Dr. Owen Lovell is a professional pianist from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. On a recent trip through New Jersey and Pennsylvania, he reviewed the Pearl River UP-108D3, the Otto Altenburg AV108, and the Hallet, Davis & Co. H-108. Lovell writes:

I was able to sample two 42 1/2" Pearl River UP-108D3s side by side. This maker, one of the better-known Chinese manufacturers, operates the world's largest piano factory, producing instruments bearing its name as well as "stencil" pianos for many other companies worldwide. The UP-108 instruments I played were both finished in polished ebony. Though continental case designs are very basic, the quality of the exterior finish was surprisingly good for the price — larger panels had no noticeable waviness, and looked very smooth. A few minor flaws in smaller case parts could be seen up close, but overall, these instruments' cosmetics compared favorably with that of other pianos in the showroom costing many times the price. The general tone quality of the UP-108 was neutral — neither bright nor dark. The tenor section had more presence than the rest of the instrument, and the bass/tenor "break" was handled fairly smoothly. The treble section lacked sustain, and the mid- and low-bass sections didn't have much depth (not surprising from any short upright piano, no matter the brand). However, I was truly impressed with the Pearl River's action: nicely uniform across the entire keyboard, and capable of faster repetition than the other pianos I tested, providing good dynamic control. Though the touch was a bit on the light side and the key dip may have been slightly shallow, nothing about the feel of this piano's action felt at all "entry-level."

The 42 1/2" Otto Altenburg AV108 is manufactured by Beijing Hsinghai Piano Group in China, and sold as a house brand of the generations-old Altenburg Piano House in New Jersey. It's pretty much identical to the nationally-distributed Wyman WV108 from the same manufacturer. Compared with the Pearl River, this piano had different strengths and weaknesses. Its treble sang nicely, and its more focused tone was biased toward the brighter side of the spectrum. Most notable was the clarity of the low bass section — a pleasant surprise for a piano of this size and price. The case finish was good, with a nice sense of depth and smoothness, save for a subtle recurring wave on one larger panel. The action seemed suitable for a piano geared toward beginners and casual players: fairly uniform and slightly on the lighter side, with a key dip that felt appropriate under my fingers. Pushed to extremes, repetition was not as fast as on the Pearl River, and the trichord-strung section of the tenor didn't project as well as the rest of the instrument, but I felt it offered a good overall value for an entry-level piano.

The final piano I tested for this article was a 43" Hallet, Davis & Co. H-108 in polished mahogany. Shoppers looking for a finish that doesn't as readily show dust or fingerprints may wish to consider this wood-veneer alternative to traditional (and sometimes less costly) black finishes. The Hallet, Davis piano may not have had the surprisingly fast action of the Pearl River or the striking low-bass clarity of the Otto Altenburg, but it succeeded quite well as a complete and balanced piano. It produced a satisfying range of dynamics, but its trump card was its uncanny ability to produce distinct tonal colors based on the pianist's technical approach — a characteristic treasured by advanced pianists. The well-prepped example I played had a touchweight that was more moderate than the others, and similar to that of a larger piano. The treble tone projected strongly from the top of the instrument to below middle C, a little less so in the bottom trichords of the tenor section, with a fairly smooth transition down to the bass region. Depending on the player's choices in dynamics, this particular piano could sound neutral, bright, or very bright. I believe the Hallet, Davis & Co. H-108, like the other instruments discussed here, represents an enticing value for the money, and merits serious consideration by shoppers looking for an inexpensive new piano.