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#44189 - 01/22/04 11:53 AM Review: The New Mason & Hamlin AA  
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Rick Clark Offline
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Let me try this again and see if the computer won't crash when I press "Preview Post" again:

I come from the perspective of feeling that the old golden-age AA was the finest piano ever designed for the home, period. Not to say that every example of that model lived up to that rep, as age of course takes its toll, and rebuilders are not always what they should be. But if you can get one where everything is 'just right', to my taste and way of thinking, they were the best.

So I was quite anxious of course to see what the new ones were going to be like.

First of all, they are *different*.

A little longer, a little less wide at the tail (I think), a different bridge arrangement, and the design of the plate is different. From a strictly visual standpoint, the lines and curves of the plate are more graceful and creamy looking than in the old model. Plus they don't have those little bullet thingies around the sound holes.

I see the logic of the changes, however. The old AA was different looking than their other old models. A bit eccentric you might say. Now when you look at the 3 models, the overall design is integrated, so going from the A to the AA to the BB there is a coherent Mason & Hamlin "look". Big, bigger, biggest, you might say. Like the same piano, only stretched.

When I put visuals aside and think of what it was I loved most about the old AA as an instrument, it was 1. A consistent tone color and power throughout the entire scale that changed with playing dynamics in a satisfying and logical way 2. A flawless transition between tenor and bass. 3. A low bass that has an adequate fundamental pitch, making the piano musical down to low A. 4. An action which resistance perfectly matched my muscle strength as regards rendering the full dynamic range in an emotionally satisfying way. 5. An overall dynamic or volume range that is perfectly suited to use in homes (unless you are in a mansion or something, where a BB might fill the space better).

What I found in the new AA is that it DOES meet the above criteria- yet is still a little different from the old one. For one thing, the hammers are different these days and they create a different kind of tone. I think it would take me about 1 day to get my brain adjusted, then I would just forget about that difference. The dynamics are definitely everything they could be, it's just a slightly different balance of harmonics.Plus I think as the brassiness of brand-new bass strings wears off, the tone will be even closer to what is in my memory.

The touch resistance seems a bit lighter now. However, it is still in the range of what I like, and I think it's probably smart from a sales perspective because lightening the touch a bit may widen the appeal of the piano. So again, it's a bit different from the old one, but I can easily adjust to it without feeling like I have lost anything.

What hasn't changed in any way that I could find was the overall quality. The current model is as good or better than at any time in their history, I believe.

I am ready to accept the new AA as I did the old one- as the best home sized piano in the world. To my taste and way of thinking, of course. I mean, someone who is stuck on a Boesendorfer-type sound (for example) might not feel that the M&H gives them the same buzz.

I think it is also worth considering that the M&H "tension resonator" seems to have proven its theory in keeping the soundboard and related structure in better condition over a century than other models of piano. So I think there is a legitimate bonus of extra longevity in these pianos which adds to their value, and also is a factor as why I am willing to call this one "the best".

Regards,

Rick Clark


Rick Clark

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#44190 - 01/22/04 11:57 AM Re: Review: The New Mason & Hamlin AA  
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Thanks for taking the time Rick, very informative. wink

#44191 - 01/22/04 12:04 PM Re: Review: The New Mason & Hamlin AA  
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Thanks, Rick, for the really informative review! I'll definitely have to give the AA a test drive when Art gets one (has he made the move to his new store in San Marcos?).


Tavner
#44192 - 01/22/04 12:13 PM Re: Review: The New Mason & Hamlin AA  
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One tends to somewhat agree - the new AA was gorgeous - but the real test would be to have three or four of the other possible top contenders [ wink ] side by side and really have them worked over for a while in some more detail.

Including perhaps some distinctly more American tone voicing.....

The rest is and always will be....

...... personal preference.

norbert


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#44193 - 01/22/04 12:13 PM Re: Review: The New Mason & Hamlin AA  
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Rick: Thanks for a terrific post!

Jim

#44194 - 01/22/04 01:44 PM Re: Review: The New Mason & Hamlin AA  
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Rick,

Thanks so much. Very thoughtful review.

Now I can't wait to go try one!

#44195 - 01/22/04 01:50 PM Re: Review: The New Mason & Hamlin AA  
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Rick,
Great post. I look forward to playing a new AA when Keith, owner of Pianocraft gets one in.

Rich


Retired at the beach (well maybe not completely)

Anton Rubinstein said about the piano: "You think it is one instrument? It is a hundred instruments!"
#44196 - 01/22/04 02:02 PM Re: Review: The New Mason & Hamlin AA  
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Rick,

Many thanks, I always enjoy your posts. I hope we cross paths one day as I would certainly enjoying meeting you.

Regards,
Steve


"The true character of a man can be determined by witnessing what he does when no one is watching".

anon
#44197 - 01/22/04 02:31 PM Re: Review: The New Mason & Hamlin AA  
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Double post.

#44198 - 01/22/04 02:35 PM Re: Review: The New Mason & Hamlin AA  
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Rick,

Your post almost made me drool to play the new AA! laugh

Hope to do so when Ruggero's in Raleigh gets one.

#44199 - 01/22/04 10:24 PM Re: Review: The New Mason & Hamlin AA  
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We can't delete our own posts anymore?? What if we mak a mistake and or we click twice. I'd like to delete this because I didn't mean to leave two posts.
ejks


People will tell you they know what they like but what they really mean is they like what they know.
#44200 - 01/22/04 10:26 PM Re: Review: The New Mason & Hamlin AA  
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Rick,
Great info. I was drooling also. Slobber, slobber, slobber. I have tentatively planned[hoped] to get a BB within two years but with the introduction of the AA that sounds like it just might be the one for me. I appreciated your reference to it as the "best home-sized" piano in the world. I hope to get up to Saphirs in Chicago to see one.

Thanks for taking the time to make a great post.


People will tell you they know what they like but what they really mean is they like what they know.
#44201 - 01/22/04 10:46 PM Re: Review: The New Mason & Hamlin AA  
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Quote
Originally posted by Norbert:
One tends to somewhat agree - the new AA was gorgeous - but the real test would be to have three or four of the other possible top contenders [ wink ] side by side and really have them worked over for a while in some more detail.

Including perhaps some distinctly more American tone voicing.....

The rest is and always will be....

...... personal preference.

norbert
Norbert.... well put. I'm sure it's a nice piano... but for that kind of dough, there are fierce competitors out there. I've always felt that the M&H's are beautifully crafted pianos, but every time I play one, I feel like there should be a bit more "zing" from it. Plenty of power in those beasts, but it just seems like the bass is always a bit muffled.... too round.... even with the BB's..... maybe it's my hearing.... I like a piano with a punch in the bass. But like I said, they're a quality piano maker and if that's the sound you want, then buy it!

#44202 - 01/22/04 11:24 PM Re: Review: The New Mason & Hamlin AA  
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Roundabout writes:

Quote
Plenty of power in those beasts, but it just seems like the bass is always a bit muffled.... too round.... even with the BB's..... maybe it's my hearing.... I like a piano with a punch in the bass.
Maybe not in the smaller pianos, but the BB ??? Plenty o'punch for my tastes. Some piano people talk about "sting" or "bite" as an attribute of a lively bass, and I think the BB has that. But I haven't tried the smaller models in a long time.

Just curious -- what do you find "punchier?"

#44203 - 01/23/04 12:06 AM Re: Review: The New Mason & Hamlin AA  
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Rick Clark Offline
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I'm glad some people found the information useful.

I hope either the factory or the stores prep the pianos well enough that you all experience the same kind of AA that I did. One assumes that for NAMM pianos will be well prepped- but out in the stores the situation can be different.

I also want to say for those who are not familiar with the M&H sound, don't think that playing one for the first time neccessarily is going to send you into the stratosphere. With my own AA, it was the kind of instrument I appreciated more the longer I had it (and the more I played other pianos), rather than an immediate "gee whiz" factor.

I notice that pianos that do provide an immediate sense of ear candy tend to be shallow in nature and reveal limitations as time passes. Witness folks lured by the sweet so-called "European sound"of some brands only to become disappointed with the dynamic abilities later. I feel the M&H is somewhat the other way around- subtle at first, then a gradual appreciation for how many things it does really well, especially as one widens one's compass and pushes the dynamics envelope.

I'm not trying to backtrack on what I posted before, but when people say things like they are drooling... I'm just hoping I'm not putting across the idea that it's something immedately astounding to behold rather than what it is supposed to be- a great instrument capable of responding in kind to a musician's commands and being as good as that musician is capable of being, with something to spare.

Tavner, yes the store is in San Marcos now, next door to Jeromes and down the street from Greene. You should stop by.

Regards,

Rick Clark


Rick Clark

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#44204 - 01/23/04 12:47 AM Re: Review: The New Mason & Hamlin AA  
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Roundabout Offline
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Roundabout writes:


quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Plenty of power in those beasts, but it just seems like the bass is always a bit muffled.... too round.... even with the BB's..... maybe it's my hearing.... I like a piano with a punch in the bass.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Maybe not in the smaller pianos, but the BB ??? Plenty o'punch for my tastes. Some piano people talk about "sting" or "bite" as an attribute of a lively bass, and I think the BB has that. But I haven't tried the smaller models in a long time.

Just curious -- what do you find "punchier?"

--------------------

The M&H has lots 'o' power... no doubt about that. Let me rephrase.... It's just that the BB doesn't sound like I would want it - in the bass (lower bass, to be exact) at f, ff, or fff. You put it very well.... a "sting" or "bite" is what I like. I have to admit (do I dare say it around this crowd), that the Yamaha C7 has an explosive, gnarly bass, but the rest of that piano bores me after a bit.....

Again, the M&H is a FINE piano. No dissing that quality instrument here; it's simply beautiful at low and medium volumes.

Perhaps I just need a little more from the bass for my thick skull!

Cheers.

#44205 - 01/23/04 08:56 AM Re: Review: The New Mason & Hamlin AA  
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Quote
I notice that pianos that do provide an immediate sense of ear candy tend to be shallow in nature and reveal limitations as time passes
Sage advice here. For example, bright sounds tend to really wow people, so bright piano's can sound great on the showroom floor, because the sound "leaps out" at you. Of course long term that can drive you nuts.

Dan


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#44206 - 01/23/04 09:56 AM Re: Review: The New Mason & Hamlin AA  
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Tavner Offline
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Rick,
I agree about your assessment of the M & H sound. I've had my A now for 9 months. My reaction to the sound has changed from the beginning. Fortunately, it's been a very positive feeling. I like it a lot now (regular tunings have helped!).

Just wondering your reaction to Del's review of the AA at NAMM (another thread). Seems to me he damned it with faint praise (e.g. imbalance between tenor and bass; bass too subdued requiring voicing down of tenor, etc.).

Thanks for the info on Art's store. I'll have to stop by and check it out.


Tavner
#44207 - 01/23/04 10:45 AM Re: Review: The New Mason & Hamlin AA  
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Quote
Originally posted by Rick Clark:
Witness folks lured by the sweet so-called "European sound"of some brands only to become disappointed with the dynamic abilities later.
Rick, thank you for sharing with us your AA review. Dynamic range is something I insisted on and rigorously tested for while doing my search. I feel the same with regards to certain brands' "European sound" and their tradeoff with overall dynamic range. wink

Quote
Originally posted by Roundabout:
... It's just that the BB doesn't sound like I would want it - in the bass (lower bass, to be exact) at f, ff, or fff. You put it very well.... a "sting" or "bite" is what I like. I have to admit (do I dare say it around this crowd), that the Yamaha C7 has an explosive, gnarly bass, but the rest of that piano bores me after a bit.....
Roundabout, I share your thinking about the BB vis a vis the C7 at the lower bass. Compared to the rest of the piano, the BB's lower bass seems to suffer a disproportional "power-drop." Though one should keep in mind the C7 is 6" longer and the lower bass is very sensitive to length differences. (Del's review has something interesting to say about the AA's scale design and its effect on the bass. Can't say I understand all of it, "logarithmic scaling" versus "reverse curve" and such, but may be those who do can elaborate further for us non-technicians.)

#44208 - 01/23/04 11:16 AM Re: Review: The New Mason & Hamlin AA  
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Rick Clark Offline
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Tavner,

Regarding Del's opinion, time and time again I have witnessed various really competent knowledgeable people in the tech field who just blatantly disagreed on some things. Just yesterday a really great tech I know thought a certain piano should be voiced "up" whereas I thought it should be voiced "down". We each have a different vision as to what we think the piano could be. These are aesthetic judgements and that's just the way it goes sometimes.

Del as a scale designer has a certain point of view. I would guess he is trying to make his mark in the field. I do know he is working on scale design for another high-quality maker. I had my own AA and felt that for a 6'2" piano the bass fundamental was as good or better than any I had heard on a piano that size. The tenor-bass transition was flawless, and sure it required some voicing to achieve. Don't they all? Del seems like he is trying to take scale design to new places. I don't know what is in his imagination exactly as to what kind of sound he thinks will be superior. I'm interested to listen to the instruments he designs and form my aesthetic opinions from there.

OTOH, as I mentioned before, I have heard other old AAs in various states of condition that didn't sound so great. Maybe if I heard specific examples Del has heard I would understand his P.O.V. better. But maybe if he heard my old AA he would understand mine.

It's true I think what he says about voicing the tenor down to match the bass (in the old one) but the net result was something I liked very much. I don't like to hear a lot of 3rd harmonic, for instance. It's a nasty sounding harmonic, unmusical.

Regards,

Rick Clark


Rick Clark

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#44209 - 01/23/04 02:30 PM Re: Review: The New Mason & Hamlin AA  
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Tavner Offline
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Rick,
A very interesting observation. Being merely an avid player with only a rudimentary knowledge of piano design/scaling (linear vs. logarithmic vs. reverse curve - say what??) I'm fascinated by the honest disagreements that arise over various theories. Even in spite of over 150 years of piano design history! Kind of reminds me of my day job (science) where equally talented, brilliant, scientists can passionately disagree over theories that have been bandied about for years and years with literally hundreds of papers published. Is it correct to say that the evolution of the piano has not really reached a dead end?


Tavner
#44210 - 01/23/04 03:38 PM Re: Review: The New Mason & Hamlin AA  
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Quote
Originally posted by Rick Clark:
Tavner,


Del as a scale designer has a certain point of view. I would guess he is trying to make his mark in the field. I do know he is working on scale design for another high-quality maker. I had my own AA and felt that for a 6'2" piano the bass fundamental was as good or better than any I had heard on a piano that size. The tenor-bass transition was flawless, and sure it required some voicing to achieve. Don't they all? Del seems like he is trying to take scale design to new places. I don't know what is in his imagination exactly as to what kind of sound he thinks will be superior. I'm interested to listen to the instruments he designs and form my aesthetic opinions from there.

OTOH, as I mentioned before, I have heard other old AAs in various states of condition that didn't sound so great. Maybe if I heard specific examples Del has heard I would understand his P.O.V. better. But maybe if he heard my old AA he would understand mine.

Regards,

Rick Clark
Your comments are a pretty good summary of where Iím coming from. I tend to judge piano tone in light of what I believe to be possible rather in comparison to what is currently extant. Even when I hear a piano I think has good performance Iím still comparing it to what could be or what could have been done.

(In the case of the earlier M&H Model AA, however, I was able to actually measure the excursion of the bass bridge in response to string motion. If there was any movement at the fundamental it was so slight it was completely lost in the intrument's residual noise. [The instrument was an HP fft analyzer with a B&K accelerometer fixed to the top of the bridge at the bass end.] I expect this will not be true with the new model.)

Del


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#44211 - 01/23/04 06:16 PM Re: Review: The New Mason & Hamlin AA  
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That is fascinating Del, and goes with what I posted in the other thread about how we perceive sound. Did you find that to be the case in the M&H A and BB too?

Todd


M&H AA (2006)

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