What are the best loudspeakers under $4000 to re-create lifelike piano
Over the past 4 months I've spent time with five loudspeakers. On a scale of 1-10 I'd rate them as follows in their ability (with my equipment in my room) to recreate a lifelike piano. Tekton Lore - 6.5 (great scale but tonal accuracy and clarity somewhat lacking), Kef LS50 - 7.0 (moderate scale but slightly better clarity and tonal accuracy) Kef R500 - 8.0 (great scale and very good clarity and tonal accuracy), Spatial Audio M3TurboS -8.1 (great scale and very good clarity and tonal accuracy and very smooth) Magnepan 1.7i - 9.0 (very good scale with excellent clarity and tonal accuracy - very lifelike).
In your room with your equipment, what loudspeakers are you listening too and how would you rate them for their ability to recreate a lifelife piano and if possible a few comments as to why?
A lot will depend upon the equipment driving your speakers. For me, a pair of Vandersteen Treo's with 2wq subs paired with Atma-Sphere amp and pre made for a very sweet combination.(Using an Ayre Codex and streaming Spotify, mostly). Full, clear, detailed presentation. Even my significant other remarked on how much better everything sounded. No, it was unbelievable, and I told Ralph Karsten. Bob
Not sure if one can do justice to a life like piano for only $4000. Piano is one of the more difficult instruments to get right. My top of the line Nord Keyboard with Genelec speakers and a huge Traynor keyboard stage amp comes close but at more than twice $4000. My ATC do a good job too (the owner/designer of ATC is a jazz pianist) but again not at anything close to the $4000 price point. That is a really tall order.
Before you evaluate your speakers for their piano recreation's ability try to attend a live performance in a recital hall (preferably), a concert hall, or even a jazz club. The first thing to note is the size of the room! Then note how loud (or soft) and distortion free the sound is (or should be anyway).
We would all like to hear a real piano 'speaker' in our home but if Bosendorfer couldn't do it, and they tried, lets just close our eyes and fantasize. :-)
I think we may all agree that there is no perfect speaker for reproducing the piano but what comes closest? What about Zu, or tekton brilliance or double impact, or Martin Logan, or dynaudio or legacy or golden ear or any of the dozens I've missed??
I don't think a lot about this any longer, but some food for thought -
When do you think they will ever develope a recording process that will come even close to giving you a source accurate enough to judge a speaker's real ability to reproduce a piano. Perhaps that is more of the problem than developing a speaker which can. Hummmmmm!
The thing is that when you pick a loudspeaker it's probably because it transports you to the concert... or because it plays loud cleanly... or because it throws a gigantic image...and more. Since the piano is hard to do, especially at $4k or less... it seems worth exploring which loudspeakers do it well...even if the recordings themselves are imperfect.
You want coherence, scale and timbral accuracy for piano reproduction, and that's a tall order for moderately priced speakers. We did extensive auditioning last spring - have to admit that we hated the LS50s (didn't go low enough + clangy on upper range on piano, then they were hard and glassy on massed strings besides ). I know thousands love these speakers but I cordially hated them.
Our favorites were the GoldenEar Triton 2+ at $3500 (and 3+ at $2500), B&W CM10s at $4500. We're buying the GoldenEars - great driver integration, coherent top to bottom, give you the scale of the music, easy to drive and place. Past experience tells me Vandies and Maggies also excel in coherence and scale.
We both play piano, go to live concerts and have a Steinway in the studio.
A used pair of Duntech Princesses or Dunlavy SC-IVs (or, if you can knock the price down a little, Duntech Sovereigns or Dunlavy SC-Vs). Not the last word in transparency, but these speakers get the timbre and frequency response right (including the lower registers) and, with the right amplification, can get a lot of the dynamics too. Also can give you a sense of the size and scale of the instrument. Terrific on all genres of music as well. Still among my favorite speakers after all these years.
I have been an audiophile for 50 years, during this time I have never heard speakers that can faithfully reproduce the sound of a live grand piano. I have heard some pretty impressive systems (read very expensive, $0.5 million and more) during this time, I can honestly say none faithfully reproduced the sound of live piano. OK, some came close; Magico Q7, Wilson Alexandria etc.
Hope I don’t sound too cynical, just my 2 cents worth.
Working within sensible budget restraints ($4k or less); I am a fan of Yamaha NS1000M speakers and my current favorite, Gale GS401A (see my previous post on the Gales). Both speakers look good and are very dynamic. But, do they reproduce grand piano faithfully? No, but they do sound nice and do a reasonable job.
I like "s1nn3r" and "newbees" answer to the OP; either buy a used piano or fantasize. I like the "fantasize" idea; isn’t that what we do all the time as audiophiles?
Snapsc the Impact monito bass are good but they are even better with sub, Sbayne use Rhythmic sub.True no one can copy the sound of piano like it is unless you buy one....But the closest I have heard is the Austin Acoustic horn system 750k over budget for 746k
@jayctoy. So far most comments have been that it is hard to do a piano. In my mind this is a good test for an "affordable" loudspeaker for anyone considering a new speaker.
The DI and DI Monitor are getting great write ups for their overall realism. As a follow up. Are you saying that the DI Monitors when used with a sub have the scale to do a good piano? Also, please comment on their clarity....why...as I noted above, it's really hard to do clear piano.
Aside from system requirements, I find that a lot of recordings of piano to be unconvincing. Two "tells" for me- (the loss of) the harmonic overtones and their decay, and the gravitas of the deeper bass registers. There is also the issue of perspective in size and placement relative to other instruments, particularly if a large orchestra is involved. (Jazz combo recordings are easier because there are fewer instruments and they are less "dense"). Sometimes, the piano is mic’d so that it is disproportionate in scale and placement relative to other instruments. One record that I find pretty convincing (though it may not be your cup of... musically) is: https://www.discogs.com/Amina-Claudine-Myers-Salutes-Bessie-Smith/release/7460514 (The original on Leo, not the audiophile reissue). This record sounds close to a real piano in my room, using Avantgarde Duos supplemented by a pair of 15" subwoofers. I have had concert sized pianos in my homes over the years and know the sound of a "real" piano, both from the driver’s seat and from an audience perspective. The difficulty is generally ascribed to the range of the instrument, but I think it’s more than that- timing, harmonics, power to deliver bass energy and, in my estimation, difficulty in finding convincing sounding recordings.
Snapsc between the technics and tekton monito r either one are very good with piano, clarity wise they are as well superb, I played Ivan Moravec Bethoven Fifth Sonatas , the tekton was able to dissect every ambience available on the recording, the technics tonal balance and piano energy is superb, the technics was voice by a Japanese world class pianist , She is employed by Technics as Vice President of operations...I love my tektons, but if you will play 90% piano I go with technics....
@Wart Thanks for the suggestion and I agree that most of the time the piano is mic'd in a way that both the sound and location aren't realistic
@jayctoy...you make a good point...not very many people listen to 90% piano....so I'd probably add acoustic guitar and then voice reality as the next criterea...and probably many would reverse that to voice first..
Snapsc when I heard those technics at Axpona 2015 here in Chicago they were playing Acoustic guitar music on them....I was stunned , one of the reason , I ordered on the spot.They are excellent on strings too...Overall the technics are 87% of my Tekton impact monitors .
Tekton Double Impact will get you 100% of what you want. No compromise at all for piano or any other type of music. They replaced $16,000 and $22,000 speakers for me. I did modify mine, but even stock they play beautiful piano.
@grannyring It definitely seems that the DIs are well thought of. I'm guessing that there are many people not too excited about 106 pounds each...so it would be interesting to hear how the Brilliance and Electrons stack up to the DI Monitors (since @jayctoy gives them a thumbs up) ....just looking around the forum at various comments, it would seem maybe pretty well??
grannyring, As I recall you once used Silverline Bolero's which I have and am quite fond of. As I recall you modified your crossover, I assume to pull up the 'balance' in the mid-range. I'm curious, if you can recall their unmodified sound with that of the 'Impacts', Double or otherwise.
As always, whart's comments are right on. As for recordings of piano's, direct-to-disk LP's really capture the attack and decay of that instrument like no tape recording I've ever heard. A good piano recording contains an almost instantaneous huge wavefront that instrument creates when struck hard, and reveals the timbre of the instrument changing as it fades away, between notes. The different timbre of specific pianos is a product of the varying levels of the harmonic overtones of the root note---the fundamental. The change in timbre varies amongst different pianos, the relative strengths of fundamental and overtones being unique to each.
IMO, to reproduce the timbre of an instrument with as wide a frequency spectrum as a piano, the loudspeaker itself requires it to have an exceptionally-even octave-to-octave balance. There is no better way to achieve that than to use one driver to reproduce as much of the piano's frequency range as possible, not chop up the keyboard amongst multiple drivers. Achieving even octave-to-octave timbre accuracy via multiple drivers and x/o filters is a very tricky, difficult thing to do. Lifelike timbral reproduction is one reason the original Quad ESL is still as highly regarded as it is. That speaker's ability in that regard remains superior to all but a small handful of competing products, regardless of price!
Great speakers those Bolero’s. I never modified my set and owned them for 2 years I think. Loved them. Very easy to listen to with no listener fatigue at all. Great imaging and a warm inviting sound. Beautiful to look at also! Very smooth highs. Mids were a tad recessed as I recall.
The DI is really a different speaker. It is more full range with much deeper and more impactful bass. The DI is more resolving of the Micro details and of the instruments themselves. They sound more live and alive. The DI does this without sounding bright or aggressive at all. The DI speakers are more dynamic and easier to drive.
The Bolero speakers sound warmer and darker. They are more romantic sounding and that is certainly very appealing to many of us. The Bolero is a more refined sounding speaker. The DIs can be upgraded/modified to sound as refined. They simply need better quality crossover parts.
I think the Bolero would open up more in the mids with simple XO upgrades. It would be a very easy speaker to upgrade. Very easy. I would place the XO outboard and use better wire. Don’t change the XO parts values, but just use Mills MRA or Path Audio resistors and Jupiter copper foil caps. Keep the same inductors.
The Boleros will always hold a special place in my audio memory. Beautiful speaker in many ways.
@bdp24 - I’d settle for being 1/2 right 1/2 the time, but thank you. There was a pretty serious piano restoration house near me when I lived in Westchester, NY- they had a warehouse full of big old grand pianos, some virtually shells, others complete but in need of work. Two otherwise "identical" pianos from the same manufacturer that were set up in the same room could sound vastly different from one another, depending on how the piano was voiced, the materials used for the hammers, action, etc. I’m hardly a guru on that stuff, but I know when I was struggling to maintain an ancient Bosendorfer, the piano swami would spend hours tweaking it- it was like a voice from heaven for a week, maybe two, and then began to slide into disc(h)ord. I kind of miss having a big piano here. Gotta find a solution to that, though I don’t play very much any more. (Have a Nord, which is a decent electronic keyboard but it ain’t even close- even the Rhodes sound isn’t really very convincing (though I suppose there are downloads or tweaks one can do, I dunno). I used to steal away when I was a youngster to play the grand piano in the large school auditorium when it wasn’t in use-- it was fabulous to play in a big empty hall as a kid, and I never had to worry about the audience. :)
Grannyring, thanks for your response. I believe you have a good memory - you described my Bolero's well. I'll probably pass on the Tektons - a can just see all that audio angst starting all over again! :-)
Back to good piano recordings, FWIW I have a few that sound pretty good, but one that is better than most I've heard on my system. I'd love to hear it on others, or hear from anyone who just might have. 'American Piano Music' by Sebastian Knauler on Berlin Classic's. I quite like the way the engineers have set up their mic's to produce a lot of detail yet keeping the integrity of the sound of a live piano on the on the stage.
I was at a restaurant sitting 20 ft from a baby grand piano and was surprised how light and airy the sound was. Of course it could be several factors affecting the sound but the point is if I heard a stereo with the same qualities I would have thought it was too light (or bright) without enough weight to the sound.
bottom line is: valuable lesson learned, live music is the reference.
@philjolet you make a great point. Whether you hear a piano from 15' away or through an open window it is that airiness and clarity that it is a cue that it is a piano and not a loudspeaker...hence my original question: what loudspeakers at less than the price of a piano do a good job of sounding like an actual piano??
philjolet, that $4000 will also buy you a pair of Eminent Technology LFT-8b's and a pair of subs. I would at least check out the ET's before pulling the trigger. Read Robert E. Greene's review in TAS a couple of years back.
Also, the latest Absolute Sound says that Manepan is offering a 60 day in home trial on their 0.7 mode (in their 2017 top picks supplement) ...but I don't see this on the Magnepan website. I listened to the 0.7s recently through a Parasound integrated and they sounded very clear and spacious from the lower mids up....but a sub would definitely be required
If you’re willing to bust the budget (big time) and live with a limited selection of recordings, there’s a "right answer" here:
The diskclavier system, which retrofits to a piano. Effectively, you get a disc-driven player piano. I think the system is owned by Yamaha, but it can be retrofitted to other brands. New Disklavier uprights from Yamaha IIRC start at about $11k or so. A small Grand is closer to $20k. My local piano store has a small, second-hand Kawai Grand with Disklavier available for $12k. That set-up, with or without a disc inserted, sounds (and plays) great.
Im pretty confident that a used Disklavier acoustic piano will get the best recorded piano sound you can find at +/- $10k.
If you really want to stick to traditional-ish loudspeakers, I’d go for powered ATCs. I’ve used them with a Roland digital piano and the sound is pretty damn convincing to my ear. To be clear, I typically use Yamaha powered monitors (very good sounding, themselves) for this purpose (cost considerations), but - several years back - I had a pair in my studio to audition because a friend was selling them. They’re really good, IMO.
BTW, I also play back recordings that I’ve made of the Roland into my DAW (using a variety of virtual pianos, but not the Roland’s internal sound engine) via an Ohm 100/Rhythmik Subwoofer system that is digitally crossed and corrrected with Audyssey. It’s quite a different sound than I get from ATC monitors straight out of the Roland, but it’s very satisfying in its own right.
One poster was dismissive of digital piano recordings. I disagree. The odds of getting a good result are vastly higher with digital recording, IMO. My home studio isn’t set up for an acoustic piano, but I’ve been to commercial recording sessions where we made an analog recoding of an acoustic piano. It’s not easy to get it "right" and there can be a ton of debate as to what "right" actually is.
I routinely get excellent results recording a piano in my home studio, using piano-teq modeled pianos, and Ivory or NI sampled pianos. The very best SQ piano recordings may be analog sessions with a great instrument, a great space, and a recording team vastly more skilled than I am, but - on average - digital recordings are preferable to me.
Caveat: My sensitivities to flaws in a recording aren’t necessarily the same as anyone else’s. A squeak from a bench can (and has) ruin an otherwise beautifully recorded passage.
@martykl - not sure if you were referring to my earlier post about the Nord not sounding like a real piano (or a Rhodes for that matter). Just to be clear if you were referring to my post, I wasn't talking about the recording process, digital v analog, but the instrument itself. Yet, at least live, I've heard some electronic keyboards that do a pretty impressive job of emulating an acoustic piano. On the history of pianos, those old "reproducing pianos" (which were more sophisticated than a plain 'ole player piano) could let you hear Gershwin playing his compositions. Crazy. Apparently, some (or all?) have been ported over to the Disclavier.
I love the sound of the piano that my Harbeth C7ES3s produce. Very natural and life like depending on the quality of the recording and source of course. Joni Mitchell records sound amazing, as does the David Bowie "Alladin Sane" album. So do certain Bill Evans, Oscar Petersen and Thelonious Monk recordings among others. The Harbeths can deliver like no other speaker I have owned.
I have the latest Nord 5. Like anthing it does some emulation better than others. If you go to the online library you can fine tune. For Rhodes emulation I prefer the Korg SV-1. The Korg SV-1 doesnt do piano as well as the Nord but it does Rhodes well and it has a weighted keyboard for a better piano like playing feel (my Nord is best suited to Organ with its waterfall keyboard) and organ drawbars)
I plug the Korg SV-1 midi out into the Nord and the Nord produces the piano emulation, mellotron, farfisa and other sounds I need. The Korg does a great Oberheim too.
In the end I settled on these two keyboards for the majority of needs. The split function allows me to use both keyboards sumultaneously for different instruments. Neither the Korg nor the Nord do everything well but together it is like Jack Spratt and his wife - got most everything covered to a very high level of authenticity. Short of buying and servicing all the original instruments - i would need a dozen or more keyboards - I find this solution superb.
I am not sure what Nord you have tried but there has been significant improvements over the years. Also the speakers you choose to connect to tbe keyboard are critical - Genelec 8020 are very good for the nearfield sound of the listener while a keyboard amp is necessary to achieve high volumes in a band setting where you compete against drums and guitar.
@shadorne - thanks for all of that. My Nord is older- probably 8 or 9 years? I had a Motion Sound? amp- not sure it is still in production. Now that I'm in Austin, it's on my list to have the amp repaired or replaced and update the Nord. I actually did like the B-3 emulator, which is mainly why I bought it at the time, but I don't play professionally, so my dabbling in electronic keyboards isn't that deep. I did play some Yamaha electric pianos at one point that had good feel and sounded pretty good.