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Piano sound comparison project
#3050419 11/28/20 09:57 AM
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Hi all,

This morning it dawned on me that some (many?) of the discussions we have here could be made more objective (not eliminated smile ) by a relatively simple sound sharing project. We often discuss that piano sound of instrument (or software piano) X is better than Y for such and such reason, for which we often lack descriptive words. I am guilty of this like anybody. In PMs, I discussed with a couple of people about sharing the WAV recording of some instruments, but this morning.... ehy! we can do this on a grand (pun intended) scale (pun intended again)!

Obviously this will not be the ultimate guide to digital (or software) piano purchasing, because there are many other factors in addition to sound, including speakers/soundboard (for digital piano and staying closer to the sound) as well as action, playability, pedaling and a plethora of other factors.

But still imagine this: you will be able to test, side by side (or perhaps even blindly) the sound of Pianoteq Gotrian Intimats vs Garritan CFX Full vs Yamaha N1x vs Kawai CA-99 "pianist mode". All of these will be from the same computer, audio card and speakers (hopefully at least decent ones, if not excellent as it ought to be), so any deficiencies on that side should be "even" for everything. As I said, the comparison won't be the "ultimate guide", since Kawai CA-99 might sound better on a soundboard (or at least the Onkyo amps and speakers) than on the speakers you have, but at least it will be even. Also, I suggest a really hard test for any digital piano to pass: a C scale (or perhaps a Hanon exercise) played 2-hands-parallel-motion for 6-octave (so 7-octaves covered in total). I find the dullness of this test with no musicality really highlighting the characteristic of the instrument, and the parallel octaves making it harder to pass (in my experience all digital and software pianos which I have tried FAIL, but some fails falling belly up, some others marginally, so I am still very interested in the results). Using a computer-generated MIDI file may make the test more equal among contenders. Open to other options and discussions, obviously: e.g. uniform velocity or not?

I think this would be very useful information to gather. We can do so similarly to the "price paid" spreadsheet (have to decide where to host the data and the metadata) or if anybody is willing to make it a standalone project and build a website around it, that would be even better (FWIW pianosound.org and pianosound.club are two available domains which might be appropriate).

We might even extend the project to acoustic pianos, however that "opens a can of worm", since there will be huge differences due to microphone kind and location for the recording and room acoustic and... a whole lot more.

Last edited by Del Vento; 11/28/20 10:02 AM.
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Re: Piano sound comparison project
Del Vento #3050440 11/28/20 10:44 AM
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You're embarking on a big project. Good luck.

Re: Piano sound comparison project
Del Vento #3050449 11/28/20 11:24 AM
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I don't think upgrading from CA98 to CA99 is necessary, for me the difference between the two is not enough to go for the upgrade. My future target DP is NV11/20, or grand Aures.
Btw, with the addition of VSTs and one or two pairs of mid-high monitors, I think the CA98 has been able to perform better.


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Re: Piano sound comparison project
robinlb #3050479 11/28/20 12:38 PM
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Originally Posted by robinlb
I don't think upgrading from CA98 to CA99 is necessary, for me the difference between the two is not enough to go for the upgrade. My future target DP is NV11/20, or grand Aures.
Btw, with the addition of VSTs and one or two pairs of mid-high monitors, I think the CA98 has been able to perform better.

I think you are replying to the wrong thread. There is another thread about upgrading from CA98 to CA99 but this one is about comparing the sound of various digital and software instruments. Do you care about the latter? If so, please reply as I am asking in the subsequent message which I will write momentarily

Re: Piano sound comparison project
Del Vento #3050480 11/28/20 12:40 PM
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Originally Posted by MacMacMac
You're embarking on a big project. Good luck.

I am not embarking on any project. I am asking if there is interest. If so, I can write a FAQ to explain to people, perhaps make the MIDI file for everybody to play, coordinate file gathering (but I don't know where and how to host them) and things like that. If I do it, it's really not much more than the "price paid" spreadsheet (on the other hand, if someone else does it, they could make a website with lots of fanciness, if they deem it appropriate).

I appreciate you giving me good luck, but what I really want from you (and others) is replying to the following.

Would you be interested in participating in such a project either or both as a contributor or a user? As a user you would just download the WAVs (or FLACs) of your interest and listen on your hw to see how you like them. As a contributor, you would play the MIDI file on your digital or software piano, record the WAV internally (no mic!!) and upload them somewhere. Just sharing what we have/know, similar to what we do with the "price paid" spreadsheet. If we are willing to share and interested in knowing, everybody gains. If it's just one (or even just a a few) persons, then it's useless.

Re: Piano sound comparison project
Del Vento #3050506 11/28/20 02:16 PM
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I'd be happy to run a couple different MIDI files through my small collection of VSTs and my piano, and send the files off some place.

You could probably get away with storing the audio in a github repository, particularly if you compress it all with FLAC. (which i'll remind any overeager commentors, is lossless.)

Re: Piano sound comparison project
Del Vento #3050508 11/28/20 02:19 PM
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I think a particular problem in reusing a MIDI file for rendering through many software/digital pianos is that the touch response will be different. A real performance will make the pianist to adapt his touch, so that the piano sounds good or will adjust the touch response, so that it's controllable and sounds as good as possible. In the past I've proposed a test where we choose a relatively simple piece that people can play and then everybody plays the corresponding piano himself. I've heard so many MIDI renderings that sound awful because they were recorded on one piano which has linear response, however the same dynamics will cause another piano the bark and make sudden jumps, etc.

It's a really difficult task to judge a piano sound unless you play it yourself. For instance, some of Pianoteq demos sounds pretty good to me. However when I download the Pianoteq demo and try playing it myself, it's meh... So, even when the sound may be good from aside, it's also how you feel it reacts when you are controlling it that also matters.

I can contribute with what I own though: N1X and Garritan CFX for this project smile


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Re: Piano sound comparison project
Del Vento #3050510 11/28/20 02:23 PM
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Happy to contribute some audio...

But you probably want to compress the audio using AAC (like iTunes) or Vorbis (like Spotify). Even if you have enough space to store the raw WAV audio, you will probably need to compress it for the people playing them back.

Last edited by Burkey; 11/28/20 02:33 PM.

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Re: Piano sound comparison project
Del Vento #3050511 11/28/20 02:26 PM
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Anyone else here remember the Purgatory Creek Digital Piano Shootout?

Using non-musical passages is a total waste of time by the way because without a musical context it's impossible to judge whether you're going to like a piano sound or not. Pianos only exist to play music, otherwise it's just a noise.


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Re: Piano sound comparison project
EssBrace #3050522 11/28/20 03:02 PM
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Originally Posted by EssBrace
Anyone else here remember the Purgatory Creek Digital Piano Shootout?

It used to be my reference DP comparison website long before I discovered PW. I think I used to access it through our dial-up modem at home which means it should have been around 1997 or 1998. I maintained a copy of the MP3-s on my hard disk. I remember how I dreamed a lot about the Yamaha P80 and also about GEM real piano expander (was it called like that?)

Last edited by CyberGene; 11/28/20 03:05 PM.

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Re: Piano sound comparison project
Del Vento #3050534 11/28/20 03:39 PM
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First, thanks very much for everybody who chimed it.

I know and agree with what EB and CG say about the limited usefulness of this test. In fact, I said it upfront that this is not the ultimate guide. It's just one comparison.

Ideally, each software piano (and each digital piano) would provide a demo version and the corresponding velocity map for any possible controller, so we would not need this project. In fact, I really applaud PT for doing something very close to this. Since this as you know this is not the case, you either make your purchase decision on limited information (including other people opinion, which is known in piano sound to be very subjective), or you make the drastic decision to not buy anything (which is the decision I myself have made regarding software pianos, at least thus far).

Once again, this project aims to be a piece of that limited information. General music recordings are easily available on the vendors website, so there is no point in trying to duplicate that, especially given the limitation that CG has expressed (so no point on picking one piece of music and having it playing with different instruments). On the other hand, no vendor offers any kind of demo similar to this one, and while certainly incomplete, I think comparing sounds of scales in octaves is useful. It's not really "random notes" it's still a scale, and music is full of scales and parallel octaves (despite that being forbidden in classic harmony smile )
In my experience parallel octave in scales is the weakest point for all digital and software pianos. Notice how many pieces which have parallel octave in scale are included in the vendors' demos laugh

And yes, I thought about lossless compression, but the problem is that WAV can be created and played by pretty much anything (both computers and most instruments, e.g. the Yamaha NU1), whereas the lossless formats might or might not work and become a support hassle. But it is on the table.

For the "where", I like the github idea, but then I'm software engineer. How is that for people who just want to upload or download something? I guess the upload anybody can use wetransfer and I could do the push on github for people who can't do the pull request themselves. But for the download? Do you guys think it's friendly enough?

Is soundcloud an option? Is it lossless, free and otherwise suitable for the project? In addition to playing on the web interface (which is nice), does it allow anonymous downloads? How about (I guess not anonymous) uploads?

Last edited by Del Vento; 11/28/20 03:41 PM. Reason: soundcloud
Re: Piano sound comparison project
CyberGene #3050559 11/28/20 04:25 PM
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When I said "good luck", I was thinking that this is indeed a big project.

As CG says ...
Originally Posted by CyberGene
I think a particular problem in reusing a MIDI file for rendering through many software/digital pianos is that the touch response will be different. A real performance will make the pianist to adapt his touch, so that the piano sounds good or will adjust the touch response, so that it's controllable and sounds as good as possible. In the past I've proposed a test where we choose a relatively simple piece that people can play and then everybody plays the corresponding piano himself. I've heard so many MIDI renderings that sound awful because they were recorded on one piano which has linear response, however the same dynamics will cause another piano the bark and make sudden jumps, etc.
So there's work to be done to compensate for these problems. I think there may be ways to compensate, and that's a lot of work. But I'm not sure CG would agree that's it would be possible.

Originally Posted by EssBrace
Anyone else here remember the Purgatory Creek Digital Piano Shootout?
Using non-musical passages is a total waste of time by the way because without a musical context it's impossible to judge whether you're going to like a piano sound or not. Pianos only exist to play music, otherwise it's just a noise.
Yes, I remember. I had high expectations ... but I found it not very useful.

Re: Piano sound comparison project
Del Vento #3050561 11/28/20 04:31 PM
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The SoundCloud option might be doable if all forum members could get the account name and password to freely upload/download whatever’s on there. I think it can do lossless, but requires a paid subscription. I’d have to check on that. I actually do think it would be useful and give members a chance to show off their skills so to speak.

Re: Piano sound comparison project
Del Vento #3050613 11/28/20 06:37 PM
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I think that with the amount of tweaking we have on most pianos, you can be no longer objective about the results of such. And recordings often sound so much better than when you play the stuff. Best guide we have at present are the recordings over at the ABF where recitals regularly take place. Everything gets used there, and most sounds fine. There are, however, many surprises. One lady used a spinet acoustic; it sounded tremendous.
But it'd be interesting nonetheless.


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Re: Piano sound comparison project
Del Vento #3050945 11/29/20 04:01 PM
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Ok, since there has been some interested, I started the project at http://pianosound.wikidot.com/start

It's like wikipedia: please contribute!!
To remove "friction", I made it open for everybody without an account to be able to add new content (but not delete or modify existing content, for that you need an account). So please add yours!

The syntax and interface is a bit different, check their online help I don't know much about it. In fact I spent good 10 minutes to understand how to create a new page: simply start with the desired URL, e.g. http://pianosound.wikidot.com/kawai and click on the "create page" that appears.

Re: Piano sound comparison project
Del Vento #3050963 11/29/20 05:07 PM
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I would be happy to have more details measured and compared.
There are some interesting details already that can be found here and there (from downweight of keys to key pivot length etc.) but nothing really into the comparison of the sound.


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Re: Piano sound comparison project
Del Vento #3050965 11/29/20 05:08 PM
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One more point: the comparison project might be not that easy because different piano sounds can have pretty different stretch tuning (especially from different vendors, but maybe not only)


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Re: Piano sound comparison project
Del Vento #3050971 11/29/20 05:34 PM
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All great points. Please contribute them to the wiki, so everything remains in context. I am not asking only for sounds, but also for all of these notes.
Perhaps you can start a "limitations" page with such a list, and a "more resources" page with a link to the action page (if there is one), this forum and anything else deemed appropriate.


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