How to reproduce sound of piano

I currently own a decent rig, Mac MA 2275, AP Sparks, Marantz 8001, Rega Apollo, Benchmark DAC w/ Squeezebox Duet. I love the way it sounds with jazz, voice, orchestral works and also it's decent with chamber music.

But I find when I'm listening to piano solo performances it doesn't quite sound nearly good as the live instrument. This is too bad because I mainly listen to classical piano works. I want to build a new system from scratch dedicated to listen to solo piano works as well as piano conertos.
I don't care for "warmth", "timbre", "soundstage" or other loaded audiophile terms. Just want absolutely accurate piano reproduction as possible.

What qualities should I look for? Analog vs digital source. Solid state vs tube amp? I find my tube amp unable to keep up with technical masters as Pollini or Horowitz. But will going to SS take away from the performces of more romantic pianists like Kempf and Zimerman? As for speakers, I never heard of a speaker capable of reproducing the deep bass of a 9ft+ concert Steinway grand. Are electrostatics way to go? My budget is around $25K USD. Thanks for any feedback.
The grand piano is probably the hardest instrument to recreate convincingly in a domestic hi-fi system. This is because its frequency range is possibly the widest of any musical instrument and the dynamics of the keys-on-strings from ppp to fff without compression, is often beyond the ability of most amplifiers and speakers to reproduce at realistic sound levels without distortion.
It IS possible to achieve but I suspect that it might require more than $25K (although you may be lucky to do it 2nd hand)?
I've only heard it achieved on vinyl so a top quality turntable is essential with an equally top flight tonearm and cartridge.
A great preamp is required as is an amplifier capable of providing immense effortless undistorted power into the finest speakers you can find. This last requirement (for both amp and speakers) will be more realistically achieved by the use of a high-pass filter into 2 self-powered subwoofers like the Vandersteen 2Wq.
This will free-up the amplifier from the onerous task of powering the low frequencies (below 80Hz) and thus give it far more 'headroom', whilst the main speakers will provide better undistorted sound with the subwoofers providing the bottom foundation that the grand piano requires.
If you can obtain a realistic presentation of the grand piano from your system, it will almost certainly provide great sound from all musical genres.
I have only heard good reproduction of Piano in two systems. Piano and voice is the litmus test for me, and I am sure many others ; 0 ) I have been trying to place a piano in my room for years. I finally have satisfying results but still NO REAL Piano. However, I do have pleasing music and the soul of the Piano.

Your best option and I am not trying to be "smart" is a Player Piano. Especially, since you listen to many solo piano works, and keep your current system for all other music.

If the above is not what you had in mind than......

I personally have not heard convincing/pleasing piano at your budget. I am sure it exists, however, I have not heard it. The turntables alone in the two systems I have heard that can do piano SOME justice are both over your total budget. To really get Piano right the turntable needs to be first rate, as does everything else....

The Two Systems: that satisfy my Piano lust

I hope to not appear to braggadocious as system "2" is my current system, but it does do piano well and it was the instrument I was seeking to bring home, that and voice.

1. Oswald Mills System at RMAF 08

Saskia Turntable
Schroder Reference Arm/Soundsmith the Voice Cart
Oswald Mills Electronics: Amp and Preamp
Oswald Mills AC-1 Speakers

Raven AC-3/SME V/Koetsu Coralstone
Doshi Pre Amp
Quicksilver V4 Amps
Quad 2805's

Clearly two different approaches to music, however, both bring it home on the Piano/Music.

The problem with getting piano right seems to be with the turntable and speakers. Very few turntables hold super accurate speed and are transparent. The other is multi driver speakers trying to create the cohesive whole of the piano. The single driver Quad brings the cohesive nature that piano needs. Mind you it is not perfect, as it lacks ultimate impact, but it makes up for impact with speed and tonal shading. The compression Driver AC-1 or other compression drivers offer exciting dynamics which piano craves. These types off speakers to me will offer you pleasing piano. No dynamic speaker did for me on piano.

Just my 2 cents.

Try ATC active speakers and a JL 113 sub or SVS PB13 Ultra (with the ports
blocked) - I guarantee it will get you pretty darn close. Piano is not easy as it
is both percussive (110 db dynamics) and has precise timbre as well as a
presence (like a harp) from the resonance of the unplucked strings (needs
super low IMD distortion and very low Q speaker on low notes). It also
requires a speaker with wide even dispersion or it will not sound natural. You
definitely need a sub though for a convincing grand at your price point. The
speaker designer was a professional pianist and this seems evident in how
the design handles piano.

[quote] Are electrostatics way to go? [/quote]

For midrange clarity yes but for realistic dynamics and LF response - no. Let
me say you need a very clean waterfall plot. If you go dynamic then try
damped drivers (paper/pulp or soft/woven fabric - designs that do not ring -
as you want to hear the piano strings resonate not the sound of the speaker
I agree with Dlanselm - a player piano is really the only way to go, but obviously your choice of source material is severely limited. By way of reference, even the hyper-sampled digital keyboard software like Ivory or Virtual Steinway isn't completely convincing through a superior stereo system - though it's better to my ear than the best SACDs (which are next in my pecking order).

I also agree with Shadorne that a subwoofer is probably a good idea. If you scan these threads you'll find lots of good info on subs from Shadorne, Bob Reynolds, Drew Eckhard and a few others who are well informed on the subject. As to main speakers, timber & dynamics are both critical it's hard to find speakers that are great in both areas.

MBLs offer great dynamics, but they strike me as compromised in tonal balanced. Conversely, he smaller Ohms are omnis that mate well with subs and IMHO reproduce timbre exceptionally well. However, they lack the dynamics you're seeking. I haven't heard the bigger models but, they might be worth checking out. Ohm sells factory direct and money back, so your bet is hedged.

Best of luck.

Your room is a little on the small side for huge fullrange dipoles, or I would suggest that route.

Still, could be a couple that will "mostly work"...(they lack only the deepest bass).

These go against the side walls, with the slots facing each other. (you can add a single large sub, or a couple of small subs).

PS....I don't know the seller


A very nice Yamaha baby grand with disclavier will run app $10K - maybe half that for a used model. If you have room, you may want to consider this idea. You'll have a beautiful piano, a good selection of music available (not what you'd ideally want, but good) and a fair bit of cash left for a fine stereo. If you really want a 9' Steinway, that's another story...

I agree with Shadorne on the ATC Actives. Very convincing in their reproduction, and because they are active, you can buy a minimal amount of gear to support them. I prefer Bryston solid state pre-amps with them and you could keep or enhance your source components.

If you wish to migrate to a warmer, tube sound: Two other tube systems that sound great are top-of-line Opera speakers with Unico Research tube components, or the new Harbeth 40.1 speakers with a good Japanese tube company (audition Leben, Shindo or Almarro.)
The sound of the Beveridge is delicate and well defined but it lacks the dynamics one would wish for, feeling the need to get it more or less right.
I've long lived with a Quad 63 and Gradient sub combination, driven first by Jadis gear and later by two sets of Atma-sphere 60 watt monos and an Atma
MP-1 Mk. III phono pre. Timbre, presence and subtle cues were there, dynamics were fair, but not as right as I would have wished for ( I am initimatley familiar with the sound of a grand ) and the lowest octave, when "thunder" was called for, lacked both power and presence in spite of the Gradients, which performed fair otherwise . All the same, the middle octaves of the grand were there, the very highs almost and the lowest lacked punch. Liszt made me not quite happy, Schubert or Mozart mostly completely. I mention this, because if you buy used, you could perhaps make it, including a good TT plus arm and cart. I am still waiting for good piano rendition on digital. If someone could point me to good recordings of classical piano, I would be grateful.

To get it really right is not cheap. I am at a point where I am truly happy, but at what cost!
To wit:

TT.Goldmund Reference I, highly modified with space age plinth and pivot.
Arm: 1.Highly modified Goldmund with adjustable VTA from listening position
2.highly modified Souther with Air Tight PC-1 (best for dynamics)
other cart: Suchy's Goldfinger on the Goldmund arm
Phono pre: Wavac and Boulder 2008
Pre: Wavac
Amp: VTL Siegfried monos Pentode mode (700watts)
High: aCapella plasmas driven by Zanden
Main: Sound Labs U1-PX, wide dispersion
Bass: 2 Soutien self powered bass systems with room control
Sub bass: Rel Studio III
Wires: Stealth and custom made.

I bought much of the above used or at discount, but all the same it came to well over 5x your budget. Perhaps you can get the same result for less money, though frankly I doubt it, if you want to get satisfactory results from top to bottom octave, from ppp to fff, have all the resonances and decays right, knowing exactly how a Steinway, a Bösedorfer, or a Bechstein with what music can sound and be enabled to sometimes almost forget that your're only listening to facsimile of the thing.
Wow thanks for all the responses. It appears that the task is much more daunting than I imagined, but that makes this hobby the more exciting. FYI, my current system is in my condo but I'm planning to build a dedicated listening area in my weekend house so the space is no longer a factor. So from so far, looks like right speakers with good subwoofers and a top notch turntable is the way to go.
It probably goes without saying, but since no one has touched on it yet; not only is the Piano one of the most difficult to reproduce, it also seems to be one of the most difficult to record judging by the wide range of results I've heard on my own systems. The recording itself is going to have a profound effect of how real the instrument sounds. Seems to me that in general studio recordings are more successful than live stage recordings in bringing the instrument into my room. BTW I'm not using the classic formula of profound muscle from my amps to do this. I use 9 watt SET amps and high efficiency speakers in a moderately sized room. It's certainly not the last word in 'live' sound, but it does a pretty good job to my ears. I've also had powerful amps (Bel Canto Ref 1000's) in the same room and they did a very nice job as well, but I prefer the sound of the SET amps overall. I do use a sub. I know you said you listen to mostly classical (as far as piano music, so do I), but the most realistic portrayal I've heard of a piano in my space comes from a gifted alt-pop artist, Tori Amos, who was a child-prodigy on piano and remains an amazing keyboard artist. She is a Bosendorfer sponsored artist. Pick up a copy of her out-of-print EP of "God" and listen to the two piano solos on that EP. That's the closest I've heard to the piano in my listening room. It occurs to me as a very closely miked recording and has the most immediacy of any I've heard of a piano. Most of the classical recordings I enjoy seem more distant in comparison. I wonder if anyone could comment further on this - why aren't there more recordings like this in the classical realms?
I heard a pair of Audio Note speakers at a dealers'. I wasn't there to audition and it was very brief but I clearly remember how life-like the piano sounded.
Piano is very hard to record so it sounds natural, as Jax2 says. Close-miking gets half of it; miking back gets the other half; using both compromises imaging. If the engineer does get it right, it is, as others say, very hard to reproduce naturally.

My favourite piano system involved SET tube amplification and large horns (Loth-X Polaris). It was the only system I'd ever heard get attack and dynamics nearly right as well as timbre.
Well, if you are going to build a larger, and dedicated sound room, that changes things greatly.

I would build a room at least 16'-20' wide. IMO, anything less is a compromise.

I would also go with double wall construction...lots of bass trapping behind the outer walls.

I would also give the ceiling lots of thought, depending on what type you have to go with?

In a well constructed larger room, you have lots of component/speaker choices at your price level.

Large "fullrange" dipoles would be (my) first choice...(a fresh pair of Apogee fullrage maybe?)

A well designed horn system would be very, very nice (take a look at some of the "Classic Reproductions" systems.)

And of course the "active" ATC's mentioned by Shadorne would be a top choice.

The Beveridge speakers I mentioned above would work fine in the room you are in now (they will play plenty loud in that room)...but they would not be my pick, for large room reproduction.

IMHO, apart from the issue of the ability of recording engineers to get it down in the first place, and getting an audio system that could make it sound real (i.e. as it would sound at a live performance) just how large would your room have to be? I think very few of us could afford a house with a room large enuf to accommodate a grand piano, let alone a Bosendorfer or Steinway Concert grand playing something orther than Twinkle Twinkle Little Star at anything like the appropriate volume.

Just imagine Beethoven's Hammerklavier, for example, being played as it was played by Giles, or Mussorgsky's Pictures by Richter, in a 20x30 room (or even larger for that matter). I don't think I could imagine it. :-)

I copped out some years ago even though I probably listen to more classical music for solo piano than anything else. I've learned to focus on the music/performance itself somehow and disconnect the 'audio' connect.
Good points Newbee.

I was at a friends home a while back...checking out his basement refinish job. I had my grand daughter with me, and she spotted his drum set at one end of the room.

She asked him to play he did (he is very good!) That said...the first 15 seconds or so, were more than enough for me.

I suspect that there may be more ways to skin this particular 'piano cat' than there are audiofools on Agon. In my case, I have achieved magnificent piano results with a system that combines a digital front end, an SS pre, a class D amp, dynamic speakers dipping to 22Hz, and a recently added power conditioner. I listen to about 50% classical piano, the rest is chamber with a smattering of orchestral work and non classical. I will never be so bold as to assert that my way is the only way, rather that it has worked remarkably well and getting better for piano reproduction, as I make careful incremental changes. My system currently consists of TEAC Esoteric X-01 Limited CDp + PAD anniversary PC, Jeff Rowland Capri linestage + Cardas Golden Ref PC, Rowland 312 amp + Shunyata Anaconda Alpha Helix PC, Vienna Acoustics Mahler speakers + Cardas Golden Reference speaker wires. For piano analysis I often use Inna Poroshina playing The Ruins Of the Old Castle by A. Dvorak from a Brilliant Classics box of complete piano works. After I completed my review of Vienna Mahlers and Rowland 312 (TAS 188), I have added to my system a Synergistic Research PowerCell + SR Precision Reference PC. Surprisingly, I have experienced that the harmonic exposure in piano notes has increased to the point that on the lower notes I can easily hear not only the direct ringing of overtones 3, 5, and beyond, but also the faint contribution from treble strings of the grand piano resonating in sympathy with the bass.
In some piano recordings, I can now even identify the anomalous resonance of high strings immediately adjacent to the reinforcement struts of the inner cast iron harp. While I will write about the SR powerCell in a great deal more detail elsewhere on these pages, I suggest that there may be no single electronic/transducer technology to yield supreme excellence in piano reproduction. Rather, every component in a chain of disparate technologies can be synergistic (no pun intended) to overall results. G.
Guido, FWIW I think that your analysis of the value of a collection of audio equipment sort of focus's on its ability to reproduce (and for you to hear when the recording engineer puts his mikes near the sound board) what is going on when you sit next to the piano, just as a conductor hears from the podium, but the reality is that few of us ever do that. Our reality is quite different.

We are usually quite some distance from the piano where these low level sounds, some of which are mechanical and are not in the score at all :-) are lost, but where the dynamics and the appropriate volume rules our appreciation for what sounds like a live piano. But, to get that thru the recording and thru our audio systems it is going to get compressed. And it is that compression that really robs the music of any real sense of liveness. Ultimately you still have suspend your sense of reality and just 'pretend' that it is live.

You might be amused, but I work in a room adjacent to my audio room (accross am open hall way) and I often get caught up more in piano music playing when I'm there than sitting in the sweet spot. :-)
Newbee, you are absolutely correct. That is why I often say that our hobby is much more about the creation of a subjectively desirable hyperreality congruent with reality, than the replication of factual reality per se. What I hear in the Poroshina recording is a virtual performance from a vantage point no more than 12 feet in front of me, but with some low level detail elements that are more suggestive of a performer's viewpoint than a third party listener. Interestingly, some residual congestion of close chords towards the bottom of the 2nd and 3rd octave below middle C were largely addressed by replacing the original Synergistic Research T3 cord with the SR Precision Ref. What is very amusing is that the harmonic congestion I was initially detecting and later eliminated, is actually consistent with the listener's live viewpoint of most grand pianos under concert hall conditions.
Very good points Newbee, Guido. In fact, I found for myself, that the sound that satisfied me the most, was not the sound I heard in concert, but that playing a grand myself (badly, alas) or sitting right next to one and thus hearing the full spectrum of sounds, those beasts are capable of. Apart from a few Phillips recordings of Brendel, the closest I came to this my perception of "reality", was with a Deutsche Grammophon, no less, Martha Argerich ( in her heyday ) playing the Liszt Sonata in B Minor on DG 2530193. I more or less fine tuned my system on this recording for piano. Also here you will practically hear all the side-effects Guido so expertly writes about and yes, I must try to hunt up that Brilliant classics Box and see how it does through my Spoiler.
Off the cuff, I'd love to hear a properly functioning pair of full range Ohm Fs sourced from a very good Class D amp like say a Rowland set up properly in a moderately large room with any quality digital or phono front end for a shot at doing piano exceptionally well for reasonable cost.
Right on Detlof. . . I found that in some cases, there are some details of piano sound that I can hear -- or perhaps feel -- only when when my own now totally inept fingers are at the keyboard. . . e.g. the absolutely magic harmonics of a Bosendorfer. The 5 CD set of complete Dvorak piano works with Inna Poroshina at the piano is Brilliant Classics 92606. The quality of the compositions varies from dutiful to great. . . but Poroshina is invariably magnificent.
Mapman, for the most refined results on piano using JRDG amps, you should consider models that either are equipped with active power factor correction like Continuum 500 and 312, or models that can be augmented by PC1 external PFC units like 201 and 501 monos. Without power factor correction, 201 and 501 can sound slightly 'matter of fact'. Fair to state that, even with my beloved JRDG 312 and Capri in the system, significant musical value was still added by the addition of the SR PowerCell conditioner + Precision Ref PC combination, to which I feed all components, including amp.

As a side note, I forgot to mention that my Grados GS-1000 headphones actually does very good job with piano (much better than speakers). Right now, I listen to most piano works on my headphones. But given it's a can, it lacks soundstage and the music is in my head so I only use it for solo works where soundstage is not as important. Anyone else feel that best headphones do better justice to piano than most speakers?
"Grados GS-1000 headphones actually does very good job with piano (much better than speakers)"

Doesn't surprise me.

On the scale at which they must operate to produce realistic SPLs to the ear, the wide range drivers in headphones are physically much better equipped to handle the fast transient dynamics associated with piano string strikes than are most dynamic speakers involving large drivers with higher physical mass.
This might suprise but I think Krell does a good job on piano. Since you're not dealing with highs where Krells can easily cause pain on other than the best recordings, I would suggest giving a Krell amp a try. The way a lot of piano pieces are recorded they seem to need to be brought out more. On this, the Krells excel.

I think a lot of recordings are made as if you're out quite a ways in the concert hall. I've made recordings in my piano room with a couple of Shure mics and an M-audio A/D on to a computer. I thought they sounded remarkably good without any mixing. The Yamaha is brighter than most pianos and that fact may help the recording. But the difference was the recordings sounded like they were recorded: as if you were sitting right there next to the piano. I had one mic near the soundboard and another 3 or 4 feet away. I prefer that rather than the typical far-away concert hall sound.

Lots of good speakers out there. The Krell sounded good on my Aerials.
"Krell does a good job on piano"

I've heard the $2500 Krell integrated do a very respectable job on piano music with Martin Logans.
I agree with Jax2 and Tobias. Vinyl played through horn speakers with tube amplification are the way to go for things that cover the full frequency range all the time, like solo piano music, or large orchestral or opera. I also agree with Detlof that some of the finest recorded piano sound out there, both for recording quality and interpretation, are Alfred Brendel's recordings for Philips, the Dutch pressings. I just picked up his 70's Beethoven Sonata set, it is truly magical. I also have a few of his Mozart Piano Concerto recordings with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, also on Philips. Again, magic.

For those of you who also love Brendel's playing, some sad news. He performed his last live concert the other night in Vienna. Our recordings are all we will have of him, now. I hope he continues to teach and write.
On the subject of realistically recording the grand piano, I don't know that it's particularly difficult rather than the engineers being scared to do it without compression?
Listen to Keith Jarrett- The Koln Concert on ECM (recorded live) to see how realistically you can transfer the concert grand to vinyl or Masaru Imada-Piano on Three Blind Mice.
The best recorded classical concert grand I've yet heard is Liszt Sonate h-Moll B Minor by Daniel Barenboim on Deutche Grammophon.
My Apogee Scintillas, source a no oversampling DAC, can not only do a piano accurately from the lowest A key to the highest C, but at full volume as well.

We have a nice piano too.
I agree with Jax2 and Tobias. Vinyl played through horn speakers with tube amplification are the way to go for things that cover the full frequency range all the time, like solo piano music, or large orchestral or opera.

Er, ah, I didn't say that. I don't listen to vinyl anymore (except in friend's systems), but certainly enjoy it. I also said nothing about horns, though I've enjoyed those in the past as well, and remain a big fan. I'm not sure I'd agree with everything you've said. I'd agree that solo piano is well served (or can be) by the system topology you propose. I'd have to say that my experience, at least with SET amplification and horns, is that it would not do the scale and dynamics of opera or large-scale orchestral music as much justice as I've heard done with other means of amplification (though it certainly can sound quite good). As far as other tube amps (push/pull, pentode, etc.) my own experience has been that the larger scale, more dramatic/dynamic music that is more densely layered seems to be better served by various SS amps I've had and or heard, though OTL tube amps have occurred to me to be a contender as well. Though I used horn loaded speakers for many years, I no longer do because of space limitations (I haven't been fond of any of the smaller horn solutions I've heard, and just don't have the space in my current room for the horns I'd like). I'm currently using Coincident Super Eclipse III's (not horns), which I like very much. Perhaps what we do agree on, and what I was trying to point out, is that one does not necessarily require high-watt SS amplification to get close to a convincing sound of piano. It seemed like early posts seemed to focus on that perfectly reasonable approach, but I thought it should be noted there are others. YMMV, as always. I don't believe there's only one way to go to get closer to realistic piano as far as the system-approach is concerned. I think everyone's version of what "realistic" piano sounds like may be quite different as well.
I actually have a 1962 Steinway concert grand in the living room of the house I live in. (It's a small house, but with a large (30 x 25) living room with high ceilings (15 feet), and the piano fits quite nicely with lots of empty space around it,) I'm not much of a piano player, but I do love the sound of a really fine piano.

If you were to hear what a piano like this actually sounds like in a living room, I don't think anyone here would be claiming that his system quite reproduces that sound.
Well, if you frame the question that way, I don't know any system that really meets the exact reporduction standard. You can go to any high-end stereo store or audio show and listen to many different very high-end systems and no two will sound the same. Does any particular one exhibit exact reproduction of the live instrument? Does many of them do a good job? I would say no the former and yes to the latter question. Of course since the original poster is pretty much focused on just one insturment he stands a better chance of getting a system optimized for that criterion. Across the board of all insturments and vocals, I don't belive it's possible.
Hello, Shadorne said a while back in this thread,"Let
me say you need a very clean waterfall plot."

What exactly do you mean by that? Also why do you want this? What does it mean ? And how do you get this? How do you identify this?

" I would say no the former and yes to the latter question. "
I completely agree. (:

Jax2, You've brought two points up, which mirror my experience:
I've pondered extensively as well as listened two various SET and horn combinations and came to similar conclusions as you did. I didn't try the biggest aCapellas though. I couldn't and wouldn't afford them, quite apart from their size.

Also I've found that OTLs pleased my ears most with really big orchestral music doing big dynamic swings without losing important detail, so I settled for the 200watt Atmas, which however proved a tad weak on the chest together with my Sound Labs on that very DG recording of Argerich's playing Liszt which I had mentioned above. I would have loved to have bought Ralph's biggest offering in amplification, which however would have busted my budget, so I settled for second choice, the Siegfrieds, which I could buy used here on A. I could have avoided the Sound Labs of course, but I've gotten so used to the sound of stators and to build systems around them for practically the last 50 years that can't help to find most cone speakers either colored or slow or lacking in homogeneity. Question of hearing-habit I suppose. I know this is neither factual nor "objective", but I listen to my ears. (;
"If you were to hear what a piano like this actually sounds like in a living room, I don't think anyone here would be claiming that his system quite reproduces that sound."

You are correct. I own a German Steinway model M. . . and piano from my system can sound quite different. . . often 'better'. On the other hand, I already stated that a music reproduction system does not replicate reality. . . rather it creates a -- hopefully congruent -- hyper-reality.

Well beyond the question of compression, piano is a pain in the ass to record.

As noted in an earlier post, close miking and ambient miking both have their advantages, neither is perfect, and combining the two is an art unto itself. I once "executive produced" (read funded) a recording session for a friend who is a prominent LA based French Horn player, so I attended some of the sessions. After struggling mightily to get the piano sound right, and waiting for a take that everyone liked, we finally got one. Given the time and effort that had gone into getting that track down, there was a real sense of relief in the booth. Then, playback revealed a squeaking bench!

Trust me, more time was spent on getting the piano to sound right than on everything else combined.

Marty, no worry about squeeking benches or even singing pianists. . . we would have no Gould, schiff, and Brendel recording if producers ditched every take that contained squeeks, sharp intakes of breath, or impromptu solo vocalizations.
Anyone else feel that best headphones do better justice
to piano than most speakers?

Headphones have very low distortion levels and only a handful of speakers are
designed such that they could begin to compete with $1000 headphones. I
mentioned the numerous distortion and dynamic compression problems in
conventional speakers above - a $1000 headphone playing at tiny output levels
close to the ear has a much easier job than a speaker. Remember the vast
majority of speaker drivers cost less than $100!!! (basically there is no contest
between excellent headphones and most speakers)
How true, but I hate to have my head mimic a soundstage.
"If you were to hear what a piano like this actually sounds like in a living room, I don't think anyone here would be claiming that his system quite reproduces that sound."

I am not sure what your point is.

What we have is a hundred year old piano with a thick sound board, and sounds bold and robust. A Steinway Grand will sound smoother, and just as big. My Scintillas don't sound like my piano. They sound like the big grand piano recorded at some particular space in some particular manner.
Hello, Shadorne said a while back in this thread,"Let
me say you need a very clean waterfall plot."

What exactly do you mean by that? Also why do you want this? What does it mean ? And how do you get this? How do you identify this?

The best is to give a classic example - the Quad 57. Because the cumulative spectral decay plot (waterfall) is so clean in the mid band this became a famous speaker - despite many other shortcomings. Most people will say this is one of the best sounding midrange around.

The reason is that the subtle timbre of the piano is not MASKED by driver resonance.

IMHO, it was a sad day when the industry began widely adopting lightweight metallic drivers with small motors - most of these designs ring badly and require "notch" filters to try and limit the ringing. Most people do not realize that it takes only a ringing at one frequency within several octaves to completely mask all the other subtle sounds within that band. It is called "masking" and has been studied extensively - it happens when one sound at a certain frequencies "masks" other sounds across an entire band or range of normally audible frequencies and SPL levels - this scientifically proven effect is used to compress audio files in the MP3 standards (basicaly they remove sounds that they "know" you can't hear anyway and make the compressed audio file much smaller).
Shadorne, you are right to point out overworked tweeters will smear over subtle resonances.

The Scintilla has yards of tweeter that never sound overworked. Highs flow off the ribbons naturally.

The mid ribbon is married to the tweeters so one cannot listen to one without the other. The big bass is musical into the 20s frequencies. All of that adds to a very great piano imitator.

In fact, the reason I own Apogee Scintillas is because of a fateful day listening to one in the 80's. I wandered about the listening room trying to convince myself I wasn't listening to some unseen piano player. I gave up, until I saw a Glodmund turntable spinning a record.
People say panels like the Quad 57 sound fast...this is the effect of a clean waterfall...there is no lingering ringing coloration to the sound - everything has a "light" realistic quality about it and you just hear more of the details on the recording. In a conventional box speaker this requires drivers that have internally critically damped drivers within their operating bandwidth (this generally requires doped paper/pulp or woven fabrics - anything to "deaden" the sound of the diaphragm itself and prevent ringing)
How true, but I hate to have my head mimic a soundstage.

Exactly - me too. I don't like the sound being in my head. Headphones eliminate the pinna and that means they can never sound realistic even if they have superb performance.
this generally requires doped paper/pulp or woven fabrics - anything to "deaden" the sound of the diaphragm itself and prevent ringing

I would add that the latest approach is to this problem is to use "Constrained Layer Damping" - instead of doping a speaker cone with a viscous damping fluid they are now sandwiching a viscous fluid between two rigid cones - kind of like a springing car suspension with "shock absorbers" to dampen it. This idea works well because the internal energy within the cone is lost as the constrained layer shears.

Basically if you can't dissipate the stored energy in a rigid cone you unavoidably end up with some resonance - after all this is exactly how cymbals are made and they ring a long long time...

If I were you, I'd focus on getting the right speakers to accomplish your goals first and build the rest of the system around those. The reason is that, particularly in the case of piano, the speakers present practically the most limiting factor to achieve what you want.

The APs are very good speaks TTBOMK. So have you ever heard piano on a system with a totally different speaker design, say Magnepan Planars or Martin Logan electrostats or even MBL or Ohm omnis or pseudo omnis?

I think auditioning radically different speaker designs might be the place to start looking for a radically better sound.

Then put the other pieces in place needed to drive those speakers optimally with good range and dynamics.

Make sure the speakers fit the size of the room they will go into properly. If the room is not too big, you should be able to find an ideal system to do the trick in it optimally for less.

After speakers, the other thing to look into, if needed, is to determine whether vinyl floats your boat better for piano than digital in general.
My previous system consisted of Martin Logan Aeris i, with Bryston 9BTHX and Mcintosh MX 132. My Den had prefinished wood flooring over concrete, and wood paneling on 3 sides with glass on one,(covered in wood blinds, The room was partially open to the back. the 8 foot ceiling was sheetrock.

Best Piano Sound I ever Heard in a system, including the one I have today.

Get some Room Acoustics first.
The point is a simple one.

It is *not* that there are differences between the sound of the piano in my living room and the sound of the piano on your recording as it was heard in the room in which it was played. Pianos do sound different from one another.

It is *rather* to suggest that the sound is so much bigger and richer and more textured and nuanced on a concert grand piano as played in one's living room that to think that a hi-fi system can reproduce this sound faithfully is a version of audiophile wishful thinking.
not wishful thinking, I'd say, but self delusion. However, like being freshly infatuated with " the most wonderful, most intelligent, most considerate and gentle person", it is one of the most enjoyable temporary mental disorders in this here our world I submit. (And I would not miss either for anything in the world!)
Simply moving the speakers another 2ft or so forward, and adding a couple of small subwoofers, behind, or just forward of the main speakers would probably get the poster, a large step within his goal in that room.

Plenty of small subs will do 30hz with ease, and thats all you really need for piano to sound very nice.