The RAV Vast and Handpan, Compared

The main question that arises once you discover the world of modern steel drums is "What's the difference between them?".
In this article we'll try to explain it as thorough as we can.
If you're like many folks discovering the RAV Vast, you also heard of the Hang®, or handpan. What's the difference — they're both steel drums, right? While the Vast and the handpan are both fantastic instruments and have many similarities, there are important differences in tone, cost and availability, as well as durability. Read on for some tips for choosing the right one for you — or maybe it's both!
Similarities
First, what exactly is a handpan versus a RAV Vast?

A handpan consists of two steel shells glued together, with notes, or tone fields hammered into dimpled facets. The tone fields form a circle around the lowest and most sonorous note, called the Ding. A RAV Vast is also formed from two steel shells with tone fields similarly arranged, however those fields are cut into intricate tongues rather than being hammered, and the Vast's edge is covered by a protective rubber rim that enhances its tone.

Both the Vast and the handpan are steelpans designed to be played by hand, primarily using the index finger and thumbs. They are approximately the same size and weight. Their tones can both be described as hauntingly beautiful and resonant, and they are available in some of the same scales. Many handpan players also own a Vast, and both instruments are often played with voice, didgeridoo, and kalimba.

Now, let's consider some of the differences.
Keep in mind that RAV Vast and a handpan make a great pair, despite their differences.
Playing

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.

Durability

H: The handpan's Achilles heel is its fragility. It temporarily detunes under direct sun, and requires retuning every two years or so at a cost of a few hundred dollars, less if purchased directly from the maker. Its sensitive tone can be damaged by being played roughly.

R: On the other hand, the Vast is quite rugged and can be played hard and even survive the occasional careless drop without damage or change in tone — and never needs to be retuned. Many players choose to busk or travel with a RAV instead of their handpan, although hardcases are available. Note: although similar in size, handpans are usually slightly taller and bigger, so cases will not always fit both.

You can also watch this video introduction to our instrument:
What is RAV and how is it different from a handpan?
The article is written by David Duan, all rights reserved, copyright 2018.
David Duan
Composer, cellist, and sound healer
A Dean's Recognition Award recipient and multiple concerto competition winner, he has performed around the world with a variety of ensembles and orchestras. A graduate of New York University and the Peabody Preparatory of the Johns Hopkins University, he lives in Maryland.

Please contact david.duan@nyu.edu for information, gigs, commissions, collaboration, and more.

Instagram: davidduan
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