February 2024 Update

By Tom Rudnitsky Tom Rudnitsky is the designer and lead engineer of the Vidal keyboard.

Feb 12, 2024

What We've Been Up To

Pre-orders for the first batch of our keyboard closed last fall. As we made what we thought were a few last-minute changes to the action before orders started shipping, we hit upon a handful of big opportunities to improve the feel. We followed these leads, and soon discovered even more ways to improve the action. Before long, the floodgates opened and we saw an opportunity to make a keyboard that was substantial improved from the original design in every way.

We made the difficult decision to postpone shipping first batch pre-orders so that we could implement all of these engineering improvements before shipping any orders. The keyboard we'd designed was good, but we now saw an opportunity to make something truly great.

A New Name: The Vidal Piano Controller

In the past few months, development has moved at a feverish pace. We've made over a dozen prototypes, iterating and improving with each one. Alongside these design changes, we've also spent more time talking with our customers to gain deeper insight into what they want out of an instrument. Through these conversations, a clearer picture of what the Vidal keyboard should be has emerged.

Today we're announcing a new name for the instrument: the Vidal Piano Controller.

Based on feedback, we’ve shifted our design focus to making the best-feeling piano action ever in a digital keyboard. We’ve rethought every facet of the design to create an instrument that fully captures the tactile experience of playing a concert grand piano. 

Leverage and Inertia

Vidal Piano Controller prototype, side view

Our biggest design change was to remove the springs and switch to a fully inertial action. This new design has large steel weights at the front and back of the keys, creating the same feeling of inertia as in a grand piano.

Grand piano actions feel so satisfying largely due to two factors: key length and inertia. The longer a key, the more surface area of the key you can effectively use while playing, and on grand pianos, pianists can use the full length of the key to achieve subtle gradations in voicing and dynamics not possible on uprights.

Inertia is arguably the more important factor, and is a hidden parameter that defines how a piano feels. On upright pianos, keys are short and the hammers are light, so there’s not much mass or leverage in the system. This means that keys accelerate and decelerate quickly, and the margin of error for voicing and dynamics is very tight. Your fingers and hands have to make precise movements within a small range of force. Grand pianos, on the other hand, use heavier hammers and longer keys that are counterbalanced with lead weights, creating substantially more inertia.

By increasing the inertia, this shifts the range of force required to play the keys into a range in which our bodies have far more control. We can more accurately make subtle movements within a medium range of force than within a very light range.

On uprights, the margin of error for dynamics is very small. A slight change in hand and finger motion can produce an outsized change in dynamics. On grand pianos, this margin of error is much wider. This is why, despite being “heavier” to play, grand pianos offer players far more control.


How Our New Action Works

Vidal Piano Controller prototype, three-quarter front view

The only way to match the inertia of a grand piano is to have long keys and a long chain of levers in the action, or to have a shorter chain of levers and more weight at the ends. All digital pianos on the market today make a steep design compromise of having very short keys with a small amount of weight in order to create enough inertia, but this makes it so you can only play on the very front of the keys. Playing halfway up can double (!) the amount of force required to play. While this technically achieves the right feeling of inertia, it sacrifices all other aspects of playability necessary for creating a satisfying playing experience.

The Vidal Piano Controller is the first digital piano action that has long enough keys and enough mass within each key to accurately recreate the experience of playing a grand piano. The keys are 19” (480mm) long, and each key has ½ a pound of weights (250g) distributed between the front and the rear. With this amount of leverage and inertia, you get the same feel of resistance and acceleration as in a grand piano.

Despite all the complexity of piano actions, they're fundamentally just levers with weights on either end. The version of our Magnet Action that we've arrived at today distills the design of a piano action down to its simplest essence, but achieving this kind of simplicity has taken a huge design and engineering effort.

Many More Small Changes

Vidal Piano Controller prototype, three-quarter rear view

Beyond the big design changes with key length and inertia, we’ve also made many other small changes that all add up to create an incredible playing experience. Every single detail matters, and good design decisions compound to make a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Some of these design decisions include:

Improved Magnet Response

In our action, magnets gently assist in keeping a key held down once fully pressed. This recreates the feeling of escapement  or "let-off" found in acoustic pianos, where the keys lighten when disengaged from the hammer

With our new design, the magnets have been moved to as far back on the keys as possible. This way, the magnets exert holding force on the keys only at the very last 5% of key travel, creating a subtle and natural feel that mimics escapement on grand pianos. This also means that inertia is preserved throughout the full range of key travel, leading to more precise control for the player.

Every Keyboard Ships with the Perfect Feel

In place of adjustability, we now ship every keyboard with the perfect feel right out of the box. Adjustability sounds good on paper, but we listened to feedback and have prioritized a single, optimal feel. 

Key Buttons

We added thin strips of hard maple (known in piano technology as "key buttons") on top of the keys at their center for increased stability and rigidity.

New Backrail Design for Faster Repetition

We've switched from an upstop rail (limits key upward travel) at the front of the key to a traditional backrail with green felt at the rear. With the added mass in each key, this helps dampen excess motion and increase repetition speed. 

Engineered Keyframe for Maximum Stability

We developed an engineered keyframe to better resist fluctuations in humidity. This allows the keyboard to be used in a range of environments without adverse effects to playability. 

Optimized Keydip Feel

We've optimized front keydip felt design to create just the right tactile feeling when the key hits the keybed at the bottom of its travel. This is an often-overlooked but crucial part of the piano playing experience. The felt used needs to be firm enough to create a sudden stop, but also flexible enough to dampen key motion and prevent the key from bouncing back up. We've chosen classic green woven piano felts, the same used today on high-end concert grands.


The Road Ahead

We think we're on track to create the best feeling piano action ever in a digital instrument, and we can’t wait to get these into the hands of musicians. It’s been long development journey, and we're deeply grateful to everyone who's placed a pre-order so far.

We’re finalizing a few last things with engineering (we promise this time) to ensure stability in all use cases. Once the design is finalized at small scale with 3-key prototypes like the one shown above, we’ll quickly ramp up to testing entire keyboards, and shortly after that will start shipping orders.

As of today, we’re estimating that first batch pre-orders will begin shipping in late March. Once that happens, we’ll open pre-orders for our second batch of keyboards with an expected fulfillment window of Summer 2024.

For Batch 2, we’ll be exclusively offering the 88 key version. We’re a small team with limited resources, and we’ve made the decision to narrow our focus to creating a single SKU in order to make it the best product it can be.

Thank you again to everyone who has placed a pre-order with Batch 1. We couldn't do this without your support, and we're humbled by the opportunity to make an instrument with the potential to mean so much to people.

If you'd like to get in touch, feel free to send us an email. We're always happy to chat.

To sign up to be notified when Batch 2 pre-orders are available, click here.

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