“Synthogy have already set the highest standards with their acclaimed Ivory II range of pianos and I was bowled over by their sheer quality when I tested them out recently.
Bearing in mind they have released the original Ivory II (German Steinway Concert D, Yamaha C7 Grand and Bösendorfer 290 Imperial Grand) as well as the Italian Grand (Fazioli) and a comprehensive range of upright pianos you might ask why also release the American Steinway Concert D. The reason is that it is sampled from the vintage 1951 New York Steinway D which was especially selected by the manufacturers for Steinway concert artist promotion. This instrument was praised by many of the finest classical performers for its exceptional tonal qualities which explains why Synthogy were so anxious to add this very special instrument to their Ivory II collection.
The American Concert D is 49GB in size and the largest single piano in the Ivory II range. Installing, whilst straightforward, naturally takes a little while from the 7 DVDs plus you are also required to have an iLok USB key for authorisation. The product operates on Mac or PC either through the excellent Cantabile standalone program or as a VST, RTAS or AU plug-in via the DAW host of your choice. You ideally need a good quality 88-note hammer-action MIDI keyboard to gain the full benefit from these Ivory II products but it is straightforward to adjust the velocity curve to match your particular keyboard if required.
Once installed I was naturally eager to listen to so I loaded up the American Concert D and turned my volume level quite high as people often underestimate the sheer power of a full-size grand piano. I pressed the sustain pedal and immediately heard pedal sounds and the ‘swish’ of the dampers being released. I hit a very low C pretty loud with the sustain pedal on and was rewarded with a beautiful, resonant bass sound which sustained for over 30 seconds with no artificial looping – just the pure sound of a Steinway bass.
Playing through the piano range the whole instrument is wonderfully balanced with bright ringing trebles and a rich, expressive middle register. I was immediately struck by the dynamic range possible from this piano where you can switch from the quietest pianissimos to thunderous crescendos and fortissimos just through key touch and this really makes you feel like you are playing the real acoustic instrument.
Synthogy’s American Concert D has been sampled at up to 20 velocity layers which is a very important factor as when you play a note with increased velocity on an acoustic piano the sound does not just become louder but also subtly shifts in overall tone colour. Therefore unless the piano is sampled at all these different velocities then the result will not be truly convincing especially regarding dynamic playing.
When you play a real acoustic grand you have an astonishing dynamic range at your fingertips and this same range of expression is also present in this great product. The designers of the Ivory range have also really mastered the problem of conveying sympathetic resonance which is so vital to the sound of an acoustic piano. With sympathetic resonance other strings apart from the ones you are playing also produce subtle overtones in response to the vibrations of the notes being played. The phenomenon occurs even more when you use the sustain pedal and is a quintessential feature of the overall timbre of a piano lending complexity and richness to the sound. This aspect is so well produced in Ivory II’s American Concert D that you quickly forget you are playing a piano produced through a computer as it just feels organic and compels you to keep playing.
I was perfectly content with the wonderful sound of the American Concert D at its default setting but you can adjust just about every aspects of the the overall sound through the excellent Ivory II interface. When you load the piano you are presented with many different preset variations including ‘American Concert D II’, ‘Carnegie Hall American’, ‘Vintage Jazz Ballad’ and more than twenty others. The presets are set up with differing levels of reverberation or adjustments to the overall tone perhaps brighter or more mellow. However you can make your own settings and then save them as extra presets to ready for instant recall. You can adjust the resonance of the soundboard, the sustain resonance, the sympathetic resonance, pedal noise and lid position such as fully open, short stick or closed. You can set the stereo perspective for the performer’s aspect or the audience viewpoint. Then there settings to adjust the key release, key noise, timbre, dynamic range, trim and stereo width.
When you play an acoustic piano key loudly but release immediately the sound does not stop instantly and I have played some electronic sampled pianos where the notes stop far too abruptly when released and therefore immediately sounding artificial. Ivory II allows you to adjust all these many aspects to tailor the sound precisely to your needs. There are also many effects presets to simulate the sound of larger or smaller halls or rooms and once again the level can be adjusted.
I have become a huge fan of all the Ivory II collection pianos but I think the American Concert D is now my favourite of them all. It is rich and rounded and has warmth but at the same time is bright and cutting so can cope easily with so many different genres of music. When you consider the retail price of around £140 it really represents remarkable value for money. In fact if you were to purchase a top end digital piano costing several thousand pounds you would not get anywhere near the tonal resolution and musical satisfaction presented by this remarkable sampled piano. It is a pleasure to play and I think the Synthogy team have done an exceptional job in reproducing this classic concert grand Steinway piano.”
– Tony Cliff
Visit Tony’s website here
Why not take a listen to the Ivory II American Concert D audio demos and make your own mind up?