The W. Hoffmann line of pianos from C. Bechstein are made in the Czech Republic by C. Bechstein Europe. They are quality instruments made by piano makers that draw on the longstanding experience of the Czech people in virtually all areas of precision manufacturing and musical instrument construction. The Vision Series is the entry point into the W. Hoffmann brand, which Bechstein has strategically priced in direct competition to Yamaha’s CX series and Kawai’s GX series, creating one of the only European alternatives to the Asian competitors in the mid-range. The v158 is the baby grand within the Vision line (and W. Hoffmann Pianos generally), are quickly becoming a popular choice within our showrooms.
Stu Harrison of Merriam Pianos gives a wide-ranging video discussion on the piano, with accompanying article. We hope you enjoy!
For context, this is the full range of Bechstein acoustic pianos (grands listed below), including the Vision series:
- C. Bechstein Concert – Models L167, A192, B212, C234, D282 – Made In Germany
- Bechstein Academy – Models A160, A175, A190, A208, A228 – Made In Germany
- W. Hoffmann Professional – P162, P188, P206 – Made In Czech Republic
- W. Hoffmann Traditional – T161, T177, T186 – Made In Czech Republic
- W. Hoffmann Vision – V158, V175, V183 – Made In Czech Republic
- Zimmermann Standard – Z160, Z175, Z185 – Made In China with German Control Procedures (QC) and Supervised Construction
W. Hoffmann V158 Baby Grand Piano Review Video Transcription
Hi, everybody and welcome to another piano review. My name is Stu Harrison and today, we’re looking at the Bechstein-built W. Hoffmann V158 baby grand piano. It’s part of their Vision series. It is a baby grand piano – about 5-foot-3 in size – and something that we’ve had on the floor for many years now. We internally refer to it as a “fan favourite” or certainly one of the most popular models in its size and its price range. And it occurred to us, we had never actually shared our thoughts or a review on this model with you so we wanted to circle back and make sure that we could just deliver some great information to you at home to help with your shopping. And expose you to this instrument if it wasn’t one that was already on your radar. And so, we’re going to be talking about its touch, its action, obviously, how Bechstein builds this piano, exactly where they do it. You know, people always have questions about exactly what’s done and where? And is this is a German piano or is it a European piano? So we’re going to cover all of that. We’re also going to let you listen to the instrument.
We’ve got a great AKG 414 microphone set up. We’re going to take that and pump it through a little bit on this review as well as a separate listening review so you can just hear the piano on its own. And ultimately, just give you a better experience at home to do some shopping before you have to start trekking out and hunting down piano stores.
So, once again, thank you very much for tuning in to the channel, tuning in to this review. We’re going to get started right away.
W. Hoffmann: “The Sound Of Europe”
So, let’s cover the first thing that often people have a question about because they know the C. Bechstein name or the C. Bechstein brand as a company, it’s right at the top echelons of the piano industry. I mean, the Bechstein, generally its nickname is the king of pianos. In Europe, I know 2018 sales figures put it as the number one producer of premium pianos in the entire European sales region. So, I mean, this is something that they’re very dominant in. But, a lot of those instruments are well over $100,000 and if you’re talking about an upright, it could easily be $30,000, $40,000 or $50,000. And so, when we look at a grand piano like the Vision series that is kinda floating in the very similar price range to what you might be looking at a Yamaha C3X or say, you know, a Kawai GX-3 grand piano or something like that, immediately, we get questions about well is this really a Bechstein product or is this just simply a stencil? Meaning, that Bechstein has branded it, Bechstein has designed it but it’s not actually Bechstein making the piano. So I really wanted to address that first because I think it’s the easiest one to address but it’s often one that people sort of hesitate on really investigating the instrument because they’re not sure what the answer is.
So, first of all, this is not only a Bechstein designed product but is it a Bechstein-built product? So this piano, rather, is manufactured in Europe. This is built in the Czech Republic by Bechstein at Bechstein’s factory and so that whole part of the company is referred to as C. Bechstein Europe. Really, it’s just their Czech piano making operation, about a three-hour drive down the road actually if you look at a map from their German manufacturing headquarters. The pianos are built in excellent facilities; in fact Bechstein bought the old Bohemia production site, and invested over 50 Million Euro in modernizing an upgrading it. Additionally, C. Bechstein Europe draws on a very rich local tradition of piano building, so the workforce is familiar with how to make successful instruments. It’s also made the integration of the two factories all the more seamless. That collaborative dynamic truly sets it apart from a lot of other instruments in this category where you sort of have higher-end brands that are paying other factories to actually produce pianos for them and then they’re able to label it so that they get a nice, you know, vertically integrated brand. Steinway does this with Boston for example. The Boston has some Steinway design elements but ultimately it is a Kawai-built product that they make in Japan and with a few models also in Indonesia.
So, is every single component in the piano completely made in Germany or in Czech? The answer would be no. This is very common, first of all, for any piano except if you’re dealing with the very, very, very high-end. Even some of the German brands such as Schimmel or Bluthner that have come up with sort of German certification, don’t actually certify that the parts are entirely of European origin. And it’s getting increasingly rare to find that and it’s for the simple reason that some of the best manufacturing of steel or the best manufacturing of aluminum parts is actually coming from, you guessed it, China. And so with the Vision series on the W. Hoffmann V158, what you’ve got is a strung back which is actually made by Hailun. And so, for those of you who don’t know, the strung back typically refers to the plate and the soundboard, sort of, it’s almost like a cartridge that kinda fits into the piano. Hailun makes a great strung back. So anyone who’s feeling like this maybe as a knock against the instrument, do a little more reading. Obviously, you need to, you know, make this decision for yourself, feel comfortable about it but for us, this is something that makes a ton of sense. Hailun is really good at this. There’s many companies that are hiring them to do this. Plus, Bechstein already had an affiliation with Hailun because Hailun of course builds Bechstein’s Zimmermann brand. But besides that, every other aspect of this piano is manufactured and assembled in the Czech Republic, by highly qualified Czech staff. So the frame, the action, all of the stringing is done in the Czech. All the finishing is done, the polyester, you know, as it says, it is a European manufactured product.
Components and Features of the W. Hoffmann Vision V 158
The Vision Series (including the V158) uses a number of high-quality components normally associated with much more expensive European pianos. This includes the “belly” or back-frame of the piano, the use of agraffes, Bechstein double-felted hammerheads, acoustically-neutral cast iron plate, hardwood-laminated pinblock, and of course solid spruce soundboards. In fact, the v158 uses an Austrian white spruce soundboard, an indisputably premium material. It tends to be a slightly less warm sound than say a Sitka but a bit of a better sustain in the mid and upper mid partial region. So you tend to get this almost bell-like tone out of white spruce pianos. No different on the W. Hoffmann Vision V158.
The action is also a Bechstein designed and built action, which they call the “Silver Action” – the same parts and design that they use in the Bechstein Academy line. It gives a pleasant touch – one with ample control, fluidity, and range.
Regarding the Bechstein hammerheads, they’re one of the only companies left who’s actually bringing all of those kind of technical action related stuff in house. Beyond ensuring that all of their instruments retain Bechstein’s unique singing European Voice, This is something that’s being done very deliberately because of course the European piano manufacturing industry has been shrinking and shrinking and shrinking. And so, every time you have the manufacturer that closes up shop and either sells the brand to a Chinese interest or just completely ceases operation, you’ve got other supplier companies that now have less of a customer base for them to keep going. And so, you’ve seen fewer and fewer of those suppliers, you know, plate makers and action makers that are looking robust and looking like they’re going to make it through the next 10, 20 years. So Bechstein, is looking way down the road, they’re seeing the opportunity to bring this stuff back in house. And so, like Kawai, like Yamaha, they’re bringing all of that stuff in house, hammer manufacturing, action design, all of those things. And you’re getting that right from the Vision series up on the W. Hoffmann.
Side note: the Vision series is available with the vario system for a fee – at this time, the Vario cannot be purchased after sale, it must be factory installed…although there are rumours that in 2020 they will be made available as a retro-fit kit.
It’s got a tonal range that is going to surprise you. It’s certainly something that has a ton of very, kind of, mapley Steinway-esque I would almost describe it, mid-tones when you’re in sort of the piano, mezzo-piano range. But the minute that you climb up into a forte or a fortissimo, you get these really nice bell tones coming out of like third partial, fourth partial.
It’s a really a nice orchestral palette that makes this model such a unique musical gem. And that’s something that you’ll read about a lot in Bechstein’s literature, this concept of an orchestral palette. It’s happening partially because of the hammer design and how they weight it, you know, the material that they build the core out of, it’s double-felted of course. This piano is also equipped with duplex scaling, so you’re getting a really nice strong treble.
And then, down in the bass…for me, a much clearer bass than what you are going to get out of a similarly priced Yamaha or Kawai. It’s not that I don’t think those other instruments have a great bass. They’ve got a very nice warm bass but there’s a clarity that you’re getting on this. Even just single bass notes down at the bottom octave, you’re not sort of getting all these crazy overtones where isolated, it would actually be hard to tell which pitch you were playing. Which is kinda common in less expensive 5-foot class pianos unless you’re paying some absurd price for like a Fazioli, you know, F156 grand piano or, you know, a C. Bechstein 167 model. I mean, those are exquisite small pianos but they’re well over 100 grand. This is a third that price being a very affordable baby grand piano.
So, in summary, this instrument presents an interesting option to me for a very specific type of buyer out there which is someone who’s set out with probably either a Kawai or a Yamaha in mind or, you know, a budget, let’s say, in and around the $30,000 price range, they don’t wanna double that, you know, they’d love to find something a little bit less. But generally speaking, that’s the comfort range. And without doing a little bit of digging, that’s probably the majority of the suggestions that you’re going to be receiving from people, is look at a Kawai-built product, look at a Yamaha-built product. Those are kind of the Honda, the Toyota, you know, of your piano world. There might be some slightly less popular options that you can start to look at say from a Samick manufacturer. But generally speaking, that’s kinda the paradigm. So what this presents is another company that’s doing full vertically integrated product lines, drawing technologies and designs down for much more expensive things. Just like the Shigeru and the Kawai, you know, trickling down into the GX, and presents a generally different musical option. It’s not like this play is the same and it’s just a different brand on the front that has a different tone, it has a different touch than what you’re going to get from either a Yamaha CX series or a Kawai GX series. And it gives you the third option which is always great to find out that there’s another option out there that is just going to give you, you know, a different palette for you to choose from because you never know when you sit down, what you’re going to fall in love with.
So once again, here is the Bechstein-built W. Hoffmann V158. A fantastic baby grand piano for you to check out. I hope that you found the video to be useful, giving you some new things to go and research, Google. Be sure to check out just the playing video if all you wanna do is hear the instrument played and of course, we’ll see you back for another piano review, I hope, shortly. Good luck, and happy shopping.