To keyboard legends Herbie Hancock and Jordan Rudess, KORG are the go-to brand for powerful performance synthesisers such as the mighty KRONOS.
To many younger musicians, Korg are synonymous with affordable portable gadgets like the VOLCA range, and the powerful ‘louge’ family of analogue synths.
Guitarists may immediately think of KORG’s extensive range of guitar tuners, or even classic effect processors such as the legendary SDD-2000.
However, one component of Korg’s vast product range that has seen substantial growth over the past few years is digital pianos. A range which now includes a number of models being manufactured in Korg’s Japanese factory, a true indicator of care and quality.
In this article, we aim to demystify Korg’s now extensive piano range by breaking it down into three practical categories.
1. Entry level – Affordable yet enjoyable instrument for the budding pianist, or musician on a budget.
2. A more substantial investment- A serious alternative to an acoustic piano for the committed pianist.
3. Performance/portable pianos – A portable piano equally suited to home/studio use or live performance.
Unless noted otherwise, all models here feature 88 weighted keys for an authentic acoustic piano-like experience.
Part 1: Entry Level
Several years ago, Korg saw tremendous success with their SP-170S entry level home piano. This model has now been replaced by the B1 which improves on the SP-170S in just about every way imaginable, but most notably the feel of the keys and the sound of the speakers.
B1 offers a range of onboard instrument sounds including 3 acoustic pianos, 2 electric pianos, a harpsichord, a pipe organ and a jazz organ. Other features include a metronome for practice, and a partner mode which effectively turns the B1 into 2 half size pianos for use by two players simultaneously e.g. student and teacher.
An area in which the Korg B1 stands out from the crowd is the inclusion of a larger piano style sustain pedal, a refreshing change from the square plastic type usually bundled with digital pianos.
The decision to utilize a proprietary pedal connector as opposed to the more common ¼” instrument style plug may seem bewildering at first, but there is a big benefit here – Korg also manufacture a triple pedal system similar to that employed by real acoustic pianos (a useful upgrade option for advancing pianists). This triple pedal system is not possible using standard ¼” connectors, so Korg have used their own more capable multi-pin connection type.
The B1 is available in black or white and a matching wooden stand is available for a more complete home piano experience
The Korg LP-180 is possibly the most affordable full featured digital piano available and a great choice for beginners is portability is not a requirement. It comes complete with wooden stand and triple pedal system, and its compact, elegant form make for an attractive addition to any room in the house. It’s also a great option for schools with it’s dual headphone outputs, allowing both teacher and student to listen together.
A MIDI output allows computers or tablets to be connected, opening up LP-180 to the vast world of software based tuition, notation and recording platforms.
This model just recently stood as Korg’s flagship home piano, however it’s been outranked by two newer models which we’ll discuss in the following section. This restructuring places the LP-380 into our entry level category, albeit at the upper end compared with the above mentioned pianos.
Regardless, the LP-380 represents remarkable value for money, especially given that it is entirely made in Japan, and uses Korg’s flagship RH3 weighted keybed. It’s compact enough to fit wherever it needs to be, and sounds superb thanks to large speakers which resonate naturally within the wooden cabinet. 30 different instrument sounds are on-board including a variety of classic acoustic pianos and vintage electric pianos for both classic and contemporary playing styles.
As with the LP-180, a MIDI output allows connectivity with a computer, tablet or smartphone.
G1 Air / C1 Air
Korg made big waves recently with the announcement of two new flagship digital pianos. Like the LP-380, the G1 Air and C1 Air are both given the premium Japanese manufacturing treatment, and importantly use Korg’s Japanese made RH3 weighted keybed.
Similarities aside, the overall playing experience elevates these new models above anything Korg have released before. The C1 Air includes beautifully detailed samples of Steinway and Yamaha grand pianos (referred to as German and Japanese pianos) with damper resonance further adding to the realism.
The G1 Air adds a Bosendorfer model (known as Austrian Grand), making it the only digital piano currently available to offer all three of the world’s most popular and iconic acoustic piano varieties. The G1 also ramps up the audio quality via a unique four speaker system, with two speakers beneath the keybed, and two above for a natural and immersive soundscape.
As implied by the name, both models can wirelessly receive music (or other audio) from your bluetooth equipped device to be played back through the piano’s speaker system. It’s a nice bonus to be able to put those lovely speakers to use even when the piano isn’t being played.
Unlike the two above mentioned Japanese Pianos, Havian 30 is a descendant of Korg’s line of Professional Arranger keyboards courtesy of Korg Italy. Many Australian musicians may not even be aware that Korg have an Italian division, however their creations are legendary in countries such as Turkey and Lebanon.
An arranger keyboard is designed to put you in control of a virtual band or orchestra, allowing you to quickly compose and perform in a variety of popular styles, with intelligent accompaniment following your every move. This style of instrument is typically designed with portability in mind, so the Havian 30 is truly unique with its 88 weighted keys from Italian manufacturer Fatar.
Those looking for a high quality piano with functionality that extends far beyond the usual home piano offering owe it to themselves to check out the Havian 30. Alternatively, if you’re after an arranger keyboard and come from a piano background, this one is definitely for you.
However you look at it, the Havian 30 represents tremendous value for money, either as an affordable Italian made piano, or as a full featured arranger with high-quality weighted keys. A matching wooden stand and pedal mount are available separately.
Part 4: Performance/portable pianos
As wonderful as the pianos from our first two groups are, live performance really isn’t their forte. Fortunately Korg offer a range of pianos just as well suited to home/studio use as they are to live performance. The D1 is the newest member of this family, and one that is perhaps a little difficult to pigeon hole.
It may look like a home piano similar to the B1, but several important distinctions need to be made. First, at $849, is the most affordable piano to feature Korg’s renowned Japanese made RH3 weighted hammer action keybed. Secondly, it does not have built in speakers.
For home use, the high quality keybed and detailed instrument sounds make the D1 a very satisfying practice instrument for discerning pianists. You will of course need to supply your own headphones or speakers. For home studio use, MIDI in/out connectors make the D1 a great controller for use with soft synths or hardware modules. The slim cabinet design means it will fit easily into most setups, and the RH3 action provides an unrivalled piano-like authenticity.
D1 is slim, compact and lightweight (as far as weighted pianos go anyway) for portability and ¼” stereo line outputs are provided for professional live usage. D1 includes a sustain pedal and music rest, while a custom padded gig bag and sturdy metal stand are sold separately.
Korg make a nifty product called PlugKEY which allows MIDI equipped keyboards like D1 to be easily connected to iPhones and iPads via lightning connector. This accessory makes D1 a great companion to Korg apps such as Module and Gadget further extending its range of sounds, even in a live performance scenario thanks to PlugKEYs ¼” line outputs
The SP-280 is true home/stage piano hybrid. It represents a substantial step up from entry level devices such as the B1 as a home piano with richer, louder speakers and a wider range of on-board sounds, but also has plenty of useful features designed for the live performer.
To complement it’s vintage aesthetic (not dissimilar to the next piano in this section) the SP-280 includes detachable legs which together with the piano create a great retro look on stage. As well as the usual headphone output, stereo ¼” line outputs are located on the rear panel for direct connection to a mixing desk or powered speakers.
A generous assortment of acoustic and electric piano sounds are provided which cover a range of playing styles from classical to soul, as well as ensemble sounds such as strings and choir. Furthermore, two sounds can be easily layered with a piano sound by simply pressing both instrument buttons simultaneously.
As the name ‘Stage-Vintage’ would suggest, Korg’s SV-1 distances itself from other pianos on the market by aiming to recreate the old-school vibe of pre-digital live performance keyboard rigs.
In the 1970s, players only dreamed of carrying around one device which housed all the pianos, effects and amplifiers they required to get through a set. This is what Korg have conjured up with the SV-1, but doing so without sacrificing the hands-on immediacy of dedicated individual components.
The row of knobs across the front panel offer the same type of controls you would expect from an arsenal of instruments and effects, conveniently positioned within arm’s reach. Effects can be activated with the push of a button and tweaked with the turn of a knob. Near the middle of the panel, one dial selects an instrument category e.g. acoustic pianos, electric pianos, etc. and an adjacent knob selects an instrument within that category.
The knobs themselves have a satisfying solidity and clicky resistance to them which is a reassuring indicator of overall quality and adds a sense of retro authenticity.
To really capture the feel of a vintage amp combo, a 12AX7 valve turbo charges the on-board amplifier emulations to give electric pianos and organs an organic layer of warmth or grit. Add to all this Korg’s renowned RH3 weighted hammer action and it’s easy to see why the SV-1 has been the stage piano of choice for so many professional players since its release.
SV-1 is available in either 73 or 88 note formats, both with weighted keys
Korg’s new flagship Stage Piano Grandstage first appeared at the 2017 NAMM Show and takes a decidedly different tactic to that of the SV-1. While it retains the hands-on live performance friendly interface, it dramatically expands the available sonic palette by offering 7 unique sound engines, several of which are inherited directly from Korg’s mighty KRONOS synthesiser.
The SGX-2 engine handles piano duties providing up to 12 velocity layers of samples and adding very natural sounding sympathetic string resonance. It’s interesting to note that the Grandstage packs in more total PCM data than the KRONOS, but with a strong focus on acoustic pianos. As a special bonus, an all new piano sample set dubbed ‘Italian Grand’ is on-hand as a Grandstage exclusive. Truly an object of envy for the many KRONOS players out there.
Dedicated engines are also provided for electric pianos, subtractive synthesis, sample playback, and three organ variants. The CX-3 engine from the KRONOS provides classic Hammond B3 emulation, while VOX and Compact engines make their debut here dishing out spot on Vox Continental and Farfisa organ recreations.
As a flagship instrument, Korg manufacture the Grandstage entirely in Japan which of course includes their fabulous RH3 weighted hammer action.