The time has come for our Roland FP-90 review. The FP-90 is the flagship of the FP-line of portable digital pianos that include the FP-60, FP-30 and FP-10. In this digital piano, Roland has concentrated all of their most refined technology, in order to offer a worthwhile competitor to alternatives from Kawai an Yamaha.
Some unique features like the sound engine and hybrid wood and plastic key action make the Roland FP-90 one of the best digital pianos under $2000. But these are not the only features that make it worthy of your attention. Let’s find out if this digital piano is the best choice for you.
The Roland FP-90 is a stage piano, but it can definitely be used as a home digital piano for practice as well. There is a stand and pedal unit that you can buy separately to transform your FP-90 into a really nice addition to any room of the house.
The all around aspect of this digital piano is very contemporary, with a slight tendency towards futuristic. I say slight because there are other models that are definitely more futuristic looking than this one.
At this stage I need to point out a weakness of the Roland FP-90. Actually it’s not necessarily a weakness, because it’s pretty relative, but it is an aspect that you need to realize. Roland developed the FP-90 as part of their portable line of digital pianos. Portability is pretty relative. If you compare the FP-90 with a lower technology digital piano, that claims to be also portable, you will probably find that the lower priced one is easier to move around than this one.
This is because, at this stage of the evolution of technology in digital pianos, as more higher end technology is installed on digital pianos, the more the weight goes up. This way, with the kind of key action present on the FP-90, and all the other pieces of technology, the total weight reaches 52.1 pounds.
This is arguably difficult to carry around, but there is not much wiggle room when it comes to this level of digital pianos. The competitors are not far from this value. As far as dimensions go, the width is 52.8″, the height 5.4″ and the depth 15.4″. So, as you can see it’s not really a small feather we’re talking about here today. But, this is the situation today. Probably as technology advances the weight will decrease, but anyway not by a lot. So, if you wanted to take it under your arm and go for a stroll, forget about it, it’s not going to happen. But, compared to other digital pianos, and especially acoustic pianos, it’s clearly portable.
The strengths of the Roland FP-90, on the other hand and the aim of this digital piano, are sound and the feeling of playing a grand piano. It’s not a trade-off, because it is portable. You just have to be careful and have a vehicle that you can use to carry it around.
The two colors you can opt for are white and of course, black.
Going forward in our analysis of the design of this instrument, we’re going to steer our attention towards one of the most interesting parts, the dashboard.
In the middle, you have an LCD screen, with 8 sliders and 25 buttons that are distributed on either side of the screen.
A feature that is not very common, is the design of the buttons. Their margin is illuminated and they are slightly recessed. As you probably anticipated, the light of each of the buttons goes on, signaling which function is in use at every moment.
Because we’re noticing uncommon features, another feature that you can’t really find on many digital pianos are the sliders. They give you the liberty to control certain features in a very user friendly manner.
The volume slider, lets you, as its name infers, adjust the volume; three EQ sliders are there for high, middle and low frequencies; the part sliders let you adjust the volume of each instrument when you’re in a certain mode; the song volume slider lets you adjust the backing song and the mic volume slider lets you adjust the volume of the microphone.
Roland FP-90 Specifications
- Full 88 weighted keyboard with artificial ivory and ebony key tops;
- Mixed wood and plastic keyboard action with escapement;
- SuperNATURAL sound engine;
- 100 levels adjustable touch sensitivity;
- 384-note polyphony;
- 350 instrument sounds, from which 15 piano sound;
- Modulation speed, ambiance, 3-band equalizer, rotary speaker effect;
- Split mode, Dual mode;
- Piano designer: Damper noise, hammer noise, key-off noise, lid, string resonance, damper resonance, key off resonance, cabinet resonance, duplex scale, soundboard type;
- WAV audio recorder, MIDI recorder 1 track;
- Fine tuning, transpose, metronome;
- MP3, SMF, WAV playback;
- Dimensions: 52.7″ x 15.4″ x 5.4″;
- Weight: 52.1 pounds
- Speakers: 2 x 25W, 2 x 5W tweeters;
- Connectors: 3 pedal jacks, Bluetooth, Mic in, Audio in, MIDI in/out, Line out, USB to host, USB to device, 2 headphone jacks.
Most of digital pianos of today have some modes that let you use 2 sounds at the same time. Just like most digital pianos, the Roland FP-90 also has these modes: dual mode (layering) and split mode. What it doesn’t have is the duet mode, where the keyboard splits into two identical halves letting two people play at the same time. This mode is especially helpful for beginners as it lets them practice together with the piano teachers at the same time. Obviously, it wouldn’t have been a technological leap to add this mode, and the lack of it indicates that the FP-90 wasn’t necessarily designed with beginners in mind. So let’s take a closer look at the two modes that are offered:
Also called layering, this mode enables you to select two sounds or instruments from the numerous installed on this digital piano, and layer them in a harmonic way. This way an even richer, more beautiful sound gets created. Besides the classic piano and strings combination, there are also other beautiful sounds that match really nice. It’s up to you to discover those combinations.
The split mode is another way to combine two sounds, but this time each sound has a designated part of the keyboard. So, for instance, you can choose to play piano with your left hand, and strings with your right. The split point, the point of division between the two selected sound can be chose by you. The part sliders, which let you adjust the volume of each selected sound separately, is a feature of the FP-90 that other pianos with this mode don’t have.
The sound of the Roland FP-90, and especially the way the sound is generated is characteristic of this digital piano. It’s completely different than the way other digital pianos generate sound, and it’s something that can’t be explained in two sentences.
The way most digital pianos generate sound is through samples. These are obtained through a tedious process which involves multiple high quality microphones and expensive equipment.
This is the process through which Yamaha and Kawai obtain the samples for their digital pianos. They take their best concert grand pianos, put them in a sound proof space and use the above mentioned equipment to do multiple recordings at different velocities. You probably can’t imagine the effort it takes to translate those recordings into the sound you hear when pressing a key of their digital pianos. For you to hear a smooth transition of sound, almost not being able to tell the difference between that and an acoustic piano, is the result of a lot of technology and the concentrated effort of many very skilled specialists.
Roland took a different approach in recreating the sound of the FP-90. What they basically did is take an acoustic piano, analyze the inner workings of all the different parts and how they interact and redo that in a digital version.
The opinions of whether this approach is superior or not compared to the samples approach is up to debate.
With all the advantages samples offer, they also come with a number of limitations. Because they essentially are recordings that are played back every time you press the key, it’s very difficult to render the complexity of variations in sound of an acoustic piano. The sound of an acoustic piano varies according to the intensity you press down the keys and to the interaction of the different sounds that are activated. There are multiple elements that interact in an acoustic piano offering unique variations of sound.
One of the main disadvantages of the samples approach is the relationship between the quality and the length of the samples, and the impact it has on the internal memory of digital pianos.
Roland managed to surpass some of the weaknesses of the samples approach with their modeling technology. The SuperNATURAL sound engine of the Roland FP-90, as it is called, takes into account all the hundreds of elements of an acoustic piano that contribute to the creation of sound in an attempt to recreate their behavior. The result is pretty impressive. The sound is very rich, complete with overtones. It’s also very responsive, giving you more control over the complexity of sound and tonality variations.
The opinions, though, are pretty varied. Some people like this sound modeling technology more, some prefer the samples approach. Ultimately it’s a matter of personal taste.
In total, the Roland FP-90 has 15 piano sounds. Out of these 15, 4 are modeled: concert piano, bright piano, mellow piano and ballad piano. The richest tone of these, that offers most complexity is the concert piano.
Just as other competing digital piano models have different features that enables you to adjust the sounds to your preference, so does the FP-90, through the Piano Designer. This feature offers you 13 parameters which you can adjust to your needs:
- Full scale string resonance – This enables you to adjust the resonance produced when you play neighboring notes to a note that is sustained. You can adjust this from Off to 10.
- Damper resonance – With this parameter, you can adjust the overall resonance while the sustain pedal is in use. You can also adjust this from Off to 10.
- Cabinet resonance – This refers to the resonance created by the cabinet of an acoustic piano, which resonates along the strings. This too can be adjusted from Off to 10.
- Key off resonance – When you release a key, there is a certain sound that you can hear. It’s very subtle, though, and its nature changes according to the way you play that key. The levels of adjustment are also from Off to 10.
- Hammer noise – The characteristic sound that you can hear on an acoustic piano when the hammer strikes the string, is recreated in this case in a digital manner. You can adjust this from -2 to 2.
- Damper noise – There is a very subtle sound, in acoustic pianos, when you press the damper pedal. It is produced by the dampers leaving the strings. The levels of adjustment are from Off to 10.
- Key off noise – When you let go of a key, the key action produces a certain noise. You can adjust that noise from Off to 10.
- Lid – There are 7 different virtual positions of the lid you can set. Depending on whether you want a brighter or more mellow sound, you can adjust the position of the lid according to your preference.
- Duplex scale – This too can be adjusted from Off to 10. It refers to a part of the string of a grand piano that can be left open to resonate with the other part, making a subtle ringing sound.
- Soundboard type – You can choose from 5 different settings of soundboard resonance.
- Single note character, volume and tuning – With these 3 functions you can adjust, for each note separately, the character, volume and tuning.
The Roland FP-90 has a high quality keyboard from two separate points of view. On one hand, the key action, called PHA-50, which stands for Progressive Hammer Action, is the most complex key action that you can find on Roland digital pianos. The same key action is present on way more expensive digital pianos by Roland.
On the other hand, the second characteristic which makes the keyboard of the FP-90 truly amazing is the hybrid wood and plastic built with artificial ivory and ebony key tops. The smart minds at Roland have managed to bring together the qualities of a wooden key action with the lightweight of plastic parts.
Resulting from these characteristics is a keyboard that comes very close to that of an acoustic piano. The weighting of the keys is also closely associated to that of an acoustic piano’s. The keys are heavier on the lower end and progressively get lighter towards the higher end.
The touch is very responsive, enabling you to convey the exact intensity and complexity that you intend. With this keyboard, being expressive is only limited by your imagination. The escapement closely simulates the clicking sensation when pressing down a key.
Compared to other digital pianos that only offer a few sensitivity levels, the Roland FP-90 enables you to set the sensitivity level anywhere on a scale from 1 to 100, in increments of 1. So, with this piano, personalizing the degree of sensitivity is a matter of finesse.
The Roland FP-90, as you’ve seen until this point has some pretty impressive features. But, probably nothing about it is as impressive as polyphony. Polyphony represents the number of notes that can be played at any one time.
For the piano sounds on the FP-90 the polyphony is limitless. For all the other sounds the limit is 384. Since we’ve been reviewing digital pianos, we haven’t encountered too many models with such a high polyphony level, let alone a limitless polyphony level for piano sounds.
This gives you the possibility to play pieces as complex as they get, without losing any nuance of your performance.
The speaker system is another pretty impressive aspect of the FP-90. The total power of the system is 60W. That’s enough to rival an acoustic piano, and well suited for up to medium sized performances.
The power output is divided like this: two 25W speakers and two 5W tweeters that help in delivering those high frequency sounds other digital pianos have problems with.
From this point of view, it’s quite difficult to find a comparable item among closely priced digital pianos.
Besides the vast list of sounds the FP-90 comes with, you also have a number of sound effects that you can apply, to further customize the resulting sound.
For example, equalizer enable you to augment or reduce frequency levels, this way personalizing the sound color.
You also have an ambiance button, which activated will give the sound more liveliness by adding reverb.
An interesting effect is the headphones 3d function which can be activated when using headphones and will adjust the sound to make it more immersive, practically tailoring the sound output to listening with headphones.
Further useful features
There are some features, that most of today’s digital pianos have. These are basic features, but they are very helpful in certain situations. The Roland FP-90 also has these features.
This is somewhat of a cheat function, in the sense that you can play a certain song in a different key without relearning the entire finger technique in the new key.
The metronome function is very useful. With the help of the metronome function, you can easier keep the right rhythm. It is adjustable in many ways. You can customize the beat pattern, volume, tempo and other aspects of the function.
You can also store a maximum number of 30 registrations. For every one of these registrations, you can preset certain parameters such as key touch, transpose, split point and others. This way, if you are a gigging artist, when you’re at a performance, you can quickly recall certain settings without having to ‘tune’ them every time you need a certain format.
You might expect the Roland FP-90 to have both MIDI and Audio recording capabilities. You should know that not all digital pianos in this price range have both functions. Luckily, the manufacturers have added both functionalities to the FP-90.
There is a small inconvenience, though, at this stage. The MIDI recorder can only store 1 track songs. Other competing digital pianos can store multiple track songs. But, there’s a relatively easy way to solve this small issue, by using certain apps.
The other way to make recordings is in Audio format. This works by recording the actual sound. With these recordings, which are in WAV format, you can easily burn a CD, or share with whoever you feel comfortable sharing your creations with. And you can also convert MIDI to Audio without the need of any external technology, due to the built in SMF converter.
The lack of prerecorded songs could also be viewed by some as a weakness. But, as a consolation, you can play either MIDI or Audio tracks by connecting a USB flash drive to the FP-90 directly.
The Roland FP-90 has multiple connection capabilities. As we’re analyzing all the connectivity options it gives you, you’ll realize that it’s one of the most versatile digital pianos from this point of view.
The majority of the connection jacks are located at the back of the piano. But there are two headphone jacks that are found on the left side. The big advantage about these is that they’re not the same size. One is 1/4 of an inch and the other 1/8 of an inch. It’s a practical feature because you can connect any type of headphones without having to use an external adapter.
Let’s go on to the rest of the ports that are found on the back side of the digital piano.
Here you can find the following ports: MIDI in and out, 2 USB ports (A and B), Input and Output jacks, three pedal jacks and a mic jack.
In order to be able to use the vast list of music apps that are available online, you can use the USB type B port to exchange MIDI data by connecting it to a computer. This way you digital piano turns into a MIDI controller.
The keyboard also has Bluetooth, enabling you to connect you mobile devices to your Roland FP-90 in a wireless fashion.
Through the Bluetooth connectivity you can not only transfer MIDI files but also Audio files. You can basically replace the standard physical connections through connection ports with the wireless Bluetooth connection. This way you eliminate all those extra cables.
Just as Yamaha has developed the Smart Pianist App for it digital pianos, Roland has also developed a dedicated app, the PianoPartner 2. It acts as a base center for your FP-90, that has various parts like Rhythm, Remote Controller, Songs and other capabilities.
Returning to the ports found on the back panel of the piano. You can play back songs through the pianos speakers, by connecting a flash drive to the USB type A port. You can play back songs in either Audio or MIDI format. If you want to record songs in Audio format, that is possible by using this port. This is because you cannot store Audio files on the internal memory.
To connect the keyboard to MIDI devices, you’ll be using the MIDI ports. You can also use these ports as variant to the USB ports.
If you are a performing artist and need external amplification during your performances you can plug that into your FP-90 through it’s quarter inch output jacks. Through these jacks you can also connect mixers, audio interfaces and other music equipment.
There’s also a 1/8 stereo input jack on the back panel of the piano. Through this jack you can connect you mobile device to the piano if you want to play certain songs stored on them through the piano’s speakers.
One of the jacks present on this panel, that is not so common in digital pianos in this range and of this type is the mic input jack. Again, if you are a performing artist, want to make studio recordings, or just want to add vocals over the backing song, this is a really useful feature. You can also use the mic volume slider on the dashboard of the piano to raise or lower the volume of the vocals during the performance. Applying different sound effects to the vocal part is also possible.
This Roland FP-90 review wouldn’t be complete without taking a look at the matching accessories. But first, let’s see what accessories already come with the piano: owner’s manual, music rest, DP-10 sustain pedal and ac power adapter. As you can see, there’s no stand, headphones or 3-pedal unit.
As you saw from the list above, there is no stand in the package. This means that unless you already have a keyboard stand, you’ll have to buy one separately.
In the latter case, there’s two ways to go with this: a portable x or z keyboard stand or a home stand that is not portable but is superior to the portable models.
The portable option is also the most affordable of these two. They start from a couple tens of dollars, depending on the model.
If you plan to use your Roland FP-90 mostly at home or in a single location, then you can go for the KSC-90 keyboard stand that has a more elegant appearance. It fits great in any room of the house, having the appearance of a nice piece of furniture. Looks are not the only advantage of this stand, it’s also more stable than the portable versions. And if you decide on this stand, there’s also a 3 pedal piece that goes with it. We’re going to find out more about it shortly.
The pedal unit that comes with the piano is good quality. There’s nothing to argue about that. But there’s a step up.
As you advance, or if you already are more advances, you will probably prefer a 3 pedal unit. In the case you opted for the above mentioned stand, then it’s really worth taking a look at the KDP-90 pedal unit that is designed to fit the stand.
But, if you feel as if this combination is a bit expensive, there are 3 pedal units that can be connected to the FP-90 even without that specially designed stand.
Headphones are a really useful product for your practice sessions. If you don’t wan to bother the entire household or your neighbors, headphones are a great way to spare them the inconvenience.
But a good pair of headphones also have other qualities. Usually the sound of the piano is somewhat better heard through headphones than through its speakers.
There are many models available on the market. There isn’t a certain model that fits best. A guideline would be to look for quality, because the ones that are included in bundles usually are not of the best quality there is.
Roland FP-90 vs Yamaha P515
One of the alternatives of the Roland FP-90 is the Yamaha P515. The P515 is the successor of the very popular P255. It has a weighted key action and very good quality sounds. The main difference is that Yamaha uses samples of their concert grand pianos for the sounds of their digital pianos, including the P515. Although there are a number of settings that let you personalize the sound, it’s still based on samples. That’s not bad or good, it’s just a fact, and a difference compared to the FP-90 the sound of which is created by the modeling technology.
The key action is somewhat lighter on the Roland, but from the point of view the materials used there are clear similarities. Both have hybrid wood and plastic key actions with artificial ebony and ivory key tops. A difference would be the levels of adjustment permitted by one and the other. Where the Roland offers 100 levels, the Yamaha only offers 5. The idea is that the FP-90 enables you to adjust the key responsiveness in a more sensitive manner.
The Roland FP-90 also has a more interactive control panel, with the 8 sliders that enable you to adjust certain parameters with so much ease while playing. The Yamaha P515 has a simpler dashboard, lacking this level of control.
Looking at connectivity, both pianos offer similar ports and connectivity opportunities. We could say that the Roland has the upper hand in this department, because of its microphone port, a feature that the Yamaha doesn’t have. With the Yamaha P515 you would have to use an external mixer of you need that feature.
If you want to find out more, read our full Yamaha P515 review.
Roland FP-90 vs Kawai ES8
Many people say that the Kawai ES8 is the main alternative of the Roland FP-90. Truth is that it’s as valid an alternative as the P515 we compared the FP-90 with above.
Kawai ES8, just like the P515, uses samples of real acoustic grand pianos to generate sound. As you already know by now, the Roland FP-90 has a complex sound generating engine which recreates each sound from scratch the moment you press a key, taking in account numerous parameters. Some prefer one, some the other. The main argument of those who prefer the sound engine of Roland is the fact that it offers more control. Those who who prefer the samples approach say that the sound engine is somewhat artificial, the sound lacking substance. I couldn’t really say that one is better than the other. Both systems are high technology and are the result of a long chain of processes.
From the point of view of speakers, number of voices, and polyphony, the Roland FP-90 is clearly above both competitors.
In the connectivity department, the FP-90 is also superior. It has everything that the Kawai ES8 has, plus Bluetooth and Mic in.
If you want to learn more about this digital piano, read our Kawai ES8 review.
Concluding our Roland FP-90 review, I would like to summarize certain aspects of this digital piano, so that you can make the best decision in terms of whether its a well suited choice for you or not.
What I really liked about this digital piano has to be the key action, which is one of the best, if not the best in this price range. The SuperNATURAL sound engine is quite unique among its competitors, and is a very interesting piece of technology.
The speaker system is again, probably one of the best in this price range.
One aspect that some people may consider somewhat of a hindrance is the size and weight. Truth be told, it’s pretty difficult to fit all this technology into a smaller package, if not impossible.
Probably the biggest advantage of the Roland FP-90 is the overall piano playing experience, which is definitely one of the most realistic I have encountered among digital pianos. To the features that make it stand out are the beautiful piano sounds and high limit, or in certain cases limitless polyphony.