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Real Vs Sampled Piano, is the difference worth the effort?

doctoremmet

Senior Member
For exposed solo piano recordings samples have come a long way, but I still like my real Yamaha upright better. Not only the sound, but of course also the way it makes me feel when I play. I can feel the strings resonating. It just “is” my piano, and I do not have any worries nor annoyances about that one note where I could clearly hear a bumpy velocity layer transition.

However... my upright does not sound like Piano In Blue. It can’t do the staccatissimo as well as my 8Dio 1985 Passionate Piano can. It doesn’t have fantastic textural layers like Westwood ALT Piano does. When I want a felt sound, I don’t have to fool around with actual.... felt... when I use Spitfire’s sampled one. Wait, I don’t even HAVE felt nor would I know what to do with it haha. And in order to record my Yammie I need to fiddle about with microphones, which is a lot of hassle. And no MIDI editing :-(

So yeah... sampled pianos are awesome. They have given me choice. And are a source of inspiration in and of themselves.
 
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AudioLoco

Senior Member
In my experience: Depends by the context.
Full on arrangement in some genres can get away with a good sampled piano and be happy.
A good sampled piano can perfectly do most jobs and give lots of satisfaction.

Having said that, when there is a real piano involved, especially for more intimate and sparse arrangement or in an emotional song...well my ears smile a lot more.

Solo classical piano and Jazz only a real piano can do the job properly IMHO. All the dynamics, all the emotion, the sweat, the tuning, the air moving in the room, the mic bleed. No other way for me.

I prefer recording my modest small upright Schimmel then using samples of the best Steinway recorded in the best studios in the world.

My issue is when I'm the one having to play... Well I'm a guitar person so my MIDI performances are more edit-able.... :)
 

doctoremmet

Senior Member
A good illustration of this is the recent “ragtime piano” thread, where valued forum member Piet @re-peat put in a lot of effort to demonstrate the specific ragtime capabilities (and the lack thereof) of a number of well known and loved sampled piano instruments. Most of them failed. ;)
 

AudioLoco

Senior Member
A good illustration of this is the recent “ragtime piano” thread, where valued forum member Piet @re-peat put in a lot of effort to demonstrate the specific ragtime capabilities (and the lack thereof) of a number of well known and loved sampled piano instruments. Most of them failed. ;)
Will check that one out, I missed it... :)
 

Danilebob

Cyan Sounds
So I guess if you're writing ragtime, don't go for a virtual piano. I haven't heard any ragtime releases lately, but that's just me.
I like the virtual pianos, but the experience is not relatable to playing a real piano in any fashion. I've grabbed a bunch of pianos from pianobook and the orchestral grand from Spitfire hoping it would give a semblance of playing in an empty hall by myself...... it does not. It sounds great in context, don't get me wrong, but there's nothing quite like banging on a real piano by yourself in a room all alone.
So, I vote for real piano for doodling, enjoying, and whimsical musing about the universe
and virtual pianos for scoring, practicality, and general DAW use.
 

cygnusdei

Active Member
My 2 cents: on a technical level, the number of velocity layers of the virtual piano should tell you how well it can represent real a piano. For example, the 8dio 1969 Steinway for all the bells and whistles (mic positions, convolution presets) apparently only has few velocity layers that it can't even manage a proper crescendo! That said, their newer offerings with advertised 20 velocity layers should fare better.

On a personal level, I read somewhere that Steinway pianos have reached such a high esteem that people think all pianos sound like that, whereas actually other pianos like Bechstein, Bösendorfer, Fazioli do have unique sounds of their own, and some people do prefer them to Steinway.
 
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Fab

Fab

protect your ears!
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Sorry, I was being vague! Although, I might not have heard some of the replies (which have been very useful to know) so I guess it worked out.

I am really keen to record my pianist friend playing their (beautiful) upright for some TV music. So far though it's proven a bit of a nightmare between tuning, microphone placement, buying/renting correct gear @wst3 (thanks!) etc.

I had a look at some of the suggestions in the replies and it's been helpful.

To me the main difference is that I have a very bad MIDI controller keyboard so it doesn't really matter how good the samples are! That is the main complaint I have been hearing anyway. I also don't really want to buy an expensive master MIDI keyboard because I barely use the one I have.
 
Fab, If you're thinking of recording piano even semi-regularly, it's much cheaper—and you'll get a much better outcome—if you get a good 88 note controller and a top tier piano sample library than mucking about with microphones/piano tuners etc.

Some years ago I sold two perfectly good acoustic grand pianos, replaced them with an all-digital setup. Absolutely no regrets.

Instead of my never-quite-perfectly-in-tune pianos, inexpertly recorded with my OK-but-not-great-microphones, I get the microphones, placement, sound engineers, instruments, expertise and ambience of somewhere like Synchron Stage (VSL) or Abbey Road Studios (Garritan CFX), all recorded on a $250,000 instrument. And then—particularly with Synchron—I then also get a wealth of microphone options for sculpting the sound.

Recent example using Yamaha CFX VSL is below, also plenty of Garritan examples at my YouTube Channel. No acoustic pianos used in any of the videos.

 

Toecutter

Let's end this peacefully
Fab, If you're thinking of recording piano even semi-regularly, it's much cheaper—and you'll get a much better outcome—if you get a good 88 note controller and a top tier piano sample library than mucking about with microphones/piano tuners etc.

Some years ago I sold two perfectly good acoustic grand pianos, replaced them with an all-digital setup. Absolutely no regrets.

Instead of my never-quite-perfectly-in-tune pianos, inexpertly recorded with my OK-but-not-great-microphones, I get the microphones, placement, sound engineers, instruments, expertise and ambience of somewhere like Synchron Stage (VSL) or Abbey Road Studios (Garritan CFX), all recorded on a $250,000 instrument. And then—particularly with Synchron—I then also get a wealth of microphone options for sculpting the sound.

Recent example using Yamaha CFX VSL is below, also plenty of Garritan examples at my YouTube Channel. No acoustic pianos used in any of the videos.

I agree, to achieve this level of quality with an acoustic instrument would require a high investment: impeccable room, instrument, microphones, engineer, musician. It's much easier and fail-proof to get a good controller and a virtual instrument like the D-274.

Great playing Philip and wonderful pieces, was just check your channel! The version on your channel was recorded in 2014? The audio was from the piano itself or another library? Does that piano have MIDI too or you had to painstakingly recreate the performance for VSL?
 
I agree, to achieve this level of quality with an acoustic instrument would require a high investment: impeccable room, instrument, microphones, engineer, musician. It's much easier and fail-proof to get a good controller and a virtual instrument like the D-274.

Great playing Philip and wonderful pieces, was just check your channel! The version on your channel was recorded in 2014? The audio was from the piano itself or another library? Does that piano have MIDI too or you had to painstakingly recreate the performance for VSL?
The 2014 version was also using a sample library, and was one of the first tracks I recorded with the digital setup. Sample library there is Garritan, Piano is a Yamaha Avant Grand, so it's entirely digital, but with the onboard sound disabled (the samples on the Yamaha are not great). Out of shot is my iMac, running Logic.

So to make the corresponding 2020 VSL video, I reused the MIDI file, swapped out the Garritan for the VSL CFX in Logic, and replaced the resultant audio on the original video. The two videos with the same performance are a good way of comparing the two VSTs.

To complete the comparison, there's the original Warner recording of the whole piece - that's an acoustic Steinway D, in a recording studio, with sound engineers to hand, tuner on standby etc. In short, I could never afford to record like that if I had to foot the bill, hence sample libraries :)
 
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cygnusdei

Active Member
The 2014 version was also using a sample library, and was one of the first tracks I recorded with the digital setup. Sample library there is Garritan, Piano is a Yamaha Avant Grand, so it's entirely digital, but with the onboard sound disabled (the samples on the Yamaha are not great). Out of shot is my iMac, running Logic.

So to make the corresponding 2020 VSL video, I reused the MIDI file, swapped out the Garritan for the VSL CFX in Logic, and replaced the resultant audio on the original video. The two videos with the same performance are a good way of comparing the two VSTs.

To complete the comparison, there's the original Warner recording of the whole piece - that's an acoustic Steinway D, in a recording studio, with sound engineers to hand, tuner on standby etc. In short, I could never afford to record like that if I had to foot the bill, hence sample libraries :)
That's interesting. Is latency perceptible at all?
 
Not at all. I put headphones on, find the right reverb, enable the tactile vibrations on the Yamaha, and I very quickly forget that I'm not at a real piano. And that's after a lifetime of acoustic Yamaha, Steinway, Bosendorfer....I'm not easy to fool.
 

Toecutter

Let's end this peacefully
The 2014 version was also using a sample library, and was one of the first tracks I recorded with the digital setup. Sample library there is Garritan, Piano is a Yamaha Avant Grand, so it's entirely digital, but with the onboard sound disabled (the samples on the Yamaha are not great). Out of shot is my iMac, running Logic.

So to make the corresponding 2020 VSL video, I reused the MIDI file, swapped out the Garritan for the VSL CFX in Logic, and replaced the resultant audio on the original video. The two videos with the same performance are a good way of comparing the two VSTs.

To complete the comparison, there's the original Warner recording of the whole piece - that's an acoustic Steinway D, in a recording studio, with sound engineers to hand, tuner on standby etc. In short, I could never afford to record like that if I had to foot the bill, hence sample libraries :)
That's just a huge testament to how far digital recording has come. I'm having a hard time picking a favorite, not that I need to, the three versions are equally enjoyable and have their different small flavors. And thanks for linking to the original, I was going to ask where I could listen to the complete recording... I feel a bit silly talking about virtual instruments now, who even cares when the music is this good? XD You got a new fan!
 

Stephen Limbaugh

le nouveau 36 rue Ballu
To reiterate what Philip said, could I (or anyone highly proficient at the instrument) do better if we had access to a $15k+ recording session on a $200k+ instrument? Sure, maybe? At a high level of play, the differences are extremely difficult to distinguish.
 

Buz

Active Member
It depends which way you come at it. It's very easy to find a particular classical recording that samples have no hope of replicating. On the other hand a good sample recording (like Philip) communicates wonderfully and there's no sense of anything being missing. So aside from the cost argument, it should also be asked, what exactly is the goal.
 

Stephen Limbaugh

le nouveau 36 rue Ballu
It's very easy to find a particular classical recording that samples have no hope of replicating.
Where? 🤔

There's not a piece of classical music (not using extended techniques) that can't be done well on one of the Synchron pianos.
 
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