Even Better Than the Real Thing?

Widely known for its consumer electronics products and musical instruments, Yamaha actually got its start making pianos 100 years ago. To celebrate this milestone, as well as the 300th anniversary of the piano, the company is introducing its first CD player-equipped, "high-tech" player piano that, it claims, is capable of "singing" along with its piano performance.

The company's Disklavier line, first introduced in 1988 and now a $100 million/year retail business (12% of the total US piano market), is considered a high-tech update of the player piano made popular in the early 1900s. Yamaha's Disklavier has the ability to store a "live" performance on a floppy disk and play it back note for note with the instrument's keys and pedals moving up and down, causing the hammers to hit the strings.

Apparently, having just the piano performance in one's home was not enough, however. Now, Yamaha says, at the touch of a button on a remote control, recording artists such as Frank Sinatra will begin to sing while the instrument, the new Disklavier Mark III, automatically provides piano and "orchestral" accompaniment. The company adds that it is aggressively building a library of compact discs to take advantage of the instrument's new technology.

Yamaha's Paul Calvin notes that "the effect of combining vocals with live piano performance is so realistic, it gives the impression that the artist is sitting at the bench. The introduction of the Disklavier Mark III is a defining moment in piano history. For the first time, the piano is an all-in-one home entertainment system."

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