There have been remarkable advancements in piano technology over the past ten years, specifically in the area of crossover pianos exhibiting aspects of traditional acoustic pianos augmented with digital technology. The term “digital piano” is well understood; an instrument with keys that externally at least look like traditional piano keys, but which produces sound digitally via an internal computer and built-in speakers. We can easily understand a computer mimicking the real thing in its entirety, but when manufacturers start mixing acoustic and digital technology it becomes difficult to differentiate between the various models and to understand which option best matches your requirements.
One category of crossover piano which we believe isn’t well understood is the acoustic piano which can act as a digital piano. The two main manufacturers offering this type of piano name the category differently; Kawai name them “anytime” pianos whereas Yamaha name them “silent” pianos. To cover all bases, we’ll refer to them as silent anytime pianos.
Silent anytime pianos are standard acoustic pianos which feel and sound as you would expect a normal piano to, but they can be switched into “digital mode” using a pedal or lever. The piano is fitted with optical sensors which do not in any way alter the feel of the piano. When the piano is switched to digital mode, the hammers are prevented from hitting the strings meaning the piano generates no acoustic sound, even though it feels the same as it does in normal operating mode. The piano’s digital sound engine kicks in when in digital mode and the pianist can plug in headphones and play the piano “silently”, listening to digital piano sound through headphones only.
The first two pictures below show a Kawai "anytime" grand piano. The digital control box is recessed on the left hand side of the piano under the keyboard and can be slid out to access its controls, as shown in the second image. The third image shows the sensors installed above the grand piano hammers and the forth image (bottom right) shows the integrated control panel built into Kawai anytime upright pianos.
The idea that you can switch a normal piano into digital mode and then generate a harpsichord sound (or a different instrument) might seem confusing but the thing to remember is that it switches entirely to a digital piano when in digital mode even though it's using the same keyboard. Your normal upright acoustic piano when switched into digital mode will feel the same but can then be set to generate the sound of a concert grand piano!
Essentially if you want a real acoustic piano to practice and perform on because you value the organic sound and authentic experience it provides, if you have the space for an acoustic piano, but you also feel there will be certain times that you’ll need to practice without disturbing those around you, and you don’t want to purchase a separate digital piano – then a silent anytime piano matches your requirements perfectly. In fact many people who purchase pure digital pianos fit into this category and a silent anytime piano would better suit them. Having said this a silent anytime piano is similar to purchasing two pianos in one and so the cost is higher than a pure digital piano.
The following diagram illustrates the spectrum of pianos available today, from a purely acoustic piano through various levels of hybrid and digital technology through to a stage piano which is highly electronic and portable.
At Ian Burgess-Simpson Pianos we stock Kawai Anytime pianos and can absolutely vouch for the quality of their version of the technology. In many respects they are the perfect solution for almost all prospective piano buyers. Pop in to discuss whether they might be right for you.