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#1985421 - 11/11/12 04:05 PM DP + Computer = Better DP for Tech Savvy Beginner?
Dan Clark Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/27/12
Posts: 170
Loc: Bellevue, WA USA
In another thread, I posted questions about a standalone DP for a beginner. From research, it looks like it may be possible to get a better sounding DP by adding a PC, good software, amp, and speakers. While I'm starting lessons again as a beginner, I'm a professional software developer - a technically savvy beginner. I.e. I've no fear of integrating a complex keyboard/PC solution to get a better overall solution.

Several other threads from accomplished musicians have focused on detailed subtleties of different PC/software solutions, but none seem to answer the basic question - disregarding the keyboard action, does a very expensive, standalone DP offer the same or better sound and features than a less expensive DP combined with a PC, good software, amp, and speakers?

Since my DP would be a home unit that would never move, portability is not an issue - having extra "stuff" hanging off the keyboard unit is fine. And spending extra bucks to get better keyboard action (maybe up to $3000 USD) is fine too. OTOH, wasting money on hard-coded or unnecessary features is NOT fine.

Using a good, midi-capable keyboard with very good key action as the starting point, my questions are:

- Is it possible to get great piano sound with PC/amp/speakers? For example, could good software (e.g. Synthology Ivory II) + quality amp + speakers produce the same quality sound on something like a Casio PX-350 as you would get from a higher-end DP like a Kawai CA95 standalone (no PC)? What would you be missing?

- Some of the high-end DPs have amazing features like hundreds of sounds, multi-track recording, dozens/hundreds of built-in songs, built-in practice lessons, etc. Is it possible to get most or all of this with add-on PC software? Other than the ability to quickly change settings from the DP keyboard, what would be missing?

Thanks and regards,

Dan.

p.s. A DP to address space and noise concerns is critical. A PC with educational software is important to too.

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#1985427 - 11/11/12 04:36 PM Re: DP + Computer = Better DP for Tech Savvy Beginner? [Re: Dan Clark]
mrfancypants Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 09/23/12
Posts: 9
I'm in the same situation, here are a few things that I read here recently that might help with your decision:

a comparison between Vintage D and Kawai MP10 (Vintage D seems to be a popular software, apparently from technical specifications like sample size not quite as "good" as Ivory 2, but it doesn't need the annoying ilok usb key):
http://www.pianoworld.com/forum/ubbthreads.php/topics/1984387/Re:%20How%20to%20connect%20Ivory%20II?.html#Post1984387

Pianoteq vs. Korg SV1:
http://www.pianoworld.com/forum/ubbthreads.php/topics/1982859/Compare%20sound%20(Pianoteq%20VS%20Kor.html#Post1982859

Interesting comparison between VSTs, listen to samples first, later in the thread the sources and more VST sounds are revealed:
http://www.pianoworld.com/forum/ubbthrea...tml#Post1980690


It seems that the new Casio line offers a good action for little money, I'm currently thinking about buying the PX-850; I don't need a mobile piano and prefer a more solid cabinet. The 750 is cheaper, but maybe I end up liking the sound of the 850 enough so that I don't need a virtual piano.

Aside from possibly better sound quality another advantage of the virtual piano solution is that any external boxes you might have are probably better than the boxes that come with entry level DPs. I'm not sure how expensive DPs compare, but buying one of those isn't an option for me anyway.
A drawback of virtual pianos is increased time before you can play (not an issue for me as the PC is running all the time). I also read about possible latency issues, but I guess with good hardware you can reduce latency to where it isn't a problem.

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#1985435 - 11/11/12 04:56 PM Re: DP + Computer = Better DP for Tech Savvy Beginner? [Re: mrfancypants]
Dan Clark Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/27/12
Posts: 170
Loc: Bellevue, WA USA
Mr FP,

Thanks. Very good feedback. Your suggestion about the PX-850 matches Sam Bennett's recommendation in my other thread. With a street price of $1,100 (USD), that might provide a good start with expandability in the future via PC, amp, etc.

Like you, my PCs run 24X7. With today's PC's and Macs, I think the modest extra cost of electricity is worth it, and there is evidence that turning a computer off and on is harder on them than leaving them running. Given the move from laptops and desktops to smart phones and tablets, fast laptops and desktops are relatively inexpensive these days. So latency should not be an issue.

Thanks and regards,

Dan.


Edited by Dan Clark (11/11/12 05:03 PM)

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#1985446 - 11/11/12 05:26 PM Re: DP + Computer = Better DP for Tech Savvy Beginner? [Re: Dan Clark]
gvfarns Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/16/07
Posts: 3474
Loc: Pennsylvania
Software pianos are transcendently more detailed, more realistic, and more pleasing than the onboard sounds on any digital piano you can buy, at any price. It's really not fair to compare them directly because they are not in the same league. Software pianos can offer professional quality sound. The can be and are used to produce CD's and mp3's that people pay actual money for. Digital pianos make sounds that mimic a piano well enough for home or gigging use but that's as far as it goes.

As far as sounds go, I have yet to hear a single digital piano that satisfies when subjected to close scrutiny with high quality headphones. Probably the best I have tried is the AvantGrand (I don't care for Roland's SuperNatural sound either...it doesn't sound natural to me). Even that uber-expensive AvantGrand is not really that close to a good software piano in my opinion. It's certainly not close on a technical level (looping, etc) and I find the difference to be audible. In my opinion, Kawai's offerings come short as well in the sound department when compared with software pianos.

As for amps and speakers, most digital piano speakers are pretty poor and very poorly located. Those that are better (again, like the AvantGrand N3) are very expensive. The amount of extra money required to get the high-quality speakers is very large. If you are adding your own external speakers they can be as good and expensive as you want, so no matter how good the piano speaker is, you can definitely find an external solution that puts it to shame.

In the end, there is a bit of a hassle having a computer hooked up to your piano (and VST's are sometimes flaky) but there is so much to be gained with a very small outlay by using a software piano it's unbelievable. If you want the best sounds, get the PX150 and put the rest into a nice quiet computer (mine is completely fanless and I love the silence) and a few VST's.

As for the lessons, recording, and other functionality, there are tons of programs that could potentially allow you to do a lot more than digital pianos will do. However, they can be pricey and many are hard to use. For example, all this digital audio workstation software can do much better than the sequencer on your piano. On the other hand, they are incredibly difficult to use in my experience. Also for whatever reason, digital audio stuff is structured as plugins to plugins to plugins to plugins. At the end you have a ton of software and it's not clear what, if anything, much of it accomplishes. I'm actually pretty down on DAW software (in case you can't tell). On the lessons, I suspect there is good software around but I haven't used it so I can't comment more.

I guess I have an opinion on leaving the computer on as well in case you are interested. Unless it is only for a few hours, it's probably not worth it, even if electricity doesn't cost much on a kilowatt-hour basis. Booting up a computer only takes a few seconds. Those seconds feel like a lot when you are waiting for it at the desktop, but if you just flip on the computer first, then prep the piano (take the dust cover off, etc) you don't end up waiting much. You can sleep or hibernate your computer instead of shutting it down if booting takes too long.

I have a home fileserver that is relatively low power that I leave on all the time (I connect to it from work all the time, so I need to leave it on). It sucks maybe 40-50 watts. But my desktops suck more. Like 65-85 without the monitor (or 150 if I use a video card). Think about the incandescent bulbs that burn that kind of power and how you would feel if someone in your house left one on for weeks and months at a time even though no one was in the room.


Edited by gvfarns (11/11/12 05:54 PM)

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#1985462 - 11/11/12 06:04 PM Re: DP + Computer = Better DP for Tech Savvy Beginner? [Re: Dan Clark]
sullivang Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/05/09
Posts: 2100
Loc: Sydney, Australia
+1 on sleep/hibernate as an alternative to turning off completely or rebooting, HOWEVER, you may find that this is not a completely seamless process. For example, my USB audio interface does not survive suspend or hibernate, and if I leave the software piano open, I need to disconnect and reconnect to the audio interface. (worse, if I forget to turn the USB audio interface off before a suspend/hibernate, Windows will crash during the resume).

Greg.

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#1985463 - 11/11/12 06:12 PM Re: DP + Computer = Better DP for Tech Savvy Beginner? [Re: Dan Clark]
1John Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/25/12
Posts: 43
Loc: Adelaide, Australia
What about the sound-field modelling advertised in some of the higher-end DPs? The claim would be that this provides better modelling from different locations in a room, rather than just at the location of the player. Any thoughts on whether this really makes difference, and how software pianos compare on this point?

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#1985476 - 11/11/12 06:59 PM Re: DP + Computer = Better DP for Tech Savvy Beginner? [Re: 1John]
gvfarns Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/16/07
Posts: 3474
Loc: Pennsylvania
Originally Posted By: 1John
What about the sound-field modelling advertised in some of the higher-end DPs? The claim would be that this provides better modelling from different locations in a room, rather than just at the location of the player. Any thoughts on whether this really makes difference, and how software pianos compare on this point?


In my experience, sampled software pianos are amazing at placing the piano in different rooms. It often really sounds like you are performing in that room. As for changing the position of the mics, not so much. Basically they had the mics in a particular location when they recorded and that's the sound you get. Usually they place them very well, so it sounds like pianos you hear in professional recordings.

PianoTeq actually allows you to move the mic all over. Above, below and all around the piano. It definitely sounds different as you move the mic. Personally I don't think it sound better than the defaults. That's kind of a general rule about PianoTeq, I find. You can tweak an amazing number of things, but most tweaks don't improve over the defaults. At least, my tweaks don't.

Some sampled pianos offer different mic positions and each mic position is basically a separate piano. I don't own any of those so I can't say whether they are good or bad. One fundamental difference between different sampled pianos, though, is how closely they are miced. This is one reason people tend to buy a number of VST's rather than just one.

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#1985498 - 11/11/12 07:57 PM Re: DP + Computer = Better DP for Tech Savvy Beginner? [Re: gvfarns]
Dan Clark Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/27/12
Posts: 170
Loc: Bellevue, WA USA
gvfarns, Greg, 1John,

Again, excellent feedback. Much to consider, but...

It looks a decent DP keyboard with software piano is the best option for me. It sounds like the biggest issue will choosing the right combo of computer software and hardware.

Currently, I have a fair number of computer parts laying around including a small aluminum case, a couple of video cards, a couple of monitors, and an extra laptop. It seems like I can start with the laptop and see if that works out. It wakes up out of sleep mode quickly, has lots of USB ports, 8Gb of memory, a good CPU and fast disk, and runs Win7/64. I'll try that first.

If that doesn't work, I can build out a small desktop computer using the parts that I have fairly inexpensively. And sleep mode should work well on that too. Reconnecting the USB ports isn't a big issue.

It sounds (pardon the pun) like a software piano can give you equal to or better sound than a DP. But what about features? Currently this is such a grey are for me that I'm not even sure of the right questions to ask. Are there features you can only get on a DP and would not be available with a software piano or other computer software?

Thanks,

Dan.

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#1985508 - 11/11/12 08:22 PM Re: DP + Computer = Better DP for Tech Savvy Beginner? [Re: Dan Clark]
slowtraveler Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/14/12
Posts: 155
Loc: Chicago, IL USA
Originally Posted By: Dan Clark

- Some of the high-end DPs have amazing features like hundreds of sounds, multi-track recording, dozens/hundreds of built-in songs, built-in practice lessons, etc. Is it possible to get most or all of this with add-on PC software?


Hi Dan,

I suggest that the investment of time and energy required to develop basic competence in a mainstream PC digital audio workstation (like PreSonus Studio One, just for one example) and related applications would be repaid many times over in opening up a vastly greater range of music instruction, practice, and production options for you than can be had from any purpose-built DP feature set. All the more so, since you are already technically savvy and experienced in software development.

The comparative advantages of a software-centric approach to learning might not be huge at the absolute beginner level, but they will grow _much_ greater over time, IMO.

Kind regards,

B.

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#1985511 - 11/11/12 08:27 PM Re: DP + Computer = Better DP for Tech Savvy Beginner? [Re: Dan Clark]
gvfarns Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/16/07
Posts: 3474
Loc: Pennsylvania
The main advantage I can think of that onboard sounds have is that they have been tuned specifically for the keyboard. Midi values are 0-127 and there's no mapping from the force on your fingers to them, so you sometimes have to tweak the velocity curve on your software piano to get it to respond the way you do. That is, a software piano may feel not very responsive with a particular keyboard but feel very responsive with another. This issue can generally be solved within the software, but there are those who feel that you can never get it quite right.

Having said that I can't imagine myself ever using onboard sounds again, so clearly I don't think it's a big issue.

The main technical issue you run into is latency, which is actually not very closely related to the processing speed, hard drive, or ram of your computer. Mostly it has to do with the driver for your audio interface. If you can get a good ASIO driver for your motherboard sounds, you can generally get good latency with hardware that is remotely recent. ASIO4ALL is the first place to look if you have issues. The other alternative is to get a USB audio interface like the Behringer UC202, Presonus Audiobox USB, M-Audio Fast Track Pro, or Focusrite Scarlett. These typically have good drivers that will give you excellent latency.

As far as features, a digital piano may have, for example, tons of crazy sounds (drums, strings, etc.) and a software piano will not. Of course, there are VST's that provide just about any instrument you want. You'd have to get them separately, though. On the other hand, who uses that stuff? Not me.


Edited by gvfarns (11/11/12 08:30 PM)

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#1985514 - 11/11/12 08:29 PM Re: DP + Computer = Better DP for Tech Savvy Beginner? [Re: Dan Clark]
RafaPolit Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/20/11
Posts: 263
Loc: Quito, Ecuador
Dan, I agree 100% with what gvfarns said in his long post three posts above.

As for the features of a DP you would not get on software, they are few, but they are there nonetheless! smile The key one is loading and changing time. On a DP, if you wish to change from Piano Grand 1, to EP Piano 2, to Strings, you just press a button twice and you are there! With software, you will probably need to load different patches and wait for them to load. Layering is also a bit of an issue: if you want layered two different sounds, on a DP its just probably one or two clicks away. To layer, for instance, PianoTeq with a software String samples, you would need a DAW and configure two different tracks with two different VSTs, etc.

So, you pay a little for the increased quality with more limited versatility (in certain aspects). Also, in a DP you get all the sounds: piano, EPs, organs, strings, brass, individual instruments, drums. In software, you will probably want the best in the line, and those do probably one or two of those categories well. So, you will want Ivory, or Galaxy or Pianoteq for pianos, another for Organs, Hollywood Strings, Hollywood Brass or those for the other orchestral instruments, etc.

But, if you are only playing piano, that certainly reduces the issues to almost none and the benefits are really significant even for the most expensive DPs as noted above (and I am one of those that actually like the Roland SN, but the sampled pianos are really much, much richer and deeper).

That is, of course, only my opinion.
Rafa.
_________________________
Roland FP-7F

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#1985517 - 11/11/12 08:38 PM Re: DP + Computer = Better DP for Tech Savvy Beginner? [Re: Dan Clark]
MacMacMac Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/24/09
Posts: 3666
Loc: North Carolina
The answer to your question is yes, better. Much better.

As far as I can tell, no digital piano at any price can match the sound of the better piano libraries. Well, maybe the V piano can come close. But aside from that, there are NONE.
Originally Posted By: Dan Clark
The basic question: Disregarding the keyboard action, does a very expensive, standalone DP offer the same or better sound and features than a less expensive DP combined with a PC, good software, amp, and speakers?

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#1985519 - 11/11/12 08:47 PM Re: DP + Computer = Better DP for Tech Savvy Beginner? [Re: RafaPolit]
gvfarns Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/16/07
Posts: 3474
Loc: Pennsylvania
Originally Posted By: RafaPolit
(and I am one of those that actually like the Roland SN, but the sampled pianos are really much, much richer and deeper).


BTW just so everyone has the right idea, I'm definitely in the minority regarding Roland's sounds. I think as far as onboard sounds are concerned, Roland's supernatural stuff is the most respected overall here in the forum. I consider it very good until you listen very closely with headphones.

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#1985592 - 11/12/12 03:44 AM Re: DP + Computer = Better DP for Tech Savvy Beginner? [Re: gvfarns]
spanishbuddha Online   content
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/08/09
Posts: 2231
Loc: UK
Originally Posted By: gvfarns
Originally Posted By: RafaPolit
(and I am one of those that actually like the Roland SN, but the sampled pianos are really much, much richer and deeper).


BTW just so everyone has the right idea, I'm definitely in the minority regarding Roland's sounds. I think as far as onboard sounds are concerned, Roland's supernatural stuff is the most respected overall here in the forum. I consider it very good until you listen very closely with headphones.

Probably OT but I'm another in the minority with Roland SN sound. I think it sucks, metallic twangy whine in the C5/6 octave that just hurts to listen to. No way of EQing it out. Otherwise probably one of the best for tone/timbre variations with dynamics.

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#1985602 - 11/12/12 04:27 AM Re: DP + Computer = Better DP for Tech Savvy Beginner? [Re: Dan Clark]
Kos Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/29/11
Posts: 76
Third member of the club here.
I honestly think that the term "SuperNatural" was always meant to be sarcastic.
_________________________
"There is nothing to piano playing besides producing the appropriate velocities on the appropriate keys at the appropriate time" (c) qvfarns

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#1985675 - 11/12/12 10:15 AM Re: DP + Computer = Better DP for Tech Savvy Beginner? [Re: Dan Clark]
Dan Clark Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/27/12
Posts: 170
Loc: Bellevue, WA USA
Gentlemen (Ladies?),

Again, great feedback!

Since my PCs are or will be fairly robust, latency should not be an issue. Even then, if that becomes an issue, the ASIO4ALL driver or USB audio interface are available.

For the short term, a good piano sound is my primary focus. For the long term, it looks like good VSTs are available when I need them.

Currently I have a subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud (mostly for photo and video editing), which includes Adobe Audition. While not as robust as something like PreSonus Studio One, I've used Audition for audio editing so I have some experience with this kind of software.

While there are certainly pluses with a standalone DP, it looks like I have to choose a feature\quality\cost balance far in advance of my current needs. That's difficult.

With the DAW/software piano approach, it appears that choosing a good quality keyboard action is the major decision. Then I can add components as I need them. This approach seems like it has lower risk and initial cost combined with maximum flexibility. I.e. lots of upsides and minimal downsides.

Thanks,

Dan.

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