* Prices may differ from that shown
When it comes to home keyboards, what do consumers look for? Price is probably the first requirement which meets the ticked boxes before performance and feature. Well this was the problem which faced me when in the last year of my undergrad college course I had to buy a piano. ** This is a long review! **
The piano in question would have to be digital so that private practise could be undertaken via headphones and if possible to have some degree of touch sensitivity. I had many options before me; either a second hand keyboard with little features such as a bank of instrument sounds, sound effects, and accompaniments but very little else in terms of technology (and the fear of how long it was going to last) or a brand new electric piano, with a few piano based sounds, stereo speakers, touch sensitivity and a hefty price tag to match.
In each instance the keyboard would have to be completely portable without being too heavy to transport. At 6kg the 340 isn't the heaviest around - other keyboards in Yamaha's range are much heavier and not as portable to carry.
** Yamaha - The Professional's Choice? **
All my life I have always had Yamaha home keyboards and I'll tell you why; the quality of thinking and general quality of the voices Yamaha have put into their products have been better than their rivals especially Casio and Technics (both opposite ends of the scale in terms of companies who both produce home keyboards). Yamaha have been making electric keyboards since the 1970's and I can still remember my PS 20 and PS 6100 as the first two keyboards I had. They lasted a long time between periods and at schools that I went to it seems that even schools had the same idea when they chose similar company products.
Compared to Casio who are a cheaper brand, but still try to compete with Yamaha, there really is no rivalry at the end of the day where the two brands are concerned because of Yamaha's reputation and knowledge of musical instruments. Casio may make upright pianos too but they don't produce wind or brass instruments like Yamaha do. At Chappell's of Bond Street who saw my predicament between choosing an electric piano and a home keyboard, they nearly presented me with two electric pianos, both priced at £500 and £700 respectively. Both pianos had headphone adaptors and a choice of 3 touch sensitivity levels. They also sported 20 watts or 50 watts of volume and stereo speaker power which at that time was quite competitive against other company products like Technics.
Although both pianos looked reasonable in terms of feature, the prices really put me off. When I mentioned that I was also looking for multi recording track sequencing, he dragged me off to the home keyboard section...and the smile from his sales face fell.
** The PSR 340 in Detail **
The Yamaha PSR 340 (the new 350 is its successor and has very little in terms of difference launched in 2003 and still on sale in most shops now in 2007) came in at £300 at Argos and other main high street companies but Chappell's were keen to shift these models out the door and at the time within their summer sale, were selling the PSR 340 at £250-00. This did not include a keyboard stand which I had to pay £25 extra, but still this was a veritable bargain at the time given that Argos didn't include an in-house Yamaha branded stand suited to the PSR 340.
In terms of specification, the PSR 340 is not an electric piano. It is a home electric keyboard but as I found out, most Yamaha electric pianos have something called "XG" which basically means that they will try to match the same sound of a mechanical piano electronically, as well as other instruments such as oboe - or whichever is featured - now I don't profess to have the best ears or anything but after spending some time with a Yamaha electric piano, I realised that the sound of the 340's piano was near identical to that of the Yamaha electric piano model. PSR340 doesn't have XG but it does have "Stereo sampled piano". It's not as bad as some of the piano sounds I've heard from rival companies!
The biggest shock however was that the £500 electric piano seemed to have the same features, if not bigger in terms of instrument voices on the PSR 340. This also included a multi choice pedal option which not only gives you Sustain function, but also rhythm style stop and start functions; fill in function and functions for the chorus and DSP levels to come on and off.
Both keyboards have 61 keys and both of them have stereo speakers rated at 20 watts maximum. I nearly parted £700 just to have a recording feature, a sustain pedal and a headphone socket! The difference however is that whilst the PSR 340 has no proper staid look of an electric piano and general controls have been designed for all young ages, the PSR keyboard is the better choice.
I have since seen the PSR 340 being used in music schools, secondary school classrooms and recently I played it in a concert venue with 200 people being present.
** Quick Skip Product Review Spec **
3 Levels of touch sensitivity and normal mode.
Pedal sustain and multi options.
Reverb, Chorus and DSP options
Dual mode voice change option with optional preset dual voices.
20 watts maximum power with 2 way speakers.
35mm headphone socket.
7 track recorder with 3.5 floppy disk drive; also supports "Style file" disks which are available at extra cost.
MIDI sockets (dual) for additional hook up to PC's.
109 Panel voices, 112 General Midi voices.
180 preset rhythms with auto chord accompaniment function.
10 preset additional accompaniments for piano styles.
9 choices of drum kit styles.
Yamaha's acclaimed Y.E.S (Educational Suite); shows you how to play the piano.
61 full size piano keys with full polyphony. (Means you can play one or more keys together)
Back lit LCD screen which shows notes & chords played, tracks, metronome beats.
Notational input option for recording and seamless recording procedures.
Choice of recording options including "real time," like a tape recorder.
** Using the PSR 340 **
A lot has moved on in 20 years, which was the last time I owned a keyboard. In the 1980's and late 1990's Yamaha were "button happy," following the likes of BMW's style in putting a whole load of buttons just to do one function (which springs to mind on their heater controls in the 5 and 7 series cars) but here the style is very logical and precise. Mirroring the style that mobile phones have brought with their scroll button, you will find the same style with a numbered keyboard 0-9 which allows users to dial in the number of the preset voice that they want to play. There are even negative and positive keys which speed up the process of moving through all the different styles such as Piano, Strings, Guitar and Woodwind options. There is even a "Mallet" option which allows users to choose from soft and hushed vibraphone to marimba choices. But even if you don't want to dial the numbers in, you can keep pushing the main 4 buttons which can bring up Function, Style, Song and Voice options, all separated by ribbed black circular buttons which sit just underneath the main LCD screen.
The Function button in particular allows the user to preset the keyboard to their own desire, allowing them to choose Chorus, DSP, Reverb, Midi In and Out (handy for PC users as well as a whole options list including keyboard clock so that it synchronises perfectly with the PC once it is plugged in.) Dual or triple split keyboard voices, volume controls for each. In short, it is a fast and speedy way of changing although I'd have liked a button for each channel as Yamaha have done in their model above this with the PSR 540.
Navigating around the keyboard is extremely easy and if you haven't used one before you get a bible of a user manual where each page and each content list has been infinitely added with a good level of understandable English. There is even a glossary in the manual if you are not sure about certain functions and style modes.
And if you have ever owned the Yamaha PSR 225 or 205 models beforehand, then the spec on the PSR 340 is similarly equipped both on looks, controls and sound quality. The difference is the addition of the floppy disk drive.
** The YES Suite **
The Yamaha Educational Suite (or YES for short) allows users to learn how to play the keyboard. It does not however replace the need to get music lessons from a teacher but it does in someway show notes which are pressed down on the keyboard in the LCD screen. You can play a song along with a preset accompaniment which the keyboard will supply with preset chordal changes, such as the famous 1,4,5 chord sequence which many a great pop song has been engineered to sound these days!
Further more you can also cancel out the extra helping hand accompaniment and with the use of the metronome you can further diagnose common educational problems such as where to put your left and right hand. Much as I know how to play the piano, this function is of no use to me, but it is handy when coming to sell on later, which after seven years of ownership I have no intention of doing.
** Other features **
One of the features that I use commonly is the metronome function which is great for teaching with. Whilst the "ting tong" can become frustrating, there is an actual volume control available for the metronome, plus the function of being able to fix the metronome so that it can beat in other common time signatures such as 3/4, 5/4, 6/4, all the way up to 16/4 and compound triple time such as 3/8, 6/8, 9/8 and 16/8. Sub dividing of course is also possible but it helps to put the keyboard into 8 mode by selecting one of the many 6/8 rhythms so that the keyboard can be pre-programmed to fit the metronome marking required. Pressing the metronome icon button and a figure on the keyboard will therefore transmit the message and put the metronome marking needed.
The user (OTS) setting allows the keyboard to be programmed with the user's favourite settings. I find this really useful as I don't like the preset dual voices and end up putting every voice with the haunting slow delayed "slow strings, " voice in the background. The more you discover about this keyboard really depends on how much it gets used, but in general it took me a couple of weeks to finally get around all the features of this keyboard including the use of the floppy disk recorder;
Why the need for a floppy disk recorder? Well in 2000 the floppy disk was still one of the cheaper main ways of saving data to disk and despite its dated design I still prefer using them as schools which use this keyboard means bringing in pre-recorded examples of music material has never been easier. Tie this in with the fact that Argos have been selling diskettes for years and it makes sense to consider these file disks no matter how old they are. Yamaha informed me that each disk for example can take no more than 20 compositions but I've found from the fragments I've recorded, I can take up to 40 or more pieces of music at a time. This feature may sound like a gimmick but I can assure you its not; when I was asked to help out with the local choral society and help the men along sing their parts, I took my PSR 340 with me and a disk of all the movements in Mozart's Requiem. This resulted with the keyboard being able to play all on its own with the tracks I had recorded and I could sing with the men who had trouble finding the parts. So it cuts out the time as well as helping professional musicians when working.
As such Yamaha also sell something which is known as "Style Files." At times I have never considered buying these as I do my own work and arrangements of pop songs, but it makes sense to consider some style files which are available such as "The Greatest Hits of The Beatles," or "Abba." There are even a few "Fleetwood Mac," style files I've considered getting but at the cost of £20 to £35 they do seem like a waste of money unless you can't play the keyboard and you want to learn to play by ear, or simply listen to the keyboard's version of well known pop songs.
Inadvertently there is a bonus to this though. If a style file is bought and put into the disk player on the 340, you can cancel out channels of instrumentals. This means briefly that when channel 1 is left out, the solo voice in the song is taken out and you can listen to the accompaniment whilst concentrating on the main solo part for yourself to work out. Yamaha have since developed this track cancelling idea on their latest of drum machines too.
Alternatively when you have recorded a song on disk, you can type the name of the song (up to 9 individual characters) by using the keys on the piano. There is an alphabet starting from the left going all the way to Z in the middle of the keyboard and then numbers 0-9 with other signs to differentiate - very handy and professional looking!)
** Sound Quality **
Stereo imaging, faders, echoes - they are all evidently supported through Yamaha and the sound quality is extremely good. I have never had any problems other than the fact that the keyboard has a preset auto volume limiter set on it, but there are ways around this. If the keyboard's main volume control is set to the highest all the time, the 340 lowers the sound, but if the main volume control is lowered and then the channel for the main volume control is increased, this does not affect the actual knob which controls the sound and therefore getting more sound is possible, even when the volume control has increased all the way - neat!! The clarity of sound is due to the fact that this keyboard uses digital technology and this also means 4 way Stereo imaging with tweeters built in to securely potray the excellent range of GM and Midi Panel voices.
Some voices sound quite daft but other sound choices surprised me like the actual soprano saxophone which sounds like the real thing (I should know, I play one!) whilst the guitar sounds right through to the Overdrive and Fuzz guitar sound very convincing.
You can also put the keyboard into preset sounds such as; Hall 1 & 2, Room 1 & 2 (which incidentally sounds like a recording studio hub) Plate 1 & 2 which are extra dimensional digital effects, Stage 1 & 2 or nothing at all. That's more than the £500 and £700 electric pianos offered; they only offered 2 settings!
Other componentry which comes with the 340 as standard is the heavy adaptor which for the only reason it is heavy is purely because of the disk drive recorder. A music stand for books also comes supplied and this slides in very easily on the keyboard. Other components which I had to buy was a sustain pedal - unfortunately due to the nature of sustain, it is no longer a preset button option located on keyboards - but at £9-99 for a pedal and £9-99 for a soft vinyl cover to keep dust out, my keyboard is suitably kitted out for my needs.
** Use as a Piano **
For piano practise the 3 levels of sensitivity can take a bit getting used to; if you think you are a professional and can play professionally, don't try it on the 340. This is simply because it will highlight the weaknesses in your style and technical fluidity but this is simply because the keys are not weighted like a proper piano. Although made of good quality plastic, all 61 keys on the 340 are washable and can be washed with a damp cloth. Additionally, the dynamic filter which is set on the 340 produces stereo sampled piano sounds which to my ears produces a very similar quality to a standard mechanical piano.
More recently, in the schools I have been sent to on placement, there are PSR 225 keyboards which mirror the specifications of the 340 without the floppy disk drive and additional voices and sound effects.
** Any Downsides? **
There are a few. Firstly, the PSR 340 may well be a great keyboard for advanced players but for professional musicians who love to write songs, 7 tracks in one composition is simply not enough. At times depending on the content you record, I've found that the 340 tries to take in everything which has been laid down but has pockets of voices which get lost. Whilst it is therefore possible to record with so many different options, I feel that with each year which has passed, I'm getting to the stage now where I am outgrowing the 340 but I'll never sell!!
Another downside to the 340 is the floppy disk recorder itself. Thanks perhaps in some way to copywrite, the 340 floppy disks can only be used in another 340 OR the more up to date PSR 350. This means that composers and arrangers will be pipped to the post unless they download a computer programme which changes the format of the disk into a general MIDI file - and Yamaha don't tell you this! The file can then be transported to floppy disk again to be used in any other Yamaha keyboard which employs the use of a floppy disk recorder.
** Any other info? **
In 2005 I was asked by a local school to help them out with their rendition of "Joseph, & The Technicolour Dream Coat." Once all the tracks had been saved to file, I recorded them onto compact disk and sent the disk out to the school thinking that the disk would just be used for rehearsals. At the concert so many parents asked me where I had got the professional music from!
As such the PSR 340 has the ability to transmit songs from its AUX/Headphone socket but it struggles at times to give a lower bass sound - at the price I paid for example - and with the PSR 340 being marketed as a starter to Yamaha's flagship range at the time, the individual bass volume is not a feature present on the 340.
** Conclusion **
There are so many reasons to consider the PSR 340 it seems a shame that it is no longer made. Its successor, the PSR 350 however uses the same blueprint and features but it does have the added advantage of being able to use disks which have downloaded content on them as well as using the PC link to download music from Yamaha's website for various style files.
Over £500 for an electric piano which did very little however, the 340 apes its cousin on everything but size. Portable and functional, with a nice look of silver inserts and navy blue, the 340 does very little to offend. Now in it's eighth or ninth year it just keeps on going! So it is handy that with it no longer being made, the price of it second hand should be a massive bargain! Thanks for reading. ©Nar2 2007.