If you’re trying to decide between the Yamaha P121 and Yamaha P515, I’m going to tell you exactly what it is that you get for the extra expense.
The Yamaha P121 is a 73-note version of the Yamaha P125, with the P125 and P515 both featuring 88 keys. So to begin with, I am going to start off with the basic differences between the main ‘P Series‘ models.
Yamaha P121 vs P125 vs P515
The Yamaha P121, like all P-Series pianos, has weighted keys, and so really does feel just like a real piano to play. The keys are heavy to the touch, and the pianos all have built in speakers (so there is no need to buy extra speakers). Headphones can be used with these models as well. The basic concept of these digital pianos is the fact that they are portable, as I am sure that you will know. But this comparison is about what it is you’re getting extra for the P515 and that’s what I’m going to tell you now.
In my experience of researching these two pianos and playing them extensively, it is clear to me in summary that the P515 is the superior model. There is no doubt when it comes to the touch, the sound, the whole playing experience. The P515 is a lot better. Here is why in particular. First of all, the key mechanism used on here is different to the Yamaha P121 and the P125.
P121 vs P515 | Key Action
The P515 uses Yamaha NWX action. Now what does this mean? Well the W in here means It is wooden; we have wooden white keys on the P515, and plastic keys on the P121 and the P125. Now why is that a big deal? Well traditional pianos have wooden keys in them, and that is what is being replicated here on the P515. They are slightly lighter to the touch and they respond quicker when you are doing fast passages. This is very important if you’re an experienced player, or even if you’re as aspiring to be a high level player. The more authentic you can get the better. So the P515 wins when it comes to the key mechanisms on there.
Now the big difference here, NWX was the name of that key mechanism and the X stands for escapement on here (Even though that begins with an E!). What this means is that on a real piano what happens when the hammer hits the string, is the key remains depressed but the hammer actually retracts to let the string vibrate. That little action that returns the hammer off of the string is called the ‘escape mechanism’. You can actually feel it in the key when you sit and play a real concert grand piano, and that is replicated on the P515 as well.
If you’re studying for your exams, or perhaps you are trying/aiming to become a high level player, It’s little subtleties like that that you need. That’s what the P515 has in its mechanism here. We use the Yamaha GHS on the P121 and the P125. That still is heavy and is still weighted, still feels kind of like a real piano, but it’s nowhere near as authentic as the P515. Another really big thing off the top is that the P515 uses this magnificent technology called virtual resonance modelling.
Virtual Resonance Modelling
Now to put what this means into simple terms, If you walk past a real concert grand piano, a nine foot long concert grand piano, and you snap your fingers or you wrap it on the top it echoes around this whole nine foot long wooden cabinet. Of course all the strings do this as well. Each time you play a string, the strings next to it vibrate in sympathy and that is all captured in the sampling technology that we have, this VRM technology in the P515. So again, it’s making it more authentic, and it is making it more real to play.
You can really feel as if the sound is echoing all around that big nine foot long chamber when you’re playing the P515. Now the Yamaha P121 portable piano and the P125 do not have this technology. That is why these models don’t feel quite as real to me when I play them. They are not so engaging to play, and personally I just don’t get as carried away with playing these models like I do with the P515. These P121 and the P125 are not bad at all, I can’t knock them completely but I think we’re talking a different league here when it comes to the playing of the P515. So that technology VRM technology, we have got that in the P515.
Yamaha P121 | Speakers
The next major point is the speaker configuration of these models. We have four speakers in total on the P515, two 15 Watt ones, and two 5 Watt ones on either side. This really does give you quite a mighty sound just from its built in speakers. There is plenty to play at home with, and certainly plenty to play in a small group with as well (although of course you can output it as well). It is not just the volume that is good, it is also the range that it will give you using the VRM technology I’ve just referred to.
If you have more range with the volume, you can be more subtle in your playing as well. You can play gently; light as a feather, and you could also go all the way through to giving it the maximum beans and play really loud. You get much more range when you have got better speakers, so that is two 15 Watt speakers and two 5 Watt speakers on either side.
On the P121 and the P125, we still have 4 speakers, but they are driven by two much less powerful 7 Watt amplifiers. Volume wise this is absolutely fine for playing at home, I would say however that you are going to struggle in a group with just small speakers. You can however output it as well, but like I say; it is not just volume, it is also all about range. When we play these pianos side by side we can certainly hear that the P121 and the P125 do sound a little bit boxy. I just have to say you can’t quite get that richness, that depth that you can get with the bigger speakers like you have on the P515.
Another big difference between these pianos is that if you are a song writer or a composer, the P515 has a 16 track recorder built into it. You can record in there, save it as a midi or a wire file, and then transfer it off using a USB stick. It has got a USB socket in the front. On the P121 and the P515, you only have a 2 track recorder.
You get three songs, and you can record two tracks on each; two layers. so it’s pretty clear that the P515 is far superior when it comes to recording for you composers and songwriters out there. The P121 and the P125 don’t have the USB socket for you to transfer it off on a USB stick. You can actually still do this via the smart pianist app (which we’ll talk about later), or you can do it with a USB to host cable.
Yamaha P121 | Sound & Keytops
Now one other thing I’ve really got to mention (one of my personal favorites) is the sounds that these Pianos make. The piano sounds themselves. We do get the Yamaha CFX concert grand which is the primary voice that is there when turn the piano on for first time that always loads up. On the P515, what we also have is the Bösendorfer imperial grand piano. This is about £180,000 worth of concert grand piano, and it sits alongside the Yamaha as one of the finest in the world. This sound is also featured in the higher end Yamaha Clavinovas. It is so lovely to use. We don’t get this sound in the P121 and the P125.
Another note on the the playing of these two pianos, on the P515 we have synthetic ebony and ivory Key tops on here. This is much more like you would find in higher end pianos. Of course Ivory key tops is also what we used to have on a traditional piano (We don’t anymore of course). It was used because it was porous and enabled you to be able to grip the Keys better. That was the point, so that they didn’t get slippery in the end.
We have a synthetic representation of that on the P515, and so again it is much more authentic and it allows the fingers to grip onto the keys. This is very useful if you’re playing a lot, and if you’re playing fast passages. On the Yamaha P121 portable piano and the P125, they have a plastic key top, and on the black ones they have a matte black finish. These pianos are not terrible by any stretch, but if you are playing intensely, and practicing to play fast pieces, is much more helpful and more authentic to have this synthetic representation of Ebony and ivory that we get on the P515.
Now..this next point is a really big one. If you have a music collection on your device (your phone or perhaps your tablet), on the P515 you have Bluetooth streaming / audio streaming, so I can play music through the speakers of the piano straight from my phone! This can also be done through the Yamaha smart pianist app, which is just brilliant. I can’t do this audio streaming via Bluetooth on the P121 or the P125, so if you’d like to play along with stuff from your phone, the P515 has that feature in there to do it wirelessly with Bluetooth; It’s fantastic.
There is a really nice selection of rhythms and backings that we have on these two pianos. Rather than to just use a metronome to keep yourself in time there are simple rhythms as well. We have twice the amount on the P515. We have got 40 rhythms, that will also accompany you with a bass as well. Basically what you do is you just play the piano and it picks up what you’re playing, and gives you an accompaniment with a bass guitar playing, and some drums, in the style of music that you have chosen. There are some really great variations. It’s much simpler on the P121 and the P125. There is only 20 of them on there. So again, the P515 is the winner when it comes to the rhythms and the backing.
These pianos are of course Portable pianos, and so I should add that the P515 is twice the weight of the P121 portable piano and the P125. The P125 is approximately weighing 22 kilograms, but the P515 is twice this weight. Now you can still pick it up, easily enough, and you know that’s what you get when you put in a better key mechanism and extra speakers in there with more powerful amplifiers.
The amount of voices/ sounds in these two pianos is also different. On the P515 you have got 30 different voices (which includes 10 separate pianos of various different types of the two I mentioned at the start – the CFX concert grand by Yamaha and the Bösendorfer imperial grand). You also have all of the Yamaha XG voices for playing MIDI songs through it. You have got 480 of them in there, and if you play a midi song through this it will use all of those voices in there as well. On the P121 and the P125, we have 24 voices, which is a reasonable selection. It gives you all of the basics, piano strings, vibes organs etc. But, the P515 does have a much bigger selection. This is particularly if you are playing in a band; it gives you 10 different types of pianos, and a few extra really nice vintage electric piano sounds as well.
Yamaha P121 | In Summary
So to summarize again, the P515 does have an added expense in comparison to the P121 and the P125… but boy you getting some really good features in there. The whole experience of playing the piano, the touch, the sound and the feel is much closer to the real thing. You can get so much more involved in it and so engaged. If you’re a sensitive player, you really can get more back from it.
The Yamaha P121 portable piano and the P125 are really excellent for the price. Absolutely excellent for a relatively cheap digital piano that is portable, and one that has weighted keys. But…if you’re comparing the two the P515 really is the winner. It is much closer to the real thing. If you are an experienced player, or if you are aspiring to be a high level player, you’re going to appreciate spending the extra money.
It will also last you a lot longer; that’s the key. It is going to be with you. You might not want to change it. Whereas as you get better with the P121 and the P125, I think you’re going to hit its limit before too long.