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Yamaha reinvents the digital piano

Priced at $20,000 Yamaha's Avant Grand piano might seem expensive for a digital piano, but it's a clone of a $120,000 Yamaha piano.

The Avant Grand sounds like the real thing. Steve Guttenberg

Digital pianos aren't new, but Yamaha's Avant Grand is a very different kind of digital piano. Since Yamaha has been making fine "real" pianos for more than 100 years, its knowledge base is deep. Yamaha introduced its first digital piano, the YP-40, in 1983.

The new Avant Grand is a "hybrid," designed to perfectly mimic the touch of an acoustic piano. The Avant Grand not only uses the same key, level, and hammer mechanism of an acoustic piano, but also special embedded speakers recreate the feel of an acoustic piano's keys to the player's hands. The name for the technology is gimmicky; Yamaha calls it Tactile Response System. However, touching the keys at the Avant Grand's media demo in New York City last Friday, I came away a believer (I took a class in piano tuning 20 years ago, and I know pianos from the inside out).

I heard the instrument played by a pro and the sound was superb. I can't say it sounded identical to a nine-foot grand piano, but it was dramatically better than any digital piano I've heard to date.

No strings attached! The Avant Grand has four speakers on top and four subwoofers on its underside. Steve Guttenberg

The Avant Grand's software is upgradeable. It comes loaded with samples derived from Yamaha's $120,000 CFIIIS concert grand piano. Four speakers are strategically located on the Avant Grand's soundboard in the same positions as the four microphones that were used to sample the nine-foot grand source instrument. The Avant Grand's bottom panel houses four subwoofers. Each speaker driver is powered by a dedicated amplifier. The Avant Grand's pedals duplicate the sensation of a grand's pedals.

Priced at nearly $20,000, the Avant Grand is aimed at serious pianists with limited space; the piano is less than half the size of a nine-foot grand and nearly $100,000 cheaper! Of course, the Avant Grand never needs tuning.

The Avant Grand I heard also plays harpsichord or electric piano samples. First deliveries are expected in July 2009.