Siel PX Electronic Piano
A ten preset voice electronic piano with touch sensitive keyboard and separate bass section.
Electric and electronic pianos were once very much the poor relations of the professional keyboard market. Only a few years ago the modern keyboardist was faced with a somewhat awkward choice if he wanted something resembling a piano sound without the tremendous hassle of using an acoustic grand or upright for live and recording work. On the one hand there were the great-sounding but prohibitively expensive semi-acoustic models such as Rhodes and Helpenstill, while on the other a wide range of budget electronic designs which more often than not sounded more like synthesisers than pianos, and were often unreliable to boot.
Fortunately, much has changed since those pioneering days. The 1984 version of the electronic piano is a more sophisticated and more versatile animal altogether, and the Siel PX reviewed here is no exception.
Unlike the same company's Cruise mono/poly synth reviewed in last month's issue, the PX is a comparatively new product, and this is evidenced by a somewhat smarter and more contemporary panel layout and general design, and by a greater attention to constructional detail. This extends not only to the instrument's exterior protection against knocks and scratches but also to its interior construction, which is of the highest order and nicely accessible too, which should make any necessary servicing a doddle. There are four main PCBs - two for sound generation and two for connection to the touch-sensitive keyboard - plus a fifth for power supply. All the wiring is neat and orderly and the keyboard contacts themselves are beautifully finished.
Keyboard length is six octaves F to F (actually, F to E, since strangely no upper F is provided), which I consider to be just about the bare minimum for serious professional electronic pianos, though obviously Siel have borne cost and ease of portability in mind when determining its size.
As already mentioned, the keyboard is velocity-sensitive, and perhaps not surprisingly its action is a lot closer to, say, an acoustic piano or a Fender Rhodes than to a touch-sensitive polysynth such as the Yamaha DX7. Clearly, Siel have reckoned that most potential purchasers of the PX are likely to be accustomed to playing conventional pianos and won't therefore be in much of a mood to alter their playing style, and I think they're right. Mind you, the other side of the coin is that a keyboardist coming to this instrument after years of playing synthesisers is more than likely to wonder at first why some notes are sounding so much louder than others, and why some aren't even sounding at all!
In what I would deem to be a fairly brave move, the PX's designers have eschewed such recent electric piano 'developments' as arpeggiators, graphic equalisers, and complex time-delay circuitry in order to concentrate on getting the basic preset sounds (there are ten of them) just right. This does of course leave the instrument with well below the usual quota of rotary pots, touch-switches and flashing LEDs - by no stretch of the imagination is the PX a knob-twiddler's delight - but it's important to remember that sounds can always be altered to suit the individual's tastes by adding outboard equipment: the same cannot be said of the sounds themselves.
There are in fact two effects - chorus and tremelo - provided on the PX's control panel, but neither of these is variable, or indeed all that usable in most applications, even if the latter can be controlled by one of the two foot-pedals provided. I know this is going to sound like nitpicking, but given the high standard of some other manufacturers' onboard goodies, I think Siel would have been better off leaving these two off altogether, since it's all too easy for inexperienced purchasers to judge instruments on the basis of what would normally be considered insignificant details.
The ten preset voices don't have names on the front panel (though they do in the instruction manual, not that they're particularly accurate or informative) so for the sake of convenience I'll refer to them by their numerical titles. Tone number one (they call it 'grand piano' in the book, though frankly I can't think why) is really a rather beautiful, sparkling percussive sound, particularly if used in conjunction with the sustain pedal supplied. Just right for those Eno Music For Films imitations, though I can't bear to contemplate what Rick Wakeman would make of it.
Number two sounds quite a bit more like a conventional acoustic piano, since its tone is fuller and more rounded than the previous setting, though it's still got enough sparkle to make the instrument stand out if it's placed within a band set-up and/or other keyboards, synths, etc. Voice three, on the other hand, is a good bit too synthetic for my liking (in fact, much the same could be said for numbers eight and nine, as well). All three suffer from quite bizarre amounts of de-tuning and modulation, which, while undoubtedly acceptable - if not desirable - on most other types of electronic keyboard, really do seem a bit out of place in this context, though I suppose someone somewhere will find a use for them.
Voice number four is rather better, as it's quite a reasonable approximation of a Yamaha Electric Grand sound, though still with its own individual character. Voice five is also in a sense an 'imitator', this time with the Fender Rhodes as the object of the electronic mimmickry, and again the PX manages to get quite close without running the risk of being accused of plagiarism. Tone number six is similar, though it's slightly brighter and possesses a less percussive envelope.
Neatly sidestepping the sound of voices eight and nine hinted at earlier, we come to the last sound of all, tone number ten, which takes a little bit of getting used to initially but in time makes its mark as being perhaps the most impressive (and certainly the most original) sound on the keyboard. It's a wooden-sounding percussive voice of quite stunning tonal accuracy, though strangely it's difficult to think up a traditional acoustic equivalent for it: the nearest I managed in my notes was 'cross between a glockenspiel and a woodblock'. It's certainly rather unexpected to find a preset voice of such beauty and originality on what is otherwise a fairly conventional instrument; I only wish Siel had developed this particular setting a little further by providing us with a couple of tonal and/or octave variations on it in place of the synthetic de-tuned presets mentioned above. Still, you can't have your cake and eat it...
There is in fact an eleventh preset voice in the form of a separate bass section which covers the lowest two octaves, and whose volume can be controlled individually by means of a rotary pot located on the front panel. This is actually quite close to the lower end of an acoustic upright, but the unfortunate aspect of this is that the sound doesn't combine particularly harmoniously with any of the other preset sounds, unless you're playing a gentle, slow-moving piece. Pity.
It's possible to combine two of the preset voices together by holding down the button of the tone first selected and simultaneously switching in a second. Surprisingly, this can be very effective indeed: combinations that work particularly well are one and four, two and five, five and six, and six and ten. It should be mentioned that while most of the voices on the PX benefit from judicious use of the sustain pedal when used singly, the same cannot be said for the combinations outlined above, as things do tend to get a bit confused or, worse, distorted, particularly at the keyboard's lower end.
The Siel's rear panel includes provision for headphone monitoring as well as stereo connection to outside amplification, and the foot-pedal socket. All of these are standard quarter-inch jacks, which is good to see.
Summing-up on the PX is a little difficult, bearing in mind its fairly hefty price-tag. With all sorts of cheaper competition from the new wave of fully polyphonic, MIDI-equipped, programmable synthesisers, it seems unlikely that many general purpose keyboardists will find the PX's expense warranted. On the other hand, committed electric piano enthusiasts (or alternatively, pianists who want a fairly painless introduction to the world of electronic instruments) will find the Siel a godsend, since in addition to its fine sound capabilities, it's reasonably compact and light to carry, would seem to be equally suited to both studio and live applications, and is extremely well-constructed.
The Siel PX Electronic Piano has an RRP of £749 and you can get further information from Siel (UK) Ltd., (Contact Details).
Review by Dan Goldstein
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