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How does the Steinway Spirio | r work?

by Stephen N. Reed


For over 160 years, M. Steinert & Sons has seen the latest developments as new pianos have been introduced to the public.  In all those years, Steinway’s Spirio | r has been the most impressive and exciting new development. Spirio | r is a revolution in player piano artistry and technology thanks to its easy-to-use ways to record, edit, and share piano performances.

Spirio | r interface
What makes the Spirio | r special is its high-resolution, live performance capture and playback.

What makes the Spirio | r special is its high-resolution, live performance capture and playback. This capturing of live performances is especially remarkable in that the individual playing the Spirio can record and edit their own recordings with the same high-resolution quality as a Steinway artist receives from recording in a professional studio.

Jonathan Kotulski, a piano technician at M. Steinert & Sons, describes the unique experience the Spirio | r provides:

“It’s fun for the person playing because it’s a kind of Do It Yourself project with the recording and editing the Spirio | r provides,” Jonathan notes.  “Obviously, you’re not going to have a team of audio engineers in your home like a professional recording artist would have in a studio.  However, the Spirio | r’s technology makes it accessible to you.”

As a result, you can develop your audio recording and editing skills, sharing your recordings with a teacher, colleague, or friend.

Spirio ipad
Spirio features a unique and growing library of over 4,000 high-definition performances, some digitally-remastered recordings from Steinway artists of yesteryear and others from today.

Plus, when you want to take a break from your own piano recording and editing, Spirio features a unique and growing library of over 4,000 high-definition performances, some digitally-remastered recordings from Steinway Artists of yesteryear and others from today,

But how does the Spirio | r actually work?  This article will explore this remarkable piano model–how it works, its impressive capacity, and its high-resolution quality.  Steinway’s goal was to enter the player piano market and quickly dominate it by delivering exceptional new technical features without compromising the instrument’s renowned Steinway tonal range and color.

Steinway’s great investment of time and energy into the Spirio line has clearly paid off, as now one-third of all Steinway sales are Spirios.

Background on the modern player piano phenomenon

Yamaha began to develop some early player piano models in the 1980s.  Then they created a new model, known as the Disklavier MX80 series, created in the early 1990s.  Like the prior models, the MX80 series was recorded on floppy disks and recorded performances in a Yamaha-proprietary file format.

This system was a forerunner of the subsequent industry-standard file format known as Standard MIDI Files. Technical innovations found on these early model instruments included hammer sensors for recording,  as well as recording and playback of incremental pedal data on the Yamaha Disklavier “wagon” Grand (featuring a large, rolling external control unit).

Spirio enters the ring in 2015.  Spirio | r arrives in 2019

After rigorous research and testing, Spirio’s playback edition first entered the market in 2015. In order to achieve high-resolution recording, Spirio had 1020 levels of key and hammer velocity, along with 256 increments of positional pedaling.

Then, in 2019, Steinway introduced the Spirio | r, which is capable of both reproducing and recording high-resolution piano music for later playback.  The key here is “high-resolution.”  In fact, the Spirio | r features the highest resolution for recordings by player pianos today.

Spirio’s high-performance embedded control system is the key

How did Spirio | r  arrive at this level of high performance?  Happily, the engineers involved in creating Spirio have explained the essence of the process.

IPS is an engineering firm that worked with Steinway on Spirio.  They explain how Spirio’s state-of-the-art high-resolution audio is made manifest.

Spirio | r with interface
Engineers carefully added to the traditional Steinway grand piano a high-performance, embedded control system.

IPS notes that their hardware and software engineers carefully added to the traditional Steinway grand piano a high-performance, embedded control system, consisting of distributed microcontrollers networked for the high-speed movement of data.

These controllers provide precise timing in a multi-step note-driven process, producing accurate timing and dynamics of note events.  This process allows Spirio to reproduce the nuances of the original performance.

Additionally, hammer velocity and proportional pedaling are monitored hundred of times per second. The high-resolution recording hardware captures the artist’s performance, thereby ensuring the most accurate reproduction to date of dynamics, timing, and pedal motions.

Multiple self-calibration processes allow the control system to adjust its note-driven waveforms, maintaining consistent sound quality and precision.

For more detail on IPS’s engineering work on Spirio, click here.

The marriage of audio technology, software development, and electronic engineering.

All of this is extraordinarily advanced, 21st Century audio technology, software development, and electronic engineering.  It is designed to produce the high-resolution, nuanced sound any audiophile seeks.  This level of high-resolution technology is needed to record a Spirio player’s exact, subtle, soft and loud key strikes.

Spirio piano with iPad
Spirio | r’s nuanced playback and recording come from a combination of both the proprietary data file format, along with Spirio’s ability to replicate smaller increments of velocity on both the hammers and proportional pedaling.

Whereas Yamaha’s Disklavier library often relies on low-resolution data files, Spirio’s entire library is recorded at the highest resolution possible.  Steinway has created a proprietary data file format that captures the nuances and full range of emotion from each artist’s level of performance, resulting in a heightened level of playback and recording.

Spirio | r’s nuanced playback and recording come from a combination of both the proprietary data file format, along with Spirio’s ability to replicate smaller increments of velocity on both the hammers and proportional pedaling.

This technology captures a range of subtlety and nuance that, before now, has not been possible.  Spirio | r allows the player to experience that same range in their own recordings.

The Human factor:  Making the high-tech piano easy to use

Clearly, today’s Spirio | r is an impressive blend of traditional craftsmanship and state-of-the-art, high-resolution technology.

Spirio's iPad
Spirio’s popular, detachable interface is one everyone can learn to use in an hour on a familiar iPad or equivalent.

However, if such an instrument is difficult to use, all that superior technology will come to naught.  Part of the opportunity  Steinway saw was to make Spirio easy to use for the average person.

Spirio’s iPad interface is one everyone can learn to use.  The elegant interface has made this 21st Century self-playing piano extraordinarily popular.

A person with very little experience with technology can suddenly entertain dinner guests like a tech pro, simply by accessing a selection of songs from the Steinway proprietary music catalog. With the advent of Spirio | r, that same person can record, edit, save, and send friends their own latest piano recordings.

Best of all, Spirio only takes one step to access the piano’s technology, while others in the industry can take up to four steps.

“Spirio’s simplicity is a virtue that removes barriers, enabling pianists of all ages to engage with its software through an iPad Pro,” notes Patrick Elisha of the M. Steinert & Sons Education Department.  “Whether studying and improving upon one’s playing or capturing a special performance in the home or concert setting, Spirio | r captures piano playing in a new and dynamic recording medium that will influence the way that we learn and experience piano playing for years to come.”

The Spirio | r  interface

The Spirio | r is another example of Steinway’s commitment to easy-to-use technology. The Spirio system is operated through the same Steinway Spirio App, which detects when connected to a Spirio | r piano and provides a seamless recording interface that is both intuitive and easy to use.

In addition, Spirio | r  features connectivity options through the internet, WiFi, USB, Bluetooth, MIDI, and HDMI, allowing for exceptional interoperability.

Spiriocast: The Spirio revolution continues

Steinway & Sons embraces innovation at the company’s core.  In October 2021, Steinway announced a bold new feature on new Spirios:  Spiriocast.   In a nutshell, Spiriocast allows multiple Spirios to connect for live performances anywhere in the world.  A top piano performer could be playing at a concert hall in Sydney, Australia, while you enjoy the performance with friends in your home.

But this is not simply a remote broadcast, as you might experience on television.  The piano performer’s music is channeled directly through your Spirio keyboard, bringing you a more enlivening, intimate, interactive experience.

Steinway Spirio keys playing remotely
Imagine pressing a single key on a piano, and simultaneously, across the world, that same key moved on hundreds or even thousands of pianos – that is the magic of Spiriocast.

Imagine pressing a single key on a piano, and simultaneously, across the world, that same key moved on hundreds or even thousands of pianos – that is the magic of Steinway Spiriocast.

Video of the performance is remotely relayed as well, but the main attraction here is the stunning clarity of the music, since it is live, coming from your piano, right in your own living room.

Whether it’s a masterclass by a world-renowned teacher, or a performance by a friend, family member, or artist from anywhere in the world, Spiriocast adds some incredible possibilities.

As with the rest of Spirio’s technological innovations, Spiriocast is easy to use, as demonstrated by Boston-area groups successfully linking up to Spiriocast performances.

Try a Spirio | r for yourself

At M. Steinert & Sons, our goal has always been to help customers find the best piano for them.  Increasingly, we find ourselves fielding questions about the Spirio, especially the Spirio | r.  Prospective buyers appreciate Spirio | r’s potential for helping students and others with their development as a musician, along with the exceptional high-performance audio and video entertainment options it offers.

For the curious, the best way to learn more about the Spirio | r revolution is to come into one of our showrooms in Boston and Newton to try it for yourself.  Our seasoned sales consultants can walk you through the easy-to-use interface and demonstrate the full capacity of this modern player piano.

Meantime, read more about the Spirio from these additional articles:

Is the Spirio worth it? 

Could the Steinway Spirio ever become obsolete?

Spirio vs. Disklavier

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