VR for the ultra-rich classical music fan

I recently speculated on my personal blog about what a Superbowl halftime show might feel like in the metaverse of the year 2025. What about right now? If your idea of peak experience live entertainment leans more toward a Chopin recital by Chinese virtuoso Yuja Wang (pictured) than NFL playoffs, and you’re dripping in disposable cash, your virtual reality (VR) head rush awaits.

Steinway has produced self-playing pianos for many years. Now they offer a version that plays, in real time, performances by concert hall superstars.

Music once performed in the homes of royalty, now available to their modern counterparts

When you think of the metraverse, your first thoughts likely jump to the VR goggles that surround you with three-dimensional visual experiences. Aural immersions are rare. But if you think of an analog playback device engineered to give you an authentic listening experience, these pianos fill the bill. (And don’t call this device a mere example of the Internet of Things (IoT). It’s unfair, or at least insufficient. This is no “smart television.”)

How is this innovation being funded? By investors who understand that the market for these pianos isn’t vast … until you factor in China. Consider the extraordinary Yuja Wang. She is the product of a culture prizing both classical performances and, if these numbers account for anything, piano ownership …

Steinway filed for an IPO in April, where they mentioned that the piano market in China is the world’s largest: China accounts for an average of around 400,000 pianos sold annually from 2017 to 2020, compared to a paltry 30,000 per year in the U.S. for the same period.

97% of concert pianists used [Steinway] pianos at their concerts in the 2018-2019 season

Impressively, the IPO also contended, “Though we are only one of many manufacturers who make pianos for the concert-hall stage, approximately 97% of concert pianists used our pianos at their concerts in the 2018-2019 season [ the last time period measured due to the Covid pandemic].”

It’s no wonder then — with this near monopoly on their brand found beneath the exacting fingertips of maestros — that Steinways would seek to connect those fingertips via the cloud to their self-playing pianos.

Companies like Meta are investing heavily to someday lure us to their mediated VR worlds. Meanwhile this is one VR experience that can be had today — with a six-figure investment in the “goggles.”