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Accoustic vs. Digital Piano

Discussion in 'The Piano' started by Jennifer, Jan 10, 2010.

  1. Jennifer

    Jennifer New Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Guys-

    Here is a question that I ways wanted to know the answer to:

    Is a digital piano as good as an accoustic piano.

    I have always had accoustic pianos. When I was a child I practiced and played on an upright. Now I have an accoustic baby grand.

    Do any of you have digital pianos? How do you like them. Do they feel awkward under your fingers. Are they harder to play on? What are the advantages of a digital grand over a triditional piano?

    Just curious? The fact that you can practice at any our of the day (with headphones) sounds very appealing to me:)

    Please feel free to share you digital piano experiences. I may seriously get one someday and so your opinions matter to me.
     
  2. Radar

    Radar New Member

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    The action on higher end digital pianos has gotten very close to that of a real piano, but a digital will never completely match the response, and sound of a real piano 100%. I would say that I prefer my digital to most of the uprights I've had the displeasure to have played. I don't have any issues going between my Yamaha Digital with a Graded Hammer Action, Enhanced Keyboard, and the grand pianos I play at Churhes, nursing homes, and senior centers, etc. Which is better for you depends on your situation. The advantages of a digital are:
    1) Silent practice with headphones, or low volume practice by the turn of a knob.
    2) Don't have to worry about climate control (I turn my heat down, at night, and during the day when I'm not here to save money, this wouldn't be good for an acoustic piano).
    3) Takes up less space than a grand.
    4) Easy to record your performance using Midi for playback to evaluate yourself.
    5) A top of the line Digital Costs less than a decent quality new acoustic piano.
    6) No tuning costs.
    7) More easily moved, and transported.

    Disadvantages of a digital piano:
    1) Less responsive to differences in touch.
    2) Won't sound as good as a quality acoustic piano, in good tune.
    3) Won't last as long as a quality acoustic piano that's well maintained.
    4) Will depreciate in value quicker than an acoustic.

    If you already have an acoustic that you're happy with, I personally wouldn't trade it for a digital, but you could add a digital as a second instrument for late night practice. You could also get one that was portable, that you could transport if you want to play somewhere where they don't have a piano available.
     
  3. RSPIll

    RSPIll New Member

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    I pretty much second Radar's thoughts.

    I have a Roland RD-700. I also had a Yamaha Grand, but I've given it to a church to use because it was defining where I could live (not all apartments can handle a 6' grand with ease.)

    Personally, if it is between a good digital and a vertical piano, I will take the digital. Also, if you do forsee playing around (piano that is), fewer and fewer places actually have a piano, and even if they do, its condition is often suspect.

    I prefer my digital through headphones in general. The main problem that I see in digital sound through speakers is that the speakers don't radiate the sound as an acoustic instrument would. I would like to come up with a speaker system that would better mimic the manner that an acoustic instrument radiates its sound.

    Scott
     
  4. Jennifer

    Jennifer New Member Piano Society Artist

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    Ooh, some responses. I have been on and off here a bit.

    Ok, I totally agree with what you are saying. I guess I just needed a confirmation.

    I have a Petrof V. It is a grand. I would hate to give it up but when I move into a small appartment or something, I don't see how it could come with me. If I can take it with me I would get a digital for back up but if I can't then the Petrof will have to stay behind and the other residents in my house will have the joy of playing it. I live with family so I am always welcome to come back and play on it.

    I didn't know that a digital feels/sounds better than an upright piano. I guess I kind of agree since I have played on some pretty bad uprights.

    Thanks for the tips and advice guys!
     
  5. Radar

    Radar New Member

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    I should say that a top of the line digital will feel better and in some cases sound better than a lot of the uprights out there, but there are some really good uprights too that are better than a digital. To get the better uprights Like the Yamaha U-1 you'll pay quite a bit for it.
     
  6. 88man

    88man Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Jenn, there is no substitute for an acoustic piano for classical music!

    Don't be seduced by the initial "wow" factor of the bass or presets on keyboards. Even the latest models sound artificial at best once the novelty wears off. I grew up learning on a Baldwin upright, then my parents bought a 5'3" Bradbury. Years later I moved to my current home, and I upgraded to a 7ft grand. However, in a separate music studio, I have a Roland A-90EX controller and Roland Fantom XR, Yamaha Motif Rack, Piano Tek, and other piano sound modules that I've added over the years - I could easily part with all of them for either a Petrof, August Forster, Pleyel, Steingraeber, Grotrian, Baldwin, Feurich, etc. any day, even if it was out of tune!

    If you grew up on acoustic pianos, you won't be happy with an electronic keyboard after a while. There is no way to duplicate the mechanics, tone, uniformity in sound, and timbre of an acoustic piano. Even the pedals won't work the same way. Your technique will suffer in time, especially when you try to play on an acoustic piano after you've been playing on an electronic piano for some time. You'll need a considerable adjustment period. That's when I stopped playing on electronic keyboards altogether for classical music. I only use it as a synthesizer, organ, and controller for multitrack music, etc., or record a synth track for my friend's remixes.

    Wait and see where you end up before you decide what to buy. I'd look for a deaf landlord or find a place that already has piano(s) in the complex. :p Exhaust all the possibilities for an acoustic piano before you give up and convert to the "dark side" of electronic pianos... Good Luck!

    George
     
  7. jerryknight

    jerryknight New Member

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    Okay, digital piano owners need to try PianoTeq. (http://www.pianoteq.com)

    I'm sure some of you are familiar with this already, but I haven't seen any discussion on this forum about it. Simply put, it's a program that doesn't use recorded samples to recreate a piano's sound. It simulates how the physical components of a piano interact to produce all the sounds that a real piano can produce. By doing this, it's able to capture a lot of the resonances, harmonics, etc. that aren't captured when separate note samples are played together. Of course, it's not perfect - this kind of thing never will be, but it's getting really really good. Regular digital piano voices are comical by comparison, and if I could compare a PianoTeq recording to a "clean" acoustic recording (ie. no squeaks, coughs, recording hiss, or other artifacts) I'm not sure I could tell the difference.

    It also lets you modify properties of the piano that are normally only available to tuners, mechanics, or restorers - things like tuning, temperament, unison width, octave stretching, hammer hardness, sound board impedance, string length (up to 10 meters!) etc. The "Pro" version even allows you to control many of these parameters for each individual note.

    Most of my adult life, I've been looking forward to "one day" owning my own grand piano (probably one of the Steinway models) but now I'm not so sure. I spent around $3000 for my Roland digital piano (chosen for its action) and a little over $300 for this program (whatever 250€ converts to USD) and made a dedicated piano computer from spare parts, and I have a piano that feels and sounds like a reasonable grand piano. It doesn't have to be tuned or voiced (I can change them with a few clicks) and it doesn't have to be maintained, apart from the physical keys and computer parts. But honestly, I can go through several digital pianos and computers before approaching the cost of the grand piano I would otherwise want. I don't have to worry about temperature or humidity or sunlight or acoustics. Well, acoustics are simpler at least - position the speakers and the rest is part of the piano software. Most of the time, I go for what it would sound like sitting in my living room or a small studio, but I can record performances to MIDI using studio settings and then re-record using concert hall reverb and mic positioning.

    Go listen to the demos and download the trial version (it's fully functional but it leaves out a few sparse notes on the keyboard). It's worth the time.

    EDIT: Hugh Sung can explain it better than I can: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTbXnbfymdc, part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulS-N6PSRuc&NR=1
    (Note: He's demoing a very early version of PianoTeq. Recent versions are even better.)

    Disclaimer: I don't work for or have anything to do with Modartt, the company that produces PianoTeq, apart from being an avid fan.
     
  8. differencetone

    differencetone New Member

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    As much as people rave about Pianoteq, I don't like it. It sounds cold and digital to me. I much prefer the large sampled pianos such as East West Quantum Leap Pianos or Vienna Symphonic Library Bosendorfer Imperial. If I was going the physical modeling route though, rather than Piantoteq software, I would rather have the Roland V-Piano. It costs $6,000 but hey, it qualifies for free shipping at musiciansfriend.com!
     
  9. s_winitsky

    s_winitsky Member

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    You know I agree with this. I played around a bit with pianoteq sometime back. The computer science guy in my was eager to play with this software. I personally was very disappointed with the overall sound at the time. It might be better now I don't know.

    Nothing really beats the feel and resonance of playing a real piano. In recordings its sometimes hard to tell the difference (especially since people sometimes use reverb and the equalizer on acoustic piano recordings.) Sometimes the difference is painfully clear with digitals, depending on the music, how it is played and the digital piano itself.

     
  10. differencetone

    differencetone New Member

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    I just found out there is a new one "Vienna Symphonic Library Vienna Imperial" with 100 velocity samples per key. That number is unheard of in sampled pianos. Basically what it means is the sample played is determined by how hard you hit the note. The other brands of sampled pianos available are normally only 8-12 samples per key. I will get this eventually. The cost is $600.

    Check out this demo. I think this could fool anyone:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjl9l63g624

    This sampled piano is only possible because Bosendorfer has created a modern computer controllable (player) piano so the recording of 100 exact velocities was possible for each key.
     
  11. musical-md

    musical-md Active Member

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    For me (and my house), there is no comparison. Why have an artificial instrument if one can have a real instrument. "What do you mean 'artificial' and 'real'?" you may ask. An electronic keyboard, uses technology to recreate the sound of a hammer-struck stringed instrument. Why stop with that? How about an electronic oboe with a breath sensor and button switches, or a violin with fret pressure sensors and lacking vibrating stirings that also simply has a friction sensor for the bow? This is not the same as an electric guitar which still uses actual strings that vibrate and are pitched with actual frets and is really more an amplified instrument. Just call me old-fashioned. Now, if one could not afford a real piano, then it's a different matter, but one would hold out the hope of still buying one someday. (I also don't read electronic books, I just buy real books.) :D
     
  12. s_winitsky

    s_winitsky Member

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    If you are a working musician, it is sometimes useful to be able to take a digital piano with you to a job for example. Same story is true if you are traveling. I originally bought one when I was consulting in the US for a long period of time and wanted to play piano.

    Most jazz performers that I know, would rather play a not so good acoustic piano in a club rather than a good digital. Ive also been to clubs where only an old upright was available. In a jazz club I would rather listen to an old upright, than a digital. Usually these type of musicians don't really have much of a choice on what instrument they play.

     
  13. differencetone

    differencetone New Member

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    Still, there is a huge difference between your idea of a digital ROM based piano and a computer software sampled piano. They will be played from small tablet computers in the not so distant future I predict so portability and reliability won't be so much of an issue. I would rather play that than a poorly tuned acoustic piano, also most small venues and clubs don't have a piano.

    Check out this demo. I think this could fool anyone:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjl9l63g624
     
  14. s_winitsky

    s_winitsky Member

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    Interesting link

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcIfKc4SspI

    At about 7:44 Oscar talks about going to listen to art Tatum play on an old out of tune piano, missing keys.

    When I was younger I remember my experience of listening to my piano teacher practice a Bach prelude and fugue. The sound seemed to have a way of filling the room. It was mesmerizing. Up till then I never heard anything like that even from recordings. My father at the time walked into the house and had to peek to see were the sound was coming from. To recreate that on a digital, besides having very good samples, you will need a very powerful surround sound system. Most pianos can out muscle just about any stereo system, and fill the room with a warm pleasing sound. Just my opinion though, I know technologies are always changing and getting better.


     
  15. glenn

    glenn New Member

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    This is an interesting discussion, but for me it has become pretty simple. When you try to compare acoustically produced music to that produced by speakers, it is almost apples and oranges, though we have even become used to PA systems, etc. for even acoustic concerts. An acoustic piano is a superior experience in a good room or hall, but a well sampled piano software is a superior experience to a recorded acoustic piano when heard through earphones or speakers. I think eventually this will also be the case for other instruments, but right now sampled violin or oboe still has a long way to go. This is probably because the manner in which those instruments produce their sound is so complex and sensitive, while most samplers are controlled with keyboards. The piano, on the other hand, is comparatively simple to sample because after the attack there is just resonance. I used to miss the ambient and sympathetic resonance, but recent software not only has that quality, but allows you to adjust it to your liking. The portability of digital pianos (and price) have made them very useful for gigging etc., and their ability to be played with earphones allow you to maintain peace with your neighbors (they are also always in tune!). But for live music, I would rather play or hear an acoustic, and for recording, I would rather play or hear good software.

    Glenn
     
  16. differencetone

    differencetone New Member

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    One thing we didn't bring up in this discussion is the superiority of the acoustic piano keyboard action (on a modern, high quality, well maintained piano) with wooden felt tipped hammers bouncing off the strings. I don't think there is a weighted electronic keyboard with the same feel. It's been a while since I really sat down with a good acoustic piano for any length of time but it must be better for control and building muscles.

    I went ahead and purchased the Vienna Imperial and I love it. Immediately, it sounds a lot less muddy than the East West Quantum Leap pianos I had been playing. I tend to use a lot of sustain pedal. The tone of it is very warm and pleasing to the ear. I like that the dynamic range is adjustable to fit with my keyboard and style. It does have the sympathetic vibrations which has been a bone of contention with critics of fake pianos. I have never played a real Bösendorfer so I could not tell you how close this sounds. I am guessing very close but let us consider that every brand of piano sounds different so we may think of this sound to be valid even if it isn't an exact model of the original. I don't see how anyone would ever know it isn't a real piano when played well on a good weighted keyboard. The 100 levels of velocity switching makes the sample switching quite transparent and after all, we are listening to an expertly recorded piano with every key stroke.
     
  17. musical-md

    musical-md Active Member

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    Not that I have a lot of experience with electronic keyboards, but I have some, and I doubt that they (makers) can get the damper or una corda pedals to function as in a "real" piano. There are so many intermediate levels; this is not a binary proposition as is the sostenuto pedal. Here is where a careful listener would be able to tell the difference I think.
     
  18. differencetone

    differencetone New Member

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    Mine has damper. I haven't actually used it yet. It's not that important to me but doesn't seem like a huge technological hurdle because the they have the sympathetic vibrations down and sustain. Those are just other samples. The damper notes are samples too. That is why it has 1,200 available samples per note. All this is software but now that the price of an SSD (solid state drive) is coming down, I imagine you will see it in what you are calling an "electronic keyboard" in the foreseeable future. There is no reason why it couldn't be made now.
     
  19. musical-md

    musical-md Active Member

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    My point here is that the dampers are hugging the strings with considerable force but that that force may be gradually lifted to the point were the dampers are barely on/off the strings, causing a variable degree of freedom under different forces of playing. I don't think that could be reporduced. Regarding the una corda pedal, too many pianist approach this with a binary view: you don't use it or you use it with the action (grand) shifted as far over as it will go. However, to play the treble strings with a slightly different portion of the felt hammers allows for gradations of tone more than of volume, the same of which can be garnered from the wound strings of tenor and base. This is so complex and inconsistent (idiosyncratic) among instruments, that it could not be reproduced in my opinion.
     
  20. differencetone

    differencetone New Member

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    I see what you are saying. It could not be done with an on/off pedal. It's something which could be made on a physical modeling piano with a variable pedal but looking at the Roland V-Piano which costs $6,000, the pedals look like the switch kind on that too. I'm not sure if there is enough demand for what you are talking about for them to do that.

    On further investigation, I did find that the damper pedal has two positions, full and half so they did somewhat address your concerns with the V-Piano.
     

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