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We often hear on PW that a particular make of piano is better than another, especially when a potential buyer presents us with a list of prospects. Assuming the make/model of piano in question has no known consistent flaws, I always wonder what makes one piano better than another. Sure, the more expensive pianos have better prep. But one can properly regulate the actions and voice the hammers on both expensive and cheap pianos, whereby both play equally well and have a proper sound. Assuming pianos of equal size, how do we then determine which is better? In a blind test, will our ears really tell us that the more expensive pianos sound better? Does a perfectly regulated Bosendorfer action really play better than a perfectly regulated M3 action in a Kawai GL?

What do you think?


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Although the quality of the regulation and quality of thehammer voicing are important they are far from being the only determinants of the touch and tone of a piano. Quality of materials, scale design, the quality and expertise in the countless details in the building of the piano other than the voicing of hammers or regulation of the action can't be changed by taking a lower quality piano and prepping it to the nth degree. A few examples:
1. All hammers are not of the same quality in materials and design so that voicing cannot make a lesser quality hammers sound as good as a well voiced higher quality hammer.
2. The least expensive Yamahas don't use the best wood for their rims so no voicing can change that.

I can't locate it, but Sally Fields wrote and article explaining what distinguished the absolute best pianos from lesser makes. Perhaps someone can post a link to the article.

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I'm unable to answer about whether one piano is "better" than another, I think that may be way too subjective/loaded. But I think there are definitely differences that can be heard and felt between pianos, and I suspect that those differences may persist regardless of voicing/regulation.

For example, Yamaha and Kawai pianos tend to be very consistent in regulation, and I would imagine that if three SK-5s feel the same, it's pretty safe to say this is the ideal feel Kawai is aiming for for that piano. Same with the C3X. And from testing multiple Bosendorfers, I've found the actions to be extremely consistent as well. And I'm pretty sure I can tell a "ideally regulated/prepped" Bosendorfer from an SK instantly if blindfolded, both from tone and keytouch. Perhaps it's more of an extreme example, but I imagine hardware differences such as the Bose's thinner spruce rim, or the treble bell on Steinways or the tension resonator on MH contribute to whatever "characteristic sound" can be heard.

I think a tangential, but interesting question, is whether it's possible to regulate a Millennium III action "identically" to a Renner in a Bosendorfer, or to a WNG action, if you did so in a way that ignored the manufacturer's build/prep. I'm curious to know if you can get an GX-2 or SK-5 to have that same silky, feathery light action as on some of the European pianos.


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Originally Posted by Emery Wang
We often hear on PW that a particular make of piano is better than another, especially when a potential buyer presents us with a list of prospects. Assuming the make/model of piano in question has no known consistent flaws, I always wonder what makes one piano better than another. Sure, the more expensive pianos have better prep. But one can properly regulate the actions and voice the hammers on both expensive and cheap pianos, whereby both play equally well and have a proper sound. Assuming pianos of equal size, how do we then determine which is better? In a blind test, will our ears really tell us that the more expensive pianos sound better? Does a perfectly regulated Bosendorfer action really play better than a perfectly regulated M3 action in a Kawai GL?

What do you think?
I think it is a very subjective question. I upgraded my RX-2 to an SK-2 and to my ears I hear a more pleasing tone out of the SK2 that is unquestionably more rich, clear, resonating, but others may prefer the tone of the RX-2 based on their own personal preferences. If a good piano tone was determined to be the tone of an RX-2 I guess some may consider that the better piano. But we have set artificial standards of what constitutes a "proper rich tone". Maybe it's the Steinway standard that piano manufacturers are all aiming for.

So rarer woods are sought. More manual craftsmanship. Better materials, quality control, and prep. But can we really say what makes a particular make of a piano better than another? I don't think so. I've thought the same thing over the past several weeks. How does one justify the expense at times when I can't hear what makes one piano better than another other than the name of the fall board and what we're led to believe. But isn't that how prestige items generally work?

Two distinguished pianos- one costs 5 times as much as the other though both quite expensive high models. Different tones I can hear especially when we compare a smaller grand to a larger grand. Difference in quality of tone. No, not at all in most cases. Same for the action. A well regulated and prepped M3 action is just as good as any action out their IMHO. [i][/i]

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I can't locate it, but Sally Fields wrote and article explaining what distinguished the absolute best pianos from lesser makes. Perhaps someone can post a link to the article.
Do you mean this article by Sally Phillips? As far as I’m aware, Sally Field is not a piano aficionado, but I’d love to hear if she is!

I do think the article does a good job articulating what sets apart high end pianos from other pianos.

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Think of the violin. Everyone thinks Stradivarius is the absolute best. But when they blindfolded famous violinists most chose a newly manufactured violin over the Stradivarius. See this article: Famous Violinists Can't Tell a Stradivarius from a Newly Manufactured Violin "built yesterday in North America".

A lot of this boils down to what we are influenced to believe.

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I think the two most important factors are who’s playing the two pianos and who’s maintaining the two pianos! thumb

Seriously. The other stuff is more nuanced.


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Given superlative materials, build quality, technicians and musicians, better design will result in a better piano. The new Yamaha CFX may prove to be a case in point.


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It's impossible to separate touch from tone in the final evaluation of a piano's action, but there are quite a few objective criteria, and areas where execution can help or harm a design. In a maker with multiple lines, they often use many of the same action parts, but other elements of the action installation will yield better or worse results. For example, the extra time spent individually weighing each piano key in an SK would give a better result than the pattern weighed keys in a GL. The key weight pattern in the GL is mathematically correct, but the individual weigh off accounts for natural variations in materials or due to the manufacturing process. It's slower, it costs more, but in the end, that extra work also feels more consistent. Craftsmen make decisions to compensate or optimize.

Sometimes just putting the assembly or regulation steps in a different order yields a more precise result.


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From a mechanical standpoint; tolerances.


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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
The least expensive Yamahas don't use the best wood for their rims so no voicing can change that.

I'm glad you brought up wood in rims pianoloverus. I'm sure different woods and thicknesses change the sound. What I don't know is how to judge whether the change is for the better.


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Originally Posted by Sgisela
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I can't locate it, but Sally Fields wrote and article explaining what distinguished the absolute best pianos from lesser makes. Perhaps someone can post a link to the article.
Do you mean this article by Sally Phillips? As far as I’m aware, Sally Field is not a piano aficionado, but I’d love to hear if she is!

I do think the article does a good job articulating what sets apart high end pianos from other pianos.
Sally Phillips is an extremely experienced and extremely skilled piano technician. Even if you didn't know that I think it's obvious from reading the article.

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Originally Posted by PianoWorksATL
It's impossible to separate touch from tone in the final evaluation of a piano's action, but there are quite a few objective criteria, and areas where execution can help or harm a design. In a maker with multiple lines, they often use many of the same action parts, but other elements of the action installation will yield better or worse results. For example, the extra time spent individually weighing each piano key in an SK would give a better result than the pattern weighed keys in a GL. The key weight pattern in the GL is mathematically correct, but the individual weigh off accounts for natural variations in materials or due to the manufacturing process. It's slower, it costs more, but in the end, that extra work also feels more consistent. Craftsmen make decisions to compensate or optimize.

Sometimes just putting the assembly or regulation steps in a different order yields a more precise result.

Thanks Sam. So in my hypothetical, the GL's keys would also be individually weighted with the same care the SK's are. This is quite possible as many Stanwoodized pianos and such attest. So taking the fine regulation and balancing out of the equation, is there anything left to distinguish the expensive piano from the cheap one other than better parts which ostensibly you could outfit onto a cheaper piano as well?

Perhaps another way to look at it is to consider Chinese-made pianos that boast quality parts (Renner actions, Roslau strings, Abel hammers, spruce soundboards, etc). If those were properly balanced and regulated, what makes them sound and play worse than their much more expensive counterparts? Or would they?

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Originally Posted by Withindale
Given superlative materials, build quality, technicians and musicians, better design will result in a better piano. The new Yamaha CFX may prove to be a case in point.

It probably just depends on the conditions for where and how it is used. For example, it might not sound fantastic in somebody's bedroom or relatively small room. Or might not even fit in somebody's bedroom (if it hypothetically could get through the door).

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Sally Phillips is an extremely experienced and extremely skilled piano technician. Even if you didn't know that I think it's obvious from reading the article.
Yes, this I know. You were the one who referred to her (in your post regarding an article) as Sally Field. Sally Field is an actress, who as far as I know has no special interest in the piano. If you know otherwise, please enlighten me.

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Originally Posted by Emery Wang
Originally Posted by PianoWorksATL
It's impossible to separate touch from tone in the final evaluation of a piano's action, but there are quite a few objective criteria, and areas where execution can help or harm a design. In a maker with multiple lines, they often use many of the same action parts, but other elements of the action installation will yield better or worse results. For example, the extra time spent individually weighing each piano key in an SK would give a better result than the pattern weighed keys in a GL. The key weight pattern in the GL is mathematically correct, but the individual weigh off accounts for natural variations in materials or due to the manufacturing process. It's slower, it costs more, but in the end, that extra work also feels more consistent. Craftsmen make decisions to compensate or optimize.

Sometimes just putting the assembly or regulation steps in a different order yields a more precise result.

Thanks Sam. So in my hypothetical, the GL's keys would also be individually weighted with the same care the SK's are. This is quite possible as many Stanwoodized pianos and such attest. So taking the fine regulation and balancing out of the equation, is there anything left to distinguish the expensive piano from the cheap one other than better parts which ostensibly you could outfit onto a cheaper piano as well?
The SK could never match the superlative tone found in a GL because fundamentally they are constructed differently. Yes I know the GL is the consumer line. What makes one better than the other I would leave it to you to decide.

For the most part though I think it makes sense to compare apples to apples ie. where each piano is positioned in the market as intended by the manufacturer. That’s where I find it difficult to define one piano “better” than another.

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An important view is - back in the old days, when they didn't have the same technology as we have today, it didn't stop people from enjoying and appreciating piano music, and playing pianos. That's because - the pianos were already quite playable, and the sounds were good enough to be enjoyed by everybody - even in big concerts, or in somebody's room etc.

But - for certain applications - if somebody seriously reckons a particular piano makes a significant difference in something ---- benefit-wise, then that's fine too.

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If you can't tell the difference between a consumer grade and top tier piano, you need to play more.


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Originally Posted by Emery Wang
Thanks Sam. So in my hypothetical, the GL's keys would also be individually weighted with the same care the SK's are. This is quite possible as many Stanwoodized pianos and such attest. So taking the fine regulation and balancing out of the equation, is there anything left to distinguish the expensive piano from the cheap one other than better parts which ostensibly you could outfit onto a cheaper piano as well?

Perhaps another way to look at it is to consider Chinese-made pianos that boast quality parts (Renner actions, Roslau strings, Abel hammers, spruce soundboards, etc). If those were properly balanced and regulated, what makes them sound and play worse than their much more expensive counterparts? Or would they?
All Renner actions are not of the same quality or design. Same for spruce soundboards, etc. etc. As already mentioned, pianos have different scale designs. Then there's the quality of the workmanship. For example, how well is the soundboard installed. Building a piano is not just putting parts together. Every step can be done with different degrees of skill and willingness to spend time. i suggest you read the Sally Phillips article for a detailed discussion of what goes into building the best pianos.

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Originally Posted by Learux
If you can't tell the difference between a consumer grade and top tier piano, you need to play more.
Well the point is most can. But define what makes one better than another. Or explain why can thousands of people pass by Joshua Bell dressed in a baseball cap and t shirt on some random sidewalk playing masterpieces by Bach on a 3.5 million dollar Stradivarius and have only 7 people stop and listen and leave $32 in donations whereas many would pay hundreds of dollars to watch him dressed to the 9’s playing the same pieces at Carnegie Hall? As that article I cited explains its all how we perceive things that matters.

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