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digitally sampled pianos ... some thoughts ... mostly rambling


Dave Horne

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I travelled to a reopening of a well known music store (in Nijmegen). I bought a lot of stuff from this store about eight years ago; I was on their mailing list for their grand reopening - they now have more floor space - so I went. I just wanted to check out their digital pianos but they didn't have a CP300 in stock.

 

I spoke with one of the salesman, a guy in his 40's, and he was sold on simply using a good midi controller and a laptop with a really big piano sample. We were just talking - this wasn't a high pressure selling situation, just two guys speaking ... and the store didn't sell laptops. (As an aside, when I was in that store eight years ago, I asked, what's the best sampled piano and was directed to the Yamaha P200. I didn't like that piano and as a result bought a sampler, a Roland module and loaded both up - and still wasn't happy. I sold everything three years ago. That was an expensive lesson which I never forgot and had I bought that P200 I would have saved myself thousands. I wish now I would have given that P200 a better listen.)

 

I mentioned this in a another thread - wouldn't it be great if we could simply update the piano sample in our stage piano. I'm in the process of selling my P250 and buying a CP300 ... and for what, just a better piano sample. I don't need a new stage piano - I just want to update the sample in my P250 ... and I'd gladly pay to do that. (The difference between what I will receive for that P250 and shell out for a CP300 will come to about 500 Euros ... and I would gladly pay that to keep my old piano and insert a new sample.

 

These thoughts are not new ... and Nord allows you to update your piano sample. I have no intention of bringing along a laptop to a job ... and I know I'm not alone in that thinking. Didn't the Roland A90 allow the user to update the piano sound with a card? Sorry, ... just rambling. (Has anyone here ever had their opinion solicited by a manufacturer?)

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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Originally posted by soundscape:

What happens if you find the CP300 sounds *worse* than the P250?

If that's the case, Steve Fortner will have some explaining to do as he reviewed the CP300 in the latest issue of Keyboard. (I subscribe to the magazine but saw this review online, I still haven't rec'd the issue via the post.) That review pretty much made up my mind to sell my P250. My P250 is two and half years old and I can get a good price for it ... and a good buying price for the. CP300 as well. For about 500 Euros I have a new piano.

 

Steve wrote ...

The good old P250s main grand piano sound is still quite good, even by todays standards. But the CP300s, still called Grand Piano 1, is better. To my ears, its not a subtle difference. Highs are more organic and extreme lows are less phasey, and its just more real from top to toe. Under the hood, theres about twice as much piano wave ROM as in the P250. Just like with their legendary acoustic grands, its fair to say Yamaha favors the bright, poppy side when compared with other brands, but this is hardly a bad thing. The CPs two Mellow Piano variations are well-suited to classical music, and I have a feeling theyll fit in with the way a lot of jazzers would approach straight-ahead bebop. When stuck with a mono amp or PA system, you usually have the choice of getting just one side of the stereo picture or risking thin sound caused by possible phase weirdness when a stereo sample is summed to mono. The CP300 solves this problem with Mono Piano voices that are designed for mono amplification, and that sound every bit as detailed and real as Grand Piano 1 theyre not an afterthought.

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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Of course, I have no idea what Highs are more organic means .... ;)

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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HI Dave,

As I had said in the other thread, I really didn't see hear the differences as that drastic.

In fact, I would use the word "different" rather than "superior" in judging the 2 pianos.

Knowing how experienced a player you are, I'm sure you will draw your own conclusions on this - I would reccomend taking some really difficult music to play, and trying it on the new piano. Especially fast, ghosted note passages or things that have a wide variety of dynamic changes. That's what I do - and it usually points out any flaws in the playablity of the thing.

Just my .02 -- because frequently, when they get the piano sample to be "bigger, more authentic, etc." they take away some of the playability.

Oh well...

Tom

Nord Electro 5D, Modal Cobalt 8, Yamaha upright piano, numerous plug-ins...

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Originally posted by Dave Horne:

I'm in the process of selling my P250 and buying a CP300 ... and for what, just a better piano sample.

If I'm not mistaken, I already read you saying one should never buy a piano without testing it first. IMO, to base a future purchase on someone else's opinion is as risky. I'm not debating if this written opinion was good or not, but more that two persons may have quite different tastes.

 

To me, to upgrade for a new piano is always exciting, since I have a limited budget and I can only afford a new excellent synth/piano every ten years or so. Before my last Kurzweil PC2XL, which has 24 bits samples, I bought a Kurzweil Pro-1, which had 16 bits samples - probably the same ones you disliked in your Kurz piano module. But even if I had the money, I really don't think I'd switch for a new keyboard more often, because I always chose instruments that offer the best programmability available. And I like to experiment all the possibilities.

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Cydonia, I'm sure I made that comment. I've been very happy with Yamaha keyboards and if the CP300 is their best and latest stage piano I figure I can't be burned.

 

Believe me, if I am unhappy with the CP300, you'll read about it.

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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Originally posted by Cydonia:

Before my last Kurzweil PC2XL, which has 24 bits samples, I bought a Kurzweil Pro-1, which had 16 bits samples - probably the same ones you disliked in your Kurz piano module.

I think there's a bit of a misunderstanding here. I am unaware of any hardware digital piano that uses 24-bit samples. The PC2 series uses 24-bit digital-to-analog-convertors (DACs) but that's different than the actual samples that make up the piano sound. The DACs on the PC2 are no doubt better than the ones on the Pro-1. That's not necessarily because they're 24-bit.

 

Busch.

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Originally posted by Dave Horne:

I mentioned this in a another thread - wouldn't it be great if we could simply update the piano sample in our stage piano. I'm in the process of selling my P250 and buying a CP300 ... and for what, just a better piano sample. I don't need a new stage piano - I just want to update the sample in my P250 ... and I'd gladly pay to do that. (The difference between what I will receive for that P250 and shell out for a CP300 will come to about 500 Euros ... and I would gladly pay that to keep my old piano and insert a new sample. These thoughts are not new ... and Nord allows you to update your piano sample. I have no intention of bringing along a laptop to a job ... and I know I'm not alone in that thinking. Didn't the Roland A90 allow the user to update the piano sound with a card? Sorry, ... just rambling. (Has anyone here ever had their opinion solicited by a manufacturer?)

Dave I think this is a very good idea. I personally would love this option. I do think as long as people continue to sell their old models and upgrade to the newer models, this probably won't happen. I'm not sure about how cost effective this would be for the manufacturers but my guess is if they could find a way to make this more profitabel than the current practice they would at least consider it. My questions are how hard and cost effective is making a digital piano that would allow us to do this? and Wouldn't a good midi controller with great action solve this issue in many ways?

Begin the day with a friendly voice A companion, unobtrusive

- Rush

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I believe in another year or so, manufacturers will follow Nord's lead (no pun intended) and offer sample upgrades in DPs and synths.

 

Korg has a 500MB piano for the OASYS. It is bound to happen across the board. Damn, I'm batting 1k with these puns. ;):cool:

PD

 

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return."--E. Ahbez "Nature Boy"

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I'm hoping that piano manufacturers start using standard parts for memory, like flash cards we use in cameras. Perhaps those aren't fast enough for audio yet, but my guess is that they will be, before long. In any case they could be used to store the data which is transferred to RAM on program change, but of course that will cause a notable delay.

 

That way they could pass on the cost of memory directly to the customer. Really, it could simplify the marketing plan.

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Originally posted by Dave Horne:

Of course, I have no idea what Highs are more organic means .... ;)

Seems clear to me, it means the high frequencies (treble) sounds more natural, less synthetic (artificial).

 Find 600 of my jazz piano arrangements and tutorials for educational purposes at patreon.com/HarryLikas Harry was the Technical Editor of Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book" and helped develop "The Jazz Piano Book."

 

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Originally posted by burningbusch:

I am unaware of any hardware digital piano that uses 24-bit samples. The PC2 series uses 24-bit digital-to-analog-convertors (DACs) but that's different than the actual samples that make up the piano sound. The DACs on the PC2 are no doubt better than the ones on the Pro-1. That's not necessarily because they're 24-bit.

Well, you may be right, since I'm not an expert in sampling, but here's what I can read in both manuals :

 

Pro-1 --> 16-bit floating point sample format, 7X oversampled with 20-bit sample accumulation, 17-bit D/A converters processed with pre/de-emphasis.

 

PC2XL --> 24-bit width digital audio output. I don't see how they could obtain a 24-bit width output out of 16-bit or even 20-bit samples. Also, Kurzweil probably still uses a similar technique today (oversampling, pre/de-emphasis, etc.) than in the time of the Pro-1. Unless there's something I don't understand clearly. :)

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Originally posted by TaurusT:

http://www.purgatorycreek.com/

 

This guy's done the ultimate compare.

Especially compare the Oasys sample.. Really, size isnt everything.

TaurusT, you do know that our very own BurningBusch is down with that site, right? ;):cool:

PD

 

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return."--E. Ahbez "Nature Boy"

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Size really is NOT everything when it comes to usable samples. I would stack the Reason Pianos against anything up to the Giga and maybe Ivory in a real world situation.

 

I agree with you Dave, but in a tangential way. I am constantly surprised that Yamaha in particular gave up the concept of a piano module that utilizes their best piano sample set. When is the last time we've seen dedicated piano modules? The Roland P-55? The Kurzweil Micropiano?

 

Wouldn't it make sense to have a dedicated controller and just update piano modules? That's what I would be doing now, but there are just no options. Even in your case, it would make sense to keep the P250 if you liked the action and just add on a small module...but you can't!

"For instance" is not proof.

 

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Originally posted by Cydonia:

Well, you may be right, since I'm not an expert in sampling, but here's what I can read in both manuals :

 

Pro-1 --> 16-bit floating point sample format, 7X oversampled with 20-bit sample accumulation, 17-bit D/A converters processed with pre/de-emphasis.

 

PC2XL --> 24-bit width digital audio output. I don't see how they could obtain a 24-bit width output out of 16-bit or even 20-bit samples. Also, Kurzweil probably still uses a similar technique today (oversampling, pre/de-emphasis, etc.) than in the time of the Pro-1. Unless there's something I don't understand clearly. :)

Assuming 'raw' sample playback, the samples aren't usually played at full output level, and also scaling/mixing causes rounding errors. They will also typically have pre- and de-emphasis, i.e., high frequency boost before being stored, yielding effectively higher resolution. Add synthesis into the equation, and then for example, filtering will add more information, and rounding errors result from the scaling due to envelopes.

 

Having said that, 24-bits in terms of the DAC is in a way marketing, because it's not going to achieve that much accuracy (for one thing the S/N ratio would have to be 144dB (!) to achieve 'true' 24-bit performance.)

 

OTOH 24-bit via digital outputs into a DAW etc. is advantageous, so all the processing is kept at higher resolution.

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Originally posted by analogman1:

HI Dave,

As I had said in the other thread, I really didn't see hear the differences as that drastic.

In fact, I would use the word "different" rather than "superior" in judging the 2 pianos.

The two sound quite different to me in the demos. I preferred the P250.

 

Originally posted by analogman1:

Just my .02 -- because frequently, when they get the piano sample to be "bigger, more authentic, etc." they take away some of the playability.Oh well...

Quite, and that's the most important thing. Also, while we talk about the sound when used solo, the truth is that most of the time a sampled piano's job (albeit, perhaps not with these 'stage pianos') to sit in a mix/arrangement with other stuff going on.

 

In a similar vein, I was listening to a demo of some drum samples earlier today and they sounded very 'big' and probably had lots of room ambience, but there is simply not room for anything else. I suppose the trouble is that a 'thin' and 'tight' sound that has lots of room for everything else makes for unimpressive demos.

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Originally posted by Dave Horne:

I've been very happy with Yamaha keyboards and if the CP300 is their best and latest stage piano I figure I can't be burned.

Another thing, as much important as the sound, are you 100% sure it has the same action as on your P250?
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.

 Find 600 of my jazz piano arrangements and tutorials for educational purposes at patreon.com/HarryLikas Harry was the Technical Editor of Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book" and helped develop "The Jazz Piano Book."

 

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This is why the wave of the future for digital pianos will probably be modeled pianos... modeling the piano would allow you to upgrade the sound and/or have far more user control of the adjustable parameters.

 

Speaking for myself I think that we are getting more demanding with our piano sound's accuracy. I know that ten years ago I was selling Kurzweil PC-88's, I owned one and I believed in them strongly. About a year ago I had a chance to play one again and I couldn't believe how poor it sounded and how terrible the action was. I wouldn't use one today with all the better alternatives. The PC-88 hasn't changed, I have.

 

FWIW I played a Yamaha CP300 two weeks ago and I didn't like it, which is not surprising since I didn't like the P250 either. But I'm totally in love with my $99 Reason Pianos. It's a strange time for pianos.

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Originally posted by Dave Horne:

These thoughts are not new ... and Nord allows you to update your piano sample. I have no intention of bringing along a laptop to a job ...

why don't you buy a Nord Stage then? :freak:

 

is nord piano worse then yamahas for you?

♫♫♫ motif XS6, RD700GX
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I've got to say, when I listen to the Yamaha digital pianos I hear a very familiar sound across the line. Some of these I've own and played extensively, others from banging in stores. Over the last few years I've heard three distinct piano sounds from Yamaha.

 

1) P series, "Full Grand" (Motif ES, S90ES), CP33/300. Recording of a Yamaha CFIIIS grand; little to no ambience--anechoic chamber.

 

2) S90/S90ES. Recording of a Yamaha S700 Grand; also little to no ambience-anechoic chamber.

 

3) PLG-AP. New recording of a Yamaha CFIIIS. More ambience and a darker overall tone.

 

My wild-ass guess is that with piano #1 in particular, Yamaha had a sampling session done, posssibly every note sampled at many velocity layers, 24-bit, etc. They can then go back to it at any time to create slightly different versions of it depending on amount of ROM space speced for the new instrument. This is similar to what Clavia did with the Rhodes. The person who did the original sampling of the Rhodes gave Clavia a set of samples recorded at over 30 velocity points. They created slightly different versions of these pianos for the Stage and the Electro.

 

Any one agree/disagree? Certainly there are some differences, but the vibe of these pianos feels the same to me.

 

Busch.

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Originally posted by delirium:

Originally posted by Dave Horne:

These thoughts are not new ... and Nord allows you to update your piano sample. I have no intention of bringing along a laptop to a job ...

why don't you buy a Nord Stage then? :freak:

 

is nord piano worse then yamahas for you?

I played the Nord Stage and did not like the action, but it had lots of buttons and lots of lights.

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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Originally posted by Dave Horne:

Cydonia, I'm sure I made that comment. I've been very happy with Yamaha keyboards and if the CP300 is their best and latest stage piano I figure I can't be burned.

 

Believe me, if I am unhappy with the CP300, you'll read about it.

I'd suggest that you keep the P250 until after you have received the CP300. At least then you can give them a side by side comparison. Just in case the CP300 isn't what you are looking for.

 

acctjm

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I've been taking my Nord Stage onto jazz gigs, and the piano works really well in the context of a band. The action is the biggest obstacle for me, but the piano sounds great through amps, the PA, whatever. Better than my Roland RD-700SX (especially in mono), and the difference between it and my Receptor running Ivory is not big enough to justify the extra carry in most cases.

 

In front of my ADAM studio monitors, I like the RD-700SX piano a bit better, and Ivory is fantastic. But no one gigs in front of studio monitors.

 

I played a P-250 and a CP-300 side-by-side, and the piano in the CP300 is definitely an improvement, especially the low-end phasey thing in the P-250. It's brighter, whether that's more realistic, or just too bright I'm not sure of. But I am certain that the difference between the two would probably not make me sell one to buy the other.

Current live rig: Roland RD700SX, Hammond XK-3 with Leslie System 21, and Muse Receptor. Also a Nord Stage 76 other times instead. And a Roland FP-7 for jazz gigs.

HOME: Kawai MP8 + a bunch of VI's.

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Zeke,

 

What speakers do you use live?

 

Busch,

 

Interesting analysis of Yamaha pianos. What are your thoughts on the Nord Stage pianos?

And what do think about the Roland piano samples?

 

J+

 Find 600 of my jazz piano arrangements and tutorials for educational purposes at patreon.com/HarryLikas Harry was the Technical Editor of Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book" and helped develop "The Jazz Piano Book."

 

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Usually I use one or two Mackie SRM-450's, sometimes a pair of EAW JF80z's. If it's a gig I have my XK-3 on, I'll sometimes just run the Stage or RD700SX (I use one or the other) through the Leslie 2121 stationary, but that doesn't sound as good for acoustic piano (although it's fine for Rhodes and Wurli and other things).

Current live rig: Roland RD700SX, Hammond XK-3 with Leslie System 21, and Muse Receptor. Also a Nord Stage 76 other times instead. And a Roland FP-7 for jazz gigs.

HOME: Kawai MP8 + a bunch of VI's.

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I thought there was confirmation that the Nord Stage pianos came from SampleTekk (http://www.sampletekk.com/). Per sold them the rights to use the Black (Steinway D) and White (Yamaha C7) and Rain Piano (upright). The full-scale White Grand has 32 velocity samples/note and the Black 48 samples/note. Similar situation of taking a large pool of samples (a 24-bit GigaPiano), editing and looping, creating new keymappings in order to fit in the memory specs of the Stage. My biggest issue with the Stage acoustic pianos is that the release samples are too loud for my taste. I wish they provided a version without release samples.

 

I've heard conflicting reports on the Roland pianos. From a Roland rep at NAMM I heard that the Ultimate-X (RD300SX, FantomX) is a Bosendorfer and the SRX-11/RD700SX is a Steinway (presumably D), which sounds about right to me. I believe both were done by Dan Blessinger (Martinsound).

 

Busch.

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