Introduction

C. Bechstein’s Zimmermann line is a re-designed, re-engineered line of piano that provides one of the more successful marriages of Asian manufacturing and German designs and oversight. Zimmermann is a long-established German piano line that C. Bechstein purchased, and maintained Germany manufacturing for a brief period before making the decision to shift production to China and keep the brand active, making it an affordable price as the entry point into the Bechstein family of pianos. W. Hoffmann remains Bechstein’s European entry point with their Vision series.

For full context, here is where Zimmermann fits in to the overall Bechstein ‘ecosystem’

  • 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

The Z185 is the 6′ model, and Stu Harrison of Merriam Pianos takes us through a full video review and related article. We hope you enjoy it.

Zimmermann Z185
Zimmermann Z185

Zimmermann Z 185 Standard Grand Piano Video Transcription

Hi, everybody, my name is Stu Harrison, we’re back with another piano review here at Merriam Pianos, and we’re in our Oakville showroom just outside of Toronto, Canada. And today, we are looking at the Zimmermann Z 185 Standard 6-foot class grand piano. This is a brand new model for us. We’ve also just done a few videos on Zimmermann’s upright pianos which are also really exceptional instruments for the price. And what I love about it is we’re able to provide a credible, genuine alternative to the Kawai / Yamaha debate that many musicians and parents find themselves in, whether they’re looking for a grand under 20k, or an upright under 10k. For a 6′ grand piano, I think the Z185 provides a phenomenal third option to consider. And the differences are clear in design, feel, and tone – which makes it even nicer…it doesn’t muddy the waters and keeps the choices between the three distinct and unconfused.

So today in the video we’re going to do some playing on the Z185, we’re going to explore the action and its feel, and we’re going to be talking about the tone. I’ll probably give you some musical impressions of mine about the instrument, and, of course, discussing a little bit about how this piano comes to be, and wind up, perhaps one day, in your home.

Designed By Bechstein

C. Bechstein Upright Pianos
C. Bechstein Upright Pianos

So, as soon as you start digging into Zimmermann, you’ll come across the fact that Hailun is the production site for Zimmermann instruments. And I bring this up for a few reasons – the first is obviously in the name of full disclosure, since it’s far past the point in the piano business where it’s ok to obscure the product source; but secondly, because I first played Hailun probably back in about 2006, 2007, I had a chance to try one of their grands and was thoroughly impressed. And I remember saying to Alan Merriam at the time “this is a great action.” He’d already had a chance to play it, he agreed, and it was quite clear that they were modeling their action design off of the Renner action, which, of course, so many high-end European pianos still use as their primary action choice when they build their instruments.

Piano Action

Hailun has continued to advance as a manufacturer, the design, the quality control, everything has just moved forward in the 10 years or so since I’ve had a chance to try it the first time. And it’s quite clear that when Bechstein restarted their Zimmermann project and chose Hailun as their manufacturing partner, that the Hailun action that was going into the grands. It’s not identical to a Hailun, but there is a resemblance there for sure. There have been some slight geometric modifications made to it, and, of course, the refining and the regulation process that the Zimmermann’s are going through is a little bit beyond what a Hailun would go. But the general character is still there, you’re getting an action which feels very fluid. Repetition speed is excellent.

It has that slightly shallower key action, which makes it so nice to just, you know, do run, scales, anything, nice and fast over. And right out of the box, this comes very, very well regulated.

In reference to the Kawai or Yamaha comparison, this doesn’t feel like a Kawai; it definitely feels a little bit lighter than what you would find on the 6’2″ GX3, or the 5’11” GX2. And the lightness is a little more akin to what you get on the Yamaha, say, C3X. However, the tone and the response is nothing like either one of them. So, you really are getting a completely new beast with the Z185.

Bechstein’s Quality Management

The Bechstein quality management system, which is this tag that you see over on the side here, really has more to do with the action and the hammer setup than anything else on the piano, because, although Hailun is a manufacturing partner and certainly adhering to Bechstein’s European criteria for the overall construction and tolerances associated with it , Hailun isn’t just cranking out Bechstein-stamped pianos. (There are many examples of where you’ve got higher-end brands who simply contract an Asian manufacturer to mass produce the instruments, and then, of course, they take credit for virtually everything on the instrument.)

Bechstein actually has one of their engineers at the factory, full time, on the floor supervising the employees who specifically do the final assembly, and regulation, and the hanging of the hammers, and the stringing the piano for the Zimmermann project. This level of supervision and oversight limits how many instruments they can produce, and you’ll see that the number on that quality management system tag is pretty low. On this grand, it’s still under the 3,000 mark, so they’re not putting out very many pianos given that it’s close to a decade that this arrangement has been in place.

So, even though this feels a little weird to say, it’s, quite frankly, the reality: this Standard Z 185 grand is a limited-production Chinese piano and has a substantial amount of hand craftsmanship in it. And I would wager the combination of the Bechstein design, the Bechstein quality control system, overall the aesthetic demands of Bechstein, and the fact that you’re starting with a proven Hailun platform, makes this, likely, one of the top two, or three, Chinese-built pianos that you could possibly buy today anywhere in the world under any brand. And, an instrumente that really does approach an eastern European quality grand piano.

Piano Tone

Unlike the uprights, the grands are actually something that we did a significant amount of voicing to out of the box. You know, dealers are not always gonna agree with the manufacturer’s choices, and in this case, we thought that the Z185, as it was shipped, was a little bit too bright. Now, when you talk about a grand piano or an upright piano that is using a white spruce soundboard, white spruce, as a character, tends to be a little bit more on the brighter, clearer side to begin with. On top of the fact that they had the hammers voiced a little bit brighter, and the scale design tends to produce more of a mid-range clarity than this big, sort of, woofy base, the first thing we did was, we took a layer of felt off and we did some needling, not right on the top of the hammer, but more around the shoulders, just to give it a bit of a cushion, and just start to draw out some of those mid tones, which are absolutely, clearly there. So, if you’ve got a dealer that has the capability to do this, and otherwise, you really like the instrument, just have a conversation with them, see if this is something they’re willing to do. Or if you’ve already had a chance to try Zimmermann somewhere, and your first reaction was that that was a bit too bright, well, again, have the conversation, see if they might be open to working with you on a little bit of voicing to try the instrument again. But as I said, we’ve been really, really happy with the Z185, with a bit of concert level, concert type voicing that we’ve done on the hammer.

Speaking of the hammer, we’ve got a mahogany core, that’s, again, quite unusual for the price point, and the piano is equipped with a duplex scaling, which, of course, is those extra little silver ridges on the other side of the treble bridge. It’s definitely setting a new benchmark in piano-making for Asian-built, German-designed pianos that goes beyond simply delivering consistent quality…it starts to move towards nuance, It’s to bring out some of those extra high-end partials, add some clarity, and also add some power. This is, kind of, similar to, on a pipe organ, adding, like, mixtures on top, which are not necessarily perfectly in tune, but, sort of, interact and intersect with the other harmonics to actually create, sort of, peak waves. It’s, kind of, like, the equivalent of like a high-end rogue wave but in the middle of the frequency.

Moving down the range, you also have a clear tenor and bass on the instrument. How is this gonna be different than a playing experience on, say, a Kawai? Well, like I said, the action is gonna feel a little more shallow, and I would say that it takes maybe a touch more experience as a player to have the same level of control as you can get out of the Kawai with their Millennium III action, which, of course, is a hard one to beat in the first place. But there is more clarity in the bottom end than what I would get out of a similarly sized Kawai, in my opinion, whereas the Kawai is gonna give you much broader warmth, and much more base tone even though there’s a little bit of less clarity.

The Kawai treble is just different, it’s a little hard to put into words. If you have the opportunity to play them side by side, you’ll know what I mean. In fact, leave me a comment if it’s something that you have had a chance to do.

But anyway, to wrap up, we’ve got the Z185 Zimmermann grand piano, designed by Bechstein, supervised fully by C. Bechstein, and, of course, partnered with manufacturer, Hailun. A phenomenal 6-foot alternative to a Kawai GX-3 or a Yamaha C3X for a little less money, but certainly, still in a very, very similar quality range, and presenting a genuinely different musical experience for you to consider.

Please check the links for just the playing video if you just wanna hear the piano and how it musically presents rather than listening to me talk about it, we’ll make sure that the link is really easy to find. And once again, thank you for joining us for our piano review. Happy shopping, we hope you have enjoyed the video. Leave us any comments or suggestions for future videos, and we’ll see you back next time. Thanks.

Browse our Zimmermann Pianos.