Casio: A Privileged Position
Many of the hallmarks of the Space Age contain the familiar Casio logo, so near to that of NASA that consumers may well have interconnected feelings toward the two. The world’s first all-electric compact calculator, the Casiotron watch with calendar fuctions, the G-Shock watch – these groundbreaking products all marked huge strides in a world of ever-shrinking and faster-performing technology.
That legacy is coming into play again as the company unveils four new models in its portable digital piano line, Privia. With the addition of the new PX-150, PX-350, PX-750, and PX-850, Casio is promising the next step in authenticity in portable keyboards. MMR recently spoke with Casio General Manager Mike Martin about the new products, which the company introduced at Summer NAMM.
“Everything under the hood of these pianos has been redesigned,” Martin says. Users familiar with the Privia will find significant advances like a redesigned 88-note Tri-sensor Scaled Hammer Action Keyboard, a new proprietary sound source called the Acoustic and intelligent Resonator (AiR). Some models are capable of up to 256 notes of polyphony (doubling the previous best of 128 notes) and have the ability to record 44.1kHz .wav files directly to USB drives.
“Casio’s specialty is technology and miniaturization,” says Martin. “That’s what we’ve been doing since the ‘60s. In the case of the Privia, it’s an LSI chip that Casio has designed to expand the polyphony. It’s not an off-the-shelf Motorola chip. I think that’s where you’ll find that Casio’s electronics expertise will really help you more so than a lot of the traditional acoustic piano manufacturers who try to do this kind of thing.”
In another first, the 750 and 850 models are designed as furniture models, a move that may prove an attractive reason for traditional piano dealers to look into the longtime electronics company, which Casio has been working to facilitate in recent years. Casio built a reputation in the early ‘80s with the small CZ-101 synthesizer (now a coveted collectible) and the iconic and affordable Casiotone line of consumer keyboards, but products like the Privia and the sophisticated XW series synthesizers have marked an attitude shift.
“We’ve been on a mission to change Casio’s brand image,” says Martin. “As the product gets better, that makes it easier. We’re working towards making Casio into a more prestigious brand. Don’t get me wrong – we still think it’s important to have the products we do in the mass market in order to seed new musicians, but the primary direction of our company is to get products aimed at the music dealer.”
The Privia line was first introduced eight years ago, though this year marks the first round of updates since 2009. The line is known as affordable and impressively portable, but the technology has advanced quickly. “With the first Privia models, we were the first to get down to 25 pounds on an 88-key piano,” says Martin. With the new models, he points to the keyboard as a notable improvement. The processor is able to create the effect of sympathetic resonance in the keyboard’s sound, essentially emulating an acoustic piano’s tendency for the strings of held notes to continue to resonate as additional keys are played. The new Privias also boast scaled hammer action – players will find that the resistance in the bass keys of the keyboard is heavier than that of those on the far end of the keyboard, they way it would feel in an acoustic piano.
It’s a product that the company has high hopes for as a game changer in the digital piano market.
“People used to say, ‘Privia’s good for the money,’” says Martin. “That’s no longer the case – this is a really big step.” Perhaps even a giant leap.