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Disklaviers and other Acoustic Piano Playback


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I am a proficient pianist, and in the market for a new upright that records well - though I am seriously considering whether it makes sense as a film composer to buy a more technically advanced piano that works well with my DAW, etc.

I am curious if anyone has experience with a disklavier or similar acoustic piano playback (Steinway Pianodisk, Kawai Aures). My goal is to create audio recordings of my piano performances - with the convenience of midi and of course the ability to have a piano perform pieces that are beyond my ability (fast tempos, without mistakes, i.e. "perfect" performances).

I'm hoping to try out the Kawai Aures in a showroom soon - but I don't believe it will be possible to test the midi playback from a DAW - so I'm particularly interested if anyone has that sort of experience to share. Has this sort of instrument fit into a professional workflow?



Senior Member
I’m a trained classical pianist and film composer. Years ago I had a job editing midi for a pianist who created performances for the Yamaha Disklavier. These were piano performances that would accompany a commercial cd that the consumer would put in the Yamaha’s disc player. So the consumer would get a piano play along to Destiny’s Child or Tony Bennet, etc…. As he created these, he would play the acoustic piano, not trigger a sampled piano library. The pianist recorded his performances into a DAW (DP, in this case) and that’s where I would edit the midi. The playback of the midi files to the acoustic piano would work just fine.

Hybrid acoustic piano-midi controllers would most likely give you the best keyboard action, since you are playing a real piano. I don’t know if a resulting midi file would be able to reproduce 100% of all the subtleties the original performance. After all, with midi, you’re stuck with 127 velocity values. I guess it depends on how well the sensors on the keys “read” your performance and translate it to midi. One resource that might be helpful is the Pianoworld forum. I think there are lots of people there who have used Disklavier and other player pianos who could share their expertise.

Personally, I think you’d be better off not using a player piano but a sampled piano library instead for your piano recordings.. Those libraries are usually/often recorded in pristine conditions - perfect halls or studios, and you have a huge choice of what kind of sound you can get: vintage, concert grand, jangly upright, Yamaha, Steinway, Bosendorfer, etc. Your audience won’t necessarily know that you’re using a sample library.

As far as film scoring, I don’t see any advantage of using a player piano. Getting refinement from sampled libraries is not always a matter of a refined keyboard touch. That comes from CC values that control different parameters of the sound (vibrato, volume, brightness, etc) and various envelopes that you draw into your DAW. So unless you’re playing actual piano repertoire in your film scoring, I don’t see how a player piano would be relevant. (And sorry if I’m saying stuff you already know…).


Lunatic - it's really that simple
Horses for courses I think!

I spent many an hour with a couple of Disklavier equipped pianos (was never in a position to actually purchase one!) They are remarkably fun, they can be really educational, and they are both a great controller and a great playback device.

Disclaimer - my keyboard chops are minimal, a better player may well think I am crazy!

The nice thing about a Disklavier or similar piano is that you can record the performance as well as the audio, and later go back to tweak the performance and then re-record it if you like. That's a very powerful tool!

The other think I enjoyed - and this is me being lazy - was just fooling around. I try to record everything I do on guitar or piano (or DAW) because one never knows when one will have a good idea. Transcribing from an audio track is a lot of work - good work, good ear training, definitely a good use of time, but I can be pretty lazy, so being able to transcribe from MIDI is pretty darned cool. (Now when are they going to invent a disguitar?)


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Thanks for sharing these experiences. From my own perspective I've found that piano sample libraries (of which I have many) are extremely useful and have served me well, but recording real piano audio is definitely something I love and will use in my studio. It sounds like the disklaviers performed well in your experience - so that's good to know. I hope that I can get an even better sense of playback when I visit the showroom. If the subtleties of a performance translate then it will make all the difference. I'll be trying out the Kawai K300 Aures sometime soon.
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