For many years, pianists had never paid attention to any “piano” instrument that is unreal, until recent years. With the introduction of well designed digital pianos, many piano learners have opted to own an electric-powered piano prior to spending thousands dollars on a real wooden piano.
I can see the trend is moving towards “virtual”. Most of the recording studios don’t provide a grand piano for live recording. Audio engineers save the trouble of setting up stereo mic for pianos, yet are able to use well recorded sample software piano when mixing down tracks. They also require less specialised maintenance, such as tuning and string replacement. Virtual pianos offer an authentic sound which can be easily recorded in a studio and used on anything from light-hearted radio adverts to moody instrumentals for films. Of course, the attributes of the sound which is generated can still depend on the quality of the software which is used.
One of the recent products available on the market is Pianissimo, developed by Acoustica.
Pianissimo combines the high quality 250MB samples of Steinway Model D grand piano with advanced physical modeling to create stunning piano sounds. For the street price of US$68.95, it is in fact a great bargain to be able to stock a full Steinway sound in your audio system.
Low CPU usage
This is something that amazed me when I ran Pianissimo for the first time on my PC. It shows 2% usage when not played. Even when I hit more than 5 keys at the same time or run a super fast drill, it keeps the usage under 10%. I tried the extreme by holding down the sustain pedal, and hit all possible 88 keys. And yet, it never went over 30% CPU usage.
I’ve tried the similar stuff with other software pianos and my PC was overloaded in no time.
How it sounds?
Nothing describes the sound better than a demo.
Have a listen yourself: Pianissimo Demo
This is a track I improvised.
Overall, I love the sound of the high notes.
Pianissimo comes with a built-in recorder. You can set the time-signature and tempo of the metronome, which is very handy during practice. Or you simply want to record a song with the correct barring when exporting the MIDI file. These features are extremely useful when I am just going to improvise and compose some music. This saves the trouble of loading up my sequencer.
The recorder provides two tracks recording. It is designated left hand and right hand track. However, it doesn’t limit the note you play on each track. You can record both hand playing on one track, and record another one on top of that track, thus making your recording a four-hand piece.
When you are done with your song, you can export it as MIDI file, or render it into MP3, OGG, WAVE or WMA format.
Real time Keyboard and Pedal Animation
One of the common features of a software piano is to show what keys you are actually playing on screen. This will be useful if you want to do screen cast to show how a song is played. Audience can clearly see the notes you press. The animated action includes sustain and soft pedal as well.
Try record a song, and play it back later just to watch how the keys are hit. I am fascinated and hooked. I believe that you will too. This is a pretty standard feature of any sample player with keyboard display. But there are many software pianos that don’t come with one.
Subtle Sound Effects
There are some controls on the sound effects of a real piano.
Hammer Sound – you can decide the volume level of a hammer sound
Reverb – there are seven presets. You can only control the level of reverb, but not the advanced setting of a typical reverb effect unit. But we don’t really need that. I normally put off the reverb because when you are playing a grand piano, the dry sound just hit your ear first. All the reflection later (delay, reverb) will be produced by the acoustic environment of your room.
Tone control page allow you to adjust several parameters.
- Velocity curve – from very light to very heavy. I like it at the normal level.
- Sympathetic resonance – this mimics the resonance of strings when you press the sustain pedal. I like it at the default setting of 50%. Try push it to 100% and you will hear the effects. It is like putting your ear just next to the strings.
- Chorus – default at zero.
- EQ – it is a three-band EQ. Not much to adjust but it is better than none.
How to change the metronome sound?
By default, the first beat is a bass drum and the rest are closed hihats. Don’t like the metronome sounds, you can easily change it under “File”, “Preferences”
Preset Sounds Setting
Pianissimo comes with 10 preset piano sounds. Basically they use the same sample, just differ in tone control and effects. Too bad there is no user setting slot. It would be a great feature to let user save their own setting and recall it at an instant. The only way to do now is to insert Pianissimo as a VSTi (VST instrument plugin) in your digital audio workstation (such as Cakewalk Sonar, Cubase etc) and save the setting together with your project file.
For value and performance, the Pianissimo is a total knockout. It gives decent piano sounds, and yet with a retail price that won’t make a big hole on your wallet. Whether you need a piano sample player for your MIDI controller, or a software piano to power up your piano track during recording, Pianissimo over-delivers the quality. For only a fraction of the price for the top big player (think of Ivory Piano), in my opinion, it delivers 80% of the quality. Definitely a great buy!
Product Features of Pianissimo
- Features 250MB of high-quality, quadruple-strike samples from a Steinway™ Model D grand piano, enhanced with acoustic modeling technology to produce a rich, warm, expressive, and highly realistic grand piano sound.
- Ultra-professional integrated studio reverb creates a highly realistic ambience that places the piano within a true acoustic space.
- Unparalleled sample programming creates a fluid, dynamic, expressive tone without identifiable velocity switching or other digital artifacts.
- Advanced sympathetic resonance modeling recreates the subtle shimmer of piano strings when the damper pedal is depressed.
- Adjustable incidental piano sounds, including mechanical noises from damper pedal and key release, for an unparalleled level of realism.
- 256 voices of polyphony and low CPU usage make Pianissimo ideal for solo piano performance, studio compositions, and live performance.
- Adjustable piano lid, velocity curve, tone controls, sympathetic resonance, reverb, and chorus effect allow you to tailor the piano’s tone and response to fit your playing style.
- Works in all major digital audio recording software packages (including Mixcraft™) as a VSTi plug-in instrument.
- Stand-alone version features metronome, two-track sequencer, and ability to mix down recordings to WAV, MP3, WMA, or OGG Vorbis audio files.
- Windows XP, or Vista.
- 1 GB RAM (2 GB RAM recommended).
- 1.5 GHz CPU (2 GHz Dual Core recommended).
- Sound card or sound device.
- USB or MIDI controller keyboard recommended.
- Display resolution @ 1024 x 768 or above.
You can purchase Pianissimo here.