Roland Brings Premium Piano Sound “Home”
...incorporated every detail, from touch-sensitive modulations to such sonic nuances as the barely perceptible “thunk” of a felt-covered wooden hammer striking the string. More dramatically, it rendered smooth dynamic transitions without sampled loops’ coarsely intersected repeats and limitations on polyphony and “steps” of expression. Nearly five years on, Roland has brought the same high level of sonic realism to its reimagined home digital line. But more than just migrating this revolutionary technology to lower price points, Roland has crowned the new line with its own set of exclusive capabilities aimed squarely at home keyboard consumers as well as compelling value-added features and programs to help dealers close the sale. When the company previewed the line at this year’s Summer NAMM show, dealers gave it a resounding standing ovation. More significantly, in the midst of Roland home pianos’ third straight year of sales growth, the launch of the new line made September the category’s most successful month in five years. Says Roland U.S. Vice President of Sales Brian Alli, “This [sales surge] is a great sign that our dealers are really getting behind the new products.”
Some of the Roland dealers’ loudest applause at SNAMM was for the new line’s restructured pricing and bigger margins, which have increased by double digits compared with its predecessor’s. Four new models—the compact HP603 and HP605 and upright LX-7 and LX-17—replace the HP504, HP506, HP508, and LX-15. Per many dealer requests, the non-COSM HP504 was retained from the old line at an MSRP that has been reduced $600 to $2,199. The new wider price point range, also widely requested by dealers, tops out at $6,000 for the flagship LX-17.
The small-footprint HP603 and the HP605 are ideal for the home. The HP603 has a classically-styled cabinet and comes in a choice of three premium finishes: contemporary rosewood, black, or white. The HP605 has a taller cabinet design that further enhances sound projection and is available in authentic polished ebony, contemporary rosewood, or contemporary black/white. Both the LX-7 and LX-17 deliver their tone from a classic upright cabinet design with a compact, practical footprint. The LX-7 is sold in three premium finishes: authentic polished ebony, classic brown walnut, and contemporary black. The taller LX-17 is offered in a choice of authentic polished ebony or polished white.
Representing a major breakthrough for the upright digital piano category, all of the new acoustic piano sounds are modeled. As just one example of the sonic detail this technology brings to life, the new models’ keyboard sensors support rapid repetition and reproduce the tonal fluctuations caused by differences in stroke acceleration patterns—again, to replicate the feel and response of a fine acoustic piano. The new line’s non-acoustic piano sounds, such as electric pianos, strings, brass, and organ, come from the same library used in previous-generation uprights, including many of Roland’s acclaimed SuperNATURAL sounds.
“Sampled sounds have a more limited range of expression versus modeled sounds,” Alli explains. “Modeling involves a real-time calculation of many different tonal quality parameters including nuances such as string resonance, pedal resonance, damper resonance, and duplex scaling.” The result, he says, is “by far, the most authentic tone Roland has ever achieved in a home upright piano.”
“The main difference between the new line’s sound engine and the one in Roland’s super-premium models is the number of parameters that can be edited by the user,” adds Director of Marketing and Communications Chris Halon. “The new line offers modeling sound editing capabilities more suited to home piano consumers versus the micro-editing of parameters in the Roland V-Piano Grand and V-Piano Stage models.”
Projecting the new line’s superior sounds called for upgraded amp and speaker systems. Roland’s technical team responded with new components and configurations with just one goal: delivering the most acoustic-authentic sounds ever produced by a digital upright. The HP605, LX-7, and LX-17 feature Roland’s Acoustic Projection System, which uses a powerful multi-channel amplifier and strategically dispersed speaker placement to re-create the rich, deep sound field of an acoustic grand piano. The HP605 and LX-7 have six speakers in three positions, with cabinet speakers creating the immersive “main” sound, top-mounted spatial speakers reproducing the resonance of the piano’s frame, and nearfield speakers projecting a wider dynamic range of tones. The LX-17 has an eight-speaker layout with additional tweeters for optimal presence and projection. As with an acoustic grand, greater clarity on this model is achieved by opening the lid. While retaining the same impressive SPLs produced by their predecessors, Roland has fine-tuned each new model’s speaker setup into a more energy-efficient yet fuller-sounding system.
Roland has long been a pioneer of pianos that feel as good as they sound, and all four new models carry on that tradition. Like the PHA-4 before it, Roland’s new PHA-50 keyboard offers the company’s high-end escapement and Ebony/Ivory Feel features. However, the “hybrid” PHA-50 adds real wood sides to each natural key for aesthetic appeal as well as a solid, “familiar” feel. An inner stabilizing pin ensures each key’s travel is smoother and quieter in performance.
In another significant upgrade, Roland has added the ability to save user registrations (also called patch settings), in user-defined order, both internally and on a USB drive. These setups could include one or more of the user’s favorite piano sounds, layered sounds, splits, etc. This feature was added partly to benefit a growing audience outside the home. First, praise and worship venues are embracing digital uprights because they are much more portable than their acoustic counterparts. (The new models are slightly shallower than the ones they replace, a selling point to some homeowners, lesson studios, and houses of worship with limited space.) Others are replacing electronic stage pianos with digital uprights for their more refined appearance.
For similar reasons, Roland has been placing its home digitals on major television shows such as The Voice and American Idol. Alli reports that within 48 hours of the first new LX-17 being shipped to Roland US, top musician/producer Linda Perry chose it for a performance on CBS’s The Talk, and again to promote her new children’s album (with Sara Gilbert) on Good Day LA. “The LX-17 appears to be an upright piano,” he says, “but it’s a bit smaller and much lighter. Because of their ‘real piano’ look and superb feel, and because their authentic piano sounds can be routed directly to the mixing board, they are being used in a growing number of performance settings.”
The new line’s user interface has been redesigned for optimal user-friendliness, and its internal recording capacity has been more than doubled to 70,000 notes. Recording controls have been simplified to suit today’s consumer needs and usage trends, namely, recording on external devices and apps. In turn, these capabilities are complemented by another of the line’s big advances: Bluetooth connectivity. Roland’s new uprights are the only Bluetooth-compatible home pianos on the market.
The HP603 enables players to access free music score apps such as PiaScore on their iOS device via Bluetooth technology and even turn the page onscreen by pressing the pedal. The HP605, LX-7, and LX-17 additionally enable players to wirelessly connect to iOS and Android apps as well as iPads, laptops, smart TVs, and other devices. One popular use of this technology is to download songs from various publishers onto an iPad and stream them to the piano. Another is to study or play along with online videos, routing the combined audio through headphones—or the line’s powerful speakers—without need for a mixing device. “Everyone wants to play along with their favorite songs,” says Halon, “and our new pianos make that very natural and easy.” Another application, he adds, would be for a student to video-record their piano lesson on their iPhone, then bring it home and stream the audio through their Roland piano and play along with it while they watch their teacher’s hands on their iPhone.
Roland’s confidence in its new premium home piano line is reflected in an unparalleled ten-year warra
nty. Made possible, in part, by the instruments’ production in a newly opened factory with state-of-the-industry precision and quality standards, the warranty may help dealers overcome customers’ concerns about an electronic piano’s longevity compared with acoustic pianos they’ve known to be playable for decades. In short, it helps consumers think of a Roland digital piano as an investment. “The ten-year warranty on Roland’s new home piano series is the exclamation point on this achievement in technology,” says Roland President and CEO Jay Wanamaker. “We wanted to stand behind this line in a way that expresses our confidence in the quality and sound of these amazing instruments and the success they’ll bring to the market. Their quality is on par with that of fine acoustic pianos. They don’t break. They are ‘pianos for life.’”
In an effort to make this attractive investment affordable to more consumers, Roland has partnered with Allegro Financing to offer special financing services to its piano customers through December 31, 2015. There are two programs available—12-month installment financing at 0% interest (same as cash), and 36-60 months financing at a special reduced rate of 7.99%—both at no cost to the dealer. Noting that Roland contributes significantly to lower the rates, Alli says, “We wanted to make it as easy as possible for our dealers to make the sale.”
Icing on this already irresistible cake comes in the form of a new bench pack with a $500 retail bonus value, offered free of charge with every new piano in the line. In addition to a high-quality bench, the pack includes a pair of Roland $200 RH-A7 headphones, which are designed and EQ’d specifically for use with a digital piano. Also included are a $50 Mighty Bright LED music light; a 150-page Teach Yourself to Play Piano instruction book with streaming audio, video, and interactive lessons playable on any smartphone, tablet, or internet-ready device; two deluxe songbooks filled with 100 accessible arrangements of the world’s most popular classical and contemporary songs; and a suite of interactive apps including Sheet Music Direct and PlayAlong that includes 50 free interactive downloads and an exclusive discount on all future downloads through December 31, 2016. The pack is offered only with the new home digital series, and only to Roland’s piano dealers. “It presents a tremendous closing opportunity,” says Alli, “and it’s included at no additional cost to the dealer.”
Over the last five years, Roland engineers and executives consulted with key U.S. dealers to help shape the new home piano line’s features, price points, and how they’re brought to market. That collaboration has culminated in a line that Alli characterizes as a “game-changer” for the company’s home piano business. “Not only are the pianos significantly improved, with better margins,” he says, “but with the ten-year warranty, attractive financing, and this great [bench pack] closing tool, dealers don’t have to drop the price to close the sale. So the customer wins, the dealer wins, and ultimately Roland wins too.”
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