Can this be settled once and for all?

Posted by: SirHuddlestonFudd

Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/10/12 10:55 PM

I know that nothing compares to playing an acoustic piano, but has anybody ever done a well-conducted blind test between an acoustic grand and a well-amplified sampled piano, like Synthogy Ivory or some such?

The idea would be to have a Steinway or whatever grand piano sitting in the center of a room. Near the Steinway would be some appropriately sized, high-quality speakers, oriented such that to a blindfolded listener on a sofa on the other side of the room, the sound would appear to come from the same location. The speakers would be connected to a high-end amplifier, connected to a DP driving a high-end sample set.

Hypothesis: We've seen tests which show that audiophiles can't tell between LP and CD, or CD and MP3 (320). Wine experts can't tell which is California Cabernet and which Bordeaux, or even, from colored glasses, which is red and which is white. In the pipe organ world, sampled organs, properly amplified, have been shown to be indistinguishable from the real pipe organ in the same church.

I put it to you that people cannot *on average* tell the difference between the real and sampled piano.

Discuss. If you've heard of such a trial, please tell us about it. If all you have to say is something like "balderdash" or "nonsense, I sure could," I suggest you are in for a rude awakening. But I want to keep an open mind, myself. And as for playing a piano, well of course there's no contest.
Posted by: Rickster

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/10/12 11:14 PM

I have no scientific evidence or undeniable facts to prove this statement, but chances are, 95% of the time, I can tell whether I’m listening to an acoustic or a digital piano… there is a difference, no matter how good a digital may sound or how bad the acoustic may sound.

Believe it or not… smile

Rick
Posted by: Annitenth

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/10/12 11:40 PM

What Rick said.

And I have (and enjoy) both. Two different animals.
Posted by: ando

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/10/12 11:49 PM

I'd back myself 100% to tell the difference. Not only that, it's not just about how it sounds, it's about how it feels, how the keyboard feels, how it responds to the touch - both dynamically and tonally. The level of gradation with dynamics. (infinite levels vs 128 levels). How the resonance builds - the resonance itself has never been copied properly on a digital platform.

I have moved away from the idea of using digital samplers and am trying to get a grand piano. Digitals are great for certain purposes but they aren't even in the same universe as a good acoustic piano. Controller keyboards are not the same as real acoustic actions. Even the Yamaha AvantGrand hybrid action doesn't feel the same as a real acoustic action - the way the dampers are implemented is different. There is a certain presence that real strings have that speakers don't quite capture.

Now I know you were focussed on the sound in this thread, but to me the whole experience of playing the piano is what it's about. I can't separate feel from sound. The feel feeds into what i play. Feel is sound.

I know I haven't presented any evidence for my opinion - as in a double blind test, but I've had enough to do with digital audio and real pianos that I don't believe the technology is there yet.

I just don't get excited by digital pianos anymore. I would give my right arm for a great grand piano - if it weren't so counter-productive... wink
Posted by: Jerry Groot RPT

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/10/12 11:55 PM

Can the "average person tell the difference" like my next door neighbor that has never owned or played a piano? Maybe not... Can a true professional tell the difference? Of course we can hands down. I've done it. After working on these things for my entire lifetime, tuning thousands and thousands of them, there is a definite difference in tone, touch, feel and yes, sound.
Posted by: jmcintyre

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/10/12 11:59 PM

I'd wager that most people who play at or above a certain level could tell the difference easily. All the same, I'd like to see such a test carried out.
Posted by: Elkayem

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 12:56 AM

Well, yes of course it is easy to tell the difference if you know what to listen for. On an acoustic piano, all the strings will resonate in response to a single note, referred to as sympathetic resonance. This is especially true when all the dampers are lifted. This is not true on a digital. That is not to say this couldn't be mimicked electronically if there were the market for this feature. I'm certain it could.
Posted by: ando

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 12:58 AM

Originally Posted By: Elkayem
Well, yes of course it is easy to tell the difference if you know what to listen for. On an acoustic piano, all the strings will resonate in response to a single note, referred to as sympathetic resonance. This is especially true when all the dampers are lifted. This is not true on a digital. That is not to say this couldn't be mimicked electronically if there were the market for this feature. I'm certain it could.


Almost digitals these days include simulated resonance as a feature. It would be more correct to say there isn't a market for digitals without resonance. Having said that, it's not nearly well done enough to rival the resonance of a real piano.
Posted by: Elkayem

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 01:11 AM

Originally Posted By: ando
Originally Posted By: Elkayem
Well, yes of course it is easy to tell the difference if you know what to listen for. On an acoustic piano, all the strings will resonate in response to a single note, referred to as sympathetic resonance. This is especially true when all the dampers are lifted. This is not true on a digital. That is not to say this couldn't be mimicked electronically if there were the market for this feature. I'm certain it could.


Almost digitals these days include simulated resonance as a feature. It would be more correct to say there isn't a market for digitals without resonance. Having said that, it's not nearly well done enough to rival the resonance of a real piano.


ando, thank you for correcting me on that. I should learn to check the facts more before typing. I can say one thing, however. This feature is very well pronounced on my acoustic piano, and almost so subtle as to be unnoticeable on my digital. I'm going to need to go back and listen for it again now.
Posted by: Aaron Garner

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 03:14 AM

I think a more fair test would be to have someone in a concert hall listen to an amplified acoustic grand vs. a sampled grand (like Ivory) going through the same speakers. It might be more difficult to distinguish them; especially in an ensemble. Ultimately, I think an experienced pianist (or any musician) could tell the difference, but perhaps many could not.

Here's another question; how many of us could tell the difference on a recording? I've been a sideman on a number of jazz projects where the studio only had a sampled piano. The piano sound in most cases was pretty amazing after it was mastered. Sampled pianos used to be very easy to pick out, but these days they are very convincing. A solo recording might be more transparent, but still, it might be difficult. From a player's standpoint, I hate playing digital keyboards.
Posted by: backto_study_piano

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 03:40 AM

I don't really see the point. August 2012 will be based on what is available today. However, digitals are being developed at a rapid rate. In some respects they are already as good or better than acoustics (though I can't think of any other than portability and maybe cost).

What would be being judged largely is the quality of the sound system they're being played through.

When my old upright needed replacing a couple of years ago, I tried every one I could lay my hands on, and some were convincing sound wise - bearing in mind that there are no 2 acoustic pianos which sound the same to compare them to. But I never found one which I enjoyed playing. A recent sampling of some of the better ones confirmed that.
Posted by: Aaron Garner

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 03:45 AM

I think for most if not all, it will be obvious, but here are two recordings I did a few years ago. One is a sampled piano and the other is acoustic. You can skip to the sections where it's just the trio so you can hear the pianos more clearly. Again, probably a no-brainer, but I'm curious. It's impossible to know because I played both pianos, but I'm quite certain I could tell; who knows! Neither engineers were top notch.

http://agarnermusic.com/Falling_in_Love_with_Love.mp3 (solo at 2:19)

http://agarnermusic.com/Old_Folks.mp3 (solo at 4:32)
Posted by: Dave Ferris

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 04:15 AM

Really nice playing Aaron, especially on Old Folks. cool

I always tell people when I have to play the electronic keyboard to subtract 30% as a starting point from what I really sound like. It could be more depending on the room acoustics and the way I jell (or not) with the rhythm section. wink

There's no comparison between the two of course. However sometimes only that's evident to the more advanced player or in this case listener... cool
Posted by: Minnesota Marty

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 04:20 AM

Aaron,

I'm not so sure about miking and amplifying the acoustic piano. That, in and of itself, would alter the sound of the acoustic. The object, if I understand the original premise correctly, is to compare a digital instrument to an acoustic one.

The test would need to match the volume output of the digital to the piano. Then invite about 500 blindfolded judges and let them try to differentiate between "A" and "B." It would be even more interesting if the piano was the same one used for the sampling to create the electronic instrument.

I would surmise, that after the initial assessment of the basic "sound," the audience would start to discern the subtleties and fine nuances from the piano. There is where the difference lies. And this doesn't address "touch and feel" as experienced by the performer.

Earlier in the thread there was an analogy with a natural pipe organ to an electronic organ, or to a hybrid combination of both built as a single instrument. I don't believe it applies to pianos vs. digital keyboards, however.

An organ key is nothing more than an on/off switch. It doesn't matter if it is electro-pneumatic, electric, or tracker (mechanical) action. Depress a key - hear a sound. That is totally unlike a piano action where so much more information is transmitted from the strike of the key to the string.

At the current level of technology, that is what is missing in the responsiveness of the digital instruments. The responsiveness of the key to the strike of the finger to not only produce a sound, but to respond to the way in which the key is struck.
Posted by: Aaron Garner

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 04:28 AM

Thanks for the compliment Dave. I'm guessing a non-musician could not tell which one was acoustic. Or were they both acoustic or both sampled? Maybe I don't even know! Perhaps I put up two different acoustic piano recordings just to mess with everyone.

By the way, is "Jacks" still around in Glendale? I did a couple of gigs there several years ago with some great L.A. players. They didn't have the greatest piano, but some fun gigs.
Posted by: Aaron Garner

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 04:47 AM

Marty,

very good points and I think your testing method is well thought out. I completely agree with everything you said.

On the other hand, I was just thinking it might level the playing field if both pianos were going through speakers. Sure, a miked piano sounds different than acoustically, but a sampled piano can't be heard unless it's going through speakers so there isn't a way to compare apples to apples unless they're both going through speakers. It think any particular sound is going to be different when miked and heard through speakers. I'd bet that if you took two knifes and banged them together with and without amplification, most people could tell which sound was going through a speaker system even at the same volume. A human voice even at the exact same volume would sound different miked vs. non-miked and so on. Perhaps I'm way off base here, I'm not really an audio engineer our sound guy; just a musician.

By the way, what are you guys doing up so late?
Posted by: Thrill Science

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 06:36 AM

..and even if we ever got to the point where nobody could tell the difference, I'd still want to own and play a real piano over an imitation!
Posted by: Ken Knapp

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 08:18 AM

Originally Posted By: Elkayem
Well, yes of course it is easy to tell the difference if you know what to listen for. On an acoustic piano, all the strings will resonate in response to a single note, referred to as sympathetic resonance. This is especially true when all the dampers are lifted. This is not true on a digital. That is not to say this couldn't be mimicked electronically if there were the market for this feature. I'm certain it could.


In fact it is so on newer digitals. My Kawai ES-6 does so.
Posted by: Jerry Groot RPT

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 10:06 AM

My dad tuned and installed pipe organs for 40 years. I worked with him on these for about 15 years before he retired. We used to set in a church, say it was a funeral and we did not know the organ being played and guess if it was an electronic or a real pipe organ. Afterward, we walked up to see if we were right for sure. We were never wrong. About 6 months ago, we were in a church and I was askied if it was a real pipe organ "it sure sounds like it!" I said, no, it is not. One dead give away is how quickly the fake shutters close, compared to a real pipe organs shutters that close gradually.

Walking into "Parade of Homes" sometimes they have music playing. Several times over the years, pianos were playing. My friends always like to ask me, Jer, is it real, or is it fake? I stop, listen for a couple of minutes, give my answer, last time, saying it's the radio and I was right again. Other times, it was a Yamaha Diskaliver playing or a fake piano.

Probably the average person cannot tell the difference. If they could, not so many of them would probably be selling you think?
Posted by: Pianolance

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 10:14 AM

Personally, I feel ridiculous sitting behind a tiny little digital piano when I'm playing in front of people. Here's this thin little black slab, and big ol' me sitting behind it. Give me an acoustic piano for aesthetics any day. If you get into the larger digitals that are grand like in appearance the price goes up so much that you could start looking at acoustics. Digitals have their place, but it's not between me and an audience.
Posted by: chrisbell

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 10:41 AM

Originally Posted By: Aaron Garner
I think a more fair test would be to have someone in a concert hall listen to an amplified acoustic grand vs. a sampled grand (like Ivory) going through the same speakers. It might be more difficult to distinguish them; especially in an ensemble.
I agree.

Originally Posted By: Aaron Garner
Here's another question; how many of us could tell the difference on a recording? I've been a sideman on a number of jazz projects where the studio only had a sampled piano. The piano sound in most cases was pretty amazing after it was mastered. Sampled pianos used to be very easy to pick out, but these days they are very convincing. A solo recording might be more transparent, but still, it might be difficult. From a player's standpoint, I hate playing digital keyboards.
Same experience. Couldn't tell the difference afterwards.
But I did hate playing it, felt like I was cheating.
Posted by: PaintedPostDave

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 12:05 PM

So far, a lot of interesting opinions, often from extensively experienced experts...but, strictly speaking, mostly speculative. I would love to "see" (and hear) the results of a true, well conceived blind test where a professional pianist was led into a room blindfolded and allowed to sample a handful of acoustic grands and digital pianos. crazy

Dave koenig
Posted by: Aaron Garner

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 12:10 PM

I know it's probably very easy to tell but I'm still curious how unanimous responses would be: A) both recordings are acoustic, but different pianos. B) both recordings are sampled, but different samples. C) First is sampled, second acoustic. D) First is acoustic, second is sampled.
Posted by: bennevis

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 01:11 PM

I think a fair test would be if a well-known classical pianist was recorded - professionally, in the typical classical recording manner, i.e. not under-the-lid close-up as in so many jazz recordings - playing a sampled DP. And it has been done - a recent issue of 'Pianist' magazine had two tracks on its cover-mounted CD played on the AvantGrand N1 (the rest were played on Steinway D). The difference is, to put it bluntly, embarrassing for the DP. Sustain, resonances and 'aliveness' of sound were all lacking (or artificial-sounding, especially in the decay) despite the obvious competance of the pianist - anyone who's ever been to a piano recital or played a real piano or heard a good classical piano recording won't be fooled into thinking that this could possibly be a real piano. BTW, the reason I use only classical pianists and music for this comparison is because I've got many solo piano jazz recordings where the mics were obviously right in the piano innards and the resulting sound is almost as artificial as that of a sampled DP....

A better comparison would be between a modeled DP (only the Roland V-Piano and V-Piano Grand at present) and an acoustic, because the modelling technology aims to reproduce all those myriad nuances and resonances (string, soundboard, cross-resonances etc) and grand piano levels of sustain as well as stepless tonal and dynamic variations, which is what you get from the real thing, but not from a sampled DP.
Posted by: Aaron Garner

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 01:57 PM

The original question was could a listener tell the difference between an acoustic piano in the middle of a room and a DP played through speakers. As I stated earlier, I think it would be obvious because any sound will take on a different timber when miked and heard through a speaker system; it's just physics. It's not a very fair comparison IMO. However, I do think people could get fooled if both pianos were going through an amplified system at the same amplitude - especially non-musicians. Perhaps I'm wrong on this.

At any rate, I think the premise behind this thread is, can people be fooled into thinking a sampled piano is real irrespective of the limitless recording and sampling techniques available. We can come up with all sorts of recording techniques, genres of music, room acoustics, modeled vs. non-modeled, etc. I'm not sure, but I think most of us could be fooled into thinking a sampled piano was a real piano both live and recorded in many situations; forget about the millions of variations. Live would certainly be much more difficult, but on a recording it becomes much easier to fool the listener.

The one instrument I've never heard a convincing sample of is a saxophone.

Anyway, some very good points by some really knowledgeable musicians. BTW, still nobody has put forth their opinion on the two mp3's I posted - A,B,C or D.
Posted by: SirHuddlestonFudd

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 04:08 PM

Originally Posted By: backto_study_piano

When my old upright needed replacing a couple of years ago, I tried every one I could lay my hands on, and some were convincing sound wise - bearing in mind that there are no 2 acoustic pianos which sound the same to compare them to. But I never found one which I enjoyed playing. A recent sampling of some of the better ones confirmed that.


Well, yeah, I think compared to a $100,000 grand piano, even the best digital will suffer. The cost of the strings alone on that piano is greater than the cost of the best digital.
Posted by: BDB

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 04:35 PM

Originally Posted By: SirHuddlestonFudd
Originally Posted By: backto_study_piano

When my old upright needed replacing a couple of years ago, I tried every one I could lay my hands on, and some were convincing sound wise - bearing in mind that there are no 2 acoustic pianos which sound the same to compare them to. But I never found one which I enjoyed playing. A recent sampling of some of the better ones confirmed that.


Well, yeah, I think compared to a $100,000 grand piano, even the best digital will suffer. The cost of the strings alone on that piano is greater than the cost of the best digital.


No, strings are pretty much the same price no matter what the cost of the piano.
Posted by: David-G

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 06:14 PM

Even if a digital matched the sound of my Bluthner exactly, I would not get nearly so much enjoyment from playing it. So while I find this discussion interesting, I have no desire whatever to play a digital.
Posted by: Aaron Garner

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 06:44 PM

David,

I'm with you on this one. Although I have a pretty decent DP for the gigs I do where there isn't a piano, I hate playing on them.
Posted by: SirHuddlestonFudd

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 06:50 PM

Originally Posted By: David-G
Even if a digital matched the sound of my Bluthner exactly, I would not get nearly so much enjoyment from playing it. So while I find this discussion interesting, I have no desire whatever to play a digital.


But the good liberal in me wishes that the beauty of the piano be made available to anyone who wants to play, not only to those who can afford to play "my Bluthner." Too bad.
Posted by: Jerry Groot RPT

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 06:54 PM

You don't have to have a Bluthner to enjoy a really nice piano..... Could be whatever they happen to own and prefer. wink
Posted by: Dave B

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 10:26 PM

I used to tune a lot of Yamaha Disklaviers with the silent key feature. I always checked to make sure the piano sounded better than the digital sampling.

This was always easy because the natural "in tuness" of the piano is not reproduced by the sampling.
Posted by: Jerry Groot RPT

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 11:37 PM

Especially if you tune it while it's in the silent mode...... smile
Posted by: Elkayem

Re: Can this be settled once and for all? - 08/11/12 11:44 PM

Originally Posted By: Ken Knapp
Originally Posted By: Elkayem
Well, yes of course it is easy to tell the difference if you know what to listen for. On an acoustic piano, all the strings will resonate in response to a single note, referred to as sympathetic resonance. This is especially true when all the dampers are lifted. This is not true on a digital. That is not to say this couldn't be mimicked electronically if there were the market for this feature. I'm certain it could.


In fact it is so on newer digitals. My Kawai ES-6 does so.

Ken you are absolutely correct, as is ando in an earlier post. My Bad! Opened my mouth too soon.

I went back and checked my YDP-181 manual. Lo and behold, there is a button I never use called "Damper Resonance". I tried it out, and I find it a poor simulation of the real thing. It doesn't sound a bit like the resonance I get off of my soundboard and strings, and I still contend that on mine I can easily tell the difference. Maybe this feature is better in higher end digital pianos. I certainly hope so. I think I'll leave the button off.