Yamaha NP-35 - The Perfect $300+ Keyboard For Beginners
For those thinking about learning to play the piano for the first time, deciding which keyboard to get isn’t easy. You don’t want to spend too much in case you lose interest or decide playing the piano isn’t your cup of tea - which happens a lot. But you also don’t want to get a cheap Walmart bargain bin keyboard which is nothing more than a glorified toy. Cheap keyboards sound bad, have awful key action, are of low quality and do not last more than a couple of months.
This is where Yamaha’s latest Piaggero NP-35 comes in. It is Yamaha’s most affordable keyboard designed specifically with the beginner piano keyboard student in mind - with great sounds, action & functionality. In fact, this keyboard is so good, I suspect Yamaha may have intentionally dumbed it down and omitted certain functionality so that this doesn't cannibalise their higher profit margin keyboards which cost more.
At the heart of any keyboard are the sounds and here they do not disappoint. The NP-35 comes with 15 essential bread & butter high-quality sounds sampled using Yamaha’s renowned AWM technology. You get 3 acoustic pianos, 3 electric pianos, 2 pipe organs, a jazz organ, 2 harpsichords, 1 vibraphone, and 3 strings & synth pads. The default tone, which is what most students use 99% of the time, is sampled from Yamaha’s $150,000 CFIIIS 9-foot Concert Grand Piano used in many recital halls worldwide. Most cheap keyboards handle the mid-range pretty ok but fail miserably when it comes to the higher and lower registers. The treble notes of the NP-35 are woody & clear without unwanted dissonant harmonics while the bass notes give a satisfying low frequency thump without sounding “buzzy”. It’s amazing that at this entry-level price, this keyboard supports half-pedalling with an optional sustain pedal.
The 3 acoustic piano & 2 harpsichord instruments also have damper resonance, a feature only found on higher end digital pianos. Compared with its predecessor, the NP-32, Yamaha has noticeably upgraded the sample quality of these 15 voices on this keyboard. They sound more realistic, have wider dynamic range and are even good enough for casual public performances.
These 15 instruments can be layered for a thicker tone and the volume mix can be adjusted - which is rare for keyboards at this price. 6 reverbs with adjustable depth allow you to replicate the spaciousness of a cathedral, concert hall or a recording studio. With a 64 note polyphony, beginner students are unlikely to encounter dropped notes even with long sustained music passages. Advanced pianists will find the 64 note polyphony limiting, but the affordable price of this keyboard reflects this.
The 12 watts amplification and the larger 12 x 8 cm onboard speakers gives a significant upgrade over its predecessor as well as the competition. Even with the volume maxed out, the speakers and amplifiers handled the bass and treble notes well with no perceivable distortion. If this isn’t enough, there’s a “Sound Boost” feature that applies a more aggressive EQ for a punchy and powerful sound - great for cutting through the mix when playing in a band.
If you want more than 15 sounds and don’t mind paying a little more, check out my recommended digital pianos with hundreds of onboard sounds.
The keys on the NP-35 are shaped like a box just like how traditional acoustic piano keys look. I love the red felt accent strip at the key pivots which helps in dampening key noise and keeping dust out of the mechanism. Many experienced teachers will tell you that absolute beginners, young and senior students may not necessarily have the finger strength to play on a fully weighted key action. Yamaha has finally got it right with their soft touch keys enabling beginners to play more confidently when starting out. 4 customisable velocity curves allowed me to adjust the touch sensitivity of the keys to match the skill level of my students. Just like a traditional acoustic piano, the key weights are graded meaning the keys on the lower register needs a heavier touch and gets progressively lighter on the higher register. White key tops are glossy and may get slippery for those with sweaty fingers but the black keys have a beautiful matte finish.
Now let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Are 76 keys on the NP-35 sufficient? For beginners, those who play pop music and as an ultra-portable practice piano, 76 keys is actually the perfect balance between weight, cost and usability. With the nifty octave shift feature, I was able to play a range wider than 88 keys. The benefits of a 76 soft touch keys are the significant weight & price reduction and increased portability compared to the much larger 88 fully weighted digital pianos. Let me put it this way. Given a choice between a lighter and smaller 76 semi-weighted keys vs a much much heavier 88 weighted keys keyboard, I would bring a 76-keys anytime for gigs, in the dorm or in my bedroom.
If nothing but an 88 fully weighted digital piano keyboard will do, check out my recommended digital pianos.
One of the biggest improvements to the NP-35 is the compatibility with Yamaha’s excellent Smart Pianist app available for both Android & iOS devices. With a large iPad screen, selecting voices, adjusting volume, recording, setting reverb is easy. A couple of features such as saving unlimited user registrations & accessing Yamaha’s Piano Room is only available on the Smart Pianist app. The USB port transmits and receives both MIDI & audio data which guarantees maximum compatibility with music learning apps and music production software. I much prefer the ¼” headphones jack over the flimsy 3.5mm ones found in the competition.
While there is a simple to use, single song, single track MIDI song recorder, you are better off using the audio recorder on the app that has no song record limit and can be shared online immediately. Octave shifts and transpose helps you play along with other musicians and an onboard metronome helps beginners play in time. A big selling point of the NP-35 is the best in class ultra-portability. There is no other 76 semi-weighted, pro-sound quality piano keyboard that can beat its 13 lbs weight. With battery operation and an optional carry case, there’s no excuse not to have this with you everywhere you go for piano practice.
To keep the weight and cost down, Yamaha used hard plastic extensively on every conceivable part of this keyboard. You would think the keyboard will feel cheap as a result. On the contrary. The chassis is sturdy, feels premium and looks durable. The knobs, buttons and music rest have little freeplay. However, I really wish Yamaha had “softened” the perception of the hard plastic keyboard surface with some textures like what the competition has done.
If you want a keyboard with a higher build quality and do not mind paying more, check out the ones I recommend.
There are a couple of features and functions I wished the NP-35 had.
As a learner’s keyboard, there should be dual headphone jacks for teacher & student during lessons or practising duets.
I know Yamaha is trying to go for a minimalist design but a simple 2-line LCD screen and silk-screened labels above or below the keys would have made navigating the keyboard with an app much more intuitive without carrying a function chart.
All piano-centric keyboards come with a basic sustain pedal in the box. This doesn’t.
The audio output jack is shared with the headphones jack. A dedicated audio out would have provided more flexibility.
Streaming backing tracks from your phone to the onboard speakers to play along with require a cable connection. Wireless Bluetooth audio is supported but requires a pricey Bluetooth adaptor.
If you don’t mind paying more, check my recommendations for a keyboard that contains everything on my wishlist.
The Yamaha NP-35 is an excellent first keyboard for those looking to pick up some piano skills. It has great sounds, is well-built, is very approachable and the Yamaha brand guarantees good resale value should you decide to upgrade because you want to be more serious about playing the piano.