Review: Modartt Pianoteq 5.71

An already impressive product gets some varietal and unique additions
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Fig. 1: A screenshot showing the full Pianoteq 5.71 collection sound list.Since we last looked at Moddart’s Pianoteq modeled piano/keyboard collection in our July 2015 issue, the company has been busy adding new instruments to its already impressive offering (see Figure 1). As of version 5.71, Moddartt now offers a complete Hohner keyboard collection (Pianet N and T, and the ultra rare Electra Piano), a dual-register harpsichord, a MKII Rhodes electric piano, a Hamburg Steinway B piano, and a concert harp. I wrote in my previous review how Version 5 turned me from skeptic to a believer, and these new instruments only add to my appreciation of the fine work the company is doing.

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Grand B Piano

Fig. 2: The Hamburg Steinway Grand B piano. This is the second Steinway offering from Modartt, a smaller Hamburg “B” model (6' 10.5", whereas the D measures 8' 11.75"), which was modeled after a piano lauded by famed pianist Martha Argerich for its playability and musicality (see Figure 2). The company states that it made subtle refinements to its piano model, resulting in a clear tone and “astounding dynamics.” I found it to be a tasteful, subtle sound, one that might not make a strong impression on first play, but grows on you.

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Piano sounds are so subjective, and one needs to spend time with them before making a final judgment. This is especially true of a Pianoteq model, seeing as you can adjust so many aspects of the sound and its playability: You need to be careful not to pass judgment on a piano based on a given, or a few presets. In my time with it, I grew to like it better than the larger D for all but the most bombastic playing needs. It has a more focused lower end, and midrange melodies could be played with a pleasing legato connectivity.

MKII Vintage Tine

Modartt told me that they had been working on revising and improving their pickup emulation, and when they got hold of a nice MKII Rhodes, they took the opportunity to model it and include the new pick-up characteristics. I really like how the MKII can bark more when played hard, and how moving the pickup closer brings you to a buzzier, saturated type of sound (check out the MKII Bark and Super Bark presets). The range of the pickup proximity has been extended and behaves more true to how a real Rhodes does.

While I really like these aspects of the new MKII, I don’t like the sound of the tine element as much as the one in the MKI. So for darker, less bell-like sounds, the MKII is wonderful. Want more bell? Then I am drawn back to the MKI. This makes me wish Modartt would merge the elements into a single model where I could choose the “vintage” of certain parts of the instrument. While we’re at it, I’d like user-defined velocity modulation of the level of the tine; when you dial it in, it’s always there at the same level in respect to the body of the sound. Maybe I’m getting a bit synthetic in my thinking, but I’d like control over that.

Fig. 3: The Note Edit screen, showing per-key Tine Key-Off scaling. I’m a fan of the George Duke school of Rhodes sounds, in that he liked a lot of low-end clank and noise in his sound. If you have the Pro version of Pianoteq, you get a Note Editor (see Figure 3) that allows you to adjust many parameters on a per note basis, so you can scale the level of the tine noise, or key-off clunk on a simple curve to emphasize one end or the other, or create subtly random level differences to make each key sound a bit different. This adds immensely to the realism of the sound.

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Hohner Collection

We’re all familiar with the venerable Clavinet, and Pianoteq has been offering a great model of it since 2010. Now it has added three more Hohner keyboards, with the approval and endorsement of the parent company, itself. The Pianet is a reed-based keyboard, where the reed is plucked by a soft pad, rather than struck by a hammer like a Wurlitzer. It was used by a number of artists in the late ’60s and ’70s, including The Beatles, The Zombies, Three Dog Night, the Guess Who, and Tony Banks on early Genesis recordings.

Fig. 4: The Hohner Pianet N instrument, showing the Action parameters. The two models included are the N, which has a more hollow reed-like quality, and the T, which adds a bell/tine element to sound like a delicate, hollow Rhodes hybrid. I like both of these sounds and am especially drawn to the N instrument (see Figure 4). It offers a nice alternative to a Wurly for delicate passages and can be shaped into a brash, funky instrument that works well in place of a Clav. It’s easy to dismiss the T as a “poor man’s Rhodes,” but I enjoyed using it for some down-tempo neo-soul and more open, spacy playing. I added a Phaser and found it to be surprisingly fun to use. It’s a fresh sound for your palette.

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The Electra Piano is much more rare; most well known for being used by John Paul Jones for many of his classic Led Zeppelin parts (although he never toured with it). Yup, this is the instrument used for “Stairway to Heaven,” “Misty Mountain Hop,” “No Quarter,” and others! It has that plucked reed quality of the N and just a bit of tine sound from the T, but it is much thicker and warmer than the T. I look at it this way: The collection is a steal at $59 (as an add-on) and I’d pay that for any one of these sounds. The Clav is indispensable, followed by the N for me. The other two are welcome additions.

But Wait, There’s More!

Also included is a Hans Ruckers II harpsichord, and it is divine. It is the first dual-manual/dual-register instrument offered in this category, and I loved playing my limited repertoire of Baroque classics on it. Pedals can be used to insert a slight mute to the strings, or even a buzzing paper kind of sound. And adjusting the striking point on the string and the damper position opened up a world of new timbres. Highly recommended.

The Concert Harp models a Salvi-made instrument: It sounds beautiful and plays wonderfully. You can use pedals to play pinch harmonics (called flageolets), and another pedal setting mutes the attacks slightly for more realistic glissandos. While playing this instrument, I explored a feature I hadn’t covered before: the ability to load new impulses for the reverb effect, with plenty of files to be found on the Internet. This opens up a world of wonderful acoustic spaces to place your sound in, and I was mightily impressed.

Mea Culpas and Conclusions

Fig. 5: The magnification controls offer welcome scaling of the interface. In the last review I complained about an alwayspresent key-off element in the Clav that I couldn’t remove. Spending more time with it, I found that the Damper Position and Damper Duration helped alleviate it. And I gave a Con to the interface for a lot of small text, completely missing the rather extensive Magnification controls that were added back in Version 4 (see Figure 5). Mea culpa.

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In conclusion, Modartt Pianoteq is a great instrument collection that keeps getting better and better. When it comes to acoustic and electric pianos, we are always on a quest for “the best” and that is impossible to find. The best for a given tune, track, situation is a more reasonable attitude, and in my opinion Pianoteq must be considered when looking for these sounds. Would I give up Ivory or other mega-pianos? Not likely, but I can’t say one is better than the other. Would I stop using Lounge Lizard or my UVI Tines Collection? Why? No one is forcing me to do so. I’m simply glad to have so many wonderful choices.

The best praise I can give Pianoteq is that it is seriously tempting me to bring a Mac Mini to my gigs so I can have access to all these great sounds when playing live, in spite of how good my Korg Kronos/Casio PX5S combo is. Now if it could only run on my iPad…

Snap Judgment

PROS Strikingly realistic and nuanced sound. Obvious company commitment to development and support. Light load on your computer.

CONS Whole collection gets pricey. The MKII tine element is not authentic to my ears.

Bottom Line

An already impressive product gets some varietal and unique additions. Highly recommended.

Stage: $129 (includes 2 instruments)
Standard: $319 (2 instruments)
Pro: $519 (2 instruments)
Studio: $799 (all instruments)
Individual Instruments: $59 each