Occasionally, I get sent things in the post to review. Sometimes I buy a product just because I think it looks cool. This is one of the latter type.
Update: I have added a video demo here.
The original board, known as the “PiPiano”, was developed by Zachary Igielman, a young man who quietly went about the business of raising funds for the board by embarking on an IndieGoGo campaign. The campaign was a success and soon the board (which came as a kit to solder together yourself) began to get into the hands of the backers. This is what it looked like:
A few months ago, Zach was approached by Pimoroni about the prospect of turning it into a HAT and, being very sensible, and with exams approaching, Zach agreed to hand the project over to them. Enter Phil “Gadgetoid” Howard and the others at Pimoroni who took the kit and turned it into a rather attractive HAT:
Now known as the “Piano HAT”, the product was launched very recently and I quickly ordered one from The Pi Hut, having seen a few sneak peaks in the preceding weeks.
I think you’ll agree that this is one of the most attractive boards for the Raspberry Pi ever produced. It is made in stylish black, white and gold with intricate typefaces and an incredible amount of functionality built in.
The Piano HAT comes with the following features:
- 13 touch-capacitive piano keys.
- 3 additional keys for controlling which instrument and which octave you are playing.
- 16 very bright LEDs.
All the keys, buttons and LEDs can be programmed according to your needs. Because of the sheer number of controls and indicator lights, the possibilities of using it for a variety of different projects are huge. It could, for example, be used as a control pad for automation, or even to program a robot (providing you can find a way to break out the GPIO pins, which, like all HATs, get covered when you push the board on).
The Piano HAT comes with a library of software that you download from the Pimoroni website via GitHub. The install takes ages and I can’t help feel that there’s a little bit of over-egging going on. But, if all of it is necessary for it to work, I can’t really complain about the loss of about 30 minutes of time waiting for the install script to complete. A word to the wise: Do not try and do this over wi-fi – it takes much longer that way!
The library itself is typical Pimoroni: simple, easy to use and comprehensive. You can attach events to key press triggers and you can individually address the LEDs.
Along with the library, you also get a few example scripts. One of them simply loops through the LEDs. Another just listens for button presses. The more interesting examples are when the Piano HAT actually ‘plays’ music for you. There is a simple piano program which you can play whatever you like on. It even uses the instrument button so you can play the drums! There is also another script which teaches you how to play a well-known nursery rhyme by lighting up the LED of the key it wants you to play. All these code examples are excellent and can really give you ideas about what you can do with the HAT. There is also a script which interfaces with MIDI systems, but I lack the equipment to try that out.
The included instrument samples are lovely – very high quality and they sounded excellent through my earphones. If enough people ask, I’ll publish a video so you can actually hear it!
The Piano HAT is, as far as electronics goes, a work of art. It looks slick, feels slick and, with the software library included, acts slick. The buttons are just about big enough to play with my clumsy adult-sized hands, touch-sensitivity is about right and the LEDs are bright (possibly too bright… I wonder if you can reduce the brightness…). The touch-capacitive nature of the board is a joy and is a big improvement over Zach’s original push-buttons. I do, however, like the way that they’ve kept the spirit of Zach’s original – for example, the example scripts share a lot of similarity to Zach’s original included software – and have honoured his work on both the front and back of the board.
This is another winner for Pimoroni. I recommend getting one and having a play about with it – it’s lovely to use and there’s a lot of possibilities for what it can be used for other than music. I’d love to see someone integrate it with Sonic Pi – they would be perfect for one another.
I can’t fault the board itself or the software. The price is right, the design is excellent. What more can I say? 10/10