Yamaha Clavinova CVP 503 Review

By: Hiram LeCedre—November 25, 2009 1:20PM
"The Clavinova CVP 503's piano is extraordinary!"
Yamaha Clavinova CVP-503

Product Summary

  • Product Name: Yamaha Clavinova CVP-503
  • Performance Rating:
  • Value Rating:
  • Review Date: November 25, 2009
  • MSRP: Check with an authorized Yamaha piano dealer.

Pros

  • All new beautiful 4-level CFIIIS piano samples
  • 128 notes of polyphony
  • More new sounds (see table below)
  • USB audio recorder with MIC/LINE IN input
  • 16-track sequencer
  • 2.4MB vs. CVP-403's 1.4MB data capacity

Cons

  • Would have been nice to be able to record a sequence to audio and record directly to .mp3 instead of .wav
  • 40W amps and speakers don't truly do the CVP-503's piano sounds justice

Introduction

The Clavinova CVP 500 series is here! As amazing as the CVP 400 series have been, it was time to take a great digital piano and make it even better! From the new 5-level (CVP 509 only) CFIIIS piano samples to the Super Articulation 2 voices (CVP 509 only) and .wav audio recorder (CVP 503-509), the CVP 500 lineup is Yamaha's most advanced Clavinova CVP to date.

Overview

Today, we review the CVP-503. The CVP-503 is a descent step up in features when compared to the CVP-501 and CVP-403. First off, and most importantly, the CVP-503 features a new and beautiful 4-level CFIIIS grand piano multi-sample with 58 new sounds and 3 more drum/sfx kits. Plus, it has 128 notes of polyphony—a 33% increase over the Clavinova CVP-403—you can never have too much polyphony.

Below is a summary of how the CVP-503 compares with its predecessor and the CVP-501:

Features CVP 503 CVP 403 CVP 501
Polyphony: 128 96 128
Piano Sample Levels: 4 (new CFIIIS piano samples) 3 3 (new CFIIIS piano samples)
Keyboard: GH3 with synthetic ivory keytops GH3 GH
Onboard amps & speakers: Two 40W amps & 2 16cm speakers & 2 5cm Two 40W amps & 2 16cm speakers & 2 5cm Two 20W amps & 2 16cm speakers
Data capacity: 2.4MB 1.4MB 1.4MB
Preset Voices: 398 sounds + 480 XG sounds & 19 drum/sfx kits + GM2 & GS sounds 340 sounds + 480 XG sounds & 16 drum/sfx kits + GM2 & GS sounds 296 sounds + 480 XG sounds & 15 drum/sfx kits + GM2 & GS sounds

Fortunately, we had the chance to demo the Clavinova CVP-503 and hear what it sounds like. Here's what we found...

Sounds

Grand Piano sounds: We had the great fortune of having a CFIIIS near the Clavinova CVP-503 for sake of comparison. Our first impression was the piano voice sounded quite extraordinary. It's a very playable piano program and sustained very well, but, we don't think the on-board 40W amps did the CVP-503 enough justice here.

However, when we played the piano with a pair of Sony MDR-7509 headphones...wow! Check out the recording we made below using the CVP-503's USB audio recording feature:

 

Voices/Sounds Breakdown CVP-503, CVP-403 & CVP-501:

Voices/Sounds CVP 503 CVP 403 CVP 501
Mega Voices: 15 10 None
Natural! Voices: 22 21 3
Sweet! Voices: 23 13 11
Cool! Voices: 33 18 16
Live! Voices: 19 14 10
Organ Flutes!: 10 10 10

As for the rest of the sounds, they were actually pretty good. The Clavinova's electric pianos, orchestral, and string instruments were great. The sounds that most impressed us were the sparkly electric pianos, French horns and guitars—they were quite expressive, realistic and playable. On some of these sounds such as guitar and horns, the left pedal acted as a pitch bend wheel which was very cool.

In addition to both the sostenuto (middle pedal) and left pedal being completely programmable for pitch bend, metronome, starting and stopping music, the damper pedal (right pedal) is half damper capable. In other words, you can manipulate the pedal in between full off and full on—great for those who play the piano with precise damper techniques.

GH3 Keyboard with Synthetic Ivory Keytops

The CVP-503 uses Yamaha's GH3 (Graded Hammer 3) keyboard action, which, is an improvement over the GH keyboard action found in the CVP-501. This keyboard is equipped with Yamaha's damper sensor that is capable of quick repetitive playing without needing the user to fully release the key before striking it again—just like in an acoustic piano. This is a really great feature for pianists and we really liked it! And by the way, this is a feature that is available for all Clavinova CVP-503 and up digital pianos!

At first, the GH3 keyboard felt a bit resistive and hard to play compared to the CFIIIS. However, once we played on the CVP-503 for a while, getting used to its touch wasn't an issue and overall was adequately expressive. It's also worth noting that the CVP-503's keytops are covered in synthetic ivory at least that's what Yamaha calls them. The keytops are essentially plastic with a matte finish—there's a slight texture which helps with keys from getting too slick when your fingers get sweaty. We were glad to see Yamaha add this feature to the CVP-503 because until recently this was only available to the Clavinova CVP-409. Good job here, Yamaha.

USB Audio

With the CVP-503 you can record and play .wav audio files. What's great about this feature is that the CVP-503 acts as a tape deck recording audio in CD quality—16 bit 44.1 kHz sample rate directly to your USB flash memory stick! You can record yourself playing the Clavinova as well as hook up a mic, guitar, or any device that plugs into the MIC/LINE IN input. Now we realize that the Clavinova wasn't designed to be a music production station; however, as far as we know, you can't take a previously recorded MIDI sequence and play it back to record it into .wav—which would have been nice to have. It also would've been much more useful and practical for the CVP-503 (the entire CVP 500 lineup too) to record audio in .mp3 rather than .wav format. People aren't making their own CDs as much (that's so '90's) as they are carrying along iPods and .mp3 capable phones these days. However, with the appropriate software, any .wav file can be converted to .mp3 pretty easily.

Other Features

This review would be incomplete without mentioning the rest of the Clavinova CVP-503's features. The CVP-503 has a 16-track sequencer capable of recording in real-time and step-time, a 16-track mixing console complete with vol/pan, filter, tuning, effects, and master volume parameters, an effects processor with more than 300 presets, and over 300 preset accompaniment styles, great for inspiring new song ideas. You can also adjust the keyboard's touch sensitivity, transpose, connect online, and display musical score and lyric information on the 320x240 pixel LCD screen.

Lastly, the CVP-503 (and the entire CVP-500 line up) comes in a choice of Dark Rosewood, Polished Ebony, and Polished Mahogany trims to fit your home's décor.

Conclusion

Overall, the Clavinova CVP-503 digital piano is a very capable and worthy instrument for the home user, and piano student. For the majority of users, we think they will be quite pleased with the tonal qualities, features and convenience this instrument has to offer. Therefore, we would recommend the CVP-503 for most people who are looking for an attractive and well-built piano for their home.

As of this article, most Yamaha piano dealers should already have the CVP-503 in stock and available for purchase.

 

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