Keyboard amp vs powered speaker for better piano sound?

For fans of synths, pianos or keyboard instruments of any sort.

Moderator: Moderators

Keyboard amp vs powered speaker for better piano sound?

Post by DC-Choppah »

I have been getting a lot of calls to play play piano. When I need an electric piano because the room has no piano, I bring my axe and use a powered PA speaker.

The tone of the piano through this speaker has a honkiness in the midrange I can't tame, like it sticks out when a key is struck too hard, the bass is very strong and hard to control, boomy, and the highs are bit brash. I also get complaints that folks can't hear the piano even though the sound is loud?!? Like the speaker is too directional. Too loud in one direction and not in another.

When I record the piano DI I like the tone, but the tone through the speaker is not to my liking anymore. I played a lot with EQ but it seems to be the speaker itself.

Recently I played at a studio with a large Roland keyboard amp with much larger speakers, and I felt that the sound was much more to my liking. It spread out more and was less directional, and sounded more like the piano sound I like from recording the piano. I could control it more.

Is there something about a PA speaker that is giving me these unwanted features?!

So I am thinking of upping my game to a keyboard amp to play gigs.

Just wondering if anyone has had similar experience or thoughts on going to a keyboard amp over a powered PA speaker. And if you have any recommendation for a keyboard amp, I am all ears.

I mainly go for a real piano sound, or Rhoads or jazz organ sound, but mainly straight piano. I play jazz.

I would prefer to just bring my grand piano with me!
User avatar
DC-Choppah
Frequent Poster
Posts: 1854 Joined: Fri Jul 20, 2012 12:00 am Location: MD, USA

Re: Keyboard amp vs powered speaker for better piano sound?

Post by shufflebeat »

There are powered PA speakers, and then there are powered PA speakers. You don't say which you are using.

In it's most basic form a keys amp, acoustic guitar amp and a powered PA speaker are all the same thing but sometimes with added gadgets and tweaks to facilitate a certain quality of performance.

Some PA speakers are designed to have a limited bandwidth but good projection, which sounds like your situation, and others designed to sound big at lower levels but not necessarily scale up in volume. In this category I'd put the Yamaha msr100 (old version of the Stagepas) and the Bose s1, both of which I hear keyboard players enthuse about.

Many "acoustic guitar" amplifiers, including those by Fishman and Schertler are evolving to accommodate vocals for solo performers and I would expect those to be well spec'd for keys as well as acoustic guitar can be a hard one to amplify without harshness.

More recently we have seen the advent of FRFR speakers (full range, flat response), ostensibly for electric guitar players using amp simulators but which are being employed by all and everyone to good effect.

Lots to explore.
shufflebeat
Jedi Poster
Posts: 8266 Joined: Sun Dec 09, 2007 12:00 am Location: Manchester, UK
Hot tip:
I find keeping the good coffee in an old marmalade jar in the fridge makes it last much longer - the kids don't like marmalade.

Re: Keyboard amp vs powered speaker for better piano sound?

Post by Arpangel »

I’d say you need a good PA speaker for pianos/keyboards, but, I’d use them with a good small mixer, with decent EQ, you only need 2/4 inputs, that way you can customise the sound to your liking, you do need a nice big stealer though, digital pianos do benefit from a nice full bass response, otherwise they can sound a bit thin and lifeless.
User avatar
Arpangel
Jedi Poster
Posts: 12558 Joined: Sat Jul 12, 2003 12:00 am
That’s another thing

Re: Keyboard amp vs powered speaker for better piano sound?

Post by Wonks »

Quite a few guitar FRFR speakers are rebadged PA speakers. Certainly the HeadRush range are just rebadged Alto TS3xx speakers.

As Shufflebeat says, there are PA speakers and PA speakers. Some are mid-forward, some are mid-light and the better ones are pretty flat. Knowing the make/model of yours will help here.

Keyboard amps don't employ any special technology compared to PA speakers, though they will invariably use larger wooden cabinets and so may sound less naturally boxy than some plastic enclosures on PA speakers.

Are you using any tone controls at all? If not, a small mixer with at least bass mid and treble controls (though a semi-parametric mid would be better) would be useful.

How are you using the PA speaker? If it's sitting on the floor on its side like a monitor, then a) the main sound is being directed up over the heads of the audience and b) the HF horn dispersion is in the wrong direction, so you may only be getting ±30° of HF in a horizontal direction and ±45° in the vertical, so people off to the sides won't hear any treble at all.

Any speaker will need to be raised up on a stand or platform for best coverage. Even then, a single (standard PA one-box with horn + main driver) speaker will be limited in its dispersion angle (typically 90° x 60°), and so to give the same coverage as a typical two-speaker PA system, you'll need two speakers.

It sounds like a stick+sub line-array style of speaker (e.g Bose L1) may be a better choice for coverage and sound. Some go louder than others, though if you are playing background music rather than a full-on gig, you may not need a huge SPL.
User avatar
Wonks
Jedi Poster
Posts: 13925 Joined: Thu May 29, 2003 12:00 am Location: Reading, UK
Reliably fallible.

Re: Keyboard amp vs powered speaker for better piano sound?

Post by adamburgess »

I'm a keys player and have tried just about all 'keyboard' amps (Roland, Laney, Peavey etc etc) and hated each and every one**. They all sounded the way you described the PA speaker!

Normal PA monitors - if supplied around my neck of the woods, they're usually somewhere between a wooden EV/Yamaha up to RCF TT+ and better if I'm lucky. Sometimes, they're a no-name/clone plastic mess of heartache, or only slightly nicer… a Mackie 450.

Some are obviously better than others. What sort of price range/model were the ones you've tried?

I do a little duo gig now and again with a vocal/sax player, and she has a Bose L1S system that has been great for small jobs. I really like it.

**Apart from a HUGE Yamaha 3 way 4-channel combo from the 80s. Someone stole that and never got the thing back. That was a great sounding beast! The mid range speaker (8", maybe?) really helped a lot!

EDITED: Found the last ever great keyboard amp… The Yamaha KS531

https://usa.yamaha.com/files/download/o ... KS531E.PDF
adamburgess
Regular
Posts: 114 Joined: Sat Nov 03, 2018 12:18 pm

Re: Keyboard amp vs powered speaker for better piano sound?

Post by shufflebeat »

adamburgess wrote: Wed Jan 25, 2023 12:10 pm
EDITED: Found the last ever great keyboard amp… The Roland JC120

Image

FTFY
shufflebeat
Jedi Poster
Posts: 8266 Joined: Sun Dec 09, 2007 12:00 am Location: Manchester, UK
Hot tip:
I find keeping the good coffee in an old marmalade jar in the fridge makes it last much longer - the kids don't like marmalade.

Re: Keyboard amp vs powered speaker for better piano sound?

Post by adamburgess »

The Roland has wheels, at least!

Was curious…

28kg for a JC120, which is a 'nice to have' for a few sounds
36.2kg for the only 'full range' keyboard amp I've ever liked

I must've been stupid taking that to gigs!
I pity the fool who stole it. Hope it hurt!
adamburgess
Regular
Posts: 114 Joined: Sat Nov 03, 2018 12:18 pm

Re: Keyboard amp vs powered speaker for better piano sound?

Post by Hugh Robjohns »

Without knowing what PA speakers you're using it's impossible to identify the likely problem.... but I do think it's more likely to be the specific speaker rather than the concept.

I'd second the recommendation for a lightweight line+sub system like the Bose L1 which will give you good dispersion and a reasonably neutral sound, while also being a lot more portable than a large amp.
User avatar
Hugh Robjohns
Moderator
Posts: 35436 Joined: Fri Jul 25, 2003 12:00 am Location: Worcestershire, UK
Technical Editor, Sound On Sound...
(But generally posting my own personal views and not necessarily those of SOS, the company or the magazine!)
In my world, things get less strange when I read the manual... 

Re: Keyboard amp vs powered speaker for better piano sound?

Post by tea for two »

I'm sure this is a terrible idea and you must have already considered this.

Hifi amp, Hifi speakers.

I did this as a teen with family Hifi lol.
Hardly the level for you.
Still
as family liked the sound of the Hifi they liked the sound of Keyboard going through the Hifi.

I would hazard a guess your audience are similar in that the Hifi sound pleases them.
tea for two
Frequent Poster
Posts: 1562 Joined: Sun Mar 24, 2002 12:00 am

Re: Keyboard amp vs powered speaker for better piano sound?

Post by DC-Choppah »

I am using a QSC CP 12.

It's great and reliable. Well made and easy to haul around. Seems well suited as a PA speaker for small rooms. I don't want to disrespect it for what it is.
User avatar
DC-Choppah
Frequent Poster
Posts: 1854 Joined: Fri Jul 20, 2012 12:00 am Location: MD, USA

Re: Keyboard amp vs powered speaker for better piano sound?

Post by DC-Choppah »

Hugh Robjohns wrote: Wed Jan 25, 2023 2:42 pm Without knowing what PA speakers you're using it's impossible to identify the likely problem.... but I do think it's more likely to be the specific speaker rather than the concept.

I'd second the recommendation for a lightweight line+sub system like the Bose L1 which will give you good dispersion and a reasonably neutral sound, while also being a lot more portable than a large amp.

Bose L1. They even show a piano player using it.

I am going to have to find a music store where I can try one out.
User avatar
DC-Choppah
Frequent Poster
Posts: 1854 Joined: Fri Jul 20, 2012 12:00 am Location: MD, USA

Re: Keyboard amp vs powered speaker for better piano sound?

Post by DC-Choppah »

adamburgess wrote: Wed Jan 25, 2023 12:10 pm I'm a keys player and have tried just about all 'keyboard' amps (Roland, Laney, Peavey etc etc) and hated each and every one**. They all sounded the way you described the PA speaker!

Thank you for that. Glad it is not just my ears. You hear it too. It's a feeling too.

I wish someone would crack this portable piano nut!!

I love when I show up and there is a beautiful grand piano, freshly tuned. I feel like a king, and we get into some music!

Then I have to bring the electric piano to a venue. And I am fussing around trying to get it to sound and feel just Ok.
User avatar
DC-Choppah
Frequent Poster
Posts: 1854 Joined: Fri Jul 20, 2012 12:00 am Location: MD, USA
Post Reply