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#1946068 - 08/20/12 11:06 AM How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano?
amirall Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 07/17/12
Posts: 15
Hello everyone.

What exactly is polyphony, and to what degree should it be considered when buying a digital piano?

A friend told me that 128 is the bare minimum; he says I shouldn't really look at anything less or else I'll just be wasting my money.

Thoughts?

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#1946089 - 08/20/12 12:07 PM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: amirall]
anotherscott Offline
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Registered: 02/20/10
Posts: 3621
Polyphony is how many notes a keyboard can sound at once. If you play more notes simultaneously (i.e. with sustain pedal down) than a keyboard has polyphony, some notes will drop out. (There are actually more variables than this, but that's the basic idea.)

IMO, for most people, using a board for nothing but playing piano, it is not important at all. Also, even if you do care about it, the numbers don't necessarily tell you all you need to know.. the only real test is to play the piano yourself. As I've mentioned here before, I've used a MOX8 with 64-voice polyphony, and if I tried *really* hard, I could coax a dropout out of it (nothing I'd expect to ever be an issue in actual performance)... but the funny thing is, I played the same passage on a lower end Yamaha that had only 32-note polyphony (NP30, I think), and I could not manage to hear a dropout on the same passage that tripped up the MOX! (The NP30 probably just had a better piano-specific note stealing algorithm.)

There are many things that affect the quality of a piano's sound and action... and almost none of them can be determined from reading a spec sheet. I suggest ignoring all the buzzwords (polyphony, graded action, triple sensor, number of velocity layers, etc.) and just play them. Whatever sounds and feels best to you is the one to get, regardless of which "feature" it has or doesn't have. A Yamaha CP1 does not have graded action or triple sensor, yet, weight and cost aside, I don't think anyone would choose a Casio PX-130 (which does have those features) over a Yamaha CP1. So ignore the marketing points on the spec sheets, and trust your fingers and ears.

All that said, where polyphony does start to matter more is perhaps if you intend to start layering sounds, or especially, if you are going to be using it to playback multi-track multi-instrument arrangements, because then you can go through notes a lot more quickly than you would by simply playing a piano sound on it.


Edited by anotherscott (08/20/12 12:13 PM)

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#1946095 - 08/20/12 12:11 PM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: amirall]
SIG77 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/17/12
Posts: 30
Loc: California, US
Simply put, press the sustain pedal, keep playing scale or full chords without releasing the pedal, and see when these previously played notes start to stop sounding. That is when you reach the maximum of the polyphony of your instrument.

Your personal playing style of how many simultaneous notes make a difference if 128 is enough.
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#1946104 - 08/20/12 12:22 PM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: amirall]
gvfarns Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/16/07
Posts: 3493
Loc: Pennsylvania
As anotherscott mentions, different manufacturers measure polyphony differently, so you can't really compare polyphony across models or really even know without testing whether it is possible to overwhelm the polyphony in a given piano. When digital pianos were a new invention, low polyphony was sometimes a significant problem, but no current models I'm aware of have this problem. Basically the only time you can get notes to drop out in a modern digital (even a low end one) is when you are trying to do so, hard, by mashing all the keys at once with the sustain down. Even then you often can't do it.

Notice that there are only 88 keys on the piano. What's the chance you will want more than 64 (for example) of them to play at the same time? Even if you do full-piano glissandos you will only play the white keys most likely. And there are only 52 of those. You can think of examples that use more, but they are not common.

In short, with any piano made in the last decade or so I wouldn't worry about polyphony one way or the other for piano playing. If you plan to layer sounds, for example, you can use up the polyphony much faster. Most people don't, though.


Edited by gvfarns (08/20/12 12:23 PM)

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#1946105 - 08/20/12 12:22 PM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: amirall]
MacMacMac Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/24/09
Posts: 4060
Loc: North Carolina
Not relevant at all. I don't know of anyone who had problems with polyphony at 32, which was standard 10 years ago. Later came 64 and 128. It just doesn't matter.

It's just a marketing checklist item, as in: you wouldn't sell just ANY leather if your competition is selling "rich Corinthian leather". In the end it's just marketing babble, aka bullcrap.

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#1946113 - 08/20/12 12:31 PM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: MacMacMac]
EssBrace Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/01/09
Posts: 2466
Loc: Suffolk, United Kingdom
Originally Posted By: MacMacMac
Not relevant at all. I don't know of anyone who had problems with polyphony at 32, which was standard 10 years ago. Later came 64 and 128. It just doesn't matter.


+1
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#1946132 - 08/20/12 12:53 PM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: gvfarns]
anotherscott Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/20/10
Posts: 3621
Originally Posted By: gvfarns
Notice that there are only 88 keys on the piano. What's the chance you will want more than 64 (for example) of them to play at the same time? Even if you do full-piano glissandos you will only play the white keys most likely. And there are only 52 of those. You can think of examples that use more, but they are not common.

While we are in agreement that polyphony is pretty much a non-issue, your description does over-state the case a bit. If a piano sound is stereo, than each key uses up two notes of polyphony. It also may be possible, in some implementations, that re-striking the same note (with the pedal down) may use up an additional note of polyphony, so you may not have to play, for example, 32 different stereo-sampled keys to exhaust 64 notes of polyphony. There also may be factors like layer cross-fading and string resonance samples that can effectively reduce polyphony.

But the bottom line is, we all seem to be in agreement, for straight piano use, it generally is not an issue worth worrying about. For years, I gigged with a 32-note-polyphony Casio, and its main sound was stereo which reduced it to 16 note, and even then, in the context of a gig, I don't think I ever noticed a dropped note unless I added a layer of strings, which effectively lowered polyphony to 11... and even then, I only noticed it a handful of times! So with today's boards having a minimum of 64, I wouldn't give it a thought unless I knew I had a specific application likely to create an issue. Straight piano playing? Nah.

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#1946173 - 08/20/12 02:02 PM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: MacMacMac]
Dave Horne Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/07/04
Posts: 5291
Loc: Vught, The Netherlands
Originally Posted By: MacMacMac
Not relevant at all. I don't know of anyone who had problems with polyphony at 32, which was standard 10 years ago. Later came 64 and 128. It just doesn't matter.

It's just a marketing checklist item, as in: you wouldn't sell just ANY leather if your competition is selling "rich Corinthian leather". In the end it's just marketing babble, aka bullcrap.


+1
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#1946180 - 08/20/12 02:12 PM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: amirall]
Bob Newbie Offline
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Registered: 09/02/06
Posts: 1555

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#1946220 - 08/20/12 03:09 PM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: amirall]
JFP Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/19/10
Posts: 1347
Loc: The Netherlands
I started with 32 voices on a Roland, but all sounds had layers of some kind and that reduces the polyphony to a level that midi timing and note steeling became indeed a problem. Next stage was a 24 polyphony machine, by that one also had stereo sample - cutting the count in half - cross fading over the velocity layers and multiple layers. Again note steeling was audible. Next Board was 48 voices. That one also had some issues, because as polyphony increased, the programmers where tempted to use more layers and other effects that ate up voices. Only from 64 voices and up I found piano only voices to be playable without any voice steeling effects. And that is piano only, meaning no additional sounds, sequences etc added to the basic sound.

So 128 seems to be save, but for multiple layered stereo sounds more may be needed. Of course , by then you're not purely playing AP or EP anymore but acting in another league (workstation / sequencing / arranger). It would be nice if the manufacturers could tell us of all these nice new resonance effects etc eat into your polyphony count. If not 128 should be more than fine.


Edited by JFP (08/20/12 03:11 PM)

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#1946276 - 08/20/12 04:29 PM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: amirall]
Keegan Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/22/09
Posts: 142
Loc: Canada (Ottawa, ON)
My personal experience with polyphony:
As a classical pianist playing relatively advance repertoire, I noticed frequent dropouts on my first keyboard (Yamaha DGX-620 with 32 note polyphony) and occasional dropouts on other 64 note board I've tried...never have I had major problems with 128 note polyphony boards except in extremely uncommon situations (Large chords with 2 hands, followed by arpeggios and lets say a very long trill or trill like ornament on a group of notes all without change of pedal).

256 note polyphony? Can't imagine maxing that out with solo piano alone; seems to me like the safest number without being terribly overboard (but then again, depending on personal usage, people may disagree wholeheartedly)
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#1946293 - 08/20/12 04:55 PM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: amirall]
emenelton Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/02/09
Posts: 672
Kawai's PHI system triggers voices, from keys you are holding down, that are relative octaves and fifths away from keys that are subsequently pressed. Holding down a 4 note chord and then playing 2 more notes will use 6 stereo voices(12 notes) and potentially trigger 4 to 6 sympathetic voices. A 6 note chord could possibly use up a whopping 24 voices of polyphony. Kawai's polyphony is claimed to be 256.

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#1946298 - 08/20/12 05:04 PM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: emenelton]
anotherscott Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/20/10
Posts: 3621
Originally Posted By: emenelton
Kawai's PHI system triggers voices, from keys you are holding down, that are relative octaves and fifths away from keys that are subsequently pressed. Holding down a 4 note chord and then playing 2 more notes will use 6 stereo voices(12 notes) and potentially trigger 4 to 6 sympathetic voices. A 6 note chord could possibly use up a whopping 24 voices of polyphony. Kawai's polyphony is claimed to be 256.

That's an interesting case where high polyphony means something... not because of anything magic about lots of polyphony itself, but because their particular sound engine makes higher demands of polyphony than most.

And that points out, again, the futility of just comparing numbers. A 64-note-of-polyphony board could theoretically go further without note stealing than a 128, if the tone implementation on the 64 is inherently less demanding.

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#1946307 - 08/20/12 05:24 PM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: amirall]
emenelton Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/02/09
Posts: 672
I used to practice on a PX-575 Casio that had 32 voices. I was surprised that with playing the material I was practicing at the time(the same stuff I still seem to be practicing), 4 to 6 voice jazz chords with solo lines, I never really noticed a polyphony issue.


Edited by emenelton (08/20/12 05:25 PM)

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#1946346 - 08/20/12 06:24 PM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: amirall]
origen Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/17/12
Posts: 88
Loc: New Hampshire
Polyphony is important with workstations and such but not as much on digital pianos, 192-256 can be important on workstations and synths due to layered arpeggiation, this could not be achieved under 128 and whole arpeggiations would be cut out and layers, take for instance a 7 note chord thats arpegiated up and down with a synth program that uses 6 layers, you now are using 42notes and then arpeggiate that, and now add in a new sound while that plays, you can start to see how quickly 128 can disappear.
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#1946813 - 08/21/12 06:23 PM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: amirall]
Bosendorff Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/11/12
Posts: 349
Unless you are planning to practice pieces that requires huge sustained chords (like Rachmaninoff's "It" Prelude), don't worry about polyphony, especially the numbers.

I personally am more interested on how the already playing notes are taken away when one asks for more notes than the instrument can offer. The "note stealing" algorithm can differ depending on brand and model, etc.

Two very easy tests to verify this is, first, with sustain pedal on : play a loud bass note, then do very soft runs in the mid/high registers. If the "note stealing" algorithm is well done, this bass note should continue to decay as normal, even if you play twice as many notes than the polyphony can give.

The second easy test is to strike a loud 8 note chord with both hands with sustain pedal on in the mid register, then play much softer runs above and below that loud chord, including in the bass. In this case, a good algorithm will be able to keep most of the loud chord decaying as normal, without giving advantage to the soft ones nor the soft bass note struck afterwards.

So if ever you are concerned with polyphony (which again is not very important after all), those two very simple tests will tell you more in a few seconds than all the specs and numbers you can read.

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#1946886 - 08/21/12 08:25 PM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: amirall]
PianoWorksATL Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/19/09
Posts: 2876
Loc: Atlanta, GA
Lots of responses, but I think the OP can have a simple rule of thumb.

If it is for solo piano or simple duets, 2 track recording, 64 note is plenty for 98% of the piano playing population.

If you are layering tracks, 2 or more including complex tones, rhythms or samples, then 128 note is a safer number.

The need can become complicated for certain older models, synths and workstation applications, but I think that is good enough for current DP's.
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#1946893 - 08/21/12 08:38 PM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: amirall]
sullivang Online   blank
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/05/09
Posts: 2326
Loc: Sydney, Australia
I think there are two aspects: a) whether or not you'll notice dropouts, and b) whether or not you'd notice a general improvement in the tone if you had more polyphony. As most have said, I wouldn't be concerned about a) these days. Regarding b), I'm not sure. It's definitely conceivable that with more polyphony, the sympathetic resonance might improve, producing a more pleasing, fuller sound when using the sustain pedal.

Greg.
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#1947046 - 08/22/12 03:18 AM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: amirall]
Dave Horne Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/07/04
Posts: 5291
Loc: Vught, The Netherlands
I feel compelled to write this again. I owned a GranTouch for 12 years with 32 (though I remember reading 30 in the literature) note polyphony.

I never encountered any dropped notes that I was ever aware of.
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#1947074 - 08/22/12 06:12 AM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: amirall]
Dr Popper Offline
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Registered: 12/30/09
Posts: 1722
Loc: Hancock Park LA (not again)
I remember a time when the 32 note polyphony on the DX1 was considered such a incredible and amazing thing. People could never see it as being ever used up. Never dropped a note on that I can recall. Never dropped one on a DX7 either which had "only" 16 polyphony which was also considered pretty amazing in 1983. Today it only matters when things like multilayer stereo samples can use up 4 notes of poly in a single key press.
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#1947086 - 08/22/12 07:44 AM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: amirall]
EssBrace Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/01/09
Posts: 2466
Loc: Suffolk, United Kingdom
My old RD-1000 is 16 note polyphonic on most voices but only 10 note polyphonic on two of the voices. You do hear notes dropping but even so it doesn't spoil my enjoyment of it at all. At the current typical level of polyphony it is just a non-issue.
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#1947312 - 08/22/12 03:27 PM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: amirall]
JFP Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/19/10
Posts: 1347
Loc: The Netherlands
There was a time that someone (no one in particular ;-) declared that 64k of RAM memory was enough for the coming decades and perhaps for ever after. No one dared to give such a bold statement after that complete failure of comprehension what technological developments would bring (and demand). There will certainly be a board with 400 voice polyphony in the future that still needs more, because the processing required will increase exponentially (efx, resonance effects, physical modeling simulations that eat of polyphony, surround piano's (?), whatever...)

Although I think 128 is more than enough for now, I would not dare to predict it will be enough in the (near) future...

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#1947325 - 08/22/12 03:55 PM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: amirall]
MacMacMac Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/24/09
Posts: 4060
Loc: North Carolina
Sure ... if sampling or modeling becomes more complex, the required processing power may increase. But the necessary polyphony will not increase!

If you play more notes, hold more notes in the pedal, or play multiple voices, then the requirement increases. But this is not a function of technology. It's a function of what and how you play.

To compare required polyphony with the old saw regarding 64k memory is spurious.

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#1947332 - 08/22/12 04:21 PM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: amirall]
JFP Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/19/10
Posts: 1347
Loc: The Netherlands
As an example Kawai seems to be eating up more polyphony with increased processing of acoustic by-effects. That's why I mentioned the 'old saw'. Because you don't know exactly what is going on in the process and if additional effects eat into the available voices, regardless of how many real notes you play. Is 128 voice enough ? Yes, probably...for now....

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#1947339 - 08/22/12 04:33 PM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: amirall]
emenelton Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/02/09
Posts: 672
When I depress a C slowly enough so as not to trigger a tone and hold it, then play a short duration F right below it, a note an octave above the C I have depressed will sound.

Kawai ES6

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#1947399 - 08/22/12 06:29 PM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: amirall]
SoundThumb Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/28/10
Posts: 360
Loc: San Diego, CA
All of these comments tend to point out that as a general rule, as the polyphony has increased over time, the number of notes one can simultaneously play has not changed much, that is, it remains good enough for all but unusual cases. How could this be? Well, anytime the polyphony is doubled, this roughly means that the computing power has been doubled. No manufacturer would want to double the computing power without gaining something that will be appreciated by most users much of the time (as opposed to providing for those rare cases where an extreme user encounters note dropouts). Therefore, the increased polyphony is used to improve the quality of the sound e.g. stereo vs mono, sympathetic resonance, patch layering, added effects.

So it is perhaps inaccurate to say that increased polyphony is unnecessary or just some marketing tool. We are gaining something, but maybe not what was traditionally defined by "polyphony".

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#1947411 - 08/22/12 06:58 PM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: SoundThumb]
anotherscott Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/20/10
Posts: 3621
Originally Posted By: SoundThumb
Therefore, the increased polyphony is used to improve the quality of the sound e.g. stereo vs mono, sympathetic resonance, patch layering, added effects.

I would say polyphony isn't being "used" to create those effects; but rather that employing those effects--i.e. generating more than one sound upon a keypress--by definition, uses more polyphony. Effects typically don't, unless an effect is, itself, a sound sample (like a pedal down noise, perhaps).

Still, as I said, I concur with most people... if you're simply playing piano on the board, all current models are designed with enough polyphony that it would be rather difficult to hear a dropped note, and I would make my buying decision based on other things, like the sound and feel, rather than a polyphony spec. I still regularly gig with a board that has 32-note polyphony without issues... and prefer it to some boards that have 128.

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#1947471 - 08/22/12 08:30 PM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: amirall]
gvfarns Offline
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Registered: 04/16/07
Posts: 3493
Loc: Pennsylvania
Sounds like we are having an issue of semantics here. Originally polyphony referred to how many notes could be played at the same time and that's still the way I like to think of it. But manufacturers have sometimes been using it to describe something at a more electronic level so that stereo takes twice the polyphony and sympathetic resonance takes more polyphony, etc.

Since we don't know exactly how manufacturers are measuring polyphony in terms of notes we can play, the whole notion is no longer reliable. However, since no manufacturers make quality digital pianos that we can easily make not work by playing lots of notes, the measure is also irrelevant. In my opinion, polyphony should be completely ignored when making a buying decision of a current generation piano. A 128-note polyphony piano can't necessarily play more notes than a 64-note piano, so why even look at that number?


Edited by gvfarns (08/22/12 08:31 PM)

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#1947478 - 08/22/12 08:37 PM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: amirall]
MacMacMac Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/24/09
Posts: 4060
Loc: North Carolina
Precisely right, gv.

And, if the measure of polyphony is shrouded in mystery (or worse, subjected to marketing obfuscation), then we cannot really understand what the measure means.

In the end, playing/listening is the only reliable measure. It's the only one that matters.

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#1947481 - 08/22/12 08:41 PM Re: How important is "polyphony" when buying a digital piano? [Re: amirall]
xorbe Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/31/12
Posts: 573
Loc: Mt View, CA
256 note polyphony @ 48KHz/32-bits is only 47 MB/s of data -- you'd think we would have much, MUCH higher polyphony in 2012!

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