Native Instruments’ Elektrik Piano is a blast from the past. Are the sounds classic or past their sell-by date…
Product: Elektrik Piano
Manufacturer: Native Instruments
There’s no end to the wonderful things you can do with a sample engine and some custom samples. Native Instruments has lately been found at the forefront of new soft instrument developments, partnering with East West and Zero-G to create several sample-based instruments (links to follow). Now the company has developedits own instrument, complete with Teutonic Ks – the Elektrik Piano containing four classic electronic pianos.
The box contains both PC and Mac software, and stand-alone and plug-in versions for VST 2, DXi, AudioUnit and RTAS. Installation is easy. You select the plug-ins you want to install and the routine searches your hard disk for the correct folders. In typical NI fashion, the program will stop working unless you register it although you do get a more sensible 30 days to do this rather than the five days of some other NI software. However, registration is essential anyway in order to download the Direct From Disk extension which you need to get the most from the software.
Wurlitzer one for the money…
Elektrik Piano contains a lot of samples and to hold them all in RAM would require an unfeasibly large amount of memory. NI’s DFD (Direct From Disk) extension can stream the samples from hard disk in real time allowing you to use large-sample instruments on small-RAM systems.
The program features the following piano sounds: Fender Rhodes Mk I and Mk II, the Hohner Clavinet E7, and the Wurlitzer A200. The samples that make up these instruments have been carefully created with each note containing several velocity layers and release samples. None of the samples use loops. The Mk I, Mk II and E7 feature five velocity layers and release samples while the A200 has seven. The on-screen keyboard covers a six-octave range. The original E7 and A200 keyboards weren’t quite so large so these instruments have had their keyrange expanded to fill the six octaves. NI reasoned that it was better to do this to give users the option of using a full six octaves than to limit the range for historical accuracy. And this certainly makes sense as you can freely switch between pianos without worrying whether one is going to run out of notes.
In addition to normal tuning, there are stretch tuned versions of all four pianos. The human ear perceives tones in the upper keyboard range as being flat even though they may be correctly tuned. Piano tuners compensate for this by ‘stretch tuning’ the upper notes.
The user interface is cute, generic vintage electric piano with Tuning, Pan and Volume controls on the right. In the middle is an ‘LCD” display which shows the current instrument preset and on the left are four control knobs that vary according to the preset. For example, with the standard Mk I preset the controls are Speed, Stereo, Release Volume and Reverb. Select the Mk I Saturator preset and they become Bass, Treble, Drive and Speed, while with the Mk I ADSR Envelope preset they become, naturally, Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release.
Although the controls are fixed for each preset – you can’t add a Phaser control, for example, to the standard sound – the additions greatly increase the range of sounds each instrument can produce far beyond what was possible with the raw original instruments. The ability to tweak the controls lets you customise the sound still further. If you really want to play fast and loose with the sounds, you can import the samples and presets into NI’s Kompakt sampler for full tweaking and editing although that probably won’t be high on most user’s priority list.
Below the LCD display is a set of eight function keys corresponding to the function keys on a computer keyboard. Each of these can store a preset and collectively they are known as a Performance. Although you cannot tweak and save individual presets, you can save them as part of a Performance so you can create lots of Performance files containing your favourite settings. Presets in a Performance are selected by clicking on the function buttons on the on-screen display or by pressing the corresponding function key on the computer keyboard. This arrangement lends itself to live performance with a laptop running the program and controlling the presets.
To the left and right of the function buttons are system parameters – a MIDI channel selector, a control to set the maximum polyphony, a DFD LED, and memory and CPU usage indicators. The last two are particularly important. You can see the memory usage increase as you load presets so it’s a good guide to how many presets you can use if you’re short of memory. The program pops up a warning if loading a preset runs the risk of running out of memory (it suggests, rather genteelly, that it may cause problems) and you have the option of cancelling the load.
The CPU indicator shows the amount of processing power being used as a percentage. This will vary enormously depending on the computer’s processor, the preset, the polyphony and the available RAM. It’s particularly useful when running the program as a plug-in as it lets you see the load requirement of the instrument in relation to the entire system.Elektrik Piano – You can easily adjust the velocity curve to suit the keyboard you’re playing the instrument from. (click to enlarge – opens in new window)
The four pianos are superb. To get a real feel for them you may want to play from a weighted keyboard – and purists may demand loose keys, soggy action, sticky notes and the de facto boomy bass end! – but any keyboard that you’re comfortable with will do. A very useful feature is the ability to change the velocity curve and you’ll almost certainly want to do this to complement your keyboard.
The sounds respond well to velocity and they sound true – you won’t be able to resist funkin’ out to Stevie Wonder’s Superstition on the Hohner Clavinet, and vamping Supertramp riffs with the Wurlie. The Rhodes, in one form or another, has probably been used in more music genres than any other electric piano. It’s particularly loved by jazz musicians (well, some of them) and has done more than its fair share of rock work, too.
As it says on the tin, these pianos are vintage classics. They will recall many old, classic tunes from the 70s and 80s and may just make you want to dig out your old vinyl recordings. The instruments may be vintage but the sounds are certainly classic and ought to fit into a wide range of modern music. Watch out for a revival…
Excellent piano emulations
Lots of presets
Adjustable velocity curve
May sound dated
Can’t save individual presets
Needs 2Gb HD space
A well-crafted and authentic emulation of four classic electronic pianos from yesteryear with enough presets and customisation options to produce a wide variety of sounds.
Minimum system requirements
PC: Pentium/Athlon 800MHz (1.2GHz recommended), 512Mb RAM (1Gb recommended), Windows XP, 2Gb HD space
Mac: G4 867MHz (1.2MHz recommended), 512Mb RAM (1Gb recommended), OS X 10.2.6 (OS X 10.3 recommended), 2Gb HD space
Multi-samples and velocity layers
Four classic pianos
Assignable preset buttons