Baby grand pianos are the best-selling size of grand piano by virtue of the fact that they don’t take up a ton of space, and their relative affordability, especially compared to a 9-foot concert grand piano such as a Steinway Model D which lists for around $200,000 USD!
Today we’re going to be comparing two of the world’s finest baby grand pianos as we pit a Steinway Model M vs C Bechstein L 167 in our showroom. Some might consider these too large to be considered baby grand pianos since they’re both a little bit bigger than 5’5” while others would disagree.
In any case, this is still a very worthwhile comparison of two of the world’s finest grand pianos in this size range so we’re very excited to get into it. You’ll definitely want to check out the companion video to hear these pianos for yourself.
Steinway Model M vs C Bechstein L 167 – Background Information
Steinway Model M
The particular Steinway M we played for this comparison is a restored Golden Age piano, and there’s something about Model M’s in general that we really love here at Merriam Pianos that we don’t get on Model A’s or Model B’s for example.
Model M’s are 5’7” and are manufactured both in the New York and the Hamburg factories. The one we’ve sampled for this review is a New York example that has been completely restored with all-Steinway parts such as Steinway hammers, Steinway strings, and a preserved original Steinway soundboard.
C. Bechstein L167 Concert Series
Sitting opposite the Model M is the C. Bechstein L167. It’s slightly shorter than the M at 5’6”, but both are still on the upper end of what one might consider a baby grand piano. There are a number of reasons why we were very interested to get these two pianos side by side.
For one, Bechstein isn’t shy about the fact that they have taken some inspiration from Steinway’s designs over the years, as has everyone including big players like Yamaha and Kawai. On the other hand, Steinway wasn’t shy about the fact that when they first arrived in New York and started building, Bechstein was a big influence on them.
It’s fair to say that these two piano companies have been the two dominant luxury piano brands on opposite sides of the ocean for well over a hundred years, and their widespread presence in Concert Halls attests to this. So, with that said, it absolutely makes sense to see the ways in which they’re similar and how they diverge.
Design Commonalities – Materials and Construction
There are a number of commonalities between these two pianos in terms of their technical design. Both pianos use a capped, vertically laminated bridge system (extensive laminations), extremely thick pinblocks (the M has the famous Steinway Hexagrip pinblock) and they have a very similar scaling in terms of the string thickness and tension, as well as pure copper bass strings.
Both pianos also featured tapered solid spruce soundboards (though the spruce itself is different, more on that later), and front as well as rear duplex scaling and agraffes. Of course, both pianos are also made with the highest possible level of craftsmanship.
Let’s move on to some observations with regard to piano sound.
Steinway Model M vs C Bechstein L 167 – Sound Comparison
Despite their similar size, these pianos sound very different from one another. There’s more mid-range warmth from this Steinway grand piano, and we don’t mean the mid-range of the piano, but rather the types of harmonics that really stand out on a given note.
The sound on the M also draws more into the center of the piano and comes across as a very blended tone.
Over on the C Bechstein L167, you’re given the impression that you’re playing a wider piano overall. This isn’t necessarily a good or a bad thing, but it’s a huge difference between these two pianos.
Another thing is that although the M has a good amount of cabinet resonance, there’s much more of that happening on the L167, and this is largely due to the thicker stretcher bar on the L167.
The stretcher bar also helps in providing more sound directly from the soundboard, and the effect is a sort of 3D musical expression in terms of how the player perceives the sound.
Both pianos have a phenomenal level of sustain. We actually timed it out on a concert A and the M came in at 31 seconds, while the L167 came in at about 37 seconds.
There aren’t any works of classical music we’re aware of that call for 30 seconds of sustain, but this just speaks to the overall level of quality here, and the potential for the highest level of musical expression.
Hammers – Design and Materials
Another interesting difference between these pianos is with regard to the hammer design. Steinway makes their own hammers and for the last several years, Bechstein has been making their own hammers as well, but this is very rare for the industry where most piano makers outsource their hammers.
Bechstein uses walnut moldings on their concert series grand and upright pianos, and Walnut is among the most expensive materials with which to build hammers. Walnut is quite light, but it’s also very rigid so energy loss is minimized while at the same time the hammers quickly swing back into position.
Steinway uses a hard rock maple on their hammer moldings and shanks. Now, hard rock maple is denser than the typical maple you’ll find with entry-level grand and upright piano hammers.
Hard rock maple delivers more mass than walnut, and this in turn is used to generate power, which Bechstein accomplishes in a different way.
C. Bechstein‘s philosophy has always been to generate tone throughout the entire instrument. They want a lot of cabinet tone, duplex tone, and a well-defined bloom from the soundboard. Really, they believe in generating just as much secondary tone out of the instrument as primary tone with all of it really precise.
Steinway has been always known for their very powerful instruments, especially the Steinway & Sons Model D. The particular design of American concert pre-amplification technology meant the need for loud, powerful instruments – a void that the Steinway Model D concert grand was able to fill for concert pianists. Hamburg Steinway’s are not quite as brash.
Heavier hammers can certainly help serve this purpose. The danger of course is that heavier hammers can make a piano prone to distortion, but Steinways quite famously really don’t distort even when you push them right up to the upper limits.
We’ll finish off our discussion by going range by range through both instruments and reporting our observations.
Starting over here on the M, and we’re getting really good rim activation in this register. It’s not particularly warm, but it’s quite clear and very consistent with plenty of power.
Over on the L167, the character is quite similar to the M, but a little less powerful, but also warmer, especially as you move up the bass range.
The next range often tends to be fairly unremarkable on many pianos, but on the L167, there’s so much rim activation and a ton of resonance in this particular zone. This makes the L167 an overwhelming choice for jazz since this is the area where the pianist comps with their left hand.
Over in the M, there’s less warmth and resonance, but there’s more projection, making it a great fit for jazz.
As we continue through the range, this is where the instruments really start to diverge in terms of their sound. The L167 has an incredibly precise treble range, lots of power, and beautiful sustain happening right to the very top with a stunning top C.
The M has a slightly murkier treble, but then there’s all of this other inharmonious resonance going on that really delivers an engrossing experience.
It’s clear we’ve got two excellent pianos here, much beloved by many of the world’s greatest pianists over the years.
Both are delivering a remarkably clear, powerful bass for the size, and both are giving phenomenal sustain throughout the entire range.
At the same time, the sonic experience of playing one or the other is very different. The C Bechstein L167 gives a more separated, much wider sense of sound, almost like you’re hearing it in 3D.
Over on the Steinway Model M, there’s this really beautiful washy kind of crashing into the middle of the instrument coming at you with a more blended texture.
Both pianos have really strong trebles but there’s a huge difference in the approach to how much of the actual fundamental you’re hearing versus a more blended tone.
Both instruments are available in various finishes beyond the standard polished ebony or satin ebony, with the M in particular available in a ton of exotic finishes such as East Indian Rosewood.
Thanks for reading!