Does your system actually make a piano recording sound like a piano?

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mav52

Bösendorfer VC7.  An Austrian maker that also has been making pianos for 175 years..  While in Germany years ago, it was about as close to the sound of a piano as I have ever heard.

firedog

Can you name/list what you consider a good piano recording....this question goes for other members as well.

Here are a few:
Pictures at an Exhibition/Ginastera: Piano Sonata No. 1, Op. 22. Hyperion Knight, Wilson Records.
Iberia. Albeniz. Play Classics Truthful Master Series. Luis Grane, piano
Beethoven Piano Sonatas 8-11. Ronald Brautigam, BIS records. Period type piano.

None of these are "conventional" recordings, for various reasons.

nickd

Thanks S Clark,
That David Fung album is one of the better recordings I have heard. Sounds crazy real & dynamic.

I do not think most audiophiles have ever heard what is on that recording. Most systems can't do dynamics like that and stay true to realistic tone / timber. 

As good as the big Maggie's are (and I am a huge fan of what they do very well), they can't hit you in the gut with the dynamics that are on that album. Even with 1000 watt monos.


Wind Chaser

Magneplanars have always been dynamically challenged, that is one of the bigger reasons why many people eventually move on after the novelty of a panel wears off.

Mag

I like having that punched in the gut feeling. 8)

Mike in NC

One of the issues with how recorded piano sounds is that a piano is not 20 feet wide. Most recordings are made with several mics covering the soundboard, and after mixing, the result is a piano far larger than life. Usually the recording is brighter, too, since it's made far, far closer than any of us listen to a piano.

Russell Dawkins

I've never heard a system reproduce piano in a totally convincing way, such that it sounds like a real piano, even from the next room.

I have been pursuing this for 45 years now, both in my speaker designs in the 70s and for the last 30 years as a recordist.

When I started recording seriously, in around 1987, I was using near state of the art microphones, cables, microphone preamp (chosen, in fact, for its performance with piano sources) and A/D converters—first the built in converter in the Sony PCM F-1, the the first Apogee on the market, the AD500—a $5000 stereo 16/44 converter.

Hearing playback was always a sobering letdown and got me to thinking about what the issue was; how could it be so different from the real thing?

At the time I was using Tannoy PBM 6.5 monitors—very good for the size, price and time (1968or9). I went from those to B&W 610s, I think, then B&W 805s, but didn't trust the bass rendering, then Harbeth HLP3s with Hsu 10" subs, but could never get them to meld. Finally in 1995 got some 1977 vintage Tannoy Ardens to pair with the subs—now I was getting somewhere. Even though they were about 91 dB/W sensitive they sounded distinctly better when I duplicated my 80 W Sugden amplifiers to vertically bi-amp them. Now the sound I was getting had some resemblance to the real thing, whether it was solo piano or orchestra or 200 voice choir.

This experience showed me that, efficient though the Tannoys were, they could have benefited from much more power than I would have guessed was useful.

Incidentally, from the Tannoys I took a series of downward steps, it seems, in the pursuit of a more refined treble sound (the Tannoys were a little coarse through much of the high frequency realm). I went from SP Technologies Timepieces to Klein + Hummel o300s to what I have nowYamaha NS-1000s, driven by a Yamaha B-2 amplifier, used in the midfield; about 6 feet from my listening chair.

At this point, my thought is that generally what is missing in the various attempts to reproduce piano, apart from the obvious (and common) gross errors in tonality is dynamic capability. The 'forte' part of pianoforte should not be taken lightly, nor should the need for about 20 dB more headroom than many texts suggest you need for realistic playback.

So, my conclusion is (and this is a guess, since I cannot afford the equipment this would require) that what is needed if you are to have a hope of fooling anyone with your piano replay is some variation of these criteria:
1. an amplifier capable of an honest 1000 W into 8Ω
2. a speaker capable of absorbing 1000 W without thermal compression of more than 1 dB in the process as well as having a sensitivity of at least 97 dB/W/M
3. said speaker system having accurate tonality and excellent impulse response through the range of 30 Hz—10 kHz, preferably 20 Hz—20 kHz and, if money were no object, 10 Hz—40 kHz.

The object of all this is a playback system with the capability of hitting 125 dB cleanly on peaks at the same time as having the refinement of, say, a Janszen or Sanders electrostat.

Is this too much to ask?

I intend to find out, but it will have to be by DIY in my retirement years. I am thinking the midrange would have to be covered by a horn, like one of the BD variety:
http://www.bd-design.nl/contents/en-us/d83.html or something like the Geddes designs, possibly, but I think I want the horn to cover more of the lower midrange. Adequate bass potential would be needed; I'm thinking something like an 18 and a 15 per side, perhaps dipole, perhaps infinite baffle (built across corners).

As to recordings representing piano accurately— I believe I already have those, and I recorded them.

One example can be found here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kLBAWutvdw

This is the theme to the movie "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", played by Paul Cantelon on a nice Steinway in the Recital Hall at the University of Victoria. I recorded that about 10 years ago

It, like the other 2 CDs I recorded for Paul, was recorded in the purest Blumlein way, with the microphone (a stereo ribbon, the Royer SF-12) in exactly the same position every time—I say 'purest' because it is my feeling that Blumlein is best done with ribbon microphones, not circular diaphragm condensers as is the norm. If you take the trouble to listen to this or his other recordings with the speakers positioned as they should for Blumlein recordings—±45º off your frontal axis, not less, and in a configuration which is capable of yielding a very tight central mono image (I mean tight like coming from a vertical slit in the centre)—you will be treated to possibly your first ever experience of realistic imaging in piano reproduction.

When I was working in a high end home hi-fi shop 25 years ago and played my first recording of Paul (done the same way) on a meticulously set up pair of Martin Logans with YBA amplification, listening to the master tape raw, with no manipulation, I was thrilled to realize I had accomplished my goal. The piano image was completely detached from the speakers, hovering life-size between and behind. The effect was genuinely like the speakers were not even playing—there was no sense of anything coming from them.

That experience showed me that, since then, whenever I play that recording and it is not convincing, I don't have to wonder if it might be the recording at fault, I know it is the playback system.

It's handy.

Some other recordings done the same way:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NinR6PfVDHI
http://royerlabs.com/sf-12-3/   (scroll down)

timind

My experience tells me when you hear a piano live, you are hearing the room as well as the piano. The room has to be on the recording, and your system has to be able to reproduce that ambiance in order for you to hear a piano sound like a piano. I think my system does a very good job, but I can't say I've ever been fooled into thinking I'm hearing a real piano.

rollo

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  No system can reproduce a live piano as a live piano. Close possible ? Absolutely yes. As long as I hear the timbre and harmonic of the note along with the hall emotional impact is had. Weight as well is an important part of the reproduction.
Used Rethm Saadhanas speakers[ 102db] with a Qualiton A20i integrated fronted by AQUA Formula DAC and Vida transport to achieve that. Even with my Fritz Carrera speakers plenty of emotional impact with piano.


charles

Wind Chaser

When I was practicing daily and playing, I had no problem picking out house sounds of Baldwin, Mason Hamlin, Steinway, Chickering, etc.

How many people here can honestly say that? And if you can't make that distinction, do you really know what any given piano sounds like? All pianos sound different. So if you don't know what a particular piano sounds like, and you don't know for sure if you have a perfect recording as such, then you really don't have a point of reference - do you? So when it comes to answering the question in this thread, it seems rather obvious that there is a disparity between what many of us think we know, and what we actually know.

rollo

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How many people here can honestly say that? And if you can't make that distinction, do you really know what any given piano sounds like? All pianos sound different. So if you don't know what a particular piano sounds like, and you don't know for sure if you have a perfect recording as such, then you really don't have a point of reference - do you? So when it comes to answering the question in this thread, it seems rather obvious that there is a disparity between what many of us think we know, and what we actually know.
 
 For lucky me my neighbor owns and plays a Steinway. Very familiar with that live sound.


charles

Mike in NC

[...]
So, my conclusion is (and this is a guess, since I cannot afford the equipment this would require) that what is needed if you are to have a hope of fooling anyone with your piano replay is some variation of these criteria:
1. an amplifier capable of an honest 1000 W into 8Ω
2. a speaker capable of absorbing 1000 W without thermal compression of more than 1 dB in the process as well as having a sensitivity of at least 97 dB/W/M
3. said speaker system having accurate tonality and excellent impulse response through the range of 30 Hz—10 kHz, preferably 20 Hz—20 kHz and, if money were no object, 10 Hz—40 kHz.

The object of all this is a playback system with the capability of hitting 125 dB cleanly on peaks at the same time as having the refinement of, say, a Janszen or Sanders electrostat.

Is this too much to ask?

[...]

It, like the other 2 CDs I recorded for Paul, was recorded in the purest Blumlein way, with the microphone (a stereo ribbon, the Royer SF-12) in exactly the same position every time—I say 'purest' because it is my feeling that Blumlein is best done with ribbon microphones, not circular diaphragm condensers as is the norm. [...]


Some very interesting points in your post. I've extracted the two that I have some experience with. Regarding power, I owned a Bryston 14B SST -- rated 600 wpc at 8 ohms, 900 at 4, and capable of more. The sense of ease and dynamics from that amp was really wonderful. When I fell in love with the Janszen 2.1s, I sold the amp and got one that couldn't burn out the speakers. As much as I love the Janszens, I would love even more an equally refined speaker that could handle larger peaks. I agree that it's likely a limiting factor in realistic reproduction. I seem to remember that in the 1970s this point was raised by Bob Carver and others and there was a rash of high-powered amps on the market.

Regarding recording, I've read enough booklets of CDs -- and done enough experiments with recording -- and read enough mic spec sheets -- to believe that uncolored microphones are rare, and that Royer ribbons are some of the least colored, and to know that uncolored is what I want. (If I had $2700 lying around, I'd buy an SF-12, but I'm retired, too, and recording is a hobby.) I've also experienced that Blumlein recordings are often the most coherent, even when I haven't moved to the right position.

Moving position seems somewhat problematic in a room with EQ controlling strong bass nodes, but I should try it anyway, even if it throws the EQ off.

Do you have a discography available?


witchdoctor

I have a piano in my house. I don't think there is anything in the world that would ever get me to the point that I couldn't tell if it was my piano or a stereo system in a blind test.

That being said I think you get much closer to the sound of a live piano using an immersive audio system like auro 3D or ambeo than you will with 2 channel stereo.

SFDude

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My son plays the piano at home (an upright Yamaha) and his teacher uses a Steinway grand piano in his home. I don't think there has been one system capable of recreating the illusion of any piano in my mind. The piano's dynamics and harmonics are tied directly to the room it's in and it's hard to record that with all the spatiality that comes with it. The Steinway is in a smaller living room so it sounds different than our upright which is in a fairly large room and quite a bit more "open".

Current system isn't fooling anyone or maybe I need a new system. :)

Odal3

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Agreed with most of the comments - piano is tough to reproduce - especially if the score uses the full range from the bottom to top octave, and silent to loud. But that also makes it a great reference when comparing systems!

At last year's Axpona, they had someone play the piano in one of the corridors. Far from an acoustically good room (but neither are the hotel rooms) but when I had a chance I kind of used that to rebase my reference point when listening to different systems. Kind of how some people smell some coffee beans or similar when trying out perfume fragrances.  :D

Another challenge is that it sounds different when I'm sitting and playing the piano myself vs hearing someone else playing it - and that is before taking into consideration the different sounds from different piano brands, sizes, placements, etc. as someone mentioned.

For scores/songs with middle of the range tones (so ignoring the lows and the really high notes), I have had good experience with speakers that have more of an omni radiation pattern as long as the room is big. One example is large DML speakers that vibrates in a similar fashion as the piano soundboard.

Odal3

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Almost forgot - thanks Russel for sharing your recording experience and links to your work! I always learn something new!!

firedog - thanks for sharing the examples of good recordings. Please share more :-)