Soniccouture The Canterbury Suitcase by Diogo C
Product: The Canterbury Suitcase
Format: Native Instruments Kontakt instrument (compatible with free player)
Requirements: Windows (7+) or macOS/OS X (10.7+)
DRM: Serial number
Price: $179 (US Dollars, MSRP)
The Scope: After doing one of the very best acoustic piano with The Hammersmith and also some exotic electric pianos on EP73 Deconstructed and Broken Wurli, Soniccouture now presents us with The Canterbury Suitcase, a thoroughly sampled Rhodes Suitcase 88 electric piano with some interesting twists. Everything starts at the Canterbury Music Company’s studio in Toronto, Canada, where Soniccouture was met with an original unit in excellent working condition made in 1976 owned by the owner of this fine studio. In order to capture all the nuances of this exquisite instrument they’ve recorded the line signal, a mic’d the cabinet and also the room for the full recording studio experience. The cabinet was mic'd with the ubiquitous Shure SM57 and a vintage AKG C414EB with brass C12 capsules, while the room was captured with the intriguing Soundfield MKV microphone system, with everything going through a vintage Neve desk from the seventies and premium converters for maximum fidelity. Soniccouture made no compromises here, The Canterbury offers 25 layers of velocity per key and the sample pool goes up to 16GB, which isn’t a very scary number for today’s standards but that’s quite a significant for one single instrument regardless.
The Canterbury offers a lot of controls and thankfully everything is neatly organized on a clean interface, with all parameters available on three tabs with their corresponding buttons located on the lower part of the GUI: Options, Suitcase and Effects. The “Options” tab is covers the operational and performance aspects, with two layers, where the first layer offers velocity setup, key mapping and also enables adjustments for the “mechanical” aspects such as key off, pedal noise and scaling, while the second layer cover the tuning options. The velocity and tuning setups are very flexible, there are many for tuning possibilities this instrument and to make things more straightforward Soniccouture placed a number of presets, which is very convenient (see the attachments for all tuning presets). Free tip for lousy player such as myself: you can limit the velocity range to make up for those unwanted “too soft” notes and most importantly, you can set a ceiling so it doesn’t go over 120+ velocity because it gets gritty up there as it should be. Those tweaks helped the bad player that I am to get more joy out of it because it’s sensitivity and excellent response are just too much for my poor chops, but you can always tweak that MIDI after recording! The “Suitcase” tab is all about the sound and it also has two layer, with the first one offering a three channel mixer for the line, cabinet and room signals, which can be routed to individual outputs so you can have even further control over the sound. This first layer also offers bass and treble controls and a flexible vibrato with variable rate and different waveform options. The second layer goes deeper into the inner tweaks of the instruments to offer multimode filters for each mixer channel and a set of 1st/2nd/3rd harmonic controls that can make nudge the sound towards more crisp or muffled sounds depending on the setting. Last but not least we have the “Effects” tab, and I meant when I said “last but not least” because these effects are really good, and they are plenty! Here we have a single layer with a convolution-based reverb called “Space” on the right side and six effects slots on the left side (check out the attachments for the full list of effects). Space has a custom impulse response that goes from rooms and halls to plates and hardware effect devices, while the slots offers compression, EQ, tape saturation, delay, distortion, chorus, stereo widening and even a rotary-speaker simulator - there’s also a little dice above these slots, and I think you can figure out what it does. An impressive instrument from every angle you look at, with a hefty amount of options and they’re all put together perfectly, which is the most important.
Sound quality: It should be said that the approach taken here leans more towards Hammersmith than towards EP73 Deconstructed and Broken Wurli, and The Canterbury is essentially a very pristine instrument - as pristine as a Rhodes Suitcase can be of course! Having said that, this is probably the best electric piano in virtual instrument form I’ve heard to this date in terms of nuance, detail and authenticity. There are some great virtual electric pianos out there, and they certainly have their qualities and uses because no single instrument can work on every song, but The Canterbury really takes it to the next level and it’s execution is a notch above. It’s an extremely responsive instrument that reacts beautifully to every little change in dynamics, and this is where the sampling expertise from Soniccouture comes in with all those layers of velocity and intelligent anti-repeat/round robins really paying dividends. The effects are also very good sounding and even the presets are good and actually very useful, delivering a substantial number of variations from clean or soft to gritty or experimental, which highlights not only how good The Canterbury sounds but also how versatile it can be.
Ease of use: The Canterbury is mostly easy to use and most importantly it’s very easy to make it sound great. There are a good number of parameters to play with, but they’re optional (depending on how picky you are) and this is a rare case of an instrument that sounds great from the very first moment, so it’s only a matter of tweaking a few things to match your taste. Canterbury takes advantage of Kontakt’s snapshot to offer a great number of presets and as stated above they’re really good, providing great sounds which are basically “mix ready” for those not so fond of virtual knob-twisting while also showcasing all the possibilities available. In case further help is required there’s a PDF user manual which is quick to read, explaining all controls in clear and concise fashion. Soniccouture knows Kontakt inside and out, so the programming here is top-notch and it’s a very polished instrument in all regards with great computing performance, with moderate RAM consumption that only takes roughly 800mb to load all three mixer channels. These channels can be individually turned off if you need to free some memory, so even a low-spec laptop should be able to handle it, which makes it interesting for live or stage performances. It’s also very light on the CPU, so setting it up for low latency with low buffer sizes is very much possible. Overall there are no hurdles here, so it’s a matter of loading it up, picking a preset or adjusting the controls to taste and it’s ready to go.
Features: I’m trying really hard to find a flaw but that has proven to be a rather futile exercise! The Canterbury is a feature-rich instrument that gives the user basically anything he could hope for and more, with very good sounding effects, different tuning options, plenty of controls over the sound, velocity adjustments and even controls over the individual harmonics. It’s a very complete instrument in all regards, offering deep tweaking options for those who want that but also some shortcuts with the presets if you don’t mind taking such route. There’s plenty to play with both in terms of emulating authentic characteristics of the Rhodes suitcase and of modern-day virtual instrument functionality, which makes it a very well-rounded and flexible instrument that can cover a lot of ground from traditional playing to creative work.
Bang for buck: Fortunately The Canterbury doesn’t come with a scary price tag, it’s very reasonably price and the immense quality it offers easily justifies the investment. It’s a superb instrument that really excels on what it proposes, it’s rewarding to play with in a way few virtual instruments are and it has to be in the conversation for best electric piano in the box in 2017. The bar has definitely been raised.
Recommended for: keyboard players and producers looking for the most convincing and responsive emulation of the Rhodes Suitcase or anyone not totally happy with their current electric pianos.
- Impressive sounding with painstaking detail
- Effects that are actually good
- Plenty of useful presets
- Highly flexible if needed
- Affordable and compatible with free Kontakt Player
Click below for full resolution (1080p) screenshots.