MODARTT Pianoteq 7 Standard by Sound-Guy
Pianoteq 7 from Modartt
I’ve been using the Modartt Pianoteq instruments for twelve years – since Pianoteq 3.5 – and even that version impressed me. I still have the four older versions (3.5, 4, 5 and 6) on my studio system, and recently added version 7. I am astonished that none of these excellent virtual instrument packages have ever been reviewed on Gearspace. Of course, I’m just as guilty as any other Pianoteq users for not reviewing them. That stops now!
What is it?
Pianoteq 7 (PT7 from now on) is a set of virtual instruments with acoustic and electric pianos, harpsichords, mallet instruments, and others using physical/acoustical modeling rather than samples. While that would seem to create a huge load on CPU resources, it is actually a moderate CPU user at 1% to 3% total CPU on my system (depending on how many notes are playing or held on with pedaling) and it doesn’t require large memory capacity or fast transfer of reams of data from a hard drive. The current version is a lot bigger than my old 3.5 version and requires about 800 MB of RAM when operating, but has an astounding range of functions compared to previous versions.
The founder of Modartt is Dr Philippe Guillaume who initially pursued a career in piano tuning and restoration. But he wanted to do more, and thought about the possibility of mathematically modeling how a piano sound is created, and so he changed careers – in the mid-80’s he began the study of mathematics and earned a PhD. Then started research into acoustical modeling while teaching at INSA (Institut National des Sciences Appliquées), where in time he became Director of Mathematics. And to keep himself busy he founded Modartt! In the fall of 2006 the original Pianoteq software was released. It was a plug-in module only, but a couple years later they added a standalone module which really made it an excellent choice for pianists, many of whom lauded its play-ability and realistic sound over sample-based instruments.
Fourteen years later, version 7 has been getting more great reviews, several stating it is significantly better than version 6, which was already close to perfection in my experience. So what have they done?
As in the past several generations there is a range of features depending upon the version. At the simplest and least expensive version you get Stage with two instrument “packs” (you choose which two). Stage is basically a “player” version with none of the advanced editing features of the other versions (see below) and if what you want are excellent instrument sounds and responsiveness, Stage may be right for you. There are also the Standard version with three instrument packs (again, your choice) and PRO with four of your choice. There is also a PRO Bundle with all 21 instrument packs.
The basic modeling engine, the key to Pianoteq’s excellent sound and responsiveness, has been updated for all versions, assuring improvement of the existing Pianoteq pianos. One significant improvement is modeling string vibrations that can take any direction rather than vibrate only in a single plane – this allows much more complex tones to be produced.
A new piano has been added, a New York Steinway Model D Concert Grand, the Model D SPIRIO | r. The reference piano was the very first SPIRIO | r produced at Steinway’s New York facility and is a 21st century player piano that captures high resolution performance data, the dynamics, note lengths, the key releases, proportional pedaling, etc., in ultra-fine detail. The real Model D SPIRIO | r has more resolution than MIDI actually can provide (unless you use MIDI 2.0!), but you’ll need to purchase a real one to enjoy the full benefit of its high resolution performance recording, at US$216,300. For me the Pianoteq version is as fine as I need and a lot cheaper! There is still the Hamburg Steinway Model D and all the other Pianoteq instruments (see below), and all these can be used like a player piano since you can drive them with MIDI.
And there are two new major features with version 7: Morphing and Layering (both available only in Standard and PRO versions). Morphing is a unique process in Pianoteq that handles the combination of instruments at the physical modeling level rather than just mixing sound output of two instruments. It can really create some beautiful, unique sounds. Layering allows mixing several instruments, with or without keyboard splits and overlaps, so that a grand piano might play the bass notes while the piano and a harpsichord might play the middle few octaves and bells play the upper most notes. Layering mixes sounds together rather than performing the unique morphing of physical models that Morphing accomplishes – both functions are very nice to have and take Pianoteq further into sound design territory.
Each instrument pack includes from one instrument (Steinway Model D, Steinway Model B, Bechstein D 282 concert grand, etc.) to five (the Karsten Collection), and in addition to acoustic pianos there are electric pianos, harpsichords, harps, vibraphones, celesta, glockenspiel, a toy piano, kalimba, xylophone, bass marimba, and steel drums. And there are two free sets of historical instruments that include clavichord, cimbalom, harpsichord, historical pianoforte, church bells, carillons and tubular bells. If this doesn’t ‘ring your bell’ then I can’t help you!
Note that all of these instruments use physical modeling rather than samples. And this leads to another feature of Pianoteq available in the Standard and PRO versions: piano model tweaking which includes advanced tuning capabilities such as note-per-note editing of volume, detuning, and attack envelope – per note, as I said! In the Tuning section you can select from a couple dozen historical temperaments including Equal Temperament, Zarlino (from 1558!), Pythagore, Mesotonic, Well-tempered and Werckmeister III. And if that’s not enough, you can tweak individual note variance to anything you want. There is also a keyboard mapping control that includes a dozen tonal maps from 5-tone and 6-tone to 10-tone and 11-tone scales plus micro-tonal scales such as 17 or 22 steps per octave. You can also load standard Scala files and you can mix different temperaments with different scales.
A unique feature of Pianoteq is that tuning does not follow a pre-computed frequency table (except for Flat temperament) – tuning takes into account the in-harmonicity of the strings in the same way a piano tuner does with acoustic pianos. You can adjust unison width, octave stretching and direct sound duration here which gets you into rather advanced settings!
In the Voicing section you can adjust the hardness of the hammers (or sharpness of picking for harpsichords) for three ranges of playing intensity (piano, mezzo and forte), adjust the relative strength of note harmonics per note, not just an EQ across the frequency range, and adjust mechanical effects such as hammer noise and strike point (where on the string the hammer hits).
The Design section lets you change more physical aspects of the piano (or related instrument) – soundboard impedance, cutoff and Q factor, as well as changing the length of the whole instrument by reducing or increasing string length! And sympathetic resonance can be varied from none to louder than I’ve ever heard on a real piano.
The Output section includes overall volume and dynamics control and playing/recording modes. There are four playing/recording modes: Stereophonic, Monophonic, Sound Recording and Binaural. There is a VU meter, a limiter, and dynamics control. In the Sound Recording mode you have a studio emulation where you can arrange microphones settings (type, including U87, C414, DPA and others, and mic position in three dimensions), adjust the piano lid, and specify a room environment, even loading external reverb impulses for the built-in FX.
In the lower right of the main panel is a section with four categories: Action, Mallet Bounce, Equalizer and Effects. This provides further refinements on the effective design and sound of an instrument. Note that Mallet Bounce is intended for chromatic percussion instruments, including the cimbalom, but I’ve had much fun using it on a piano!
Pianoteq supports up to four pedals for any instrument preset, just like a concert grand piano, except you can choose what each pedal does from a choice of 11 modes: Una corda Pedal (soft pedal), Celeste Pedal, Mozart Rail Pedal, Harmonic Pedal, Sostenuto Pedal, Super Sostenuto Pedal, Glissando Pedal, Pinch Harmonic Pedala, a Bassoon pedal, a Buff Stop, and of course a Sustain Pedal which is a progressive partial sustain if your physical pedal can provide such control. If you don’t know what some of these pedals are (I certainly didn’t) you can check out the Pianoteq user manual link below.
And for those West World saloon piano pieces there is another unique aspect of physically modeled instruments: the Condition slider (directly below the pedals) that lets you modify the state of the instrument from mint condition, freshly-tuned to completely worn-out. More great fun! And extremely useful for a sound designer.
Note that the standalone version includes a few very useful extra functions – there is a file player that can play any MIDI file you load, and you can load several MIDI files at once and create a MIDI Playlist. In addition there is a cool feature I’ve found handy at times when “noodling” around on a keyboard – at any time, you can retrieve your recent performances played in the standalone mode. This is always active and let’s you not only re-play what has been automatically saved for you, but also export it as MIDI or audio. Very nice!
How Does It Sound?
All this fancy technology would just be marketing claims if it didn’t really work as claimed, but work it does! As many users have said, not only does Pianoteq sound like a real piano, but the responsiveness, especially with a good weighted piano-like keyboard, is top notch. And the flexibility with control over just about every aspect that affects tones of a piano (or harpsichord or clavichord or harp, etc.) is amazing.
I played Pianoteq 7 standalone and as a plug-in using REAPER and Studio One in a PC Audio Labs Rok Box PC (Windows 7 64 Bit, 4-Core Intel i7-4770K, 3.5 GHz, and 16 GB RAM). Latency of Pianoteq itself was always zero. To estimate CPU load I used REAPER’s Performance Meter and the Windows Task Manager – at idle there was essentially no CPU use. Playing moderate handfuls of notes put Total CPU use in the 1% to 2% range. Holding the sustain pedal down and playing ten finger chords brought Total CPU use to about 3%. The RAM requirement is about 800 MB, which is larger than previous versions, but not as high as many other instrument plug-ins I use. And disk activity is zero since there are no big sample files being loaded while playing.
A tremendous accomplishment of mathematical modeling – the finest playing response I’ve found with realistic results and extreme instrument design tweaking capability. For all I’ve described, I’ve just outlined the major features. You could spend all the time you want digging into all the details of all the functions if you are working in sound design. And if you just want some magnificent pianos and other related instruments, you can just load a factory preset and play away.
Improved sound quality from the last version which was already nearly perfect!
The new Morphing and Layering functions are excellent and push Pianoteq into a more serious sound design realm.
Excellent new NY Steinway piano, and more additional instruments are available than previously.
Small footprint, no huge sound library (no sound library at all), and amazingly efficient on CPU resources.
Makes the piano sample libraries I have pretty much obsolete. And some of them cost more than Pianoteq!
Not much to complain about except the PRO Bundle is rather expensive if you want everything available! But you get what (I’d say more) than you pay for.
User manual at: https://www.modartt.com/user_manual?...anoteq&lang=en