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Baldwin, QRS Team Up on Computer-Controlled Piano

MMR March 1997

Baldwin, QRS Team Up on Computer-Controlled Piano

At the close of the last century, Baldwin, Piano & Organ Co, was a major supplier of player piano. Now as we approach the next century, Americas’ largest piano maker is again positioning itself for success in the player piano market. Only this time the piano are not’t controlled by paper rolls, but by sophisticated MIDI computer reproducing systems. Baldwin has joined forces with another venerable name in music QRS Music Inc to produce an interesting new entry in the high-tech piano market. Baldwin is introducing the ConcertMaster, an exclusive computerized player piano system which will be featured in select Baldwin Chickering and Wurlitzer grand piano.

Sold only through the company’s dealer network, ConcertMaster uses a new exclusive version of QRS’s Pianomation system. The Concert Master system will be available in two versions: factory-installed by Baldwin; or as a field installed kit for use only on Baldwin; or as a field installed kit for use only on Baldwin brands. QRS will provide the system’s sophisticated solenoid assembly.

The most recent NAMM "Music USA" statistics indicate a 20 percent surge in the sale of computer-controlled pianos. Baldwin executives are confident that ConcertMaster will enable the company and its dealers to address this major market trend with a superior product.

"There’s no question that the computer-controlled piano market is growing," said Karen Hendricks, president and CEO of Baldwin. "The Concert Master system puts Baldwin dealers in an ideal position to capitalize on this trend by giving them an upper end product with proven technology."

"In QRS, we found the perfect partner for this venture," added Frank Seta, Baldwin’s vice president of acoustic pianos. "The Pianomation system is an outstanding and universally respected product, and QRS’ quality-oriented philosophy mirrors our own."

The offspring of this partnership is a winner from both musical and marketing standpoints, agreed QRS chairman Richard A Dolan. "Hearing music from a combination of our system and a new Baldwin grand is really an indescribable experience," remarked Dolan, who developed the Pianomation system after he purchased QRS in 1987. "It looks elegant and it sounds superb."

The new Baldwin Concert Master player system took about three years to develop from conception to production. As a first step, Baldwin evaluated various reproducing units and suppliers before making its decision to team up with QRS.

"We had been doing business with QRS in our Wurlitzer division, so we knew firsthand that, as a supplier they provided extremely reliable service and technical support," said Seta. "This reliability was on of the deciding factors. The other was the quality and features of the Pianomation unit itself."

When it first appeared in 1991, the Pianomation system received considerable industry attention due to its ability to store and transmit MIDI data in either analog or digital formats. This analog capability makes it possible to enjoy true audio background accompaniment with the piano music, since the system is not’t limited to digitally sampled sounds. Along with its musical benefits, Pianomation’s analog technology provides operational advantages to the user. The system can be run from a home CD player, making it extremely user friendly. Since the MIDI signal can be transmitted wirelessly and remotely, the CD player can be located in another room, where it will not detract from the piano’s aesthetics.

This exclusive QRS system met all of our requirements," said Seta "It offers superior musical qualities unique features, user friendly technology and an excellent value to the consumer.

"For our factory installed models we took QRS’s solenoid rail design and configured it to have a very low profile. The rail itself has been reduced to about half the original size, so it is very inconspicuous. Also, the new design conforms more exactly to our installation requirements."

Baldwin executives believe the ConcertMaster system will be quickly accepted by piano customers thanks to its distinctive and exclusive features. This, they assert, will make it possible for dealers to sell Concert Master at a very attractive profit margin.

"Concert Master is totally different than anything that’s out on the market, so there’s nothing for consumers to look at and make A-B comparisons," Seta commented, "The obvious advantage to dealers is that they can realize a full markup."

In addition to Concert Master ATP-2 factory installation and field installed kits, Baldwin will also offer a less expensive field retrofit unit (model ATP) next year to meet entry-level price points. As part of its dealer support program, Baldwin will be providing installation training and certification to retailers. "We will certify people in the field to install the system on Baldwin products" Seta said. "We will offer a comprehensive training program in which dealers will be coming to our plant to see our installation process. Although we will continue to work with QRS on technical issues, we intend to be self-sufficient in servicing our dealer network."

Although Concert Master can play almost any 3-1/2" floppy disk software available on the market, Baldwin will offer QRS CD titles to its dealers to sell with the Concert Master system. With thousands of titles, the extensive QRS library covers a gamut of musical styles from Bach to rock. New titles, produced by QRS are continually being added to the collection, Dolan noted.

"The QRS software is not only a good closing tool, it will also bring the customer back into the store time and again after the sale." Seta pointed out. "Every Concert Master piano sold will generate its own repeat business. This is really a great opportunity for Baldwin dealers all the way around."