Synthogy Ivory II American Concert D
By Richard Leiter
Thu, 27 Jun 2013
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Out of dozens of software pianos, the one that has emerged as the go-to recording tool—the one on the DAW templates of so many of my composer colleagues—is a decade-old preset called “Warm Concert D” from Synthogy’s first Ivory release. The source piano was a German-built Steinway sampled in an acoustically near-perfect concert hall in Quebec. In the years since, Ivory has added more pianos including the ten-foot Italian Grand (reviewed Jan. ’12) to its stable. But in that same Quebec hall lived another Steinway D, made in 1951 from old-growth wood recycled from pre-World War II era buildings. It’s a very special instrument, adored (and signed) by Glenn Gould and Rudolf Serkin. Two years ago, the Ivory team set out to bring this amazing piano to life in American Concert D. Not only have they captured the best of the Steinway qualities that defined their first effort, they’ve created a truly transcendent virtual piano that’s also flexible enough to become the new go-to standard.

 

First Impressions

The obligatory disclaimer: Nothing captures the true experience of actually playing a nine-foot Steinway concert grand. Having said that, American Concert D is an awesome virtual piano that, for under 200 dollars, is going to be nearly impossible to resist. If you’ve played a superior concert grand, you’ve experienced the sense of potential, power, and clarity that a thoroughbred offers. It can be inspiring and daunting. You get that here, along with the shimmering upper-mids and profound bass that characterize the best of this breed.

Whether you’re whipping off lyrical jazz lead lines with subtle harmonies or slamming gospel octaves in the bass and upper registers, you rarely feel that you’re hitting the sonic limits of American Concert D. And the acoustic reproduction is dazzling; you can sound like Keith Jarrett or Glenn Gould, if only for a phrase or two. When you’re ready to track, it really is like having a legendary Steinway in the studio, and more and more working musicians are using Ivory live via Receptor setups and laptops.


Parameters and Performance

There’s almost no learning curve. Like the original Ivory, you select an instrument—Synthogy provides 27 presets with descriptive names like “Carnegie Hall American” and “Live Jazz American”—and an optional synth/pad layer and alternate soundboards with varying degrees of resonance if you wish. The first preset, “American Concert D,” is exquisite—you could use just this for the rest of your life and not want for anything. But you can also dial in a dozen well parameters such as key noise, stereo width, listening perspective (player or audience), lid position (full stick does it for me), EQ, damper pedal noise, and convincing reverb ambiences. 

Piano libraries are enormously complex, with parameters like release samples (what happens when you take your finger off the key), soft pedal samples, half pedal samples, and both sympathetic and damper resonance, in addition to the 20 velocity layers in each note if you use the full-bore presets. Of course, you can turn any of these features on or off as well as choose key sets with fewer velocity layers, in order to limit the amount of work your computer has to do.

American Concert D lets you enlarge its memory cache and set your polyphony ceiling from four to 1,000 voices. Plus you can select from 22 different key sets that favor various styles of playing and scale down the velocity layers. On my 12-core Mac Pro with the Ivory samples on their own 7,200 rpm internal drive and a ceiling of 100 voices, it was actually hard to force a slow disk warning. With 200 voices, holding down the damper pedal and playing with my forearms could cut off notes—but who plays like that? 

Even a more modest computer can handle as much Ivory as you’d need for actual musical use. “Mobile, I’ve run it on a late 2010 MacBook Air with just 4GB of RAM and an Intel Core 2 Duo chip,” offered editor Stephen Fortner, “and have never had robbed notes or glitches interrupt an actual gig or session.” Also, Synthogy recommends a solid-state drives (SSD) for voice settings above 140. 

The Session screen (shown at left) includes settings for velocity response, polyphony ceiling, half-damper support, alternate tuning tables, and more.

 

Sound Quality

I played American Concert D through old Toa and newer Tannoy studio monitors, Yamaha DXR10 active P.A. speakers, and AKG K240DF headphones, and I never felt that I even got close to the sonic limits. There was no sort of piano sound—whether standard or slightly more affected—that I couldn’t conjure. Every listening system sounded different, of course, but I never lost the uncanny precision of the upper mids and the grand sweep and thunder of the bass register, particularly when I was playing octaves.

Gripes? The Bb above middle C and the Db above that have a harshness that almost certainly is a factor of the source piano and not the Ivory sound engine, as we couldn’t reproduce it using other Ivory pianos. Also, be prepared to spend some time dialing in a velocity map. Although Synthogy provides ten presets, four individual parameters, a graphical display of the curve, and a calibration wizard, after 20 minutes of fiddling I went back to the default velocity map and just adjusted my playing. Let’s face it, though, Ivory has been spoiling us pianists rotten since the very first version, and overall, American Concert D takes this to new heights.


Conclusions

Ivory II American Concert D is as close as it gets to the real thing. It captures the dramatic dynamic range of its unique source Steinway with its characteristically shimmering upper mids and thunderous bass. Though it samples a piano with a specific provenance and character, that character never gets in the way of versatility: Synthogy’s virtual version is equally at home in jazz, rock, and classical settings. It’s also its own instrument—you don’t need any other Ivory product to run it. If you have to pick only one software piano, American Concert D will inspire you to play better and is likely the best money you’ll spend all year. For the price of a nice dinner for two, it’s a no-brainer of a Key Buy winner.

 

PROS

Jaw-droppingly realistic, playable, and musical recreation of a legendary grand piano. Surprisingly at home in any genre of music. Huge sample set of 49GB. Highly customizable sonic details. Easy installation. Standalone or plug-in operation on Mac and Windows.

CONS

An SSD drive is recommended for polyphony in the “just because you can” stratosphere. 

Bottom Line

American Concert D just may be the best all-around premium software piano instrument so far.

$199 list | $179 street

synthogy.com | dist. by ilio.com


 
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