Roland’s astonishing 50th anniversary piano comes with flying drone speakers

Roland 50th anniversary drone piano
(Image credit: Roland)

We briefed you on Roland’s stunning 50th anniversary piano last year, but now it’s landed at CES, there’s a new surprise: drones. Or, more specifically, drone speakers.

Stuffed with Roland’s latest piano tech and promising a supremely natural-feeling and responsive keyboard, we originally thought that the most striking thing about this trad-futuristic keyboard was its one-piece moulded wooden body, made of Japanese oak, but the flying speaker reveal changes all that.

These audio-enabled drones are designed to float around the piano and augment its built-in internal 360-degree, 14-speaker system. They communicate with the instrument on a low-latency channel - Roland had to develop its own platform for this, as Bluetooth audio has too much latency -  and players can control their positioning as they perform.

The ultimate aim was to create a speaker system that can replicate the immersive sound of an acoustic piano. To achieve this, Roland created a ‘speaker ball’ to sit within the piano - these balls are positioned in the lid and on the left and right top edges. The sound field changes depending on the type of piano you’re playing, so you should get a different experience for grands and uprights.

The drones take things a stage further, being designed to recreate the reverberant reflections that you hear when playing an acoustic piano. These promise to “bathe the player in a sound shower.” 

On the downside, Roland concedes that the drones' propellers are currently "somewhat noisy", but there are plans to implement quiet drone technology as and when it becomes available.

Despite saying that the 50th anniversary piano is designed to “fill a gap in the industry” - a pretty expensive gap, we suspect - it won’t actually be going on sale, but if you happen to be at CES, you can experience it for yourself until 8 January.

Everyone else can read more about the piano’s development on the Roland (opens in new tab) website.

Ben Rogerson

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it. 

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