History of the Disklavier

Article Index

Wagon Grand
Starting in 1989, Yamaha began marketing the Disklavier system in the various grand piano models that were available at the time. The control unit had a rather substantial power supply that required it to be housed in a 30” cabinet on wheels that was often referred to as a wagon. Lacking a more formal model designation, these instruments became informally known as Wagon Grand Disklaviers.

Like the MX100A&B, the Wagon Grand featured hammer sensors. It also featured 16 increments of incremental pedal recording—an important step forward in the evolution of the instrument. Like the MX100A&B, the Wagon Grand recorded on DD floppy disks in E-SEQ format.

DC3E PE Wagon Grand 500x398Mark II and Mark IIXG
A number of consumer and standard models of Disklavier were introduced in the early-to-mid 1990s. Most noteworthy were the Mark II and Mark IIXG systems. These were available in the studio model, U1 upright and in most sizes of grand pianos.

The first of these was the Mark II, which made its debut in 1990. In the case of the upright version, the control unit was built into the cabinet, as it was in the case of the MX100A&B. The control unit, however, was much more sophisticated, offering many more options for copying song files, MIDI configuration, and so forth. The instrument recorded on DD floppy disks in E-SEQ format but was able to play song files in the SMF format known as Type 0.

The Mark II control unit for grand pianos did not have a wagon control unit. Instead, a relatively small control unit was devised for this instrument and mounted under the keys.

The Mark IIXG followed the Mark II in 1992. Its control unit was a bit smaller but was packed with many new features, including:

• Built-in tone generator with 128 General MIDI (GM) voices with drum kit as well as Yamaha’s extended GM voice set known as XG.

• Multi-track recording.

• Recording in SMF Type 0 format.

• Playback of both SMF Type 0 and Type 1 song files.

• Support for both DD and HD (high density) floppy disks

• Conversion of song files between E-SEQ and SMF

• Built-in memory for storing song files.

• More features for song file management.

• Improved support for MIDI interaction with computers.

• Support for future firmware upgrades.

During the 1990s, it was possible to obtain an upgrade kit that would upgrade a Mark II to a Mark IIXG.

Disklaviers with Silent Systems
During the era of the Mark II and the Mark IIXG, a number of upright (U1) versions of the Disklavier were introduced that had a Silent system. The Silent system provided a mute rail which, when engaged, would allow a full keystroke but would prevent the hammer from hitting the string. This made it possible for the pianist to play the instrument with headphones on, listening to an advanced digital piano sample.

The Silent system was not available in grand piano models until the Disklavier PRO was released.

Disklavier PRO
The year 1998 marked an important historical moment in the evolution of the Disklavier. The new PRO Disklavier—with a Mark IIXG control unit—offered unprecedented recording accuracy and playback realism.

With improved solenoids and a new moving magnet sensor and key sensor servo, the Disklavier PRO was capable of recording and playing back performance data with greater resolution than the MIDI spec normally accommodates.

Prior to the Disklavier PRO, all models of Disklavier were somewhat limited with respect to their playback dynamic range. Thunderous chords would be played back a bit softer and whisper quiet playing would be played back a bit louder.

The Disklavier PRO, on the other hand, was capable of reproducing the full range of dynamics—and it did so with 8 times the resolution of normal MIDI data, recording hammer velocity, key down velocity, and key up velocity on a high resolution scale of 0-1023. The instrument used normally unused MIDI controller messages combined with key aftertouch messages to store the extra bits of resolution in a Type 0 Standard MIDI File. This high-resolution performance data was called extended precision or XP data.

With the introduction of the Disklavier PRO, pedals were no longer limited to 16 increments but were recorded on a scale of 0-127, thus taking advantage of the full granularity of the MIDI specification. The PRO even recorded and accurately reproduced brushed notes, keys that were moved slightly during the performance without the hammers actually hitting the strings.

Available only in C3 (6’ 1”) and larger grand pianos, the Disklavier PRO looked outwardly like any other Mark IIXG Disklavier. Its control unit provided the same user functions as other Mark IIXG pianos. There was one additional important difference, however. The Mark IIXG PRO was the first Disklavier grand to include the Silent system.

Within three years of the initial release of the Disklavier PRO, a firmware upgrade added the capability of recording and playing back MIDI performances that were synchronized with MIDI Time Code (MTC). When used with a SMPTE/MTC converter, Disklavier PRO recordings could be synchronized with video using industry-standard time code.

In 2002, the Minnesota International Piano-e-Competition made history by enabling pianist Yefim Bronfman to judge the Minnesota competition from Japan. The sonata round of the competition was recorded with a Disklavier PRO concert grand piano with synchronized video. The video and MIDI performance files were uploaded over the Internet and reproduced for Bronfman in Japan, where he watched the contestants on a large screen and listened to a concert grand Disklavier reproduce the performances.