XLN Audio Addictive Keys
By Marty Cutler
Fri, 26 Apr 2013
rss
There are probably more virtual pianos than any other software instrument. One reason for such a surfeit of pianos is that no two people agree on what constitutes the perfect piano. Then, there’s the question of what you’re looking for—a grand or upright acoustic, or specific electric such as a Wurlitzer or Rhodes?  Finally, how is the piano treated—are effects available, and so on? Addictive Keys seems to claim that you can have it all, and the execution—especially given its low price—makes us think that just maybe, you can.
 
 

Overview

Available as a download, Addictive Keys offers a standalone version and supports AU, VST, and, RTAS plug-in formats. The sound library can be purchased individually, comprising three main instruments: Grand Piano (Steinway D), Upright (Yamaha U3), and Rhodes Mark I, but you’ll be surprised by the depth and breadth of timbres issuing from the three basic instruments. This is largely due to a respectable and well-applied synthesis and effects engine, but also because of the inclusion of many keyboard artifacts. Aided by a well thought out user interface, the results can range from subtle to drastic. 

Addictive Keys hosts roughly 3.6GB of samples. The acoustic pianos are about 1.6 and 1.25GB, respectively, with the Rhodes weighing in at 930MB. Although that’s nowhere near the multi-gigabyte instruments available today, you wouldn’t guess that from hearing them. These are lively, playable instruments with natural decays that respond realistically to dynamics. There are no end-of-loop artifacts, and though the documentation doesn’t make clear how many velocity levels the samples use, it sounds as if there’s sufficient range, as a cursory glance showed that most of the grand piano patches had the filter disabled, the filters being reserved for more obviously synthetic patches.


User Interface

Addictive Keys is easy on the eye, and facilitates a number of ways to sort through and choose patches. When you first launch it, you’re in the Gallery section, with the default “Studio Grand” loaded. Left and right arrows navigate to each of the three piano types, and below, icons in the ExploreMaps section lets you click through variations. Quick-edit knobs for customizing the timbre let you carve out what you need in a hurry. At the top left of the instrument’s header is a Memo button, which lets you record MIDI data that you can later drop into a track in your DAW: a nice touch. Sample loading is smooth and remarkably swift. 

 

Addictive Keys’ editing screen ofters mic and amp modeling, EQ, a phaser, and synth-like filters and envelopes.


Deeper Editing

At the top left of the acoustic instruments are controls for tweaking the strength of the soft pedal, pedal noise, and the amount of body resonance and noise. If you need to restrict the timbre of the instrument, you can scale the instrument’s velocity switching response, limiting the timbre to one layer if need be. 

Controls for pitch, filter, and volume show up under tabs on the upperright of the edit screen, with controls for pitch exposed as a default. There’s no global transposition; instead, you can transpose up or down an octave on a per-patch basis.  A Dissonance knob can alter pitches randomly from very subtle variances well into experimental territories. 

A common programmer’s trick to create brighter or warmer instruments is to move the root pitch of a sample up or down, and the Sample Shift knob can add overall brilliance or darkness to the piano quickly. You may not think you’ll need vibrato or a pitch envelope for a piano [Josef Zawinul might disagree. –Ed.], but this is, after all, a synth; extreme vibrato added a gritty front end, and rapid pitch envelopes added cool clicks to the attack. 

If you want to change the overall tonal quality, click on the Filter tab. You get a choice of a lowpass highpass, or bandpass types. You can defeat or invert the filter envelope, scale the response over the range of the keyboard, adjust resonance, and set the envelope’s velocity response, all of which—combined with the envelope’s five rates and four levels—can take the otherwise unalloyed piano tone deep into synth territory (listen to Audio Clip 1 online).

Each instrument was sampled though multiple mics in close and other perspectives. The Rhodes includes a line out, a direct box, and an amp, in addition to several mic perspectives. You can’t alter mic distances, although you can alter levels and effects sends of individual mics, which can achieve similar results. Addictive Keys also lets you mix in ambient noise ranging from mic self-noise to DC hum to the fuzz of an Electro-Harmonix Muff stompbox. The tweakage ensues with three-band EQ and a small set of selectable effects processors, including chorus, phase, and the oddly named Delerb, which proves to be a hybrid of reverb and delay whose reflections are continuously variable from one to the other. Modulation effects can sync to tempo.

Finally, the Session Settings page provides access to global parameters, including a wide range of selectable tunings, with a stretch-tuning knob. This is where you set modulation and automation sources, which apply to a limited batch of parameters, such as filter cutoff. 

Sounds

The acoustic pianos shine, and there are variations suitable for practically any musical genre. The “Studio Grand” preset will serve well solo or behind ballads. The enhanced brilliance of “Intense Keys” offers a more cutting tone better suited for ensemble jazz than the mellower “Jazzish.” Upright pianos are more in-your-face, with a sweeping resonant decay. Some of the synth patches here are standouts; my favorite is “Woody Pizzicato,” which suggests a hybrid of piano and acoustic bass, and makes a wonderful, if unorthodox clavinet (Audio Clip 2).

My first impression of the Rhodes presets was that they were a trifle bland, but some judicious tweaking proved otherwise. “Vibrotwin,” for example, is clearly an attempt at producing a dirty, Wurly-like tone from the Rhodes, and if you’re not a purist, its gritty, square-wavy sound can carry the day, particularly in the low to midrange frequencies (audio clip 3). 

Conclusions

There’s a lot to recommend Addictive Keys. In addition to its overall sonic excellence, the wide array of timbres and perspectives make it easy to fit into almost any mix, the patch loading is swift, and the engine is efficient and stable. The interface is gorgeous, and the price is right. If your sound library needs a piano or 20, check Addictive Keys out.

 

Snap Judgment

PROS

Great basic piano and EP sounds with plenty of variations. Elegant user interface encourages programming. Patches load quickly. 

CONS

Modulation routings and automation assignments are global, with a limited choice of destinations.

Bottom Line

An outstanding value in a one-stop-shop virtual instrument for acoustic piano and Rhodes.

$179 list | $149 street | xlnaudio.com

 
 
Register / login to rate articles and leave comments.

How many keyboards do you take to the gig?
 One
 Two
 Three
 Four or more
 
 
 
 

Guitar World Guitar Player Guitar Aficionado Revolver Mag Bass Player Keyboard Mag Emusician
Keyboard Magazine is a trademark of New Bay Media, LLC. All material published on www.keyboardmag.com is copyrighted @2014 by New Bay Media, LLC. All rights reserved