First Pianos: Comparing Three Essential Roland Digitals

Shared core features and easy Bluetooth interactivity underline notable distinctions

The FP-30, RP102, and RP501R offer a representative cross-section of Roland's portable and home digital piano line. Aimed at the beginning and advancing pianist, these models are ideal as a first piano while also appealing to more serious and discerning players. Each member of this trio offers an impressive core set of essential features and capabilities, with options to fit a variety of lifestyles, budgets, spaces, and aspirations. Let's take a look at some of their common featuresÉ

Each of these pianos features Roland's advanced SuperNATURAL Piano sound engine, promising to deliver the rich, expressive tone of a premium acoustic grand piano. In addition to their SuperNATURAL piano voices, all three models include a variety of non-piano instrumental sounds that can be played individually or layered with the piano tones. They also share the PHA-4 Standard keyboard, a "Progressive Hammer Action" keyboard with escapement and an "Ivory Feel" surface texture on the white keys. Twin Piano mode, another common feature, splits the keyboard into two 44-note pianos, each with their own middle C, allowing you to play with a duet partner or teacher in the same octave ranges.

Built-in Bluetooth wireless connectivity lets you use your piano with popular smartphone or tablet apps such as GarageBand, piaScore, and Sheet Music Direct as well as Roland's free Piano Partner 2 app. Using the built-in pedals on the RP102 or RP501R or the FP-30's optional three-pedal unit, the Bluetooth connection also enables hands-free page turning with some mobile sheet music apps.

Compatible with all three pianos featured here, the Piano Partner 2 app for iOS and Android is an easy and intuitive way to interact with your Roland digital piano. Its graphic interface turns your mobile device into a remote controller for your piano, providing access to functions and settings not available from the instrument's control panel. The app can also display digital sheet music for pieces in the piano's internal song library, with tools available for practicing each hand individually, adjusting tempo, and repeating song sections. Backing rhythms offer accompaniments in a variety of styles that follow the chords you play, while flash card games help improve note-reading and ear-training skills. There are also recorder and diary functions for evaluating your progress.

Now that we've covered a good number of the features common to these models, let's explore some of the differences to consider when choosing your digital piano, beginning with a few of the most obvious physical distinctions. Both the RP102 and RP501R are housed in traditionally-styled upright piano cabinets, while the FP-30 uses a portable "slab"-style design. The upright (or "furniture-style") design offers the advantage of a larger resonating chamber for the speakers as well as a more traditional piano appearance. Additional benefits of the RP102 and RP501R's upright style are a sturdy, fixed stand assembly, fully-integrated three-pedal unit, and sliding key cover for keeping dust, liquids, and other unwanted substances out of the keyboard. There is an optional three-pedal unit available for the FP-30 but it also requires the purchase of an optional matching stand, neither of which are included with the FP-30 itself as standard accessories. However, the FP-30 can be used on a portable folding stand in cramped environments or when traveling, which is not the case for the RP models.

Another point of differentiation lies in the warranty coverage. The FP-30 is covered under a three years parts / two years labor warranty term, which is fairly standard for portable digital pianos. The RP102 and RP501R receive a strong five years parts / two years labor warranty coverage and also qualify for in-home service if it's available in your area Ð a true luxury when it comes to furniture-style digital pianos!

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Digging further into the RP501R, we find a selection of unique features that are sure to appeal to the more discerning pianist. While most digital pianos are equipped with a headphone jack for quiet practice, the immersive, multi-dimensional sound experience of the RP501R's Headphones 3D Ambience effect gives you the feeling that the sound is emanating from the instrument in front of you. The continuous response and gradually increasing resistance of its Progressive Damper Action pedal enables half-pedaling and other traditional acoustic piano pedal techniques. In comparison, the RP102's damper/sustain pedal is capable of half-pedal detection but doesn't offer quite the same subtlety of feel or expressive control available from the RP501R.

On top of its sound- and feel-based efforts toward piano realism and authenticity, the RP501R delivers when it comes to the "bonus" features as well. With 11 piano tones and 305 other instrumental tones available (including 8 drum sets and 1 sound effects set), there's plenty of variety to spark your creativity and keep you entertained. A selection of 72 ensemble backing styles let you play along with a band that follows your chord changes, without having to connect to the Piano Partner app. If all those extra sounds seem like they might be a distraction, the RP102 keeps it simple with 4 piano voices and 11 other instruments. The FP-30 falls in the middle with 6 acoustic pianos, 7 electric pianos, and 22 others Ð just enough variety for an effective stage piano.

While we've already discussed a few of the general pros and cons of upright, furniture-style cabinets, the RP501R has the advantage of a slightly larger, heavier cabinet than the RP102 for better resonance. The RP501R's larger cabinet also houses a more powerful 2 x 12 watt stereo speaker system compared to the RP102's 2 x 6 watt system. While that doesn't mean the RP501R is twice as loud, it does mean you'll experience a cleaner, fuller sound and more usable volume. It's interesting to note that while the FP-30 has a 2 x 11 watt speaker system that's almost as powerful as the RP501R, it's probably closer to the RP102 in terms of perceived volume due to the different cabinet designs. In addition to audio system differences, the larger cabinet also allows the RP501R to squeeze a push-button control panel into the space above the keys with a 7 segment x 3 LED display to indicate the piano's current status and settings.

With the RP501R, you can also choose from three finish options: black, rosewood, or white. The RP102 is available in black only, while the FP-30 comes in both black and white finishes.

Although there are definite upgrades and feature additions as you move from the FP-30 to the RP102 and up to the RP501R, there are also plenty of reasons to keep all three models in mind. Looking for the best of both worlds? The FP-30 with its optional matching stand and pedalboard give you a taste of the furniture-style aesthetics with the ability to take the piano with you when you gig or travel. Prefer a streamlined appearance with no digital control panel and just a few essential sounds? The RP102 could be the one for you. Of course, when you want the most authentic piano experience of the three for your home, the RP501R is the way to go. And whichever one you choose, Piano Partner 2 app compatibility brings a suite of educational and entertaining extras to your phone or tablet.

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