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Digital pianos and laptops

Posted By: Nunatax

Digital pianos and laptops - 10/07/04 10:14 AM

Hi everyone,

Recently I bought a laptop, a pretty fast one (3,2 GHz) with enough RAM (256Mb). I was wondering if I could use it to put other piano samples in my digital piano. The piano is a Yamaha CLP 990. The things I'd like to know are :
- is the polyphony determined by the piano or the laptop, in other words, will I keep the CLP's polyphony of 192 no matter what or will limitations of the laptop and/or program that is used limit the eventual polyphony?
- does the sound still go through the amplifier of the piano?
- what does it cost (program and samples)? and is it worth it?

Thanks in advance!

Posted By: SteveY

Re: Digital pianos and laptops - 10/07/04 11:49 AM

You can use your laptop as a "tone module" providing you use the appropriate software. You'll need to have a MIDI interface to allow your Yamaha to send control information to the laptop. Then you'll need software. For example, there's a new software program that is very interesting called "The Ivories":

The sound will be coming from your laptop, not the Yamaha. As a result, the laptop is the limiting factor in terms of polyphony, sound quality, etc. The sound will come from the laptop (unless you plug it into something else). Although it sounds like you have a nice laptop, you'll want to upgrade the RAM to at least 512 or higher. I use virtual instruments all the time, and I have 1.5 GB RAM in my laptop.
Posted By: JimM

Re: Digital pianos and laptops - 10/07/04 02:04 PM

Laptops are on the ragged edge of performance for soft samplers like this that play their samples off the hard disk. You certainly need more memory (a gigabyte I'd say) but the limiting factor is likely to be the disk. Most soft sampler computers use two very fast disks, one for the software and one for the samples. Laptop disks are relatively slow, and there's usually only one of them. The consequence is likely to be audio artifacts (clicks and pops) as you use more polyphony. I'm not saying you can't make it work, but expect some hassles (which is a general statement about soft samplers!)

The internal sound chip on the laptop may also be a limiting factor - check with the soft sampler maker to see what they recommend. The most popular soft sampler with the largest library selection (Gigastudio) has very specific requirements for sound cards, and the same may go for Kompakt/Kontakt, etc. Don't know about Synthology's engine, this is a relatively new product.

If you pursue it, a good place to learn about these technologies is the forums at www.northernsounds.com. The quality of these gigantic samples far exceeds what is built into your Yamaha, and they're getting better all the time.
Posted By: JimM

Re: Digital pianos and laptops - 10/07/04 02:17 PM

Couple of other thoughts:

- The Synthology product is only available for the Macintosh. They say they'll have a Windows version sometime next year. Other engines are either cross-platform or Windows-based.

- One of the premier developers of piano samples is close to you - Post Audio Media in Amsterdam. Take a look at http://www.postpiano.com/home.php where you'll find demos of different pianos available on many platforms. Another very good developer is Sampletekk in Sweden, http://www.sampletekk.com/. Both of them are very responsive and could comment on whether your laptop will work with their samples.
Posted By: SteveY

Re: Digital pianos and laptops - 10/07/04 04:38 PM

I've never had a problem playing a softsynth from a laptop. In fact, I do it all the time. I know that my previous laptop had a 4500 rpm HD, and my current laptop has a 5400 rpm drive. I've had no problems whatsoever, but then again, I have a Mac... wink
Posted By: Kenpcola

Re: Digital pianos and laptops - 10/07/04 04:41 PM

Just a thought..
It already is a nice digital piano. Why u need more piano sounds? You can use your digital piano as a midi controller and trigger piano samples program of your laptop. But, as other people mentioned, your computer may not be that good for piano samples playing.(ready for most frustrating fall out called latency..?) You may use "lighter" samples program to prevent latency but sounds gonna be way inferior to your digital piano.
You can not modify the sound of digital piano , by the way. You may want to get a synth sound module if you really want to expand the sound collection.
Posted By: JimM

Re: Digital pianos and laptops - 10/07/04 05:56 PM

but then again, I have a Mac...
I love the Mac and have used them since the Mac Plus days, but had to bite the Windows bullet for GigaStudio. I got it working and then NEVER did anything more to it. Like walking on eggs...

It may be that my laptop information is out of date. There were lots of problems using them with Giga a couple of years ago, but maybe things are OK now. What softsynths are you running?
Posted By: SteveY

Re: Digital pianos and laptops - 10/07/04 06:48 PM

Might be a GigaStudio issue rather than a hard drive issue as different apps have different methods of playing sounds.

As for virtual instruments, I use Atmosphere & Stylus from Spectrasonics, and B4 from Native Instruments. I've had others in for demos, but haven't liked them enough to buy. I really like The Ivories, but rarely need a sampled piano sound as I'd prefer to record my acoustic piano instead.
Posted By: jazpianizt

Re: Digital pianos and laptops - 10/07/04 06:50 PM

I'm a little confused by the wording of your question.

I was wondering if I could use it to put other piano samples in my digital piano.
You can certainly use your piano as a controller for a software (or hardware) synth, but as Kenpcola alluded to, if you are wanting to actually install the sounds in your piano, that is probably not possible unless Yamaha has firmware updates or something like that.
Posted By: Nunatax

Re: Digital pianos and laptops - 10/09/04 06:04 AM

Thanks for all the replies!

First of, I made a mistake. My laptop already has 512 Mb RAM. Should have checked it... Don't know if it can be expanded.

The only thing I can find about my HD is the following :

It seems to be a Hitachi, 4200 rpm. But this disk is available with 40 and 60Gb of space, mine has 60Gb and one source I found on the net claimed the 60Gb one should make it to 5400 rpm. I don't count on it though.

I cannot find any trace of a soundcard on my laptop... Seems to be a standard "onboard" card. I'll try to find out whether I could add a separate one. I doubt it though...

Thanks for the links, JimM, I'll mail them soon.

Jazpianist, I didn't mean I wish to install the sounds on my piano, I doubt that they foresaw extra memory for it.

Kenpcola, what do you mean with using my piano as a midi controller? Could I just use my laptop as a storage device for the samples and let my piano do the rest?
Posted By: Nunatax

Re: Digital pianos and laptops - 10/09/04 06:17 AM

Another thought :
Could I use an external USB drive that is faster than the internal disk or will the USB connection slow everything down?
Posted By: SteveY

Re: Digital pianos and laptops - 10/09/04 09:18 AM

You hard drive is probably fast enough. Don't use a USB drive!!!
Posted By: JimM

Re: Digital pianos and laptops - 10/09/04 01:02 PM

Try your internal drive first. If it isn't fast enough, you might be able to use an external Firewire drive (you can get a Firewire interface card for your laptop.)

In this kind of setup your piano would just be a keyboard for the computer and an audio system. You could layer sounds (combine the soft samples with the internal voices, for example) and the polyphony would be additive.

In my setup, I run a midi cable from the piano to the GigaStudio computer (oh yes, you'll need a midi interface for your laptop, I use one that connects to the parallel port) and run the sound card's output into the piano's audio input jacks. I use the inputs that are controlled by the piano's volume control because it's more convenient than controlling volume from the computer. You have to be a little careful not to turn the volume up so high that you damage the speakers, but your ears would probably burst before that happens!

BTW, I found that an external pair of bookshelf speakers and an inexpensive audio amplifier makes a huge difference in how the digital piano sounds. The samples and processing are getting so good that the audio system has become the weak link. If you have a home stereo, try connecting the piano to it and see what you think. I use two small Bose speakers placed close to the piano. If you want better sound, I'd try this first before getting into the complexity of soft samplers.
Posted By: fogwall

Re: Digital pianos and laptops - 10/09/04 03:15 PM

As Jim said earlier, your laptop is on the ragged edge of performance if you intend using the latest piano sample libraries, including Steinberg's The Grand.

You will probably need two 7200 rpm disks (one of them dedicated for the piano samples) and 1 GB RAM minimum. Perhaps a GSIF/ASIO compatible sound card is necessary also.
Posted By: SteveY

Re: Digital pianos and laptops - 10/09/04 06:07 PM

You don't need 7200 rpm disks depending on what software app you use. Start with what you already have. If it's a problem, then you can upgrade. I'd go the Firewire route. I've had good success with the LaCie 7200rpm drives.

512 is a little low in terms of RAM. Upgrading to 1GB or more would be a great idea. But depending on your needs, you might find that 512 works for you. At least RAM is cheap!
Posted By: Nunatax

Re: Digital pianos and laptops - 10/12/04 05:36 PM

Phew, this is getting complicated eek

I just got a reply from sampletekk. They say my laptop should be able to handle it, but I should add RAM (to at least 1Gb).

A positive : there's already a firewire card in my laptop, so if my internal HD cannot keep up then I have at least that as a backup.

Another possibility just presented itself : my dad is kind of planning on buying a new PC soon (that could still take a year though frown ). The "old" one is a Pentium III 800 MHz with 512 Mb RAM and a decent sound card. It's probably easier and perhaps cheaper to upgrade than my laptop. There's at least one HD in there that is much faster than my laptop HD. The only question that remains is if the 800 MHz would be fast enough... If I use it for that purpose, then no other software would be installed, just Windows and Gigastudio or a similar program.

OK, let's quit buying CD's and start saving some money frown

Many thanks for the good advice!!
Posted By: SteveY

Re: Digital pianos and laptops - 10/12/04 08:15 PM

Pentium III 800MHz is a little slow. Stick with the laptop!!!
Posted By: fogwall

Re: Digital pianos and laptops - 10/13/04 04:16 AM

laugh Not easy with computers... I guess that the motherboard of that PC doesn't handle more than 512 MB RAM anyway. So, yes, stick with the laptop, upgrade to 1 GB and get a firewire drive.
Posted By: Nunatax

Re: Digital pianos and laptops - 10/16/04 04:17 AM

Indeed, not easy with computers...
I'll stick with the laptop.

Many thanks!
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