Native Instruments offers probably the widest range of virtual instruments from any software manufacturer. It makes everything from simulations of classic keyboards, such as the Rhodes (Elektrik Piano) or Hammond (B4), to their own synthesizer designs (Absynth, Reaktor), along with a range of sampling instruments such as Kontakt 2 and, now, Akoustik Piano.
There are already several good sampled acoustic pianos available, including Steinberg's Grand 2 and Synthogy's Ivory. Let's see if the new Akoustik Piano can give these a run for their money.
There are four sampled pianos to choose from, including the Bosendorfer 290 Imperial, Bechstein D 280 and Steinway D Concert – three of the finest grand pianos in the world – plus a vintage Steingraeber 130 upright piano. You can load any of these by clicking on its icon at the left of the main window – and they load fast! You also get a convolution reverb that sounds very realistic and not too overpowering. Use this to place the piano in a studio, jazz club, concert hall or cathedral, or use the dry signal as it is. Just click on any of the icons at the right of the main window to select from these.
A panel at the bottom of the window has controls for Tuning and Transpose, Sustain Release, Key Noise, Pedal Noise and Release Resonance. The piano notes were each sampled at several velocity levels and care was taken to capture the entire sustain and release phases. So the characteristic resonances caused by the pedals can be adjusted along with the mechanical noises of the pedals and the keys. There is also an Equalizer section, Reverb amount and size controls, and Pan position and width controls that allow plenty of creative enhancements to the sounds.
However, what really matters is whether these pianos sound better than the competition. The Bosendorfer sounds smooth and mellow, commanding and sophisticated – think Chopin, Wagner, Brahms or Leonard Bernstein. The Bechstein sounds bright, resonant and instantly attractive, making it ideal for popular music styles – think Elton John, the Beatles or even Debussy. The Steinway has a clear and well-defined sound, making it ideal for solo jazz and classical. The Steingraeber sounds surprisingly good, if a little ‘boxy'.
Akoustik Piano can be used alone or as an AU, VST or RTAS plug-in. Although it worked well as an RTAS plug-in, I didn't have much luck when using it on its own. The sound kept breaking up with the CPU overload button flashing red. Adjusting the latency and switching to the ECO setting made absolutely no difference.
does have more pianos to choose from and they all sound consistently good. And as far as its competitors are concerned, while Ivory sounds very distinctive and The Grand 2 sounds very realistic, Akoustik Piano manages to do both.