The Yamaha CK is a lightweight and flexible instrument aimed at gigging musicians. In this review, I’ll focus on the CK88, but it’s worth noting that a CK61 is available, and the only difference is the weight and number of keys.
Yamaha, of course, has a long history of releasing high-quality stage pianos, and with the CK88 being a little cheaper than most, I’m interested to see how it stacks up against the competition.
About the author
- 88 weighted keys
- 128-note polyphony
- built-in speakers
- 363 voices
- 1/4″ ins, 1/4″ outs
- USB, MIDI I/O
Final verdict on the Yamaha CK88
I’m really impressed by the CK88 in every area. When you consider the price compared to the more expensive stage pianos, it overdelivers on sound, feel, and features. The fact that it’s so light and can run on AA batteries blows me away, and the one-to-one interface is a performer’s dream.
What I like
- Amazing piano sounds.
- One-to-one interface.
- Built-in speakers.
- Battery-powered (optional).
What I don’t like
- Drawbars could be better.
- Not all sounds are the same high quality.
The first thing that struck me when I heard the CK88 is that it has absolutely phenomenal grand piano tones. When a keyboard is lightweight with built-in speakers, it’s a common misconception that it can’t be a proper stage piano, and I’ve been guilty of making that assumption. But the AWM2 sound engine delivers some piano sounds that exceed those of some stage pianos that are thousands of dollars more expensive.
The classic Yamaha CP piano sound is perfect for most genres of music, particularly for a working musician who might play a mix of jazz, rock, pop, etc.
The synth and organ sounds are also excellent, although they don’t quite reach the heights of the most expensive stage pianos, which is fair enough.
One of the cool things about the CK88 is that it does lots of the almost-forgotten sounds better than most keyboards. I mean the sounds that are always there but largely ignored because they aren’t great; sounds like guitars, strings, and horns.
It has fantastic sounds for live performance with 363 presets and a max polyphony of 128 notes.
The CK88 and CK61 both have a pair of built-in 4.72″ speakers with dual 6 W amplifiers.
The sound quality and volume from the built-in speakers are surprisingly good. It’s not quite enough for the average gig, but for practice or smaller recitals they are perfect.
Yamaha’s CK88 has the GHS keyboard, which is graded hammer-action keys, and for such a lightweight keyboard, they feel very nice.
You often have to sacrifice some of the authentic piano feel when you go for a lightweight stage piano, but the CK88 combines nicely weighted keys with a very responsive touch.
It’s not the ultra-realistic feel that a classical pianist might look for, but it’s more than expressive enough for any type of gig.
If you prefer to focus on synths and organs, go for the CK61, which has semi-weighted synth-style keys.
Yamaha stage pianos aren’t typically short of useful features, and the CK88 is no exception. Here are some of my favorite features that make playing this keyboard so much easier.
The built-in effects section has some incredible effects, particularly when going for vintage or classic sounds. It includes reverb, delay, modulation, filter types, and rotary speaker emulations.
It doesn’t have to run on battery power, you can plug it in, but I find it remarkable that such an impressive stage piano can function on AA batteries.
Physical drawbars make a huge difference when playing with organ sounds because they change everything. They not only give more real-time control over the sound of the organ, but they also change how you play because it’s a more authentic workflow.
If I had one minor complaint, these drawbars aren’t the best I’ve seen by a long way, but they are very useful.
Advanced Split mode
The CK88 allows you to set two split points on the keyboard, meaning you can simultaneously play with three different sounds. That might sound like overkill, but if you gig a lot, you will need this at some point.
Many stage pianos have filter and envelope settings that come pre-defined with particular sounds, and you can’t adjust them. Sometimes you can adjust them, but it involves some annoying menu-diving.
The CK88 has physical filter and envelope settings that add another dimension to your live performance.
A one-to-one interface means that every function has a dedicated physical control, giving you the ultimate hands-on workflow at all times.
Yamaha built the CK88 specifically for live performance, and they absolutely nailed it. I could pick out minor issues like the drawbars could be better, but you think of the price, this instrument overdelivers, and then some.
When you’re a performer, you need fast access to everything on stage, and you need a workflow that allows you to get into real-time sound design; otherwise, you’re stuck playing with presets (as good as they are).
Nothing gives you that workflow more than a one-to-one interface, and for me, it’s one of the main reasons that the CK88 can compete with more expensive stage pianos.
Even the logistics of traveling with a stage piano from gig to gig are much easier because the CK88 is so light by comparison.
Connectivity here is pleasantly surprising with MIDI in/out, USB type A and B, along with two audio inputs, two audio outputs, and a single headphone jack (all 1/4″).
It even has Bluetooth connectivity, allowing you to stream music from your smartphone or device. It might not be something that you use regularly, but it can be great to add backing tracks to your practice sessions.
The CK88 weighs just 28 lbs, and the CK61 isn’t much more than half of that. While that’s ideal for transport, a lightweight keyboard will never feel as robust as something like a Nord Stage 4 or Roland RD-2000.
It’s important to think of the build quality relative to the weight, and in this case, it’s very good.
One thing that I always like about Yamaha stage pianos is that the buttons and knobs are always extremely sturdy; nothing ever gives me the impression that it might break in transit.
Compared to other stage pianos
I’m very impressed by the CK88. I think it’s the best keyboard piano right now for anyone who wants a lightweight gigging powerhouse. But there are lots of options on the market, and as always, I’ve picked out a few alternatives for you to consider.
Yamaha CK88 vs Studiologic Numa X Piano GT
The Numa X Piano GT is fantastic if you want something that sounds and feels amazing without breaking the bank. But it’s not as lightweight as the CK88.
Yamaha CK88 vs Roland RD-88
The Roland RD-88 is similar to the CK88 in that it was designed as a lightweight stage piano for working musicians, and it’s very good.
Yamaha CK88 vs Yamaha CP88
The CP88 is more of a heavyweight, literally and in terms of features and price. If I had to choose just one, I’d choose the CP88, but if portability is a big selling point, stick to the CK88.
Who is the Yamaha CK series best suited for?
The Yamaha CK suits any working musician who wants a hands-on workflow without carrying multiple heavy instruments.Buy Yamaha CK at: SweetwaterAmazon