Music, Piano, Purchases

Yamaha AvantGrand N3: One year and 9 months later

AvantGrand in Wichita

In January of 2010, I purchased the Yamaha AvantGrand N3 as a replacement for my aging keyboard and to prepare myself for life outside of school. Now, almost two years later and a unbelievable amount of music later, I’m revisiting my thoughts.

I don’t regret this very substantial purchase at all whatsoever. Not even for a moment. I’m not much of an early adopter and was initially worried about things like maintenance and warranty for such a large piece of technology, but now that we’ve moved it from Virginia Beach to Rochester to Wichita (update, 2012: and now Jersey City, back into an apartment – had to leave the pretty house you see above), I feel pretty confident about its longevity and durability.

All of the pros I previously listed still apply, and essentially all of the cons. I haven’t had any problems with notes dropping out recently, so perhaps it was a temporary thing or I’ve subconsciously adjusted. The lack of an intuitive readable control panel is still probably the most annoying thing. The touch obviously cannot be exactly the same as an acoustic grand, but I do find that some nuances are impossible to pull off, especially things involving pedal. Beethoven-style sforzandos just don’t happen as I’d like them to and I can’t use the barely-there touch to create that special kind of soft sound. So, again, not a replacement for a real grand piano, but still a fantastic instrument and perfect for a set of needs.

I did discover that the AvantGrand actually does a little harmonic resonance, so doing something like holding down some keys silently and playing lower ones will leave a little sound behind, as though the strings of the silently depressed notes are vibrating. It’s not as audible as an actual piano, but it’s pretty neat that they bothered to put that in there. The things that most people still find the most immediately impressive are the tactile response and, oddly, that weirdly accurate harpsichord sound. Pianists are very impressed by the feel of the keys and half pedaling. Several people have been caught by surprise to find out that it is digital and not acoustic.

Here’s some of the other music I’ve learned since that last post, to give you an illustration of how productive it is to have my own piano at home, even after working on web stuff all day:

  • Stockhausen – Kontra-punkte
  • An entire last-minute solo piano recital that included the famous Liebestraum and the Minute Waltz
  • A full concert of Oliver Knussen’s ensemble works, including the beastly (but incredible) Songs Without Voices
  • Xenakis – Plekto
  • Grieg Piano Concerto, first movement
  • Debussy Cello Sonata
  • Untold amounts of other new/contemporary music
  • Relearned the Brahms Clarinet Trio and the Schumann-Liszt Widmung, along with a large pile of other stuff (especially clarinet, of course)

These days I’m working on Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time (for December), Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata (last two movements only for now, also for December), and a large chunk of the clarinet repertoire in preparation for Adrian’s inevitable re-interview and faculty recitals in the spring. I’ve had to say no to area accompanying because I am already working a little too much, but it’s more than enough to keep me busy.

So, if you’re thinking about the AvantGrand and it fits your needs, you should try one out if possible!

P.S. If you look at the comments of my last post, the National Sales Director of Yamaha offered to send me an AvantGrand jacket and he really did. It’s way too big and not exactly pretty, but it’s still pretty awesome that it happened at all.

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39 thoughts on “Yamaha AvantGrand N3: One year and 9 months later

  1. hey I am seriously considering buying a Avantgrand! I am a serious practiser – practise 3 hours daily, doing big repretoire like you (working on Liszt Concerto No 2 now)…

    Do you think Avantgrand can sustain 3 hours a day, 5-6 days a week practising as-if-it-is-a-real-grand-piano? (i.e. preparing for concert performance)?

    check out my web site too: http://www.rickerchoi.com

    I read your bio- sounds like we have many things in common!

    • I go through periods of practicing and rehearsing very heavily (several hours a day) and so far it has withstood everything I’ve thrown at it, including some very physically aggressive repertoire (Xenakis in particular comes to mind).

  2. Dave says:

    Thanks for your blog comments on the N3. I’m finding them most helpful. I am a 10 month owner and am still enjoying the features of the N3. I find the volume control and headphone feature just great for not driving others out of the house. The rock steady tuning not subject to moves or the environment is great too. I go from this piano to a 6 foot Steinway and find I can make the transition without a problem. I have also been using the N3 with an iPad – lots of fun! Please keep the blog alive!

    Thanks!
    Dave

  3. Robert says:

    Hello Helen, I work as a composer and teacher in the UK. I am currently using a Yamaha C3 ‘Midi Grand’ which I believe is quite rare. I am considering changing my piano for a N3. I have seen a lot of video demos and discussions concerning the Avant Grand and even though most musicians are impressed with the quality of the instrument I am a little concernered about the possible lack of sympathetic string resonance compared to an accoustic grand. I would value your opinion. Also, if you had the space what size conventional grand would tempt you away from the Avant Grand and finally are you concerned about the fact that your piano which is digital will depreciate in value faster than it’s accoustic counterpart?
    Thank you.
    Best wishes,
    Robert

    • Hi Robert,

      There is synthesized sympathetic resonance (I mentioned it above as harmonic resonance), but it’s definitely not comparable to that of a true piano and of course does not respond to other instruments.

      My primary concern when purchasing the instrument was not so much space as maintenance and volume – we previously lived in a high-rise and have moved between some very different climates. There is a Yamaha C3 at my father’s house that really belongs to me, which I think was bought in 1999 and I love very much. There’s also a very baby Yamaha G series at my mother’s house, which has a nice sound considering the model and is almost as small as the N3. The intention is to someday switch pianos with my father and perhaps also retrieve the one from my mother because nobody is using it.

      As far as value goes – I work with technology. I have no illusions or desires concerning the future value of this instrument. I bought it for myself to use in the present! 🙂

  4. Robert says:

    Thank you for coming back to me so quickily Helen.
    I agree with you concerning technology, we need to use the best tools avaliable now, not worry about the future. My C3 is in my home,- a thiry five foot double height converted stables – but the next house I live in almost certainly will not have such a large area for the piano – hence my interest in the N3.
    It is a pleasure to correspond with you on a subject we both love and enjoy!
    Many thanks,
    Rob

  5. Guest says:

    I actually have the Yamaha GT-1, which I consider the very first model of this line of Yamaha digital grand (not to be confused with their Clavinova line.)

    It has alot of the features that you mention minus the more advance sound processing found in this latest offering. It can even half pedal. In fact, all these reviews of the AvantGarde talking about how it uses lasers to measure hammers, well, the GT1 had it as well. I’ve had mine since the mid 90’s. So alot of the physical-mechanical reproductions have already been worked out for the last 20 years.

    It’s 20 years old and it still performs as well. The problem with these models, and I’m sure it will happen to your’s is eventually you will get all the drawbacks of a real physical piano.

    So, right now, sometimes the pedals get ‘stuck’. It’s really not that bad, and it only started happening recently and it’s on and off. The middle pedal does not work as well anymore, and that’s where I see the most ‘stuckiness’. Other than that, everything else still works like the day I bought it.

    So, I wouldn’t worry about longevity.

    People are surprised to hear about the GT1 and that it came out long ago, and I’m also surprised that they are surprised. My GT1 cost about 9 grand at the time. It was the first purchase I made straight out of college.

    At first, I regretted the purchase. Playing on the piano made me awfully sick, like motion sickness. I could not play for more than 20 minutes before I had to lay down to rest. I wanted to vomit. I was so acccustom to playing grand pianos that the sound/spatial reproduction of the GT1 was disorientating. In a couple of months, the sickness went away, and I’m so glad that I bought my digital piano.

    Anyways, for readers of your blog, if the AvantGarde is too expensive, I would recommend a used GT1 or GT2. For the last 20 years, they were the only option worth considering for serious pianists that lived in cities.

    Anyways, I’m currently learning Chopin Scherzo No 2, Rachmaninoff’s Etude No. 5. And, I *use* to practice several hours a day, but these days, I’m lucky if I can play for more than an hour; being anything but a pianist by profession makes it hard to put in the same long hours that I use to back in my college days.

    Happy practicing. I’m glad you like your new purchase. I know it will last a few decades.

  6. johnmar says:

    Thanks for your review, I was looking for one too either N2 or N3. But Helen, thanks for your time to write up. I always worried about its sound ability vs acoustic grand which I have c3.
    Helen, have you went to the shop played the real grand and find there is a big “touch gap” that you lost thru Avantgrand. In theory it should be minimum. Please tell us your experice on that. Thanks

    • The piano at my father’s house, which also essentially belongs to me, is a Yahama C3, purchased with scholarship money I won in middle school. I played on it heavily for five years before moving away and going to college, and still play it when visiting. I will likely swap instruments with him (the N3 for the C3) if/when I stop moving every couple of years, and if he still thinks he will let me.

      The touch essentially feels the same. I find myself working too hard on the N3 if I leave the volume low, but that’s in large part because it feels so accurate and instinct takes over. I have not had any problems transitioning to regular instruments (Steinways and extended Bösendorfers, mostly) for performances, which is my point of evaluation, and so therefore I find the touch to be quite good. I’m no digital piano reviewer – I only have my own experiences.

      Sound control, as mentioned in the post, is not as nuanced as a normal piano. I don’t find the extremes to be as easily attainable as they are on a very well-regulated piano, and the pedal is particularly artificial, although the half pedaling is not bad. None of this surprises me – think of it as playing on a quite good practice piano. For me this is meant as a practice/home piano, not a performance replacement or a teaching tool (I don’t teach lessons at the moment), and so therefore satisfies my needs.

      • johnmar says:

        Thanks Helen, you are wonderful, your feedback is honest and precious. So after all this years you still want to go back to old acoustic piano/Yamaha c3. So I see the point. Today, what is more dissapointing was , i was told No avnt grand avaliable in australia, not even Sydney. Why, not enough markets. This is totally bs…….So have you done any recordings using N3 thru its internal recording system? if not uisng external mics. Sigh, I think sometimes, living in USA is better..

  7. scott says:

    Thanks Helen for a great blog — very informative and helpful! I’d like to know from anyone how to use iPad and N2/3. Unfortunately the folks at yamaha technical support were Clueless….

  8. Eileen Quinn says:

    Hi Helen. Great blog. Would you mind commenting on A3 vs Yamaha U3 upright? Any thoughts would be much appreciated. Thank you.
    Eileen

  9. Yoyo says:

    I tried both the N1 and the new NU1 and the NU1 was better for key touch and sound – I don’t know what the N2 or the N3 are like but I cannot see how anyone would buy an N1 over the NU1 considering the NU1 is cheaper than the N1

    I was told the sound sample for the NU1 is taken from the new CFX grand – the sound was brilliant!!!

    I saw an N3 on a site here in the uk for £9k or roughly $13.5k – it was pre-owned less than 3 years old but they were still offering it with the full 5 year warranty that you get with a new one

  10. Gustavo Pezzi says:

    Hey!
    I am really considering purchasing an AvantGrand.
    I’m a jazz-focused pianist, and I’m having a tough time findind demos/videos of the N3 in a jazz scenario.

    Do you think its timber can pull jazz repertoire?

    Thanks.

    Gus

    • Honestly, I have no real idea if it would work well in a jazz setup, as my only experience with attempting to play jazz was in college and I was terrible at it. I would guess that it would; direct hookups to an amp may actually be an advantage over mic-ing in a performance scenario.

  11. Claude says:

    Hi, I have just recently found your website and the enjoyment that you are getting out of your Yamaha N3, now as a recent purchase I have a Yamaha N1. I would like to ask do you have to do any maintenance for the Avantgrand considering the real piano action.

  12. Audrey's Mom says:

    Hi Helen, do you teach? I live in Jersey City. I have a 5-year-old daughter and I am looking for a piano teacher for her. Btw, thanks for your blog and sharing your experience of N3.

  13. I’m intrigued by the photo of your piano. I recently wrote an article that will be appearing in a book to be published in France. I’ve found your comments about, and your experiences with the Yamaha AvantGand to be most interesting. I’d like permission to use that photograph.

  14. greg says:

    Im thinking of buying a piano soon. I am a classical pianist yet I’m stuck in between buying a yamaha n2 or a yamaha c3. I’m in love with the c class but think that maybe its best to get the cheaper avantgrand now and later try to get the new c3x. my fear with the yamaha n2 is the possibility of having buyers regret, thinking i could have just spend a few thousand more and gotten a real piano instead. i do live in an apartment in the city, but that doesn’t stop me, i don’t care.

  15. Helen, I’m curious what you think about using the N3 for outdoor performances… I play in halls mostly (primarily on Steinways), but since this piano is clearly more portable than an acoustic piano, will not go out of tune with moving, and also must have less adverse reactions to changes in humidity, I’m thinking it might be ideal for outdoor concerts. As such, I’m wondering if the sound output would be sufficient, or if it would need to be amplified in that sort of setting. In any case, since you’ve expressed that you don’t think of the N3 as a performance instrument, I’m curious what your opinion is on this sort of situation. I have no illusions that it will be anything as good as an acoustic instrument, but it might open up some options where a real piano is not a possibility. I’d value your input. Thanks!

  16. Wayne Evans says:

    My AvantGrandN3 is absolutely perfect and having owned two “legitimate” grands, a 6 ‘ Baldwin and a 9’ Mason Hamlin, I know. I know.

    My only complaint and it is a complaint it that the sustain pedal requires so much effort it becomes a distraction. Playing a grand piano should have no distractions and particularly the N3 should have at least the same absence of distractions as the least expensive Yamaha keyboards. The F85 uses the standard foot pedal and it is baffling that a $20,000 piano cannot compete with a $500 digital practice piano
    Someone please help me.
    Wayne
    abitftndl@gmail

    • Ed says:

      Hi Wayne. I just came across your comment about the sustain pedal. I just got a N3 and could not believe how hard I had to press, and how shallow I had to release to achieve a half pedal effect. If you have not discovered already, there is a fix for this. There is a metal black box underneath that unscrews to reveal an adjustable pot on the sustain side. Two screws {top and bottom} can loosen so the housing of the pot can rotate. Clockwise rotation enables the downward pedal movement to actuate more sustain earlier in the stroke, so you can get more sustain earlier without having to press all the way down to the basement. Half pedaling is far easier, and you can even go for a little over saturation which has an interesting resonance effect if you kind of over adjust the pot a bit too clockwise. This adjustment also improved what I assumed was polyphony drop out of notes. I think my N3 arrived from the factory with the pot over adjusted to the left – leaving me with very little full sustain function. Of course, I recommend that you have the service person associated with the store that sold you your N3 do this adjustment.

      • Dr Donal Walsh says:

        Hello Ed, Thanks very much for your post about adjusting the sustain pedal (for earlier engagement). I recently purchased an N3X subject to it being possible to make precisely the same adjustment. The Yamaha technician had no difficulty – 5 minutes is all it took to get the pedal to how I wanted it. Now I can use the sustain pedal much more easily, whether for full sustain or for ‘half-pedalling’, without being conscious of making a special effort to discriminate on depths of depression and extent of release. The Yamaha technician remarked that many other users of the N3 and the N3X had experienced the same difficulty initially, i.e. prior to an adjustment being made to the factory setting.

  17. Suzanne Torrey says:

    I have had my N3 for about 9 mos. i find the touch quick and resposive and the sound good through high quality headphones. However, the sound through the piano’s speakers is, to me, woefully inadequate. What do others think and has anyone used external speakers? The manual says it can be done with powered speakers. I’ve also noticed that when using the speakers, the sound is very low to the pianist, but uncomfortably loud to listeners sitting across from it. I’m thinking of replacing it with the C1X with silent function.

  18. Hi. I am interested in buying one of these. I saw on one site that these could be purchased for 85-95 hundred with discounts. The local place wants 11k. Wondering what you paid for it, and what others have paid ‘real price’?

    Thank you so much!

  19. Jonathan Levin says:

    I auditioned an N3 a couple of weeks ago and was impressed overall with the sound and action, however I did detect what I feel is a significant defect. When you press and hold a chord and then depress the damper pedal, the volume increases significantly and unnaturally. I’ve since seen comments from AvantGrand owners indicating this appears to be a widespread problem. Has any AvantGrand owner found a successful fix for this? The new N3X is just appearing in Europe and I’m hoping the new design does away with the problem.

    • Dr Donal Walsh says:

      Hello Jonathan, I recently upgraded from an N2 to an N3X. The problem you mention regarding the impact of the damper pedal which was present on my N2 is no longer a problem on my N3X. However, I do not know whether it was a problem on my N3X before I had the adjustment made to the damper pedal on that instrument (please see my earlier post in response to Wayne Evens and Ed).

  20. Sarah says:

    I’m wondering about the thumping also…I just tried the N3X, which was I sure was the piano for me and have been waiting for ages for this model….but I was really unhappy with the touch. I couldn’t get an answer from the showroom people whether there was the option of regulating the keys like on an acoustic piano. Does anyone know?

  21. Michael says:

    Hello Helen,

    Thanks for your review of the N3.

    If you can, when you are near a Yamaha shop that has the Avantgrand N3X, could you test it and then give a comparison with the N3? Thanks in advance.

  22. Jon says:

    Has anyone on this blog been able to try out an N3X and has anyone seen any published reviews? The only demo I’ve seen is the older YouTube with Francesco Tristano which is a bit of a marketing package. I’d love to hear an unbiased review of what’s changed besides the what’s listed in the specifications on the Yamaha web site. It surprises me that there’s so little (non-Yamaha sourced) content on the Web. There was a lot of interest when the first generation came out. The 2nd gen seems very quiet in comparison.

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