The Grand

Steinberg has recently introduced the ultimate grand piano Virtual Instrument plug-in for VST 2.0-compatible music software. They have sampled a top-quality grand piano, without using loops to sustain the longer notes, and they have modelled just about every feature of the real piano – including the pedals, the damper and hammer action, and so forth. This is a no-compromise piano intended for professional use. So you don’t get any electric piano sounds, vibes or whatever, and there is only a simple Ambience control – no built-in room sound or reverb effects. Three pedals are provided for sustain, soft and sostenuto – the middle pedal that sustains a chord while allowing single notes to be played without sustain. Click to edit
A click on the Edit button switches the display to the Edit window where you can adjust various settings. You may need to compensate for the MIDI-velocity characteristics of whichever MIDI keyboard you’re using to play The Grand. Different MIDI keyboards produce different ranges of velocities, and different players play within different ranges of velocities. For example, the DX7II keyboard does not produce the highest MIDI velocities, however fast you hit the keys, while the Yamaha KX88 does. A selection of seven preset curves are provided to adjust The Grand’s response to match most keyboards and playing styles – and you can create up to three custom curves for an even closer match. A Volume Sensitivity knob lets you affect the way that velocity influences volume. Reducing this from 100 per cent compresses the velocity range so that played notes sound more even in level. This can be useful for popular styles of music – but not for classical or jazz where the full dynamic range is normally used. You can change the overall response of the piano using the four Sound Character buttons – Natural, Soft, Bright or Hard. The Soft setting damps the higher frequencies to suit ballads and mood music. The Bright setting suits solo work and contemporary styles, while the Hard setting has a compressed volume range so that it can be made to sound louder and punchier. Noiseless
The Grand has been recorded without any room sound or ambience – as if in an anechoic chamber. This is great for professional work, where it will be used in a variety of contexts, each of which will require a different room sound or ambience. You can add this using a digital-reverb unit, or by replaying the sound of The Grand through loudspeakers into a real room and re-recording the sound of the piano together with the sound of this room. An Ambience control lets you add a little ambience – useful when listening on headphones while setting up. However, this does not produce a high-quality sound, so I recommend that you keep the Anechoic Chamber setting switched on at all times, and add your own room sound. In the Global Performance section, you can choose how many Voices – or notes – can be played at the same time. You can reduce this number to conserve computing power. When you hit a note with the Sustain pedal pressed, the dampers are lifted off all the keys inside the piano, and all the strings resonate in sympathy with the note you just hit. Typical samplers cannot emulate this effect, but The Grand can – using its True Sustain Resonance feature. Also, when you hit a piano key and let go, the felt damper falls on a string that is still vibrating. This is not damped instantaneously – it takes a small but perceptible amount of time. Steinberg refers to this as True String Release, and has emulated this effect in The Grand for added realism. When a key is released, the hammer makes a quiet, but perceptible, woody sound that can be heard by the pianist and anyone sitting close by. Steinberg refers to this as True Hammer Release and has emulated it in The Grand. These three True features can be switched off to lighten the load on your system even further. True Sustain Resonance doubles the number of voices to two per note to achieve its effect, so turning this off lets you use up to twice as many notes. True String Release and True Hammer Release take effect only when keys are released and the Sustain pedal is pressed. With these features off, The Grand starts to sound similar to a typical sampled piano. Of course, if you’re doubling the sound of The Grand with electric piano or strings, you’ll never hear these subtleties, so you might as well turn them off and save some processing power. You can also use the Quality slider to lighten the load on your Mac – at the expense of tonal quality – and the Disk Streaming slider lets you tweak your system to stream the sound data – mostly from hard disk – or to load as much as possible into RAM before playback. If you have lots of RAM, this is the way to go, although if you have a screamingly-fast hard drive, and not so much RAM, then streaming from disk makes the best sense.

OUR VERDICT

If you need the next-best-thing to a real grand piano to use with your VST 2.0 compatible music software, then The Grand is the best you can buy right now. Other software samplers offer grand piano samples, but none include all the extra features that Steinberg has added to enhance the realism so effectively. Highly recommended.

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