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Past a certain volume, no piano sounds good.


scottasin

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At least to my ears... Plain and simple, once in a full rock band or in a venue that requires heavy amplification, I've never heard a piano sound that actually sounded anything like a piano. Once you're loud through FOH PAs, the sound just seems clunky and weird to me, whether its been real beautiful grands or samples or uprights. Everything that I love about the tone of a piano, the delicacy, the sustain, the wonderful fading of different harmonics... it all just disappears once its loud. Electronic and electromechanical instruments are designed to go through loudspeakers, and as such their sound scales up much more naturally to my ears. A properly miced Leslie blasted into a room or theater naturally fills the room, whereas (again, to my ears and in my experiences) an acoustic piano tends to sound muddy clunky boxy or honky. Not knowing much about the actual physics of audio, I'm not sure if its due to the translation of acoustic strings to a loudspeaker, or if its the way a piano sound resonates in a room at higher volumes than you'd hear an acoustic.

 

I only bring this up because of the huge number of discussions I see on here regarding live acoustic piano sounds... I've heard better and worse pianos in a live context, but even the best examples I've heard have still felt unnatural. I feel the sound/feel we're searching for may be impossible to achieve.

 

That being said, most of you have probably seen a lot more and diverse concerts than I have. What are some of the best live acoustic sounds you've seen? What was the musical context/size of the venue? Does anyone else share my sentiments and overall disappointment with how pianos sound at concerts?

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Dave's reference to the other thread is relevant in terms of how piano sounds in a band rather than solo, which is often the case when you talk about how a piano sounds amplified.

 

But there is another half to it, Scott, which is simply how the piano sounds by itself, and as has been discussed here in the past, it does seem to be the toughest sound to get sounding right when amplified. It's a demanding sound in its range and complexity, and also probably one of the acoustic sounds that many of us have personal experience with (so we are perhaps better informed about what sounds "right"), so we seem to more easily be able to tell when it's off. So many discussions of speakers seem to rest on this as the differentiating feature. It's the toughest sound for the Spacestation (separate EQ can help a lot). It's the one sound that, for many of us, makes an EV speaker a better choice than the otherwise long time favorite QSC. So if you're talking about solo piano, I think that many speakers have the toughest time with it, regardless of volume. I don't think it's necessarily the volume per se that is the issue. I think piano sounds great--and quite loud if need be--through the JBL PRX625. Short of that (which is a bit bigger and heavier than what I like to carry around), I found EV to sound more natural than the QSC, Yamaha, RCF, Behringer speakers I've tried, or for that matter, even other JBLs (like the PRX612M or some of the Eons).

 

That said, volume can be an issue as well. One other aspect of this is that all speakers sound worse as you push them to their limits. Their frequency response becomes less linear, distortion increases. So in any speaker, once you start pushing them beyond their sweet spot, everything starts sounding worse!

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The acoustic piano patches I use (NE4 and HS SK1) sound bad to me alone. And even when I use them in loud band situations, I'm not totally thrilled. I've EQ'd them to be quite bright. BUT when I hear recording of the live bands, they sound really good---cut right thru the mix. I do end up using Rhodes, Wurli, and CP80 sounds a lot. They sound good thru my monitor and thru the FOH.
Hammond B-2, Leslie 122, Hammond Sk1 73, Korg BX3 2001, Leslie 900, Motion Sound Pro 3, Polytone Taurus Elite, Roland RD300 old one, Roland VK7, Fender Rhodes Mark V with Roland JC90
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Personally I hate hearing my piano or any piano miced, with even headphones. It takes away that natural "thing", whatever it is, that makes an acoustic so special.

 

In fact that's one reason why Jarrett eschewed recording in the studio , aside from the sterility aspect and the lack of audience feedback - he hated wearing headphones.

 

I think for rock bands though, digital pianos are preferable and simply sound better, rather then trying to get an acoustic up to that volume level.

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I agree with the OP.

 

An acoustic piano sounds unnatural and unmusical when amplified to a certain SPL, simple as that.

 

Yes, this. The same can be said for any number of acoustic instruments: horns, strings, etc. Pure AP sounds have their place, but when the SPL rises, you have to construct sounds that amplify well.

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From my experience, the more metallic bite of Yamaha pianos (and their associated samples for their DPs and ROMplers) tend to sound better and cut through a band mix much better than the more refined, "woody" sound of Steinways and Bosendorfers. For solo piano, though, I'd probably choose the latter.
Kurzweil PC3, Yamaha MOX8, Alesis Ion, Kawai K3M
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IMO you have to do what's necessary to balance your sound with whatever else is happening on the bandstand. The trick, to me, is to keep the volume at the level where you can play with correct dynamics. With loud music the tendency is to play harder and that's going to trigger higher-velocity samples which may be overly bright and more metallic sounding OK for those times the music demands fff but otherwise not a good piano tone for general listening. On my Steinway sample I usually adjust my volume so I can use more of the the medium velocities where there is more of the nice "woodier" and "singing" tone. Louder volume means I sometimes need to scoop more mids (I just posted about this in another thread here!) to keep it from getting too muddy or honky. In short, it's a constant dance between volume, eq, and playing dynamics and not easy to pull off, but I try! So, for myself, I have no issue with playing my VI piano at loud volumes, if that's what the situation calls for and everything sounds balanced to me.
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I'm having issues with the piano sounds on my PX-5 that I use at church after trying (unsuccessfully) to gig with it. I've tried every possible combination of amp settings, eq.s etc. and it still sounds muddy with no sustain. Got a lot of help over at the Casio forum, but It's still not what I want.

 

What's really weird is my practice piano at home is an old Roland ep-9 that sounds great, BUT it randomly goes out of tune.

 

I'm also using a cheap Yamaha NPV-80 with my country band that cuts through beautifully. Back in the day, my Ensoniq Mirage piano did likewise..I don't get it..

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Went to a Herbie Hancock concert a few years ago. After two or three tunes on the Korg, he turned to his Fazioli grand and I thought, this is going to be a treat. Then they started playing and ... WTF?! I honestly thought he must have had the Fazioli MIDI'd up to a module with some lame clav voice, it sounded so bad. Took awhile to realize, nope, that's actually the sound of the Fazioli, mic'd and blasted over the PA at high SPL. Disappointing concert ... all funk all the time; volume at overwhelming, chest-pain levels the whole time; and this beautiful, hand-made, quarter-million-dollar grand piano sounded like complete sh*t! Of course, I know from recordings that the piano actually sounds fabulous.
Mike
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The trick, to me, is to keep the volume at the level where you can play with correct dynamics. With loud music the tendency is to play harder and that's going to trigger higher-velocity samples which may be overly bright and more metallic sounding OK for those times the music demands fff but otherwise not a good piano tone for general listening.

+1

 

Very insightful post. :2thu:

"We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."

- George Bernard Shaw

 

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The acoustic piano is the thing I use to illustrate that I believe it's unreasonable to say that there's such a thing as a flat, accurate monitor. When you show me a speaker or speaker system that can sound and - more to the point - have the same sonic weight as a real piano in a room, then you can talk to me about flat and accurate.

 

dB

:snax:

 

:keys:==> David Bryce Music • Funky Young Monks <==:rawk:

 

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There's another element to this, at least for my ears. Past a certain volume, my ears don't hear things in proportion...frequencies, dynamics, etc. As if things are clipping in a recording. I'm often surprised when I listen back at lower volume to recordings of a loud performance that sounded like a sonic wash to me. If I'm playing in a loud context, I need decibel-attenuating ear plugs or IEMs, not just to protect my hearing, but to hear the music in proportion. I use Pianoteq-generated acoustic piano sounds. If it's loud, they sound far more realistic to me when I put the earplugs or IEMs in to lower the volume reaching my ears. They sound bad to me at the full room volume. Any of you have this experience? I sometimes perceive pitch-shifting at high volumes.
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When you show me a speaker or speaker system that can sound and - more to the point - have the same sonic weight as a real piano in a room, then you can talk to me about flat and accurate.

A real piano in a room has a vibrating soundboard radiating sound in many directions. A speaker is a point source. How this relates to a speaker being "flat and accurate" escapes me but I'm open to learning something. As I see it, a flat and accurate speaker is one that has an even frequency response over the audible spectrum and reproduces input material with minimal distortion and resonances. How a piano recording or sample sounds through a speaker will depend on that, plus the way the piano or samples were recorded close miked, x/y, mono? And what about the room the speakers are in? There are many variables here.

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I agree with the OP.

 

An acoustic piano sounds unnatural and unmusical when amplified to a certain SPL, simple as that.

I have been saying this for years and have tried every available form of amplification possible..i currently have the motion sound 500sn, 2 qsc k10, and the spacestation.. all of them will sound good to a point , but when the acoustic piano is pushed up to a certain volume level and worse mixed with the frequency's of an electric guitar or in my case most often two of them(ughhh) things get real dicey..it really sucks actually and its a real thorn in my side...I beg the bands I am in to keep the stage volume down to a reasonable level and try to explain to them what happens to what I hear from my instrument when it goes over threshold, but you know how that goes.... don't know if any others here have experienced this or if it's a condition of my 58 year old ears, but when the volume is really being pushed basically into what i would call the red zone, the upper quadrant of my keyboard becomes atonal..every note sounds like the same pitch!.. that is pretty much a horror show and at that point i usually just go on auto pilot and look forward to the last song of the night... like someone else said electro mechanical instruments ( including electric guitars) lend themselves to amplification and are even enhanced by it, but we are for the most part trying to play a digital recreation of a sophisticated acoustic instrument that for all intent and purposes was meant to be heard acoustically and not have its sound transmitted thru powerful amps and speakers..
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When you show me a speaker or speaker system that can sound and - more to the point - have the same sonic weight as a real piano in a room, then you can talk to me about flat and accurate.

A real piano in a room has a vibrating soundboard radiating sound in many directions. A speaker is a point source.

Yes, the "three dimensionality" of being in the room with the piano is hard to duplicate... the Avant Grande tries to address this with placement of numerous speakers. But normally, you've got just two (or even just one). My own variation of DB's test might be to stand *outside* a room, and see how sure you are whether there is a real piano playing inside, or a digital through speakers.

Maybe this is the best place for a shameless plug! Our now not-so-new new video at https://youtu.be/3ZRC3b4p4EI is a 40 minute adaptation of T. S. Eliot's "Prufrock" - check it out! And hopefully I'll have something new here this year. ;-)

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I have been saying this for years and have tried every available form of amplification possible..i currently have the motion sound 500sn, 2 qsc k10, and the spacestation.. all of them will sound good to a point

I've had the motion sound 200, the qsc K8, the spacestation... none were among my top picks for piano sound, though I did get the spacestation to be quite satisfactory with an external parametric EQ (something I never tried with the others).

Maybe this is the best place for a shameless plug! Our now not-so-new new video at https://youtu.be/3ZRC3b4p4EI is a 40 minute adaptation of T. S. Eliot's "Prufrock" - check it out! And hopefully I'll have something new here this year. ;-)

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Agree 100%. I have experimented with this several times with multiple brands of high-end keyboards and monitors. In the end, my piano patches/samples all sound best played at the same, or similar, levels an acoustic piano would produce in the room, and they get much worse at high volumes. I have setup many times next to my grand piano to make the comparisons. Maybe it is the brain, maybe the room, etc. The piano does not sound as good cranked up to unnatural volumes, imho. A Les Paul on the other hand...

NS3C, Hammond XK5, Yamaha S7X, Sequential Prophet 6, Yamaha YC73, Roland Jupiter X

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>I'm having issues with the piano sounds on my PX-5 that I use at church after trying (unsuccessfully) to gig with it. I've tried every possible combination of amp settings, eq.s etc. and it still sounds muddy with no sustain. Got a lot of help over at the Casio forum, but It's still not what I want.

 

Are you playing solo or with band? What type of speakers?

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When you show me a speaker or speaker system that can sound and - more to the point - have the same sonic weight as a real piano in a room, then you can talk to me about flat and accurate.

A real piano in a room has a vibrating soundboard radiating sound in many directions. A speaker is a point source.

Yes, the "three dimensionality" of being in the room with the piano is hard to duplicate... the Avant Grande tries to address this with placement of numerous speakers. But normally, you've got just two (or even just one). My own variation of DB's test might be to stand *outside* a room, and see how sure you are whether there is a real piano playing inside, or a digital through speakers.

Exactly.

 

"Flat and accurate" to me means the speakers vanish and only the music remains. I contend that EVERY speaker has a sound, and that some of them vanish better than others in certain rooms - but that none of them are perfect. I tend to lean towards single point source monitors such as dual concentrics because I believe their time and phase coherence is helpful in that respect.

 

I'm not a big fan of the concept of "flat and accurate" as pertains to measured frequency response taken in anechoic chambers. I don't listen to music in an anechoic chamber, and my ear is not a measurement mic.

 

Theere's also the components and design concepts thing - sealed vs. ported vs. passive radiator, rubber cones vs. aluminum cones vs. paper cones, ribbon tweeters vs. metal dome tweeters vs. silk dome tweeters...two way vs. three way, full range vs satellite with a sub...or two smaller subs. So many options, so many flavors - to me none of them are "correct" - just depends on your ears, your room and most importantly your taste.

 

I love speakers. They're my favorite thing in the studio. I contend that besides our ears, they're the next most important tool we have.

 

dB

 

 

:snax:

 

:keys:==> David Bryce Music • Funky Young Monks <==:rawk:

 

Professional Affiliations: Royer LabsMusic Player Network

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There's another element to this, at least for my ears. Past a certain volume, my ears don't hear things in proportion...frequencies, dynamics, etc. As if things are clipping in a recording. I'm often surprised when I listen back at lower volume to recordings of a loud performance that sounded like a sonic wash to me. If I'm playing in a loud context, I need decibel-attenuating ear plugs or IEMs, not just to protect my hearing, but to hear the music in proportion. I use Pianoteq-generated acoustic piano sounds. If it's loud, they sound far more realistic to me when I put the earplugs or IEMs in to lower the volume reaching my ears. They sound bad to me at the full room volume. Any of you have this experience? I sometimes perceive pitch-shifting at high volumes.

Exactly! Putting in a pair of musicians earplugs not only lowers the volume but (subjectively) cleans up the sound. This hints to me that it's my own ears that are creating a lot of the distortion that I perceive at high volume levels.

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Yes, tnelson, I have experienced this, too. A couple to times when our volume was too high, I could not tell what notes were being played, by others or by me. Very weird. PM51, IEMs did fix this for us. I guess it is like clipping in a recording. My ears just cannot handle the volume.

Kurzweil PC4

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Continuing the ear response vs volume (SPL) observation, for acoustic piano and other acoustic instruments, we recognize the real instruments in part by the ratios and interaction of harmonics, and hear departures from that sound signature as fake and bad. We are much more accepting of variations in electric instruments and synthetic sounds because there's no standard in our heads for what's real. If our ears top out unequally on fundamentals and harmonics as the volume rises, it's easy to imagine that instrument sources that sound fine in a recording by a non-clipping microphone would sound fake or bad to human ears in the same high-SPL environment.
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Continuing the ear response vs volume (SPL) observation, for acoustic piano and other acoustic instruments, we recognize the real instruments in part by the ratios and interaction of harmonics, and hear departures from that sound signature as fake and bad. We are much more accepting of variations in electric instruments and synthetic sounds because there's no standard in our heads for what's real. If our ears top out unequally on fundamentals and harmonics as the volume rises, it's easy to imagine that instrument sources that sound fine in a recording by a non-clipping microphone would sound fake or bad to human ears in the same high-SPL environment.

Are you stating opinion here, or are you taking this from research or some study that was done? I'm asking because I don't know that it rings true to my experience. What about voice? We all know what unamplified singing sounds like, and yet properly amplified voice sounds just fine to us even at high volume. Same with other acoustic instruments-- strings, horns, etc.

 

And what about loud playing of home stereo? I occasionally like to crank up my home system (and did so more frequently in my younger days), and pianos sound just fine there. Although maybe I'm not reaching the SPL levels that are necessary to experience the phenomenon being discussed?

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Are you stating opinion here, or are you taking this from research or some study that was done? I'm asking because I don't know that it rings true to my experience. What about voice? We all know what unamplified singing sounds like, and yet properly amplified voice sounds just fine to us even at high volume. Same with other acoustic instruments-- strings, horns, etc.

 

And what about loud playing of home stereo? I occasionally like to crank up my home system (and did so more frequently in my younger days), and pianos sound just fine there. Although maybe I'm not reaching the SPL levels that are necessary to experience the phenomenon being discussed?

 

It's my personal experience that acoustic instruments like pianos sound unnatural at high volume. YMMV

It's my speculation that this is because of the way (my) ears saturate unequally with the fundamentals and harmonics that are characteristic for acoustic instruments.

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Very interesting discussion. I've been struggling with this for years. It's been my experience/observation that speakers and amps play a greater role in the realism of a DP's acoustic piano sound than volume. For example, when I play Ivory though my studio speakers it sounds very real. And, when I recorded my Nord Stage 2 directly into Logic and played it back on my studio speakers, or any decent audio system for that matter, it sounded very real. I can turn up the volume and as long as I'm within the capability of the amps and speakers it still sounds real. This causes me to conclude that the piano samples are done extremely well and that the areas to be improved upon are the action and calibration of the action with the samples such that the playing experience replicates the acoustic piano experience as close as possible, and the amps and speakers used for live performance. Of course there is a volume level where are ears are going to become a factor but I think that would be extremely loud.

 

I haven't seen Billy Joel is quite a few years but I understand in recent times he's using Ivory triggered by an M11 and that he's getting an excellent acoustic piano sound. Perhaps someone who has attended one of his recent concerts can chime in on this. If this is the case than I think it supports the theory that speakers and amps are where the focus is needed in order to get a realistic acoustic piano sound. Obviously, Billy Joel has the means to do whatever it takes but if he's doing it with Ivory then that implies the Ivory folks have done a great job.

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