Regardless of what type of piano you are interested in, the primary reason for purchasing a new instrument is for the love of music and the beauty that it can bring to our lives. The sounds that we are able to create from a piano become a magical experience and a precious moment in time… when the acoustics are right.
How can we know the true sound quality of an instrument? As you visit a piano showroom to make your buying decision, it is essential that you pay attention to the acoustics to ensure that you are getting the best representation of a particular piano’s "voice" and sound quality.
The importance of piano showroom acoustics
The acoustics of a room are able to affect the tone of an instrument far more than you may have truly stopped to consider. Too often, players will blame the instrument for a lack of sound quality, when it is actually the arrangement of the piano showroom. When testing out a new grand piano, a problem with the room’s acoustics may deter you from purchasing a high-quality instrument, and conversely, may falsely convince you of the sound of a piano crafted of poorer quality.
What affects piano showroom acoustics
As you set out to purchase a new piano, take a look around the piano showroom prior to jumping to any conclusions. The way that we perceive sound is largely impacted by reverberant sound. Reverberant sound are those sounds that are reflected from walls, floors, ceilings, etcetera. Many studies have been conducted to understand the phenomenon of sound reverberation in large indoor arenas such as concert halls and auditoriums, but unfortunately, smaller indoor spaces are often not considered. It is because of this that too many piano showrooms lack the proper acoustics to do their instruments justice.
When considering the sound quality of a piano in a showroom, pay particular attention to the ratio of reflective vs. absorbent surfaces. A heavily carpeted showroom with plush, oversized furniture may be absorbing too much sound for you to properly evaluate sound quality. The more absorbent surfaces that are present in a space, the shorter the reverberation time will be. This shorter reverberation time will decrease the intensity of the piano’s sound because the lack of reverb does not allow the sound to build up to its full potential. This results in a "dry" sound and causes the performer to have to work much too hard to be heard. On the other hand, a room that has absolutely no absorbent surfaces will lengthen the reverberation time. Without any rugs, carpets, or plush furniture, the sound quality of an instrument will become "muddy", causing one sound to run into the next. This can be irritating to the listener.
How to get the acoustics "just right"
To achieve the optimum sound quality, a piano should be played in a space with an equal balance of absorbent and reverberating surfaces. A non-carpeted space can be adjusted with a fair number of rugs or furniture pieces. A carpeted area can be furnished with non-cushioned furniture to create more reverberation space. When a showroom is arranged in this way, you will receive the truest representation of the piano’s sound quality.
Once you select your piano and take it home from the showroom, you’ll want to create the ideal acoustics in your home as well. Be mindful that once you place your new instrument in your home, the sound will likely differ from that of which you heard at the showroom. Creating the right acoustical settings in a house can be challenging because of size limitations, but it can be done. It is generally recommended that a space housing a piano should be at least twice the size of the instrument and with ceilings not exceeding 12 feet for optimum sound quality. Be mindful of keeping the balance between absorbent and reflective sound surfaces, and make necessary adjustments with curtains, rugs, furnishings, etcetera.