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UVI Key Suite Bundle Edition Review

James Rotondi

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UVI delivers a huge library of samples to keep any keyboard player occupied for years to come.

For the last two decades, the French company UVI has been quietly building a vast and impressive line of sample libraries. They have a buzzworthy body of piano, synthesizer, world music, urban, sound effects, offbeat, orchestral, and avant-garde sounds. Their well-received Key Suite Acoustic, Key Suite Electric, and Key Suite Digital collections feature meticulous samples drawn from hallowed keyboards with names like Steinway, Kawai, Yamaha, Fender Rhodes, Roland, Hohner, Fazioli, and Wurlitzer, as well as antique classical instruments and compelling new hybrids and rarities. 

All three UVI Key Suite sets have now been co-packaged into the sweeping and comprehensive UVI Key Suite Deluxe Bundle. UVI has kicked in a new premium piano as well: Austrian Grand, a detailed and dialed 3.5GB, multi-layered homage to the mighty Bösendorfer 290 Imperial Grand. The Key Suite Bundle is both wide and deep. It impresses as much for its breadth and scope as for its visceral and exacting sonics. Rarely have acoustic and electric keyboard samples captured as much of the mechanical essence of the instruments as UVI’s offerings do here. Meanwhile, rarities ranging from a Blanchet Cembalo to an RMI Electra Piano only add to the intrigue and depth of this splendid piano collection from the adroit French sample ingénieurs.

Station to Station

Like every UVI library, you’ll browse, access, play, store, and edit these sounds using either UVI Workstation 3 (Mac/Windows, free) or their Falcon 2 hybrid instrument (Mac/Windows, $349).

Just above the keyboard map on Workstation’s GUI, you’ll see three navigation buttons to toggle between the Mic/Main page, the Edit Page (for sample filtering, envelope, and performance variables), and the UVI effects (FX) rack. Within that rack you’ll find an Impulse Response processor with dozens of rooms, timbres and materials, amps and speakers, and more. There’s also an excellent rack EQ, stereo modulator, digital delay, reverb unit, and, depending on your piano selection, tremolo and wah-wah effects. The Main/Mic page features Off/On and volume options for the various microphone, amp, and DI sources, and an adjustable velocity-curve icon for shaping Workstation’s response to your MIDI controller.

What’s more, the GUI’s upper panel boasts buttons for a more sober FX editing page, an arpeggiator, a multi-instrument editor for stacking sounds, and the browser toggle. Within the browser, you’ll find all your UVI instruments and corresponding presets (generally around six or seven per instrument), as well as brief explanations of each keyboard’s sample source. Noteworthy names include the Kawai EP-608, a 1930’s Erard Baby Grand, Roland P-330, Yamaha CP-70, the rare 1960s Weltmeister Claviset, and more. (Note: not all the instruments are name-checked. Perhaps due to trademark issues, UVI is selective about showing their hand on all of these instruments.)

Acoustic Fantasy

Let’s start with the Key Suite Acoustic collection, a 12.6 GB clutch of 20 instruments that includes five grand pianos, six uprights, four plucked strings keyboards, and five metallophones. While all have names that suggest their pedigree, you’ll occasionally need to use your own keyboard ken to suss out what you’re using. In other cases, you’ll simply see a description with the original instrument mentioned in the browser window. It shouldn’t take a music history doctorate, though, to figure out that the Italian F Grand is sampled from a fine Fazioli, for instance, or that the Japanese C7 is the sound of a Yamaha C7. Model D, meanwhile, comes from a stunning Steinway concert grand Model D, which was recorded at the venerable Guillaume Tell Studios in Paris using a Neumann U67 and other premium mics.

All the grand pianos, to my ears, are exceptional captures. The impact of the hammers sounds remarkably clear and visceral, the balance and timbres are rich and deep. (The realism of the boxy shuffling noise produced by taking your foot off the sustain pedal is almost eerie.) Indeed, the UVI Grands are so deeply sampled—and so remarkably well stereo-imaged—that it seems one step closer to playing the real thing than a typical virtual piano. Close your eyes, crank it up, and hit those keys hard while playing UVI’s own Hybrid Custom—a blend of Yamaha, Steinway, and Bösendorfer grands recorded with Royer, BK, and Neumann mics—and you’ll get the picture. It’s a stunningly accurate aural and even physical model of what playing a proper Grand is like. 

The same holds true for the Acoustic collection’s superb Seiler Upright Grand, Steinway Grand Upright, a cool detuned Saloon Upright, an antique tack piano, a moody Blüthner Tender Upright, and an Ostlind Compact 5-octave upright. Standouts in the Plucked Strings category include an evocative Baroque-era Clavichord (ancestor to the Hohner Clavinet) and the powdered-wig-approved Blanchet Cembalo, which suggests a fuller and punchier harpsichord. The dynamic 3-octave JenCo Celesta and the rich attack and tone of the circa-1750 Papageno Bells (with Ribbon, PZM, and BK mic options) are two of the most distinctive metallophones offered here. All of the UVI Key Suite Acoustic instruments, it must be said, are three-dimensional, rich with character, and have a way of immediately stimulating ideas.

Electric Dreams

Top dog for sheer numbers is the Key Suite Electric set: 63 instruments in all. This includes 14 tines, 7 electric pianos, 7 Clavinets, 10 acoustic-electric boards, 9 analog keyboards, and 10 bass instruments. Certainly, you’ll find a wealth of truly superb versions of Fender Rhodes MK I through Mark 7, reed-based Wurlitzer 200s, Yamaha CP Series pianos, Hohner Clavinets, and more, but it’s as much the rare and surprising choices UVI made that make this collection really shine. 

The late-’60s Fender Rhodes Green Student Piano is a revelation; mellow and round, but with a ferocious mid-range bark when you really smack the keys. The Helpinstill Roadmaster 64 upright electro-acoustic piano combines the detuned bite of a tack piano with a CP-70’s dark, digital hue. The Italian-made Farfisa Cembalino is a dynamic and quirky electric harpsichord, rich with a subtle undertow of natural modulation and bizarre, feedback-like overtones. The 1972 Davioli Pianoforti C77 is a stark and seductive take on the Tine sound. The reed-based Hohner Electra—made famous in part by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones—is presented in two glorious versions here. Try the more-driven Electra Piano 2 preset, grab the Rotary Wheel preset, and you’ve got instant “No Quarter.” Close the door, turn out the lights…

Another delightful instrument in the Electric Bundle, in the Bass category, is the El Toro, based on the Moog Taurus 1 bass pedals from the 1970s, made famous by Geddy Lee of Rush, as well as Pink Floyd, Yes, and Genesis. El Toro will literally rattle your studio walls. It’s amazing—epic. You may never use another bass synthesizer again. If you want instant Ray Manzarek (and who doesn’t?), you’ll love the fat, subby, and warm peals of the Rhodes bass pianos here, including the nicely driven EPiano preset for the Rhodes Bass Salmon. Elsewhere, the vibey portamento on the KBass 3 (sampled from a Hohner Bass Synthesizer) makes it ideal for hip-hop basslines or a prog opus alike.

Digital Reveries

Digital pianos of the ’80s and ’90s can be an acquired taste, or perhaps an inherited curse, depending on your ears and where your formative years as a keyboard enthusiast fell. Still, it’s undeniable that modules like the Roland MKS-20 digital piano, Kurzweil Micro Piano, Alesis Nano Piano, and others gave commercial pop of the ’80s and ’90s loads of iconic and pristine clean sounds (“Against All Odds,” anyone?) that still handily evoke the era today. 

That’s what you’ll find in UVI’s Key Suite Digital: ten instruments in all, representing classics like the Yamaha TX1P, Roland P-330, and Ensoniq Sampled Piano Module. Some standouts include the cold, cutting PERformance module’s Acoustic Rock preset, no doubt culled from an E-mu PROformance 1/3-rack module. Dig the soft-rock-inclined Classic EPiano preset from The Micro—surely a Kurzweil Micro Piano. I also loved the King SG’s Acoustic Piano 2, surely drafted from a cool old Korg SG1-D board. And don’t miss the non-piano sounds in here; there’s a terrific charm to the borderline-cheesy marimba, vibraphone, organ, and harpsichord sounds, too.

Definitely don’t miss out on the clever Key Pan and Alt Pan controls in the Digital Key Suite, either. These allow you to lay out left and right-hand keys widely across the stereo field or have each note alternate on different sides of the spectrum. As the French might say, “Hyper cool…”

Final Resolution

For my money, the UVI Key Suite Deluxe Bundle operates on three distinct levels. It is certainly a must-have sample library for film composers, record producers, keyboard aces, and commercial houses alike. It’s a slam-dunk, if you will. It also acts as a hands-on education in the history of acoustic, electric, and digital pianos. Each distinctive instrument is a jumping-off point for delving further into the keyboards of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.

Just as importantly, by marrying such accurate and holistic sampled sounds to a fairly deep onboard sample editor, mic/source array, and effects library, the Key Suite Deluxe is a pure idea machine. The only deterrent to exploring the full depth and scope of the collection is the likelihood that you’ll start composing and recording figures and progressions right out of the gate.For a complete list of the instruments available in UVI Key Suite Deluxe Bundle, as well as how-to videos, sound samples, and much more, visit UVI online.

Key Suite Acoustic: 20 instruments, 125 presets, 51GB of disk space

Key Suite Electric: 63 instruments, 476 presets, 15 GB of disk space

Key Suite Digital: 10 instruments, 196 presets, 20 GB of disk space.

WebsiteUVI.net

Supported Platforms: UVI Workstation 3.0.11, UVI Falcon 2.0.7, or newer

Price: $349.00 (sold separately: Key Suite Acoustic, $199.00; Key Suite Electric, $199.00; Key Suite Digital, $79.00)

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