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MMD > Archives > January 2002 > 2002.01.18 > 08Prev  Next


Pneumatic vs. Solenoid Power
By Craig Brougher

As I see where Tony Decap is coming from, he believes that solenoids
must be better than air and vacuum, because air is massive and spongy,
whereas solenoids aren't, and are instantaneous.  The new technology is
better than the old technology.  Also, we shouldn't blame solenoids for
bad arrangements.  That's the sum in a nutshell.

Well Tony, I couldn't agree with you less.  Some have, and are playing
Yamaha Disklaviers with the MIDI files made from player piano rolls too
-- good music, fair performance.  But put the same file on an
electronic interface and play the Ampico with it, and it's awesome!
It is what Wayne Stahnke used (roughly) as his medium to play the
Rachmaninoff Ampico rolls through an electronic concert grand piano.
You can't beat it.

As far as the physics of either system (that is, air versus solenoids),
I would like to tell you that commercially available solenoids, for
their power to weight ratio, are much more sluggish and less efficient
than a pneumatic, and not as quick either.  As far as sponginess is
concerned, all magnetic field attractions are "spongy" and compressible,
so in that regard, we still have mass being operated by a force
connected by a spring, even at 185 volts, which will burn one of those
things out in a matter of seconds if left on.

Now, the system invented by Wayne Stahnke and used in the electronic
Boesendorfer pianos is much more like a pneumatic system, in that his
solenoids are ten times or more stronger and have a duty cycle that
is high enough not to get hot and weaken the system.  So if you are
speaking of comparing an equivalent electronics system with a good
pneumatic system, then you are right!  But that's what you have to go
to.  The consumer market electronics system isn't a shadow of a good
pneumatic system, and Wayne's system is highly innovative and
unavailable to the general public.

 [ The list price of the big Boesendorfer 290 SE piano was $100,000.
 [ Approximately 28 pianos were fitted with the SE electric recording
 [ and playing system before production ceased in the 1980s.  -- Robbie

While I realize that power alone isn't a deciding factor, but rather
"impulse power," still, it is directly proportional to the force of the
actuator and how effortlessly and quickly that force can be applied.
Commercial attempts to do this using tiny solenoids as found in the
electronics pianos cannot generate even an order of magnitude less
power than the average reproducer, and the number of solenoids that can
be driven to their full power at any given time is limited by the total
power requirements allowed by the player.  If you don't think so, then
get a good MIDI copy of Ampico's Bolero, turn up the Yamaha to full
power, and play the whole thing that way.  You will either have to have
several new driver boards on hand and a dozen replacement solenoids, or
you will simply blow the circuit breaker.

I'd like to be talking not of what things might be, but really what
they are -- what is available, versus what is not available.  Then we
have a meaningful discussion.

Craig Brougher


(Message sent Fri 18 Jan 2002, 16:38:16 GMT, from time zone GMT-0800.)

Key Words in Subject:  Pneumatic, Power, Solenoid, vs

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