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The Definitive Piano Buying Guide for
Disklaviers are Yamaha (and now Bösendorfer) pianos that have been outfitted with an electronic player-piano system. These mechanisms are installed only in new Yamahas and the Bösendorfer model 200, and only at the Yamaha and Bösendorfer factories. They cannot be retrofitted into older Yamahas or any other brand.
Disklavier differs from most aftermarket systems in that Disklavier is not modular. Whatever Disklavier features come with a particular model of piano are what you get (although software upgrades are possible). The sophistication of the key, hammer, and pedal sensing also varies, depending on which Disklavier version is associated with that particular piano model. For a number of years, the E3 has been the standard Disklavier version in the U.S. In 2016, it was replaced by the Enspire. However, many instruments with the E3 system are still on dealers' showroom floors.
The Enspire is available in the larger Yamaha upright models and in nearly all of the grand models, and is offered in three system variations: CL, ST, and PRO. The CL (Classic) is a playback-only system that omits the recording and Silent System functions found in the ST and PRO, and is offered only in the entry-level grand model GB1K, and only in select markets.
ST (Standard) systems are included in upright Disklaviers and in most grands under 6'. These systems have a noncontact optical sensing system featuring continuous grayscale shutters for each key, and window-style shutters on each hammer (grands only). Optical sensors are also used for the damper, soft, and sostenuto pedals. This sensor system allows users to capture their own performances in standard MIDI format. In addition, a built-in Silent System allows users to silence the acoustic-piano sound and, through headphones, access the instrument's digital sounds, which include binaurally captured samples of a CFX concert grand. A patented DSP servo-drive system monitors and controls key and pedal movements in real time to automatically compensate for environmental changes, or any other movement that doesn't correlate with performance data.
PRO systems, found in all grands over 6', are high-resolution systems that, in addition to the optical sensors mentioned in regard to the ST system, incorporate continuous grayscale shutters on each hammer to measure their speed and position. The additional sensors allow for even greater recording and performance accuracy: 1,024 levels of key and hammer velocity and 256 increments of pedal position. Enspire PRO systems also use an advanced DSP servo-drive system, called AccuPlay, to monitor and adjust performance reproduction.
Unlike the E3 system, the Enspire doesn't have a control-box style user interface, relying instead on a discreet control panel nearly invisible to the user. However, all functions and features can also be accessed and controlled by any compatible HTML5 browser; Yamaha recommends using an Apple iOS or Android device.
Enspire comes with 500 built-in songs, many of them in Yamaha's PianoSoft Audio format, which features stereo audio recordings that play in sync with piano performances. Users also have access to over 6,000 additional titles for purchase through the Yamaha MusicSoft online store, directly accessible through the instrument's user interface.
Yamaha also offers Internet streaming services for the Disklavier Enspire, including Disklavier Radio, which provides over 30 channels of streaming piano music 24 hours a day; and DisklavierTV, a video streaming service that allows users to view live and on-demand musical performances that play in sync with their piano.
Additional Enspire features include:
Online readers: For information about the E3 Disklavier, still on dealers' showroom floors, click here.
For simple playback, most player-piano systems now on the market are probably equally recommended. The Disklavier, however, has a slight edge in reliability, and its recording system is more sophisticated than most of the others', especially in the larger grands. For this reason, it is often the system of choice for professional applications such as performance and teaching, and much of Yamaha's marketing efforts are directed at that audience.
Two examples are especially noteworthy. Yamaha supports the Minnesota International e-Competition, in which contestants gather in several cities and play Disklavier concert grands. Their performances are recorded using Video Sync, then sent to judges in another location, who, rather than listen to recordings, watch and listen to the music reproduced perfectly on other Disklavier pianos.
A similar concept is a technology called Remote Lesson, which debuted in spring 2010 after years of development and testing. A student takes a lesson on one Disklavier while a teacher located far away teaches and critiques on a second Disklavier connected via the Internet, student and teacher communicating with each other in real time via videoconferencing. Initially, this feature will be made available only to selected universities and at additional cost. Details and timing regarding availability of this feature to individuals is still under discussion.
Yamaha's latest Disklavier offering is Disklavier TV, which uses RemoteLive technology. Disklavier TV makes it possible for Mark IV, E3, or Enspire Disklavier owners to receive video, audio, and piano data in perfect sync, so they can receive concerts in their home with their Disklavier playing the piano part in sync with the rest of the concert. During the 2013 NAMM trade show, Yamaha used this technology to hold a major concert in which Elton John was broadcast live, playing Disklavier pianos in many different countries simultaneously, in perfect sync with program audio and video.
Yamaha maintains a large and growing library of music for the Disklavier, including piano solo, piano with recorded "live" accompaniment, piano with digital instrumental accompaniment, and PianoSmart arrangements. The system will also play standard MIDI files types 0 and 1.