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Reading some older threads that cite "sound generators" in DPs. The context of this topic is a question/answer thread about rescuing or elevating the quality of a DP's audio output by routing sounds to decent quality, external speakers/monitors. One claim which at least on the surface of it seemed reasonable, i.e. that one shouldn't get their hopes up for leaps of improvement with cheaper DPs because their sound generator isn't all that great to begin with. In short, your mileage may vary.

Another bit of contrast/compare context with FP-90X owners thread. It's an unchallenged statement about this DP's rather lacklustre speakers, even though this a premium model. However, also claiming that a good set of monitor will render a huge leap in audio quality because of either the quality or capacity (or both) of its sound generator.

To me this sounds like the old "garbage-in-garbage-out" cliche borrowed from the computer industry. One's risk of wasting their money on external speakers with an economy level DP should not be taken lightly.

So, what the heck is a sound generator? What is the source? Is it akin to a VST or a completely different species? Are these generators memory components, sound card processing capabilities, chipsets or what? Are these electronic bits generic, proprietary, key expensive components or just secondary elements of a DP build? How does the amplification system figure into this? I can't imagine it straying far from the old wisdom of you-get-what-you-pay-for.

More context. As for the origin of this inquiry it is from someone (me) whose piano skills are late elementary/early intermediate and currently shopping the DP marketplace. Right now I'm using 61-key midi controller, computer-based DAW and nice 6" monitors. Having learned about the memory-hogging attributes of VSTs and the painstaking work that goes into producing a quality product, I'm anticipating a let-down with the audio output of whatever DP I might buy in the $1,000 to $2,000 budget window. I live in a remote area where auditioning DPs live is impractical, although I'm planning a trip to a big city to do just that.

Is it that the market segment opting for something like Roland FP-90X are likely to be more advanced pianists with more discerning criteria for audio output? Or are they likely to be just lucky to enjoy a big disposable income? Could this questions be skewing my interpretation of their expressed priorities? Overall, they come across as intelligent, experienced and rationally expressive.

On the practical side of purchasing, am I to be judged as dumb or naive or brilliant to consider a DP that falls into the lower range of my budget and then topping it up with the addition of monitors to boost audio quality? And, as a green entrant in this realm of keyboards, coming from a long history with the classical guitar, the midi keyboard bumblings soon enough made me realize I need to work on studying piano technique. My inexperience with piano technique is definitely holding me back on my goals of composing, arranging, and improvising. I plan to fix that with a bona fide 88-key DP with graded hammer action.

I confess I did look into so-called "guitar-based midi controllers" but alas, that investigation has been underwhelming to say the least.

In sum, I'm quite amazed by the wide range of satisfaction levels to be found in any given DP make/model. It goes from delight to disgust. Some of those in the FP-90X club are thrilled with the audio output of its sound generator/amp/speaker system. For others, it's just "meh". Makes for an exciting exercise in diversity!

I'm also amazed at the sophistication of so many PW participants here and so I'm hoping some of you will share your perspective on one or some of the questions about audio quality of entry level to mid-priced DPs.

Appreciative of any feedback, including stern criticism of my approach to this topic. Could be I'm just blind and overthinking things.

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Hello,

@bob@pei, Consider a typical digital piano to be modular as follows:

- There's input from the player: the keyboard and the pedals, translated into numbers;
- There's a computer, generating the sound from samples or synthetic modeling, often a combination of these. The sound is created (calculated) following the numbers from keys and pedals;
- There's a Digital to Analogue Converter (DAC) which makes a normal audio signal from the sound generators' bit stream output;
- That signal is then amplified so it can drive speakers and headphones;
- The amplified signal goes to the internal speakers and/or headphone connector; a lower power (pre-)amplified signal goes to line outputs if any are present.

So, if amplification and/or internal speakers are unsatisfactory, which according to some tastes is often the case, you can try to better the situation with external amplification and speakers.

However this doesn't improve on the sound that is generated by the DP's internal computer from factory-stored samples and/or modeling algorithms. And that is where people hook up PCs and Macs with virtual instruments which take the key and pedal numbers (through a MIDI connection) directly, generate (calculate) the sound, send it to a DAC, amplifier and speakers (usually all outside of the piano, so no longer using the piano's internal components except keys, pedals and MIDI/USB outs).

Hope this gives some overview.

Cheers and happy studies,

HZ

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A helpful response to my OP, @HZ, insofar as you've laid out a clear, simple schematic of the various subsystems going towards audio output. The jumble of concepts tumbling around in my head, well, you've managed to sort of that mess into an intelligible structure! Thanks, you're a good writer.

Part of that new understanding replaces much of my analog chaos-thoughts with numbers, the systematic language of digits. Doh!

It also sounds like you're hinting at trying to pay attention to specs which may reveal something about the DP's computer and/or modeling of sounds. Although, all the DP manufacturers like to puff up their chests about their samples, I'd venture that very few reveal much about the guts below the glossy surface of promotional rhetoric.

By my own words, it looks what I'm in search of is a midi controller with the virtues you list of the DP's most fundamental building blocks--88-keybed, graded, pedals, and USB to computer connectivity. Bonus extras for me are the ability to use the internal speakers on a whim, portability, and overall functional flexibility and scope.

Thanks teach! A very good DP piano lesson.

Last edited by bob@pei; 05/22/22 08:17 AM.
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Originally Posted by bob@pei
A helpful response to my OP, @HZ, insofar as you've laid out a clear, simple schematic of the various subsystems going towards audio output.

[...]

Thanks teach! A very good DP piano lesson.

😄 And well summarized by yourself!

Cheers and happy researching a suitable instrument,

HZ

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What i can say based on my experience is that i have several very good sound generators (vsts). Getting them is not expensive (pianoteq has reasonable price, and arturia offers very useful free demo versions) When i listen to them through good headphones, i can really hear the quality of the sound. But when i listen to them through a cheap pair of speakers, what i listen is the speakers, mainly their flaws.

So if you want to know what a sound generator is capable of, without spending a fortune, get a decent hifi or studio headphones. Then if you want to have that same quality on external speakers, prepare your wallet.

Once you have a good pair of headphones you can go to any music store and play their dps and compare sound through internal speakers vs headphones, so you can see by yourself.

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Originally Posted by Ubu
What i can say based on my experience is that i have several very good sound generators (vsts). Getting them is not expensive (pianoteq has reasonable price, and arturia offers very useful free demo versions) When i listen to them through good headphones, i can really hear the quality of the sound. But when i listen to them through a cheap pair of speakers, what i listen is the speakers, mainly their flaws.

So if you want to know what a sound generator is capable of, without spending a fortune, get a decent hifi or studio headphones. Then if you want to have that same quality on external speakers, prepare your wallet.

Once you have a good pair of headphones you can go to any music store and play their dps and compare sound through internal speakers vs headphones, so you can see by yourself.

+1

However, this forum is a constant witness to the reality that getting a “good pair of headphones” is not always a slam dunk but more often is an adventure/odyssey that turns out to be an elusive quest that also desires getting a good pair of monitors, and getting a good set of samples, and a good set of models, and a good set of keys/action all in one cohesive, harmonious kit & caboodle 🙃

PS. … which may require a good set of grey matter attached to a good set of ears, and a good set of fingers, and none or one or two good eyes and …. and ….

Last edited by drewr; 05/22/22 12:53 PM.

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To add to HZPiano, the last step in the sound chain is the room. When speakers send sound out into the room, the sound bounces around the room. In bouncing around the room the sound gets modified in its frequency response and decay characteristics. This changes the tone of the sound and can result in some notes too loud and some too thin. And even your position in the room makes a difference. This is part of why headphones can sound 'perfect' but its very hard to make speakers sound perfect. Because speakers exist in partnership with the room itself. You can improve the sound of the room with acoustic treatments.

I'm one of the FP90X owners who chose it for its keybed and its technical features. I do not like using the built in speakers and I'm ambivalent about the onboard piano sound. I most like speakers with a flat frequency response, not speakers where I can hear the speaker itself changing the tone due to resonances. A slab DP has to have its speakers in a small enclosure that was designed first to hold the keys, not to be the ideal speaker cabinet. This trade-off results in resonances that shape the sound and frequency response. A slab DP could have better sounding speakers but it would raise the price, size, weight. Want a DP that put more budget towards speakers and their enclosure... thats a console style instrument, not a slab style. The DP maker does account for the effect of the speakers. The FP90X has a mode for sound intended for the internal speakers and a different mode for sound intended for headphones (or other output). (It switches between these modes automatically.)

My not liking the speakers on the FP90X is entirely personal preference though. In all instruments it is the whole of the instrument that is responsible for the sound. In an acoustic piano resonances within the body of the instrument help shape the sound, it can be the same for a DP. I was able to demo many DPs in piano stores and learned that I didn't much care for the sound of any DP speakers slab or cabinet. So I purchased the slab style (cheaper), good monitor speakers, and build a simple console stand. So I got a console style DP for less money and speakers that I like. And going a step further than its just preference, its also time. If I'd just played using internal speakers and gotten used to the sound, I might be happy with it?

I think its much the same for vsts. I have the one that I like much more than others. But its all subjective. When I found it, it sounded like the piano on a long loved recording of the song I was learning at the time. I'm sure thats a big part of why I love it. I asked a few vst makers 'why is a particular vst so good?' A couple replied along the lines of 'you probably just like the same kind of piano sounds that we do'. As in, they didn't do anything special or better than others, but the piano they chose to sample and how they did the recording was to their taste. And my preference aligns with theirs.


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The problem with speakers is that their tuning is done by the engineer in his environment which is impossible to replicate at home. headphone tunings are much more independent of space, so if the engineer did a good job, the result is delivered more consistently to the listener.

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Hello,

Originally Posted by MarkOfJohnson
To add to HZPiano...

@MarkOfJohnson, That is good out-of-the-box thinking -- literally "outside the box"!

😀

Cheers and happy room resonances,

HZ

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Originally Posted by MarkOfJohnson
A slab DP could have better sounding speakers but it would raise the price, size, weight.

The fp90x has a soundbar type. The yamaha p-515 I'm using isn't soundbar type and it sounds good to me. Good close quarters sound.

I didn't hook it up to external speakers because it sounds nice to me already.

Totally agree that the surroundings can/does make a difference.

Even our ear system is part of the filtering. Various ways to tweak/compensate the digital piano's audio output if needed ... including reverb settings, multiband equaliser and external speakers, repositioning the instrument, repositioning external speakers etc etc.

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Originally Posted by bob@pei
To me this sounds like the old "garbage-in-garbage-out" cliche borrowed from the computer industry. One's risk of wasting their money on external speakers with an economy level DP should not be taken lightly.

Not at all bob. If the money is spent on a high quality/performance external audio system ... including speakers and amp and multiband equaliser and limiter/compressor etc ...... then it (they) can be used with other digital pianos later .... when needed. And can also be used for anything else that they can be used for.

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You have the following for sampled DPs:

1) The quality of the sampling equipment and process for mic'ing the piano
2) The quality of the audio/digital conversion
3) The quality of innovative algorithms for managing all aspects of the playing experience including bridging gaps in the volume levels
4) Modelling algorithms to incorporate string resonances.
5) DSP (Digital Signal Processing) effects
6) Sound edit parameters
7) Direct control of simple effects: Reverb, Chorus, Amp effects etc
8) Onboard EQ

Then there are the onboard hardware to output the sound:
Amplification, drivers et

It's different for modelled piano: piano generated by mathematical algorithms. Here, items 1-3 don't occur.

So, the precision of the sampled piano has no bearing on sound quality: in fully modelled pianos, the sound is generated almost entirely from algorithms.

The issue for Amplification is:
What is the quality of the Amplification? Low quality Amplification means you lose the details of the output sound.

For both speakers and headphones, the quality of the Amplification depends upon the components doing that job and the audio quality of the instruments output.

Thus, if you own a cheap piano whose sampled piano has inferior sample quality, you won't have that aspect against a more expensive piano.

However, if the Amplification components are also low quality, then purchasing high quality Amplification will maximise the audio experience for that instrument's sample quality.

Similarly, if you use cheap headphones, or headphones not suitable for amplifying piano, then you can improve your instruments sound by buying better headphones.

The level of improvement will depend upon the difference in quality between the onboard equipment and that which you'll replace it with.

In terms of the RD88, the ES110, and other beginner pianos: Amplification quality will likely be very limited compared to the ES920. However, increasing the Amplification will not overcome the lower sample quality of the ES110.

You could however, use a VST instrument to provide a higher quality sound source. Then, adding better amplification means that the only main lower quality component left is the action.

With regards to modelled Roland pianos:

I have personal experience showing that more powerful Amplification vastly improves the playing experience. In a Bristol store, I tested the new (at the time) LX7. Next to it was the Roland V Piano powered by two Rokit monitors. Also there for comparison was the previous flagship: Roland LX15e.

The V-piano was involving, powerful (in sound) and had that wow factor. The more advanced LX7 was less impressive. In fact, I preferred the LX15e in terms of the experience.

Later, I played the LX17: same sound source as the LX7, but with more powerful amplification and better positioned speakers. The LX17 ---like the V-piano---was awesome to play. Only main difference between the LX7 and LX17: the Amplification and speakers.

The same issue seemed to occur when playing the FP90: it felt like the LX7 experience all over again despite having a much more powerful set of amps than the ES8. Yet, the ES8 amps and speakers do the sampled sound adequate justice.

What doesn't help the FP90 is that the headphone amp is pretty poor too.

Why better amplification quality might improve modelled piano sound? Possibly the more accurate amplification brings out the resonances better, clearer etc.

Last edited by Doug M.; 05/22/22 06:11 PM.

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It's a good point about amplification. And for a speaker system of a particular sort - it can handle some recommended amount of power (also taking int account efficiency etc). So it can be assumed that if there is adequate amplification, then other considerations can be multi-band equaliser settings. And if the instrument hasn't got that, then external audio system could be considered. And with equaliser settings, the assumption will be that the settings are made so that nothing is over-driven ----- as in to operate outside of any of the system's dynamic range.

Also always taking into account each person's own ears. One person's hearing system is different from another person's.

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Thanks UBU for introducing more serious consideration of headphones. I've got a good set of headphones, but to be honest, I hardly ever use them. Maybe that's because midi controller/computer/monitors rig produces pretty amazing audio output to my ears. Mainly I'm using Arturia's VST called Piano V2. Tons of choices of different types of pianos as well a variety of microphone and lid options for every one of them. Other controls including equalization are functional in this VST.

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@drewr wrote:
Quote
However, this forum is a constant witness to the reality that getting a “good pair of headphones” is not always a slam dunk but more often is an adventure/odyssey that turns out to be an elusive quest that also desires getting a good pair of monitors, and getting a good set of samples, and a good set of models, and a good set of keys/action all in one cohesive, harmonious kit & caboodle 🙃

PS. … which may require a good set of grey matter attached to a good set of ears, and a good set of fingers, and none or one or two good eyes and …. and …

Haha, @drewr you always muster up a unique perspective with a literary turn of phrase! This time a litany of getting a "good" this, that, and the other thing. It's intimidating, but that challenge makes the search all the more fun.

Do you think consumers of DPs are given the detailed info on all these "goods" necessary to arm them with good decision making tools?.

It also sounds like the chain of components working together towards DP audio is only as good as the weakest link?

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Thanks @MarkOfJohnson for taking time with this instructive post. Lots for me to chew on, for sure.

Quote
To add to HZPiano, the last step in the sound chain is the room.
Of course, my consideration of this important aspect of audio quality failed to make an appearance in consciousness. hehe Another factor I'll need to give some study. Thanks for the awakening! hehe

Quote
I'm one of the FP90X owners who chose it for its keybed and its technical features. I do not like using the built in speakers and I'm ambivalent about the onboard piano sound.
Phew, thank goodness a real live FP90X owner of the sort I was trying to represent in the OP, makes an appearance. You add credibility to claims made in the original post. Your discussion on the limitations of the speaker enclosures on a slab DP is a good reminder of sacrifices made for the sake of compact design and portability.

Quote
I was able to demo many DPs in piano stores and learned that I didn't much care for the sound of any DP speakers slab or cabinet. So I purchased the slab style (cheaper), good monitor speakers, and build a simple console stand. So I got a console style DP for less money and speakers that I like.

Resourceful! Creative! What you've done here seems to answer my doubts and guesses. For example, the idea of going in on the lower end of my budget, buying half-decent monitors, and maybe buying a picnic table (?} to serve as my console? Did you incorporate fine dovetails or any Japanese joinery in your wood project? This would be an amazing project to mimic, but not sure if I'm up to speed with the necessary skills.

Would I be too bold to ask which monitors you chose and did you use wood lumber or plywood to build you console?

All in all, impressive initiative contra the challenges faced! Thanks for sharing @MarkOfJohnson

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Thanks for the input @DougM. You've just added another volume to my expanding set of encyclopedia on DP sound qualities!

Quote
You have the following for sampled DPs:

1) The quality of the sampling equipment and process for mic'ing the piano
2) The quality of the audio/digital conversion
3) The quality of innovative algorithms for managing all aspects of the playing experience including bridging gaps in the volume levels
4) Modelling algorithms to incorporate string resonances.
5) DSP (Digital Signal Processing) effects
6) Sound edit parameters
7) Direct control of simple effects: Reverb, Chorus, Amp effects etc
8) Onboard EQ

All of these elements would appear to have their own in-depth arts and sciences. More details worth paying attention to. I guess what would scare me is being unequipped to really assess these elements as Joe Consumer. Nevertheless, it's a useful study in appreciation of just how much effort goes into sampling. Thanks.

Quote
It's different for modelled piano: piano generated by mathematical algorithms. Here, items 1-3 don't occur.

So, the precision of the sampled piano has no bearing on sound quality: in fully modelled pianos, the sound is generated almost entirely from algorithms.

So Roland's "Pure Acoustic Piano Modeling" would be an example? Which make/model would be a representative example of the sampling route?

Quote
Thus, if you own a cheap piano whose sampled piano has inferior sample quality, you won't have that aspect against a more expensive piano.

However, if the Amplification components are also low quality, then purchasing high quality Amplification will maximise the audio experience for that instrument's sample quality.

Wondering if any real world example might come to mind. Not to disparage this brand or that one, but just to illustrate possibly how price points logically dictate the cost and quality amplification components. And I really haven't come across any maker's specs which say anything about their amplification aside from "watts". Pretty minimal, eh?

Quote
In terms of the RD88, the ES110, and other beginner pianos: Amplification quality will likely be very limited compared to the ES920. However, increasing the Amplification will not overcome the lower sample quality of the ES110.

You could however, use a VST instrument to provide a higher quality sound source. Then, adding better amplification means that the only main lower quality component left is the action.

Interesting. You say "will LIKELY be very limited", which I read you thinking it's likely pretty darn hard to really know if the amplification quality can be judged objectively. We rely on the basic consumer heuristic which say you [likely] get what you pay for. I suppose in many instances this is indeed a reliable index.

Quote
Why better amplification quality might improve modelled piano sound? Possibly the more accurate amplification brings out the resonances better, clearer etc.

Your personal experience with the Roland products is instructive. Must admit it's a little disheartening to think that even with a hefty price tag, the FP90X's amplification is something less than stellar. It would seem that the old caution, BUYER BEWARE! applies.

Thanks again for all the illustrations and educational pointers worthy of attending to. So helpful!

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Originally Posted by bob@pei
Your personal experience with the Roland products is instructive. Must admit it's a little disheartening to think that even with a hefty price tag, the FP90X's amplification is something less than stellar. It would seem that the old caution, BUYER BEWARE! applies.

The try and buy is important (also including listening carefully at the venue the sounds, even when the instruments is powered off --- listening for squeaks, rattles, ratchety sounds, clicking, or anything that sounds as one would expect for all the keys --- and sound levels, clarity, any buzz noises from the chassis or grills etc). The buyer 'aware' is beneficial.

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Thanks for weighing in @SouthPark.

Quote
So it can be assumed that if there is adequate amplification, then other considerations can be multi-band equaliser settings.

Adding this point that thinking about amplification leads naturally to equalizer settings makes a heckuva lot of sense to me. I'm wondering, then, about Roland's FP90X (or even their FP60X), which trouble themselves to put a basic 3-band equalizer with physical controllers (faders) right up front and centre on their cabinets. Combine this design thinking with @MarkOfJohnson's successful result with external monitors makes this make/model kind of attractive.

Not only that, but sheer number and quality of participation in the FP-90X's exclusive owners' forum thread, at least for me, adds a good measure of credibility to this Roland Product. Unfortunately, it's quite a bit more pricey than my budget of $1,000 to $2,000 (CDN $$), which is like $800-$1,600 US $$.

I also appreciate the counterbalance to all these exotic technics you bring by stating:
Quote
Also always taking into account each person's own ears. One person's hearing system is different from another person's.

I'd just note that a counterbalance is not the same thing as a negation. You're obviously looking at both sides of the topic, subjective AND objective.

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Originally Posted by bob@pei
I'd just note that a counterbalance is not the same thing as a negation. You're obviously looking at both sides of the topic, subjective AND objective.

True. Because our ears are part of the filter system too, along with the room/surroundings/environment. One person's ear canal and cilia sensors etc etc (dimensions, number) and audio processing system (brain/nerves) will be different from another. And for some people, it's even possible that a person's left-side ear system has performance that is different from their right-side due to physical differences. This includes frequency response, sensitivity etc. For example, somebody could get an audio test, which turns out that they can hear relatively high frequency audible components in one of their ears, while the other one can't detect those highs. And some people might not be able to hear certain frequencies that other people hear - due to some hearing limitation or something (such as some people wind their earphone power levels so high that they don't even realise permanent damage is being caused). Example only. Most welcome bob!

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