Casio PX-3 Offers a Serious Stage Piano on a Small Budget
(ShackMan | Posted 2011-11-29)
The Casio PX-3 (based loosely on the PX-330) is Casio's first foray into creating a fully professional stage piano, and it's a market changer. Not a game changer, to be sure; there isn't anything revolutionary about how it's laid out, the sounds it produces, or what it combines into one instrument. It's a traditional stage piano with EP, Hammond B-3, synth and pads, and the whole gamut of sounds you'd expect. What it's changing is that this is now a package available for a mere family of Benjamins (Price $799.99) rather than the Nord/Roland/Korg price of $2000 and up.
Unboxing the PX-3, the first thing that came to my mind is that Casio knows how to do black. Every instrument in the Privia and Celviano line, and even some of the WK/CTK products have a smooth black sheen that makes them a presence on stage and belies the small price tag. Using it on stage was no big deal either once I got used to the PX-3's layout. Say goodbye to the gray-on-black embossed writing and dull jack labeling of the past. The PX-3 features bright white lettering that was easily visible on stage. The jacks and connections were each labeled individually on top of the keyboard as well as on the back. Casio has also addressed the “backwards split” issue in which previous keyboards allowed you to change the left hand sound but not the right hand sound while in split. You may now change both at will and keep each sound in its own respective output (left or right) if you so desire as well. All this came about because, of all the corporate heads I've encountered, Mike Martin spends a great deal of time on message boards and forums constantly searching for customers who have honest issues with his keyboards and thinking up ways to make them better. I've gotten direct feedback on my own reviews of their gear as well, folks. They take this stuff seriously.
But back to the keyboard...
One of the most impressive features in my eyes was the feel. Casio used the highest-grade Ivory Feel it offers on any of its instruments, as well as graded hammer action, making it easily the nicest feeling Casio board I've played. Much like a good acoustic piano, the secondary click keeps the energy in your fingers and not left in playing the note.
Casio has also significantly simplified the layout of this board from earlier Privia models. There are dedicated buttons, as well as the ever-present Function button, for just about anything you need. I was able to do everything from splits to layers to routing without actually looking at the manual. Effects were also a breeze. Press a button to turn it on or off. Hold the button in to edit it. Done. I see that the PX-3 has gotten some bad reviews in terms of ease of use and control layout, but I beg to differ. I think it's as good as most products out there if not better than many of them whose menus still run 5 or 6 sub-menus deep (which in this day and age is totally unnecessary). It also manages to follow the simplest rule of design: if I change a parameter regarding a function (e.g. layering) I should use the main button for that function (press, hold, tap, etc.). I think we should all be able to get behind that.
I've always really enjoyed Casio's piano sounds. They seem to sit higher in a mix and be more present than a lot of models that tend to be more concerned with getting exact response and ultra-realistic piano sounds. I can always count on these sounds to give me a visceral response each time I hit a note. Are they very realistic? No, but they're still very good, and they're very well-designed for the stage, and after all, that's why you want the PX-3, right? Clav tones hit the spot, too. The Clav 1 patch is a phenomenal in your face, no holds barred patch that I dug into for two hours straight and didn't feel like it was a minute. The Tremolo Vibraphone sounds very open and natural. The E. Piano models bring sweet smooth tines and absolutely NAIL the “brap” of the attack on the bass side. It's in these models that Casio's dynamic modeling really shines; I would never have guessed it was only 4 stereo dynamic samples. I feel like I'm in total control of the tone with each attack, and that is one of the things that makes this piano so much fun to play.
The organ sounds, while they don't come near a clonewheel, do mark another big step for Casio into better organ sounds. Although I fretted over the lack of drawbars (something that just comes with the smaller purchase price), Casio found a decent work-around in that many of the organ patches are laid out in increasingly loud or forward settings, or with a good base setting in the center of the three patches for each type. While I'm pretty impressed with the organ sounds (even the church organ was pretty great, and the reverb made it sound even better), it's the usual problem I have with them that keeps them from being amazing: the Rotary Effect. It works fine. It's a little understated on some patches, sure, but it's missing that 3-dimensional sheen that a full Leslie affords you. That said, I STILL can't think of another organ sound outside of software (which alone costs in the ballpark of $500, just $100 less than the PX-3) that can beat the PX-3's tones under $1000 (not to mention under 25lbs).
Casio skeptics will get a surprise out of the string patches, which have been re-tailored to sound much more organic. Some still have that classic CZ-101 quality (for those of you who may have been fans of Casio's old synth). If the base patches feel a little abrasive to you (as they did to me), just turn down the brilliance a little bit and you'll be fine.
The Others/GM bank finds Casio's usual gems. Moog- and Mellotron-infused classic synth sounds abound. As some other reviewers have voiced, I was saddened by the lack of a “Mono” option for some of the synth leads, but that was about all I missed. Casio has a set of synthesizer tone tools that covers the basics as well as almost any stage piano out there, so even knob tweakers won't feel lost with this board.
A slew of other features make the PX-3 incredibly versatile. The Plug 'n' Play USB Midi connection is as simple as it gets. Plug it in, and your OS (Mac, PC, Linux, etc.) will recognize it. I've had no problems with it whatsoever. The addition of an SD card slot for recording and live playback is also welcome.
When Casio released this board, they said it would be the best stage piano under $1,000, and they've definitely succeeded at that and then some. I can run many of these patches against Korg's SV-1 and, even to a trained ear on a blind test, come up with varied results on which is the Korg and which is the Casio. If that doesn't speak volumes, then you need to feel it, too. I can guarantee you won't find as fine a hammer action as this for under $1000 either. Sure, the layout will give you a few moments of flipping back through the manual, but the shortcut guide on top of the keyboard and the brighter lettering make the PX-3 Casio's most stage-worthy board yet.
James Rushin is proud to be living in the Pittsburgh area and teaching at Batavia Studios in Mars, PA. He has performed with Selmer artist Tim Price, Curtis Johnson, guitarists Ken Karsh and Joe Negri. His compositions have been featured in and around Pittsburgh, at West Virginia University and Valley Forge Christian College. He is currently performing with Ben Shannon and singer/songwriters Tim Ruff, and Mark Dignam. He is also the newest member of local rock group James.Rushin@MusicGearReview.com.