At Home On Stage

Professional Stage Pianos Come Home
At Home On Stage

Alden Skinner

THE STAGE PIANO has been the professional's workhorse since the advent of the digital piano. It ensures that there will be a playable instrument wherever the performance takes place, and absorbs the rigors of constant moves. Increasingly, however, the stage piano is finding another home--at home.

If you make some or all of your living playing music and need to move your instrument frequently, a stage piano is a necessity. But even if you're not a professional musician, there are situations in which you may want to consider a stage piano. For example, if you care more about tone and action than about furniture styling, and your budget won't accommodate both, a stage piano may be the answer. If you plan to use your digital piano as a MIDI controller, professional stage pianos offer extensive control over MIDI functions and tend to have more of their MIDI controls right on the front panel.

Here we'll look at the stage piano as an option for home use. Stage pianos have tremendous capabilities--far more than the average home user would need, and far more than can be described here. So in this article, we'll look specifically at those few functions in which a home user might be most interested: piano tone, tone control, settings memory, and action. Assuming such a reader would be interested in getting the best tone and action in this instrument category, I chose three of the top stage pianos to test and describe--the Kawai MP8II, the Roland RD-700GX, and the Yamaha CP300--samples of which their manufacturers were kind enough to lend me for this purpose. All three instruments were auditioned through Yamaha HS80M Powered Nearfield Monitor Speakers on Auralex MoPAD Monitor Isolation Pads, and through Sennheiser HD 600 headphones. (If you're unfamiliar with the terminology used here, please read the "Digital Piano Basics" articles elsewhere in this publication.)

Kawaii MP811

Piano Tone

As these are sample-based instruments, their piano tones are based on a "source" instrument. Kawai and Yamaha use as sources their own concert grands. Roland does not disclose which instrument was sampled, but it is widely assumed to be a Steinway concert grand. Beginning with the default piano (the one selected when you first turn on the instrument), we find three notably different tonal qualities. Kawai's Concert Grand is perhaps the mellowest of the three when played at lower velocities, but quickly adds bite to the tone as velocity is increased. Roland's Expressive Grand has a darker tone with more harmonic content throughout its range. Yamaha's Grand Piano I seems to occupy a middle ground between the other two tonally, with a bit less edge than the Kawai at high velocities, and a slightly bigger bass than the Roland.

But these are only these instruments' default voices. One of the great things about digital pianos is that they have the ability to be multiple pianos by having multiple piano voices, as these instruments do. (I've always envied guitar players, who tend to have lots of guitars.) If we don't count voices that play an octave when you play a single note (quite handy in some circumstances), monophonic variations of other piano voices, and layered voices such as piano plus strings, we end up with the list of piano voices shown in Table 1 (in order of appearance in the instrument's menu).


FALL 2009 -- page W3

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