A Critical Overview of Class Piano Features by Manufacturers

Also see: Everything you've ever wanted to know about Class Piano Labs

Here are the various activities which most instructors want for their classes:

- listen to students individually
- listen to the entire class
- allow students to practice in groups (duets, ensembles, etc.)

Here are some additional features which some instructors use:

- patch the output of the Control Unit to an external amplification/speaker system
- play external tape recorders, CD's etc., through the system
- interface (connect) external MIDI sound modules to each student piano
- interface (connect) a computer to each piano workstation and interact with MIDI software

All the TEACHER CONTROLLER UNITS of the various manufacturers provide the above features and consequently we do not feel that there are significant differences between the various manufacturers regarding BASIC use. Nevertheless, there ARE differences:

Company
Cost
Ease of use
Flexible
Bells & Whistles
$$$$*
Very Easy
Extremely
Lots
$$$$*
Very Easy
Extremely
Some
$$$$
Difficult
Somewhat
Some
$$
Easy
No
None
Unknown
Easy
No
None

* With Roland and Yamaha's new flexible design, it is possible to have a lab in almost any configuration from a small: 4 to 8 workstations ($) to LARGE: 48 workstations ($$$$).

**The Kurzweil KCL and the Kawai KML-SG Music Lab may no longer be available.

Company
Computer
Interface
Specialized
Software
Individual
Auxiliary
Audio Inputs
Curriculum
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
No
No
No
Unknown
No
No
No

**The Kurzweil KCL and the Kawai KML-SG Music Lab may no longer be available.


Roland GLC-1 - Positive Features: Extremely flexible and sophisticated system consists of a HUB with a basic 8-unit control panel (8 student workstations and 1 teacher station). Up to FIVE additional control panels (RCS-8EXP expansion kits) can be networked to the HUB for a total of 48 individual student workstation controls. Individual keyboards are equipped with a small mixer -- student interface unit (SI Unit) -- into which are plugged the sound output of the keyboard along with the student's headphones. The SI Units are then connected to the GLC-1 via network cables (CAT-5) which are plugged into the back of the GLC-1. Students control their individual volumes by adjusting the volume control on their keyboards. There are no volume controls on the SI Units.

Roland GLC-1 - Negative Features: None to speak of.


Yamaha LC3 - The LC3 is practically identical to the Roland GLC-1 and is even manufactured by the same company -- JL Cooper electronics. the main differences: the Roland is silver colored; the Yamaha is black. Both systems will work with any keyboard from any manufacturer.

The Roland and Yamaha systems are no doubt the most flexible Class Piano Labs and are definitely THE EASIEST TO USE. If there are serious techno-phobes in your school who are intimidated by pressing buttons on scary black boxes, then this is the system for you -- ANYONE can use this system FIRST TIME without having to read any technical manuals.

Yamaha also makes other systems. See MCL.


Kurzweil KCL - Positive Features: The KCL Class Piano Lab is great design (by JL Cooper Electronics) and it is AFFORDABLE, easy to install, and easy to use. It would be ideal for schools that are looking for a new class piano lab but who are definitely budget minded. But, these units may not be currently available. Also, Kurzweil's service generally has been notoriously unpredictable in recent years so we would not recommend the system.

Kurzweil KCL - Negative Features: None to speak of. A maximum of 16 keyboards can be used with this system and it is possible to network 2 or more systems together. With the added expense of extra headphone boxes and headsets, you would definitely be more ahead to consider the Roland or Yamaha systems if you are planning to have more than 16 student workstations.


Korg GEC3 - Positive Features: Computer interface (Windows only, but Macintosh version promised in the future) and software which reproduces the touch-screen on the computer (perhaps easier to manipulate with a mouse). Instructor record keeping software (grades, attendance, etc.) is described, although we have not seen this demonstrated. Two GEC3's can be interfaced together for a total of 32 individual workstations.

Korg sells the individual student interface (headphone) boxes separately and you can design a lab with as few and as many stations as you want.

The Korg student headphone boxes are plastic and have auxiliary audio and microphone inputs.

Korg GEC3 - Korg has committed to an unusual headphone design from Koss which uses a specialized mini-XLR jack. Consequently, "regular" stereo headphones can not be used. The Koss headphones are not heavy duty and wear out quickly. Although inexpensive to replace ($5.00), the replacement time for us was 4-6 weeks (our experience as opposed to the 3-4 weeks as advertised). Korg has recently made available an ADAPTER for their system which will allow the use of "regular" headphones ($25.00 each).

Here's a "biggie" negative. Korg will not warranty their system with any other pianos except Korg pianos. This is really stupid because the only physical connection between the student headphone boxes and the individual pianos is AUDIO and this is just a simple stereo patch cable (DUH!). Nevertheless, this is the situation and if you decide to go with a Korg class piano lab system, be prepared to purchase new Korg pianos as well ($$$) unless you're willing to go-it-alone on the warranty.

We found the Korg GEC3 touch pad to be confusing and often "fussy" -- for example, when you first turn on the system you get the GEC3 logo but you do not go to the control panel until you touch the screen. Also, the contrast control is easily changed and it is possible to blank out the screen entirely. This is particularly problematic for instructors who are not technologically inclined. We found the specialized Koss headphones which use the mini-xlr plugs to be expensive and frustrating, despite their life-time warranty. For example, with heavy use, the headphones have to be replaced at least every 6 months. To replace them, you have to ship them back to Koss along with a $5.00 service fee. We found the turn-around on getting a replacement to be at least 4-6 weeks. Korg has available an adaptor ($29.00) which will allow off-the-shelf headphones to be used. But the adaptor is configured for a MONOPHONIC microphone and all current inexpensive headsets with microphones are STEREO and have an altogether different OHM value. Consequently, the microphones on off-the-shelf headsets simply WILL NOT WORK with these adaptors. The headsets work fine. Finally, we found the student headphone boxes to be cheaply constructed and often had to be replaced. Out of a lab of 12 students pianos and 1 teacher piano, we had to replace 5 headphone boxes within 9 months.

Other manufacturers (Roland and Yamaha) have recently gone with a flexible modular design. Consequently, labs can be configured in groups of 8, which means that you could have any configuration: 8, 16, 24, 32, or 48. This is especially good news for schools needing small labs (4-8) since you can install a lab at a VERY reasonable cost. Also, it is possible to design a single lab with up to 48 workstations -- the equivalent class piano hell!

Nevertheless, Korg has stayed with their old design which means that you are locked into a system which accommodates either 16 or 32 workstations. Of course, you could use the basic controller in a small lab, say of 4 - 8 workstations, but you would still have to purchase the complete controller which has 16 workstation hookups. And it's not cheap!! The basic controller with related paraphernalia including cables, student interface boxes, and headphones for 8 workstations lists for $4295.00. A similar Roland or Yamaha system lists for $3495.00.


Yamaha MLC 100 - Positive Features: The MLC 100 is relatively inexpensive (under $3000.00), easy to learn how to use, yet elegant and sophisticated. Unfortunately, it is ONLY available directly from Yamaha (like the MIE system) and is marketed specifically to elementary schools. If this system particularly appeals to you, unless you are prepared to deal with Yamaha Corp. directly and not a local retailer, you should consider Yamaha's LC3 or Rolands GLC-1 systems instead.

Yamaha MLC 100 - Negative Features: The Yamaha headphone boxes do not have any auxiliary audio inputs. Consequently, there is no place to connect an auxiliary sound (synth) module to the individual student headphone box for those who want to do this. This is not a huge problem if you don't mind using TWO sets of headphones on each student workstation (one for the piano and one for the synth module). But, this means you now have 32 sets of headphones to look after instead of 16 (ARGGGHH!!). Most professional model digital pianos (including some, but not all, of the Yamaha Clavinova series) have auxiliary audio inputs in the back along with MIDI and auxiliary audio outputs. In addition, many digital pianos have a BUILT IN General MIDI sound bank. But our experience has shown that most elementary schools opt for inexpensive student pianos and these do not have auxiliary audio inputs or General MIDI sound banks. There are only two solutions to this problem: (1) use an add-on audio line mixer (Radio Shack, $89.95); (2) have the student headphone boxes RETROFITTED with an auxiliary input. We have not had any experience retrofitting a Yamaha headphone box, but we assume that it would be similar in cost to retrofitting a Roland box (see above under Roland). Don't even think about using "Y-adaptors" to get around this problem -- it just won't work. You end up changing the impedance of the the headphones and introducing and unbearable HUM into the audio system. A line-mixer or a retrofit is the only solution.

We have not found any negative features to speak of in the system itself. However, (similar to Korg, see above) Yamaha has a corporate sales philosophy which prohibits ALL authorized Yamaha dealers from selling this class piano system -- that is, all dealers which sell Yamaha products (such as guitars, drums, etc.) are not allowed to sell the MLC100 class piano system. Although Korg has only ONE authorized dealer nationwide, Yamaha has only one designated dealer REGIONALLY. But, you still have the problem of not being able to get competitive bids. When the system is available from ONLY ONE dealer, why should they give you a break on the price? Getting timely repairs may also be a problem when there is only one regional dealer.


Kawai KML-SG - This product may no longer be available.

Kawai KML-SG - Negative Features: The only negative feature of the Kawai system is that it is an old design. At a time when all other manufacturers have gone to ETHERNET cables for connecting audio, the Kawai system is still using MIDI cables. Don't be confused here about the MIDI cables. About 15 years ago, ALL the class piano lab systems were using MIDI cables (which were SHIELDED, cheap, and readily available) to connect the audio from the individual student headphone boxes to the teacher control unit. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with this design and it works great (it's quiet). However, ETHERNET is much easier to install, especially where unusual lengths are concerned and since ethernet cable has become so prevalent in computer installations in recent years, it has become the audio connection of choice for new class piano lab systems.

One way to look at the Kawai system is negative: it's an old design and has no "bells and whistles." But, you can look at this as a POSITIVE as well: "WOW, this is a system that is BARE-BONES with NO BELLS AND WHISTLES!!"

Also, the Kawai system MAY NO LONGER BE AVAILABLE. Check with your local Kawai dealer.


See Class Piano Lab Manufacturers.

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P.O. Box 140446 Nashville, TN 37214
Site last updated: May 1, 2013
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