The Alpange connected piano is an amazing instrument that relies on a very large dose of cutting-edge technologies to provide rich, customizable sound recorded continuously in the cloud. Little discovery of this product as French as it is luxurious, as incredible as it is intimidating.
I am a Sunday pianist. The one who sometimes tries to play in the hall of an SNCF station, who racks his brains for hours to remember songs learned when he was younger and who especially types in a few improvisations to impress the crowd with little effort. It is therefore with almost zealous modesty that the simple amateur that I am approaches the Alpange connected piano which sits majestically in the center of the living room of a beautiful Haussmann apartment in the 8th arrondissement of Paris.
The device seems so elegant and precious that I hardly dare to approach, filled with a certain form of fear. Fear of flouting the object, of not paying homage to it with my honorable but limited pianistic abilities. Afraid of almost dirtying it, when I already stand out in this beautiful setting with my most primitive T-shirt-shorts outfit. I brush the wood with my fingertips then try to strum a few notes in F blues to test the beast. Notes sound perfect with this particular grain of acoustic pianos. And still it is nothing compared to the service proposed by the pianist and professional singer who settles down a few minutes later for a small concert.
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But you have to know something. If this instrument sounds as good as a traditional acoustic piano, it has nothing to do with a traditional piano. It lacks an essential element: the strings on which hammers are supposed to strike to make the notes vibrate. Some of you might then think that it is therefore a very simple digital piano and that there is no need to make a big deal out of it. And you would be wrong. Because here, we are dealing with a rather exciting new operation.
An “Apple” piano
” We really did technological haute couture», says the co-founder of Alpange, Raphaël Soudre. But where are all these innovations that required seven years of development? At first glance, we see above all 88 keys, three pedals on the floor, two wheels on the sides and beautiful walnut wood finishes. All the prowess of this Alpange piano is invisible to the eye, well sheltered in the internal poplar structure.
When you press a key, there is indeed a hammer that activates. But instead of hitting a rope, it hits a piece of felt on which optical sensors record the impact and the speed of the hammer. With these data, algorithms calculate in real time the movement of the string (which does not exist) and the behavior of the soundboard. Add to that the vibration of the piano itself and you have the rich, full sound of Alpange’s product.
A classic digital piano plays a sound recording corresponding to the note played. It’s very well done and very practical, but you can find yourself a little limited, without being able to put as much finesse and nuance as you would like when hitting a key.
The Alpange connected piano seen from behind // Source: CssTricks
The back edge of the Alpange connected piano // Source: CssTricks
So that’s it for the overall presentation. “We play it Apple style“says Raphaël Soudre to underline this desire to put high technology in an ultra neat design. At this point, I inevitably ask myself a question: why bother with all this system of powerful algorithms to finally reproduce the sound of an acoustic piano? Excellent question if I may say so, because it will help us understand the concept of a connected piano.
Two essential elements come into play:
- sound customization;
- recording of songs played.
Live Sound Customization
Let’s start with the sound customization. The Alpange instrument offers some classic elements with a wheel for the volume, another for the reverb. At the level of the feet, three pedals are available to you: the mute, the harmonic pedal and the sustain pedal. However, the connected piano allows you to go even further here since it works with a smartphone app.
On the app in question, there is an interface that makes it very easy to refine the grain that you want to give to the notes of a piece. You thus have a kind of graph on two axes which is presented to you and a point to be moved on it. From left to right, you go from a stamp “intimate ” To “luminous “. From bottom to top, with a stamptelluric ” To “celestial “. If the dot is in the center, the sound offered by the piano will be in balance between these four parameters.
The demonstration made by Raphaël Soudre, a pianist for a long time, is stunning. Every change he makes on his iPhone can be heard immediately on the next note. The intimate timbre delivers a more subdued atmosphere, while if you prefer to go brighter, your piece will take up more of the room. Push fully towards the celestial mode and you will clearly perceive the transformation at the level of the resonance, whereas the more you go towards the telluric, the more the tones are firm and almost raw. Obviously, I try to portray to you as much as possible what I heard, but understand that the exercise is not obvious. And no text will ever really be able to perfectly describe the finesse of a timbre.
Note also that the sound is emitted by 14 acoustic diffusers and passes through micro perforations scattered on the top and sides. In nuancestrongyou can go up to 103 or 105 dB, but without ever going into saturation, ensures the brand.
Permanent storage in the cloud
The other very particular aspect of this connected piano from Alpange is that every track played is saved in the cloud so that you can then listen to it again from the dedicated app on your smartphone or directly on the piano using it as an audio speaker.
The brand even speaks of “infinite memoryto describe this permanent recording on remote servers. If you are particularly proud of what you have just played, you can, at the end of your performance, press the Alpange logo located just under the keyboard to store it directly in the favorite tracks. No note played is thus lost and, poet, Raphaël Soudre even goes so far as to say that “the piano is emotionally charged” Thus.
It is also possible to connect a microphone to sing and this voice channel will be picked up and broadcast by the acoustic system of the piano and also recorded on the application. You should also know that the songs are saved in Midi files. The Alpange application, however, allows them to be compressed in lighter formats – more suitable for music streaming – in order to be able to share them easily with relatives.
A French piano at 35,000 euros
“We made a piano without concession“, assures Raphaël Soudre who is however careful not to use the word “luxury“. He believes that this product is not necessarily aimed at the most technical, but above all at people who love the piano and are sensitive to technology. Let’s face it, it is also aimed at a wealthy audience since the price displayed is 35,000 euros. An expensive price that we must contextualize: certain models intended for professionals sell for around 100,000 euros (not counting, of course, collector’s items worth millions of euros).
It is therefore in particular to justify this price that Alpange puts forward an uncompromising device which also boasts of French know-how. The brand has relied on the expertise of French partners such as Devialet or Focal. It was also supported by the École Polytechnique, while the algorithms used by the piano were designed by the Toulouse Mathematics Institute.
Finally, the production unit is based in Nantes where the technical team for acoustics rubs shoulders with that dedicated to cabinetmaking. In 2023, this 105 kg piano has only been produced in 80 copies, almost all of which have been ordered or delivered. This would leave only one available at the moment before the next production batch. Three finishes are available: walnut, maple (lighter) and ash (darker).
Its price of 35,000 euros and its relative rarity reinforce the almost intimidating aspect of this piano which fascinates me. In a few years, perhaps it will be much more accessible. In the meantime, if you want to find out, you will have to try to go to the premises of Alpange in the 8th arrondissement of Paris. Or in a posh hotel, listed restaurant or private chalet in which some models have landed.
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