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

cygnusdei

Active Member
As far as mechanics are concerned I assume for all-purpose live play the patch loads an attack sample upon key press and then a release sample upon key release. But there is a special set of staccato samples for realistic rapid attack-release action. But these can't work in live play (how is it supposed to know you're going to play staccato next?). So these will only work in the context of a MIDI program. That's my assumption anyway.
 

Living Fossil

Senior Member
Where? 🤔

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

The biggest shortcomings of sampled pianos are mostly an issue by music that relies on a buildup of the string resonances (lots of pedal usage). Also passages, where fast repetitions result in interesting colourations of the respective note, where interesting things happen to phase of the notes.
Music that comes to my mind would be e.g. lots of Liszt's music, some of Debussy and many more.

Besides that, i agree that very often sampled pianos are a better option for studio work, i'd even say in most of the cases.

Some years ago i wrote a score that relied quite a bit on the sound of my upright that i had prepared.
It was absolutely worth the extra-mile. And as mentioned, the things that happen inside of the body of the instrument – that living cosmos of resonances – was the best part.

(And of course, real instruments have a huge advantage in terms of inspirations. Those small detunings that occur give interesting colourations to chords and therefore can give a fresh perspective on the "used" material. And this can be a source of inspiration which lots of [famous] composers used)
 
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brandowalk

Composer
Sampled pianos can sound amazing, provide lots of sonic options, and are great for quick inspiration for writing and recording. It is much faster to dial-up a VI vs getting the mics out and finding optimal placement, etc. and hitting record. That said, I don't find sampled pianos as enjoyable as actually playing the real deal. So which is best? Whatever options works best for the task. For me, it likely depends on my creative mind frame as well as how much time I have on hand for the track.

I don't have a real hammond b3, but I would guess it would be the same thing for that instrument as well for real vs VI.
 

JohnG

Senior Member
The biggest shortcomings of sampled pianos are mostly an issue by music that relies on a buildup of the string resonances (lots of pedal usage). Also passages, where fast repetitions result in interesting colourations of the respective note, where interesting things happen to phase of the notes.
Music that comes to my mind would be e.g. lots of Liszt's music, some of Debussy and many more.
This is spot on. If you're writing something where the music gets the piano rip-roaring, with its tremendous capacity for resonance of the entire instrument, you just don't get that with samples.

So if you have passages that are full of big crescendos and scales and "attacking the instrument," live is the way to go.

However, to answer the OP, I agree that much of the time it's surprisingly a bit of a let-down replacing sampled with live piano. If it's just "part of the sound," it's normally not worth it.
 

Stephen Limbaugh

le nouveau 36 rue Ballu
...guys lol. 😂 You checked the comparison Philip posted right? There's no difference in "resonance" or repeated note "color" any of that...

...and in fact, the VSL recording definitely sounds less muddy.
 

cygnusdei

Active Member
I think the VI does simulate sustain and sympathetic resonance by DSP algorithm (at least Garritan does), but the question is how realistic. FWIW a piece like Debussy Reflets dans l'eau that has the entire soundboard resonating throughout the whole keyboard range would be a good benchmark.
 

Living Fossil

Senior Member
Hmmm. Fossil do you play much Liszt and Debussy?
Nowadays much less than some years ago. Liszt's sonata (h-moll) was the hardest piece of literature i've played. Had to practise really long for it. That's why i know it inside out. And that's also a reason why i know how huge the difference is when you play it on a real Steinway....
 
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Living Fossil

Senior Member
There's no difference in "resonance" or repeated note "color" any of that...
I was referring to literature that relies on these attributes.

BTW, i totally get your euphoria about Synchron. I'll never forget my amazement when i first heard strings on a Roland sampler.
Give yourself some time. Listen again to these sampled pianos vs. real ones in some years.
The ear needs some time to hear some details.
Being a pianist yourself, you can check the repeated notes in a piece like e.g. La campanella.
The differences might be subtle for an untrained ear, but they are there. It's about the acoustic behaviour of a resonating string being repeatedly hit by a hammer. :)
 

AudioLoco

Senior Member
Also like someone mentioned already, when it comes to how enjoyable it is to stand in front of a real piano and play it vs standing in front of a MIDI keyboard and a video monitors and speakers, there is no doubt in my mind what I crave more. The sound coming from the real deal is "around" you and "touches" you.
Final recorded results apart (which can be amazing!), it is just a different experience, much more inspiring to write to.

Obviously this whole debate would be applicable to any instrument/ensemble.
Even being on VI-control, unfortunately, we can all admit, 100% the real deal always always wins. :-(
But with other instruments, especially orchestral, these lucky days we tend to not even question the matter as the difference would be in the 1000s of $ per NOTE, and just be happy about what could be obtained.

With pianos it's much more simple and, when possible, like i already stated, I prefer my very modest real piano to a sampled Steinway recorded in a concert hall.
(I do work from a studio with very nice mics and a nice sounding room, but I would still prefer it even with a more minimal setup)
 

chocobitz825

Senior Member
I love the sound of a real piano but logistically speaking, I prefer software more. A recent case was a recording I did in studio. I decided to record the audio and midi output from a Yamaha motif. The Yamaha’s pianos are fine. With each track we took though, I had to make sure we had something close enough to the intended end result to make sure the player was feeling the essence of the instrument and playing to its strengths.

Im very glad I did it this way. In the end, we took multiple takes of the song, and each one got better and better. The audio we took was great, but some of the takes the player made were so filled with passion that a few off notes snuck in. They were such emotional fantastic takes. Instead of having to ask the player to redo it, I decided I would just edit the midi to remove the off notes and do fine tuning of the piano sounds later.

after the recording was done, I used some of the UVI pianos and found that some songs that I thought would be better on grand piano we’re actually way better on upright. That level of flexibility is everything for me. What I find works best though, is to have a broad collection of piano vsts. If you limit yourself to one set for all uses, you lose that chance for inspiration and discovery. Each vst is different and can really change the vibe of a good performance. Also get something like spaces or altiverb.

So yeah, VSTs all the way for me (other than in live application)
 

cygnusdei

Active Member
I love the sound of a real piano but logistically speaking, I prefer software more. A recent case was a recording I did in studio. I decided to record the audio and midi output from a Yamaha motif. The Yamaha’s pianos are fine. With each track we took though, I had to make sure we had something close enough to the intended end result to make sure the player was feeling the essence of the instrument and playing to its strengths.

Im very glad I did it this way. In the end, we took multiple takes of the song, and each one got better and better. The audio we took was great, but some of the takes the player made were so filled with passion that a few off notes snuck in. They were such emotional fantastic takes. Instead of having to ask the player to redo it, I decided I would just edit the midi to remove the off notes and do fine tuning of the piano sounds later.

after the recording was done, I used some of the UVI pianos and found that some songs that I thought would be better on grand piano we’re actually way better on upright. That level of flexibility is everything for me. What I find works best though, is to have a broad collection of piano vsts. If you limit yourself to one set for all uses, you lose that chance for inspiration and discovery. Each vst is different and can really change the vibe of a good performance. Also get something like spaces or altiverb.

So yeah, VSTs all the way for me (other than in live application)
The thing about the edits is interesting. FWIW Glenn Gould, legendary Canadian pianist was known to edit his own recordings likewise (of course this was before VST, all done with real piano). But the thing about swapping one piano VI with another, I'd guess that unless the music is particularly amenable and/or the pianos are similarly sampled by the same people, they would have different velocity curves that the result would be a different performance altogether, not a simple swap job.
 

chocobitz825

Senior Member
The thing about the edits is interesting. FWIW Glenn Gould, legendary Canadian pianist was known to edit his own recordings likewise (off course this was before VST, all done with real piano). But the thing about swapping one piano VI with another, I'd guess that unless the music is particularly amenable and/or the pianos are similarly sampled by the same people, they would have different velocity curves that the result would be a different performance altogether, not a simple swap job.
I think in any major recording situation these days, editing is a factor but made far more difficult after the fact when dealing with audio. I could have easily just asked the player to punch in a new take but damn for this one little off note, the passion of that take was magic. MIDI gave me flexibility. I agree that swapping VI's can create all kinds of variables for better or worse. that's where happy discoveries can happen. By at least trying to keep a general idea of the intended sound before recording, the playstyle is solid. Swapping out VI's after is really just a creative choice. Some fit naturally, others require some tweaking, but in the end, it's better than the hassle of recording multiple live pianos. No doubt some magic happens live that can't be reproduced digitally, but in those cases, I feel recording live means you're in a mindset set to execute a precise plan, rather than encouraging yourself to experiment and find something new.
 

Stephen Limbaugh

le nouveau 36 rue Ballu
Well, when listening to a recording, nobody is standing in front of a real piano with a live player hearing what is coming off the instrument.

Consider what happens to a drum kit in the process of making commercial, high quality recording: drums do not sound remotely like that in person. Yet, except for some dudes in bands, society's perception of drums, having primarily consumed their sound through recordings, is that they are heavily processed. Standing in a front of a live drum kit, the sound is washy and shitty, with very little "punch" to it, and always way too loud.

That is why now all commercial pop/rock/urban recordings, even if the engineer/producer/artist wants to "do it right" with a live player, a plurality of the drum sound gets replaced with samples. Maybe some Boomers out there trying to recreate the glory days say it doesn't sound better, but history, and its concomitant effect on societal taste, is written by the winners.

Of course, "drums" are barely an instrument anyway. 😜 Yet, the principles above apply to other instruments, the piano being easier on the difficulty-to-sample spectrum given the nature of the instrument.

To the guy who says he plays (played?) the Liszt Bminor Sonata (🤔), there was a sampled piano out there when I was young called Ivory II. It sounded pretty good, but was a bit of a hassle to make it sound "real." Ivory II still sounds pretty good, and it is still a hassle to make it sound real. That isn't remotely the same universe of difference between that synth thing you were speaking of and string samples today. But it what you said is confusing, you have played the Liszt B Minor on the VSL 280VC or you "just know" that it won't sound as good?
 
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Living Fossil

Senior Member
Limbaugh, as i wrote you in a pm, it would be nicer to have a decent conversation without that condescending tone. There is no need for it.
Grown up people can have different opinions without getting insulting.
And seriously, i don't get it why it irritates you that much that i played Liszt's sonata.

You shouldn't prejudge people based on bare assumptions, that's just stupid.

And btw. i agree that the Synchron pianos are much better than Ivory II.
When i was young (to paraphrase you) there were ads with famous pianists you told that they can't here a difference between a Kurzweil and the real thing.
 

Living Fossil

Senior Member
No, not yet. Will report back when i have. And if i change my mind, i'll let you know.

Have you tried the fast repetitions on a real piano yet vs. samples?
 

AudioLoco

Senior Member
Well, when listening to a recording, nobody is standing in front of a real piano with a live player heading what is coming off the instrument.

Consider what happens to a drum kit in the process of making commercial, high quality recording: drums do not sound remotely like that in person. Yet, except for some dudes in bands, society's perception of drums, having primarily consumed their sound through recordings, is that they are heavily processed. Standing in a front of a live drum kit, the sound is washy and shitty, with very little "punch" to it, and always way too loud.

That is why now all commercial pop/rock/urban recordings, even if the engineer/producer/artist wants to "do it right" with a live player, a plurality of the drum sound gets replaced with samples. Maybe some Boomers out there trying to recreate the glory days say it doesn't sound better, but history, and its concomitant effect on societal taste, is written by the winners.

Of course, "drums" are barely an instrument anyway. 😜 Yet, the principles above apply to other instruments, the piano being easier on the difficulty-to-sample spectrum given the nature of the instrument.

To the guy who says he plays (played?) the Liszt Bminor Sonata (🤔), there was a sampled piano out there when I was young called Ivory II. It sounded pretty good, but was a bit of a hassle to make it sound "real." Ivory II still sounds pretty good, and it is still a hassle to make it sound real. That isn't remotely the same universe of difference between that synth thing you were speaking of and string samples today. But it what you said is confusing, you have played the Liszt B Minor on the VSL 280VC or you "just know" that it won't sound as good?
So according to the same logic:

Only extremely auto-tuned and super processed vocals are "winners" and all the rest is for boomers.

oh man....

Commercial pop/urban is not in any way a representation of real music played in a space by actual people, and doesn't need to.

Modern "Rock" people got used to neither. It has every bloody drum hit quantized and vocals that sound like dying robots.

While any type of recording is just a representation, an idea of what is really being heard from an actual person in a room (mics are not the same as ears, electronics, digitization and lots of processes in the middle affect the original "pure" sound), in "cinematic" music, made with mostly classical instruments, it is kind of nice to keep some kind of correlation with reality (unless it's trailer music).

Also it's not only about final recorded results, if you compose, it's also about playing the instrument and feeding inspiration from it.
 

Living Fossil

Senior Member
Also it's not only about final recorded results, if you compose, it's also about playing the instrument and feeding inspiration from it.

That's one thing for sure.

The other is – i've just took the time and listened again to the demos of the VSL 280VC – that there is still a huge difference in those aspects of the sound i've described earlier.
So, addressed to Limbaugh, i guess i'll pass on demoing it for now.
I guess to get really more convincing emulations of the resonances and also the spectral behaviour of fast repeated notes there is much more physical modelling necessary than it's actually possible.
The differences are not even subtle. They are super-obvious.
 
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