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#2068053 - 04/21/13 02:05 PM S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide.
kpembrook Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/10
Posts: 1308
Loc: Michigan
Recently I mentioned improving the sound in the low bass region of a Steinway model "M", which I characterized as typically sounding like an old-fashioned screen door spring. I asserted that this tonal inadequacy was due to defects inherent in the "M" design and that redesign could improve the tone.

Both the "screen door spring" assertion and the redesign claim were met with a degree of skepticism. There was one suggestion that all that was needed was voicing. So, I submit this sound sample. In each series of tracks the first is always a brand new NY S&S "M" on the floor of a Steinway dealer and the second is always the rebuilt "M" from the early 20th century located adjacent to the new piano. There are several tracks but really the first tracks showing note #4-C and #7-Eb make the point. If "screen door spring" isn't an accurate description of the new piano sound, I invite other descriptions. Also, I couldn't achieve this through voicing if I needled until the cows came home. If you think this is merely a voicing challenge, I'd like to know more.

Here's the link:
https://www.box.com/s/p1db95f7tr346dqa2em1
_________________________
Keith Akins, RPT
USA Distributor for Isaac Cadenza hammers and Profundo Bass Strings
Supporting Piano Owners D-I-Y piano tuning and repair

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#2068055 - 04/21/13 02:08 PM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: kpembrook]
accordeur Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/23/06
Posts: 1190
Loc: Québec, Canada
I'm impressed. What did you do? Rescale?
_________________________
Jean Poulin

Musician, Tuner and Technician

www.actionpiano.ca

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#2068086 - 04/21/13 03:10 PM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: kpembrook]
beethoven986 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/20/09
Posts: 3326
Piano #2 has noticeably better tone quality in the bass. So, what did you do to it?
_________________________
B.Mus. Piano Performance 2009
M.Mus. Piano Performance & Literature 2011
PTG Associate Member
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#2068102 - 04/21/13 03:41 PM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: kpembrook]
Ed McMorrow, RPT Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/12
Posts: 2003
Loc: Seattle, WA USA
I have been changing all the low single string unisons to double wrap-with smaller cores at the bottom 4 notes of Sty M's that I rebuild since the mid-1970's. They sound better and clearer than the stock specs. Now with the Paulello type O wire for cores they can be made even better because you can use less wrap and still get low enough inharmonicity and reduced longitudinal mode production. I have an article coming in the PTG Journal sometime soon titled "Hybrid Wire Scales" which describes the protocols.

I am currently rebuilding an M which converts note 27 and 28 to stainless wound tri-chords on type O wire. The piano will sound bigger and less nasal at the break. This is an exciting time for improving small piano scales with these new wire types because they offer a new way to control and minimize the negative effects of longitudinal modes.


Edited by Ed McMorrow, RPT (04/21/13 04:10 PM)
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#2068107 - 04/21/13 03:51 PM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: kpembrook]
BDB Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 21444
Loc: Oakland
Neither piano sounds particularly well-tuned to me, especially in the bass.
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Semipro Tech

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#2068109 - 04/21/13 03:55 PM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: kpembrook]
accordeur Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/23/06
Posts: 1190
Loc: Québec, Canada
I noticed that the tuning was out as well, but point is about timbre not tuning.
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Jean Poulin

Musician, Tuner and Technician

www.actionpiano.ca

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#2068137 - 04/21/13 04:45 PM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: kpembrook]
BDB Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 21444
Loc: Oakland
Some of the issues seem to be with the bass strings, rather than voicing or tuning. Bad tuning makes it difficult to tell, as well as throwing one off when trying to evaluate other issues.
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#2068141 - 04/21/13 04:48 PM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: kpembrook]
Brick Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/31/06
Posts: 373
That a rescaling of the bass might dramatically improve the sound would not be a surprise to me. However that is not proven here because we are dealing with 2 different pianos of vastly different ages and presumably different hammers as well. I would expect them to sound different in any case. I would also expect them to sound different with strings from 2 different string makers, even if they are technically the same scale design. What would prove it to a finer point would be a before & after comparison of the same piano, being recorded exactly the same way.

That being said, I tend to believe your assertion it is the modified scale making the improvement. It just "sounds that way" to me, though that is hardly a scientific observation. But I have dealt with brand new pianos in which we replaced the bass strings with a rescaled set, and the difference was night and day- the "tubby" Chinese bass scale changing to a sound something like the best of the old American pianos, and power (dynamics) improving greatly. But also the new strings were from a high quality custom maker, whereas the Chinese strings are who-knows-what sort of quality.

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#2068153 - 04/21/13 05:17 PM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: Brick]
accordeur Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/23/06
Posts: 1190
Loc: Québec, Canada
Originally Posted By: Brick
That a rescaling of the bass might dramatically improve the sound would not be a surprise to me. However that is not proven here because we are dealing with 2 different pianos of vastly different ages and presumably different hammers as well. I would expect them to sound different in any case. I would also expect them to sound different with strings from 2 different string makers, even if they are technically the same scale design. What would prove it to a finer point would be a before & after comparison of the same piano, being recorded exactly the same way.

That being said, I tend to believe your assertion it is the modified scale making the improvement. It just "sounds that way" to me, though that is hardly a scientific observation. But I have dealt with brand new pianos in which we replaced the bass strings with a rescaled set, and the difference was night and day- the "tubby" Chinese bass scale changing to a sound something like the best of the old American pianos, and power (dynamics) improving greatly. But also the new strings were from a high quality custom maker, whereas the Chinese strings are who-knows-what sort of quality.


Very well put.
_________________________
Jean Poulin

Musician, Tuner and Technician

www.actionpiano.ca

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#2068220 - 04/21/13 08:37 PM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: kpembrook]
Ed McMorrow, RPT Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/12
Posts: 2003
Loc: Seattle, WA USA
I should have mentioned in my earlier post that I agree with Keith about stock low single strings on a Sty M sounding like "Screen door springs".
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In a seemingly infinite universe-infinite human creativity is-seemingly possible

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#2068229 - 04/21/13 08:51 PM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: kpembrook]
Larry Buck Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/27/04
Posts: 2339
Loc: Lowell MA
Overall, I like the first piano better than the second. Musically speaking that is.

Kieth, can you give us some information on the ages of the pianos and a description of the work of each?


Edited by Larry Buck (04/21/13 08:53 PM)
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#2068328 - 04/21/13 11:41 PM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: kpembrook]
rxd Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/11/09
Posts: 1703
Loc: London, England
Both need tuning and much tone regulating. Judging by the way you played the same note three times, I suspect there is a difference in the way you play each piano. But let's assume there isn't. Although, because I am continually listening to fine pianists, I find that banging out notes in this manner is, to me, the equivalent of listening to a trombone player or violinist taking their 4th or 5th lesson. The piano is one of the few instruments anybody can walk up and do this to.

The second piano has glaring tonal flaws above the break that just might be insurmountable and, although it sounds "very nice," there is a distinct loss of potential power below the break. How does it balance with the treble? How complete is the dynamic range?
The real sonoriy of a piano never comes across on any recording but the basic problems in each piano Are readily apparent here.

I used to prep NY Steinways by the truckload(literally) in the days before they lacquered th hammers in the factory. The M was my least favourite but could be made to sound completely different from your example with no loss of dynamic range available to the pianist.

If you are genuinely asking us to decide, the least you can do is to tune and tone regulate each piano to its full potential or to the best of your ability. I feel vaguely insulted that you asked us to "decide" without at least attempting this.

If you are trying to make a point, your bias shows and amply demonstrates a few of the problems with many, perhaps most 'improved' rebuilds.
_________________________
Concert & Recording tuner-tech, London, England.
"in theory, practice and theory are the same thing. In practice, they're not." - Lawrence P. 'Yogi' Berra.

Eschew obfuscation.



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#2068337 - 04/21/13 11:58 PM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: kpembrook]
accordeur Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/23/06
Posts: 1190
Loc: Québec, Canada
Now that everybody has attracted my attention to the tuning, I had to listen once again.

I tried to listen with "organic and musical" ears as opposed to "scientific" ears.

To me, the second piano sounds way better.

I have good speakers and microphones, I know about recording pianos.

Given the limitations of the medium that we use to communicate, the nature of the piano, it is impossible to really tell how good the modifications are.

But, I applaud people, musicians and techs that have the courage to do so.


I still think the second piano sounds better, and I don't feel insulted having been asked.
_________________________
Jean Poulin

Musician, Tuner and Technician

www.actionpiano.ca

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#2068365 - 04/22/13 01:17 AM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: kpembrook]
kpembrook Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/10
Posts: 1308
Loc: Michigan
OK, just a bit more background.
First of all, as stated in the original post this is about the low bass -- not upper bass or midrange or treble. Some people who have heard the piano notice a "night and day" difference between the two adjacent pianos. I thought I'd put up a recording to get additional response.

So, please keep the discussion oriented primarily to your assessment of the lowest bass octave

Recording comments:
First of all, yes, both pianos are not perfectly in tune. For single-string unisons, do people think a few cents matters in this assessment? There is an audible false beat on note #4-C on piano #1. All the tuning in the world won't make that go away.
The first piano is new NY S&S "M" -- meaning it has never been sold. I'm not sure how long it has been on the sales floor. I don't know what the dealer does in the way of prep. It seemed rather little, but all the prep in the world isn't going to make the low bass issue go away.
The second piano is a refurbished "M" from the 1910-20 era.

Microphone is a USB Blue Yeti going directly into Garage Band on a Macbook. Better than the built-in notebook microphone but a number of folk here have better equipment. Garage Band is adequate to the purpose.

Recording session was impromptu at the music dealer's during their open hours when I walked in and had a bit of time to make the recording without conflicting with customers. No time for tuning. Both were judged about equally out of tune and with voicing glitches. The second piano will receive thorough going over after having received 20-30 hours of playing (which the dealer gets from adjacent music conservatory). In any event, the focus is on the lowest bass notes where a few cents plus or minus shouldn't affect ability to judge an order-of-magnitude difference.

The tonal deficiencies of the low bass in the S&S M are well-known and pervasive through production of that model due to design deficiencies. I didn't think there would be any challenge on that point. At the venue in question, the "M" bass was inferior the other grands of the same size including lesser instruments like Boston and Young Chang of similar size.

My attempt was to make as "honest" a recording as possible in the amount of time I had. The display in Garage Band shows similar amplitude for the tracks from both pianos. Microphone placement was either equidistant from both or identically located on each piano -- depending on the particular pair of tracks. All track pairs had identical microphone placements.
_________________________
Keith Akins, RPT
USA Distributor for Isaac Cadenza hammers and Profundo Bass Strings
Supporting Piano Owners D-I-Y piano tuning and repair

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#2068482 - 04/22/13 06:41 AM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: kpembrook]
Larry Buck Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/27/04
Posts: 2339
Loc: Lowell MA
How old are the bass strings on piano one?
_________________________
Has Anyone Seen My Glasses ?

E. J. Buck & Sons
Lowell MA 01852
978 458 8688
www.ejbuckpiano.com
facebook.com/E. J. Buck & Sons Performances

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#2068556 - 04/22/13 10:19 AM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: kpembrook]
Dale Fox Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/17/04
Posts: 1058
Loc: Nor California Sacramento area
It's a new unsold piano sitting on the sales floor. Excerpt from Keith's last post below.



"The first piano is new NY S&S "M" -- meaning it has never been sold. I'm not sure how long it has been on the sales floor. I don't know what the dealer does in the way of prep. It seemed rather little, but all the prep in the world isn't going to make the low bass issue go away.
The second piano is a refurbished "M" from the 1910-20 era."
_________________________
Dale Fox
Registered Piano Technician
Remanufacturing/Rebuilding

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#2068604 - 04/22/13 11:26 AM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: Dale Fox]
kpembrook Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/10
Posts: 1308
Loc: Michigan
At this point I'm still looking for the answers to a question -- actually two questions.
1) Can you hear a difference between piano #1 and piano #2?
2) Which do you prefer?
3) Ok, perhaps a third, If you detect a tonal difference between the two, is it very subtle and hard to detect or is it a significant, obvious difference?

This is not intended as a trick question or test. In our line of work opinions and theories lose their relevance (or not) by what difference they actually make to what we hear and feel. At this point, let's not get lost in what may be the technical differences between the pianos. After I get more responses about what people are hearing, the details will be fully described.
_________________________
Keith Akins, RPT
USA Distributor for Isaac Cadenza hammers and Profundo Bass Strings
Supporting Piano Owners D-I-Y piano tuning and repair

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#2068654 - 04/22/13 01:08 PM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: kpembrook]
Andrew Ranger Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/23/06
Posts: 60
Loc: Missoula Montana
I want to remind people that this is not about the tuning, hammer selection or other things! It's about the low bass. People are commenting on almost everything but the bass tone. Please stick to kpembrook's original question!



1) Yes, I can hear a difference between the pianos.

2) I prefer piano #2, it's considerably better in my opinion.

3) I think the difference is a significant, easily detected difference.
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Andrew Ranger
Piano Technician

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#2068658 - 04/22/13 01:25 PM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: Andrew Ranger]
musicbased Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/23/12
Posts: 99
Loc: UK
Originally Posted By: Andrew Ranger
I want to remind people that this is not about the tuning, hammer selection or other things! It's about the low bass. People are commenting on almost everything but the bass tone. Please stick to kpembrook's original question!



1) Yes, I can hear a difference between the pianos.

2) I prefer piano #2, it's considerably better in my opinion.

3) I think the difference is a significant, easily detected difference.




Same here for all the questions. The 2nd one is much nicer sounding in the low bass IMO.
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Technician UK
www.soundcloud.com/musicfield

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#2068729 - 04/22/13 03:15 PM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: kpembrook]
Bob Newbie Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/02/06
Posts: 1549
I'll call it as I hear it..1st piano sounds like it has.. a farty twang
2nd piano much better.. I hope I'm not being too technical.. smile

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#2068735 - 04/22/13 03:19 PM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: kpembrook]
Brick Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/31/06
Posts: 373
Originally Posted By: kpembrook
At this point I'm still looking for the answers to a question -- actually two questions.
1) Can you hear a difference between piano #1 and piano #2?
2) Which do you prefer?
3) Ok, perhaps a third, If you detect a tonal difference between the two, is it very subtle and hard to detect or is it a significant, obvious difference?


1) Significant
2) #2
3) See 1)

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#2068768 - 04/22/13 04:09 PM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: kpembrook]
Eric Gloo Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/28/01
Posts: 1239
Loc: Richfield Springs, New York
1) Yes

2) I prefer the lowest notes of Piano #2 when played by themselves. However, I don't like either piano once other notes are added to the lower ones. My opinion may or may not change if the pianos were in tune.

3) There is an obvious difference.
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Eric Gloo
Piano Technician
Certified Dampp-Chaser Installer
Richfield Springs, New York

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#2068781 - 04/22/13 04:39 PM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: kpembrook]
Withindale Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/09/11
Posts: 1939
Loc: Suffolk, England
1) Yes
2) Prefer #1 in general
3) #1 more interesting in the raw.
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Ian Russell
Schiedmayer & Soehne, 1925 Model 14, 55" upright
Ibach, 1922 49" upright (project piano)

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#2068992 - 04/23/13 12:08 AM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: Brick]
kpembrook Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/10
Posts: 1308
Loc: Michigan
Originally Posted By: Brick
Originally Posted By: kpembrook
At this point I'm still looking for the answers to a question -- actually two questions.
1) Can you hear a difference between piano #1 and piano #2?
2) Which do you prefer?
3) Ok, perhaps a third, If you detect a tonal difference between the two, is it very subtle and hard to detect or is it a significant, obvious difference?


1) Significant
2) #2
3) See 1)


Thanks for the on-topic responses. Please keep 'em coming. It is interesting to see the returns.
_________________________
Keith Akins, RPT
USA Distributor for Isaac Cadenza hammers and Profundo Bass Strings
Supporting Piano Owners D-I-Y piano tuning and repair

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#2069000 - 04/23/13 12:18 AM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: kpembrook]
rysowers Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/16/07
Posts: 2402
Loc: Olympia, WA
This is interesting! Thanks for putting this out there, Keith!

The difference is obvious.
The first has a more open although somewhat "gong like" sound to my ear. It has more of what I think of as the Steinway "growl".

The second seems to have more fundamental but also sounds a little more closed off.

I must admit my computer speakers are not so great. I'd sure love to try the pianos in person! It would also be nice to hear some real music on the pianos. In the context of music, I wonder if the first would actually have more clarity and the second might sound a little muddy.
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Ryan Sowers,
Pianova Piano Service
Olympia, WA
www.pianova.net

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#2069004 - 04/23/13 12:25 AM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: kpembrook]
Tunewerk Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/26/11
Posts: 405
Loc: Boston, MA
Out of the ballpark difference, Keith. Piano #2 is much better and any good pianist would gravitate towards it.

What was done?
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Unity of tone through applied research.

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#2069046 - 04/23/13 01:30 AM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: kpembrook]
rxd Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/11/09
Posts: 1703
Loc: London, England
There's something weird about this thread. If you want opinions on the last few notes only, what was the point in recording the entire lower half of the pianos? It does help to hear things a bit more in context, though.

Was the recording so covert there wasn't a few minutes to at least tune them? Im sure the owner of the pianos would let you if he knew your intent in making the recordings. If you say a few cents doesn't make that much difference, what is that a reflection of???

A competent tech familiar with Steinways would, indeed know how to vastly improve the notes you seem to think are unserviceable. It's an open secret how it is done but few have the expertise and experience.

Sure, there is a vast difference between the two pianos. My question is, which piano has the most potential?, given the attention of a really competent piano tech and played by a first class pianist.

Sure, the second piano sounds " nice" but I can't tell from your recording how it balances the piano, what is the dynamic range? Can it sound spectacular should a competent pianist require it? It sounds as though it will remain " nice" in all contexts. One of the main reasons many "nice" pianos are rejected is their inability for the pianist to get a wide variety of sounds from it. This piano would be perfect for a " nice" house and nice people playing nice music. That is the vest majority of the commercial piano market.

I would prefer to hear both pianos played by a really good pianist even as they are in their current condition instead of the notes being thumped out in this grade school fashion. I think we would all be surprised.

I just heard a uTube of a pianist who is coming to play a piano I look after. It was readily apparent that the piano she recorded on was not in the finest condition but she made it sound good.
When I was in the 'States, it seemed every radio station had a neglected upright in a corner of a newsroom somewhere. It happens here too, We are asked to tune them in an hour for a promo or something. I used to worry that the general condition was dreadful. Not any more.... I have always been amazed at how a real pianist can make the most musical sounds out of a piano I have been rather embarrassed to be associated with.

What was your last question? Oh, yes, the difference is large, as it is between most pianos. More than one great philosopher has said "comparisons are odious" before Shakespeare said it.
_________________________
Concert & Recording tuner-tech, London, England.
"in theory, practice and theory are the same thing. In practice, they're not." - Lawrence P. 'Yogi' Berra.

Eschew obfuscation.



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#2069075 - 04/23/13 02:11 AM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: kpembrook]
BDB Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 21444
Loc: Oakland
The reason that I mentioned that the pianos were out of tune is that the first note on the first piano exhibits some beating, and is significantly flatter than the same note on the second. Sometimes beating of a unison bass string is due to a bad string, and sometimes it will go away if the string is pulled up to pitch. I do not feel it is fair to compare pianos on the basis of what might be a defective part, and especially not on the basis of the quality of the tuning.

Then I was mystified by some beating in the second piano in higher notes, which could be tuning. Since this evidently was the "idealized" piano, I would have thought that it would have been tuned carefully before recording.

I think the second piano sounds better. I do not think the first piano is hopeless. I also feel that Steinways usually sound better with age. Maybe it sounds better because of the 90 year old soundboard!
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Semipro Tech

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#2069093 - 04/23/13 03:04 AM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: kpembrook]
beethoven986 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/20/09
Posts: 3326
Originally Posted By: kpembrook
At this point I'm still looking for the answers to a question -- actually two questions.
1) Can you hear a difference between piano #1 and piano #2?
2) Which do you prefer?
3) Ok, perhaps a third, If you detect a tonal difference between the two, is it very subtle and hard to detect or is it a significant, obvious difference?


1. Yes.
2. #2
3. The difference is striking. Piano #1 has a really crappy sounding bass... metallic, harsh, dirty tone. Piano #2 bass has depth and sounds pure.

FWIW, I'm using high-end head phones.
_________________________
B.Mus. Piano Performance 2009
M.Mus. Piano Performance & Literature 2011
PTG Associate Member
Certified Dampp-Chaser installer

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#2069175 - 04/23/13 08:06 AM Re: S&S "M" low bass improvement: You decide. [Re: beethoven986]
kpembrook Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/10
Posts: 1308
Loc: Michigan
Originally Posted By: beethoven986

FWIW, I'm using high-end head phones.


This may be a variable that I hadn't considered. If anyone is listening to this through standard computer speakers then it may not be possible to detect the differences and make a reliable statement.

For future responses, please indicate what you are using to listen to the recording.

Thanks again for the responses.
_________________________
Keith Akins, RPT
USA Distributor for Isaac Cadenza hammers and Profundo Bass Strings
Supporting Piano Owners D-I-Y piano tuning and repair

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