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From dwills@server (Michael Dunn) Mon Aug 8 14:19:57 1994 Newsgroups: From: (Michael Dunn) Subject: Digital piano guide, was: Opinions on Digital Pianos Message-ID: Organization: University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada References: <"5-Aug-9410:09AM".*> Date: Sat, 6 Aug 1994 23:06:05 GMT Lines: 176

                     A Guide to Buying Electronic Pianos

by Michael Dunn rev.2 94/4/14

What I will try to cover here is: 1. Some things you should check out to help you make your purchasing decision. 2. My personal opinions and observations of a number of currently available instruments.

   For starters, you may want to check out the December 1993 issue

of Keyboard magazine. It has a fairly complete review of EPianos. I should caution you to take such reviews with a grain of salt. They can be good starting points and reference sources, but *never* blindly put your trust in them. Use your own ears, fingers, and judgement! I believe they also come out with an annual(?) EPiano Buyers Guide.

   So you know where *I'm* coming from, my main interest is in

"classical" music. I mostly play the harpsichord (that'll influence my ideas on keyboard feel!), as well as electronic keyboards and occasionally other keyboard and non-keyboard instruments. Needless to say, I was very surprised that the Keyboard review panel did not have a single classical pianist on it!

   Now, your interests and requirements in an instrument are going

to be different from mine, so you must decide how much weight to assign to the various points I bring up. You may like an instrument for the same reason I dislike it! That said, here is a checklist I made up to help me in testing the pianos' capabilities, and to find their strong and weak points. Of course, the most important criteria is how it "feels" and sounds to *you*, playing your kind of music. For some people, looks will have an important bearing on their decision. And there is also the question of Bells & Whistles - do you want features like instrumental sounds, built-in sequencing, or other fancy doodads? This I leave up to you. I'm only going to cover basic piano functionality. When shopping, try to keep away from noisy, pushy stores/salespeople. If you can't hear the subtleties of sound and can't relax and spend time alone with the instrument, you're not going to be able to make good judgements. Anyway, here goes:

1. Listen to the basic sound of the instrument, both in single notes throughout the range and in chords. Is it realistic or otherwise acceptable? If there is a tone control, set it to your liking. 2. Play several notes over the keyboard from ppp to fff. Does the timbre change in a realistic manner? 3. Play very evenly, mf, from the bottom to the top of the keyboard. Are there any sudden changes of timbre or loudness between adjacent notes? (bad!) 4. Listen to the decay of several different notes, struck both softly and loudly, all the way to the end. Do volume and timbre change realistically during the decay? 5. Does the timbre change when the una corda is depressed? It should of course be quieter, but ideally, the sound should also become a bit "softer", "rounder", veiled, and more singing. This is a matter of taste. 6. Is the top 1.5 octaves undamped like a real piano? 7. Do the bass notes have a richness and aural animation similar to that of a real piano's? (caused partly by inharmonicity of the partials). 8. Are various tuning temperaments available? Do you care? Are stretch tunings available? 9. Are the damper and/or una corda pedals just on/off switches, or can you achieve half-pedalling and/or una/due/tre corde effects? (sp?) 10. Is harp resonance simulated when the sustain pedal is down? Strike and hold a note, first with the pedal up, then down. Is there a change of timbre? Do you hear the sonic fog associated with an undamped harp? Is the level of this adjustable? 11. Restrike a note several times, going from ppp to fff and back to ppp, while holding down the sustain pedal. Is the effect realistic? Try this with the sostenuto too if there is one. 12. *Is* there a sostenuto? Do you care? Does it work properly? 13. Play a sharp staccato note. As the sound is quickly being damped out, raise the dampers. Can you "catch" the note, and is its sound realistic? 14. If there is a built-in reverb, can you live with the sound quality? Is it adjustable? 15. Are the amps and speakers sufficient to handle the maximum volume you'll want to play at? With big chords? With the pipe organ stop? Is there a headphone jack? You may want to verify the sound quality

from it too.

16. Turn the volume to maximum. Is there any noise or hum? Turn it back down. Is there any mechanical (transformer) hum from the piano chassis? 17. Is the instrument sturdily built? Can you play a bunch of hard chords without the keyboard starting to bounce like a car with bad shocks? 18. Are there transpose controls? By semitone? Continuous +/-0.5 semitones? 19. How is the keyboard feel? This is of course where things get very personal. Can you trill rapidly and evenly? Can you repeat a note without fully releasing a key (e.g., to get legato without pedal; related to trillability)? Can you play evenly on both the naturals and sharps? Is the action too heavy or sluggish? Too light or fast? Can you play an even pianissimo? And do you feel in control of note timing when doing this? Is the pivot-point back far enough? Does the velocity response seem okay? Can you select different responses? 20. Does a note fail to sound at very low velocities, like a real piano? Would you prefer otherwise? Is it selectable or adjustable? 21. Is there enough polyphony? (simultaneous notes) Play a loud low note with the pedal down, then a very light gliss or arm cluster in the treble. Does the low note get cut off? If it does, try again, but hold the low note. Very bad if it still gets cut off! Play arm clusters. Does the piano handle this gracefully, or does the sound get ugly?

   Well, if you've gotten this far, you must be serious :-)  Now,

I'm going to get all subjective on you and tell you what I like and don't like that's currently on the market. Note that I'm only covering all-in-one, home type instruments. That's because they can do things, like position sensing of the pedals, that more generic MIDI instruments can't. Also, I've never seen MIDI boxes or piano patches that implement, say, harp resonance, although *this would* be feasible.

   For me, the most important thing about this kind of instrument

(hell, any kind of instrument), is that it have an "organic" feel. And until Roland came out with things like resonance simulation and "analog" pedals (since copied by others), I was not satisfied with *any* E-pianos on the market. After studying the Keyboard review, I went shopping. I had the field pretty much narrowed down at this point to the following, based on the above mentioned features:

   Yamaha CLP-123 and 124
   Technics PX107
   Roland HP-2800, 3800, 5700, 7700
   I tried all the other models that I came across, but none were

acceptable to me. The Kurzweils impressed me neither with their touch nor sound. The Korgs I tried were even worse. And all of the lower- end Clavinovas were as bad as I remembered them, with little or no change in timbre vs dynamics.

   Yamaha's CLP-123 does not have resonance simulation.  I found

jarring volume/timbre changes between some notes. The amplifiers seemed under-powered. And the dampers were weak (i.e., released notes did not cut off as quickly as I'd like). Still, the sound had qualities some people would probably like. The CLP-124 struck me as having a weak treble and extreme unevenness between many notes. Not sure if it was worse than the 123 or the same though.

   The Technics PX107's nicest feature was its harp resonance

simulation, which was my favourite. That was all I liked. The una corda was very weird, with a sudden timbre change at a certain velocity. The treble seemed overly "woody" and the tenor had a nasal quality and a funny sounding sustain. "Catching" just-released notes with the pedal also produced some weird sounds.

   If you haven't already guessed, I'm going to confess my

preference for the Rolands, in particular, the HP-2800. I found them to be the most organic feeling by far. Both damper and una corda pedals are analogly sensed, and the way the timbre changes with changes in dynamic just feels right. One can make beautifully subtle cres/decrescendi using just the una corda. Resonance level, keyboard response, and many other parameters are adjustable. On the down side, the action is not as good as it could be, although still one of the best IMO. It can be hard to play softly. The polyphony/note-stealing algorithm can sometimes misbehave in a torture-test, but I've never noticed any problems with normal playing. You can't turn off dynamic response, even with the harpsichord and organ stops. All settings are lost when you switch off power (although sequences are retained - go figure). And some may prefer a more "realistic" sampled piano sound to Roland's synthesized one. More realistic, perhaps, for an isolated note at one volume. However, I find the Roland, taken as a whole, far more convincing an instrument than the others.

   One thing I should mention - both normal and two stretch tunings

are available. The 2800 powers up with normal tuning. I find this actually sounds out of tune in the bass, and usually switch to "Stretch 1". The HP-2900 is basically the same instrument with a better, bigger sound system. Oddly, I preferred the 2800. The other models are similar, but with fancier styling.

   If *you* can figure out how Keyboard mag reached some of their

conclusions, please let us all know!

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