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Joined: Aug 2021
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Hi,

Long time listener, first time caller :-) This forum has been a huge help during covid and I ended up snagging a Kawai MP11SE without getting the opportunity to try one in person based on recommendations here after having a ton of difficulty finding any stores where I could try out different brands and so far I’ve been very happy with the purchase. The one digital piano I did get to try in person was the Nord Grand and while I loved the piano sounds, the action was a little rubbery(?) for my taste. The MP11SE sounds are decent, but I’d love to augment them with some VSTs.

I picked up keyscape after watching a ton of youtube videos, but haven’t been able to get it to work nearly as well as the demos with my current setup. I’m using a mix of passive speakers through an integrated amp and headphones through a MacBook pro but I’m having issues with both. Looking for advice on ways to improve the sound quality while also maximizing ease of swapping between both headphones and speakers and the native sounds and vsts.

Here’s my current setup:
Kawai MP11SE
2015 MacBook Pro w/ 16GB of RAM
Keyscape
JBL L100 Classic Speakers (also used for a vinyl setup, etc. in the room with the digital piano so please don't recommend that I ditch these for powered monitors)
Yamaha A-S801 Amp (https://usa.yamaha.com/products/audio_visual/hifi_components/a-s801/index.html)

I stopped by Guitar Center to ask for advice and they recommended adding a Yamaha MG10XU mixer.

Is the mixer really the way to go or would it be overkill for this scenario? Would I get any benefit from adding the Yamaha mixer to the… mix (sorry). If the mixer is the way to go, what’s the best output on the back of the MP11SE to utilize into the A-S801?

Running directly through the MacBook pro to headphones is decent but a little glitchy (a lot of pops and some latency). Running through the Yamaha A-S801 and passive speakers seems to introduce additional lag. Any advice on ways to reduce latency and sound quality? Is my (aging) MacBook the weak link or is there something else I’m missing?

Thanks!

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I feel like an audio interface might be a better approach. You could plug both the analog 1/4" output from the DP and the USB output from the computer into it, and it would have a headphone jack with volume control. You could pre-set the individual volume levels, then the only thing you have to do is change the Internal/External MIDI setting on the Kawai. The interface would also have Line Output so you can use your speakers, too.

I agree, Nord pianos sound AMAZING but they're just not as fun if you're after something that feels like an acoustic.

Last edited by Joe Garfield; 08/02/21 02:56 PM.
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Hello Rated, welcome to the forum!

I’m responding because I have an older MP11 and a 2013 loaded MacBook Pro that I use with lots of VSTs. Successfully.

Without trying to explain the why’s and wherefores of everything, let me suggest a course of action.

First just get your setup working with your headphones alone.

Piano is a finicky sound to reproduce and generally needs a higher quality headphone or speaker. You didn’t say what phones you have.

The headphone output on MacBooks is quite high quality, so use that at first. Unless you are an ultra picky listener (and spend lots of cash) you will have a hard time getting any better sound than a good $200 - $300 set of phones directly from the Mac.

The crackles you hear happen when the laptop processor runs out capacity. As the end user of music software you are the general contractor on the project and you will have to do some basic tweaking to match the software with your hardware system. (The crackling has nothing to do with phones versus speakers. The crackles will be the same).

A key setup is ‘buffer size’. This is the amount of time slots the computer uses to create the analog audio from digital instructions. The lower the better because more buffer equals more time between your key press and the sound coming out. So, larger buffer increases latency (bad) and smaller buffer increases crackles (bad). I get very reliable performance on Ravenswood and Omnisphere by setting this at 128. Start there.

Also, set your sample speed to 44k.

There will be other more esoteric settings that you can try out later.

Here a few general purpose suggestions regarding your computer. Reboot often. This will clean out any programs running that you might not know about. Next, turn off all your WiFi and Ethernet networks while playing. This will stop lots of pesky background programs from searching the net for software upgrades while you’re playing on the keys.

Try this and get back to us. Don’t buy a mixer or audio interface until you’ve got the basics working. You may be able to solve your situation without either.

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Once you get the crackles and pops worked out, add software parametric eq. You can add parametric eq to the signal path in a DAW and in many cases the stand alone piano software will also have one you can use. Parametric eq can be used to smooth out frequency response peaks & troughs to dial in better sound, where better is a combination of 'correct' and to your tastes. When you get peaks in the frequency response, typically because of unwanted natural resonances in the speakers, the room, your ears, it can a) make certain piano notes distractingly louder; b) make other notes sound bad or distracting because of boosting different higher harmonics from that note.

I used Mainstage on macos and it has a built in parametric eq that shows a live frequency distribution chart. As you play up and down the piano keyboard you see the fundamental frequency for each note, and all the higher harmonics. I start at the low end, and when I hear a loud note I can see what that fundamental frequency is. I set one of the parametric eq points to that frequency, dial in some negative db, and make the q setting very narrow so the eq effects just that fundamental. Sometimes a resonance is wider than just one note, in which case tweak the q. Then just keep going up the keyboard until it sounds good.

Its interesting that when doing this you can sometimes spot frequency peaks in the input signal, meaning that the resonance is in the original sample. That could be a quirk or characteristic of a particular piano, or something in the room or the mics that wasn't corrected. When you hear a loud spot that doesn't show in the live playback chart, thats a resonance in your setup. You might be concerned about how to you play all the notes consistently, needing some automated software to do it all for you using a mic to hear your room. But as a pianist who is already listening critically, you absolutely can do it manually.


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I only have crackles and pops during sample loading which can take some time in KeyScape. You can start playing immidiately but until it's fully loaded you will have dropouts etc.


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Originally Posted by ratedpg13
Running directly through the MacBook pro to headphones is decent but a little glitchy (a lot of pops and some latency).
Increase buffer size to eliminate the pops. That will also increase latency, though, To acheive smalle buffer size (lower latency) without pops may require a more capable computer.

Originally Posted by ratedpg13
Running through the Yamaha A-S801 and passive speakers seems to introduce additional lag.
How far away are the speakers? They will have a bit more latency than headphones, because of the time it takes for the sound to travel in air from the speakers to your ears. You get about 1 millisecond additional latency per foot of distance.

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I use bookshelf speakers speakers and a Yamaha amp and it sounds good.

The tips here are very good.

I don't see the purpose of a mixer. I'm not sure you would prefer cheap monitors to your current sound system. Your computer is pretty new.

The MacBooks I have used have good audio implementation. A good audio interface might give you better: DAC, headphone amplification, low-latency performance. A cheap audio interface may not.

For the VI, turn off all the other programs and turn off the networking. Use 44.1khz and keep raising the buffer size until the pops disappear. Use that for a week or two and see how you like it.

You can move the speakers & piano to different parts of the room. Try different furniture, rugs, window treatments. These are good ways to EQ and get the good sound IMO.

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With your current configuration, your weak link is using the on-board digital-to-analog converter (DAC) in your laptop. I recommend purchasing a stand-alone DAC... just make sure the DAC you buy can connect via USB port (most do nowadays).

I don't recommend a digital interface used by musicians as that is designed to go both ways... analog in, digital out etc... These units have way more features than you need and therefore, the core function of digital to analog conversion is compromised for the given amount of money you want to spend. If you get a simple DAC, for a given price, it will have a primary emphasis on sound quality and will use more expensive componentry inside.

I use an old and very expensive Benchmark DAC1 USB (at least it was expensive a long time ago... I see a used one on eBay now for around $500). But there are many inexpensive units that are quite good now. The little Audioquest units and the Schiit units get very good reviews.

Next, you must figure out how to get the digital signal out of your MAC via USB with no bit manipulation such as happens with the laptop's volume control. I can't help here as I am a Windows user, but I am sure there are many here who can help with that.

Peace
Bruce in Philly

Last edited by Bruce In Philly; 08/03/21 03:27 PM.

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More... your weak link is not just the computer's DAC, but then the crappy little headphone amp the signal is sent through. This is an evil chain of electronics.

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I have to agree with BiP.

Desktop computers often have decent audio, but laptops seldom do. After all, how much audio quality need be built into a laptop when it's playing sound through one-inch speakers?

A proper audio interface can be had for under $100 new. If you're willing to buy one used, that amount of money can get you an even better unit.

Either way it'll be a step up from the onboard laptop audio.

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When you folks talk about laptops are you talking Windows, Mac, or both? There is a sometimes large difference and if you don’t acknowledge that difference you may not be helping the OP.

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Originally Posted by Bruce In Philly
With your current configuration, your weak link is using the on-board digital-to-analog converter (DAC)
Originally Posted by Bruce In Philly
More... your weak link is not just the computer's DAC, but then the crappy little headphone amp
The headphone amp is not going to be the source of the specific problems he mentioned (pops and latency). If by DAC you're suggesting using an external interface, it is possible that some interfaces may have better latency performance, but the standard latency capabilities of a Macbook is quite good. For a keyboard playing a single sound (i.e. not even a project involving lots of additional processing, needing to play many tracks of audio simultaneously, etc.), I'd be surprised if that would make a difference either.

Originally Posted by MacMacMac
I have to agree with BiP.

Desktop computers often have decent audio, but laptops seldom do. After all, how much audio quality need be built into a laptop when it's playing sound through one-inch speakers?
Mac laptop headphone out is decently high quality. People use it to listen to their music through high quality headphones and high quality speakers. Gigging professionals use it on stage. And again, the heapdhone amp is not going to be the source of the specific pop/latency problems mentioned.

Back to the OP: I'd suggest creating a new User account on your Mac, and using that user account to run your music stuff, and see what happens. Sometimes people have various things installed on their systems that involve background tasks that can affect performance. Starting with a new User account gives you almost the equivalent of a fresh install which would generally factor out any performance degradation from things like installed third-party utilities or other apps that may involve background processes. (A more extreme and more time-consuming version of this is to partition the drive--or use an external drive--to boot from a clean-installed system. But creating a new user just takes a minute and could possibly address the issue just as well.)

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You need to be careful with DACs for live performance. Latency will depend on the driver, and might not be acceptable even at the lowest settings. I wasn't able to use my Schiit DACs with my piano because of that. I personally use one that's designed to work with ASIO and the latency is almost non-existent.

Also the comment about audio interfaces having poor DACs is not always true. One of the cheapest audio interfaces (Behrenger) has a Burr Brown DAC that's very well respected in the hi-fi community.

Last edited by Joe Garfield; 08/05/21 04:49 PM.
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Originally Posted by ratedpg13
Hi,

Long time listener, first time caller :-) This forum has been a huge help during covid and I ended up snagging a Kawai MP11SE without getting the opportunity to try one in person based on recommendations here after having a ton of difficulty finding any stores where I could try out different brands and so far I’ve been very happy with the purchase. The one digital piano I did get to try in person was the Nord Grand and while I loved the piano sounds, the action was a little rubbery(?) for my taste. The MP11SE sounds are decent, but I’d love to augment them with some VSTs.

I picked up keyscape after watching a ton of youtube videos, but haven’t been able to get it to work nearly as well as the demos with my current setup. I’m using a mix of passive speakers through an integrated amp and headphones through a MacBook pro but I’m having issues with both. Looking for advice on ways to improve the sound quality while also maximizing ease of swapping between both headphones and speakers and the native sounds and vsts.

Here’s my current setup:
Kawai MP11SE
2015 MacBook Pro w/ 16GB of RAM
Keyscape
JBL L100 Classic Speakers (also used for a vinyl setup, etc. in the room with the digital piano so please don't recommend that I ditch these for powered monitors)
Yamaha A-S801 Amp (https://usa.yamaha.com/products/audio_visual/hifi_components/a-s801/index.html)

I stopped by Guitar Center to ask for advice and they recommended adding a Yamaha MG10XU mixer.

Is the mixer really the way to go or would it be overkill for this scenario? Would I get any benefit from adding the Yamaha mixer to the… mix (sorry). If the mixer is the way to go, what’s the best output on the back of the MP11SE to utilize into the A-S801?

Running directly through the MacBook pro to headphones is decent but a little glitchy (a lot of pops and some latency). Running through the Yamaha A-S801 and passive speakers seems to introduce additional lag. Any advice on ways to reduce latency and sound quality? Is my (aging) MacBook the weak link or is there something else I’m missing?

Thanks!
A consumer stereo amp like the A-S801A is the wrong choice for a keyboard with +4dBu (pro line level) outputs. The consumer stereo amp has a -10dBV line level input sensitivity. The MP11SE outouts will overspec the
The A-S801 inputs, and cause dynamic range compression if you limit tge gain on the MP11SE to compensate. A mixer often will have a tape out with RCA connectors spec'd for consumer line level, whixh is the input sensitivity of the Aux, CD, or Tuner inputs on a consumer stereo amp. The conversion may lead to a slight loss in audio quality, but I doubt it would be audible.

Another solution is to use an amp with +4dBu sensitivity inputs, such as a Samson Servo 120A:

https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/Servo120a--samson-servo-120a-power-amplifier

An audio interface will provide an external DAC for your Mac for VSTs and will provide inouts for your MP11SE either to digitize with the builtin ADC or to monitor with its outputs. The outputs of the audio interface likely will be +4dBu, in which case the mismatch with a consumer amp supporting -10dBV line level still must be resolved, as above.

A mixer will let you switch between inputs but also can mix/combine them if you want to layer sounds in the MP11SE with VST sounds. I would still prefer an amp that has pro line level inputs rvrn if a mixer is used so that the main outputs of the mixer can be used.

The Samson amp can take two connections-- balanced 1/4" TRS +4dBu from the MP11SE (you would use an XLR to 1/4" TRS cable) and a connection from your Mac sound card to the unbalanced RCA inputs. There is no selector control. I assume it senses which is active and gives priority to the balanced input if both are active, but I'm not sure. In any case, it will not mix them.


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I would suggest using an audio interface as a DAC and standardizing on +4dBu line level for amp, DAC, mixer if any since that is the outout line level of the piano.


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Quote
I would suggest using an audio interface as a DAC and standardizing on +4dBu line level for amp, DAC, mixer if any since that is the outout line level of the piano.
I should have qualified standardizing on +4dBu inputs if a mixer is used. If a solution kike the Samson amp above is used, you can run balanced +4dBu from the Kawai to the amp, and -10dBV from a consumer DAC to the RCA inputs on the amp, assuming the automatic input selector switching method will work for your configuration.


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I think this has become moot.

The OP, ratedpg13, is a new member. He posted once when starting this thread, but he has not replied (or even viewed) in ten days.


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