Korg Releases SP-170 Digital Piano with Startling New Design

(ShackMan | Posted 2010-03-06)

Korg Releases SP-170 Digital Piano with Startling New Design

Korgís recent entry into the budget digital piano world with the SP-170 was something of a surprise move from the company. The SP-170, at first glance, looks like a piano with nothing but a power button and volume knob, a music stand, and a pair of speakers. But take a look through the manual and youíll find something very different is afoot here. Korg specifically made the keyboard with a button-less interface. The sounds, choruses, reverbs, and all of the keyboardís functionality are controlled with various combinations of key presses. Dangerous, if you ask me, but Iíll admit the design is somewhat elegant looking, apart from a plastic-looking music stand that really should have been a bit wider. Still, itís an interesting idea.

Korg certainly doesnít cut corners when it comes to delivering a great piano sound, as should be expected from such a reputable company. The SP-170 uses the same sampling engine and equally as many velocity layers (for capturing every nuance of dynamics in a playerís touch) as their higher end models, making the SP-170ís under $500 price tag look pretty sweet. Itís exactly what Korg says theyíre focusing on for this product: sound and feel.

Korg has put in all of the sounds that should be expected of a digital piano: Grand Piano (x2), Electric Piano (x2), Harpsichord, Clav, Vibraphone, Pipe Organ, Electric (Drawbar) Organ and Strings. Each sound can be layered with selectable Reverb and Chorus effects to add warmth and spaciousness to the sound. While the sounds are standard fare for Korg (though admittedly of higher quality for the price range), Korg added some pretty cool features in terms of feel. The keys are weighted like a piano, true, but to truly match an acoustic pianoís feel, the action should be heavier at the lowest notes and gradually become lighter toward the highest notes. Korg achieved just that, and will certainly be offering their newly updated Natural Weighted Action on all subsequent models.

The Korg features all of the standard options, including 2 headphone output jacks which can also be used to power an external amplifier or for sending signals to recording equipment or a PA system. It offers adjustable tuning that can be matched to other instruments that may not always tune to a perfect A440, and it features a Transpose function for on the fly adjustments. The three touch curves allow the pianoís response to be matched to a light, medium, or heavy playing style, and the two speakers, each powered by a 9 watt amplifier provide enough sound to fill a room or blend into the background of a small dining hall. Last but not least, it offers MIDI compatibility for recording or output to music software. The whole package weighs in at a startling 26 pounds. To be frank, I think the STAND for my digital piano at home weighs at least 30. To have Korg clarity and digital piano looks in such a lightweight package has been almost a thing of myth until this point, and the Korg SP-170 will have to compete with recent entries from Casio in their well-executed and designed PX line, particularly the PX-130.

I like Korg, and have had good experiences with them in the past, but I can just see myself accidentally changing over to a pipe organ or an electric piano or adding chorus in the middle of a piece with a key press, and I canít help but wonder if thereís anything to stop that from happening. For example, is there some sort of button I have to hold in while doing the keystrokes to make these changes? Why canít I just press regular buttons so that I can safely and surely make these changes on the fly? Itís a new idea, and I canít fault Korg for trying something new and giving it a shot, but I canít help but be skeptical of its functionality in a live situation.

Speaking of live functionality, you might recall that I mentioned that the volume was on the back panel of the keyboard, along with the power button. If Korg really wanted the keyboard to look button-less and ďelegantĒ as they say, wouldnít the side where the user sits be a better place to put them, since that generally faces away from the audience? Also, Iím curious as to the userís ability to adjust the volume without looking awkward while leaning over the keyboard to turn the volume knob. It just doesnít look like a good construction move on Korgís part. For now, I like that Korg is trying something new, but Iím not sure if I like where this is going. Iíll give one a try once they start shipping to a music store nearby.

Once they start shipping in April of this year, the SP-170 will be available in two colors, black and soft white. It will carry an MSRP of $600, with in-store prices settling between $475 and $500. The matching stand will be sold separately for around $100.

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