Piano Brands
My current impressions of test brands and their pianos. These are subjective impressions of a very few sample models. These comments are not intended to be generalizations about each piano brand.

Steinway & Sons (New York)

The Recognized Signature Brand. Currently my preferred brand. Visually elegant and classic. Aside from the concert grand, I believe Steinway's Model B is the best instrument the company makes. I was not terribly impressed with the smaller models, and I almost bought a Model L without trying the Model B, thinking it was out of my price range. I could sense the signature Steinway sound and action, but the smaller instruments did not have the exquisite refinement that I felt with the Models B and D. What I don't like regarding brand new Steinways is how "raw" they sound. At first, I was unimpressed by the new models at my local dealer. They start out very mellow and dull, but almost all older Steinways I play seem to sound better and better as they age. With enough voicing and time, the treble starts to exhibit that bell-like quality and the tenor matures to a gorgeous complex tone. These instruments just need more initial preparation to bring out their very capable features. I hear that the Hamburg models are held to higher quality standards. I am eager to try one of the German-made beauties.

  • Pros:
    • Light action
    • Rich and complex tone
    • Excellent resale value
  • Cons:
    • Noisy action
    • Needs meticulous voicing to bring out the treble
    • Pricy (due to brand name markup?)

Yamaha 

The workhorse. These ubiquitous instruments are good examples of precision Japanese engineering. I see the 7' and smaller grands in recital halls and practice rooms at local universities. The Ivorite™ key tops on the larger models makes the action feel quite pleasant, although not an end-all selling point. If you like a bold and bright sound, these C sereies pianos will be your cup-of-tea. Sometimes they were overbright and shrieky but the design still allowed for voicing during melodic phrases.  Brand new, these pianos seem perfect and literally the best "bang" for your buck. However, after playing older, prepared versions of the same models, I question whether they can hold up to long years of moderate use, implying the need for constant intervention by great technicians in order to keep them in shape. I would love to test the S series, but they are apparently hard to find and I hear they are at least double the price of the C series. Once you get into that price range, you might as well go for a higher-end brand.

  • Pros:
    • Durable 
    • Good resale value
  • Cons:
    • Loud
    • Bright
    • Metallic Sound

Bösendorfer

The respected Viennese fleet. I am very impressed with these pianos. They provide an interesting tone and excellent projection. The sound texture is not exactly to my liking, but I can understand how others "fall in love" with them. I need to spend more time with the 214CS since it is closer to my price range, but the amazing 225 is out of reach. If the 214CS was just a smaller, equal sounding version of the 225, I would select this piano. However, it is falling short of my expectations at the moment. The action on the 225 seems far superior and comforting than that of the 214CS. I am told that this is due to longer keys on the 225, among other things. I haven't had access to a 214 but I hear it is only different in ways that do not affect sound performance. I had an interesting acoustic experience with the 9' 280. During the loudness test, the stage started rumbling; and reverberating bass sounds lingered even after stopping play.

  • Pros:
    • Powerful
    • Perfect brightness
    • Sleek angular look
  • Cons:
    • Pricy

Mason & Hamlin

Thick and complex sounding instruments. Their construction appears extremely sturdy and heavy. The touch is just above average for me with their custom action using Renner parts. The BB model was touted as a Steinway sound-alike for its rich mellow sound, but to me it didn't possess the tone control of the Steinway B. More tests pending.

 

 

  • Pros:
    • Well-built, sturdy construction
    • Powerful
  • Cons:
    • Somewhat unclear mellow sound
    • Average action

Fazioli

The fairest of them all. Very aesthetically pleasing and beautifully crafted with a finished underside! As soon as I played the first note, I noticed the comfortable Renner action and pure singing potential. Even the smaller F183 provides amazing control and power. If money were no object, I would take the F212 home today. More tests pending.

 

 

  • Pros:
    • Clean Tone
    • Crisp Treble
    • Light Touch
  • Cons:
    • Slightly Bright
    • Expensive

Bechstein

Clarity almost unparalleled. Bechstein pianos have a singing quality that rivals many other brands. I have had the chance to play the A160, A190, A208, and the C. Bechstein D280. Much like the Fazioli, all of these pianos have the amazing ability to bring out voices at the slightest touch of pressure. The A160 is too small for what I'm looking for, but still has nice action and incredible clarity. The A190 is pretty amazing for its 6'3" frame, but seems to give off a slight hint of metallic brightness and a lack of oomph in the lower register. Unfortunately, the A208 that I tested attempted to provide the missing power of the A190 but can't quite control it. The high range was still crystal clear, but the mid and bass seemed exaggerated and overdriven. The A190 seems to be the sweet spot for the Academy Series. The D280 is an incredible, responsive, and beautifully long beast. I am always amazed by the quality of concert grands and the D280 is no exception. I wouldn't be surprised if concert artists select the D280 for some or all of their performances. Finally, I found the keys to be a bit shallow on most Bechsteins and the pedals slightly unresponsive. This, of course, could be an issue with the specific pianos tested and not the entire brand.

  • Pros:
    • Clear voice overall
    • Competitive action
  • Cons:
    • Not enough power at the 6'3" size
    • Uncontrolled power at the 6'9" size
    • Pedal problems on tested models

Schimmel

Quality starts here. Schimmel offers a nice selection of quality pianos. I was delighted to try out their 6'3" 189 as well as their 7'0" 213 models. The action is respectable and the mid-range tone slightly brighter than warm. My only problem is with the somewhat metallic and stringy sounding bass. Chords played in the lower registers sounded blurred and distorted, similar to the smallest of the Yamaha C series. The 213 definitely compensates for the power not found in the 189, but was virtually identical in all other respects.

 

  • Pros:
    • Above average action
    • Warm yet vibrant mid-range
  • Cons:
    • Somewhat bright
    • Metallic bass

Petrof

A charming and beautiful piano. This Czech brand offers quite a lot for the money: a beautiful case, top of the line Renner action, and a soft warm tone throughout the entire scale. I have tested the III and IV models. The III provides the best tone for the buck, but not quite the "bang". I found that these models can provide a generous tenor and treble, but struggle to fill the room with their bass. I found this to be the total opposite of Yamaha pianos, where power is abundant. I smiled immediately upon starting the contrast test; melodies flowed, mid range echoed, but the enveloping bass was no where to be found. I would be interested in trying the 7'9" II model to see if they were able to generate power, but that means a drive to another state to find one.

  • Pros:
    • Very responsive action
    • Above average tone
  • Cons:
    • Lacking in power

Grotrian

Oh Grotrian! What would the Steinway sound be if they still had you? To me, Grotrian stands out from all other brands in one and only one aspect: texture. The Grotrian sound is rich unlike any other. Some call it plucky or woody but I call it unique and exotic. It's as if all other pianos spoke one common language and Grotrian spoke a foreign tongue with a beautiful mysterious accent. I tested the Cabinet 6'3" and the Concert 7'4" models. Of all pianos at Harl's I played the Grotrian Cabinet the most. I was mesmerized and intoxicated by its sound. I wanted to play it for hours to determine if I could fall in love with it. The only thing I didn't like was the lack of fullness in the bass. It is strange to hear a powerful bass (especially with the 7'4" model) yet not get surrounded by a warm full sound. The Grotrian Charis 6'9" is coming soon, and I think it may be the one to have just the right blend of exotic richness and power. We will see.

  • Pros:
    • Unique sound and texture
    • Great action
  • Cons:
    • Rich yet lacking in fullness

Estonia

Coming soon.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Pros:
    • todo
  • Cons:
    • todo

Blüthner

Coming soon.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Pros:
    • todo
  • Cons:
    • todo

Steingraeber & Söhne

Coming soon.

  • Pros:
    • todo
  • Cons:
    • todo