Siel PX JR
Not being familiar with the Junior's big brother, the Siel PX, my initial impression was of a neatly laid-out keyboard, with a symmetrical switch and loudspeaker output blending very attractively with the parallel light blue lines that lie across the console. Add to this the dark grey body being offset by blue and white lettering and the notes themselves, and you've got a modern instrument that's visually very appealing.
Having to clamber amidst assorted junk for a two-pin socket adaptor did put a temporary damper on things but, having tackled one of the simpler problems not yet fully tackled by the European Parliament, the PX jr was eventually operational and responded with the gentlest of modulated 'swishes' from the built-in stereo chorus when switched on.
Like the instrument itself, the owner's manual was neatly set out and was conveniently sub-headed, with clear black and white photographs ensuring that the simple, easy-to-follow instructions were virtually idiot-proof, for which I was grateful. As these were available in Italian, French, English and German, I did wonder why the guarantee was written exclusively in Italian. Oh well, non domando me...
The PX jr is a fully polyphonic, 72-note, electronic piano that incorporates a touch-sensitive keyboard ranging in pitch from a low F some two-and-a-half octaves below middle C, up to a top E almost six octaves away. The third A corresponds to 440Hz with the adjustable trimmer centred. This is clearly marked 'Tune' and not unexpectedly sports a flat sign to the left and a sharp sign to the right.
Fine tuning was at first a little difficult as the small plastic button was a bit awkward to get hold of and move, but after a while this didn't prove to be any real problem. The only slight hiccup in pitch came from the filter which, while cutting out unwanted sounds efficiently, also reduced the volume to a marked degree on some of the presets, and produced a slight 'clipping' effect which made the octaves sound very slightly flat.
The only other master control apart from the Tune button is the Volume control, which is marked off to indicate level and works perfectly.
The Siel's output is fed through a built-in 9W RMS amplifier and monophonic loudspeaker system, which is angled face-down and projects most of the sound through a cut-away section at the back of the piano.
Although a good idea for practice purposes, it was disappointing to find that the system was too inflexible to be of any greater use. Volume was often inadequate until nearing the maximum output, which was loud enough for solo practice but would be inadequate for use with a group. At higher volume levels the tonal quality deteriorated, often becoming sharply percussive across a wide range of pitches and occasionally producing speaker distortion, especially around the upper register of the keyboard.
The piano's size doesn't make it very portable, but as Siel offer supports and a black imitation leather carrying bag as optional extras, the PX jr would seem to be better suited for use in the context of a working band if connected through an external amplifier, for which there is a socket on the back.
Perhaps not surprisingly, doing this resulted in a considerable improvement in sound quality, but I was disappointed to see that no separate volume control was available, meaning that the built-in speaker still made its presence felt by being perpetually in use. (Though I imagine its output would just about be eliminated by the force of something like a 1K PA rig.) The only other slight problem was that the effect of the stereo chorus was diminished a little by using external amplification, probably something to do with the sound balance of the built-in speaker system.
There are two other jack plug sockets on the back, one for headphones which worked well and produced a reasonably good sound, the other for the sustain pedal that comes as standard with the piano. This probably doesn't take too much time to design or manufacture but does its job extremely well.
The stereo chorus is easy to use, a small red LED indicating that the switch is either on or off, while a Speed control effectively adjusts de-tuning to the required degree. The overall effect improved the sound quality significantly, altering the tone to give both greater warmth and depth, and is a real pleasure to use.
There are five presets offered: Piano 1 and 2, Electric Piano, Harpsichord and Honky Tonk, and each has a small red LED which lights up when the voice is in use. It was a bonus to discover that any of the presets could be used together, and although this increases volume levels a fair bit, it does add some welcome colour to the original uncombined tones.
Sadly, some of the factory presets on their own were a bit disappointing. The Electric Piano and Harpsichord probably work best, but even these sounded weak without the user resorting to the stereo chorus. Combinations of several presets worked rather better, but few sounded really convincing without the use of sustain and the stereo chorus to add a degree of authenticity, always assuming, of course, that that's the quality you seek in an instrument of this type.
The touch sensitive keyboard has a very light feel and provides a positive response, but some players may consider it a touch underweighted and not quite dynamic enough. Like so many other designs the PX jr will go loud or soft but not very far in between.
It was felt that the lower range of the instrument offered the best response and generally worked well, proving to be the most satisfying audibly and especially effective when using its polyphonic qualities to the full on sustained chords. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the upper register, where tone quality soon deteriorates under stress and often becomes harsh and/or shallow.
In sum, the PX jr is easy to set up and use, and generally behaved itself during the test period. However, for the money I would have expected a little more in terms of sonic performance before investing in it as a main keyboard instrument, though in the context of a multikeyboard set-up, its inclusion may be more worthwhile.
If anything, this Siel is really an instrument of promise unfulfilled. A couple of MIDI sockets on the back, for example, would have made it a far more interesting proposition and I hope the manufacturers are working on this.
As it stands, this smaller PX may well win the approval of the domestic or semi-pro musician who needs a simple writing or practising tool, but from my own point of view, the Junior's beauty was only skin deep.
Review by Kev Harding
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