And then along came Roland. In 2016 Fact wrote that “arguably Roland did more to shape electronic music than any other company in history.” Probably true.
Formed in 1972 in Japan, they quickly became established. They were in direct competition with their keyboards with companies like Moog. The US Moog company set up by Robert Moog and already with a growing reputation, after the recording ‘Switched on Bach’, aimed their instruments at the pros.
While Roland aimed there’s at the semi-pro and hobbyist player where there was a growing market. Some of those ‘hobbyist’ musicians like Rick Wakeman joined a band we seem to remember. The Roland products became so good that the pros eventually took them on themselves.
Poor business decisions and growing competition from the likes of Roland brought the end of Moog as a competitor. It stayed around a while and made a couple of attempts at a comeback. But by now, the Japanese and other Asian companies had cornered the market.
Early successes established Roland’s credibility with the Roland Juno 106 synth, TB303 bass synth. And with drum machines like the TR808 and TR909. And in the early 80s, they played a pivotal advisory role in the development of MIDI as a way of linking electronic instruments together.
There was no stopping them now as they extended their product range to include legends like the JC-120 amplifier, which is still admired to this day.
Roland today markets products under different brand names. With the Roland name kept for the digital pianos, other keyboards, and synthesizers. That other giant of modern technology, Boss, is aimed at the guitarist with their great range of pedals and other effects.
Roland is a force to be reckoned with and today market some of the finest digital Concert Grand Pianos you can buy. And it is a digital piano we review here, in this Roland FP-90 Review.
For some years now, there has been a battle royal between Roland, Yamaha, and Kawai to produce the best digital piano in every area that pianos are produced. But when Kawai released their ES8, the level went up. Roland had to react, and they did and more with the FP-90. The Kawai was good so was the FP-90.
The design of the FP-90 is both simple and minimalistic, but in some ways futuristic. The look is nicely thought out, and Roland has clearly made an attempt to make this piano have a unique and recognizable style.
The body is a sleek black design that is going to sit easily with any home decor. Roland is very conscious of their reputation that holds for all of their products, and the FP-90 is a strong, sturdy build. That has, of course, many positives, but there is, as always, a negative side.
It weighs sixty-eight pounds and has dimensions of 52.3 by 15.4 by 5.4 inches. This makes it no lightweight piano. It is heavier than just about all of its contemporaries though some are larger in size. If you are planning to use it at gigs where you will be carrying it around, it is worth considering the size and weight.
It has four built-in speakers – two at 8 x 12 cm, rated at 50w and two 2.5 cm tweeters, rated at 10 watts each.
The Front Control Panel
Nicely laid out and easy to read, it has a centrally placed LCD screen, twenty-five buttons, and eight sliding controls. The buttons are circular in design and lay beneath the surface level of the control panel. This means they are not prone to being damaged, but it does mean any selections need to be precisely made. A nice Roland touch is to light them up, giving it the futuristic look we mentioned earlier.
The LCD is not particularly large, but it does give you the status information you need. It will display the settings in use at that time, including the name of the chosen tone, tempo, etc.
Going back to the slider controls, we think they are a valuable addition and certainly are an easy way to operate the controls if quick adjustments need to be made. The eight sliding controls feature a volume for the onboard speakers or headphones you may be using and special volume adjusters for when you are using split or dual modes to balance the chosen sounds.
A backing track you may be using can be adjusted volume-wise using the Song Volume slider. And if you have a microphone connected, there is a volume slider dedicated to that. The final three sliders are for EQ control for high, mid and low frequencies. All things considered a good array of controls that are relatively easy to use.
How Does It Play? The Keyboard.
Probably the most important aspect for most people.
Roland has installed in the FP-90 the most authentic keyboard action they have produced named Progressive Hammer Action PHA-50. Roland installs this in their top of the range pianos and instruments costing much more than the FP-90.
Featuring 88 keys that are constructed from a wood and plastic design. This is a little disappointing when compared with Kawai’s all-wood long key designs. Roland insists that adding plastic in certain areas increases the durability. However, we suspect most players would like the feel of real wood beneath their fingers.
Having said that the FP-90 does give something of a real piano experience in its feel and certainly competes with some of the best.
The keys are weighted as you would expect. And they do provide a similar movement to a real acoustic piano that is very mechanical in its feel. Your personal style can be expressed with the way you play, and the keyboard responds to you.
An interesting feature that they have added is what they call ‘Escapement.’ This, if you are familiar with a concert grand, replicates the slight click of a gently played note. As an extra, you have the option to adjust the key response to get exactly the feel you want.
It has a good feeling when you play it. It is hard to make direct comparisons with other similar pianos because the technology is slightly different from the Kawai and Yamaha equivalents, but then possibly comparisons are irrelevant. But only one question is important: do YOU like the way it plays?
How Does It Sound?
Most digital pianos use sampled sounds. Samples, as you may know, are very small digital recordings, for want of a better word, of the real sound. This is then replayed back to you when you press a key.
However, it’s not quite as simple as that, because with some of the better and more expensive pianos there maybe four or five or even more different samples for each note. These give you the full ambiance and resonation of a real concert grand. To create these samples so that they do not sound contrived is a long and arduous task and the recording alone complex.
Roland has designed this in a different way and instead they have created a replica of what was actually going on inside a concert grand piano. This system they call the Supernatural sound engine. It does not apply to all the piano sounds, but the four it provides are exceptional.
The sound is rich and warm with inferences of your own playing style and the complexities of individual action of hands-on keys forming part of the result. This certainly offers an alternative in sound creation to the other big names in this field.
This piano gives you fifteen different pianos, four of which as we said use modeling. The other sounds do use samples.
A further feature, ‘Piano Designer,’ provides options to change any of thirteen parameters to suit your own requirements.
We have made a separate heading to mention the polyphony. Normally a quality piano will offer 128 note polyphony. Which under normal circumstances is more than adequate to ensure continuity of notes and sound reproduction. On the FP-90 the polyphony for the extra sampled sounds is 384 notes, but for the modeled sounds on the grand pianos, there is no limit.
On all the reviews we have done of digital pianos we have never seen that before. We don’t know if there is some technical reason why this is necessary as 128 notes are usually sufficient. The extended range can only be an improvement in sound and reproduction, or Roland would not have included it.
As with most digital pianos, it has certain features as standard. Dual-mode allows the two-piano effect to be played at the same time. And Split mode lets you split the keyboard in half to allow you to play with someone else in the same key register. Plus there are options to record what you are playing through either MIDI or built-in audio recorder.
A metronome is always an essential tool, especially for those teaching, and it has a key transposition feature. Up to 30 registrations may be saved. Two headphone sockets are provided one at ¼” and one ⅛.”
On the rear of the instrument are other connections, including type A and B USB ports, an input jack and two output jack sockets. There is also MIDI in and out.
This piano does not include a myriad of songs to play with, lessons to be learned or accompaniments. The main reason for this is that Roland provides an App called Piano Partner 2, that has all of that content included, so if you want it, you have access. This piano also has a built-in Bluetooth connection.
Roland FP-90 Review Conclusion
This is a tough market to be in and to compete with the best you have to provide a quality product. However, there is no doubt that this is a quality product and ready to compete with similar products from Kawai, Yamaha, and others.
It does feel slightly different, and it sounds a little different as well. This is due to the alternative technology Roland have used instead of straight sampling and possibly Roland want it to be different. No bad thing. There will be those who prefer the way it plays and the sound it makes, and others will not.
You can argue that some things maybe should have been included, but that would distract from assessing properly what it does give you — a digital concert grand.
For us, it is an excellent instrument at a very good price that brings a lot of quality to the table. And is easily one of the best Roland digital pianos you can buy.