A joy to play: Yamaha’s new Clavinova CLP-700 digital piano series12:29, 13th November 2020
Yamaha recently launched their CLP-700 Series of Clavinovas, an extension of their already successful line of digital pianos. Describing the 700 Series as ‘exquisite’, Yamaha’s marketing materials claim that the instruments offer ‘a maximum of natural playability’.
There are six new models in the 700 Series, including four uprights (CLP-735, 745, 775 and 785) and two grand piano style instruments (CLP-765GP and 795GP). All boast new fortepiano sounds as well as several piano ‘voices’. Mozart and Chopin fortepianos have been constructed by sampling Walther and Pleyel fortepianos, while the CLP-785 apparently adds a Scarlatti (sampled from a Cristofori) and a Beethoven (Broadwood).
Voice selection, along with much else, is controlled via a keypad in the piano cheek. Modern grand piano settings familiar from previous Clavinova models are present too: the Yamaha CFX and Bösendorfer Imperial.
Testing took place at Yamaha’s flagship showroom in central London, using both high-end headphones and the natural acoustic of the shop floor. The models available were the CLP-735, 745, 775 and 765GP. All models include Yamaha’s GrandTouch action, replicating the feel of a real grand piano with subtle variations across the range. Nuances of finger touch are converted into sound via the Real Grand Expression 2 (RGE2) system, while Virtual Resonance Modeling (VRM) imitates damper, string and Aliquot resonances. Binaural sampling has been used to create a satisfying experience with headphones.
In line with Yamaha’s high-tech credentials, a sleek app for smartphones (Smart Pianist) offers extended functionality, including the ability to stream music: 50 Popular items (featuring music from ABBA to Eric Clapton and Michael Jackson) and 50 Classics, subdivided into Original Compositions, Duets and Arrangements plus User Songs of your choice. Selected tracks can be heard through the piano’s speakers for you to play along.
Trying these instruments in the Yamaha showroom was a joy. My repertoire list ran the gamut from Bach’s Italian Concerto through Beethoven variations, Chopin miniatures and Debussy Préludes to pieces from Editions Musica Ferrum’s 250 Piano Pieces for Beethoven (previously reviewed for International Piano) and Sadie Harrison’s Par-feshanyi-ye ‘eshq (Six Pieces after Bidel) – the last of which is a fine test of tremolos and resonance. Prices given are those at the showroom at the time of the visit. All models are available in polished ebony as well as a range of finishes and colours to suit different tastes and interiors.
Before we start, it is worth stating that I’d happily have any of these pianos at home, which has not always been the case in previous reports. The Yamaha CLP-735 Clavinova (£2,008) offers ‘smooth key release’ and does indeed feel realistic. The Mozart and Chopin fortepianos were definably different (Mozart lighter than Chopin). Moving between ‘grands’, one could feel the extra warmth of the Bösendorfer over the Yamaha CFX, though I personally found it difficult to get a true singing line in the Chopin Nocturne Op 27/2 on the Bösendorfer. As always, there is plenty of fun to be had with the effects: the Jazz Organ is very Nicholas Parsons’ Sale of the Century (for those readers old enough, like myself, to remember it). Two dedicated buttons make it easy to return to the baseline setting of the CFX and Bösendorfer if you find yourself lost in the maze of options available. Similarly, specific buttons enable entry to ‘Piano Room’ where one can choose how far the lid is raised, alter your instrument’s brightness and change venue and ambience. Touch and tuning can be adjusted too, if required.
The Clavinova CLP-745 (£2,688) offers 38 voices over two-way speakers and an enhanced GrandTouch-S wooden keyboard. Despite its higher price, the Bösendorfer setting emerged as less convincing than the CLP-735 and curiously I felt there was less difference between the Mozart and Chopin fortepianos here. The CLP-775 (£3,586), offering 38 voices and three-way speakers, including two fortepianos, is far more responsive, both in grand piano mode and, notably, in Harpsichord 8’ setting. The opening of Bach’s Italian Concerto fizzed nicely on the harpsichord and felt genuinely exciting, while the A-flat Fugue from Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier, with its slower unfolding, revealed a believable post-keystrike decay.
Finally, the grand piano style CLP-765GP Clavinova, at £4,872. The intent here is to allow truly infinite variety of touch in a believable sound through improved Virtual Resonance Modeling. I’m happy to report the keys are significantly more responsive and feel better weighted. The bass on the CFX is notably fine. Bells and whistles aside (it includes 38 voices), the question is which model feels most like an acoustic piano, and this is the one. It is a joy to play.