Applied Acoustics Lounge Lizard EP-4 Reviewed

December 13, 2013
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Even state-of-the-art sampling sometimes leaves an impression of something other than the real deal. Such has been my experience with many sampled electric pianos—something about the response lacks the finger-to-sound connection I’m after. Physical modeling, by contrast, is better for realistic, continuous response when emulating acoustic instruments, but when it comes to vintage keyboards, I’m often left with a lack of the body that samples capture so easily. However, with Applied Acoustics Systems’ (AAS) modeling-based electric piano, Lounge Lizard EP-3, I could always achieve some remarkably faithful instruments by tweaking the factory patches—in terms of both timbre and responsiveness. Now comes EP-4, with 64-bit operation, a redesigned user interface, new patches designed by some luminaries in the field, and new effects. Does it hit the sweet spot for software electric pianos? Let’s find out.
 
 

PROS: Dynamic and realistic electric pianos. Greatly improved factory presets. Addition of EQ and Compression benefits the sound significantly. Compact, improved user interface. 64-bit support.


CONS: Not backward compatible with earlier Lounge Lizard patch libraries. Topology button and tape-delay effect are missing.

Bottom Line: Realism, attitude, and the most tonal control you’ll find in any software electric piano instrument.

$199 list or instant download | $185 street | $39 ugprade | $99 upgrade from Lounge Lizard Session | applied-acoustics.com

 
 Scroll to the bottom for audio examples.
 
 
 

Overview and Interface

As with EP-3, EP-4 offers standalone, AU, VST and RTAS versions. Installing EP-4 is quick and painless, relying on a challenge-and-response routine for authorization. I was up and running in about a minute.

If you’re a longtime user of Lounge Lizard, you may be temporarily befuddled by the new graphics, but soon, you’ll appreciate the more streamlined view, especially in the area of bank and patch management. These show up in a smaller, expandable area at the upper left, rather than the long sidebar and tree-like hierarchy of the older version. Basic tweaks for effects and modeling parameters are front and center and within easy reach on the main panel of the instrument, with more detailed parameters on separate edit pages. Every knob I right-clicked on was assignable to a knob or slider on my controller.

The “Character” button appears among these controls, and this incorporates preset signal chains, including preamp, cabinet, speaker, and mic setups. Rather than detail individual parameters, you move a single knob to one of five preset positions. The results were subtle—especially in some of the more effect-intensive patches.


Editing 


I was eager to move my own EP-3 patches over to the new version, as my upgrade to 64-bit host programs made my old copy of EP-3 unusable. To my dismay, EP-4 wouldn’t load the patches. A quick check with AAS confirmed that EP-4 is not backward compatible, so I set out to replicate my old favorites parameter by parameter.

Editing in EP-4 didn’t seem to be much different from the previous version, so I launched both versions in standalone mode and tried to replicate the values of a lush, phased Rhodes patch I’d created to mimic the one on Steely Dan’s Gaucho. It seemed simple enough: move the dials to match the settings of the original, get the effects in line, and set up the same amounts and levels. Although the parameters seemed the same, the ratios were apparently different given the same knob positions, so I resorted to my ears. Ultimately, I got close, and with some more tweaking I’ll get closer.

EP-4’s engine dishes up plenty of programming latitude. The parameters group into Hammer, Fork, Pickup, Damper, and Tremolo sections, but these are not isolated parameters. For instance, the Force knob affects the hammer’s impact on the fork, and when this knob is zeroed, EP-4 produces no sound whatsoever. You can alter the stiffness of the hammer, force, and noise with respect to velocity and keyboard tracking, all of which helps create as realistic (or surrealistic) a patch as you could want.

Presumably, the first place you might want to point your editing mouse is the Pickup selector knob. You can select Rhodes or Wurlitzer; whether you really sound like a Rhodes Suitcase or a Wurly A200 is up to adjustments you make on the tines, forks, tone bar, pickup symmetry, and the rest. Maxing out the hammer stiffness setting along with the fork output produces some great ring-modulation effects.


Effects
Gone is the “Topology” button, which let you reconfigure the signal flow of the effects in parallel or in series, feeding the reverb, however, you can load the two middle effects slots in any order you choose. Reverb is fixed as the last processor in the chain, and the new EQ (high- and low-shelving) and compressor (configurable pre- or post-EQ) are first. The EQ and compressor are a welcome addition to the effects chain, and judicious compression adds appreciable heft and punch. The two middle effects in the chain offer a choice of delay, distortion, phaser, chorus, wah, auto-wah, and notch filter, which—in conjunction with tremolo settings—is great at simulating old-school phase-shifter effects a la Josef Zawinul and Don Grolnick. The tap delay that was in EP-3 appears to be missing in action, but although ping-pong delay is no longer in the menu, moving the pan control to the right brings in the ping-pong effect. Naturally, all time-based effects can sync to MIDI clock.

Patches
The factory patch library is greatly improved over earlier versions thanks to the efforts of keyboard and programming wizards such as Jerry Kovarsky, Christian Haiten, Thiago Pinheiro, and others. Most of the Classic Tracks bank survives intact from earlier versions, and patches like “4AM,” “Logical Song,” and “Riders on the Storm” will easily get you through an evening of covers. Kovarsky’s “Bfly Rhodes” will make you reach for Herbie Hancock’s Thrust album. You'll find a bunch of useful sounds in the Experimental bank; although their electric piano origins shine through, they present some very useful bass and bell-like timbres. “Meditation Bells,” for example, was close enough to that lush, glassy, Lyle Mays-style sound (from his Street Dreams album) for me to dive into another programming session soon.

Conclusions

As much as I loved Lounge Lizard EP-3, version 4 is a significant improvement. The added EQ and compressor sections are a big bonus, and the factory library is a strong demo of the instrument’s capabilities. The dynamic response is continuous and smooth, and with the right controller, goes a long way towards a realistic playing experience. Unless you understand the electromechanical processes of vintage electric pianos, you may initially be at sea when programming a specific sound. That said, the PDF documentation is very helpful and there’s no harm in poking around the parameters as there’s a factory reset procedure built in. I lament that there’s no direct way to bring patches from earlier versions into EP-4, but with a little diligence they can be reconstructed, as the Classic Tracks bank demonstrates. Be sure to download the demo version at the AAS website to check things out for yourself. It’s fully functional except for the sound being interrupted every few seconds—but your old Wurly is probably doing that by now, too!

 

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