Steinway VS Chinese Piano – Can You Hear the Difference?

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Welcome to, I’m Robert Estrin. Do you think you can hear the difference between a Steinway and a Chinese piano? Many of you probably think it would be no problem. But it may be surprising to you what you hear. There have been studies on wines. When people think a bottle of wine is expensive, they’re always going to choose that as being a better wine. There’s a subjective nature to the taste and the bouquet of wines. Well, the same is true of pianos! Now, I’m not suggesting one is better than the other. I’m going to leave it up to you to decide. I’m going to provide you with a blind listening test!

We will be comparing a Steinway to a Chinese piano in our blind listening test!

I went through the archives of Living Pianos, because we have hundreds of piano videos, and I found two grand pianos of about the same size, both in brand new condition. One is a Steinway and one is a Chinese piano. The Chinese brand shall remain nameless for right now. At the end I will reveal which is which. But don’t cheat! Don’t go forward on this because I want you to really critically listen. If you’ve got good speakers or headphones, use them so you can really hear the instruments. Then I want you to write down your answer. Write it down on a piece of paper. I’m serious about this! Because it’s easy to change your mind once you know the answer. But if you commit it to paper, then you can’t argue that you thought something different. It’s harder to tell than you might think!

I found recordings of the beginning of the second movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 7 in D major, Op. 10, No. 3. It’s the same exact piece of music you’re going to hear on both of these instruments. Remember, don’t cheat! I want you to really write down which one you think is the Steinway and which one is the Chinese piano so you get the most out of this. Here we go!

See video to hear for yourself!

That was an interesting listening experience. I bet many of you have very definite ideas and some of you may be wondering which one is which. Well first of all let me tell you what these pianos are and then I’ll tell you which one was first and which one was second. The Steinway is a 2010 Model O which is right around 5′ 10″ in brand new condition. The Chinese piano is the 2017 Hailun Model 178, also 5′ 10″.

So which one was which? Have you written it down on paper? I’m serious about this because it’s easy to cheat yourself. You don’t want to be wrong here, do you? Because there’s a drastic price difference. You could buy several of those Hailuns for the price of a Steinway. So which one is which?

The first performance you heard was the Steinway and the second performance was the Hailun.

I don’t know how many of you are shocked and how many of you got it right. But there’s no right or wrong answer because every piano has something to offer. Every piano is unique. If you play several brand new Steinway model O’s in the showroom, each one will have a unique character of sound, as do the Hailuns. All pianos are made of wood and other organic materials and are highly crafted.

Now, I should tell you that there was a slight difference in these two performances. The first one was made later in my studio where I had much higher end microphones. I had a pair of Neumanns recording the Steinway and I only had a pair of Audio-Technica 4033s, which are relatively inexpensive large diaphragm condensers on the Hailun. So they were recorded in different rooms with different microphones. So this wasn’t totally scientific. The Hailun didn’t have the benefit of expensive, high-end microphones. But nevertheless you can get some idea of the different characteristics of the sound of these pianos. It was an interesting playing experience. I can hear what I went for and what came out on these performances. But I’m more interested in what you heard! Be honest in the comments. I’m very interested in how everybody responds to this! Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at, Your Online Piano Resource.

Steinway 2010 Model O Grand Piano – Living Pianos Online Piano Store

New Hailun Model 178 Grand Piano – Living Pianos Online Piano Store
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32 thoughts on “Steinway VS Chinese Piano – Can You Hear the Difference?”

  1. 2021.03.08

    Dear Robert,

    This was an easy one for both me and my wife!
    We listened to a few phrases of the Beethoven
    as you played it on each piano
    and immediately, we bot agreed that
    the Steinway was Piano #1
    and the Chinese piano was Piano #2
    Perhaps that is because,
    many years ago before we moved to a tiny apartment
    we had a Steinway Model S in our home.
    As Artur Rubenstein said:
    “A Steinway is a Steinway,
    and there is nothing else in the world like it.”

    Charles and Diane Beck

      1. I have to say that I liked the sound of piano #2 better. It seemed more mellow. Of course, this is through the micro speakers of a computer screen!

  2. I did not say Steinway or Chinese. Instead I listened for tone and number 2 stood out as richer and more clear. This was a fun endeavor.. thanks, John /Brooks

  3. Dear Robert:
    Very interesting the video. I knew the first piano was a Steinway, because the sharp 90 degree angle of the corners at each end of the keyboard. I wanted to keep my eyes closed before the piano #1 showed up in the screen, but I couldn’t help for a second to take a look and saw the sharp corners.
    Now, in terms of sound, I believe the Hailun sounds much better, but of course, this is very subjective. As you said, each piano is different. I have played Steinways that sound really fabulous and others not so much. I have never played a Hailun, but for what I have seen in youtube videos they seem to be doing a good job. It has to be seen if the last, but it might be still too soon to find out since they have not been too long in production.
    Thank you for the video

  4. My ears are
    Loosing hearing and that mmay be the reason that for me although both sounded pretty much the same I tended to like the sound of nr 2 betterin a couple of occassions..thought it was more clear

  5. I agree with Brooks’ comments in that piano #2 had a richer sound.
    What really turned me off was the metallic sound of the bass in piano #2 (although it may have been the mikes).
    Thanks Robert!

  6. Hi Robert
    Got the Steinway right being no 1
    It has a more noble tone . I find the Hailun as good as it is, it’s more tinny to my ears particularly in the tenor and base.
    I am a piano tech and a Mason fan. I have had around 30 grand pianos in my life including Fazioli

    1. People with vast experience with pianos as you do can sometimes pick out the unique sound of a Steinway. At some point I may reveal how playing these pianos feel different from one another.

  7. I didn’t try to guess. They sounded very similar, and it’s been over a half century since I played on a Steinway. I had never heard of Hailun before I started getting your emails. The Chinese are very good at imitating. It’s a trait of Asian culture. They sounded very similar. That said, I think the Hailun has a sweeter sound. The Steinway sounded harsh. Disclosure: I do not like the action on Steinway pianos. On the other hand, I’m boycotting China hoping that someday the people will be free of their totalitarian regime. On the third hand, if the piano were made in Taiwan, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy one if I wanted one. But my research says they’re in Communist China.

      1. I know, but I try anyway, and I’m getting better at it. If I have to not buy a product at all, that’s what I do. But seriously, if it weren’t for the Communist regime and the fact I already own a wonderful grand piano, I would consider the Hailun.

  8. Dear Robert,

    Very well done video. I could tell the difference between the two simply from the timbre within the first two bars, but this is what I do for a living. The Chinese piano was prepped very well for this it really was an interesting video.

    Nice job and thank you for making it. I enjoyed it!

    1. It is amazing how good a well prepped, high quality Chinese piano can sound compared to a top tier, hand-built piano! Congrats on hearing the sonic signatures of the pianos!

  9. Granted it was close, but I picked the first piano as the Steinway. The difference? The inimitable Steinway bass sound. I know it well since I lived with a concert pianist for a couple of years who owned two vintage Steinways, an L and an O, and I practiced on them frequently. Myself, I own a Young Chang G-157 and several electronic keyboards but there’s nothing like a Steinway. Wish they were more affordable.

  10. The differences were clear. The first was definitely Steinway. There was more “depth”, more sense of subtle overtones, more personality in the midrange that some might not like. The second one was more uniform, smooth. I recognized the sound as I own and play that piano, the Hailun 178. It is the same with finger style guitars. A Collings is precise, clear, excellent, but without personality unless you are really fortunate and get a special one. My handmade from a small builder just sings in contrast.
    The Hailun has been an excellent piano, but I admit that I am ready to move to something more …? Perhaps I need an older, larger Steinway such as Model B.

  11. hello Robert, I found this quite difficult as they both sounded good. After hearing the first one I thought it was the Chinese, but then during the second one I started having second thoughts. On my computer and speakers both piano basses sounded a little thin. Perhaps if each was a larger model the basses would have sounded richer. After all that , after both I felt that overall I slightly preferred the Chinese model in many aspects. So for the price I would be satisfied to own the Hailun! But a great and interesting video. Leigh

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