Traditionally, the una corda pedal on a grand piano shifts the keyboard action sideways so that the hammers strike fewer strings, subtly changing the instrument’s timbre and lowering the dynamics. Thus, it was the inspiration for the name of the new Native Instruments virtual piano, Una Corda, which hosts samples of a unique acoustic keyboard designed by David Klavins. Instead of the typical two-or three-strings-per-note setup common in a piano’s lower-mid to upper registers, Klavins used a single string per note across the entire instrument, which mitigates any intermodulation between strings of the same pitch and produces a much purer timbre. Sound designer Uli Baronowsky, the driving force behind the production of Native Instruments The Giant and Best Service Galaxy X piano libraries (both reviews available at keyboardmag.com), sampled the Klavins instrument.
Supported by Native Instruments Kontakt 5 and the Kontakt 5 Player, Una Corda is an 8GB library comprising three multisampled instruments, subdivided into 100 preset snapshots. Each set features the same piano played with one of three types of hammers—the traditional felt hammer, and preparations using cotton and additional felt. The added materials impart a darker, muted tone to the instrument, and the close-miked recording picks up the overtones that result from the preparations. The open cabinet contributes to the overall resonance of the library.
The instrument also includes ambient noise produced by the piano’s mechanical parts (such as pedal movement), piano resonance, and even the player’s breathing and chair noises. You can dial these in as needed.
Una Corda’s main page is relatively simple and shows three Macro knobs at the bottom. Color alters timbre: Turn it clockwise and the sound becomes brighter and more percussive; counterclockwise, the attack softens and the timbre warms. Dynamic Range is like on-the-fly Velocity scaling: Turned fully clockwise, the piano was barely audible with the softest of touches, whereas bearing down engaged the full attack and volume of the instrument. Turning it the other way, the instrument has less delicacy. The Space control is for adding convolution reverb.
Tabs at the top open the Workbench, Response, and Finish pages, which deploy a combination of impulse responses and sample manipulation to drastically alter the timbre and behavior of the sound. Notes can be reversed or convolved with piano noises or artifacts ranging from rainfall to native piano noise, from orchestral tune-ups to hiss. Response adds dynamic control over resonance, overtones, and specially tailored Velocity curves. Finish adds EQ, transient shaping, width imaging, and more convolution effects with great impulse responses from tape simulation to electric pianos, old radios, and vinyl. A second set of convolution parameters adds responses of vintage plate and gated reverbs as well as gongs, tambouras, and wind chimes.
Una Corda is a fine example of modern sampling. Native Instruments takes a vibrant, sweet-sounding instrument and adds sophisticated sound-transforming tools that allow the pianos to assume strange and wonderful shapes. You should have no trouble fitting it into ambient, pop, classical, or nearly any other style of music. You can even use Una Corda to create pads and effects. Its versatility and depth will fuel your musical imagination for a long time.
PROS Beautiful, deeply sampled instruments from a custom-designed piano. Sound-shaping tools extend its versatility immensely.
CONS Nothing significant.
A unique virtual piano that offers an extensive palette of timbres.