No, this isn’t Poltergeist or something you should be afraid of. Rather, this is the next generation of Modartt’s modeled piano plug-in, Pianoteq. We reviewed version 1 in 2007 and version 2 in 2009 (see the version 2 review here). And now, in 2012, we have Pianoteq 4. We have been intrigued by Pianoteq since the beginning—modeled piano has big performance advantageous over large sampled pianos. Watching Pianoteq mature over the last five years, we’ve seen it improve with each generation of the technology.
The latest version of Pianoteq offers a new piano based on the Steinway D, more effects, more fine tuning controls, more optional add on sounds, and most importantly to our ears, a generally better sounding engine.
If you liked Pianoteq before, you’re going to like it even better now. And if you haven’t checked it out in a version or two (or at all), it’s worth making a point to see if the Pianoteq 4 sound meets your piano needs today.
The quick list of features included in Pianoteq 4.0.3 Pro:
Like its predecessor, Pianoteq Pro 4 is both a standalone program as well as a VST, AU, and RTAS plug-in available for the Macintosh (Universal Binary) and Windows platforms (and Linux, too!). It does not require an iLok or other hardware dongle for authorization. Just enter your serial number and authorize online when running the program for the first time to get started.
If you have used previous versions of Pianoteq, you will readily recognize the interface. For those of you who are new to Pianoteq, here is an overview:
The top half of the Pianoteq screen has three panels, each of which slide down when clicked to reveal multiple controls underneath. These panels are labeled Tuning, Voicing, and Design. Above the panels are a menu for preset piano sounds, a transport control strip for a rudimentary MIDI recorder/player, and an interesting button called Random that is just that—a button that randomly generates different parameter settings to create new piano sounds.
Tuning has controls for diapason (changing the tuning of A from 440 Hz), temperament, unison width (frequency variation within each set of three strings that comprise a single key), octave stretching, and direct sound duration.
Voicing has controls for hammer hardness (which will enrich higher frequencies), spectrum profile (which modifies the intensity of the first eight overtones), hammer noise, character, and soft pedal.
Design has controls for the soundboard: impedance control (will yield longer sounds), cutoff (boosts higher frequencies), and Q factor (controls high frequency duration; sympathetic resonance; and duplex scale.
There’s also a new button: Note Edit. Clicking this brings up a graphical layout of the piano keyboard, with essentially a line graph above it that can be edited note by note. Just about all of the above described parameters can be literally drawn across the keyboard note by note with whatever value suits you. While you could argue this may be time consuming—editing 88 keys one note at a time, you could also argue that few programs give you note by note editing to sculpt your sound. It’s very cool in our book.
The bottom half of the interface has controls for equalization and velocity (displayed in graph form to draw your own curve in), output (which allows you, in graphical form, to place up to five microphones around the virtual piano, and piano lid openness), an effects section including action, tremolo, reverberation, and limiter, and a graphical representation of the entire keyboard and pedals that move in real-time while you are playing them, almost like watching an unattended player piano. Finally, at the top, there is a pull-down Options menu that includes MIDI choices, audio routing choices, multi core processing On/Off, and Add-on status (these are either free or purchased “add-on” pianos that work with Pianoteq, i.e., the Rhodes and Wurlitzer pianos).
At the top of the screen is a pull down menu for selecting various preset pianos. While there are a number of kinds available (i.e., classic and modern), the Rhodes and Wurly pianos are included in the electric piano add-ons; the clavinet, unfortunately, is a separate add-on. If you did not purchase a given add-on, you can still use it in demo mode for 20-minute demos; for full functionality, these must be purchased. Free add-ins (to registered owners) that can be downloaded from the Pianoteq website include what Modartt calls the non-profit KiviR Project, which includes ten historical instruments: five pianoforte, two harpsichords, two grand pianos, and one electro-acoustic piano. Interestingly, that one electro-acoustic piano is the venerable Yamaha CP-80, and it’s a pretty accurate recreation of the classic.
There is also a new button on the bottom half of the screen labeled Calibration. Clicking it take you through a series of steps to calibrate the use of Pianoteq with your controller, playing soft, medium, loud, and if you have one, your sustain pedal.
Installing the program, as previously done in earlier versions, was a breeze. Our total download (not counting the optional other pianos) was approximately 20 MB. Like the previous version, this was unexpectedly small (since you’re not dealing with huge sample libraries), and the actual installation literally took a matter of seconds. Once launched, we entered our code, and we were instantly playing Pianoteq sounds.
As stated earlier, the graphic interface is well laid out, and changes could easily be made to any of the parameters.
Managing sounds was a bit cumbersome in previous versions, although Modartt did a nice job re-organizing the menu structure and save/load functions in version 3. Version 4 provides further refinements, so things flowed much more smoothly. It became easier to find patches, and we could save and load sounds easily.
A nice touch is that every preset has a little pop-up description about the quality of the sound, and a graphical rendition of the instrument that is being used. There is a very real sense of historical documentation and preservation in this software, and you can’t say that about too many pieces of virtual software.
Once again, well done, Modartt!
This time around, the D4 pianos has been introduced, while the K1 piano was released in version 3.6 (using the old modeling engine), and the included C3 and M3 pianos were introduced in version 3. We feel the new pianos have a more convincing quality from top to bottom, with the latest generation D4 providing the greatest level of realism thus far, and each piano has a unique personality. But, while generally very high quality sounds are generated, the extreme ranges—particularly the bass end, still lack a little fullness to our ears. It is less obvious than in previous versions, and the range where it sounds thin is also smaller than in previous versions. However, if you are willing to put in the time to tweak parameters, much of the presets can be tailored to your liking, and this becomes even less of an issue. Of course, this is always a matter of personal taste.
On top of the pianos, Pianoteq now has become a more complete keyboard product. Rhodes, Wurlitzer (i.e., 200a), and CP-80s are all represented. The quality of these add-ons are all generally good, though we wish the clavinet was included with the Rhodes and Wurli add-on.
Personal tastes about the shortcomings aside, in a mix, there’s no doubt Pianoteq Pro 4 pianos will work very well. We also appreciate that because each preset is built from a piano model instead of a huge multi-sample, changing presets is instantaneous – no waiting for a huge multi-sample to load into memory. And to reiterate, the sound quality is quite good—we’re just being sticklers. While there are distorted piano presets, a dedicated distortion effect would have been a nice touch (something we mentioned in our version 3 review).As always, the Random button was a lot of fun to use. Every time we clicked it, Pianoteq created a very different piano sound, which was readily visible with all the parameters jumping to new settings.
Moreover, there is a great deal of info on Modartt’s website. It’s well worth checking out.
However, most players will be well served by the Standard version, which sells for 249.00 € ($312 USD). Pianoteq 4 Standard sacrifices the advanced per-note editing of 22 parameters and the 192 KHz audio, but is otherwise identical in function.
If you’ve got holes in your pockets, consider Pianoteq 4 Stage. This lightest version provides the same sound engine and instruments (and ad-ons), but lacks the ability to tweak the piano sounds and microphone settings. Stage costs only 99.00 € ($124 USD), and can be upgraded to Standard or Pro at a later time. You can download trial copies of Pianoteq to see for yourself if their pianos have the right vibe for your style of play.
While some would still argue that sample-based piano software sounds superior to modeling, Pianoteq gets closer with every revision. Furthermore, few programs have the control over fine details within your piano sound like Pianoteq, and there is still no other program that utilizes the modeling technology that Pianoteq employs.
If storage space on your laptop’s solid-state hard drive (SSD) is at a premium, you might not be able to justify the multi-gigabyte installation of a leading sampled product. In that case, Pianoteq is an especially great option to consider.
We said in our previous reviews that the original product would get better with time, and Modartt has shown once again that modeled piano technology is indeed improving with age.
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