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Virtual pianos.. how to get 'em sounding good
Old 20th September 2012
  #1
Gear Nut
 
🎧 10 years
Virtual pianos.. how to get 'em sounding good

How the hell do I get a virtual piano to sound good?

I have used all of the well-regarded (ie Ivory, Akoustic Piano) sampled pianos, and all sound pretty lame in my mixes.

What can be done?
Old 20th September 2012
  #2
Registered User
 
1 Review written
🎧 10 years
Depends on what you are looking for. Plenty of people made hits with very basic piano samples (like the house piano in the ancient Korg M1). But if you are looking for concert grand realism, it's probably not going to happen for you.

The basic concept of sampling a piano is pretty much flawed - the most obvious problems are these:

1 - software developers usually stick a stereo pair in front of a piano. With few exceptions, they don't get it right, which means that the notes in the middle are very phasey when mono'd. The extremes might sound ok, but it really sucks when middle C is a phasey mess.
2 - software developers usually think they can compensate with gigabytes of samples and they sample every note at multiple levels. Most pianos have some bad notes, so this ensures you get every last second of all the bad notes. On a real piano, each note is different every time and you can forgive some character. But to have the exact same defect repeated bit for bit each time sends a subliminal message to the brain - it's not natural, it's just really annoying.
3 - the mics pick up natural ambiance - even close mic samples. In real life - there is only one acoustic space that the piano interacts with. With samples - as soon as you play chords, you are layering acoustic spaces over each other - phasey mess.
4 - when you release a piano note, there is the sound of the dampers and the vibrations decaying. The note does not release suddenly. This means that a software developer has to somehow fake this release part of the sound - and usually they will use a release sample. But the problem is: depending on how long the note has been sustained for, this release sound is at different levels. Typical sample players don't have any facility to calculate a release "velocity" - so often the release sample is really ugly and out of context. (Some samplers might respond to Note OFF Release velocity in the same manner that Note On Velocity is calculated - based on SPEED of release, which is nothing to do with how long the note has been sustained for and how loud it is at the point the note was released - totally different thing which is equally inappropriate).

The point i'm coming to is this: I hate huge giga sampled pianos. I think algorithm pianos are way better, because they use very little sample data and mostly model the sounds from scratch. Which gives far more control and interaction and realism. You can also tweak the sound a lot to emulate more piano types.

There are some modeling piano VSTi that are worth a look at. Very often digital pianos use modeling tricks that are much better than typical sampled pianos, even if they use very small megabytes of memory. And the major piano makers usually get the mono compatibility thing right (probably by using mono samples in the first place). This probably because a large part of their market will be using the piano with a mono keyboard amp and will notice little things like that.

Stereo piano often sucks in a mix ... if your piano sounds good in mono, you can apply delays and reverb to get a stereo field if necessary. Having a piano spread from East to West is usually not good ... so maybe for a start try reducing the stereo width and see what you are dealing with. Maybe take just a left or right channel ...

You can process piano with eq, compression, amp sims, even stuff like chorus or leslie .. get the driest samples/models you can and that allows you to use higher quality reverb if necessary.

Depending on the type of sound you are looking for ... you might even want to layer in a synth piano for some warmth and body ...

Just keep trying ... there are plenty of options. But hardware might be more satisfying ... they have to sound better to justify the higher price. It's not that software can't in THEORY be better, but economics dictate that OEMs don't give away the good stuff cheap ...
Old 20th September 2012 | Show parent
  #3
Here for the gear
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kiwi ➑️
The point i'm coming to is this: I hate huge giga sampled pianos. I think algorithm pianos are way better, because they use very little sample data and mostly model the sounds from scratch. Which gives far more control and interaction and realism. You can also tweak the sound a lot to emulate more piano types.

There are some modeling piano VSTi that are worth a look at. Very often digital pianos use modeling tricks that are much better than typical sampled pianos, even if they use very small megabytes of memory. And the major piano makers usually get the mono compatibility thing right (probably by using mono samples in the first place). This probably because a large part of their market will be using the piano with a mono keyboard amp and will notice little things like that.
could you suggest some modeling VSTi worthy of consideration?
Old 20th September 2012
  #4
Lives for gear
 
DistortingJack's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
The right way to do it is to find a piano sound that you love and try to emulate that with the samples you have. You'll be surprised at how close you can get.
Pianos very often sound lame unless you put the right reverb on them; instead of chasing rainbows, set yourself a target sound and work to get it; it's worked for me well so far!
Old 20th September 2012
  #5
Gear Guru
 
theblue1's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
One thing to keep in mind when working with virtualized pianos -- the pianist will almost always play to the instrument he is working with. As we all know from music appreciation class (well, us old guys, anyhow), the pianoforte was so-named because it could play from very soft to very loud -- but that (and undamping via pedal) were basically the only expressive performance characteristics directly available.

So the dynamic response curves of the virtualized instrument are something that the keyboardist will be playing to.

If, after capturing the MIDI performance, you then switch instruments to something with a different attack curve, it can drastically tweak the performance away from what was intended.
Old 20th September 2012
  #6
Gear Addict
 
🎧 15 years
I agree that the pianos in the Komplete package feel weird to play, even with tweaking the response. Gigabytes of data but just not right ... (I had Gigapiano for Gigasampler, first monster piano library that cost quite a good amount of cash back in 1999, I think I played it one minute in total, instant hate!).
There are two libraries that I like better, although this may not help with your question:
1. Alicia's Keys for a Yammy C3, very playable from ppp to fff although the fff doesn't ring like a real piano would (imho).

2. XLN Audio Studio Grand, I've only tried the demo so far but the more I play it the more I love this Steinway. Try the demo, maybe that would work for you.
Old 20th September 2012
  #7
Check out Piano in Blue or a library from a company called Imperfect samples.They are not perfect.They have some slightly tuning imperfections and noise from the hands and the pedals.But they are the most realistic staff i ve heard and seat better in a mix than an uber clean well known libraries.
Old 20th September 2012 | Show parent
  #8
Gear Nut
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kiwi ➑️
Depends on what you are looking for. Plenty of people made hits with very basic piano samples (like the house piano in the ancient Korg M1). But if you are looking for concert grand realism, it's probably not going to happen for you.

The basic concept of sampling a piano is pretty much flawed - the most obvious problems are these:

1 - software developers usually stick a stereo pair in front of a piano. With few exceptions, they don't get it right, which means that the notes in the middle are very phasey when mono'd. The extremes might sound ok, but it really sucks when middle C is a phasey mess.
2 - software developers usually think they can compensate with gigabytes of samples and they sample every note at multiple levels. Most pianos have some bad notes, so this ensures you get every last second of all the bad notes. On a real piano, each note is different every time and you can forgive some character. But to have the exact same defect repeated bit for bit each time sends a subliminal message to the brain - it's not natural, it's just really annoying.
3 - the mics pick up natural ambiance - even close mic samples. In real life - there is only one acoustic space that the piano interacts with. With samples - as soon as you play chords, you are layering acoustic spaces over each other - phasey mess.
4 - when you release a piano note, there is the sound of the dampers and the vibrations decaying. The note does not release suddenly. This means that a software developer has to somehow fake this release part of the sound - and usually they will use a release sample. But the problem is: depending on how long the note has been sustained for, this release sound is at different levels. Typical sample players don't have any facility to calculate a release "velocity" - so often the release sample is really ugly and out of context. (Some samplers might respond to Note OFF Release velocity in the same manner that Note On Velocity is calculated - based on SPEED of release, which is nothing to do with how long the note has been sustained for and how loud it is at the point the note was released - totally different thing which is equally inappropriate).

The point i'm coming to is this: I hate huge giga sampled pianos. I think algorithm pianos are way better, because they use very little sample data and mostly model the sounds from scratch. Which gives far more control and interaction and realism. You can also tweak the sound a lot to emulate more piano types.

There are some modeling piano VSTi that are worth a look at. Very often digital pianos use modeling tricks that are much better than typical sampled pianos, even if they use very small megabytes of memory. And the major piano makers usually get the mono compatibility thing right (probably by using mono samples in the first place). This probably because a large part of their market will be using the piano with a mono keyboard amp and will notice little things like that.

Stereo piano often sucks in a mix ... if your piano sounds good in mono, you can apply delays and reverb to get a stereo field if necessary. Having a piano spread from East to West is usually not good ... so maybe for a start try reducing the stereo width and see what you are dealing with. Maybe take just a left or right channel ...

You can process piano with eq, compression, amp sims, even stuff like chorus or leslie .. get the driest samples/models you can and that allows you to use higher quality reverb if necessary.

Depending on the type of sound you are looking for ... you might even want to layer in a synth piano for some warmth and body ...

Just keep trying ... there are plenty of options. But hardware might be more satisfying ... they have to sound better to justify the higher price. It's not that software can't in THEORY be better, but economics dictate that OEMs don't give away the good stuff cheap ...
Thank you for your thoughts and words. You have provided a very useful response. I will have a look at some algorithm pianos. Mono virtual pianos make sense, with width and "stereo" to come from effects.

Unfortunately my current home studio does not allow for a real piano. I would love a good-sounding upright at some stage.
Old 20th September 2012 | Show parent
  #9
Gear Maniac
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Call_me_Switters ➑️
Check out Piano in Blue or a library from a company called Imperfect samples.They are not perfect.They have some slightly tuning imperfections and noise from the hands and the pedals.But they are the most realistic staff i ve heard and seat better in a mix than an uber clean well known libraries.
+1 on Piano in Blue. It sounds really nice in the mix. If you want a "perfect" sounding piano, it's not for you. I happen to like the captured imperfections. The vintage mono mode sounds really great as well.
Old 20th September 2012
  #10
Lives for gear
 
zephonic's Avatar
 
13 Reviews written
🎧 10 years
Me and PianoInBlue don't get along. To be fair, I installed v2 only yesterday and hope that it will address some of the flaws I have pointed out here, but my first impression is not much has changed despite a new 'sample start' button.
Old 20th September 2012
  #11
Lives for gear
 
Paul in SoCal's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
If you become proficient at EQing, you can make virtually every piano sit nicely into a mix.
Old 21st September 2012
  #12
Here for the gear
 
🎧 5 years
any thought on modartt pianoteq? I am not a pianist so I can't really judge a piano synth by myself.. I use them mostly to play midifiles written with sibelius and so on..
Old 21st September 2012
  #13
Lives for gear
 
gussyg2007's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
They can sound great if played well ...
Old 21st September 2012
  #14
Lives for gear
 
🎧 15 years
One really big factor is always going to be what keyboard you are using as an input device. Many midi keyboards are lucky to generate 70 velocity increments in real use, even with various velocity curves, some keys only seem to go in chunks of 5 or 10 velo increments. A real piano will never accidentally produce FFF, you have to really mean to hit the keys that hard.

I've got a casio CDP that works fairly well, but there is no way you can get a midi velo under ~40 out of it, a keystation88 is even worse with 60 being it's ppp. Even when you get comfortable with the keys it's very hard to control the velocity when over half the range is missing, and generally with this you get stuck with a rather harsh half of the range.

Personally I have my eyes on the vax77. Meanwhile I spend a lot of time adjusting the velocity manually in order to get more realistic sounds.
Old 21st September 2012
  #15
Gear Addict
it depends on what sort of music style you after. i am into pop music production recently and have been using alicia keys piano from ni. its actually pretty good bang for a buck and it sit nicely in the mix. my recipe is a little bit of eq and layering.
Old 21st September 2012
  #16
Manufacturer contact @ GS
 
Grahamdwc's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by RyanC ➑️
......Meanwhile I spend a lot of time adjusting the velocity manually in order to get more realistic sounds.
Oh lord i know that story.
I have the keystation88....but its getting replaced real soon.

Graham
Old 21st September 2012
  #17
Gear Addict
 
🎧 10 years
I find that using the velocities to change the tone of individual notes goes a long way to helping the part sit smoothly in the mix.
Old 21st September 2012
  #18
Gear Addict
 
🎧 15 years
...and again, pespective. I am workig on this song right now, and what works perfect? NI New York Grand Piano! ....in all fairness to NI the new pianos are much better than the old Akoustik Pianos.
Old 22nd September 2012
  #19
Gear Nut
 
🎧 10 years
Send your recorded audio through a good preamp, then route back in and record.

I find doing this adds weight and realism to the track.
Old 22nd September 2012
  #20
Gear Head
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by riteup3 ➑️
...and again, pespective. I am workig on this song right now, and what works perfect? NI New York Grand Piano! ....in all fairness to NI the new pianos are much better than the old Akoustik Pianos.
Glad it works for you. But NI just repacked the same good old samples and put it in Kontakt with a new gui. If it sounds better to you, than they did really good job:-)
Old 22nd September 2012
  #21
Gear Addict
 
🎧 15 years
Probably so but to me, and that was the issue with NI's pianos, the new Steinway is easier to play, which kinda accounts on how well it sits in the mix.
Same samples, different scripts maybe?
Old 22nd September 2012 | Show parent
  #22
Lives for gear
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by zephonic ➑️
Me and PianoInBlue don't get along. To be fair, I installed v2 only yesterday and hope that it will address some of the flaws I have pointed out here, but my first impression is not much has changed despite a new 'sample start' button.
Can you please let me know if the update addressed your concerns once you give it a go round?

Enjoying some of the demos but don't own a full version of Kontakt so it's a far more expensive idea for me to pick this up at some point.

Currently use Ivory 2 and while it's certainly workable, for me it still falls a good bit short of a real grand than I'm hoping for.
Old 22nd September 2012 | Show parent
  #23
Lives for gear
 
GearAndGuitars's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Call_me_Switters ➑️
Check out Piano in Blue or a library from a company called Imperfect samples.They are not perfect.They have some slightly tuning imperfections and noise from the hands and the pedals.But they are the most realistic staff i ve heard and seat better in a mix than an uber clean well known libraries.
Thanks for the tip - seems really reasonable too, $99 for a 10GB lib!

On a similar tip, but more extreme is the John Cage Prepared Piano.

John Cage Prepared Piano - John Cage's prepared piano sounds for his Sonatas & Interludes

Old 23rd September 2012 | Show parent
  #24
Lives for gear
 
Pianolando's Avatar
 
1 Review written
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by gussyg2007 ➑️
They can sound great if played well ...
This.

I did an album with original compositions for piano and string orchestra last year. Strings was recorded live but I did all my piano work with Ivory 2 (German D). The genre is classical music I guess, many people think of "film music" when they hear it.

Noone I've played it for, musicians, sound engineers, conductors or anyone have guessed that it isn't a real piano on the recordings and all are mind blown when I tell them it is just that.

Sure, I had to work harder to get the result I wanted, the main problem here beeing the dynamics. First finding an electric piano with an awesome keybed, then working with velocity until it feels like the response it right.

This was a budget solution for sure, I couldn't afford the 3-4 extra days in the studio that it would have taken, but I'm so happy with the end result. The sound is obviously clean, in the way that all new classical recordings are clean (piano sound-wise) so if you want a more rugged and imperfect sound you have to look at different librarys, and maybe upright rather than grands, but I'm sure they exist. i guess my main point is that sampled librarys works amazingly well, at least to my ears.
Old 23rd September 2012
  #25
Lives for gear
 
Paul in SoCal's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
Not going to fork out $6,000 for one yet, but Roland's V-Piano is definitely the most authentic I've ever heard. Also the only one with true piano action, including double escapement. If you're a trained pianist, the latter makes all the difference in the world, especially in pianissimo passages, where most sampled pianos fail miserably.

The V-Piano is a hybrid sampling/modeling technology. Eventually this technology will filter down to more affordable products.
Old 26th September 2012
  #26
Deleted User #106149
Guest
fOR Β£600 you could get a Casio Privia 330. Action is great and it works wonders alongside the Ivory 2 library. Never has composing been such fun (for me).
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