When I think of Casio, the first thing that comes to mind are the cheap and cheerful keyboards that populated households the world over in the ‘80s. However, things have changed a lot since then. The next generation of Casio keyboards are jam packed with professional level features, cutting edge technology and breathtakingly lifelike modelling of everything from crisp grand pianos to pulsing analogue synths - all of which is exemplified in their new Privia series. Throughout, the piano tones are sampled from some of the world’s most desirable concert grands, and thanks to their groundbreaking AiR (Acoustic and Intelligent Resonator) system, upgraded memory, lossless audio compression, improved touch sensitive action and a slew of extra features, the collection finds itself at the perfect crossroads between uncompromising quality and affordability. To cap it off, all of these digital pianos are extremely portable so you can spend less time at the chiropractor and more time behind the keys.
The PX-160 presents itself as the most affordable option in the Privia range. It’s an excellent choice for someone looking for their first good digital piano, those looking for a gig-ready keyboard on tighter budget or just those looking for a conveniently sized rig that won’t take up too much space. Don’t be fooled by its lower price, however. The PX-160 packs a whole lot of punch and competes with plenty of other digital pianos twice its cost. Powered by the same AiR technology found in its bigger brothers, the concert grand sound is spot on. Essentially, AiR utilises a unique processor based on Casio’s Linear Morphing technology.This recreates the nuances of a live grand piano by allowing seamless dynamic transitions and more realistic tonal colours that are controlled by touch. Digging in, you’ll notice a pleasant bite that particularly shines on the ‘modern’ setting.
As well as sounding remarkably close to the real thing, the PX-160 physically feels right too. The new Tri-Sensor Scaled Hammer Action Keyboard is a key selling point for this model, and makes for a responsive experience that lends itself to expressive playing. Coupled with the simulated ebony and ivory feel keys that offer subtle texture for added grip and luxurious feel, Casio have shown an attention to detail that makes this a winner.
Moving up from the 160, the PX-360 still harnesses all of the core features that makes the Privia series so playable, but combines them with a stack of valuable additions that make this a great tool for composition and live use. The most instantly remarkable feature is the large, full colour touch screen interface placed at the centre of the keyboard. Usually, the more features that are added into a digital piano make the overall experience less counter intuitive. However, the clearly designed interface negates this problem and saves from having to memorise any clunky secondary key functions. Instead, an expansive selection of sounds are easily accessible and ready to use whenever inspiration strikes. As an added bonus, the display is bright enough to see you through even the darkest stage set up.
With 550 tones on offer including strings, guitars, drums, basses, synths and a whole heap more, it’s well suited for experimentation. The Rhodes and Wurlitzer emulations come across particularly convincingly. Rounding it out is a selection of built in studio functions including a 17 track MIDI song recorder as well as the capacity to record in WAV format straight to a USB for easy sharing. Perfect for someone looking for a pro quality, fully featured keyboard without breaking the bank.
The PX-560M boasts the same intuitive 5.3 inch interface as the 360, but it squeezes even more juice out of the keyboard with a whopping 650 tones to play with. Importantly, the PX- 560M carries the powerful Hex Layer sound engine, as seen in Casio’s top tier keyboards and synths. The Hex Layer engine allows for up to six wave forms to be combined together. The result is rich, textural and lush sounds that work particularly well for creating atmospheric pads. This function really pushes the model into a new level. Not only is it a fully capable stage piano, but it carries a lot of the tones and tweakablility you’d want from a professional level synthesiser as well. Bringing the two together makes for an incredibly versatile instrument that is at home in almost any situation. As you would expect from a high calibre synthesiser, the sound parameters can be controlled in real time through knobs, two modulation wheels and an expression pedal that are all completely assignable. This particularly comes in handy for live use, where sounds can be altered to suit the moment as you play.
For those who are looking for a vast selection of sounds to fine tune and warp to find their own sound - the 560M is a solid choice. Thankfully, there’s a large bank of 400 empty patches for you to save your signature tones on to, which are all easily accessible. This allows for endless variations and a multitude of possibilities, allowing you to find and create something truly unique to you. Finally, the impressive metallic blue paint job gives the PX-560 a retro cool while packing all the capabilities of a modern powerhouse under the hood.
PX-5S PRIVIA PRO
Lastly, we have the Privia PX - 5S, the most established unit in the range. It’s less an upgrade from the others, as with the unit we see a departure from some of the features that are consistent throughout the others, though it still certainly feels as though it’s in the same broader family. Featuring crystal clear sound quality and a bucketload of features, Casio has pushed classic piano and key sounds into a new realm by combining them with a fiercely powerful synthesiser selection. Seeing as this is a true stage piano, it doesn’t feature any on-board speakers. However, the handy headphone out is a lifesaver for home use. Plugging in a set of my own, I was genuinely blown away by the three dimensional sounds and stereo depth the instrument holds, without any added processing. While it lacks the digital displays of other Privia models, the instrument is centred around 100 endlessly configurable Stage Settings, all accessed via an illuminated control panel on the body. For those sonic control freaks who want the capacity to alter their sounds to the finest degree, there is a huge amount of effects, eq and assignable filters that can be refined and saved or adjusted on the fly.
Different tones and sounds can be played together, combined and zoned across the keyboard making for some incredibly layered playing. Within a few minutes, I had washes of dreamy pads stacked behind a pulsing bass, grand piano and a driving drum beat. It’s an approach that inspires creativity, and would become invaluable when composing or sketching out a larger production - all from a single instrument. This is again due to the immensely powerful Hex Layer technology, which really shines on the Privia Pro. The inbuilt arpeggiator system is a welcome addition and easily accessible for live use. Rounding it out comes 100 built in loops with room to save up to 900 of your own, audio recording and playback and Casio’s ‘class compliant’ MIDI functionality making this keyboard as much of an asset in the studio as it is on the stage.
SOMETHING FOR ALL
With this Privia series, Casio have proved that they’re not only ready to offer up pro-quality keyboards to the masses - but they’re willing to lead the way with a next generation of digital pianos that combine the best of traditional, life-like sounds with cutting edge synth capabilities. Whether you’re looking for a solid entry level option, or a live performance and studio powerhouse, there’s something for everyone here. All at a price that won’t break the bank, or at a weight that will break your back.
Hits and Misses
Realistic AiR technology as standard, with the mesmerising Hex Layer technology on higher models.
Improved, more responsive action
Intuitive display and controls
Large capacity for crafting and fine tuning sounds, particularly on the PX - 560 and PX - 5S
USB connectivity is great for sharing songs and collaborating.
While offering a huge array of sounds, the organ tones could be a bit more convincing.