Sunday, September 12, 2010
the best digital piano of the early 21st century
It was made by General Music (GEM) in Italy. It's a RealPiano Prp800. It has a nice keyboard action. The action is probably made by Fatar, the Italian firm that makes the actions for many European-made keyboards. The action is like a good acoustic piano. It's even graded, which means that the keys at the high end of the keyboard are a bit lighter, easier to press.
This instrument is based on the DRAKE modeling technology that GEM developed for their high-end ProMega pianos. It has the Steinway and Fazoli piano voices from the ProMega2. It's totally obsolete, and takes about 30 seconds to boot when you turn it on. It's a pleasure to play. Beyond the Steinway and Fazoli grand pianos, it has a very enjoyable Rhodes piano. I tried the harpsichord but I haven't had time to listen closely. It could be a real harpsichord, or it could be a "Plucking Piano". There's a Wurlitzer (Wurlitzer Electronic Piano) but it was half-hearted effort. I learned to play on a vacuum-tube Wurlitzer 112. I own a Wurlitzer 120, somewhere in my sister's basement. The string ensemble sounds are not totally realistic, but they are another area where the instrument is just surprising pleasant to play.
It's got some small speakers in it. Having speakers in a keyboard usually means it's a non-professional unit, but in this instrument the speakers are good; you couldn't get better sound without making the instrument larger. The stereo perspective is good, it sounds like I'm sitting at a grand piano. There's not as much bass, of course, and it doesn't get nearly as loud. Think of the area of the soundboard in a piano vs. the area of the speakers in an instrument of this size. I would definitely need an amp if I was to play this in a band.
Not all digital pianos, even ones that are made to look like a real piano, have what it takes. A primary design concern is cost and even with 2010 technology, the existing paradigms can't fully emulate a real piano without being as expensive as a real piano. That's just talking about the sound.
The user interface of a real piano is much more complex that it appears on the surface and most affordable instruments ignore things like half-pedaling and sympathetic resonance. You don't want your piano designed by an organist.
My new piano has a correct piano action (much heavier than common electronic keyboards). I was surprised to find that it actually has a graded action. The touch toward the top of the keyboard (treble, right) is lighter. I've never played an electronic instrument that emulates this. It's an aspect of the piano which makes it more difficult to play with precise expression. Most 88-Key piano-touch keyboards don't emulate this.
Here's what my favorite digital piano forensics expert said about my new piano:
= GENERALMUSIC =
- GEM pRP-800 Steinway D -
FILE & SETUP:
- GEM headphone out to Mac line-in, recorded with Reaper, converted with Max.
- Recorded by "M.Schreck".
- Passes the pedal down sympathetic resonance test.
- I believe it passes the key down sympathetic resonance test, the response is very subtle.
- Passes the partial pedaling test, the effect is realistically slightly buzzy.
- No obvious layer switches, not much timbre change until 1/3 max velocity, then smooth change with increasing velocity.
- Fails the pedal down silent replay test @ pedal up (note plays vel=1).
- Fails the quick pedal partial damping test - oddly, brief damping speeds up decay rate.
- Decay times are somewhat short, particularly in the higher registers (~0.8 to 0.2 Pianoteq, low to high).
- Attack sample lengths are (C1:C8): 5.5,4.2,4.6,4.0,2.6,2.0,?,? seconds.
- Loop sample lengths are (C1:C8): 0.9,0.8,?,?,?,?,?,? seconds.
- Obviously looped, both visually and audibly, could benefit from longer decay loops.
- Obviously stretched, group transitions fairly audible.
- Stretch distances: 5,2,1,2(x4),1,2,1,2,3,3,1(x3),2,3(x3),2,1,2,1,3,1,2(x3),3,2(x3),3,2,2,1,2,3,1,2,2,3 = 43 groups.
- No pedal up/down or key up sounds.
- Dynamic range 33dB (vel=1:127).
- MP3 levels: peak @ -4.9dB, noise floor @ -82dB.
- Date reviewed: 2010-06-29.