallic finishes, to boot), and one thing they had in common was that they were all heavy. Not so with the Dexibell Vivo S7. Color me impressed already!
Speaking of color, my review unit came with white end caps to complement the silver finish, but the fashion-conscious can buy them in a variety of hues, which you can view on the Dexibell website.
Moving from style onto substance, the first thing I noticed before even turning on the unit was the keybed. It’s made by Fatar and is essentially the same hammer-action keybed you’ll find in digital pianos made by many other manufacturers who don’t make their own (as do Korg, Roland, Yamaha, and Kawai).
The distinguishing feature of the Vivo S7’s keybed is the “ivory feel” of the key surfaces (something you’ll also find on recent offerings in Casio’s Privia line). Compared with standard-issue plastic Fatar keys, the keys on the S7, while also plastic, have a slightly rougher, stickier surface that is meant to reduce slipperiness and emulate the feel of real ivory. (The S3, a 73-note version of the Vivo, which I did not review, has standard Fatar keys with a lighter hammer action compared with the S7).
I found that my fingers didn’t slip any more or less on the S7 than they do on a regular Fatar keybed, but I also tend to experience about the same level of slipperiness on my refurbished-family-heirloom Steinway baby grand (which once had the now-justifiably-outlawed ivory keys). I can hardly remember my fingers ever slipping when I was a kid playing on it. Genetically cloned ivory can’t come soon enough for pianists! Meanwhile, the faux-ivory finish is a step in the right direction.
The unit took 42 seconds to power up. The S7 has a quad-core CPU running inside, so it’s good to remember that, like many modern keyboards, you’re really buying a computer as much as an instrument. Still, should you ever lose power onstage, be aware that you’ll need at least 42 seconds after power is restored before you can make a peep out of your S7. I find that to be about in the middle of the spectrum of startup times for modern computer-driven keyboards.
Sound Selection and Layering
Overall, the front panel is clean-looking, simple and well laid out, as it should be on a stage instrument. The large black-and-white OLED is very easy to read, and data entry is accomplished with a rotary encoder and four-way direction buttons, of which left and right also serve as Increment/Decrement. You select programs by pushing buttons labeled by category—Piano, E. Piano, Plucked Percussive, etc.—and then selecting one of up to 9 examples of the chosen category
You can modify the presets and create your own user configurations, 2-way splits and layers. Each program can have up to 3 sounds playing at once, and each sound within the program can have 2 effects of its own. With the “unlimited polyphony” you don’t have to worry about running out of voices when layering. The whole interface is extremely intuitive and easy to understand. There is some menu-diving involved, but it really flows quite logically. The buttons to select splits and layers are located directly underneath the program selection buttons—very logical.
LISTEN TO: "CLASSIC GRAND" SOUND HERE
LISTEN TO: "RAGTIME UPRIGHT" SOUND HERE
You get three main grand pianos (Vivo Grand, Pop Grand and Classic Grand) and three main uprights (Vivo Upright, Ragtime and Honky Tonk. You also get Romantic, a Chopin-era Pleyel piano, and Rock Piano, an aggressive treble-fueled upright aimed purely at cutting through a loud onstage mix.
So what distinguishes the S7 from the competition, here? Firstly, you get what Dexibell calls “unlimited polyphony” through 320 digital “oscillators” powered by the quad-core processor. This means you can go ahead and play huge chords with the pedal down, rip some glissandi to your heart’s content, and never have to worry about voice stealing. I never heard a single note drop out no matter how outrageously I tested this claim. Way to go!
Secondly, while the Vivo series uses very high-quality sampling for the actual piano tones, it also uses modeling technology to enhance realism by emulating the mechanical noises of the piano; something they call T2L (“true to life”). In each S7 program there are a number of T2L parameters available to adjust, depending on which model you’re using.
For acoustic pianos, you get hammer noise, key-off noise, damper noise, string resonance and damper resonance. And for each parameter, you get a very wide range of levels to adjust.
The Vivo Grand is a nice middle ground between the Pop Grand, which remains warm even as it delivers sparkly brightness, and the ultra-warm Classic Grand, which is ideally voiced for classical piano. How does this T2L modeling interact with the sampled pianos?
On most of the acoustics, I found the damper noise to be distractingly loud at the default level, so I lowered it substantially and found that, with my adjustment, it added considerably to the realism. The hammer and key-off noises, too, used in moderation, really made these pianos something special. The two forms of modeled resonance were subtler and would probably be more audible in solo piano or studio situations.
Overall, the T2L made the difference between what we’ve come to expect in 2017 as a “high quality piano emulation” and something so startlingly present that, in a blindfold test, you could be forgiven for thinking you were actually in front of the real wooden/mechanical deal. There were times, particularly with the Classic Grand and subtle use of T2L, when the Vivo S7 sustained the illusion of a real piano in my ears and brain longer than any other digital piano I’ve yet tried.
Regarding the hammer action, in and of itself, the S7’s action doesn’t feel extremely close to that of a real piano: I found it to be a bit light on the way downward with a rather sudden stop at the bottom of key travel. Nevertheless, it is extraordinarily responsive. Whether subtlety is called for, or if you need to pack a wallop, it delivers—in spades. It just requires a certain amount of adjustment in playing technique to get what you want out of it.
Once I adjusted my technique (and the Keyboard Touch parameter), I was able to get a level of delicate expression out of the Classic Grand that I haven’t been able to get out of my best high-end sampled and modeled virtual pianos—and I own quite a few of them. In my personal collection, I can say with confidence that it is matched only by the Steinway in my music room.
The S7’s uprights have the same T2L parameters as the grands, though you can get away with a little less subtlety in the effect levels. Vivo Upright is warm and bright, full and funky. Rock Piano, as I mentioned earlier, is a treble assault, as you’d need for cutting over a loud band.
Ragtime is a rich, full-sounding tack piano, and Honky Tonk is an upright that was actually sampled in a detuned state, as opposed to the usual approach of detuning it digitally, after the fact. The fullness and vividness of both of these uprights is undeniable, as is their playability.
LISTEN TO: "RHODES PHASER" SOUND HERE
LISTEN TO: "RHODES SUITCASE" SOUND HERE
LISTEN TO: "RHODES DYNO" SOUND HERE
LISTEN TO: "WURLY CHORUS" SOUND HERE
LISTEN TO: "CLAV STOMP" SOUND HERE
The S7 provides sampled Rhodes, Wurlitzer and Clavinet, with the T2L engine reconfigured to model the mechanical noises and resonances inherent to an electric piano. In addition to hammer and damper noise/resonance, you get additional parameters such as Bell and Growl.
There are also four instances of FM electric piano sounds, which do a credible job of recreating the Yamaha DX7 in all its mid- ‘80s glory, and an electric grand that faithfully replicates the Yamaha CP-80 of the late ‘70s.
You also get a full complement of excellent DSP effects to choose from, which are a big part of the sound of any electric piano. I found several of the factory electric-piano presets too overdriven for my taste, but this was remedied by editing the effect depth and several other parameters. It was very easy to do once I grasped the Dexibell’s UI, which didn’t take long. The Rhodes, Wurlitzer and Clavinet examples were all nice, with well-chosen effects capable of producing classic tones. In particular, playing around with the Clavinet’s T2L parameter “Off Noise” really made it shine again, when set at the proper level.
While many of the S7’s non-piano sounds are of very high quality, they should really be considered utility sounds that are available in a pinch (e.g., “Quick, I need you to play this song with a brass part, now!”) or as things to layer on top of an acoustic or electric piano (“Hey, can you spice up that Rhodes a bit?”).
Organs: The S7’s B-3 patches are average sounding. Of course, you’re not buying a digital piano for its Hammond emulations (not to mention the action being all wrong for organ playing). However, they will certainly do in a pinch, which is why manufacturers put other sounds in digital pianos in the first place.
There is no drawbar control on the S7, just a sort of lowpass filter mapped to the mod wheel. You can easily and quickly use the split function to set up two organ sounds at once in a virtual “double manual” across the 88 keys, though the two organ instances will each be going through separate Leslie effects, and you’ll only have real-time Leslie speed control over the upper section. So, while the S7 isn’t going to win any clonewheel shoot-outs, the basic sound is certainly good enough to get you through any potential onstage “I need an organ now!” situation.
The different flavors of pipe organs are quite lovely, especially when played with some of the very nice onboard reverbs. Alas, there are no combo organ emulations here.
There is a decent selection of strings, brass, choirs, mallet percussion, synth pads, guitar and bass, ranging in quality from serviceable to very good. There are no drums. However, if there is something missing that you want to add, you can import multi-sampled sounds into the S7 directly, either from the Dexibell website or from any source that offers the samples in the Sound Font 2 (.sf2) format.
Effects and MIDI
You can adjust effects parameters on the fly with the aid of the Audio FX section on the front panel. This saves you from menu diving if you need to quickly tweak the EQ or reverb level on a sound. This is a big plus for live work.
Other features in the Vivo S7 make it a capable MIDI master controller. You can create up to four zones that can send on four different channels, each with its own independent program change, transposition/octave range adjustment, level and pan pot position. These can be stored as part of your user programs, enabling you to incorporate an external MIDI sound source as an element within your splits and layers.
Another cool feature is that the S7 can record your performances as audio onto a USB stick, as well as play back recordings from the same drive or overdub your performances onto a previous recording.
In addition, you can pair the S7 with your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth and play audio through the Vivo’s outputs—perfect for playing along with pre-recorded accompaniment. I tried this with my iPhone and it worked well. There is also an iPad/iPhone app that can pump musical accompaniment via Bluetooth through the Vivo’s outputs. Visit Dexibell’s website for more info.
The Stage is Set
Overall, the Vivo S7 is an outstanding piano-oriented, live performance keyboard. Its primary selling point is the quality of the piano emulations. The Classic Grand, optimally voiced for classical piano playing, is frighteningly realistic; the Pop Grand manages to be warm while still being bright enough to cut through a pop mix; and the Vivo Grand is a nice middle ground between the two. The Uprights are equally terrific. Both acoustic-piano groups, at times, approach the quality we currently associate with high-end sample libraries. In addition, the Rhodes, Wurlitzers and Clavinets are worthy contenders, while the non-keyboard sounds, when considered in their proper context, really serve their purpose well.
Across the board, the T2L modeled noises and resonances, used judiciously, can take the realism to another level. You have plenty of leeway to tailor these models to your particular sound requirements, amplification setup, and personal taste.
All in all, if you’re in the market for a digital piano, you owe it to yourself to check out the Dexibell Vivo S7.
Excellent piano samples. Full polyphony. Very responsive action. T2L greatly enhances the realism factor. Lightweight. Stylish.
Some factory effects settings need tweaking. Action may require some adjustment of playing technique and/or the keyboard’s velocity response for optimum expressiveness.
An excellent new digital piano from a promising new company.
Reviewer Andy Burton has toured as the keyboardist with John Mayer, Rufus Wainwright and many others. He is currently the touring keyboardist with Cyndi Lauper and Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul.