For those who might be acquainted with “Session Horns (Pro)” and “Session Strings (Pro)” - badged as Native Instruments products – e-Instruments’ self-branded “Session Keys” series of highly playable electric pianos will not come across as unheard-of-strangers. In fairness to software giant, “Native Instruments”, the aforementioned strings & horns libraries’ product pages do cite e-Instruments as the actual creators. As a matter of fact, it’s because of the company’s partnership with Native Instruments that e-Instruments gained ground as a relatively new developer at that time.
It’s fair to say that e-Instruments have certainly proven themselves to be top-tier sampling experts since 2010, weaving a pedigree of interest and notability. Enticingly so, their commendable “Session Keys” series of electric pianos are very fairly priced. Each one costs but $79 (USD) / €79 apiece. If at all possible, I do recommend that Canadian customers purchase using US funds. Even though the current exchange rate of USD to CAD (at the time of this publication) would result in an amount of $105 (CAD), for some reason e-Instruments’ online store charges a hefty $129 (CAD).
. . . Blue?
If you’re an ol’ skool Hammond maven like I am, you’re expecting to see warm, earthy hues, and graphical textures reminiscent of walnut, cherry, and mahogany woods. Thankfully, these are now the very skin choices within Blue3 v2. And since I've mentioned UI (User Interface) choices, I’m very pleased to report that Blue3’s UI is fully re-sizable between 70 to 200 percent – sure to accommodate most contemporary screen resolutions.
Overall, I assess Blue3 v2 to be solid prospect for anyone in need of a good quality tonewheel organ VI (Virtual Instrument). I know many of us have long held GSI’s “VB3” in high regard, considering it to be the de facto standard where modelled tonewheel emulations are concerned. However, Blue3 v2 is a worthy contender and is poised to offer itself as a fit challenger.
Priced moderately at $99 (USD), Blue3 won’t break anyone’s bank account, but neither can it be considered a cheap, ‘No brainer’ deal. However, Blue3 v2 does not emulate a single organ – rather, it distinctly models five different tonewheel organs; as well as boasting exquisite, high resolution/retina-ready graphics (resizable, to boot). This VI produces good quality Hammond tones and a convincing rotating speaker (Leslie®) experience. Taking these laudable factors into view, Blue3 v2 rapidly appreciates in value.
Let’s flip those Run and Start switches shall we . . .
Many of us are thankful for Switzerland’s Patrick Kunz and his full line of TAL (Togo Audio Line) virtual synths and plug-ins.
Many DAWs have been blessed with TAL audio products over the past 6 years. There has been the illustrious TAL-chorus, the reliable, ear-pleasing Tal-Reverb (II and III), the fluid, silky TAL DUB-Delays, and the easy-to-dial in TAL Effects.
While we’re listing the wealth of products that TAL have blessed us with, let’s not omit the worthy VA synths, TAL-Elec7ro, TAL-NoiseMaker and the perennial U-NO-60.
After years of giving his hard work and exemplary programming efforts away for free, Mr. Kunz now offers the FINEST “Roland Juno 60” emulation that has ever been heard ‘In The Box’ for both MAC and PC. Originally slated for a MSRP of $70, TAL made U-NO-LX available for a paltry $17 as a pre-release offer. At present, the RRP is only $60 (USD).
I strongly recommend that interested parties hurry over to the developer’s web site to grab this VSTi now! Once the news gets out about just how “good” this TRUE-modelled VA synth is, I suspect that there will be a whole new generation of synth players who will consider the $70 price tag a small amount to pay.
Unlike the majority of Wurlitzer-based virtual instruments available, this is *not* still another tiresome interpretation of the now common “A200” model. Nope. This here, y’all, is delightfully unique in that it is a meticulously-crafted sample library of a model 206A ‘student’ Wurlitzer. Of course, being a “Wurlie”, it has that classic, definitive early 70s sound, but with just a teensy bit more attitude and vibe.
Wurlie from AcousticSampleS is a virtual instrument for the discriminating vintage-keyboard connoisseur. This is a superb sample library (again in UVI Workstation format) of a sexy little 64-key model 206A Wurlitzer®. The samples were recorded via studio-grade DI into a high end tube-powered preamp *and with a pair of high-grade microphones right above it – all at a sampling rate of 96 kilohertz and 24-bit, bit depth. This painstaking recording process has resulted in a VI (virtual instrument) that easily reproduces both the feeling and also the sound that we’re looking for; tube ampage with the direct mechanical sound intact.
The tone is rich, well-balanced and precipitates with absolute opulence in the sympathetic response and resonance departments. If you’re looking to own a ‘Logical’ choice for authentic, characterful Wurlitzer realism in-the-box, it can be had for the reasonable price of 79€ / $87 (USD).
Ahh, the warm, harmonically complex tones of a classic Wurly in excellent repair; is there anything sweeter sounding to a collector’s ears? Well, not really, except maybe for a Rhodes of the same vintage. The trouble is, maintaining a Wurlitzer can be a rather daunting task that often requires the skill of an experienced technician. Why, even tuning a Wurly very often requires a soldering iron. EEP!
Fortunately for those of us whom have become well-acquainted and furnished with digital emulations, we need not shop around for a 40 year old instrument, pay big collector’s fees to buy it, and then have a climate-controlled space to keep it safe. We simply pop online, pay a small fee to a hard working developer, and conveniently download a VSTi or sample library to our hard drive. Subsequently, we have at our beck and call, the means to compare and scrutinize the assiduous results of the developers. Quite frankly, we’re rather spoiled. *Grin.
Fortunately for us, company founder & owner, Arnaud Sicard, and his team at AcousticSampleS, sonically capture some of the best-sounding instruments available in the world. Mark79 is such an example of Parisian craftsmanship, par excellence.
This engaging instrument is experienced within the proprietary “UVI Workstation” sample player format, freely downloadable from UVI.net. Definitely a qualifying contender for audio quality supremacy, the UVI format provides convenience, ease-of-use, and exemplary built-in effects (including a streamlined version of UVI’s fabulous algorithmic reverb, Sparkverb). As with other sample players, such as Kontakt, a user can configure disk streaming, RAM consumption, ADSR, and most nearly any other pertinent option thinkable. Personally, I really like the UVI platform and I find it very comfortable to use.
Mark79 may certainly be categorized as a classic, vintage instrument. Here, we are presented a superb sample library of a classic 73 key ‘suitcase’ Fender Rhodes® Mark II, circa 1979. The samples were recorded dry via studio-grade DI into a high end tube-powered preamp. From the moment you play your first chord or riff, your ears are greeted with authentic Rhodes character a-plenty. The tone is rich, full and very well-balanced. All of this sumptuous tines n’ tone can be had for the reasonable price of 79€ / $87 (USD)
If you read my earlier review of SonicCouture’s remarkable “EP73 Deconstructed”, you’ll know that I hold it in very high esteem. That said, standing proudly beside it is this equally impressive rendering of Rhodes sound. In all fairness, the two sample libraries can’t be directly compared; they are demonstrations of differing keyboard models. What can be compared, however, is the respective sound quality of each one, which is very good indeed. Where the “EP73” is a unique library capable of a divergent degree of sound creativity, AcousticSampleS’ “Mark79” is a more straight forward repository. This one is dedicated to accurately representing a Mark II Fender Rhodes® electric piano in as pure a fashion as possible.
As regards space requirements, there are close to three and a half gigabytes of uncompressed samples packed into this library - these generously feature TEN layers of sustained note *and* TEN layers of release samples. Thankfully, the samples have been compressed in lossless FLAC format and only require 1.46 GB of hard drive real-estate. By today’s large, multi-gig standards, this is a very manageable library size. The samples load quickly and are ready-to-go within just a few seconds, from a cold state.
Over the better part of a decade, ToonTrack has consistently been a “superior” presence in the sphere of ITB drum tracks creation. For good reason too! Their flagship virtual drumming application, “Superior Drummer”, and its welter-weight smaller brother, “EZ Drummer”, have persistently produced highly- realistic, believable-sounding drum tracks on a dizzying number of demo and pro-grade recordings. ToonTrack’s virtual drummers are regularly looked to as the drum VIs of choice by enthusiasts and professionals alike.
EZ Drummer 2 takes the welter-weight championship belt respectfully in hand and steps up the game considerably. Sporting a new, alluring tab-based interface, the UI has undergone a “from-the-ground-up” makeover yet remains welcomingly familiar (akin to EZ Keys). The somewhat blasé pop/rock kit has been retired as the default kit in lieu of not one, but FIVE, new, characterful drum kits.
Categorized as both Modern and Vintage, the various pieces may be easily mixed n’ matched for “custom” kit configurations. These new kits are samplings of DW, Yamaha, Gretsch, Sonor, Tama, and of course, Ludwig. Taking a cue from vying drum VI contenders, EZD2 now hosts great-sounding percussion components as well: tambourine, cowbell, maracas, shakers and handclaps.
EZD2 is not merely a pretty face with fancy-schmancy bells n’ whistles slapped on top – its audio engine has been completely overhauled and is now refitted with a much greater degree of AI and expressiveness. The new “Tap2Find” feature enables a user to quickly beat out a groove via a midi-controller or mouse; the software then takes off on a gallop to retrieve appropriately matched patterns.
ToonTrack have proven themselves to be leaders in their field – ease of use, audio excellence, and innovation are but a few of the ToonTrack product-line attributes. Their well-established EZ Drummer product has broken even more barriers with this ponderous, 2nd generation version. EZD2 still rings the till at a comfortable $179 for new customers, while existing supporters can upgrade for a reasonable toll fee of $99.
However, the question remains: "What can EZ Drummer 2 do for you?"
Uncontested . . . strong word; don’t you think? One would have to make sure that the claim could be substantiated or one would be considered brazen, or ill-informed, or rash, or gullible, or just plain stupid. I honestly hope that you don’t think that dear ol’ Brother Charles fits into any of those categories. *Smile.
SonicCouture have not simply raised the bar; they may even have ‘become’ the bar, as regards Rhodes MKI sample libraries. Man, this library rockZ. I mean it . . . this library abso-freakin-lutely RockZ! The depth and detail of SonicCouture’s sampling process is immense.
The level of realism is tremendous. The release noises, the pedal noises, the triple-layered Round Robin sampling, the attention to sonic detail, the inclusion of close and contact mic’d acoustic/mechanical sounds all contribute to making this perhaps THE MOST unique and authentic-sounding virtual Rhodes to date.
SonicCouture occasionally offer sales, but the Listed Retail Price of $129 is very fair in ratio to the sound quality. I have to be careful that I don’t brag this sample library up too much; we don’t want them raising the price . . . *Grin.
I was more than a little ‘jazzed’ when I first heard that Sampling giants, ToonTrack, were adding pianos/keyboards to their industry-leading product line-up. I had already been a more-than-satisfied ToonTrack customer for a couple of years. I rely on various “EZdrummer” modules as my drum sample/construction software of choice. As soon as I’d heard the early release news about the original, ground-breaking “EZkeys Grand” Piano sample library/sequencer, I anticipated that song writers and home producers would be elated with the news. I don’t mean to come across as pretentious, but my assumption was absolutely correct.
The initial release of “EZkeys Grand” created no small ripple in the sampling pool. Not only did “EZkeys Grand” hold up extremely well against its large, multi-gig competitors sound-wise, but it gave something to non-keyboardists that no other competing piano sample library could – built-in midi phrases and song construction tools. ToonTrack serves up first-rate piano sounds, assorted musical styles, transposition, drag n’ drop song construction and an attractive, photo-realistic GUI. The EZkeys line-up will empower novice song-writers and non-keyboardists with professional-grade piano compositional parts, while providing professionals a means of creatively fast-tracking song ideas; quickly and easily.
This review will be an exhaustive inspection of the cross-platform “EZkeys Essential Pianos” collection. This wonderful suite of pianos is comprised of: EZkeys Grand, an impeccably sampled Steinway “Model D”; EZkeys Classic Keyboards, a totally vibe’n set of Wurlitzer “A200” and Rhodes “Mark I” electric pianos; and EZkeys Upright, a harmonically-pleasant, old-time, upright piano. Any one of these packages retails for €139/$179 by itself, with any additional EZkeys library available for only €69/$89. As a bundle, the EZkeys Essential Pianos suite rings in at €249/$325. Just for grins n’ giggles we’ll also get introduced to a truckload of EZkeys midi libraries in the styles of: R&B, Gospel, Jazz, Country, Blues, and Pop.
Of Scottish ancestry, I grew up naught but 100 yards from the Atlantic shoreline in Englishtown, Cape Breton. The plaintive sounds of Celtic instruments always bring a wistful sigh upon me heart and beckons myself home; Embertone’s “Shire Whistle” is just such an instrument. With only a pair of Sennheiser headphones, it fairly addles me into fancying that the scent of salt brine is wafting on the evening air while distant, haunted, echoing cries of Atlantic Gulls are heard off the point, beyond the lighthouse.
The greenery of mountain spruce and tender, meadow moss lie to the south. Amidst the hum of busy bumble-bees, flittering sparrows melodiously call to one another with one happy tune after another. What’s that to be heard just over the crest? Yes, indeed, tis “Shire McGuire” expressing thanks and merriment for yet another day of blessing and growth upon his beloved garden and vale. His wizened fingers dance over the holes of his fondest keepsake; his father’s Irish whistle.
EmberTone captured the essence and charm of this poetic instrument and have lovingly wrapped it for us as a Kontakt sample-set. This blessed little gift may be had for only a wee bit of coin from a trader’s sporran. Tis no more than $20 middle earth dollars.
PolyKB, Diva, SynthMaster, Dune, Predator, Tone2 Saurus, ZT3A+; what do these all have in common? They are each industry-leading soft synths, that’s what. Most of these are not “dedicated” emulations of famous synths from yesteryear – albeit, each of these may certainly be considered a “new” classic. That’s not to say that products such as Dune, Synthmaster, Predator, and etcetera, aren’t extremely well suited to modern dance and electronica.
I would never be so bold as to try determining that any one of them is “The Best” because they are all very good. Of course, it’s generally understood that many synth players typically have a personal favourite or two; one of my absolute personal favourites just so happens to be the PolyKB II. And, this synth just so happens to be an emulation, but it’s not the standard fare – not by a long shot.
Are you one of those who like to visit a developer’s web site and keep “checking out” a favourite plug-in or VSTi? It’s ok to admit it; you’re among friends. *Wry, knowing grin. Long before I actually had PolyKB II in my possession, I would visit the XILS-Lab web site and listen to the remarkable audio samples of this fantabulous synth in action. It has a “vibe”, a sound, a character that is uniquely its own. It’s deep, lush, ‘alive’ and decidedly analogue-sounding. I am excited and more than a little bit happy to bring my review of the astounding PolyKB II to my friends and visitors here on Reviewer’s Revival.
I’m glad you dropped in. Grab a snack and a fresh cup of joe. Please settle in for one more peering investigation of yet another “must have” VA synth. We’ll do ‘er up in good ol’ Reviewer’s Revival style.
HURRY in and enter to WIN a FREE copy of Acon Digital's Equalize v2 !
Will You Help?
Web hosting is getting more and more expensive all the time, and Reviewer's Revival is NOT funded nor supported by any commercial enterprise or business. A donation of any amount is greatly appreciated. Even $2 or $3 for a coffee - every little bit helps. Thanks very much.
All of the articles published on Reviewer's Revival are undertaken to be purely objective, impartial reviews. Reviewer's Revival is not owned, funded-by, nor hired by any company or individual. Reviewer's Revival is the sole property of, and solely under the discretion and direction of, Brother Charles.