H: The handpan sounds somewhat similar to the Trinidad steelpan that inspired it, although the handpan has a distinctive, veiled character instead of the steelpan's brightness. The handpan's shape and internal cavity create what's called a Helmholtz resonance, endowing it with a buoyant, crisp, and pure quality. Due to its short sustain — typically a few seconds, varying based on maker — the handpan is well-suited to fast playing and repeated strokes. Strokes outside the tone fields (between the fields, or on the bottom shell for example) carry great resonance as well, giving the handpan almost unlimited percussive possibilities. Due to its resonating mechanism and the challenge of hammer-tuning low notes, handpans tend to be higher pitched.
R: How about the RAV? The tone of the Vast is, well, vast! Deep and mysterious, its bell-like sound has a meditative quality. Responsible for the Vast's exquisitely rich voice are the 4–7 tuned harmonics in each tongue, the most of any steel drum in the world, which also allow for great variation in tone via harmonic isolation. The tongues are connected by design and interact with each other to a much greater degree than the handpan, allowing interesting interplay and thrumming or cascading effects. The Vast can be played like a handpan, or intoned to sound like a gong or singing bowl using mallets. Central to its character is the RAV's powerful sustain, with a single stroke lasting 10 to 20 seconds depending on the note and playing technique. The Vast can be played quickly and percussively like a handpan, and shines in medium and slow tempos where its complex sound has time to fully blossom.
Cost and Availability
H: The handpan was born as the Hang®, Bernese German for "hand". After its original makers, Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer of Switzerland, stopped producing the Hang® in 2013, budding builders began making similar instruments, calling them handpans. Today there are a huge variety of quality makers around the world, and accordingly a profusion of available scales and tonal models, some having a slightly longer sustain or darker quality than typical. Buying a handpan is an adventure in a dizzying array of choices, usually followed by a long wait. The price of a quality handpan ranges from about $1800 to $3000USD and beyond — most makers have an extraordinarily long waiting list and use lottery systems and flash sales to make pans occasionally available. Waiting a year or more is normal. Secondhand handpans are available for immediate purchase on eBay and other sites, often at a higher price and possibly in inferior condition. There are also a number of online scams to watch out for.
R: In contrast, buying a RAV Vast is rather simple. The Vast was invented and continues to be produced by a single maker, Andrey Reymannikov's RAV Lab. Ranging from $650 to $850USD, depending on the scale, they are also made to order but typically ship within a few weeks or months.