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Most accurate keyboard amp for real piano sound
Old 9th April 2014
  #1
Most accurate keyboard amp for real piano sound

This is for live concerts only... not recording...

A friend recently bought a Nord piano primarily for backing a choral group. She got a Roland keyboard amp with a 15 and a small horn tweeter. Can't remember the model. She is used to real pianos as is the audience. The Roland was a big disappointment for her and the director, and several audience members commented negatively as well. The original complaint was that the bass was too boomy. Then she messed with the tone controls and totally screwed it up, since she is clueless about such things. In listening to it myself in her room, I agreed that the bass end was boomy unlike a real piano. If anything the sound from the Nord itself, through headphones or direct in on my DAW is a bit wiry rather than boomy.

In the audiophile world, I know that one can spend crazy amounts of money fro speakers that reproduce accurate bass, which is particularly expensive to accomplish. It is hard enough though much easier to get the midrange on up to sound decent. Classical piano requires the entire range and is notorious for being extremely difficult to reproduce convincingly.

Are there any amps out there that can accurately reproduce the sound of a "real" piano, as in the sound that the Nord is providing? I don't think the Nord is the problem. It ain't real but it ain't bad... Would a good powered PA speaker be a better route? Suggestions?

MODS: just realized this might belong in the Live Sound Forum... feel free to move it... thanks!

Last edited by Piedpiper; 9th April 2014 at 05:22 PM.. Reason: Belongs in Live Sound forum?
Old 9th April 2014
  #2
I have found great success using a small but accurate PA system for great keyboard amplification. I use a pair of Yorkville P-55A speakers live, but I'm sure there better sounding Portable PA systems out there.
Old 9th April 2014
  #3
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I have/use a Nord Electro 3, and the piano samples on it are amazing. However, I've only been able to get good/realistic piano sounds out of it when I plug the left and right outputs in to an interface and record it that way. In summary: the acoustic piano samples on the Nord DO NOT sound good in mono. They were recorded/sampled and are meant to be played back in stereo to get the full effect.

That being said, if you want to play these samples live and get the best sound out of it, I would recommend running stereo amplifiers...Maybe that's crazy but I don't see any other way. I use a Roland KC-550 for my Nord and it's very transparent and has a full frequency range. I don't play the acoustic pianos through it, but I would think that maybe getting two of these amps and putting the left and right in to each would probably give you a fairly realistic sound.

The KC-550 is kinda the "standard" for keyboards because it has a full frequency range, whereas a lot of other amps (i.e. guitars) only give you a good representation in the mid range (highs and lows aren't really there).

Hope that helps.
Old 9th April 2014
  #4
Thanks, both of you! The Roland KC-550 is indeed the amp she has, and it is quite boomy. Full range, yes. Suitable for organ, yes. Accurate for piano, no. Remember we're talking classical snobs here who are used to the real thing, not a rock band in a bar.

I'll check out the difference when running in stereo. Thanks for that tip.

And I will check out PA speakers. I've got a pair of Mackie 350s that we can try...

One more thought... her budget limit is $1000, IF the sound difference is worth it.
Old 9th April 2014
  #5
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I'll be honest...I think if you're trying to make classical snobs happy, running any piano sample of any quality through any amp of any quality just isn't going to sound good. Acoustic pianos in their very nature aren't meant to be amplified. Is there any way you could just get a real piano? Baby grand, upright? Something? A lot of people that require a real piano won't play clubs that don't have a piano available, simply because it just doesn't serve the music well. But, most clubs do have some sort of piano laying around, at least here in Chicago.

The Nord samples are some of the best acoustic piano samples I've heard..And when combined with their Nord Piano keyboard that's dedicated only to the piano samples, it's almost like playing the real thing. But...I don't know how well it plays with amplification.
Old 9th April 2014
  #6
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If she runs it through a PA there may still be boominess, in which case EQ will be necessary. Perhaps the samples really have a lot of low end, and any flat, full frequency speaker will reveal that. The thinness if the Nord previously may have more to do with playing out of small speakers.

Might as well learn how to EQ with the Roland, as it's now part of her chosen instrument (sampled piano).

If she spends an afternoon or two with the tone controls she will be able to tame the boominess. Not sure buying new gear will fix the problem, unless you go for smaller speakers (not full range).
Old 9th April 2014
  #7
I was depressed by anything I put my Nord Stage through until I got an HK Lucas Nano 300. It's probably my best musical equipment purchase ever. Versatile, light-weight, loud (for it's size), great sound. And most of all: actually works for piano, unlike any keyboard amp I've tried. A bit on the expensive side but so worth it!
Old 9th April 2014
  #8
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dickiefunk's Avatar
I really dislike the Roland KC550 piano amp. I also had a KC350 which was better but I still am not a fan of it.
I have since replaced the Roland stuff with an Alto TS112a active pa speaker and found them to be a noticeable improvement.
Another option maybe something like an RCF 310a or 312a? Beyond that you could look at a QSC K12 or something similar?

The best sound I heard from a powered speaker was from a KV2 Audio EX10 but those cost around £1500 each!!!
Old 9th April 2014
  #9
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I have noticed the KC550 to be a bit boomy in the Low freq and requiring the bass tone knob to be dialed back quite a bit. (I used to work in pro audio, recording, and keyboard sales and have demo'd many brands of live sound gear)

Perhaps stereo output to a pair of Mackie SRM350's or SRM450's would sound better in the price range listed. If needed in the future for other purposes, A small mixer could be used with the SRM's as well. The 2 SRM's will have a much better dispersion/audience coverage in the high freq's as well compared to a single tweeter in the KC550, and being in stereo will make a difference as well.
Old 9th April 2014
  #10
excellent answers! thank you! Her buying the Nord was to answer the need for a good portable piano that she could count on. Real ones that she would be happy with are too rare. So the Nord it is... and the Roland will no doubt be sold to finance a better amp. The Nord does not sound thin through good full range headphones such as my Denon AH-D7000. But it doesn't sound boomy either. I personally tried to EQ the Roland and it was not a matter of bass level but of quality. It's just not up to the job. I will try the Mackie SRM350 which I have and see if they suit her. And I'll take a look at the Lucas, Alto and other suggestions. Thanks again!
Old 10th April 2014
  #11
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loopy's Avatar
 

Been there and done that. I agree with the others, if you are looking for decent accurate sound, one of the small all in one PA systems from JBL, Mackie, Behringer , Peavy , EV etc is your best choice.

I haven't heard a "keyboard amp" yet that compares. They either sound honky or boomy or both.
Old 10th April 2014
  #12
figured as much... it's just not the market niche for quality... just thought some company would have noticed the gap and filled it with something other than the usual crap. I'll continue to pursue the PA avenue...
Old 10th April 2014
  #13
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One big reason to put it through the PA is less stuff to cart. Just put a good EQ in the chain to fine tune your piano sound. Another good option believe it or not are Bass amps. Audition the Nord through a few of them see what you think.
Old 10th April 2014
  #14
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once a roadie's Avatar
 

In my experience, piano / keys benefit hugely from a 3 way speaker system, although I did really enjoy some 2 way EV100A's for quite some years. My live rig has devolved to using a pair of Acme B1 (4 ohm) and a crown power amp behind my 1990 TOA mixer. I run the nord C1 organ and Roland rd 700sx piano through this and it does not disappoint. I have tried the roland keyboard amps, and they can be quite boomy. Don't be afraid to roll off a ton of low end in order to improve clarity.
Old 10th April 2014
  #15
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Nord Electro 4 and KC-550 owner here. I do agree with many of the negative comments re the Roland amp but I think there are workarounds if you need to stick with that combo. I used to use a nice clean power amp/mixer combo into an SWR 4 10" cab and it sounded great but way too heavy for my aging back so I downsized. Two things to try: Press the shape button and set the tone controls thusly, bass at 9:30, mids at 10:30, and treble flat. Also as you probably know, you can change the piano samples on the Nord site. I don't have my rig here to check but I deleted two of the stock grand pianos and loaded a Bosendorfer and a Steinway and am happy with them. Don't forget, all the sounds are EQ-able right on the Nord so that'll give you extra tone-shaping ability. One of the above posters mentioned using it in stereo. The Roland inputs are all stereo so even though it's a single amp at least you can get both Nord outputs into the amp. I use just a mono input and it works for me doing jazz and funk/soul gigs. Hope this helps
Old 10th April 2014
  #16
I really appreciate all the chiming in... When I settle on something I'll report back... and just a note of clarity, the piano is the only thing being amplified so there is no PA per se except for what we're putting together for her. I was thinking a three way would be nice too... maybe that Lucas will do the trick. would have the advantages of being easily carried and stereo as well...
Old 10th April 2014
  #17
I have a Nord Stage and a Roland keyboard amp. Virtually the same set up. There is no reason why you should not be able to get a usable sound out of that set up. If there is too much bass - turn the bass down.

If you want high fidelity then you must go with high fidelity amplification and that can be costly. The only other solution is some higher fidelity PA speakers come in 3-way configurations and may even have a small pre-amp built in that you can plug the Nord directly into. The Nord Stage as an EQ on it and I will assume (but I'm not certain) that the Nord Piano has one too. That should provide a decent sound.

Classical snob or not it this person still needs to learn how to set up their rig. No electronic instrument is capable of just one tone. They need to be tweaked into sounding the best they can in any given situation.
Old 10th April 2014
  #18
One other thing. Try lifting the Roland off the floor or stage or whatever it was on. That could easily be creating additional bass resonance.
Old 10th April 2014
  #19
I realized that I should probably explain a couple things. I am a very experienced recording and live sound engineer with an extensive background in acoustic music and audiophile recording and playback. I know the difference between a cheap workhorse product like the Roland and something that has any chance in hell of providing real quality. The game completely changes when your reference is the real thing rather than what can get you by in some funky bar gig. The quality issue is not going to be solved by EQ. I tried, using the tone controls on both the Roland and the Nord. There is a fundamental difference between quality issues and quantity issues. Gross nonlinearities cannot easily be removed once introduced, by the turn of a tone control. A real piano is one of the most complex and demanding sources to reproduce accurately. Some audiophiles spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to reproduce such things, and the lower the frequency, the harder and more expensive it is to control. Obviously, we're not going to get very far with $1000 but there are always products that address a particular agenda better than others and this niche is not my forte. I was hoping that there might be a product out there that aspires to addressing this issue in an affordable package since I would imagine that my friend's situation is not unique. I appreciate that my original thought that going with PA speakers rather than a combo amp has been corroborated. Thanks again for your efforts to help me out here... and keep the suggestions coming if indeed they address my specific need that I've hopefully clarified better.

BTW, I thought of lifting it off the floor and that may well help but I think the Roland is a bottleneck regardless.
Old 10th April 2014
  #20
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The trouble is achieving "high fidelity" in a live gig where not only everytime you play a room (if you are even in an indoor room) it will not even be remotely the same acoustically from the others you play in. Add in the fact that as people come and go the acoustics change because of their level of conversation and that their bodies act as absorbers and you quickly see with experience that it's an ever changing goal post that even bands with a dedicated soundman struggle to get even just "good" sound let alone "high fidelity" at the majority of listening positions all night. Stereo is not a great solution for live gigs as many will not be in the sweet spot center location (if you have ever planted yourself in front of just one of your studio speakers you know how lacking the sound can be). There are some interesting fixes such as the Miles Trisonic which uses three speakers left/center/right and processing to give you a very wide sweet spot but even that is more for a fixed install.
Live gigs thus are a compromise at best.

Most who gig on a regular basis will opt for carting the least amount of gear to be able to quickly set up and adjust before and during the gig for "good" sound. Nobody wants to sound bad but you have to make reasonable compromises to deliver good product gig after gig. You should be looking for compact, lightweight, quick setup time, mono, and flexable controllable sound via easy to use simple controls that can be used quickly in real time WHILE you are playing. Putting most of your time and effort into the quality of what you play, it's emotion, and what you say to the audience between songs will have more impact than the elusive "high fidelity" at a gig. One last item for anyone reading this post, if you are doing the sound for a gig, I don't give a crap about how good the kick drum sounds, I want to hear everybody on stage and want to be able to understand what every word being sung is. AFTER you get those things right then work on the kick. It seems to be the signature of a generation of poor soundmen.
Old 10th April 2014
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Piedpiper View Post
... the piano is the only thing being amplified so there is no PA ..
We spend acres of pixels discussing powered studio monitors - how they're designed to be neutral, clear, precise....have built-in amplification....

If you're trying to reproduce a real piano, I'm guessing you're not looking for rock concert sound levels here.

Wouldn't something like that do the job?
Old 10th April 2014
  #22
Quote:
Originally Posted by musicus View Post
We spend acres of pixels discussing powered studio monitors - how they're designed to be neutral, clear, precise....have built-in amplification....

If you're trying to reproduce a real piano, I'm guessing you're not looking for rock concert sound levels here.

Wouldn't something like that do the job?
Actually, when I said that the only amp I liked was a Lucas Nano, then I forget a few stints with Mackie studio monitors. That also worked well on the Nord piano. So I agree that studio monitors could do the job.

Obviously less rugged, but the main drawback would be that monitors are designed for close listening. A system like the Nano has tweeters designed for longer throw. And to my ears they also have a frequency response that's more tailored to make sound heard in a live situation (they are not - as claimed in the ads - suitable as a home theater or studio monitors).
Old 10th April 2014
  #23
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Active speakers want to see balanced line level signal at it's inputs so it's not like you run a cable from the Nord to the studio moniter. The studio moniter will not be built for gig use and be very delicate (it sure wont have any physical speaker protection). It would have to be stand mounted behind the keyboard player as he would need to hear what he was playing. The active nearfield studio moniter is designed for use in a small cubic volume rooms with the listener a few feet away. Unless you are doing gigs in someone's living room with a small non-talking audience it's not going to be loud enough or project correctly. Just look at tech behind picking the right PA speakers with array type PA speakers being extremely designed for a specific area of coverage (number of degrees horizontal/vertical), loudness, and alignment. Part of picking a PA speaker whether general purpose or array is predetermining it's range of use (size of room, loudness, spead, focal point).

A lot of trying to re-invent the wheel going on. Figure your exact gig needs and budget, there is high end live gear just like high end studio gear. There are stand alone instrument amps that fit the bill probably better since he is not going to be using a PA for the other(s) musicians. As I posted above bass amps can be very clean. A general purpose clean amp like the Fender Twin or it's solid state copy the Yamaha G100 have been working for giging keyboard players for the last 40+ years and is arguably one of the best for a Rhodes piano sound (a patch most Nord users rely on). Remember it's not just DI'ed instruments in a recording studio, it's taking a DI directly off an amp's head or micing it too. Additionally you can gain presence and warmth by amping a digital synth like the Nord (maybe more important on a gig than high fidelity) as it's certainly done for those reasons in a studio.
Old 10th April 2014
  #24
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Ken Walker's Avatar
Any of the QSC K series would do well. I use a K12 myself and it sounds great.
Old 10th April 2014
  #25
Sorry bassmankr, I need to disagree. The OP wasn't asking for el.piano or synth sound, he was asking for piano, Nord piano. And the requirement for that is very, very different. I love putting a Rhodes through a Fender Twin because it's built to color the sound in a very special way. But that color will make an acoustic piano sound horrible for the application the OP described.
Old 10th April 2014
  #26
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kennybro's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Walker View Post
Any of the QSC K series would do well. I use a K12 myself and it sounds great.
I've also used the QSC K12, with excellent, natural sounding results. Really shines with high detail samples but it draws the best from whatever samples you are using.

I've also had great luck with the very reasonably priced EV ZLX 12P. Light and punchy as hell @ 1000 watts.
Old 11th April 2014
  #27
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On the Twin for piano you kill off all of the amp's spring reverb (use the natural verb in the room you are playing or whats in the Nord) and dial in "neutral" using the EQ (find the point for each filter where you are not boosting nor cutting the EQ band). With other clean amps you do the same thing for piano. Remember neutral on a band may not mean a center detent or number 5 on a 10 scale for it's knob setting. You do however want to keep some forward presence and warmth to improve upon a digital's keyboard's tendancy to be flat (not talking about pitch). You can hear the difference between digital and analog keys especially in the context of guitars on stage. A real piano is going to have that presence and warmth. When using the Twin for real Rhodes you use the spring reverb heavily with extra high end on the EQ settings (the sparkle sound Twins are known for). Playing staccato notes on the real Rhodes will allow you to dial in that sound faster (think early George Duke or Chick Corea). The Twin works well for clean because it can be set to take so much gain before the speaker starts breaking up. While you can get a clean neutral piano sound quicker/easier with a mixer and PA (designed to be neutral from the start), any clean amp will be more practical for this OP's needs.

Knowing your amp and having an ear to dial it in fast comes with experience. I've seen plenty of guys come out to play and make the mistake of never touching their amp during setup of a gig or adjusting it over the first few songs because the settings worked great in their home. The difference can be between OK and great. It's that interaction a giging musician has between their sound, the other musicians, and the room that will really define "High Fidelity".
Old 11th April 2014
  #28
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kennybro's Avatar
Twin would be great for Rhodes sample, but as thedberg noted, no good for natural sounding acoustic piano. Twin with guitar style speakers probably rolls off significantly well under 7k. I think the treble control is set somewhere between 1800 and 2500hz, and even presence is around 4k. Acoustic piano needs more extended response capabilities for natural sound.
Old 11th April 2014
  #29
Thanks again for all the input... just a logistical point... For using powered speakers, it is easy to put a DI between the Nord and the Speakers if they only take XLR in as do the Mackie SRM350, so no problem there...

and agreed that the Twin in not appropriate for this application... not designed for either bottom or top...typical guitar amp...

I thought about using large studio monitors but I'm skeptical of the power handling but I'll try that and see... I've done that for other applications where I didn't need high SPLs...

The gigs this will be used for will be primarily churches, and again, to back up a not overly large choir. It just needs to sound convincingly like an unamplified real piano.
Old 11th April 2014
  #30
Sky
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Sky's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by musicus View Post
We spend acres of pixels discussing powered studio monitors - how they're designed to be neutral, clear, precise....have built-in amplification....

If you're trying to reproduce a real piano, I'm guessing you're not looking for rock concert sound levels here.

Wouldn't something like that do the job?
That's what I thought too after reading Piedpiper's comment.

My dream system as a coffeehouse piano player would have been something like a Crown D75 driving pair of Klipsch Heresy 12" 3-ways in unfinished birch plywood, or a pair of powered JBL LSR28s on stands. FYI, Klipsch still produces the Heresy, unfortunately at a much higher price and no unfinished cabinet option. They also have a newer pro line that could work, but I have no experience with them.

The Heresy is a unique speaker in that it has somewhat directional midrange and tweeter horn drivers in a small cabinet. Freq response is bass-light at 50-17k which makes floor or stand use possible without bass boom issues.

Sky
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