I received my Steinway library yesterday, and had a chance to get some quality time with it. Here are my first impressions after just a couple of hours of play.
Beautiful hardcover book with DVD insert sleeves bound in as well, keeping everything neatly in one place. The interior is heavy color stock, and the content has very thorough descriptions of the software, recording process, installation, usage, and history of Steinway & Sons.
Couldn't have been much easier. I went for the standalone and VST plus the full 24-bit installation for all perspectives, which took no longer than about 20-30 minutes to get all 5 DVDs worth of material loaded on my machine. It was easy to install the player on my main drive and the library on a secondary drive.
Very pretty and friendly to boot. There were just a couple of small things that could be improved in my opinion. The wet and dry settings of the Ambience reverb don't have a visible numerical value, and it's hard to see exactly where the bottom of the slider is as it's black on near-black. The velocity curves are very nice to have, but I found it a tad difficult to switch between them. I also would have preferred more variations ("S" curves can work well for some). It would have been amazing to have the ability to draw your own curves and maybe even save them, but I suppose that's asking a bit much.
The alternate tunings interface allows you to import a tuning file (many included), but I would have preferred a simple drop-down menu for this. Also, importing the tuning did not update the display to show which tuning I had currently in place. I'm sure this will be fixed soon enough.
I know you skipped down to this part... It's ok, I understand.
I started with the standalone, and went through the different perspectives one at a time while improvising at the keyboard. I was very pleased with what I was hearing. It sometimes took some careful adjustment of resonance and reverb to get a perspective sounding just as I liked, but when that sweet spot was hit, it was a thing of beauty. The release samples were evident, ending each note with the very subtle but important sound of a damper coming to rest on the vibrating string instead of a quick volume fade.
I did some A-B comparisons to the GPO and JABB pianos, which turned out to be quite revealing. The first big difference was most noticeable at pianissimo levels, where the Steinway had much more detail, and a more realistic delay.
In the highest register, the Steinway really blew away GPO/JABB for realism. One problem with the latter two (and with most libraries) is an unnaturally long sustain for the top couple of octaves. As it slowly tapers off, it sounds more and more synthetic. Not so with the Steinway, which simply sounded like a real piano playing real notes.
Unfortunately, I do not have a weighted keyboard, nor any pedals beyond an on/off sustain switch, so I can't give very much information here. All I can offer is the subjective opinion that it felt "easy to play." The sounds matched what my fingers were trying to do. The biggest improvement for me personally was the control I felt I had at the extremes of the dynamic range.
I opened two recent Sonar files of etudes I'm working on, dropping the Steinway in where JABB had been. The first thing to note is that if you've rendered a work with another library, you'll likely want to edit the MIDI before rendering it with the Steinway. I found my etudes were now too soft, a result of the extended dynamic range covering mezzo-piano and downwards. A quick edit put this in place. The other change I made was to very slightly lengthen most of the notes.
Making these adjustments and a few other minor velocity changes, I was now hearing my pieces in a whole new light. These works were input at the computer, not played in (too difficult for me), yet my brain was telling me otherwise. Big smile ensued.
Another point is the importance of the sympathetic resonance in one of my etudes, where an overpedaled section gives way to a silently held chord. It's not possible to silently play a note on the Steinway, but it was very easy to "cheat" that portion of it, and have the held chord come through exactly as intended.
I have a dual-core PC with 4GB RAM. I keep my programs and OS on one drive, and all my sample libraries on a fast second drive. It's a pretty nice system, but it's already a year old, so some of you probably have better.
I was able to run the 24-bit professional samples with 32-note polyphony, sustain resonance, sympathetic resonance, and note-off samples at a very low latency setting (about 6 ms, I think). I neglected to note the exact CPU usage inside of Sonar, but I seem to recall it was very low.
People are going to buy this library once they get a chance to hear it. A LOT of people! I didn't know how much better my music could sound until I heard it anew last night. I can't wait to get back in the studio to do some more work/play with it. I'm now convinced I need to go back and re-render all of my works that include piano.
I'll post a sample etude perhaps this weekend to show off a bit. I was intending to hold off until I had completed all of the etudes, but I'm guessing people are eager to hear more demos at this point.