How does solo piano help you evaluate audio gear?

A pianist friend just recommended this article and pianist to me, knowing that I'm presently doing a speaker shoot-out. My question to you all is this:

How important is solo piano recordings to your evaluation of audio equipment -- in relation to, say, orchestra, bass, voice, etc.? What, specifically, does piano reveal exceptionally well, to your ears?

Here's the article:


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@whart You make some great points and I agree with all you wrote.

@hilde45 try the music of Richard Strauss for some great music featuring the French Horn. Fritz Reiner/Vienna Philharmonic “Till Eulenspiegel” on RCA Living Stereo is a classic with outstanding sound; available on vinyl as a reissue. Beautifully realistic horn sound. Also, try the great Radovan Vlatcovick’s recording with The English Chamber Orchestra of Strauss horn concertos 1&2 on EMI classics.



I don’t think piano will be very useful unless you listen to a lot of piano, and already know some good piano music note for note. And there is plenty a Piano cannot tell you. I think this applies to all instruments/genres - there just isn’t one instrument at the apex (other, perhaps, than the human voice)

If you do listen to a lot of piano, then piano music critical for your auditioning - listen to the music you already know by heart, not someone else’s recommendation

I believe in auditioning with the music we listen to in our lives, and that we know intimately - that’s how we catch differences in reproduction. One captures range, tone, staging, pacing, dynamics, etc., in the track choices for the audition. I think very difficult to audition with unfamiliar music, or music chosen to check some box

I am sure Piano is very difficult to capture.  But if I listen to Janos Starker on Cello, “Mining for Gold’ by the Cowboy Junkies, and Song Remains the Same (or Ramble On) by Zep, that covers a lot of ground, as well - and it’s representative of what I listen to (I’ve got a ~15 track standard list, like most folks). I do love all Bach, and so get my piano there (but it’s his cello works on my audition list)

I do not feel you can use "one instrument" as an evaluator of gear.

Sound reproduction depends on engineering and design of the audio equipment itself.

I have heard realistic timbres of an instrument coming from one set of speakers that absolutely botched a plethora of other timbres.

So, most comments are correct about female voice, piano, and organ.

At my shop, we would close the door at the end of the day and take out our instruments and see if what we heard from the 50 or so speakers we sold was anywhere CLOSE to the live instruments.  Our competitor in Miami decided to become a recording person and worked very hard for years with excellent equipment to record and then playback a range of live performances in various venues.  Although he and I may disagree about some things, in MY shop the most accurate reproduction of the live instrument sounds and female voice (we had an electric piano, so unfortunately not able to do that, but our competitor spent months trying to get the most accurate piano recording possible--it ain't easy no matter WHAT OR WHO says it is, sorry.  If you think so, go try it and report back.  Otherwise, sorry, but you are ill -informed about the facts, which I know are not popular today as people tend to make up their own.

What we found after many, many sessions, was that if you wanted to hear exactly what you recorded, you needed SUPERB electronics and Magneplaners SET UP CORRECTLY.

SO, we sold a lot of Maggies and some super electronics--they are expensive and not for everyone.  Back then Audio Research was the winner, but things have progressed and I am sure there are others who are just as good today, although I would guess some of their stuff is still SOTA.  Certainly their pre-amps, which were always considered the best from the SP-3A1 on, still are at the top of the list for their better models.

Point is, boxes distort.  Such famous inventors as Bob Fulton and Mark Levinson tried to make hybrids with Quads, RTR's (electrostats), ribbons, huge woofers (Hartley 24's, etc) and so forth.  (Full disclosure: we built stands and cabs for some of Levinson's HQD System on contract.)  Phase issues were incorporated into mediocre speakers by B&O and better ones by Wilson and others, etc.

At the end of the listening process, side by side, none of these noble efforts eclipsed Maggies on piano, female voice, or organ for accuracy.