Since it was released a year ago, Synthogy‘s Ivory II has received numerous first class reviews in the press with huge acclaim for the features that the new engine presented including the impressively realistic Sympathetic String Resonance.
As great as these reviews have been, we wanted to get the opinions of a composer who regularly uses virtual pianos but hadn’t yet experienced Ivory… and that’s where Emmett Cooke comes in.
We interviewed Emmett back in July about his composing work and minimal piano music style and since then he’s been checking out Ivory II Grand Pianos against his existing piano software. Here’s his review…
I write a lot of music for music libraries – in particular piano music – and have always been keeping an eye out for new piano software.
I’d heard a lot of talk about Ivory Grand Pianos II being one of the best piano VSTs out there, so was really keen to try it out. What I was greeted with once it arrived was a beautiful sounding, simple to use and non-clunky piece of software that really blows its competitors out of the water.
I’ll start with the installation as that’s where the journey always begins!
On opening the box, I discovered there were 11 dvds to install – not unusual for a lot of high end vsts nowadays and considering its 77gb in size, this makes sense. I started the install at 4.30pm and it finished at around 6.15pm – around 10 mins to install per DVD. Annoying to have to sit through two hours of installation swapping the dvd every 10 mins, but it has to be done.
Loading up the software was fairly simple, although I had a few unrelated issues with my iLok along the way.
Once I had Ivory Grand Pianos II opened in Cubase, I was pleasantly suprised to find a simple and intuitive interface. One issue I find with a lot of new software is that it can be complex with a steep learning curve, but was happy to discover that Grand Pianos II had moved past this and created a simple yet elegant interface that contained everything required initially on the main screen, with extra options on other tabs for when you want to start being a bit more creative.
Stereo perspective: You can change the stereo perspective to either performer or audience, meaning hear what the performer hears, or hear it from the audience perspective. A nice touch!
Lid position: Very handy in my opinion. I like having the ability to customise every part of the piano sound and love that they added this. Options available here are full stick, half stick, short stick, closed lid and flap open. I always went with full stick as it gave me a lovely open, warm and resounding piano sound.
Pedal noise: You can turn on or off pedal noise during playing. In my opinion, this feature goes to show that they have really gone all out in their search to create the perfect piano vst.
Ambience: You can choose to add additional ambience sound you would hear when playing live – a great feature if you find yourself recording a piano track and want to give it a natural touch.
Harmonic Resonance: From their website: “Harmonic Resonance Modelling for the most realistic Sympathetic String Resonance possible”. They really hit the nail on the head with this. For those who don’t know what it is, harmonic resonance means if you play a note on the piano, it will basically also make some strings related to that note also resonate slightly. This is perfectly captured in Grand Pianos II, and adds another level of realism to the sound.
About the only thing that didn’t impress me with Ivory Grand Pianos II, was the “Synth Layers” – additional synth sounds you can add in on top of your piano sound. I’m not sure what they were thinking when they included these, but to me, they sounded almost cheesy and I couldn’t think of any situation where I could possibly use them. Their website says “Optional synth pad layer for modern/pop combinations”, but I don’t think I’d ever use them for modern or pop recordings.
I played around quite extensively with the UI and changed the voices to the maximum 160 to see if my computer could handle it and it had no problems at all, which I was actually quite suprised at. The entire engine is very stable and efficient and gave me no problems at all – surprising me again.
My current setup is a Virus Ti Keyboard with a set of KRK RP5 monitors (soon to be Adam A7xs!), and a custom PC with 24 gigs of RAM, SSD hard drives and i7 processor. Grand Pianos II comes with 3 pianos:
– Steinway D Concert Grand
– Yamaha c7 Grand
– Bösendorfer 290 Imperial Grand
The first thing that struck me when I loaded up the Steinway D Concert Grand patch was the bottom end sound. Many piano libraries miss out on this in some fashion, but Ivory seem to have captured the true resounding sound of the bottom end of the register. The Steinway has been beautifully sampled and everything is there from the natural piano sound – the treble tones especially brought out perfectly.
The Steinway was my favourite of all the instruments on offer, but a close second for me was the Bösendorfer. A dark and rich tone perfect for the type of music I write. The Yamaha was just as I expected it to be before I even played it – bright and jazzy. I’ve played the real Yamaha C7 myself and was happy to hear the original tone was sampled perfectly – I’d call it an almost “tinny” sound, very light and bright compared to the Steinway or Bösendorfer.
I tried the Bösendorfer last and knew what my expectations were yet again, having played the real Bösendorfer 290 myself also. Similar in some respects to the Steinway, but more brooding and dark.
What I liked about Grand Pianos II was its ease of use. Having never used it before, I was easily able to find all of the knobs and buttons required to change any sounds and settings and made the entire experience enjoyable. Everything you need is within the same screen and properly labelled, and any further settings you might need are on extra tabs calls “Session”, “Effects”, and “Preferences”.
A brilliant sounding piano VST with a simple UI and stable engine. Some features that would have been nice would be additional mic positions, but with what’s on offer here, its really hard to find the negatives. It’s already on my Christmas wishlist!
Click here to read our earlier interview with Emmett about his work