Speakers that do pianos really well

I recently had the good fortune to listen to a half a dozen pretty well-regarded speakers back-to-back. For these kind of sessions I like using piano recordings - either solo or jazz trio - as a measure because, to my ear at least, it seems that speakers that can reproduce piano really well seem to be pretty well sorted on everything else. The surprising thing was how many of these speakers did NOT do piano well. Of the group there were only two - Vandersteen and Verity - that I thought really captured the big chords, shadings, timbres, and reverberations cleanly and naturally. The rest - and I'm not going to call them out by name - offered a mixed bag of over-brightness, distortion, and general unnaturalness. I was very surprised by the results as I expected better from some of these speakers based on their reviews and reputations. So my question is, Does anyone else use the piano as a litmus test, and what speakers do people use that they think do pianos really well? Regards.

Showing 3 responses by martykl

The biggest issue that I have in using piano to judge a loudspeaker is the enormous variety in tonality between different pianos. It's not just grand vs upright, but various sizes, manufacturer tonality variations, and even the age of the hammer pads. I'm never sure what the particular piano on a particular recording is supposed to sound like. Okay, really bad is really bad, but maybe that clangy sound isn't the speaker, it's just a small upright with worn hammer pads.

Even if I really know a recording and am doing a controlled A/B, it's hard for me to really feel comfortable making a judgement on a speaker's ability to "do" piano properly. Shy of that type of comparison, I find voice much more useful than piano for judging a speaker's tonal neutrality. But, that's just me and YMMV.


Christy Baron's stuff on Chesky is really good. Although it's been quite a while, I've seen her perform without amplification in NYC jazz clubs and her voice is really distinctive. It's stuck with me all these years. Her earliest material is very simply arranged and beautifully recorded. Her rendition of "Ain't No Sunshine" on her debut is a great example. The SQ, coupled with the familiarity of her voice, makes it easier for me to feel comfortable judging a given speaker's tonal quality.

For instrumental records, I'll always bring along a copy of Richard Todd's (French Horn) "With A Twist", since I was present for much of the recording sessions. Ironically, getting the piano right was always the biggest pain in the ass.

Tube - as far as piano tone fetishes, I've been there! Five years ago, I bought a piano. I'm a hack, my wife plays passably, and my daughter is learning. The shopping experience was scary - I didn't need another SQ issue to obsess over (in addition to guitars/guitar amps and hifi equipment) - so I punted. In the end, I really liked the action on Kawai pianos (as did my wife), so we ended up with one of their small, relatively inexpensive uprights (solid sounding, though not remarkable) and called it a day. Until it's time for the next one....


I didn't know that you lived in New Orleans. Richard Todd (see my post above) used to live/perform there in the late 1980's and I was curious whether you've ever seen him play. BTW, if you tell me you've seen James Booker (IMHO, one of the GREAT piano players) play, I'll really be jealous!