reface cp hands-on review

Yamaha reface CP/DX/CS/YC mini keyboards

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Re: reface cp hands-on review

Unread post by AndyHornBlower » Thu Aug 24, 2017 9:46 am

Yep. My (revised) thinking on the acoustic sound is that the Reface CP is essentially a cut down version of one of their stage CP series digital pianos, but they didn't want people buying a Reface instead of one of those, so they tried to remove the acoustic sound, shortly before release.

In software, it's sometimes easier to just disable a feature rather than strip out all of the code for it - parts of it might be in use for one of the other sounds, for example.

My guess is that we were never meant to hear it, and they'd still prefer it if we never had. Maybe the engineers / programmers responsible cocked up disabling it, or maybe they really did leave it hidden where it could be found easily, for reasons of their own. A fun thought, but my money would be on a cock up.

I play any instrument that I can on headphones (because of the neighbours and lack of sound insulation) so I wouldn't miss the speakers at all. I even took a pair to the shop to try it with, to get the full effect - or near enough - it was an ear bud pair, that I wouldn't normally use at home.

It was in Dawsons, and as you say, their staff don't really seem to know much about what they're selling. I had to tell their "woodwind specialist" what the palm keys on a saxophone were for, not long ago... They do tend to leave you alone to try stuff though. I like that about them.

Yes, it is a lot of money for what it does, which really is not all that much, though it does do it quite well. For £150, I'd definitely give in and get one. At some point I might decide to bore a hole in the back and fit at least a MIDI Out socket. Anything made with surface mount parts is always a sod to solder though. I suppose I could make a bigger case, just to permanently fit the adapter cable to, and put the CP inside that :)

For a desktop piano/organ, around the same size, I could recommend the old Yamaha Portasound PS-3. They were a cut down Electone organ, and come in a nice hard plastic case which is a lot more protective than the soft cases Yamaha now sells. I paid £20 for mine, not long ago, complete with the case.

It has 3 and half octaves of mini keys, with a nice action, 9 voices and one effect ("sustain" meaning slow release - on or off). There's no MIDI or velocity, though you can fit a volume pedal. For the price, I can live with that. It definitely has something about it. It was a quality bit of kit, even though it was mainly meant for home use. There's still plenty of them about too - maybe 30 years after they were made.
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Re: reface cp hands-on review

Unread post by AndyHornBlower » Sat Jan 13, 2018 10:07 am

For reference, here's what a Yamaha CBX-K1 looks like. It has a very similar keybed to the Reface series (same mini size). The Reface one feels a bit nicer, but these are now quite old, so it could just be wear and tear:

_overview.jpg
Yamaha CBX-K1 - similar keyboard to the Reface series, but much older
_overview.jpg (560.96 KiB) Viewed 1516 times

I broke down and bought a Reface CP, a while ago. I don't really regret it, but it's true, it probably wasn't the best way to spend the money. I've now spent enough time with it to know what I don't like about it, which is the minimum velocity problem.

The Reface series can be seen as two separate parts, in one box. There's a velocity sensitive MIDI keyboard, and a synth or sound engine that it's plugged into. Even the organ one (Reface YC), which doesn't have a velocity sensitive sound engine, has the velocity sensitive keyboard. The keyboard part is very like the CBX-K1, but doesn't have as many settings you can adjust.

So, here's the problem with the CP - the keyboard sends a minimum velocity of 1. The sound engine doesn't respond to a velocity of 1. Possibly each sound needs a different minimum level. I haven't determined exactly what that is, but it's significantly more than 1.

Possibly a good keyboard player wouldn't notice, but I'm not a good keyboard player. I find if I play softly, there's often no sound at all, on some notes. I hooked up the MIDI output to my PC to watch it in MIDI-OX, to see what's going on. The problem is, the keyboard can send a lower velocity than the sound engine can respond to.

I doubt if it's possible for a real piano to do that - if the hammer hits the string, it's going to make a noise, no matter how quiet.

On the CBX-K1, I can set a velocity curve, which mostly sets the minimum velocity - from 1 (setting 10 - maximum sensitivity) up to 20 (setting 1 - for maximum ham fistedness). So, ironically, I can play my Reface CP better with a 20 year old Yamaha mini keyboard (and the stupid floppy mini DIN adapter) than I can with the shiny new one that's built into it.... mutter.... mutter...

Googling about this, all I found was a thread on another forum where someone asked for velocity curve settings to be added to the Reface CP, and the infamous Bad Mister responded that he understood the question and it's something that "might" get added in a future firmware update. I'm guessing that means it will never get added.

The way retail works is that a new product has an initial hump of sales, then starts to decline. Once it reaches that stage, the manufacturer is no longer really interested in it, because they can make more sales by launching something new.

As the prices of the Refaces have come down a bit, I'm fairly sure we've reached that stage. Short of a law suit, they're unlikely to release another firmware update, IMHO.
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Re: reface cp hands-on review

Unread post by Saul » Sat Jan 13, 2018 1:14 pm

Actually that was something I noticed about it but completely forgot. If you try and play really softly the keys don't trigger the sounds. I'm not a great keyboard player but I do on occasion manage to knock out something reasonable and it's incredibly frustrating to play a key and get no sound.

Had they gone down the all modelling route for the sounds I don't think this issue would be there but as I understand it, the reface CP uses a hybrid of modelling and samples?

I still think it's a great little keyboard and I did look around at prices recently but they still are not at the point where I would be tempted to pull the trigger and get one. Also we have NAMM coming up and there is "supposed" to be a big announcement about a new product, although going on past experience that may well not happen and all we will see is a lot of action around Genos.
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Re: reface cp hands-on review

Unread post by AndyHornBlower » Sat Jan 13, 2018 5:01 pm

It has a lot going for it, but playing notes and getting no sound is really frustrating, yes.

"Bad Mister" talked about it being very responsive and needing a technique developed for it, or words to that effect. I'm inclined to think he understood exactly what the problem was, but was being economical with the truth.

As I see it, it's a simple technical problem that should have been spotted earlier, and should have been fixed as soon as it was, with a new firmware update.

I bought a second hand GEM RP-X piano module, more recently, which actually has the same problem, but there is a fix for it included - you can set a velocity offset to be added to the incoming MIDI notes. If it had been per patch, it would have been an ideal solution, though unfortunately they made it global, so you'd have to keep changing it. Still, at least they dealt with it. Also, as that's a module, it's not a big deal because you always use it with a MIDI controller - so you just need to be able to change it on the controller, like I can on the little CBX-K1.

The frustrating thing is, any programmer who was familiar with the source code, and had access to it, should be able to fix it in a single afternoon. It's not like it needed to cost them a lot of money.

As it stands, I just have to kind of pound on the keyboard harder than I want to, or give up and plug in a MIDI controller. It seems doubly ridiculous to be plugging in one with almost the exact same keybed.
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Re: reface cp hands-on review

Unread post by Saul » Sat Jan 13, 2018 5:54 pm

Well unfortunately for us but fortunately for him "Bad Mister" works for Yamaha so he is hardly likely to admit to any failings in their products ;)

Yamaha are not the easiest company to deal with. You say the wrong thing and you very quickly find yourself outside the 'circle of trust'. I speak from experience!

So as to whether they will address the problems...which you and I see as a problem with the reface CP and they don't even acknowledge, I very much doubt.

The best we can hope for is that they bring out a new keyboard to replace the MOXF at NAMM or perhaps combine all reface models into one...with proper velocity sensing that recognises the lightest of touches.
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Re: reface cp hands-on review

Unread post by AndyHornBlower » Sat Jan 13, 2018 8:05 pm

I replied at a bit more length, but my cable modem's power supply died, before I pressed Submit. It's happened a few times now. I just keep buying more spares, from charity shops...

I agree, they won't admit it's a problem, and they won't fix it. If I was a gambler, I'd put money on it - but maybe not as much as the £255 I already put on it working properly.

I'm not sure why they think that's good for their reputation. To err is human; to deny you did, and never do anything about it, is mean spirited and nasty.

I wasn't sure it was worth that much, to me, and it turned out it wasn't. If someone has the money, and wants to use it as a sound module with their usual MIDI controller, fair enough, but if anyone is thinking of buying one and using it as it comes, with its own keyboard, like I was, I'd advise against it.

Personally, I'd be wary of buying a new combined Reface, after this experience. I read the reviews, and the forums, I even tried one in a shop. I don't hate it, but I am definitely not entirely happy with it. For what it cost, I was expecting something less flawed.

I did notice missing notes in the shop, when I tried one, but I thought it was just lack of experience, or a setting, or some such. I didn't mention that either, at the time. I should have done. I probably ought to have approached it with deep suspicion, looking for any possible signs of a problem, instead of thinking "Well, it's a Yamaha, it must be good".
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Re: reface cp hands-on review

Unread post by Saul » Sat Jan 13, 2018 10:56 pm

I think Yamaha are just too large, too corporate. They are difficult to contact and deal with in general.

Unless they bring out something particularly wonderful at NAMM I can't see my next board being a Yamaha. I would consider another older one like the SY85/SY77 etc but probably nothing new.

I do like reface...or the CP anyway. The build quality is good, sound quality is also good but the price is all wrong for me. It's still too expensive for what it is. If I could find one for £150 I might be in but then I could probably pick up a SY85 or KORG M1 for that sort of money. They may be old but the build quality is fantastic, keybeds are better and they make great MIDI controllers :)
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Re: reface cp hands-on review

Unread post by AndyHornBlower » Sat Jan 13, 2018 11:55 pm

Yep. If I had the space, I'd be more tempted by a good condition DX7, than anything they make now, or are likely to release in the near future, in my price range. If nothing else, it would make the basis of an excellent MIDI controller.

I've noticed there aren't many second hand bargains, in relatively recently made electronic music gear any more. I've been wondering if Paypal pushing their credit card to ebay users has been raising prices - people who maybe couldn't buy something new, out right, figure they can get it second hand on credit, instead. That means the prices can be astonishingly close to the full retail price, somewhere, and people will still pay it, or get into bidding wars over it.

That being the case, you might have to wait quite a while to see a CP second hand for £150. I gather Yamaha don't do close outs when they discontinue things either - they just let stocks run out at almost full price. I've read the Yamaha WX5 was never actually discontinued, officially, they just stopped making more, and let stocks of them run out.
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Re: reface cp hands-on review

Unread post by Derek » Sat Jan 13, 2018 11:57 pm

Yup. Yamha denied bugs in the EX5 SYSEX implementation despite me sending clear evidence (as others had done before me). Guess what? They said there can’t be any SYSEX bugs as the EX5 does not support it - despite me using their buggy implementation and working around the issues I documented to get it working. ;)

They do not like even constructive criticism. I must check on a post I made on Yamaha synth. The response to a question and my opinion was so patronising as to be beyond belief, so I left it. If I spoke to my Customers like that in work I would be rebuked, possibly sacked! Hey ho. The annoying thing is that Yamaha make great products but they seem to have a bloody minded streak in making some dumb ass quirky decisions and then to not being able to see when people point out issues where they could be better. My Kronos experience has been far more positive (and logical!) :) Two great synths (Kronos and Montage) but two totally different experiences.
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Re: reface cp hands-on review

Unread post by Saul » Sun Jan 14, 2018 1:36 am

I'm dealing with a lot of different companies at the moment, all of whom have been great in supplying instruments for review. KORG have been fantastic! If Yamaha don't want to join the party it's a shame but the show will still go on. 2018 is going to be a good one with or without them.

Right now I am still leaning toward an older instrument...unless the mythical £150 reface CP emerges on Ebay of course ;)
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Re: reface cp hands-on review

Unread post by AndyHornBlower » Sun Jan 14, 2018 1:53 am

I'm familiar with that scenario, Derek. I'm going through the same process with another company at the moment, and have reached the stage where I'm feeling patronised.

I started by making a bug report, which I thought was fairly clear but they repeatedly failed to understand what I said, and are now asking me to make a video illustrating the problem, just to "make sure" there's nothing wrong with my equipment. There is something wrong with it - there's a bug, or a bit of very poorly thought out user interface design, depending on your point of view. That's what I've been trying to tell them.

I fully expect them to do nothing about that either, they just expect me to go to a lot of trouble to prove it needs fixing, then I'll be told it's meant to do that. If I do make a video about it, it's going on Youtube, in plain view.

I could be seen as picky, I suppose. As I see it, every major purchase of electronic equipment I make, reveals a serious flaw, which affects my usage of it but which the manufacturer isn't interested in doing anything about. It's because of the initial sales hump thing, I expect. The time between the launch of a product and peak sales of it, has probably got a lot shorter than it used to be.

I think an older instrument is a much safer bet, Saul. All the bugs have hopefully been found, documented, and have now settled down, started families and raised little bugs of their own.

I should go back to only buying instruments made out of brass, or bits of wood. Life would be much simpler.
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Re: reface cp hands-on review

Unread post by Saul » Sun Jan 14, 2018 2:37 am

I definitely prefer the simplicity that is the acoustic guitar. Not a great deal to go wrong...as long as you look after it of course.
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Re: reface cp hands-on review

Unread post by AndyHornBlower » Sun Jan 14, 2018 3:43 am

Yep. In an ideal world, I'd have stuck with woodwind and brass, but I live in a world with thin walls, and neighbours instead. The electronic stuff seemed like the answer, but there's always something...
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Re: reface cp hands-on review

Unread post by AndyHornBlower » Thu Feb 22, 2018 10:00 pm

Well, I thought about making a device to take the Reface CP keyboard output, fiddle with the velocity, and send it back into the MIDI IN. I may still do that, but for now, I have a temporary fix with a DAW called Cantabile.

As it turns out ALL sounds respond to a velocity of 2 or more, including the hidden acoustic piano. None of them respond to a velocity of 1, which is far too easy to produce, playing softly.

I have to pause, at this point, to ask "What the hell were they thinking?", with a side order of "Why the ^^%$£% don't they fix this?".

The CP needs Local Control turned off, ideally, though it does seem to work with it on - presumably triggering two notes. Hold down the lowest F key as you turn the CP on. Do the same to turn it back on again later.

In Cantabile, I can make a MIDI routing from a MIDI IN on my PC to a MIDI OUT, and apply a velocity curve to it. All I've done is set the minimum output velocity, and leave the curve as a straight line, but you could get more creative.

So, here's what it looks like to do it in Cantabile. I have to admit, I don't really notice any latency. Part of me knows it must be there, and a hardware device would do it better, so I may still make one.

CP Velocity temp fix - Cantabile.jpg
The other two routings are just so I can play the CP from the on-screen keyboard, or watch what keys I press on the CP, on there. The top routing is the main one.
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