Digital Piano Shootout

 

 

 

 

As of August 19, 2001, I've removed my personal observations regarding the pianos. Because of time constraints I've not been able to keep up with these reviews.  And, increasingly pianos have been added which were recorded by other individuals.  Many of my observations had been based on having personally played the pianos, giving advantages/disadvantages to those instruments.  In the end you are the judge and it's your ears that are important, not mine.

Many people have emailed asking as to which piano has received the most votes in the shootout.  I have not posted the results, again because of fairness.  I made very positive comments regarding the Steinway B for GigaSampler.  These undoubtedly influenced many votes.  Yes, the Steinway B for GigaSampler has garnered the most votes, but it has been on the site since the beginning.  Many fine examples have been added since.  I will still capture your votes in my database.  I am looking into voting software that will automatically record and post results. 

There probably isn't one piano that is best for all types of music.  While I personally use the Steinway B for GigaSampler most frequently in my music, that doesn't mean that it is best for your music.  Having several quite different sounding instruments in your arsenal might be the best approach--an advantage for sampler users who can simply load a new piano from CD-ROM.  

Note, new files have been added.
(11/27/2001) Added Wizzo - The Grand 
(11/27/2001) Added Roland RD700
(11/272001) Added Kurzweil PC2R
(11/272001) Added Korg OASYS
(11/272001) Added GEM RealPiano Pro2 with updated EPROM - 192Kbps
(8/13/2001) Added Patchman MegaPiano (Unity) and Patchman MegaPiano (Akai)
(8/13/2001) Added Back in Time - Schimmel CO 256 
(8/13/2001) Added Sweetwater Ultimate Grand - Yamaha
(8/13/2001) Updated Post Pristine Steinway D released version  
(7/29/2001) Added Ensoniq ZR-76
(7/29/2001) Added Yamaha GrandTouch.
(6/25/2001) Added KeySolutions 192Kbps.
(4/8/2001) GEM RealPiano Pro2 with the updated EPROM has been added.
(4/7/2001) Several people requested 192Kbps versions of the files.  Nearly all pianos are now available at 128Kbps and 192Kbps.  In the future only 192Kbps will be provided.
(4/7/2001) The GEM RealPiano PRO2 has been added.
(4/7/2001) The Yamaha P80 piano has been updated.  The recording is now in stereo as it should be.
(4/7/2001) mda Pianos-Default and Concert have been added.  These are VSTi
(3/24/2001) The Kawai MP9000 has been updated - see below.  
(3/23/2001) The Holy Grail Piano has been updated - see below.  The MIDI file is now available for download.
(2/5/2001) Bitheadz Black & White and Q Up Arts The Holy Grail Piano are now available.

Overview

The debate over the best digital piano has been raging for years.  Everyone has his or her favorite and every manufacturer claims to have the most realistic piano to date.  This page is not designed to end the discussion, rather to give users a chance to compare these instruments, apples-to-apples.  

Creation of the MP3s

I created the MIDI file that generates these MP3s specifically to expose some of the common shortcomings found in the current crop of digital piano emulations.  Manufacturers' demos typically showcase the instrument with a dazzlingly piece of perfectly executed (read: quantized) music that magnifies the strengths while hiding the flaws.  The MIDI file contains two short segments.  It was recorded in Digital Performer and played on a Roland XV-88 weighted action keyboard.  The segments are similar in that they make extensive use of the sustain pedal and contain a fair amount dynamic expressiveness.  Most digital pianos can sound anywhere from good to great hidden in a mix.  It's when they're played in a solo environment that issues arise.  I suggest you listen to the recording of the acoustic instrument first in order to get an idea of what the music sounds on a real piano.

All of the examples were recorded in stereo and were triggered by the same MIDI file.  The pianos were each recorded into the Emu PARIS DAW system. Here they were normalized and a touch of reverb (t.c. electronic M3000) added equally to all.  (Note: if you're hearing more "reverb" in the GigaSampler pianos this is a result of the pedal down samples being engaged.  Also, some of the samples capture more of the instrument case and string resonance, then do others).  Finally the WAV files were converted to 128Kbps MP3 files.

MIDI File

The MIDI file is now available for download (do a save as...).  In your sequencer, make sure the tempo is at 120bpm.  Compare your piano with some of the MP3s at the site to ensure that the tempo is the same.  If you have a piano that you'd like to see included, please contact purgatorycreek@attbi.com

Sample Library Differences

Sampling = compromise.  The idea is to record audio snapshots of a real instrument and to lay them out in such a way that they closely resemble the original.  The problem is, RAM-based samplers have a finite amount of memory.  Sound designers know that the larger they make their instruments, the fewer number of potential customers they'll have.  Hence most of them go to great lengths to minimize the RAM required.  This results in a compromises in the final instrument as a result of employing such techniques as: looping, single notes stretched across a range of notes, single velocity key-strikes captured, etc.

For example, interpolation noise occurs when you stretch a sample across several notes (a common technique in RAM-based sound design).  Stretching also causes other unavoidable altering of the original sound, e.g. the body resonance of the instrument isn't constant--it changes up and down in pitch relative to the stretch.  Overtones, as well, are not constant.  Looping alters the natural changing harmonics of the instrument's decay.  Looping can also introduce very audible artifacts if it's less than perfectly executed.  Nuances, such as pedal down samples in the case of pianos, are typically found only in GigaSampler instruments.  Granted, some of these compromises don't impact the sound significantly when you listen to the instrument in the context of a performance, but as you audition each note by itself these often become very apparent.  

The huge advantage of GigaSampler/GigaStudio is that sound designers can build instruments without being overly concerned with the amount of memory the instrument will require. 

Listening Suggestions

A few questions to ask while listening to the MP3s of the digital pianos:

Do you have a sense that this is a real, acoustic instrument?  Can you picture someone actually playing these pieces?   Or, is there something about the sound that destroys the illusion?
Is the emotion of the playing captured?  Or does the music come across as emotionally monochrome?
Is there a clear distinction in dynamics between the playing beginning at :13 seconds and that beginning at :20 seconds?  Are the transitions between soft and loud smooth?
A full-size grand piano is a very powerful instrument.  Does the opening run sound powerful? 
Is the instrument balanced?  Or, for example, does the bass overpower the mid-range?  
Is the instrument too bright?  Or, too muted?
Does it feel "in your face?"  Or, do you sense that you're in the room?
Does the character of the piano come through?  Can you tell that it's a Steinway, or Bosendorfer, or Yamaha?

If you have questions/comments regarding the comparison, shoot us an email at purgatorycreek@attbi.com

 

When you're all done listening, vote for your favorite:

 

The Real Thing  - Steinway B

The recording is of a new Steinway B.  I used a pair of  Neumann KM184 microphones, into a Presonus MP20 premap, then into PARIS.  The instrument was close mic-ed.  Even though it might sound like a fairly large room, it is in fact relatively dead and small. This example is different from the others as I had to approximate on the acoustic instrument the way I played the MIDI recording (note: the live recording is not quite as expressive as the MIDI recording). Though the piano was tuned approximately one month ago, it is clearly in need of tuning.  I think it's helpful to hear the "real thing" next to these digital emulations.

East West Steinway B for GigaSampler

Every note was sampled in 6 stereo velocities, 3 with the pedal up, and 3 with the pedal down. 528 stereo samples were recorded in total, without any looping (up to 2 minute decays).

Size: 1.6 GB

 

East West Bosendorfer for GigaSampler

A 1995 Bosendorfer 275 (9 foot 1 inch) Concert Grand.  Eight stereo velocities, four with pedal up and four with pedal down.

Size: 1.8 GB

Note: Originally this piano was listed has having all notes sampled.  This is incorrect.  71 notes sampled.

Nemesys GigaPiano

Over a gigabyte of rich, stereo samples result in the one most realistic sampled grand piano available anywhere. GigaPiano encompasses multiple velocities, rich soundboard resonance for damped staccato, as well as undamped pedal down samples for unparalleled playability. Recorded by Grammy-winning engineer, Larry Seyer.

Size: 1 GB

Note: Originally this piano was listed has having all notes sampled.  This is incorrect.  31 notes sampled.

Trachtman-C 5-Layer Grand Piano GigaInstrument

Five recorded velocity-strike sample layers for each note of the 7 foot, 5 inch Steinway C were recorded.  

Size: 1 GB

 

Trachtman-C 8-Layer Grand Piano GigaInstrument

In addition to the 8 recorded velocity-strike sample layers for each note (4 pedal-up and 4 pedal-down), the 8-layer Trachtman-C piano uses the built-in filtering capabilities of the Gigasampler to create additional intermediate pseudo-layers to smooth out the timbre variations between the recorded layers for superior dynamic realism.

Size: 1.9 GB

 

Post Pristine Piano - GigaSampler

The Amsterdam Concertgebouw Steinway D Piano was sampled 8 times per key! 4 with, 4 without pedal.  The finest microphones were used and mastered on 24bit master recorder using finest AD converters. Two new options were implemented: a staccato harmonic distortion upon quick key release, and a damper sounds upon slow key release.

Size: 1.0 GB

Note: Originally this piano was listed has having all notes sampled.  This is incorrect.  52 notes sampled.

 

Malmsj� Piano (Acoustic) - GigaSampler

The Malmsj� Piano Factory in Gothenburg, Sweden, was established in 1843. Malmsj� became the leading piano manufacturer in Sweden and produced pianos of excellent quality and beauty.  Inexpensive pianos from East Germany increased the competition in the 1960's. The factory closed down around 1970.

This sample is made entirely from "sustained" samples. There are no samples with the sustain pedal up, and there are no release samples. Four velocity strike points.

Size: 1.85 GB

 

Malmsj� Piano (Rock) - GigaSampler

Malmsj� Rock Grand preset, where the loudest velocity layer has been EQ'd to give a little more "bite".  It is suitable for blues, boogie woogie, etc.

Size: 1.85 GB

 

VRSound (Vienna Player) - GigaSampler

Vienna Player preset.  Boesendorfer 9 foot grand in one of three recording positions.

Size: ~48 MB

Note: if you downloaded this MP3 prior to 1:30 pm PST, 1/15/2001 it was a mono file.  The new file is stereo, which greatly enhances the 3D effect.

VRSound (Vienna Room) - GigaSampler

Vienna Room preset.  Boesendorfer 9 foot grand in one of three recording positions.

Size: ~48 MB

Note: if you downloaded this MP3 prior to 1:30 pm PST, 1/15/2001 it was a mono file.  The new file is stereo, which greatly enhances the 3D effect.

VRSound (Vienna Sustain) - GigaSampler

Vienna Sustain preset.  Boesendorfer 9 foot grand pedal down samples.

Size: ~48 MB

 

VRSound (Tokyo Player) - GigaSampler

Tokyo Player preset.  Yamaha G7 grand piano.

Size: ~48 MB

Note: if you downloaded this MP3 prior to 1:30 pm PST, 1/15/2001 it was a mono file.  The new file is stereo, which greatly enhances the 3D effect.

The Holy Grail Grand Piano (Platinum preset) - GigaSampler

Kawai GS50 6' 9" Grand Piano

Size: 384 MB

Note: If you downloaded this file prior to 8:45 am PST, 3/23/2001, the file had excessive noise and does not give an accurate representation of the piano.  The new file is named Holy Grail Piano 2.mp3.

Also be aware that the Holy Grail Piano includes a lot of nice nuances that aren't exposed in this MIDI file.  It is an excellent, full featured sampled piano.

 Black & Whites (Steinway B mp-ff Stereo preset)

Steinway B

Size: 40.6MB

 

 Black & Whites (Steinway D Multi Stereo preset)

Steinway D

Size: 45.3MB

 

 (New) Wizoo - The Grand 

 

Size: unknown

no loops, no compromises
authentic sostenuto pedal action with real re-pedaling resonance
authentic-sounding damper and hammer action
intelligent VSTi Engine
freely editable velocity curves, easily and swiftly adaptable to every keyboard
four master timbres: Natural, Soft, Bright, Hard
Integrated, variable room simulation (Ambience)
Tempered and grand concert piano tuning
Note: The Ultimate Pianos were re-posted on 2/5/2001.  They were re-done using an Akai S3000XL sampler (the native format of the library).  The previous versions were Akai programs brought into a Kurzweil sampler.  The reason for the change is that when this particular library is imported into the Kurzweil, the releases are truncated and not quite accurate.  The advantage is that now the MP3 is accurate but, because the Akai S3000XL has only 32 voices of polyphony, voice stealing is very apparent.   The original Kurzweil version of the Akai programs is available at the bottom of each listing.

The Ultimate Piano Collection - Fazioli F228 (Akai)



(Kurzweil)


Only the LOUD samples of the Fazioli F228 (7 foot, 6 inch) were recorded.

Size: 32 MB

 

The Ultimate Piano Collection - B�sendorfer 225 (Akai)



(Kurzweil)

Only the LOUD samples of the  Bosendorfer 225 (7 foot, 4 inch) were recorded.

Size: 32 MB

 

The Ultimate Piano Collection - Steinway C (Akai)


(Kurzweil)

Only the LOUD samples of the Steinway C (7 foot, 5 inch) were recorded.

Size: 32 MB

 

The Ultimate Piano Collection - Steinway D (Akai)


(Kurzweil)


Only the LOUD samples of the Steinway D (9 foot) were recorded.

Size: 32 MB

 

William Coakley Perfect Piano Steinway D 16MB (Kurzweil)

Steinway D 9' Concert Grand.

Size: 16 MB

 

William Coakley Perfect Piano Kawai 16MB (Kurzweil)

Kawai grand piano. 

Size: 16 MB

 

William Coakley Perfect Piano Fazioli 32MB (PL preset)

The 32 Meg Fazioli Concert Grand (the longest piano in production!) including special application variations of the Fazioli

 

William Coakley Perfect Piano Fazioli 32MB (PL2a preset)

Same as above

 

KeySolutions Vol. 1 Steinway D (Kurzweil)

Steinway D sample.

Size: 64 MB

Thanks to Bart Garratt for help the original upload and Mike Martin at Kurzweil for the later MP3s.

Yamaha GrandTouch GT2

Yamaha C7 sample.

Size: 30 MB

Thanks to Diarmuid for help on this.

Ensoniq ZR-76 Coakley

Steinway D sample.

Size: unknown

Thanks to John Bair for help on this.

Notes from John: I recorded using Sonar and Layla24 at 24/44.1K and exported a 24-bit wav file.  I converted the wav file to 16 bit using Sound Forge and created the MP3 file using Lame at 128K stereo. I did not boost the levels, add reverb or otherwise change the sound when recording.

Patchman Music MegaPiano - Unity DS-1


Steinway grand piano sample.

Size: 235MB

This pianos is approximately 235MBs.  I has three velocity levels and contains no loops.  The samples are of every other half step throughout the full range of the piano.  The Unity version does not have release samples because of limitations in Unity.

Patchman Music MegaPiano - Akai S5000/S6000


Steinway grand piano sample.

Size: 240MB

This pianos is approximately 240MBs.  I has three velocity levels and contains no loops.  The samples are of every other half step throughout the full range of the piano.  The Akai version does include release samples.

Back in Time - Grand Piano Akai

Schimmel CO 256 8'4" Grand Piano sample.

Size: ~32MB

Used the All Versions (Stereo) Part 1-5 complete for this recorded (recommended by the publisher).

With a length of 2.56m/8' 4", the size of the CO 256 Concert Orchestra, this series has established a new size category in German grand-piano manufacturing.  Shorter than classical grands, this series offers a well-thought-out alternative to the many models in the lengths 2.40m/7'10" on the market.

 

Sweetwater's Ultimate Grand Piano "Yamaha"- Kurzweil

Yamaha grand piano sample.

Size: 16MB

Thanks to Larry Primas for help on this.

K2000 Sample Library "Grand Piano" CD ROM Collection

Yamaha CD Stereo Grand (Triple Strike) 16Mb
A stereo shap edged triple-strike piano that works great live and in the
studio.  Includes stereo hammer strikes that get mixed in using the Setup Mode for added power.

Ultimate Grand Setups
The larger Piano files have a Stereo Hammer Knock samples that blended with the Piano in the Setup Mode.  This give a higher degree of realism.  When in Setup Mode, the knock volume is adjusted by moving the Data Slider (CC#6).

Roland SRX-02 Concert Piano (Premier Grand Preset)

The SRX-02 Concert Piano expansion board dedicates its entire 64MB* of wave memory to one purpose -- reproducing the most exquisite stereo-sampled piano sound ever. In fact, all samples were taken from a single, extremely rare and elegant European piano to faithfully preserve its delicate sound. 

Size: 64 MB

 

Roland SRX-02 Concert Piano (DynamicGrand Preset)

Same as above.

 

Roland Session Card "St.Concert"

Roland's premier piano sample prior to the 64MB SRX-02.

Size: unknown

 

Roland JV/XV series "Nice Piano"

One of the original stock pianos from the JV/XV series synthesizers from Roland.

Size: unknown

 

(New) Roland RD700 "Dynamic Pno1"

Dynamic Pno1 preset

Size: unknown

 

(New) Roland RD700 "St.Concert 1"

St.Concert 1 preset

Size: unknown

 

Korg Triton "Acoustic Piano"

Stock piano from the Korg Triton.

Size: unknown

 

Korg Triton "Concert Grand"

Piano from the EXB-PCM01 Pianos/Classic Keyboards Expansion Board.

Size: unknown

 

Korg SP100

Inexpensive stage piano from Korg.

Size: unknown

 

Korg N1 - St. Piano

(01:St. Piano) preset from the Korg N1 synthesizer.

Size: unknown

 

(New) Korg OASYS - St. Grand

(St. Grand) preset from the Korg OASYS synthesizer.

Size: unknown

 

  Kawai MP9000

Preset: Concert Grand. (no effects at all)

Size: unknown

Thanks to Greg Sullivan for recording his MP9000.  He provided the following notes: 

Normal" (unbalanced) line outs into M-Audio Delta 66 soundcard.  Delta 66 inputs set to "consumer" line level.  Volume control of MP9000 reduced gradually down from max until there was no clipping in the recording. (set to about 75%)

The sympathetic resonance effect appears to be simply a reverb type of effect, so I decided
*not* to use it for this demonstration. 

Alesis QS8.1 "True Stereo"

Standard stereo piano from the QS series synthesizers

Size: unknown

 

Alesis QS8.1 "Titanium 88"

Another example of the stereo piano from the QS series synthesizers

Size: unknown

 

Kurzweil K2600 (preset: 770 Concert Piano 2)

Standard piano in the Kurzweil K2600 series.  Can be added as optional ROM in the K2500 series.

Size: 4MB

 

Kurzweil SP88 - Grand Piano 1

Budget Controller from Kurzweil.  Grand Piano 1 preset.

Size: unknown

 

(New) Kurzweil PC2R - Classic Grand

Classic Grand preset.

Size: unknown

 

(New) Kurzweil PC2R - Concert Grand

Concert Grand preset.

Size: unknown

 

(New) Kurzweil PC2R - Stereo Grand

Stereo Grand preset.

Size: unknown

 

(New) Kurzweil PC2R - Warm Grand

Warm Grand preset.

Size: unknown

 

Yamaha S80 - Stereo Grand

Built-in stereo grand from the Yamaha S80 (S30) keyboard.  Preset A01 StereoGnd.

Size: unknown

 

Yamaha S80 - PLG150PF Plug-in Piano Board

(StGndSt) Preset from the PLG150PF plug-in piano board. 

Size: unknown

 

Yamaha S80 - PLG150PF Plug-in Piano Board

(StRichSt) preset from the PLG150PF plug-in piano board. 

Size: unknown

 

Yamaha P80 - Grand Piano

Built-in Grand Piano preset from the Yamaha P80 keyboard

Size: unknown

Note: This piano was originally recorded in mono.  Several P80 owners pointed out the mistake.  The piano is  in fact in stereo.  Special thanks to Louis van Gool for recording a stereo version of the P80.

 

Yamaha Clavinova PF-100

Piano 1 sample.

Size: unknown

Thanks to Bart Garratt for help on this.

Apple QuickTime

Size: unknown

 

GEM RealPiano PRO2

Performance 1: "Grand Piano" with the
"Stage" reverb preset selected.

Size: unknown

* Special thanks to Kay Streubel for recording his piano.  The following reocrding notes were provided: volume is about 75% to prevent clipping. The recording has been made with a Turtle Beach Montego I and Cubase VST5 R1. My Pro2 has not yet been equipped with the new eprom (see Nick Fogwall's site).

GEM RealPiano PRO2 (updated EPROM)

Size: unknown

* Special thanks to Niclas Fogwall for providing a recording of the GEM RealPiano Pro2 with the updated EPROM.  

* As Niclas points out, the GEM Piano, while not having pedal down samples does include sympathetic resonance modeling.

192Kbps MPG3 provided by Rob van Heelsbergen.

mda Piano VSTi (Default)

Default preset.

Size: unknown


 

mda Piano VSTi (Concert Piano)

Concert Piano preset.

Size: unknown



 

All music found within � Copyright 2000, Purgatory Creek Publishing. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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