Yamaha PF70 & 80 Electronic Pianos
Julian Colbeck assesses Yamaha's MIDI FM Pianos
With good reason, many people have waited a long time for these guys. Ever since their predecessors, the PF10 and 15, were launched (just prior to the arrival of MIDI), there has been considerable demand for MIDI versions of these unique FM digital pianos. The sole difference between the two is the PF80's additional octave (88 notes to the PF70's 76) in keyboard length. As Yamaha themselves put it: 'Now you know how much we charge per note!'
Although these pianos owe some allegiance to to the PFs 10/15, it would be misleading to think of them as mere MIDI-ed versions of an older product. For starters, the ten FM tones, though similarly named (pianos, electric pianos, harpsi, vibes and clavi), are completely new, and far less radical than their predecessors! This time around, Yamaha have produced safer, more generally usable, but equally rich and dynamic FM sounds. Some may see this as disappointing, since one of the PF10's and PF15's most popular features was the weirdness of many of the tones. However, it would be equally wrong to suggest that these are simply bog standard presets: they're not. The pianos, three of them, range from an, OK, fairly standard acoustic piano tone, through a bright cutting piano, to a bristlingly rich, grasping, rasping sound that is sheer heaven to play. The electric tones cover a loosely Rhodesian area, from 'LA. smooth' to bright and glassy, and the remainder are pretty true to their names.
Immediate tone modifiers comprise a chorus and tremolo (push-button initiated), but, importantly, the latter's range and speed can be altered and programmed individually for each of the sounds. This, as with the various MIDI functions, comes under Function mode control. A small diagram on the panel tells you what's on offer. You can tailor the velocity sensitivity, control the range of soft pedal activity, alter tremolo setting and set up various MIDI parameters, such as pitch bend range, specific programme change information, internal splits and MIDI splits for when using the instrument with additional sound sources. All of the above can, again, be programmed individually for each tone.
A word of warning though. MIDI split means that you can send one tone out on two MIDI channels. Internal split means that you can specify the note range range of one internal tone, allowing an external sound source to play over the remaining range. Both modes only come into play when you are combining the PF with other MIDI instruments; neither allows you to layer two internal sounds on top of one another.
There are global controls, too: key transpositions, MIDI receive and transmit channel settings, tuning MIDI merge, and programme change information on/off. This is a healthy number and range of control activities, and definitely puts the PF70/80in the keyboard controller class. And there's more. Slider operated are three Eq controllers — treble, middle and bass — whose setting though not storable, can still alter each of the tones substantially. Finally, the internal speaker system can now be turned off. The lack of this feature on the PF10 and 15 was a constant nuisance to many.
Bearing in mind that these new PF keyboards are priced at the same level as the original models, you're getting considerably more for your money nowadays. The weighted keyboard is a joy, the sounds are superb, and the range of MIDI control is more than adequate. Either instrument is ideal for the player who doesn't insist on having the truest acoustic piano sounds around (although the ones here are far from inaccurate), but who wants a range of exciting piano-type sounds that can be played on a decent keyboard. With MIDI control offered as it is, the PF70 and PF80 will also suit players owning a couple more instruments, who want to access external instrument programmes and position their manifestation along this wonderfully weighted, velocity sensitive keyboard. For most people, myself included. I'd say that the level of MIDI control on offer is quite sufficient for these pianos to be classified as MIDI keyboard controllers.
And finally, courtesy of the built-in 'true stereo' speakers, the PFs can double as superb home or practice instruments — all of which combines to make Yamaha's reworking of this range and pretty thorough and worthwhile effort.
As for which of the two represents the better value, I guess the PF80's additional octave is worth having for genuine pianists who will appreciate the extra room to manoeuvre, but since both pianos seem to be selling extremely well, I'd take whichever one you can find!
YAMAHA PF70/80 RRPs £999 & £1099 inc. VAT
More details from Yamaha Musical Instruments Ltd., (Contact Details).
Review by Julian Colbeck
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