Applied Acoustic Systems
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The venerable Rhodes and Wurlitzer electromechanical pianos are two of those classics, and we actually have both in our studio. Popularized in the ‘70s and ‘80s, these are still being used in new and interesting ways in today’s music across most genres. But as cool as these pianos were (and are), they were challenging to record and were a bitch to move. The Rhodes weighs in at 150 pounds! What’s a modern musician to do?
Applied Acoustic Systems has made the gigging and recording musician’s life much easier with Lounge Lizard, a soft synth that reproduces the Rhodes and Wurlitzer electromechanical pianos. First introduced in 2002, Lounge Lizard has won many fans over the years, and EP-3 is the latest generation of the product, taking an already great product and continuing to evolve it further.
Lounge Lizard EP-3 replicates the Rhodes and Wurlitzer via physical modeling, recreating the electromechanical operations of these devices through software programming rather than taking a samples-based approach, which is useful for nailing one specific sound but less useful for capturing the full nuance of an acoustic sound source.
Because there are no samples, EP-3 uses a small memory and hard drive footprint, great if you’re gigging with a laptop computer as your soft-synth host. There are well over one hundred presets across both pianos, and all parameters are editable. Even better, there is a “Classic Tracks” menu from which you can select presets based on famous songs from Herbie Hancock, Jamiroquai, Super Tramp, Gentle Giant, the Doors, Queen, and the Guess Who.
Lounge Lizard hits a home run in all departments: EP-3 sounds great, and scores high marks for ease of use and overall versatility. If you need a Rhodes or Wurli in your setup and you make use of soft synths in your rig, you just can’t go wrong here.
Lounge Lizard EP-3 is a modeled virtual instrument — no samples, and it recreates the classic Rhodes and Wurlitzer electro-mechanical keyboards. The idea behind modeling instead of sampling is to enable maximum sound-sculpting control, in which EP-3 delivers.
The left side of the window displays the names of your presets (see image at top). They are divided into Guided Tour (about a dozen presets to quickly show you different features), Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Custom Electric Pianos (presets made with a very specific sound quality already defined), Classic Tracks (i.e., “Riders of the Storm”), Signature tracks (Presets made by Christian Halten and Martin Walker), and Experimental (which offers synth-like and ambient sounds by pushing the sound engine in unusual ways).
One final, and interesting, folder under the presets list is the “MIDI Links” collection. MIDI Links let you automate any combination of panel controls in real time using an external controller, and in EP-3 there's a folder of supplied examples. There are links such as mod-wheel control of Tremolo and other effects, but there are also various pickup-related links that control pickup symmetry, distance, and output level simultaneously in varying amounts and relative directions. These provide lots of performance options, and it is clear that AAS had EP-3 in mind for live stage use and not just as a studio instrument.
The right side features the various knobs and controls for sound editing. Designed with black knobs on silver backgrounds, it imitates the look of the original pianos. There are two panels of controls, and an “A” and “B” button to flip the screen to view either control set.
The “A” panel gives access to the effects (two independent effects plus a reverb setting; the effects include chorus, vibrato, flanger, wah, phaser, distortion, filter, and various delays), tuning (ever try alternate tuning on a real Rhodes? We didn’t think so!), transposing, a simple MIDI recorder, and volume controls.
The “B” panel gets to the real meat of sound design. This panel has controls for mallet, fork, damper, EQ, and pickup settings, which are all a big part of the final sound. Remember, the Rhodes and Wurlitzer pianos use real moving parts to strike tines (or reeds, in the case of the Wurlitzer) to create sound, so all the mechanics involved are an integral part of the sound (i.e., how hard the mallet is, where the pickup is located above the soundboard, etc.).
The ability to essentially build your own Rhodes or Wurli piano is very cool, and even better is that it sounds great! But, hey… wouldn’t it be great to also include a Clav sound with the two other vintage instruments? That would make this great product even sweeter, and perhaps the only vintage keyboard plug-in needed in our “modern classic” rig.
Installation was straightforward. Download the tiny program (only 9 MB!), and enter your serial number to get your challenge/response code. That’s it! EP-3 is available in VST, RTAS, AU, and Standalone modes. The CPU requirement is also remarkably small, with minimum requirements of only 512 MB of RAM and a 1 GHz processor. Of course, both AAS and MusicPlayers.com would recommend more than that, but it is always refreshing to find great new apps that don’t require a costly hardware upgrade in order to use them successfully.
We ran EP-3 on both a 2.26 MHz dual-core Macbook Pro with 2 GB memory as well as an eight-core 2.8 GHz Mac Pro. EP-3 worked great on both, and it ran equally well in both standalone mode and as an RTAS plug-in for Pro-Tools 8. Of note, EP-3 can also run on Pro Tools 7.x, for those who have not upgraded yet.
We really liked the interface for EP-3. AAS has struck a great balance of giving the user all the controls they need without cramping the display or using hard to find/mysterious links to key parameters. True, you are only working with piano sounds, which on the surface may seem like not many parameters are needed, but this isn’t a modeled acoustic piano. These electro-mechanical instruments have many components involved in sound creation that wouldn’t be present on a traditional piano.
AAS’s use of the “A” and “B” screens is so simple sounding, yet it makes everything readily accessible. Changes to parameters were instantaneous, and there wasn’t any popping or hiccups when changing sounds. Just find a knob and turn. It’s that simple!
Using the “MIDI Links” presets, we found there were predefined templates assigning, for example, the mod wheel to individual effects, pickup distances, and similar assignments for foot pedals. We assigned the mod wheel to a chorused wah wah effect, and using both a Korg Triton Le 88 keyboard and Arturia’s Analog Factory keyboard as controllers, everything worked perfectly right from the start, no hitches.
Ironically, the smaller Arturia keyboard actually had a better mod wheel, allowing for some great expressiveness with the wah wah sound. While this may not sound so revolutionary — using a mod wheel for effect changes, the ease of use in Lounge Lizard was refreshing. MIDI control really was plug and play!
If you want to “teach” EP-3 about your hardware controller, just right-click on the knob on the screen you want to control, click “Learn MIDI Link,” then move the hardware control you want assigned to it. That’s it! Couldn’t be much easier.
Did we like it? Hell yeah!
While there is an incredible amount of flexibility in sound sculpting, this program actually starts out with quite a number of great-sounding presets. We liked a number of them right out of the box, and you can’t always say that about plug-ins. One of our favorites was the “Old School Mk II.” One key part of many Rhodes sounds is the bark, grittiness, and imperfections of playing the keys harder, and this preset had it nailed quite convincingly. Interestingly, when we had our real Rhodes fully restored, it gained a more even sound, but sadly lost some of its bite! There are “Fully Serviced” Rhodes presets that emulate that sound in Lounge Lizard dead on, too!
The vibrato and psychedelic presets were great, too. That ‘70s vibe is all in there! For those who don’t want to edit, the Classic Tracks presets are another great source of inspiration. Some sounded slightly bright for our taste, but that is a matter of preference and is easily adjusted.The experimental section showed how versatile this program really is. One of our favorites was “Analog Lead,” which turned this lounge lizard into a horned toad — fun! While an analog lead sound from a plug-in is hardly revolutionary, the fact that a Rhodes/Wurlitzer plug-in can pull it off (nicely, we should add) shows how powerful the sound engine can be when pushed.
AAS’s website has a plenty of information, and the program itself has a help manual containing the manual and a link to the support site. It’s pretty straightforward, so chances are you won’t even need it, but the product is well supported.
AAS’s Lounge Lizard EP-3 (MSRP $199) sells for just slightly less, and is a good deal for what you get. It sounds great, and offers a great deal of flexibility for both stage and studio.
Applied Acoustics Systems
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