Acoustic Upright and Grand: Cutting Edge Grands

Acoustic piano highlights from Musikmesse 2016
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Fazioli Aria

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FAZIOLI ARIA The well-respected Italian manufacturer exhibited its new Aria piano, which looks even cleaner than its M. Liminal grand (both were penned by famed French designer Philippe Gendre). The Aria sits on a central podium as opposed to multiple legs, creating an appearance of floating in mid air. Brand manager Luca Fazioli says it’s intended to look like a yacht (and perhaps to live on one).

I also got a look at a soundboard technology Fazioli is developing that fuses three layers of spruce, with the middle layer being thinner and its grain running perpendicular to the outer two layers. The result is increased rigidity and consistency of tone in environments where temperature and humidity may vary greatly.

Phoenix Carbiano

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Although it was announced in 2012, this is the first prototype we’ve seen of the Phoenix Carbiano, which incorporates laser-cut carbon fiber in its design to bear the string tension of the harp. One advantage of carbon fiber is low mass; about one third that of a conventional grand piano of the same size. Another is near imperviousness to temperature and humidity extremes. Carbon-fiber hammer shafts are also argued to result in more immediate and responsive playing.

I found the floor model to be crystal-clear and articulated but leaving a little to be desired in the bass. Not that this couldn’t or won’t be corrected— in theory you could go larger, add more wood in the soundboard area, and so on. Nonetheless, it’s a major proof-of-concept and offers a solution for people and venues that might otherwise not be able to maintain a grand piano.


FIND Intelligent Piano

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An unexpected attention grabber at Musikmesse was from a Chinese almost-startup called FIND, and at this time the prototypes on display were simply referred to as the Intelligent Piano. These are real acoustic pianos with self-playing mechanisms and the biggest, highest-resolution displays we’ve ever seen on any musical instrument; not one but two 4K widescreens, taking up the entire width of the fallboard and rising from the keyboard to what would be the height of the music stand.

For learning, songs can be loaded and displayed in a split view that combines scrolling sheet music with either a Guitar Hero-style piano-roll view of colored blocks falling towards the keys (the idea being to hit them as soon as they reach the bottom of the screen), or a one-to-one scale onscreen keyboard with video of real hands playing the correct notes. You can slow down the tempo and transpose the pitch, and if you play a mistake, the system can stop and wait for you to find the right notes before resuming the song. Recording and playback are supported, with the notes appearing in on the staff in real time.

I was impressed by how good the upright and baby grand versions sounded simply as pianos, and by how well the educational features worked. Though other major brands more familiar to the U.S. market achieve similar goals with things like iPad integration, it’s powerfully immersive to sit in front of displays this large—you feel surrounded by and a part of what you’re trying to play. And since functionality is obviously a matter of software (though I didn’t find out what kind of embedded computer or OS the Intelligent Piano was running), I suspect that what I saw is only the tip of the iceberg of potential musical applications.