* Prices may differ from that shown
In all my years as a musician, teacher and student Yamaha has always taken pride in the classroom as the default brand for consistently producing products such as digital keyboards that lend themselves beautifully to the curriculum and for any tasks enabling pupils to heighten their creativity, attainment and where applicable, able to practice personally through the use of headphones. Latterly with MIDI points crucial for the benefit of pupils who wish to compose and use Sibelius computer music software to write a composition or arrangement in Music, most schools have identified Yamaha keyboards as the cheaper extension to enable pupils to input notes rather than rely on the keypad on the Sibelius software or more expensive external keyboards fit for MIDI purpose only. Over other brands such as Casio which has often taken a second choice and preference since most of their keyboards fail to completely identify and extraplicate symphonic and rhythmic sounds, Yamaha have perfected the art completely aided by their XG branded voice banks and additionally a Grand Piano sound that sounds very near to the real instrument. Unlike Casio or Panasonic, Yamaha don't produce keyboards for anyone else and alongside local councils due to funding, some schools buy Casio keyboards because of their cheaper prices and broader ranges under different brand names such as Hohner; I'm not a fan of either brand, I'm afraid I find Casio keyboards lack the same kind of authentic sounds that Yamaha offer and the plastic build quality on Casio keyboards can shatter after a few years use.
** This is a long review based on personal use **
The PSR E313 is the second of the lower range of "E" digital keyboards that Yamaha offer, priced at a reasonable £95 to £112, you get a tried and tested technology basis that seems to be evident from virtually every Yamaha keyboard I have played, only this time Yamaha suggest the "E" series is purposefully designed to "Educate," "Enrich," "Empower" and "Entertain," owners. Whereas my PSR 340 relies heavily on XG and Stereo Sampled voices, the latest E313 model has a strong dynamism based on improving XG to become "XG Lite," or the next generation of voices put through electronic means aided by a 2 way tweeter added Stereo pair of speakers built into the keyboard. Like my PSR 340, the E313 has the same kind of auto chord backing tracks available from simple slow ballads to more up to date Techno, Disco and Rock styles crucial for any young budding musician to try and play along with. There are 106 backing tracks that mean 106 different rhythm styles individually available on their own without the keyboard backing, keyboard key touch drum patterns (12) and 482 voices including 361 XG lite voices that really make use of this keyboard's full 5 watt speakers on board. Additionally over my PSR 340, the E313 offers a full 100 list of Demo songs ranging from well loved Classics to more modern styles of songs that show off to some degree what the E313 can perform to. However if you want to know which songs are available you have to look up the user manual, itself a well worded and extremely easy book of information well worth reading if you have never owned a Yamaha keyboard before, let alone the E313.
However as nine years have gone by, Yamaha still produce a keyboard that has the same if not improved spec as my old 340 model as it should be - the 450 that also includes the same floppy disk drive and this enables portable recording. Although the basic E313 lacks this, it does have a multi track record system that allows two tracks to be recorded such as a solo voice and an accompaniment, or as it shows clearly on the main panel, Left hand part and right hand part. Although decidedly easier to do than pushing more than a button on my PSR 340, the E313 is a basic keyboard that only offers two individual channels to be recorded as opposed to my 5 track recorder, making the E313 look a bit basic and stingy.
Yamaha also include an updated version of their Yamaha Education Suite (Y.E.S) which is a well thought out and compact menu of self taught music lessons to enable the owner to learn how to read chords, how to play alongside the backing track and selecting options that can signal out the backing track per music notation bars so that the player can improve one bar at a time. Although easily accessed, I've not been that convinced by the YES function simply because it would be easier to show where to put your fingers if the keys lit up - a feature that is available on higher priced keyboards in the Yamaha digital home keyboard family. Without it, there is a lot of reading of worded content needed through the LCD display and the well worded user manual to do before it can be properly tried.
Indeed to any Yamaha keyboard user, there is a distinct air of familiarity from the way that voices, instrument styles and rhythms are easily accessed and displayed- through three part numbers that the owner has to dial up using the numerical number pad - how I miss the 1980's style of the Yamaha keyboards where one button per voice and rhythm was available - the E313 is beautifully managed with style worded menus set to the left hand side of the keyboard and voice menus to the right hand side of the keyboard but you have to discover each finite voice or rhythm for yourself by dialling the number into the keypad.
Just like my PSR 340 Yamaha include the easier approach to selecting voices or styles by enabling the use of the plus and minus keys to go up or down the various instrumental and rhythmic channels. In terms of actual external power, Yamaha seem to have improved their game further by offering a power adaptor free of charge - although Argos still persist in selling these keyboards without the adaptor which increases the cost by £10 or more depending on the seasonal catalogue and options. However the company have improved the battery types on offer if the keyboard is to be used with a cordless nature in mind; over the large 1.5V batteries that my keyboard has to take, the PSR E313 has a much smaller power pack in terms of AA batteries even though 6 AA batteries have to be used.
Although the voices and rhythms are extremely well delayed, relayed and beautifully enhanced thanks to a single reverb setting available on the E313, I'm disappointed overall by the quality and lack of thought that has gone into the keyboard and that's a shocking discovery from a teacher who has been using Yamaha keyboards in schools and personal use as a child from the age of 10!
For example, if you want to change the settings on the keyboard, past procedure has always been easier through the function button located on most Yamaha keyboards. From there you can either access the menus by either dialling in the right code that goes with the right sub category, say for example you want to deactivate the "chorus," function to make your digital keyboard's voice of choice sound more analogue and plain rather than digitalised and stereo aided enhanced with surround sound. In this way most of the Yamaha keyboards I've used over the years including my own have the same plus and minus buttons that allow you to get to the sub category of choice whilst changing the setting very quickly. There are also other functions from pressing the "function" labelled button itself - keep your finger on it and the button will automatically take over the job of the plus and minus displaying all sub categories in a medium speed that horizontally shows the sub categories available and the way in which the owner can actually see what options are available.
The E313 however is a bit more difficult; codes can't be tapped into the keypad that brings up the sub category functions whilst trying to press the plus or minus buttons takes you back to the original menu which often leaves me flustered wondering why I bothered - just to make the use of the E313 more personal and catered to my needs - which is surely one of Yamaha's key values when it came to designing this keyboard. Instead you have to keep pressing the function button incessantly to get to the next sub category on offer.
The build quality is shocking; the music stand that comes "free" with the E313 is a terrible piece of plastic that flexes easily and fails to allow any music sheet to be placed on the keyboard without it falling off; short of just having one sheet of A4 music score, the Yamaha PSR E313 needs to be looked at in several areas that I never thought possible and shows to some degree Yamaha are battling hard with Casio over budget and build issues;
The buttons for the main controls for this keyboard are made of soft rubber. A mix of black, grey and white buttons ensures a different colour coded scheme per function and allocation of features. As such although there is a definite improvement of tactile edges and function buttons that enable the owner to have a more personalised feel, sometimes the buttons fail to engage their function, making the purpose of using the keyboard in a quick manner difficult to do whilst on one E313 I had used for a year, the constant pressure on the "Start," button had loosened itself making it difficult to start the rhythms or backing tracks. In terms of the different colour coded keys, whilst they are welcome, the lighter grey and white buttons get grubby over time and due to their finger press design are difficult to keep clean.
The LCD panel shines in a homely light yellow panel, a good colour contrast to the "silver" colour of the keyboard; although in use it is rather packed closely with information on the panel for it to be of any use. The metronome setting in particular is difficult to see from a distance and whilst it is handy for Yamaha to include a treble clef to show when chords or notes are pressed down, the clarity and sizing of the letters as they appear are difficult to see - unless you are in a well lit room at the time of playing.
General build quality is also disappointing in terms of its layout. Although it is clear that Yamaha have gone for an individual minimalist approach, it has a tough job of making life easy for the owner, accessing multi function buttons that take a little time off the owner to work out how to get to grips with the keyboard - when past Yamaha models have been easier and quicker to access. In a time where young people and musicians are working in a fast environment aided by fast internet downloads and a click-button lifestyle aided by mice and other PC/MAC affiliated hardware on computers, the Yamaha PSR E313 isn't exactly cutting when it comes to accessing its basic features in a fast and applicable manner.
This is not helped by light weight plastic keys that flex more easily than my old Yamaha model and a very low volume speaker rate of just 5 watts when the volume is turned up. It is just as well that for some advantages the light weightness of the build is evident from its extremely light, weight coming in at 5kg which is a lot lighter than my old keyboard. Although there are 61 keys, only 32 of them are polyphonic which means all 32 keys can be pressed down at the same time (though I wouldn't do this as it will sound awful!). Lastly the Grand Piano voice sounds identical to Yamaha's default Grand Piano-through-a-digital sound bank voice, not completely authentic but a much better bet than anything else at the price offered.
It is however a pity that Yamaha only offer touch sensitivity on an "On" and "Off" basis and not the three level options my own older keyboard offers. Oh and the stand that is shown in the Dooyoo picture won't automatically come with the keyboard. Yamaha charge astronomical prices for their own brand of keyboard stands and as such its easier to buy a separate one at any instrumental or high street music shop specialist or at Argos.
In short whilst the Yamaha PSR E313 has made a few good attempts to offer buyers and would be owners a chance to see what a budget Yamaha digital keyboard offers, the PSR E313 is almost unique in its features and ability to go personal with the use of a headphone jack, PC/MAC affiliated external out put with MIDI jacks and a further jack for a cost optional sustain pedal. These external features will surely tip the balance for many parents and young people looking to buy their first digital home keyboard let alone the vast amount of different styles and voices it offers not to mention the clarity and realistic expression of the individual sounds and life like drum patterns. Particularly if pupils or young people need full size keys as opposed to the mini-keyboards that have plagued many people from playing the piano with a touch-finger laptop like physicality, the E313 will indefinitely appeal. However I'm not so easily convinced. Thanks for reading. ©Nar2 2009