Gear Review: Casio PX-S1100 Keyboard

Full disclosure: I have been a big fan of Casio keyboards for working musicians for some time and I had heard some very interesting talk about another series of lightweight (less than 25lbs.) Casio keyboards.

I have to admit that I was surprised at some of the physical design attributes of the PX-S1100, some of which might take professional players some getting used to, but all-in-all I found that this keyboard provides a great playing experience I have come to expect from Casio. More importantly, it is a perfect fit for many songwriters and performers who are often on the go to rehearsals and writing sessions. With an attractive and well-thought-out package, some of its amenities might surprise you too.

For many of us, acoustic pianos are our standard for keyboards; our native musical language, so to speak. But acoustic pianos come at a cost: they are not easily portable, good ones are expensive, and they need to be maintained well and regularly. So, when we reach for any portable instrument in their stead, we expect to make sacrifices. Most of us have become all too accustomed to sacrificing tone, feel, and even intonation because, after all, we’re not always going to find a tuned-up grand piano waiting for us wherever we go. Not to mention that some of the cramped rehearsal spaces we squeeze into wouldn’t fit a grand piano.

Modern electronics and great piano samples have helped keyboard players, but there has been a cost there, as well. It’s been typically financial (great-sounding portable keyboards have had equally great price tags), but there’s also a cost to be found in these instruments’ complexity because great-sounding keyboards are built for professional musicians who are expected to be able to program them. Professional keyboards typically offer many great sounds that seem to be infinitely adjustable, but these wonderful sounds are not always easily accessible to those players less willing to devote themselves to learning a new interface or those without the patience and programming skills to make them work optimally. Complex instruments can do a lot, but for many their complexity too often stifles creativity. That’s one reason why the upfront operation and great piano sounds of Casio’s Privia line of keyboards have been so important to songwriters and other creative musicians.

Casio’s original Privia PX-S1000 design was focused on beating the complexity while providing a great feeling and sounding 88-key keyboard (especially acoustic piano). The new Privia PX-S1100 carries many of the original design concepts forward, like the Smart Scaled Hammer Action Keyboard that provides an authentic piano feel and putting a set of the most needed keyboard sounds at your fingertips with a stylish physical design that removes the buttons, sliders, knobs, and wheels that are necessary to make real-time adjustments and program sounds, but often get in the player’s way. In addition to its streamlined design, the PX-S1100 has also evolved in other very noticeable and important ways. It has a markedly better speaker system onboard, better piano sounds (of course), and wireless Bluetooth audio and MIDI capabilities that make connectivity easy and efficient for players at all levels.

The PX-S1100’s 18 tones include a very impressive German concert grand piano, with damper resonance and enhanced string resonance that you can hear (no kidding) along with some very subtle mechanical sounds of keys being pressed and released and pedal action. Additionally, you’ll find new piano variations of popular tine and red electric pianos, organs, strings, vibraphone, harpsichord, and more. If you are a fan (as I am) of Casio’s take on simulated ebony/ivory key textures, you’ll appreciate the feel of this keyboard, too.

What might be something to get used to with the PX-S1100 is that the beautifully polished top panel on its slim design has only illuminated touch sensor controls. There are no buttons and only one knob for volume. There is no screen to tell you what sound is selected. However, controls are illuminated brightly and work efficiently to make sound selections via function key+piano key combinations. It took me a bit of getting used to–not being able to look down to confirm the sound I’ve selected. However, with just a little practice, I found the process worked well.

A major new feature of the PX-S1100 that all can appreciate is the redesigned stereo speaker system. Casio has promised that it delivers crystal-clear sound towards both the player and the audience, with improved drivers creating an accurate high and low-end response. I found that to be true, but I noted that sound seemed different on either side of the keyboard, perhaps more full-range on the side of the player, which I suspect is a porting strategy that gives the unit a better (really impressive) bass response throughout its equally impressive volume range. My favorite position for the keyboard has been on a stand and just a foot or so from a solid wall where the combination of reflected and ported sound energy sounded amazing. As to the power of the internal speaker system, I was able to carry out an effective rehearsal with a full rhythm section, albeit with acoustic bass and a very polite drummer, leaving my keyboard amp out in the trunk. The unit has two headphone jacks that can facilitate teaching or rehearsal, and allow quiet play at any time.

Obviously, without knobs and buttons, you sacrifice some real-time adjustability for ease of use, but you can make some changes like splitting the keyboard, layering, and selecting from four types of realistic Hall Simulation to place your PX-S1100 in a virtual space of your choosing. As previously mentioned, this is done using function+key combinations. The unit’s unique Surround mode enhances simple stereo for keyboards and is well worth a listen.

One of my favorite features of the PX-S1100 package is that it includes a WU-BT10 Bluetooth Audio and MIDI adapter for MIDI recording and audio/MIDI file playback, along with a class-compliant USB port. We used the Bluetooth connectivity at our rehearsal to attach phones and tablets to playback musical examples through the keyboard sound system. The setup also works with the free Chordana Play for Piano iOS/Android app. The app displays the music score for built-in songs and MIDI files. With MIDI files, you can select which tracks to play with your left and right hands, or you can assign the melody to the right hand and chords generated by the app to your left hand. Using the app, you can slow the tempo, transpose to a key that is easier to play, and use a repeat function to practice/drill parts at your own pace.

The bottom line here is that the quality of keyboard sounds on this light 88-key keyboard–especially the great piano sound and feel–makes the ultra-slim PX-S1100 keyboard something to check out. With a price below $650, many players will want to own it just for its portability and versatility, but it’s also stylish enough (it comes in high-gloss red, black, and white) to drop into a modern living room or den. Built-in 1⁄4” outputs will connect it to any amplifier, PA system, or audio interface, and its high-resolution USB-MIDI connectivity makes it potentially useful as an 88-key controller if you aren’t looking for a lot of real-time controls. As a result, you can use this stylish keyboard to perform just about anywhere. The optional SC-800 carrying case (sold separately) holds the PX-S1100 with all of its included accessories plus the basic sustain or optional SP-34 three-pedal unit, but the best part is that this instrument (fewer cables, pedals, etc.) weighs less than 25 pounds, so you can take it and its great sound anywhere you need to go. Yes, even to the park because there is a 6xAA battery power option, too.

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