People often ask us what kind of digital piano to buy for their families, and their needs are surprisingly uniform: something for the younger kids to take lessons on, for the older kids (or mom and dad) to amp up and jam in bands, and something with enough style to reside in the living room and let a talented guest be the life of the party on Saturday night. What do I tell them? There’s just been no perfect piano that’s both a hearty console and a lightweight gigging keyboard. Until Casio introduced the CGP-700.
Twelve years ago Casio pretty much invented the inexpensive, lightweight, weighted-key digital slab piano with the Privia line. No longer alone in the marketplace, they’ve refined the breed impressively and added both a pro version (the PX- 5S, reviewed Aug. ’13) and an upscale consumer version (the PX-300 line). There are also home console models under the name Celviano. What Casio has done with the CGP-700 is to add a color touchscreen interface as well as a spare, elegant stand that conceals a remarkably ballsy 40W stereo amp. The CGP-700 is a joy to play, sounds exciting on many levels, and now has the volume to actually cut it in the living room. And here’s the kicker: You can lift the 26-pound slab out of its stand and cover just about any gig in town.
The Piano Experience
Every manufacturer knows that their customer’s “Buy” switch is triggered—or not—in the first three seconds of playing the piano sound in memory slot number one. Here, the CGP-700 brings it. Feel is everything, and the key surface is textured like vintage ebony and ivory. Even before you hear the instrument, there’s an impression of quality. Casio says that their action is unchanged from the previous version, but it feels slightly lighter and more responsive to me.
The basic piano sound is so fundamental that Casio has placed a Grand Piano button on the panel that shoots you right back to “Grand Piano 001” no matter where you are: laying down a 16-part song demo, doing an audio recording, or jamming with the auto-accompaniment. That nine-foot grand is always one click away. And what a sound it is: Rich, well-balanced mids, a low end that actually feels and sounds like a big grand, and smooth highs that go right up through the top 12 notes.
Casio boasts of an MXi (Multi-Expressive Integrated) sound source with damper resonance simulation, but what all proprietary processes like this do is bring you closer to the grand piano experience. In this case, the 128-note polyphony, which is half that allotted to their pro model, is more than sufficient to fool your ears and fingers. If you run out of notes, you’re over-pedaling. Outside of the Casio Privia family, the CGP’s triple sensors and graded hammer action are a rarity at under a thousand bucks.
So Many Sounds, So Little Time
The Piano assortment lays out the expected ensemble of EQ variations and layers (I spent way too much time with the funky, Clav-ish “Dance Piano 008.”) and serves up a couple of nice harpsichords, too. The Electric Piano menu is way above average. The Wurly patches, for instance, don’t buzz and frizzle when you smack them, but they’re so musical you keep coming back to them. Of the 37 EPs, you’ll easily find five that will become indispensable. The same high proportion of wheat to chaff is true in the Clavs and mallets as well.
Organ patches are greatly improved in variety and authenticity over previous incarnations, and offer a sufficient banquet of rock, and jazz choices to cover most bar-band gigs. For worship services, you can enrich your sound if you split the keyboard and use a different bass setting; there’s even an “Organ Bass” sound provided for this purpose. Speaking of basses, there’s a fresh new sample for the acoustic upright and a potent posse of new finger, pick, and synth basses.
Yes, I did due diligence and auditioned every single one of the 550 Sitars, Shanais, Sarods, and all the brasses, reeds, drum kits, strings and guitars. Should you throw away your extensive software sample libraries? Of course not. But this is far and away Casio’s deepest and most arranger-worthy assortment of instruments. There are some clunkers: We all have better shakuhachis. But, in the same woodwind collection, “Breathy Alto Sax 002” is probably the most lifelike I’ve heard on a production keyboard (you’ll revisit “Take Five,” guaranteed) and hipped me to a compelling sonic illusion that the onboard speaker system conjures on some patches: You can practically see the sax hovering three feet above the keys.
Bells and Whistles
For starters, the multi-track sequencers on most keyboards are pretty clumsy to use and most keyboard players I know avoid them. But you might use this one, because it’s instantly intuitive and it works well as a very basic 17-track MIDI recorder. Think of it as the Rolls-Royce of notepads: You can record, do auto-punches, and perform simple edits. There’s none of the fancy stuff such as quantizing, but for 800 bucks, who cares?
Metronome? Check. Drum machine with 200 patterns? Check. Auto-harmonize? Check. Extensive auto-accompaniment? Check. You can have real fun in the World Music section getting lost in a Pixar movie of evocative and sometimes insane styles that to me are fabulously novel and stimulating.
Teachers will appreciate Duet mode, which gives you two side-by-side sections of keys in the same pitch range. I’ve yet to find a keyboard feature that somebody doesn’t swear by. On the CGP-700 my favorite addition, aside from the gutsy speakers, is the new color touchscreen.
There’s so much going on under the hood here that you need an extensive control panel, and Casio’s gone one better with this bright, well-thought-out screen. Although Casio claims all the finger-swiping gestures of a tablet, it’s actually closer in functionality to the kind of screen on the priciest digital pianos, which is still a huge improvement over tiny buttons on a black surface.
The screen defaults to a matrix of menu icons, with more on deck when you press the arrow to the right. It was easier for me to use the right arrow than the finger-swipe. Three navigation icons take you to the Main Screen (which gets you to tones, layers, splits, and half a dozen other functions you’ll use all the time), the Menu, and the Exit/Back button. Each Menu icon opens an intuitive page for things that used to require endless button presses: balancing layers, choosing effects, setting their levels, and so on. Once you’ve gotten used to the touchscreen, you’ll resent any keyboard that doesn’t have one.
The stand is a little tippy on deep-pile carpets. To correct this, you can either shim it yourself or adjust the included anti-tip brackets. (I wouldn’t use those brackets in a boisterous bar setting, though.) That handled, the CGP-700 is like playing a much weightier, more expensive console keyboard. A sturdy crosspiece holds the big speakers and you can position them to shoot the sound towards the player or into the room.
As a standalone slab I played it through my Barbetta 41C combo amps and Yamaha DXR10 powered stage speakers, and it amps up nicely in both settings. It sounds better in stereo than mono, but the mono out is clean and uncolored. It lacks some pro features, like a modulation wheel and expression pedal input, but again, given the price it’s hard to complain.
For 800 bucks, you get a killer 26-pound, 88-key, graded hammer-action gigging keyboard plus a stand with built-in 40W stereo amp. Plus it’s a handsome devil. Plus it sounds phenomenal in just about every instrument category. Casio has put exactly the right features together for those who need a first-rate digital piano experience for both home and stage, and the CGP-700 earns our Key Buy award for outstanding bang for the buck.
PROS Without the stand, it’s an extremely portable and great-sounding stage piano. With, it’s an elegant living-room digital piano. Color touchscreen. Full-bodied, 40W built-in stereo amp. Upgraded 550-patch sound library is stronger in every instrument category.
CONS No expression pedal jack. No modulation controller. Finger-swipe on touchscreen could be smoother.
The perfect family and stage piano. At a “How can they do that?” price, it doesn’t compromise either application. Remarkable.
$1,099 list | $799 street