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Comparing the Roland RD-88 to the Yamaha P515

Updated: Oct 6, 2023


In August 2022, I was in search of a MIDI controller to facilitate composing music more efficiently. My initial requirements were that it had to have 88 weighted keys, have internal speakers, and be somewhat portable. After doing some research online, I felt ready to check out the options I had come up with, so I went to Long and McQuade in Toronto to try out three different controllers:

  • Arturia KeyLab88 MkII

  • Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 MK2

  • Roland RD-88

These three instruments both fell within the same price range, close to $2000 CAD, making them a fair comparison price wise. After trying out all three MIDI controllers, I found both the Arturia and the Native Instruments instruments had stiff key action, which would be problematic for me to play quick passages, so I ruled both of them out. The Roland was the best out of the three, so that made my final decision easy.


While I was at the store, the sales associate also had me try the Roland RD2000 (which was way out of my budget at approximately $4000) and the Yamaha P515 (another instrument around $2000) as an experiment. The RD2000 felt similar to the RD-88, but it had a huge sound library and many more knobs and buttons to manipulate the sound, unlike the RD-88. The Yamaha P515 is considered a digital piano and not a MIDI controller, so I didn’t think it was an option for me when doing my initial research. The sales associate explained that the P515 can connect to a computer and be used for inputting notes, and since this was going to be my main purpose for using it, it became a viable option.


Upon returning to Ottawa, I purchased the Roland RD-88 and had it in my possession for about a month. After that month, I still wasn’t quite satisfied with the sound output nor feel of the keys, so despite I was initially looking for a MIDI controller, I decided to switch to the Yamaha P515, since I realized my fingers were happier with an instrument that felt and sounded most similar to a grand piano.


Here is my review of both instruments and why I changed my mind:


Volume and Speakers

Roland RD-88

The RD-88 is meant to be used as a stage piano, so it is understandable that the internal speakers are quiet and not very powerful as they are meant to be plugged into external speakers. The manufacturer located the internal speakers on the bottom of the instrument, instead of the top (like most keyboards have), which may also contribute to the softer sound. Regardless of this fact, there are drastic volume differences between the various sounds the keyboard comes with (known as a “sound library”) when listening to them through the internal speakers. Unfortunately, the piano sound library was really quiet even at max volume, and those were the sounds I needed the most. I am unsure whether this discrepancy in volume would be present if you plug the keyboard into external speakers as I don’t own any and had already maxed out my budget. Also, most of the sounds in the sound library, especially the piano ones, were on the brighter spectrum with minimal bass resonance. For a stage piano, this factor might be an asset to some performers as the brighter sounds would project easily.


Yamaha P515


The more I became frustrated with the volume of the RD-88, the more I contemplated another keyboard. That’s when I started reflecting on my trial of the Yamaha P515 and how much I enjoyed the sound library of that instrument. The speakers of the P515 are quite powerful and are located on the top of the instrument and produce a sound that’s more similar to playing an acoustic piano. I really appreciated the bass resonance levels on all the instruments in the piano sound library as they give a great depth to the sound.


Keys

Roland RD-88

The key action on the RD-88 is responsive and quick which is impressive since the keys are made of plastic. They are weighted enough to make them feel similar to an acoustic, but they still have the responsiveness to be suitable to an agile player. Other MIDI controllers I tried, like the Arturia KeyLab 88 MkII and the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 MK2, did not have the speed or finesse in the action like this model had.


Yamaha P515

The biggest factor that enticed me to decide on the P515 was the wooden keys. Also, after playing on a grand piano for twenty years and owning one for twelve, the key action and weight of the keys on the P515 more than satisfied my fingers as it is similar to a grand: the keys are sensitive to nuance and can cope with the speed I demand of them.


Portability

Roland RD-88

For gigging musicians, the RD-88 would be a far superior instrument as it is more compact and lighter than the P515. An adult could easily carry the 28 lbs RD-88 in a gig bag. This keyboard is not very deep, but it is quite tall so it doesn’t fit well into average-sized gig bags. It’s unfortunate Roland doesn’t make a specific gig bag for this instrument due to its unique size, but using the Casio Slim Privia Case SC-800 can work well. This instrument would also be easy to relocate within your studio or could be placed on the sliding drawer of a keyboard studio desk.


Yamaha P515

The P515, at 48 lbs, is a stationary instrument. It can be moved, but you’ll likely need two adults to lift it. It is considered “portable” as the keyboard, stand, and pedals all are separate pieces, but there is no gig bag for it as it would likely need something with wheels such as a Gator Case.


The User Interface and the Sound Library

Roland RD-88

The RD-88 user interface is surprisingly small and challenging to navigate. I was expecting a more user-friendly screen bigger than the ¾ inch by 3 inch design that they made. Since the screen cannot fit longer words, like “Tremolo Strings,” this forces the user to have to understand all the short forms, like “Trem Str.” that are used. However, the sound library is extensive. The wide selection of brass, wind, keyboard, strings, and electronic synthesizers is vast. The sound samples are quite realistic and would be suitable for many stages.


Yamaha P515

The user interface of the P515 as it is slightly larger than the RD-88 and also uses two colours and short forms when necessary. The sound library is limited, however what is provided is very good quality. The sound samples of the two specific 9-foot pianos, the Yamaha CFX and the Bosendorfer Imperial, are amazing. There are no selections of wind or brass instruments, and there are minimal selections of string options.


Physical Setup

Keyboard Stand

Both keyboards need a stand to ensure they are at a suitable playing height. Considering the RD-88 is both light weight and slim, almost all keyboard stands will work with this keyboard. As a player you have to determine what is right for you. If you decide to go with an “X-shaped” stand, there is limited leg room but would work well if you’re of shorter stature or you play while standing.

Due to the size and weight of the P515, I found two options: (1) The QuikLok WS-421 would be an option for a portable stand that could be used for gigging musicians or (2) The Yamaha L515, a stationary stand option.


Pedals

The pedal that comes with the RD-88 is just a foot switch, albeit a really good one. If you want a pedal that’s shaped like an authentic piano pedal, I’d suggest buying the Roland DP-10 model. It’s a $60 accessory that they really could have included in the price.

Users have the option of using the single pedal unit that comes with the P515 or if they purchase the Yamaha L515 stand, they have the option of using the Yamaha LP1 three-pedal unit that mimics the pedal functionalities of a grand piano.


Music Stand

Since Roland’s main focus with the RD-88 is its portability, there is no music stand present nor a place to attach one. As a stage piano, Roland is likely counting on the gigging musician having music stands readily available on stage. Another possibility is to use this instrument in a sliding drawer of a studio desk. For those with poorer vision or not wanting to buy this additional accessory, Rolands decision to not include a music stand does present a drawback.


My main reason for purchasing the P515 is for composing, so I have not yet used the music stand that was included with my purchase. It does look sturdy and attaches securely to the keyboard, but one drawback is that it could get easily scratched from a score, paper clip, staple, or fingernail with the type of plastic they used to construct it.











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