The Roland V-Piano

The Roland V-Piano and
SuperNatural® Piano Sound Engine

John Norton

FROM TIME TO TIME, Roland introduces a new V-series electronic musical instrument to signal a product that it hopes will take music technology to the next level. In 2009, the company introduced its first digital piano with this moniker: the V-Piano. With the V-Piano, not only did Roland strive to develop a world-class, expressive instrument, but it also used the research and development behind the V-Piano to create core technologies to enhance the expressiveness of the rest of Roland's digital piano line.

V-Piano — A completely customizable piano

What makes the V-Piano unique is that it is not based on the technology found in other digital pianos, including previous Roland models. When Roland began developing the V-Piano over ten years ago, it wanted to give pianists an instrument that would inspire their highest level of expressiveness and creativity by allowing the player to determine the fundamental characteristics of the instrument. In researching the physics of how acoustic pianos work, Roland's large R&D team, at the company's facilities in Japan, performed possibly the deepest, most detailed analysis of the piano in the 300-year history of the instrument.

One key development that emerged was the PHA III Ivory Feel keyboard action. PHA stands for Progressive Hammer Action, in which the heaviness of the touch increases from the low range to the upper range, just as in an acoustic piano. The action is a true counterweighted mechanism with no springs of any kind; the resistance of the keys is entirely gravity-based, as in a grand piano. The feel of a grand piano is further achieved by simulated escapement — the point of increased and then decreased resistance one feels just before and after a hammer's release. This gives the player more dynamic control and expressiveness, even allowing sound to be produced when playing from the escapement point.

Unlike some other digital pianos, which use two sensors to detect the velocity of the key (and thus the volume), the PHA III design uses three sensors, enabling faster repetition and an even higher level of performance. Roland's Ivory Feel keyboard features black and white keytops made of a synthetic material that simulates the feel of real ebony and real ivory. Like ebony and ivory, this material absorbs oil and moisture, giving the player a more secure feel at the keyboard; but unlike ebony and ivory, it will never crack or yellow.

The other key development of the V-Piano is a powerful piano-sound technology based on physical modeling: Piano Component Object Sound Modeling, or Piano COSM®. A piano uses an intricate system of strings, felt-tipped hammers, bridges, and soundboard to produce and amplify its fundamental tone; additional factors, including cabinet construction and action design, also influence its ultimate tonal character in subtle but critical ways. With Piano COSM, the V-Piano not only accurately models the way acoustic pianos produce sound, but also allows the player to modify these components, and thus the piano's performance characteristics. While physical modeling is not new — it has been applied to software-based pianos for several years — the V-Piano is the first hardware-based modeled piano. (For more information, see "Digital Piano Basics, Part 1: Imitating the Acoustic Piano" and "An Introduction to Software Pianos," both in this issue of Piano Buyer.)