Production Voices is a relatively young company helmed by Jason Chapman, and hailing from London Ontario. They create beautiful piano sample libraries for whatever recording or multimedia productions you’re needing a piano for.
Towards the end of last year Production Grand was released. It’s a meticulously sampled Yamaha C7 grand piano, with 8 mic positions, in various sample and bit rates. Jason lent me a harddrive at the beginning of this year, and I’ve since been playing the production grand piano on some of the projects I’ve been working on, trying it out for size.
First impressions of the company? Excellent. While you wait for the hard drive, Production Voices send you S3 links to download the silver version of the piano, so you can get going while you’re waiting for the full drive. I had a few issues downloading the complimentary piano, and the support was very quick sorting it out, and ensuring that I was up and running.
The Production Grand sample library is set up for use with Kontakt, by Native Instruments. It is a whopping 430GB library, with 12 sample layers, pedals, 8 mic positions, all delivered anywhere in the world on an external hard drive.
The Yamaha C7 grand has been meticulously recorded with a wide variety of top notch (think original Neumann, Coles ribbon, API and Neve) studio microphones, pre-amps and converters. The samples have been divided into two groups of four microphone positions; a ‘modern’ and ‘vintage’ collection. Each collection has 4 stereo mic positions at various closeness to the piano – from an almost binaural position, to close mic’ed hammers, to room ambience.
You quickly discover that this sample library is about the piano, and only about the piano. The GUI gives you no gimmicky convolution reverb or FX, just parameters that are related to the actual sounds of the recorded piano. The GUI is a simple, yet effective 2-page affair (plus an extra page which is a diagram showing where the microphones are positioned in and around the piano). Upon loading the modern or vintage edition, the first page presents you with a 4 channel mixer representing each of the 4 microphone positions. you can choose which of the positions to load, and then blend the positions of the mics as you desire. They’re all clearly labelled, and run from left to right in terms of closeness to the piano. Furthest left, they’re inside the piano, furthest right, they’re room mics. The positioning differs slightly on the modern and vintage microphones, as the microphones respond better in different positions.
The instruments fill their titles well – the differences being clearly audible. The clean version is a lot more clinical sounding than the vintage. You can pick and choose what mics you want from what instrument – potentially having a really sterile clean sound for the close mics, to a really warm and rich tonal character for the outside and room mics. Or vice versa. By playing with the mics it’s possible to get a lot of different character from the same piano. It is possible to load both instruments and use all 8 mic positions at once, as they’ve all been aligned phase-wise.
For me, a good sign of the quality of a sampled instrument is how long I spend playing with it when I first get it. From the moment I received the complimentary silver download, I was rather captivated by Production grand. The response of the piano is truly excellent, and I really felt like I was playing something real. The different positions of the mic give full range to the various nuances of the grand piano – from the up close intimacy of the hammers hitting the strings, to the rich warmth of the piano in studio ambience. I found the tone of the piano to be very nicely balanced. Yamaha grands are very bright tonally, with plenty of bite and attack. If you don’t get it right when sampling it, this piano can sound brittle and harsh. But I found none of this, and found it pleasing to the ear all the way through the dynamic and frequency ranges. Lovely. There’s one set of mics that is almost binaural in it’s setup: Great for shoving on headphones and imagining the piano’s right there in front of you. I particularly liked the hammer microphones – it gave the piano a nice bite that I haven’t heard in other libraries. I also liked the balance of the vintage Neumann mics, with a really wide stereo spread, combined with the PZM mic, that gave a strong center image, and added weight to the wide stereo sound.
On the second page of the GUI are a variety of extra settings that apply to both the modern and vintage versions of the piano. Here is where I realized the actual attention paid to the detail of the recordings.
Theres a couple of more usual parameters – key release volume control, and a velocity curve slider for dynamic response when playing through your midi keyboard. And then…
Great attention to detail has been paid even on this small element to the piano. There are 9 pedal down and 9 pedal up noises. Depending on where you set the modulation wheel, the pedal noises will be soft or aggressive. Or if you want even more control, they’re allocated to midi C-2 for an octave and a half (below the actual sounding notes of the piano)
A subtle effect, but its the sound of the hammers returning to start position after playing the note. It’s imperceptible except in really quiet intimate playing. But it adds another level of realism as you can barely hear the hammer thump when you lift the key. Exceptional!
This is interesting. I couldn’t decide whether it was a useful addition to the instrument or not. Generally I find that there’s enough noise to deal with on a recording. However, if you find yourself requiring the self noise from the microphones, or the noise from the console, or the room noise, you can turn on, and adjust levels of each.
This parameter’s just fantastic. String resonance is something that sample programs have had difficulty replicating, and this is one of the best tries yet. No idea how the algorithm goes, but it sure sounds excellent, especially on slow piano pieces. This was the most intensive work for the whole sample library, I guess aligning the right samples to each note to gradually swell in and create that sympathetic resounding sound requires some maths thought! It definitely works well – as you hold notes down, and play others, you can hear the original notes sounding quietly in the sustain. Beautiful!
This takes the attention to the recording over the top. The team listened to how long the attack happened before the sound emanated from the piano, and then added it in optionally as you play to add the pre attack. The downside to this is that there is inevitable latency to the pre-attack. So it’s recommended that the pre attack is turned on after the performance to the sequenced piano parts.
All these elements combined create a depth of authenticity to the piano music you’re playing. They work fantastically for intimate or solo piano music. If you are recording busy loud pop music, on the other hand, you can turn all these parameters off to save CPU.
EASE OF USE
The 8 mic positions and 430GB of sample content is unwieldy to say the least. Production Voices have thought of this, and provided 3 versions with different sample and bit rates, from 24 bit 96Khz to 16 44.1. They suggest using the silver (16bit 44.1Khz) edition to record and sequence with while writing, to save CPU power. When bouncing to print the music, simply switch the edition to the topmost platinum 24bit 96Khz version for audio quality. As long as you have 8GB RAM, you can render anything the Platinum edition throws at you.
This piano is truly exceptional. You need a powerful computer to be able to use it to its full potential, but that aside, this easily competes with, and to my ears beats the offerings from other big names in the piano sample world. The detail is stunning, the sound is full and defined, with an attention paid to the mechanics of the piano that just isn’t available with any other sample library, and that gives a beautiful realism, especially in softer, more intimate recordings.
I love the thought Production Voices have given to providing you a path to scratch tracks with a lower sample and bit rate, and then upgrade to a higher quality when printing, to save on CPU power while creating. Great forethought.
Already impressed with Production Voices, I was completely sold when I discovered on their website that they are offering free samples of a couple of their pianos to people who might not be able to afford it, if they give their time to charity work. If you volunteer 4 hrs, you get one product, if you volunteer 6, you get a bigger one. I applaud Jason for such a great incentive to get people looking to help others. Bravo!
My only hope is that Jason goes on to record other pianos, to squeeze some character out of those old Steinways, Faziolis, Bosendorfers, and into my computer! I hear on the grapevine that there are electromechanical, and drum samples in the pipeline. Very excited to hear them!
Price On sale at the moment for April $279 instead of $329
…The detail is stunning, the sound is full and defined, with an attention paid to the mechanics of the piano that just isn’t available with any other sample library, and that gives a beautiful realism, especially in softer, more intimate recordings. …
Fantastic sound. Really. I’d defy people to tell this wasn’t recorded live.
Flexibility for all levels of computer setup.
LOVE IT OR HATE IT
If you’re looking for a piano that can hold it’s own as a solo instrument playing tricky classical to dramatic cinematic music, then this Piano stands alongside the big players in the industry. If you’re looking for a quick pop piano, this might be overkill, and you should look at some of the other pianos they have on offer.
Composer/Producer, and keyboard player. He has written and recorded soundtracks for a wide variety of media and co-owns DOsounds.com with Jake Owen, a music production company that gives him an excuse to buy more analog gear.