What I'm essentially asking is to what extent can a digital piano, given reasonably affordable and excellent equipment, replace an acoustic piano. But that's a bit open-ended, and I'm really interested in knowing if there are any inherent limitations in sample-based VSTs in recreating the phenomenon of tone color.

My dream of a piano, as I'm sure many others share, would be to have a Steinway Model B grand piano. This is one step down from a Model D (which would never fit in my living room). But a Model B can cost upwards of $30,000 dollars used, so I'll have to save nearly a decade for that.

In the meantime, I'm looking for an excellent digital replacement for less than $5,000.

What I've looked into:

  • Faithful piano action (e.g. see Roland's Ivory Feel-G keyboard with escapement)
    • Ability to quickly repeat the same notes without fully releasing the key (as is possible in a grand piano)
  • Supports a continuous sustain pedal, allowing full pedaling as done in acoustic pianos (e.g. see Yamaha's FC3 pedal)
  • Fully weighted keys
  • An amazing sample-based VST to go with this
    • Imperfect Sample's Fabiozi samples 127 velocity layers
    • Vienna Imperial samples 100 velocity layers (from multiple microphone perspectives)

I don't care for the built-in samples included in the piano, as I would connect this piano via MIDI to a VST that offers higher-quality samples (e.g. Ivory II Steinway D VST).

So with no equipment limitations (the continuous sustain allows realistic pedaling; fully weighted keys and faithful piano action allow realistic playing; assume an awesome VST), why wouldn't sample-based VSTs be able to produce lifelike intimate colorful playing?

In other words, am I overstepping the bounds of what digital pianos can offer me, if what I want is exactly the kind of playing you get from acoustic pianos?

A final way to put it, to be blunt, could Horowitz achieve his same magic using this setup?

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    There is no reference to sound design in this question. This is not a digital piano forum, so please ask this question somewhere else, i don't think we can help you, sorry – Arnoud Traa Mar 23 '14 at 17:25
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    At any rate the total cost for a digital solution is one or even two orders of magnitude lower than a true grand, so even if you're saving up for a Steinway you should get a digital piano as well (if only for partability reasons) — Regarding samples generally, I have a strong and peculiar opinion: no, a sample-based VST can not fully replicate an actual acoustic piano. The reason is combinatorical explosion, which roughly means to double the accuracy you need exponential disk space. But it will at some time be possible using Physical Modelling Synthesis; check out plugins such as Pianoteq. – leftaroundabout Mar 24 '14 at 15:48

I don't think you can substitute a piano with our current technology. The main problem I see is that even with a fully weighted electronic keyboard the player would not have the same physical feedback, only part of it, and that would influence his playing to a great extent. For instance, the thump of the key reaching the keybed is not only sound but a very physical experience. I think Horowitz would have lots of problems adapting to a keyboard like this.

Also, there are subtle harmonic differences because of the ways strings resonate, and other interplays between sounds and mechanics that single note sampling, even made with 127 velocity layers, will not reproduce. Just think the sustain and the soft pedals are analog, not on/off switches, and you get the picture.

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