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the Sensitivity setting, choose the exact dynamic level to which your force of keystrokes translates, defining this differently for different parts of the keyboard.

As a pianist who has never found playing with headphones particularly satisfying, I was highly impressed with Bechstein’s sampled grand piano sounds and the possibilities for manipulation. When I first put the headphones on and started to play, I wasn’t convinced the silent system had been activated as the sound was so realistic and all-encompassing. This was due in no small part to the quality of Bechstein’s bespoke headphones, designed exclusively for the Vario system. They are worth the additional £129.

To further replicate the acoustic experience, it’s possible to add extraneous action, damper and pedal noises and adjust them to your liking – though I doubt any pianist would desire noisy keys and pedals. Other instrument sounds, such as electric piano, organ and harpsichord, are available as expected. All the sounds were created in-house by Bechstein: Hutz recounts that even the Fender Rhodes sound was sampled from an instrument belonging to one of the Bechstein team. The intuitive record functionality makes recording quick and easy, and the metronome, which can be used concurrently with the recorder, lets you set the number of beats per bar and customise the accentuation of each beat. The fact that the app is based on MIDI means it can be used (albeit with limited features) with other MIDIenabled instruments, including most digital pianos. It is not possible to pair the app with speakers, however. The app’s interface is clear and easy to navigate. Technophiles and dedicated players will marvel at the prospect of exploiting the app’s capabilities to produce their ideal sound and tonal shading, though the choice of intricacies and subtle adjustments is perhaps a little overwhelming for less experienced players, or those who are pushed for practice time. All players will find the recording functionality invaluable, and the option to connect two pairs of headphones to the system means that Vario is open to duettists, teachers and students, parents and children, and so on. What about the touch of the piano in acoustic versus silent modes? I was playing a Bechstein Academy A124 upright and when switching between modes without headphones, I felt some resistance – almost a small ‘notch’ in the key’s path – in silent mode. But when playing with headphones, this resistance wasn’t noticeable. So, unless you are planning to do completely silent practice, this is unlikely to be an issue.

For Hutz, what has been the most challenging aspect of developing the new Vario Duet? ‘The complexity of it all!’ Hats off, then, to the Bechstein team for transforming this complexity into an intuitive, high-quality and forward-looking product for any pianist. IP

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International Piano Guide to Instruments & Accessories 9

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