MODARTT Pianoteq 6 Stage by jzero
The caliber of the sounds in Pianoteq are top notch. I find it stunning in terms of both audio quality and as a technical achievement. It's truly remarkable that Modartt has physically modeled so many characteristics of each piano or instrument they offer. They've used some serious math to recreate the sonic impact of a piano's strings, hammers, resonances, cabinet density, release velocity, etc... For full details on their modeling technology, click here. More than just an amazing technical feat, the sound is simply great. Steinway & Sons have "approved the sound and play-ability" of their instruments according to Modartt's website. I find this a compelling endorsement.
In addition to the quality sound, the modeling has another remarkable advantage: there are no samples. The absence of these digital recordings means that installation of the instrument takes only 50 megabytes on your hard-drive instead of many gigabytes. Prior to purchase of Pianoteq Stage, my favorite low-cost piano plugin was Waves' Grand Rhapsody. In contrast, Grand Rhapsody uses 14 gigabytes in high quality mode. This advantage means you can easily run Pianoteq from a laptop. In my case, I run it from a USB stick.
I purchased Pianoteq Stage from pluginfox.com. The process went smoothly until registration. Here's the weird part: As soon as you activate the software from Modartt's website, you are required to select your two instruments. There is no option to change once this is complete. Since there are a couple dozen instruments including various pianos, marimbas, harps, vibraphone, etc. it's slightly alarming that you have to make a "forever" choice immediately. In my case, this meant frantic review of 30 or so demo songs on Modartt's website at 2am in the morning! I picked the Steinway Model D and the C. Bechstein Digital Grand. While I am please with my selections, I anticipate purchasing the concert harp for another 50 euros in the near future. As long as you pick a Steinway, K2, or Bechstein as one of your choices, you can't go wrong.
The thing that surprised me most about this software was how flexible it is for changing the sound. I purchased the Stage version because it is $150, half the price of the Standard version. I expected the trade-off of a limited plugin where the sounds were to a large extent static. The comparison page on Modartt's website indicates that the Stage version is "the choice of the budget-minded musician who does not need to modify the sound". This RADICALLY undersells the abilities of Pianoteq Stage. Let me explain...
Stage includes a multi-point eq where you can add as many bands as you like. Stage has a velocity response editor that allows one to tune your midi controller to the instrument for best response. It also has a calibration wizard to guide you through this process and it is quite effective. This editor can have significant impact on the sound.
In addition, there is a "Condition" slider that allows one to alter the piano from "mint" condition to completely broken for horror-movie effects. Conservative use of this control allows some very realistic slightly-out-of-tune pianos like you find in your church, school, or wherever.
Stage also has three effect slots and a separate convolution reverb. The effect slots can contain any of the following:
Tremolo, Chorus, Wah, Flanger, Phaser, Fuzz, Delay, Amp, Compressor, 3 band EQ. Have you ever tried two Fuzz boxes into an Amp on piano? I HAVE!
The convolution reverb in Pianoteq Stage is great. I find the reverb on most piano plugins weak. I typically mess with them for about two seconds before replacing them with Waves H-Verb or something better. Stage has an excellent large plate, and various appealing hall, church, and cathedral settings. Standard controls to manipulate length, balance, pre-delay, room-size, tone, and early reflections are all present. Even the Taj Mahal is available for stunning ambient pieces!
In short, Pianoteq Stage is brilliant. I'm officially a fan for life.
While there are many lower-cost options out there you can make work in your mix, I find the value of Pianoteq vastly better. It is really a high quality instrument in plugin form.