A few weeks back we took a ‘First Look’ at Korg’s new SV-2 Stage Piano, a major upgrade to their classic SV-1 introduced way back in 2009. A lot has changed over the last 10 years so we thought we’d compare three of the most interesting and sought after Stage Pianos of 2020 and see how they stack up.
Conceptually, all three of these models are very similar. They offer a good selection of high-quality sounds, with a strong emphasis on (oddly enough) piano instruments, including acoustic and electric piano varieties. They do provide a range of additional instrument sounds such as organs, strings and synths which are generally of very high quality, but these should be considered supplemental to the aforementioned piano sounds which are the primary focus.
Each keyboard’s interface is also quite similar with a multitude of dedicated, single-function knobs and buttons designed for immediate control as opposed to the more menu-driven design of workstation keyboards. Those who favour the workflow of guitar pedalboards or analogue synthesisers will feel right at home here.
The Korg SV-2 is the only piano of the bunch (or possibly any piano for that matter) to come equipped with a 12AX7 valve which adds a lot to its overall character as a self-described Vintage Stage Piano (or should that be Stage Vintage?). When combined with the very convincing amplifier modelling section, it does a great job of warming up electric pianos sounds. The introduced overdrive sounds very natural, even when pushed to more extreme settings which it’s definitely capable of.
Both the SV-2 and the CP-88 are capable of layering up to 3 patches with a single split point e.g. two sounds in the right hand, and one in the left hand. The Yamaha has the advantage of allowing the creation of these multi patches directly from the front panel, whereas the Korg relies on a dedicated software editor for this process.
We were initially confused by the CP-88’s segregation of sounds into three sections: Piano, E.Piano and Sub, Whilst somewhat limiting, this turns out to be fairly intuitive as you’ll likely only want to use one sound from each category e.g. Piano + Strings. There there also is an optional advanced mode which when activated allows for more freedom of patch combinations.
The Nord Piano 4 has two separate sound engines: Piano and Sample Synth, each of which occupy their own front panel real estate in a similar fashion to the CP-88. Layered/split programs can consist of one sound from each engine. Although restrictive compared to the other two pianos, the Nord does offer substantial versatility as far as the range of sounds on offer. Each sound engine has its own memory allocation which can be populated via Nord’s free online sound library. If you don’t like any of the sounds that ship with the Nord Piano 4 they can be easily removed via the software editor running on a USB connected compuer, and replaced with sounds more to your liking.
Although Korg and Yamaha can deliver additional sounds as software updates down the road for their respective pianos, neither can match the flexibility offered by the Nord in this department. This additional functionality doesn’t come cheap though. The Korg and Yamaha occupy a similar price point, while the Nord is substantially more expensive.
All three pianos sound fantastic and choosing a favourite is difficult. The Yamaha CP-88 is an affordable option for those with an inkling for spontaneous split/layer creation, and the more expensive Nord Piano offers a tremendous range of sounds to cover a variety of applications.
It can be hard to choose a standout from these 3 excellent stage pianos, all from reputable brands. As always this will be a highly subjective choice, particularly when it comes to keybed feel. If we had to pick one, we’d say the Korg SV-2 edges out in front. Its new sound selection is excellent, the 12AX7 powered amp emulation can add some nice vintage character and it’s priced competitively. There’s also a new white model with speakers available if that’s something you’d benefit from. As always try them out for yourself!