Oct 25, 2011

REVIEW - Yamaha AvantGrand N1, N2, N3 Digital Pianos - Awesome but Pricey

UPDATED REVIEW -  December 1, 2016 - I've have played various professional brands of acoustic grand & upright pianos for a very long time including Steinway, Yamaha, Kawai, Baldwin, Mason-Hamlin, Bosendorfer, and many others. The drawbacks to playing large acoustic pianos in your home is that they are always loud (or louder) and they're very difficult to play at soft volume, and they need regular tuning & maintenance. Also, with all of the useful computer/iPad music technology out there these days for educational and music playing purposes, it is much easier to connect to that world through a digital piano as opposed to a traditional acoustic piano. *I should mention now that the current Avant Grand series of pianos have been out on the market for about 7 years which is a long time for any digital piano with technology, so I would not be surprised if new, updated models would be coming out very soon. This type of change generally reduces price of stock on current models so be careful when shopping out there because the AvantGrand pianos are not cheap to begin with!

N3
Yamaha has, for many years, had arguably the best top of the line digital pianos in the world called the AvantGrand series including the N3 4' deep baby grand (left pic - approx $14000-$15000US store discount price), N2 upright baby grand (lower left pic - approx $9500-$10,000US store discount price, and N1 upright baby grand (approx $7000-$7500US discount selling price) depending on the actual store in the US. These pianos all have the same acoustic grand piano key action which is a full size wooden grand movement that duplicates the feel of a fine grand piano including the let-off/escapement feature that is found in real grand pianos. The action really is a joy to play giving you a great range of sensitivity throughout the dynamic range of tonal expression. All three pianos have smooth, lifelike pedaling and allowing the nuances needed for all kinds of music (although the piano keyboard does not physically move laterally like it would when using the una corda/soft pedal on a real acoustic grand, but it doesn't have to..it's a digital piano after all). All AvantGrand models have the same sampled sound source (Spatial Acoustic Sampling), a large 256 notes of polyphony, as well as 5 instrument sounds incl the piano sound. Five sounds is obviously not a lot, specially as compared to other digital pianos, but then again, an acoustic piano only has 1 instrument sound, right?:).

With that in mind, the AvantGrand series is obviously not intended to be a digital piano with a vast array of built-in technology & features (it doesn't even have a USB computer output - just MIDI) let alone many extra instrument sounds, layering, splitting, drum patterns, etc. These digital instruments are made to replicate an acoustic grand piano with cutting edge digital technology in beautiful (and very contemporary looking) polished ebony cabinets designed to replace the acoustic grand piano experience whether in an upright configuration or baby grand style configuration. Do they actually completely replace that acoustic grand experience for everyone? No they do not because different people have different musical standards, tastes, and musical experiences. So for some, this piano will not do it, and for others it's more than they dreamed of having. It just depends.

Yamaha's 256-note polyphony (polyphony is important when more notes and damper pedaling are used at the same time in a piece of music) is very high in today's digital piano standards, but ultimately not high enough considering the price tag of these pianos. A good digital piano reproduces an acoustic piano sound that is recorded in stereo on a chosen acoustic piano with 2 microphones placed near or inside the acoustic piano, and that recording is what you hear in the digital piano. In some cases more mics are used for more realism in sound which can increase the needed amount of polyphony. In a stereo piano sound (not mono), each part or side of the stereo recording takes up separate polyphony so that 88 keys really needs a minimum of 128 notes of polyphony per side. On top of that, if there is damper resonance coming from the damper/sustain pedal and this would also require polyphony memory. Finally, the AvantGrands should have been made to allow the player to mix or layer two stereo instrument tones together which is a more common feature of other digital pianos. I am guessing Yamaha did not do that because then they may not have had enough polyphony to allow that to happen or they just didn't think people would care to layer 2 sounds together (I would disagree with that thinking). In reality, these pianos should have a minimum of 512 note polyphony or higher because after all, even the new Yamaha Clavinova CLP535 which sells for about $2200 discount price has 256-note polyphony and the new Casio PX860 ($1099 internet price) has 256 note polyphony. You would think for the the much higher prices, the AvantGrands would have at least double that, but they don't and that's a disappointment, at least it is to me. Certainly an argument can be made for 256-note polyphony to be more than enough more most people when playing a single acoustic piano tone on the AvantGrand,, but that is not the point. These pianos should not only have the ability to layer sounds together, but as I said earlier, for the money they should have a more powerful polyphony sound engine anyway. But that's just my opinion.

All three pianos have a digital transpose/modulation feature, 1-track recorder (not much), and the upright style N2 has a concealed sliding drawer (left pic) that pulls out from under the piano keyboard to expose the instrument control buttons needed to change sounds and functions. This is a very nice way to hide the controls to make the piano look more natural. However, the buttons are very small on the control drawer. The buttons on the N1 are exposed on the front side panel of the piano and those buttons are unusually hard to push down although the N2 buttons are different and much easier to use. Why Yamaha chose to have two different sets of control buttons on the N1 & N2 doesn't make sense to me, especially with one set of buttons being so difficult to physically push down. But you'd only want to push the buttons when changing sounds, and in reality, the grand piano sound is the main reason why someone would buy one of the AvantGrand digital piano models...but still the N1 buttons are not so good in my opinion.

N3
As with many of the Clavinova CLP models, Yamaha only offers a basic red letter LED display on all three piano control panels which doesn't give much info as compared to a backlit LCD display, but this piano doesn't do much either, except basically try to replace an acoustic grand and that's what these instruments are all about. The biggest major difference (although there are some others) among these pianos besides cabinet structure, is the on-board sound system. Each piano is different and the sound system was designed to give the player the spacial feeling of playing a real acoustic piano. We're talking about a lot of speakers, a lot of dedicated power amps, and about strategic placement of these speakers and power amps to give the player the sense of playing the real thing. And that has always been one of the main problems with digital pianos; spatially and environmentally that just don't emulate the organic nature of sound coming out of a good acoustic piano. However, Yamaha has done an excellent job with trying to solve this dilemma and it shows.

Overall the key action feels great to play (yes it is like playing a real grand piano) and the grand piano sound is great, but let's not lose sight of the fact that there is no standard for "greatness" when it comes to grand piano touch and tone in any good grand piano. Everyone has different expectations and experiences and so these pianos will either blow you away, or you may be slightly disappointed when comparing them to what you "think" a grand piano should feel and sound like. It's very subjective, but I happen to like these instruments a lot and they are a joy to play for me.

But here's the one major drawback to all of them in my opinion; this is the very 1st series of these "hybrid digital pianos" that Yamaha has created and they were introduced around 2009, and given what digital technology is these days and how fast it's moving, the N1, N2, & N3 selling prices are really quite high as is typical with newer digital/hybrid piano technology in attractive furniture style cabinets. However, you cannot really say that about a great acoustic baby or full grand piano like a Kawai, Yamaha, Steinway, Mason-Hamlin, or Boston, etc. Even used versions of those pianos, which can be less money than these new AvantGrands, are safer bets and will always be wonderful instruments if well taken care of. There are no speakers, amplifiers, or control panels to go bad in acoustic pianos so when you consider spending this much money, just know that Plasma TV's used to be the big thing and were big bucks once upon a time, but that's not the case any more. Yes I know you cannot "play a TV" but you get the point. I wouldn't be surprised if an iPad could be inserted in and interfaced with one of these pianos in the future along with other great things to make the playing experience even better which will leave these particular AvantGrands in the digital dust. But until that day comes, this is what we have.

N2
If you're using a good set of headphones in the AvantGrand pianos, which is great to do, then all of the spacial speaker placement and cabinet resonation are not relevant and do not work at that point, and then what you have remaining is the 256-note polyphony sampled sound which is very good based on what's out there right now, but not anywhere close to the sound of the piano playing through its own external sound system. Therefore, if you'll be using headphones a lot, then you're not taking big advantage of the very upgraded built-in speaker system Yamaha has developed for these models such as the one in the N2 (above left pic). So my advice is to think real long and hard before you spend the big bucks that these models are demanding right now (even at discount prices). If you have the extra disposable income and the price doesn't bother you and you love the piano and have played it enough to be sure, then buy one because you'll enjoy the grand piano experience in a beautiful cabinet without the hassle of having to tune it and worrying about keeping the volume down when there are others in the home doing things (sleeping, watching TV, etc).

N1
I hope that in the near future (which may be happening soon) Yamaha will improve the user controls and interface display along with having more quality instruments with layering and splitting instead of the too few instrument sounds with limited or no ability to interact with the piano sound. Also adding a USB plug & playcore MIDI compliant computer output is essential in my opinion to interact with the latest notation and composition computer software. That's just at minimum standards as far as I'm concerned but for me, I always look ahead when it comes to spending the really big bucks and these pianos are by far the most expensive (even at discount prices) of the top digital brands when it comes to furniture cabinet digital grand pianos that play just 5 sounds and have few other functions. The grand piano key action is great on the AvantGrands no doubt, but so are key actions on good acoustic grand pianos too although you still gotta tune and maintain those things and you can't use headphones. Oh well, you can't have everything can you?:)

To sum up my experience with the AvantGrands, I really do enjoy playing them and the key action, and knowing you can turn down the volume and also use headphones for private practice, is why people buy this series of pianos, as well as the impressive speaker systems putting out some convincing sound. If you have the disposable income and like what they do, how they sound & play, and are impressed with their cabinet designs, then buy one and enjoy!

If you want more info on these and other pianos and LOWER PRICES than internet discounts, please email me at tim@azpianowholesale.com or call direct at 602-571-1864.

22 comments:

  1. Hi Tim,
    Thanks for the review, really helpful.
    One remark though, according to my info there is a USB output connection on all avantgrand piano's.

    Kees

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  2. Unfortunately, there is not a USB output connector on the AvantGrands. There is a USB input connector that allows a USB flash drive to be plugged into the pianos for storage of info, but not an output connector to a computer. MIDI cables must be used for that including downloading the proper MIDI drivers so that it works properly. As I mentioned in the review and in other words, Yamaha has a way to go when it comes to control panel and USB implementation on these pianos. The control panel is very weak at accessing & displaying info in an intelligent way (no multi-character LCD interface screen), and no USB "plug & play" output to computer. What was Yamaha thinking?! I can get all that on a Casio digital piano under $1000! Just because Yamaha has developed a great playing, great sounding digital piano does not mean they should have skimped on these features. For that kind of money, I want the cake AND the frosting on the cake too.

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  3. Tim, they obviously didn't make it for customers like yourself. You're projecting quite a bit there. The Casios previas are loaded with features 90% of us don't use. The simplicity of the Avant Grande is as it should be. Finally, what is it that you want to do with an Avant Grande with a USB out put that you cn't do with Midi in/out?

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  4. The AvantGrands are very unique and special pianos. They will absolutely appeal to some people for what they are and not for what they are not. That is understandable. However, I predict in not many years from now, the AvantGrands will be updated to include some of things I mentioned in my review as well as new features I did not. When the newer AvantGrands come out on the market some day, this will cause these current models to depreciate in a very big way, in my opinion. If a person doesn't care about heavy depreciation and a big loss of money on the original investment of an AvantGrand now, then that's OK. At the end of the day, it's all about the playing experience and one's enjoyment.

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    1. I hate to say, I do agree with Mr. Praskins. I am 30, and the N3 is exactly everything I want, with the glaring exception of ONE thing: connectivity. For the most part, I will very much enjoy this piece as it stands. However, being all "hip" and "connected" and such, the ability to record and play back through an iPad or laptop seems like a small thing to include when you've come this far in building this digital piano. I can tell you that if I bought the N3 and the N4 comes out with that being the small yet big functional change... it would be tough for me to swallow.

      It doesn't need to tell Facebook I opened the deck lid, but the ability to capture what I'm doing into Logic seems like a basic necessity in a digital piano.

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  5. Tim,
    I think your comment on leaving these particular avantgrands in the digital dust in 5-6 years is a nonsense. GrandTouch was how long on the market 10-15 years and still selling. Avantgrands with this great authentic action and sensors will last even longer. Speakers can be improved of course and sampling which will be replaced rather by modeling but it won't be so ground braking anymore.

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  6. That's what they said about the computer and then came the iPad, a huge game changer. Technology will always improve things and make prior technology obsolete because few people will want them as compared to new and vastly improved models. In 10 years I believe the digital pianos we have now at any price range will be nearly worthless

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    1. so do I wait forever to buy a piano so the technology will be cutting edge?...I don't think so Tim. At some point you buy what you like and in most circumstances you will get good use out of the technology for many years....you review is biased and your article sounds like a cheap insurance salesman.

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  7. Thank you for your comments. Unlike cell phones, iPads, TV's, laptops, camera's, and other lower priced technology which people replace constantly, people generally keep their high priced digital pianos for years because they generally cannot afford not to. In that case I always recommend that you'd better be very happy with what your getting for a digital piano in the high price range (over $7000) because you'll probably be living with it for a very long time. The AvantGrand series is missing a number of very useful and common digital features found on nearly all other higher priced digital pianos. Yamaha may want people to believe (as would other other brands no doubt) that they do not need any of that other technology. The AvantGrand series is all about key action, piano sound quality, and cabinet. While these pianos do excel in those areas, their lack of other digital technology (including more polyphony) is a big negative for me. The bigger they are in terms of price, the harder they eventually will fall in terms of resale value and desirability as new things come out to replace them. If you can afford the current AvantGrand pianos and can be happy for many years to come and won't get extremely jealous of newer and better digital piano technology coming in the near future which will rapidly depreciate the resale value in current models, then the Yamaha AvantGrand series will be perfect for you and anyone else in the same position. You are right, I am biased when it comes to digital pianos like these in any brand in the higher price range. A cheap insurance salesman?...I have never sold insurance and I have not sold Yamaha AvantGrands because I may feel guilty in doing so based on my personal feelings about high priced digital pianos.

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  8. I came very close to buying an N2. I actually walked into the store aiming to buy a CVP 605, mostly in order to use its "Piano Room" feature. However, when I played the N2, the touch and the sound made the purist/pianist in me yearn for this great piano and I almost wrote the check. The deal breaker, however, was the fact that the N2 does not have the "USB WAV/MP3 Recording" capability - present in many other Yamaha pianos, and I do want to record my pieces with high quality, directly into a WAV file.

    Tim, since you are very well versed with these digital and hybrid pianos, can you kindly help me with two questions? First, are you aware of a new version of AvantGrand that does provide USB WAV Recording functionality? Secondly, I think the piano sampling technology is different between Clavinovas (RGE - Real Grand Expression) and the AvantGrands (Spatial Acoustic Sampling + TRS ( Tactile Response System)). Do you have any information or opinion about how these are different, and which technology produces better and more real piano sound and feel?

    Thank you :)
    Arash

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  9. I own an N3. I can play Liszt on it. I can play Rachmaninoff on it. I have never been able to do that with any other electronic keyboard. I've tried.

    True, when listening to it through it's speakers one knows immediately that it is not an acoustic instrument,--but I find I FORGET
    this and become engaged in the music.

    I also suspect that, in a big enough room, or hall, the magic of the spatial acoustic modeling engineered into this instrument would minimize the difference between the N3 and an acoustic grand as the sound moves through the room.

    I live in an apartment. I gave a lesson this evening, with headphones.
    I paid 13K for mine in 2011.

    I don't compare this to other keyboards. I compare it to other acoustic grand pianos.
    And it does quite well thank you. Kevin, Madison, Wisconsin

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  10. Good Morning,
    I ordered my Yamaha Avant Grand N3 this week. I have owned 19 top digital stage pianos in the past 30 years. Two of my favorite instruments are my mid 1990s Kurzweil K 2500 along with my Roland RD 700 GX. There are always new models and companies bringing out new products. All of my keyboards however sound as good today as the day I purchased them!! My wife wanted me to purchase a grand piano for the living room in our home. She is tired of my keyboards comding up from the studios and sitting in our living room with cords everywhere! My room just is not condusive to an accoustic piano due to fact that it will be sitting over top of an heating event and next to large glass sliding doors! The thought of having a real grand piano action, incredible piano sound, in a beautiful grand piano style cabinet is what I am looking for and I have not found any other product that accomplishes this. Finally, I may mount my rack mount Roland Integra Sound Module to the bottom of the piano and MIDI this thing to the Avant Grand giving me an incredible library of additional sounds to complement the Avant Grand Piano sample! I can not wait for my new piano to show up!! DP

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  11. I am looking at an N3 vs a GB1K for my daughter who is just starting. Price is close.
    What do you recommend Tim?
    Thank you for your time in writing the detailed responses.

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  12. I have a N1. The last year I've been using it with Pianoteq-it marries this fantastic instrument with up to date modeled sounds. Its magical.

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  13. How do you guys connect this with external piano sounds such as Pianoteq? And does it actually have output such as XLR jacks for house PA systems ? Thanks.

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  14. When do you predict the newer model will come out?

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  15. N1, n2, n3, excellent key action, nice cabinet and...All other is average. Sorry to say that, but it is. For that kind of money, the sound was nothing to impress. This is the reason way lots of owners of this piano, connect PC and piano VST. So, huge money only for action ? Not for me, there is Kawai VPC1 with piano VST, the best combination overall for home playing with fraction of the price.

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  16. Would like to see your comments and a comparison of the Yamaha N2 to the Casio GP500.

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    1. I just played the N2 for 2 hours today and the Casio HP 500 last week. As a piano technician of 40 years (which I believe makes me a bit more of an expert in this area), I can sum it up in two words. "No comparison". While it was a pleasant playing experience, the highly touted action of the Casio lacked even a hint of escapement/let off (even though it has it). The Casio attempts (poorly) to replicate a fine grand piano action. The N2, in contrast, IS a fine grand piano action. The Casio piano samples were lifeless at best, and at full volume the weak sound system barely filled the room. The Yamaha's sample quality and power, on the other hand, left me with a feeling of wonderment. As old as the AvantGrand technology is (2009 I believe), it still surpasses everything out there, IF a premium piano playing experience is your prime directive. It is a spectacular instrument which, to date, is un-equalled in this industry. Yes, there are others that are more "feature-rich" and even I admit it would be nice, at the very least, to have a USB connection for my computer DAW. But at the beginning and end of the day, if you're goal is to find a digtal instrument that offers the best, most realistic piano playing experience, you'll be glad you spent the extra $$$ on the N2. Honestly, I walked away from the Casio feeling embarrassed for them. I hope they do better with their next generation offering. Lastly, look at the street prices of $3500 for the Casio and $9500 for the N2. That alone should tell you that a vast difference can/should be expected. I should note that I also played the new Roland LX17 as well as several other high end digital's side by side with the N2. I'll end with the same 2-word conclusion. NO COMPARISON. So if you can somehow afford the N2, just buy it. And if you're like me and you can't afford it, find a way and buy it anyway. I did :)

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    2. You are entitled to your opinion and what you say is mostly true. However, the Yamaha N2 should be be MUCH better as it's well over twice the price of the Casio. That's like saying a Lexus is no good as compared to a Mercedes even though the Mercedes is so much more money. There is a reason why an item/product that plays or performs better IS better and therefore costs substantially more money...your argument and comments are academic and definitely not surprising. The Yamaha is a great instrument but spending more than twice the money on it as compared to the Casio GP500 is not possible for most people looking for a good digital piano. I hear from Casio GP500 owners all the time telling me how much they love playing that model and at the end of the day...that's all that counts...personal enjoyment...and that's where your argument/comments misses the mark. You are so focused on how the instrument performs from your experiences that you fail to see that most people shopping for a good playing experience (for their needs) just don't care. Just for the record, overall I agree with your comments about comparative authenticity and performance and that the N2 is a big upgrade...but again it's irrelevant...the N2 is in the stratosphere of price range so it BETTER be BETTER than anything else out there:). You say "find a way to buy it,"...easier said than done for most people. That's like saying "find a way to buy that Mercedes otherwise you won't be happy with any vehicle below that"...a ridiculous statement at best. As for "street price"...I don't know what street you live on but those are NOT the street prices that are going on for most shoppers in their local markets. When it comes to what someone likes and what they can be happy with...it's a big world with a lot of people in it and mostly people can be very happy with many different types and price ranges of digital pianos.

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  17. Hello AZPianoNews,

    There is this new AvantGrand N3X that is now in 2017 available. If you could do a review on it and compare it to your experience with the N1, N2, and N3, it would be really interesting to get your take on this new Yamaha AvantGrand N3X.
    Thanks.

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  18. someday in the future I will do that...but not ready yet.

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