Recently I bought GS, and have tried three of the piano libraries available
for it: GigaPiano, Trachtman Steinway-C, and EastWest Steinway B.
I wanted to post about my experiences with these libraries, which have
been somewhat disappointing, and see if anyone has suggestions.
To give you some background about myself: I am a serious student of piano
and composition. I have been out of school for ten years, but I am working
hard now to prepare for going back to school in music composition.
I am using a Roland FP-3 as a midi controller. This is a digital piano
that has a very realistic piano feel, certainly the most realistic of any
midi keyboard I have tried for under $2000. (the FP-3 lists for $1600 or
$1700, I don\'t remember exactly, and I got mine new for $1400 or so).
It feels exactly like piano hammers to me. It is somewhat limited as a
midi controller. For example, no pitch bend wheel, and the velocity
curve setting is limited to \"light touch,\" \"medium touch,\" and \"heavy touch\".
The piano sound of the FP-3 is okay, but not great.
What I desire in a piano sound includes
- Beauty. Adjectives like rich, lush, sweet, round, balanced, full,
etc. come to mind.
- Avoidance of hardness or brittleness. A piano sound that is like an
abstracted \"whack\" or \"crack\" or \"doink\" would be what I\'m talking
about. As an example, the last time I heard the Kurzweil MicroPiano
it had an incredibly hard and brittle sound.
- Long and rich sustain. Most digital pianos fall down badly in this
area. I\'m talking not just about sustain time of a note, but the ability
of that note to continue to blend in harmonies for the first five seconds
or so that it is held down. If the note sustains but loses all its
harmonics, this won\'t happen.
- In the bass, good pitch definition and good interval definition. Some
pianos fail in the bass by making a sound of indefinite pitch. If I
play a minor sixth in the bass, I want it to sound like a minor sixth,
not just two thundering vague bass notes.
To amplify my digital pianos, I am using a tube headphone amplifier with
AKG-501 headphones. My setup can convey a lot of sweetness and warmth,
if the digital piano has any to be conveyed.
THE GOOD NEWS:
All the GS pianos I tried had huge advantages over my FP-3. They had
a warmer, more beautiful, richer sound. They sound like a pretty
good recording of a piano note, which is of course exactly what they
are. The long sample times allows the complexity of the evolution of
the harmonics to be reproduced. This was evident on all the GS pianos
THE BAD NEWS:
All the GS pianos I tried have faults that make them almost unusuable for
me. I am quite disappointed and almost shocked that these products would
be released with these faults---but I guess I\'m pickier than most users.
I want to play solo piano with subtle expressive shapes, and that\'s what
I can\'t do very well with these pianos (at least without tweaking them).
The most general class of problem is obvious layer switching. The GigaPiano
and EW Steinway B had this badly in their stock versions; the Trachtman is
pretty good in this department, however. What I\'m referring to is the
phenomenon that happens when you try to play a gradual crescendo. The
sound will start quiet, then get louder gradually as you increase playing
force. Suddenly the sound will be much louder, or brighter---you have
hit the magic midi velocity number where the new layer cuts in.
Obvious layer switching makes a piano unusuable for me. I try to put in
a small dynamic shading and it just doesn\'t work reliably. I suppose
not every pianist cares about obvious layer switching. For example, the
pianists that made some of the GS piano demo files I heard at Purgatory Creek
don\'t seem to be bothered by it. They play music that has coarser dynamic
changes...it is really loud, then really soft.
Of course, layer switching can be addressed by tweaking the filter
settings. I have made a usuable version of the EW Steinway B this way.
Another general class of problems is bad notes. I\'m aware of three
ways that notes can go bad: (1) out-of-tune, (2) mixed with a doink,
(3) mixed with a whack or thump.
If you play GigaPiano in the region of one to
two octaves above middle C, (which is a very critical region for
warmth and beauty), you will discover that every note has a loud
\"Whack!\" mixed in with it. I just can\'t make subtle or beautiful
music with that kind of sound. I try to play something delicately and
I can\'t ignore the \"whack! whack! whack!\" that comes out. I suppose
I notice this more in solo piano heard through headphones.
EW Steinway B has notes with thumps and whacks, though not nearly as bad.
All three pianos have out-of-tune notes. Some of them are pretty bad,
and right in critical regions.
All three pianos have notes with doinks mixed in. It sounds like some
metal part is vibrating along with the note. Although this is not usually
loud, it is musically intrusive for me. Again, the fact that I\'m listening
through headphones probably makes it worse.
Additional problems with the Trachtman: it just sounds like his piano
has problems for me. It has a very dead sustain, by which I mean I can\'t
hear sustaining notes in the harmonies, although when you play a note
by itself it seems to sustain all right. The Tractman has very tonally
vague bass starting quite early, about an octave below middle C, and
the bass cannot make intervals sound right at all. This inability to
convey intervals is by far the worst on the Trachtman out of the three pianos.
Additional problems with the EW Steinway: bass in tonally vague and not in
good tune, though it doesn\'t really get problematic until two C\'s below
middle C, which makes it quite usuable for most things. The sustain on the EW
Steinway is pretty good, except once you get as high as two C\'s above middle C
at which point it falls off like a rock.
The GigaPiano (Yamaha) has some terrific qualities in the bass: very good
pitch definition, very good interval definition. Too bad it has some
Yet another problem, which I\'ve only discovered on the EW Steinway B, is
latency built into the samples. Some notes in the bass, in the quietest
layer, sound a fraction of a second after I hit the notes. I have
done some experiments and it only seems to be this one piano library
and only in a couple octaves in the bass. I have tried to eliminate
sound card and sampler latencies as a cause. This latency is
very musically intrusive, especially because it is different across the
keyboard. I also think, although it is hard to prove, that the EW
Steinway B has subtle variations in the timing of the samples, because
with that library I keep experiencing a sense of uneven timing. This
is an almost unconscious perception so it is hard to verify now.
So, what have I done about all this? I made a one-layer piano out of the
middle layer of the EW Steinway B, adding a low-pass filter to improve
the dynamics. It works okay for now.
What should my next move be? I\'m looking at the Boulder pianos. I talked
with the guy who made them over the phone, and seemed to be aware
of the doink and whack issue, among other things, and told me he takes
care to avoid it. Hopefully he took more care overall in his sampling
and piano preparation than the three libraries I\'ve tried, although
I have no way of really knowing that until I play the samples myself.
He has one-layer versions of his pianos which avoid layer switching
Another move would be to try to combine features of the pianos: for
example, make something that uses the Yamaha GigaPiano bass together
with the EW Steinway for mids and treble. And apply filter to get some
semblence of a match. But this would be a lot of work.
I would appreciate any ideas or feedback at this point.
My email is mpm \"at\" alumni \"dot\" caltech \"dot\" edu
We\'ve kinda gone on at length here about peoples piano preferences, so I\'d suggest first digging through back messages here.
My personal preference is the east west boesendorfer, which doesn\'t sound like any of the samples you have and does address some of the shortcomings you mention. To me it\'s the only one that feels/sounds like a great piano, but there are plenty who would disagree with my preference and you may well hear differently than I.
For my playing it did need minor tweaking (I posted the basic tips here, it\'s pretty easy) but I though the basic quality and consistency and transitions were great, so the tweaks aren\'t really to fix problems here (thank goodness), really just to broaden the dynamic range and give it more sublety of voices.
IMO if it isn\'t this one or the malmso for you, you\'ve then exhaused the best of GS and you probably just need a real piano. Good luck!
On my site, the demos do not have reverb added which should help make comparing easier.
The midi file for the test piece is included in the piece1.zip file containing the demo of the Veridical Sounds Bechstein upright.
My site includes mp3 demos of various high quality sampled pianos for GigaSampler including the Bolder Sounds Steinway D and Yamaha C7. Perhaps you can try my midi file with your sampled pianos and post your comments. I think you\'ll find the midi test piece to be quite revealing of the various artifacts that you mention in your post.