This is the first in a series reviewing the best-selling digital pianos, with a focus on their suitability for learning and practicing music (i.e. taking piano lessons). In this post, we’ll look at Roland’s perennially popular FP-30X.

Intro

A digital piano is a complex piece of technology, and it’s all too easy to become overwhelmed by the dozens of features and functions that most have. So it’s useful to keep in mind an instrument’s two most important features:

  1. Action: the mechanism that transforms playing into sound. More subjectively, it refers to how the keyboard feels and responds.
  2. Sounds: the quality of the instrument’s sounds, particularly its piano sounds, which are the ones you’ll use the most.

In addition to a digital piano’s action and sounds, there are several other features most piano students will use and enjoy (or find frustrating):  the metronome, the recorder, and the user interface (controls and display).

Why You Can Trust Me

  • There are no affiliate links in this article. Unlike most keyboard review sites, I have nothing to gain by recommending a specific brand or model.
  • I’ve played hundreds of instruments, from the cheapest electronic keyboards to the priciest grand pianos.
  • As a piano player and teacher, I’m very picky.

Action

The action on digital pianos is designed to feel as much as possible like the action of a real acoustic piano. More expensive instruments typically have a more realistic action.

That said, there is no such thing as a “typical action.” Some actions are lighter, requiring less force/arm weight to play. Others are heavier, requiring more force/arm weight to play. Some players prefer lighter actions, others prefer heavier actions.

If you’re new to learning piano, you probably have no idea which way to go. So even if you don’t know how to play yet, I recommend pressing some keys on a variety of digital and acoustic pianos at your local piano store. (Be sure to play both upright and grand acoustics. Their actions can be quite different.)

If you’re unable to find an FP-30X to play before purchasing it, keep in mind that some people claim that its action is a bit heavier than average. In my opinion, though, it’s not overly heavy. I think most adult piano students are going to be satisfied with the Roland’s action.

In my opinion the FP-30X’s action is excellent, especially for the lower-end price of the instrument.

Sounds

A digital piano’s sounds are digital “samples” of real keyboard instruments like pianos, electric pianos, organs, and other acoustic instruments like strings, woodwinds, brass – even synthesizers. The FP-30X has 56 different sounds.

For learning and practicing, a digital piano’s keyboard sounds are obviously the most important. The FP-30X’s default concert grand is excellent, as are its other keyboard sounds.

Yet a digital piano’s sounds are ideally paired with excellent audio. A beautiful piano delivered through inferior speakers is going to sound worse than an average piano delivered through superior speakers.

Unfortunately, speaker quality is not one of the FP-30X’s strengths. At best, its built-in speakers can be described as mediocre. To be fair, though, the speakers on just about any reasonably-priced digital piano (i.e. below $3,000 or so) are almost always inferior to the audio provided by high-quality headphones, a good external keyboard amplifier, or studio monitors like the Adam A7X (my personal favorite).

You probably already have headphones, but if not, it’s worth getting a good pair for when you want to practice and not disturb others in your household.

Metronome

Nearly all digital pianos have a metronome, allowing you to keep a steady beat or set a specific practicing tempo. The FP-30X has a metronome, though it has two shortcomings: (1) its sound is a semi-annoying electronic sample rather than one that sounds like a real mechanical click, and (2) there’s no way to know the metronome’s exact tempo, since the FP-30X doesn’t have a display screen.

But these shortcomings needn’t be a deal-breaker if you’re otherwise excited about the FP-30X. There are many high-quality stand-alone metronomes and metronome apps (for smartphones and computers) that are inexpensive or even free. You don’t have to use your digital piano’s metronome.

Recorder

Being able to record your playing, and have your digital piano play it back, is very helpful when learning piano. You’re more likely to hear the details of your performance and think of ways to improve as you listen back than while you’re actually playing.

The FP-30X has a recorder, though as you might expect on a lower-end instrument, it lacks certain features. While you can save your recordings in MIDI (data) format (which allows you to play them back on the instrument itself), recordings can’t be saved in an audio format like MP3. Of course, if your only reason for recording is to listen for ways to improve, this isn’t an issue. And for that matter, if you do want to save your recording in an audio format, the FP-30X’s audio interface will allow you to save it directly to your computer via USB.

User Interface and Display

A digital piano’s user interface, consisting of its controls (buttons, knobs, sliders) and digital display s(if any) is a significant contributing factor to the player’s enjoyment.

The FP-30X’s user interface is what you might expect in a digital piano at a cheaper price point. Rather than providing all the controls necessary to access all the instrument’s functions, which would require several dozen buttons, knobs and sliders, the FP-30X has just 13 buttons. While appealingly simple, it isn’t user-friendly. To access all of the instrument’s functions, you’ll need to use Roland’s app, which users unfortunately describe as buggy and slow.

Even worse, there is no display screen. Period. True, there are 5 lights that provide a rough indication of what the current volume is, but since the FP-30X has 100 distinct volume levels, there is no way to know from the lights what your exact volume is.

The above criticisms notwithstanding, if your focus is truly learning and playing piano, and you always use the same sound and a similar volume, then the FP-30X’s inadequate user interface may not be a deal-breaker.

Conclusion

To sum up, here are the essential strengths and weaknesses of the Roland FP-30X:

  • The action is quite good for the price. If possible though, play the FP-30X at a store to make sure you like it. Compare by playing other digital and acoustic pianos.
  • The sounds are excellent, and plenty enough for the purpose of learning to play piano.
  • The metronome isn’t great, but it’s easy and cheap to find a better one.
  • The recorder is good enough for the needs of most piano students.
  • The user interface is poor and the instrument altogether lacks a display. However, this may not be an issue if you won’t need to frequently adjust settings (if your goal is mainly to play and practice, you probably won’t need to).

Despite some shortcomings, the Roland FP-30X is one of the least expensive digital pianos that is a completely suitable instrument for learning how to play. Its popularity attests to that!

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