Electronic Player Piano Systems

LARRY FINE

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Prior to the Great Depression, most pianos were outfitted with playerpiano mechanisms — the kind that ran on pneumatic pressure and paper rolls. Today’s player pianos are all electronic; they run on smartphones, iPads and other tablets, notebooks and laptops, MP3s, CDs, or electronic downloads from the Internet, and are far more versatile and sophisticated than their pneumatic ancestors. Now you don’t have to wait until Junior grows up to hear something interesting from the piano! A substantial percentage of new pianos, especially grands, are being outfitted with these systems. In fact, many pianos are being purchased as home-entertainment centers by buyers who have no intention of ever playing the piano themselves.

Several companies make these systems. Yamaha’s Disklavier and Steinway’s Spirio are built into select Yamaha, Steinway, and Bösendorfer models at these companies’ factories. PianoDisc and QRS PNOmation, the two major aftermarket systems, can be installed in almost any piano, new or used, typically by the dealer or at an intermediate distribution point. Properly installed by a trained and authorized installer, none of these systems will harm the piano or void its warranty. However, such installations are complicated and messy and must be done in a shop, not in your home.

The most basic system will play your piano and accompany it with synthesized orchestration or actual recorded accompaniment played through speakers hidden underneath the piano. The aftermarket systems generally add $5,500 to $7,000 to the price of the piano. Add another $1,500 to $2,000 to enable the piano to record your own playing for future playback. For a little bit more, you can mute the piano (stop the hammers from hitting the strings), turn on a digital piano sound, and listen through headphones — a great alternative for late-night practicing. The range of prices reflects the variety of configurations and options available, including what music source you use (smartphone, iPad, CD, MP3 player, etc.). Higher-level systems that reproduce music in audiophile quality cost $15,000 or more. For more information, see the article ““Buying an Electric Player-Piano System”,” elsewhere in this issue.

 

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