My review and impressions of the PSS-A50 and F30 keyboards

Yamaha PSR/PSS & DGX Home Keyboards. If your particular model PSR/PSS/DGX keyboard doesn't have it's own section here is the place to post.

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shad0wfax
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My review and impressions of the PSS-A50 and F30 keyboards

Unread post by shad0wfax » Sun Dec 29, 2019 9:03 pm

It’s been for a quite long time now that there’s a kind of “retro fever” in virtually everything. It seems that relaunching the same (or very similar) products that we enjoyed (or with which we dreamt about but were totally out of our reach, especially if we were kids then) is a good commercial strategy, and many companies have followed this path. When talking about keyboards and synths, things are not different, and most major companies have launched modern “re-editions” of vintage and classic models. If only a few months ago Casio surprised us with the re-edition of the “Casiotone” series, more recently Yamaha rescued the PSS series of minikeyboards. As virtually any keyboard enthusiast of a certain age started his/her musical experiences with a Casiotone and/or a PSS, the “nostalgia effect” is assured. This, combined with low prices, makes that many of us (me included) are tempted to get one (or more) of those keyboards. After surfing a few webs, I found the PSS-A50 model for Euro 76 and the F30 one for only Euro 52, so I couldn’t resist and I got them both 😉

As probably any reader knows, the new PSS series include three models: E30, F30 and A50. E30 is clearly focused to very young kids, with functions such as the “quiz mode” and the emphasis in sound effects, so it does not seem very interesting for a more adult audience. The F30 and the A50, on the other hand, seem to offer much more interesting features. Specially the A50, with functions such as usb MIDI, arpeggiator, recorder, effects control (although quite limited) and velocity-sensitive keyboard, calls our attention even as a possible portable mini-studio to sketch musical ideas, and/or as a compact controller with built-in sounds. But has Yamaha really succeeded in creating an interesting product with the new PSS series? Here I’m offering my impressions, totally subjective of course, but maybe useful for those who are considering whether to get or not one of these keyboards.

First of all, at first sight it’s evident that Yamaha designed the different models reducing the costs by means of sharing many pieces between them, such as the plastic case, the keyboard, the speaker, the LCD screen and so on. But beyond that, similarities affect also the internal circuitry, as the mainboard is basically the same for the three models (as it can be seen in the photos). All of them are based on the YMW830-V chip, which is the one used in the PSR-F50 (and probably also in the PSR-F51, although I haven’t been able to confirm this), and which is currently the most basic technology offered by Yamaha in electronic keyboards (although this that not mean that it’s a bad one, neither in features nor in sound quality). The most evident difference between the A50 and the F30 regarding electronics is that A50’s mainboard includes a 32-bit ARM Cortex-M0 LPC11U13F microcontroller, that probably controls the usb MIDI port.

These important similarities raise the first doubts (and criticisms). For instance, the keyboard is physically the same one in the A50 and the F30 (see photo). As Yamaha proudly claims, it’s the same as in the Reface series (I haven’t been able to confirm this as I do not have any model of that series). Anyway, it’s a keyboard mechanism that allows velocity control, and in fact, the A50 is velocity sensitive. That means that, from a physical and electronic point of view, the keyboard of the F30 should be capable of sending velocity messages, but this function has been consciously limited by Yamaha, despite having paid, strictly speaking, for it, as the pieces are the same and they allow for this feature.

Regarding the feeling of the keyboard, it’s certainly not bad for being minikeys, and for sure it’s much better than the older PSS models, although IMHO it’s still below the one of the Korg MicroStation and MicroArranger that I used to have some time ago. I also can feel some tendency for the black keys to send higher velocity levels than the white ones despite using the same pressure. Is someone is planning to get an A50 to use it mainly as a controller, IMHO should consider the Korg microKEY series instead. As a good point, on the other hand, the A50 is very flexible regarding octave transposition, with a range of +/- 3 octaves, so there are no limitations to reach the complete range of any instrument. In contrast, in an absurd limitation, the F30 only allows for +/- 1 octave, so considering that the keyboard has only 3 octaves, the total range is of only 5 octaves. There’s nonetheless the “trick” of using the key transposition, which has a range of +/- 12 semitones (1 octave), so the total absolute limit is 7 octaves (although never at the same time).

Still talking about similarities, as stated above all three models are based on the YMW830-V chip from the PSR-F50, but despite this, only the PSS-F30 offers the whole sound palette of the F50, with 120 sounds (actually less, as some of them are dual or split sounds, and in some of the sounds is quite evident that they are based on the same waveforms), and 4 drum kits. The A50 only offers a selection of 40 instrument sounds and 2 drum kits, a subset of the F50/F30 palette. The selection of 40 presets of the A50 intends to be wide enough to cover different music styles, although I miss some important sounds such as clavinet, pipe organ, a couple of bass guitars (at least a picked and a fretless one), a chorus, etc. Again, I suspect (although I cannot check it) that all ROM waveforms are actually included in the chip and the limitations of the A50 are intended, hence not using the full potential of the hardware itself.

And speaking about sounds, obviously one cannot expect in this price range to find excellent ones, but to be honest, in general terms they are more than decent. We are far from the times when any similarities between the name of the sound and the actual instrument were pure coincidence. Even considering that it is the most modest and affordable offering from Yamaha, most presets are acceptable, and some of them even quite good. Inevitably, there are also a few bad ones (to my taste), such as strings, distorted guitar, brass ensemble (in contrast, individual brass sounds are quite good) or what intends to be a Rhodes electric piano. The acoustic guitar also resembles sometimes a banjo rather than a guitar. The drum kits are useable, although for some reason there is no 808-like snare sound in the “dance” kit.

The sensation with the A50 is that it certainly has very interesting features but it falls quite short, and with only a few improvements it could have been much better. For instance, it’s nice to have a recording/playback function, but there’s only one track. The same happens with the arpeggiator. It only has a few arpeggios and you can only use one at a time (although it can be recorded, so it’s like having two arpeggios at a time, one live and one recorded). Regarding the effects, they are limited to a series of presets, which can affect the filter, the pitch, the amplitude or a combination of them. The bad thing is that you have no control on them, as there’s simply a manual activation/deactivation button. Even that, it’s better than nothing, and certainly more than what most cheap keyboards offer. The low cost character of the keyboard is evident also in the quality of the sound output (minijack), as it’s quite noisy. Moreover, if the keyboard is powered via the usb port, there are some electrical interference noises (not the case when powered by batteries).

Because it has MIDI, the A50 can be used as a multitimbral sound source in a DAW. MIDI implementation is quite good, as you can control filter cutoff, resonance, attack and release, portamento, sustain, reverb and chorus amount, etc. as well as pitch bend, modulation, volume, expression and so on.

Now I’ll point out what INHO is the worst aspect of these keyboards: they are completely monoaural! I am NOT referring to the fact that they have only one speaker, nor that the waveforms used as oscillators of the different presets are mono (this is completely OK in this price range), but instead, that the whole sound generation is mono, including the line/phones output. Moreover, if we take a look to the MIDI implementation table, we will notice that the A50 does not respond to MIDI CC 10 (pan). As I see it, that’s a serious drawback for any possibly of using the internal sounds for any “serious” music creation.

As a general conclusion, I have the impression that Yamaha is somewhat “cheating” us with the new PSS models, even considering that we are talking about a very entry-level products, to the extent that they have got some limitations that don’t respond to the hardware itself, even within their modest capabilities, but rather they have been consciously introduced by the manufacturer only to limit their features. Things like not making the keyboard velocity-sensitive or limiting octave transposition to +/- 1 octave in the F30, or the limitation to 40 presets in the A50, seem to be there only to make the keyboards more limited. And, overall, the fact that they are monoaural is a big drawback for me. Quite paradoxically, IMHO the PSS-F30 is a rounder model than the A50, as it’s cheaper and clearly intended to be a mere entertainment keyboard without pretensions, and therefore, more like the old PSS line. On the contrary, in the A50 you pay more for the more advanced functions (MIDI, arpeggiator, effects, recorder, sensitive keyboard, etc.), but its limitations make that you cannot really take advantage of the capabilities as a “serious” keyboard that you could think of at first glance.

IMHO, Yamaha would have made a brilliant job if they had launched a keyboard like the A50 but with the complete sound palette of the F30, stereo output, USB audio (not only MIDI), and some improvements in the arpeggio/recorder areas, although the latter is secondary. I suspect that adding those features probably wouldn’t even add $5 to the manufacturing costs for Yamaha, while they could be a perfect excuse for increasing the price in $20-25.

To finish this long post, here you’ve got an audio sample: (https://www.dropbox.com/s/1iupkeql2ddxk ... s.mp3?dl=0). It’s made with Cubase using the PSS-A50 as the only sound source. It’s an adaptation of a theme I wrote some time ago. The audio file is not processed at all, as it’s recorded directly from the A50’s output, so you can also appreciate the noise and hiss of the audio output.

Best regards,
David

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shad0wfax
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Re: My review and impressions of the PSS-A50 and F30 keyboards

Unread post by shad0wfax » Sun Dec 29, 2019 9:19 pm

I'm experiencing problems for showing the pictures of the previous post. I'm new in this forum and I don't know if I'm not doing something right. The images are hosted in the 'public' folder of my Dropbox account. I would appreciate some help.

Best regards,
David
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KennyKeys650
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Re: My review and impressions of the PSS-A50 and F30 keyboards

Unread post by KennyKeys650 » Sat Jan 11, 2020 12:57 pm

I just got my PSS-f30 yesterday. It's what I've been waiting for; something I can throw in my suitcase to have with me on my business trips.
The sounds and Styles sound great for something of this size!

HOWEVER, I was so disappointed to see that HALF OF THE KEYS ARE USED FOR CHORDS! Consequently, I can't play any of the songs in my repertoire, there are not enough melody notes available.

I know they did that, so that all the chords can be played in the Root position. Using chord inversions, I can play all the chords I need in ONE octave. With all the functions included on this keyboard, why no way to change the split point, when there are only 3 octaves available?!!

At the least, I would expect that it would only need one octave, if you were using one-finger chords..I could live with that, but that is not the case; even using one-finger chords, it still requires half the keyboard!!! That makes no sense at all.

I'm hoping there's some kind of trick to change the split point: hold down this and that key while powering it up...etc. Or maybe Yamaha has(or will have) a patch or update I can install thru the USB.

I love this thing..waited for it to come along..and now Yamaha comes through..sort of. It is pretty useless to me the way it is.

SUCH a disappointment..What a shame!!!
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Re: My review and impressions of the PSS-A50 and F30 keyboards

Unread post by Saul » Sat Jan 11, 2020 1:09 pm

shad0wfax wrote:
Sun Dec 29, 2019 9:19 pm
I'm experiencing problems for showing the pictures of the previous post. I'm new in this forum and I don't know if I'm not doing something right. The images are hosted in the 'public' folder of my Dropbox account. I would appreciate some help.

Best regards,
David
Hi David. Thanks for that very in-depth review ((i)) ((i)) ((i))

You should be able to add photos now but add them as attachments. Let me know if you still have problems?
Saul
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Re: My review and impressions of the PSS-A50 and F30 keyboards

Unread post by Saul » Sat Jan 11, 2020 1:17 pm

KennyKeys650 wrote:
Sat Jan 11, 2020 12:57 pm
I just got my PSS-f30 yesterday. It's what I've been waiting for; something I can throw in my suitcase to have with me on my business trips.
The sounds and Styles sound great for something of this size!

HOWEVER, I was so disappointed to see that HALF OF THE KEYS ARE USED FOR CHORDS! Consequently, I can't play any of the songs in my repertoire, there are not enough melody notes available.
Hi Kenny, welcome to the forums :)

If you press the 'Voice' button so you are in voice mode does it still assign half the keys to chords? If so that seems like a bit of an odd decision on Yamaha's part...or it does to me at least.

In voice mode you should be just playing a voice across all the keys not chords.

As far as I can tell there is no split function on the PSS-F30 but then you have to keep in mind the price point and market it is aimed at?
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Re: My review and impressions of the PSS-A50 and F30 keyboards

Unread post by KennyKeys650 » Sat Jan 11, 2020 2:14 pm

In voice mode it works fine.
They say the e30 is aimed at kids. The f30 is for older/teens.
Maybe it's just a personal disappointment. But I still can't see why they would assign half the keyboard in single-finger mode.. In 3 octaves!!
Is it just lazy programming, or purposely limiting things, as has been suggested?
Damn --- it's killing me! I waited so long to see something like this.
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Re: My review and impressions of the PSS-A50 and F30 keyboards

Unread post by KennyKeys650 » Mon Jan 13, 2020 1:37 pm

Hey Shadow,
Why don't you send your critique directly to Yamaha? They might not know about this particular forum. Hopefully they will value you input, and take some of your ideas/thoughts to heart, when making the next model.
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Re: My review and impressions of the PSS-A50 and F30 keyboards

Unread post by Saul » Mon Jan 13, 2020 2:09 pm

I can assure you that Yamaha definitely know about this forum!

We have several members here from Yamaha UK including the director of pro audio. This forum has been continuously online since 2002.

We don't exactly fly under the radar!

Yamaha also have people reading through the posts. So don't ever think that Yamaha are not aware of any issues or complaints you may have. (Y)
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Re: My review and impressions of the PSS-A50 and F30 keyboards

Unread post by shelly0624 » Mon Jan 13, 2020 7:18 pm

I had been looking at mini keyboards for quite some time before I bought the PS-A50. I looked at a lot of YouTube videos and hoped I would find something affordable, with an onboard speaker and a decent sound. I didn't need a keyboard controller, of which there is a plethora of. I camp a lot. The Yamaha Reface was by far better in features and sound, but was too expensive for me. I really needed something I could take with me since I'm new at keyboard and needed practice time. I have two 61 key keyboards at home, but needed something I could throw into a backpack while I was away from home. I would like to have found something with 49 keys and onboard speaker. The little Casio one (Casio SA-76) has 44 keys but sounded like a toy and I also looked at this one: Medeli MC37A. I also considered the inexpensive Casiotone CT-S300 (or S200 without touch sensitivity) with 61 keys. It was super light and so durable you could just throw it into a car and go. It had a lot of capabilities for that price but I needed something smaller.

In an inexpensive mini keyboard, nothing sounded as good as the PSS-A50. The sound is really good. The thing I would like to see in any keyboard is a sustain pedal port. None of the minikeys have one (that I'm aware of). The PSS-A50 has a sustain button and with touch sensitivity the piano sound flows pretty good, for the most part. I do wish it had a piano/strings layered sound, which I use a lot. 49 keys would have been swell but you get into a bigger price. I probably wouldn't have wanted to spend over $125 for a mini keyboard since I didn't really need something to replace my keyboards at home and because I can use the midi feature on those. I like the fact that it fits in my lap too.

BTW, shad0wfax, I really appreciate the information you posted here, because you were able to fill in some gaps. Since my needs were different, you were able to cover aspects of the keyboard that some would find useful to know ahead of time before buying one.


I really love my PSS-A50 and it's small and light as a feather. I've plinked around with the arpeggio feature and some of those are fun, as well as the motion effects. My son can enjoy those features right now, more than me...(I bought him one for Christmas). They are kinda cool and I'll spend more time with it later on, but that's not why I bought it. I needed to practice chords and have something to play when we camp in the summer. I used to take my guitar with me everywhere.

Anyway, if the limited keys are frustrating, KennyKeys650, there is this one, still an arranging keyboard of sorts. There are YouTube videos if you want to hear what they sound like. I wasn't particularly impressed but sound preference is personal. If there are any more mini keyboards out there, maybe someone knows about them.

(I've tried to copy the link from amazon and just get the Amazon logo, here's one from Sam Ash).

https://www.samash.com/medeli-mc37a-min ... edmc37ax-p
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Re: My review and impressions of the PSS-A50 and F30 keyboards

Unread post by KennyKeys650 » Wed Jan 15, 2020 12:30 pm

Thanks Shelly, for the reference. I do already have the Medeli 37a. It is a nice solid build, small, but not nearly as small as the Yamaha. The problem I have with the Medeli, is that you can only raise or lower it by a half octave. I need to lower a full octave to match my voice.
The f30 was able to do that, so I was thrilled to see it available. But after being seriously disappointed, I had to return it, as it was ultimately useless to me.
I too, am a relatively new player; been playing about 9 or 10 years. I like to play along with the accompaniments..so the a50 is not for me, though the fact that it is touch-sensitive is exciting.
At home I have (8) 61-key Yamahas..love them all! But mostly my s770, and my daily player, my e453.
The a50 sounds like a great fit for you! :dance:
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Re: My review and impressions of the PSS-A50 and F30 keyboards

Unread post by shelly0624 » Wed Jan 15, 2020 12:51 pm

I understand what you mean. I have to lower the pitch on my keyboards to match my voice as well. The A50 seems to get it low enough for me, thankfully, since I'm an alto.
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