There is misconception being circulated by the Yamaha haters that Yamaha pianos are excessively bright, or cold sounding. This is often true of smaller, cheaper but certainly not true of the larger, superior models. The Yamaha U3, for example, has a very smooth rich tone. I would encourage you not to make your mind up based on playing one of those smaller, cheaper models and reserve judgement until you’ve sat down at the Yamaha U3 to see why it is so popular amongst piano teachers, concert pianists and ambitious students.
My Yamaha piano showroom in Manchester usually has over 20 Yamaha U1 and/or U3 pianos in stock and so I get to compare all of the different tones that are possible from these models. Some are mellow, most are somewhere in the mid-toned range and the odd one is bright. My standard advice is that you should choose a mellow one if you are worried about making too much noise, choose a bright one if you need the piano to fill a particularly large room or for a choir rehearsal room or a dance hall, but otherwise, for most people the mid-toned Yamaha U3 is the most appropriate choice as it is mellow enough to play very softly but still able to handle those Fortissimo passages.
It is certainly best to make a visit and spot these differences for yourself as tonal preferences are a very personal thing.
Room acoustics also play a part. A large, softly furnished room can handle a bright piano whereas a small, hard room would be best suited to a mellow piano. In reality, most rooms are somewhere in between soft and hard and so the medium-toned piano suits best.
I would say in general that a Yamaha U1 tends to be brighter than a Yamaha U3. The U3 has that extra depth and smoothness of tone whereas the U1 can sound like it has a bit more attitude to the tone which can often make it more suited to jazz or pop where instant, bright sounds are often more desirable.
Another factor is the age of the piano. Another general rule to work by is that a younger Yamaha piano is sometimes perceived as being brighter than the older ones. I prefer to stock Yamaha pianos from between about 1975 up to the mid-1990s as I find them to have a rounded and balanced tone.
Customers often ask me to choose a piano for them and I will always ask what type of room the piano is to go in and providing that the room isn’t too hard or too soft then I will recommend a nice, mid-toned Yamaha U3 for them.
I hope this has been helpful. Feel free to view my stocklist above or drop me an email with any further questions to email@example.com