Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Piano-Related Gifts this year

Happy New Year, everyone! This morning, I am at a customer site, trying to get a demo environment up and running. So while I wait (and wait) for their Database Administrator to get their database back up and running, I thought I would take a moment to tell you about the 2.5 piano-related gifts I scored this year.

The first is a software suite called Play Piano 2.0. In theory, this would take the place of a teacher, until I have the time and resources to get my own. It has animations showing chord formations and progressions, and all sorts of other fancy things I can't remember right now. I am going to give this a thorough tryout, and will report back.

The half-gift sort of came along with this. It's a virtual piano, something called Pianissimo by Acoustica.

A virtual piano (VP) is a software suite that takes MIDI input and converts it to real piano sounds. You probably knew this, but I had to look it up. People tend to use these in lieu of the piano sounds that come with their digital pianos. That is, you could connect your DP to your computer, which uses a VP to convert the sounds into something really nice and fancy, then connect your computer to your fancy sound system, which then pipes wonderful piano sounds all over the place. Not that I am going to do to this. This is, apparently, a low-end, entry-level VP, at least compared with industrial-strength heavyweights like Synthology Ivory Grand, Pianoteq, and the Garritan Steinway, which all cost hundreds of dollars. Still, for a simpleton like myself, it has more bells and whistles than I can possibly understand, much less use. For example, it has settings for the:

- Extent to which the virtual piano's lid is open or closed
- Size of the virtual concert hall*
- Velocity of hammer strikes
- Degree of sympathetic resonance

* - But sadly, no settings for the number or mood of the people in the imaginary concert hall, nor how much they like or hate your performance. Unlike, say, Guitar Hero.

I imagine I might tinker with this as a possible replacement for the soundfonts I had been using to convert recordings. Pianissimo starts with a 250 MB sample from a Steinway D, then adds some sort of sound modeling to it based on these settings I mentioned earlier. I'm no sound geek; but I can see how people get that way.

Finally, I also got a set of Grado SR60 headphones.

I've mentioned to you before that the one thing about our Casio Ap-200 that disappoints me is the sound. To some extent, I expected this, but didn't mind it. Sound quality was fourth on my criteria list, after price, touch, and build (sturdiness). But it's actually worse than I expected. The sound is anemic, as if a pillow has been placed over the speakers. Nobody is ever going to mistake the Casio, by sound alone, for an acoustic piano. I had hoped that the headphones I received with the bundle (Audio-Technica ATHM20) would make up for the poor sound, but they actually make things worse. When I play with those, they... how should I put this? They ring. Yup, that's it. When I play the piano with those headphones*, I experience a ringing in my ears that goes away the instant I take them off. Naturally, I blame the headphones.

* - "Cans", audiogeeks call them. See, look at what all you learn by coming here?

Nevertheless, as you saw earlier, Rowan doesn't seem to mind. So those are the kids' cans, while I have my own. And, though the SR60's are the cheapeast, lowest-end headphones in the Grado lineup, oh my goodness, Holy Harmonics, Batman*, what a difference! I won't attempt to describe the difference. Let's just say this... when I put them on, I thought that I had neglected to plug the headphones in; the sound didn't sound like it was coming from the headphones, but rather, from outside them. Only, the sound was no longer muffled, but rather bright and clear. So I took the headphones off and played a few notes, just to be sure. Sure enough, the headphones were plugged in, the piano sounds were indeed coming from the SR60's.
* - According to this site, Robin never uttered the phrase "Holy Harmonics, Batman". He did, however, say "Holy Haberdashery, Batman!" I'll have to mix that into everyday usage.

Memo to Sawtooth, mom3gram, and any others of you with digital pianos... buy some good headphones, if you haven't already. Sawtooth is probably way ahead of me on this, but just in case...

- Aw2pp, who thinks the Database Admin has now gone to lunch


AnthonyB said...

Amazingly, I'm not ahead on the headphones front. I was thinking of getting some of the SR-80's IIRC, however I generally don't have anyone else to annoy with piano sounds so they weren't all that high up on the list of things to get. That may have suddenly changed with that review of the cans you got though. I did notice that I loved playing with even the cheap pair of headphones that I have so I now really have to consider a good headphone purchase. Btw, I changed my display name so it shows up as AnthonyB instead of sawtooth these days (Unless you ran into me on IRC or some non piano related forum.)

Michelle Himes said...

The headphones (cans) sound interesting. I have two pair of headphones. One that came with inexpensive piano bench, so you know what those sound like. And one relatively expensive wireless pair that I keep forgetting to turn off when done, so they are being charged more often than being used. Since Christmas is done, I'll have to put those on my birthday wish list.

I'm still enjoying my new digital, and I guess I must have somewhat of a tin ear, because it sounds okay to me. Then again, I've never played a real piano to compare it with.

Anonymous said...

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Always Wanted to Play Piano said...

Thanks for the kind words, Barbara. Welcome aboard!