The (Really) Ultimate Audio System?

For lifelike audio presentation in your living room, what could be better than the real thing? When it comes to putting the sound of a piano in your home, nothing comes close to, well, a real piano. For more than a century, several companies have marketed player pianos, first using rolls of punched paper, and most recently sophisticated MIDI programs. But if a real piano represents the ultimate audio performance in your living room, who has the ultimate real piano?

Yamaha thinks they do, in the form of their new Disklavier Pro 2000, just now heading into dealer showrooms at a chart-topping $330,000. Sounding almost embarrassed, Yamaha's Paul Calvin explains that "we never really meant to sell it. It's meant to be a concept piano—the vision of what the piano can be like in the future." The average electronic player piano goes for around $7500 these days, while traditional pianos start at about $4000 and can run up to about $100,000 for a concert grand.

Yamaha never intended to sell the Disklavier Pro 2000. Only three units have been built so far, to mark the company's 100th year in the manufacturing business as well as the 300th anniversary of the piano. But after several dealers saw the first one at a trade show in February, 12 of them ordered the instruments, convinced that there was a waiting market. Calvin says that "the dealers stepped up to the plate and said there was a need for this. We were somewhat surprised and pleased."

What makes a player piano worth more than a quarter million dollars? The very modern-looking Disklavier Pro 2000 sports brushed-aluminum legs and a transparent lid, and the instrument's electronic heart is constructed around an Intel Pentium III computer chip. This allows functions to be controlled by the user's voice or a touchscreen monitor, and lets the audience watch an artist's performance (stored on a DVD) while hearing the "concert." Yamaha says that when the disc is inserted into a built-in DVD player, the musician playing the piece is displayed on a computer monitor as keys and pedals move up and down in a re-creation of the actual performance.

Well-heeled audiophiles interested in the piano had better get in line. According to Calvin, each Disklavier Pro 2000 is hand-built at a plant in Hamamatsu, Japan and takes seven months to finish. "We've only made three so far. We plan to make them on an as-needed basis."