The classics without compromise

Steinway’s Spirio mixes an old-world idea with the absolute latest in programming technology. The absolute pinnacle of piano perfection played by a pro in your living room? It all comes seamlessly together here.

I’m having a hard time keeping my hands to myself. Some things are so tactile you just want to stroke them.

That’s rarely appropriate, of course, and certainly not here at legendary Auckland musical instrument shop Lewis Eady, where I am surrounded by gleaming Steinway pianos. 

They are gorgeous but I daren’t ask John Eady, the most recent member of his family to run the 130-year-old business, if I can touch.  

I try not to be distracted by the instruments and focus instead on what Eady is saying about the new Steinway model, the Spirio. He explains that it’s the 21st century take on a 19th century invention, the player piano, or pianola. You’ve probably seen player pianos in old movies (particularly westerns, for some reason). The instrument plays itself, the keys moving of their own accord.  

Player pianos produced their music using perforated paper rolls. When you wanted to change the musicyou swapped out a roll. The Spirio is different. It’s run from an iPad and operates like iTunes or Spotify. Simply browse or search as you would in any music program – the database boasts a library of more than 3200 hours of music and it’s being added to all the time – select your poison, then watch and hear the piano play, like a particularly gifted poltergeist skipping across the keys before your eyes.  

Eady presses an icon and the familiar introduction to Rachmaninov’s C-sharp minor prelude peals from the Steinway. It sounds… well, like a concert pianist playing a Steinway.  

It is pure, full bodied and has that customary Steinway crispness. The pianist has a wonderful touch, too, and is obviously very, very good. Eady grins and says it’s Sergei Rachmaninov himself, digitized from the composer/pianist’s own recordings, and transported through the ether and across the decades to a shop in Epsom. It’s hard to get your head around the fact that this is not the highest of high-fidelity recordings, it’s actually the pianist – who died in 1943 – playing the instrument.   

The mechanics of the Spirio are hidden away but it uses bespoke solenoids to work the keys, controlled from a computer hidden discreetly beneath the piano; all you can see is a power cable. This is no bolt-on retrofit, it’s how the Spirio leaves the factory. 

It’s aesthetically beautiful, features bleeding-edge technology and sounds fantastic – but why would you want one? Starting at $225,000, the Spirio is not cheap. You can buy an awful lot of stereo for that sort of money. 

“You can,” says John, “but it’s still a stereo, a digital tune. The Spirio will do whatever a Steinway is capable of doing in the hands of a performer. I was extremely sceptical to begin with because everyone thinks of the dreadful player pianos you find in hotel lobbies, but when we saw what the Spirio was, we realised this is a serious piece of kit.”  

Despite the rarefied financial atmosphere in which the Spirio operates, Eady says he’s selling more of them than standard Steinways. That makes sense. Average Steinway owners are, with all due respect, rarely as good as their instruments. But they tend to love their music. With this they can play the piano of their dreams, then press a button and hear it played by a pro.  

Steinway aims to install Spirios in concert halls, the idea being that owners will be able to stream concerts in real time directly to their own instruments, potentially with a corresponding video feed. It’s Lang Lang in your living room, wrapped in a piece of wooden art. Watch those fingerprints. 

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