In the past, many pianists have contended with cantankerous neighbors who complain about loud practicing during the day or late-night schedules that preclude practicing for fear of waking even reasonable neighbors.
This led to the development of the technology referred to as Silent Piano (Yamaha) or Anytime (Kawai) which is an acoustic piano where there is an option to completely silence the strings by means of an interposing hammer bar, preventing the hammers from touching the strings.
In the silent mode, sensors pick up the piano key movement. It is then converted to a MIDI signal which links to a digital sound module with headphones. The silent/anytime pianos also have full MIDI capability for sending signals and can be linked to a computer for use with notation software for example.
The new TransAcoustic concept
Instead of pitting acoustic and digital against each other, Yamaha now has brought the concepts together combining the two worlds in an attempt to create a completely new kind of experience. The TransAcoustic technology is an experimental endeavour that most certainly only a large company could afford to develop and present to the international market.
At its most basic level, the new technology transfers the digital sound of the Silent Piano into the instrument’s soundboard instead of the headphones. Two transducers attached to the piano’s soundboard convert the digital signal into electromechanical impulses that set the soundboard vibrating – literally turning the soundboard into a loudspeaker membrane which means that the sound is actually delivered through a naturally resonant piano component.
This component allows the player to adjust the volume of this “half-acoustic” piano sound but also to play with other instrument sounds in TransAcoustic mode, such as harpsichord, marimba or electric piano. It is also possible to layer any of the 19 digital sounds on top of the standard, hammer-striking-string piano voice – a feature that assumingly will increase the demand for piano tuners. Another advantage over pure digital sound is, according to Yamaha, that when using the damper pedal in TransAcoustic mode the piano strings will pick up some of the digital sound in an acoustic phenomenon called sympathetic resonance. (Try this yourself by depressing the right pedal in an acoustic piano and sing or shout into the piano.) This is one of the parts of a natural acoustic piano sound that standard digital piano technology still struggles to convincingly recreate.
Time will tell how useful and popular the TransAcoustic technology will become. The first model, the Yamaha U1TA PE Professional Upright Piano has just started shipping.
What is your opinion about the usefulness and future of this kind of digital/acoustic hybrid pianos?