Manufacturer: Q Up Arts
Web: Q Up Arts
Price: $499 (On sale for $199 at time of publication)
Q Up Arts’ California Keys– what is it?
California Keys is a Kontakt sample library containing a massive grand piano plus six classic keyboard instruments.
It’s big – it requires 36Gb of disk space, but double that during installation. It will run in both Kontakt and the free Kontakt Player version 126.96.36.1999 or higher and is NKS-compatible for users of Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol instruments.
Getting it in
The library can be downloaded as individual rar files or as one zip file (which simply contains all the rar files). Given its size, a fast internet connection helps.
With a 150Mbps cable connection, the individual rar files took about 35 minutes to download but, oddly, the zip file took around 3 hours. So go for the rar files option. Another benefit is that if the download sticks you only have to re-download individual rar files, not the full pack.
The installation contains both PC and Mac files (PC users might want to delete the Mac files) and is fairly straight forward. You may have to move the Snapshots folder into the User directory for Kontakt to recognise them although the manual currently makes no mention of this.
Having said that, support is excellent with the main Q Up guy himself, Doug Morton, replying very quickly to queries.
The mainstay of the collection is the California Grand, a 10′ 2″ Fazioli recorded with 11 Mic channels giving full 5.7 and 7.1 surround sound as well as stereo.
It would be easy to spend the whole review just on this one instrument but as there’s another six instruments to cover, we’ll hit the highlights.
First we have to mention the Mics. They are arranged into five groups, each at different positions in relation to the pianos, and you can control the volume and pan position of each group. Using these alone, you can tailor the sound between close and wide positioning.
The Tone control does as it says on the tin and offers an easy tweak to create a darker, romantic piano or a brighter one.
The Filter slider in conjunction with the Cutoff knob links the brightness to the velocity so the harder you play, the brighter the sound.
The Soft Pedal control softens the attack on the SCX Mics which are in Mic groups 1 and 2. Pedal Noise is another on-the-tin effect that controls the amount of noise the sustain pedal makes.
The Sustain control is interesting in that it adds the sympathetic resonance of the un-dampened strings. It creates a little ringing sense of realism.
The Key Off knob controls the sound of the hammer coming back to rest.
There are ADSR (Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release) sliders for shaping the overall sound. These can produce pad and clav-like sounds as well as tweaking the piano sound itself.
There’s also a Velocity Curve slider which adjusts the instrument’s response to velocity so you can adjust it to suit a light or heavy touch.
In addition to all these controls, there is also an effects section which includes Chorus, a Phaser, Delay and Reverb.
The Reverb has three versions each of Plate, Room and Hall reverb. The Delay has Depth, Time, Feedback, Pan and Damping controls.
Including the surround sound instruments, there are a total of 12 instruments with the word Earthworks or EW in their name. This refers to the Earthworks Mics using in the recording.
There are another set of 8 instruments named Peluso which swap out the Earthworks group 4 Mics for Peluso Mics arranged in the ORTF position (about 8ft off the side of the piano) to create a realistic stereo field. This arrangement is typically used in classical and jazz recording.
As well as all these instruments, many of them include snapshots, a total of 81. Of course, these are all variations on the main set of samples but they are great starting points when looking for a tweak. They include various degrees of brightness, ambience, touch, Mic combinations and so on.
The sound is exceptional. The sampling layers, the response, the possible tonal variations, not to mention the effects, come together to create one of the most playable and versatile sample library pianos you’ve probably ever played.
Moving on to the other instruments, the interfaces all have a similarity, the differences being mainly in the effects and parameters particular to that instrument. They all have a similar Reverb set up to the piano.
The Hohner D6 Clavinet has been used on myriad records but is arguably most famous for the riff in Stevie Wonder’s Superstition. Its most noticeable difference in the interface is the Wah Wah section and the default instrument load with a very heavy wah.
There are envelope controls, a Tube Overdrive and Phunky Phaser sections as well as Delay. The snapshots give excellent examples of the type of sounds it can produce including guitar-like overdrives and echoes.
The Farfisa Combo Organ has also been used on many hit records. Its distinctive reedy, vibrato sound is excellently captured here.
Controls include ADSR, Delay, Chorus and Phaser. There is also, as you might expect a large Vibrato section.
If you get away from the traditional vibby sound, you can find a nice range of ambient, echoey sounds and effects, too.
In the organ popularity stakes, the Hammond organ, in its many versions and variations, must surely be the one that features on more records than any other.
You can, of course, adjust each drawbar, change the Cabinet size and add Overdrive. The default and definitive cabinet for the Hammond is a Leslie and the Leslie section here has several controls to tailor the rotary speaker sound to your preference, including the mandatory Slow/Fast control (MIDI CC-assignable, of course) for that wonderful Hammond/Leslie effect.
There’s also a nice Delay section for creating trippy effects.
In case you’ve never played a Hammond, there are several snapshots to help you discover some of its possibilities. It can do everything from rock to jazz to classical. This is a super instrument.
The Fender Rhodes 73 Electric Piano is another classic instrument that has graced many, many hits including Riders On The Storm by the Doors, and Billy Joel’s Just The Way You Are.
Although it’s a piano, it’s capable of a wide range of variations and effects. Controls include ADSR, Delay, Vibrato, Chorus and Phaser. There are five Rhodes instruments and a total of 37 snapshots to help you unlock your inner piano man.
Any discussion of classic electric pianos must also include the Wurlitzer. One of the main differences between the Rhodes and the Wurlitzer is the tone. The Rhodes uses tines while the Wurlitzer uses reeds so the Rhodes has a more bell-like quality and the Wurlitzer is perhaps a little more dirty. But the well-rounded composer/player needs them both.
The Wurlitzer was also used on many hits including I Am The Walrus by The Beatles and Super Tramp’s Goodbye Stranger and Bloody Well Right.
The main features of this Wurlitzer instrument are the ADSR, Delay, Vibrato, Chorus and Phaser. There are 14 snapshots and, as with the other instruments, using the controls and effects can produce a wide range of sounds.
Finally, there’s the Vox Super Continental. This is another classic 60’s sound which features on The Animal’s House Of The Rising Sun, the Rolling Stones’ Time Is In My Side, and I’m A Believer by The Monkees.
Controls include ADSR, Delay, Vibrato, Chorus and Phaser. Again, 11 snapshots help you work your way through the possibilities.
Q Up Arts’ California Keys – Summary
The main take-away from this library is quality. The samples have been recorded in depth, the instruments are all extremely playable and they sound fantastic.
There is also a vast range of options for customisation, from subtly adjusting the tone of the piano to adding great swathes of processing in the Clav. So although there are ‘only’ seven instruments, you can create virtually any keyboardy sound you want.
Coming back to the piano, it’s easy to create a darker sound by adjusting the tone and adding some ambience. It’s a veritable piano for all seasons and probably one of the most versatile sampled pianos currently available.
The other instruments give you a go-to library of classic instruments used on thousands of records. Together they are a wonderful collection of keyboard sound for playing or recording.
Although the instruments aren’t too difficult to find your way around, the manual could do with an update but the company is working on that.
This is an outstanding collection and you can work out your own sense of value when it comes to the price. As of writing, at the current sale price, this collection will be very hard to resist and a virtual no-brainer.