A row of six pianos in this order:
#1[/b]. Wood-finished A (with PianoDisc)
#2[/b]. Black A
#3[/b]. Black BB (my favorite, with "stealth" PianoDisc)
#4[/b]. Black AA (the same prototype shown at NAMM, according to Ramirez)
#5[/b]. Black BB
#6[/b]. Wood-finished BB
It's big. It's on the top floor of factory, with very high ceiling. It's very "life" and very loud with hardwood floor and no window treatment, no wall hanging to absorb sound. The six pianos are all lined up in one row with fairly generous spacing between them (i.e., pianist can sit comfortably at the keyboard). My guess is that the room can easily take three rows of 8 pianos per row with comfortable spacing. You can see it in the sixth picture HERE
My Subjective Impressions of the Pianos[/b]:
First, on Piano #3, the AA.
This is the piano I spent most time with. I started with selections from Rzewski's "The People United" variations (the opening Thema, variation #13, and the closing Thema). The objective was to explore the full pitch and dynamic range of the piano (from lowest A to the highest B-flat, from ppp
), the piano's tune-carrying capability (floating melodic lines in the midst of thick chords) and its sustain/decay characteristics.
The first impression is that the touch seemed to be rather light (later found that all six pianos gave me this same impression, but the AA especially so). Much lighter than the M&H grand pianos I have played just a few months ago (two in Londonderry Piano and Organ in Salem, NH, a few more in Faust-Harrison in New York). Caveat is that the hall was bright and "life," so psycho-acoustically, to some extent, I could have confused the loudness/brightness of the hall for the light touch. To be honest, I was taken rather aback by the brightness and loudness of the piano/room combination for the first minute or two of the test drive.
The piano definitely has a very big dynamic range across the whole keyboard -- no surprise there compared to previous M&H experiences. Even, responsive action -- no surprise there. Good melodic capabilities, can easily punch the melodic lines through thick chords, can "float" a soft melodic line above activities in the bass -- no surprise there. An all around good piano.
The biggest improvement, to my ears, is in the balance. The bass, while still suffer a bit of a power drop-off compared to the rest of the piano to my ears, are better balanced compared to the A's and the BB's I have played in the past, where I thought there were disproportional drop-off in power in the very low bass. The AA ameliorated this drop-off to some extent, so the piano came off better balanced.
The second piece I tried on the AA was Albeniz's "Tango." It's a slow, soft, melodic piece. Pitch-wise, it is limited to roughly the four octaves in the middle of the keyboard and it's confined in the pp
dynamic range, mostly in p
. The objective was to explore the nuance of the piano in that range. (After the Rzewski piece, I decided to avoid loud/busy pieces because I figured the hall would be too bright for them anyway.)
I used to have trouble with M&H's sustain pedal before (thought it too stiff and difficult to control half-pedaling, perhaps due to individual habit). Not with this AA. The technician who did the preparation has perhaps as much influence on this as the inherent quality of the instrument, but this piano reacted very intuitively to me, as far as pedaling is concerned, both sustain and una corda. Various levels and combinations of sustain and una corda pedaling just "work as expected" to produce the sound I was hoping to produce. The hall was bright and I used the una corda more frequent and more aggressively than I usually do. Considering that's my 7th or 8th minute on the AA, that level of predictability and intuitiveness afforded by the instrument was very impressive.
Next, upon Kenny's request, I played a seven measure short piece, the same piece on all six pianos serially, from #1 to #6. (PDF music sheet HERE
if you want to know what was played.)
Piano #1 "A" sounded "big" and bright.
Piano #2 "A" sounded not as big and less bright.
Piano #3 "BB" sounded "best" to my ears, probably because it's the mellowest of the lot in the very bright hall. This piano also has a very cool player PianoDisc player system installed (described HERE
Piano #4 "AA" described in great detail above.
Piano #5 "BB" sounded good too, but did not register any deep impression.
Piano #6 "BB" is the brightest sounding among the BB's (also seemingly had the lightest touch among the BB's).
Overall impression is that:
1. As mentioned before, the new M&H seem to have lighter touch than the older ones from last year.
2. The pianos, even among those of the same models, still sound different from one to another. How much is due to preparation/voicing, how much is inherent, I cannot tell. Different enough that, IMHO, it's still worth "test driving" the actual pianos before you buy.
3. The pianos have very long sustain -- to a point where I felt the notes just took too long to decay, it's like the notes just won't die as long as you keep the key pressed. (Personal preference: I thought a piano's note is supposed to die down with natural-sounding decay, and that too long a sustain is not necessarily a good thing. I thought the M&H's high-trebble sustain crossed into the "too long" territory. Again, this is personal taste and nothing against M&H.
4. I could transfer what I "learnt" on the AA, in terms of what to change in my touch and pedaling to get certain sound, to the other pianos pretty effectively to get the sort of sound and control I wanted from those other pianos. Again, I do not know how much of it is due to inherent build/design consistency and how much due to piano preparations, but I thought that kind of consistency and predictability/transference across a product line is pretty impressive.
Oh, and Cecil Ramirez played a very nice Gershwin selection, lounge music style, on the AA. No offense to other members who also played marvelously, but of all the performances I heard that afternoon, I liked Ramirez's Gershwin selection the most. It was beautifully heart-felt. He really knows his instrument! (And, no offense to Ramirez, that's the best performance I've heard coming from a "piano salesman."
) * Acknowledgements *