Keyboardists often complain that their digital/electronic piano sounds harsh, honky, thin, muffled, resonant, tinny, strident, boxy, like a toy/budget instrument, and other kinds of terrible and awful, such as the “ice-pick-in-the-ear effect”. I’ve been frustrated by these issues myself; no one feels inspired playing an instrument that sounds bad!
After a few years of working on understanding the causes of these problems, I’m convinced they can be solved by careful loudspeaker design, especially with attention to directivity control. It is possible to achieve a much more inspiring sound with existing keyboards. However, most off-the-shelf sound systems (e.g. “keyboard” amps, monitors and compact PAs) aren’t up to the task, for reasons described below. There is a real need for a purpose-built system for naturalistic, acoustic piano sound. I want to build that system.
This is another in a series of posts about why digital pianos often sound bad in live performance, and what can be done about it.
Sometimes when I play a chord on my digital piano (DP) the tone sounds suddenly and unexpectedly thin. Striking the same chord again might sound better, or sometimes worse… or just different. This effect is most audible on sustained chords. I find that it’s much worse with live sound, especially in mono. Stereo usually sounds better, especially in headphones where I hardly ever notice it.
This inconsistency of tone is very distracting. It feels like all the body drains out of my tone at random, making me cringe and back off of certain chords. Such haphazard tonal quality can make my playing timid and uninspired, and has made a lot of gigs not fun at all. Continue reading
Continuing with my aim to design a sound system for accurate reproduction of digital piano, I made some measurements to determine the required amplifier power and driver excursion capabilities. For output levels on par with a 6′ grand piano, an adequate system will need to reproduce transient peaks of at least 109dB SPL @ 1m and be capable of displacing at least 50 cm3. See below for details.
In my quest for high-quality live reproduction of digital piano, I have often heard it said that a piano needs full-range speakers. The argument is that the lowest fundamental is at a very low 28Hz, while the percussive nature of a piano generates lots of high frequencies. This claim sounds reasonable, but some measurements and spectral analysis show it doesn’t hold up.
Following up on an earlier post, I’ve been investigating why digital pianos sound so bad in stereo. I did a spectral analysis on the outputs of my Yamaha CP50 stage piano. The results confirm what I and others have been hearing: because of how they are sampled, stereo pianos don’t reproduce well except in headphones.
Musicians often complain that their digital piano sounds good through headphones but terrible through an amp/PA, describing their live piano sound as “thin”, “nasal” or “boxy”. This can be frustrating and musically uninspiring. Because the piano sounds good through ‘phones, people naturally blame their amp/speakers and seek a solution there.