In This Issue
Synthogy Ivory German D – the Synth and Software Review
Stunning virtual piano instrument: a prized Steinway grand in a new player that uses both sampling and modeling
Spoiler: Synthogy Ivory Grand 3 is at least as good as any virtual piano that’s ever walked the earth. And there are a lot of great ones, including Synthogy’s earlier instruments. Yes, we really are living in the golden age of music technology.
Ivory Grand 3 is a prized Steinway D that’s been tweaked to the nines before being recorded from four mic positions. Even before you adjust it to taste, this combination sampled/modeled instrument is strikingly clear without being brittle, and powerful without being strident. It also sounds stunningly live, like there really is a piano in the room with you, and that feedback is likely to affect your performance.
If you want to change the sound, there’s no shortage of parameters to tweak. Some would be available if you were recording a live piano in a studio, like mixing multiple mic positions or opening/closing the lid; others are part of the instrument model itself, for example the hammer hardness or the sustain pedal resonance level.
It’s very quick to change the sound to make it either more or less round, impactful, bright and punchy (like an Elton John sound) – anything.
Please check out the real demos by clicking on that link; I’m only a keyboard almost-player who uses pianos as a tool. But here’s a quick and dirty noodling to show what I mean about the realism:
Infinite velocity technology. Synthogy is understandably mum about what’s going on inside their new player. They bill it as combining the realism of sampling and the expressive capability of modeling, providing “infinite velocity-to-timbre.” If you have a standard MIDI controller, that’s a theoretical maximum of 128 steps (far fewer with keyboards that exist in the real world, of course); when MIDI 2.0 controllers become available, it’s over 65,000 steps.
The entire library – with its multiple mic positions – is under 41GB on disk. That’s considerably smaller than you’d expect from a modern sampled piano library, and it’s an indication of how much lifting the modeling is doing.
Is it just interpolating timbral changes between sampled layers, in other words changing the EQ? Could it be morphing between other parameters? Synthogy calls this the RGB engine – real-time gradient blending.
Regardless of what the engine is doing, it’s not just for flash. Everything comes together with the recordings to make this a very satisfying instrument to play. It really does feel like a real acoustic instrument is coming through your speakers, not like an electronic approximation.
Efficiency. Anyone used to working with sample libraries would notice that the performance load, at least on the Mac Studio Max used for this review, is surprisingly low. What’s more, pianos load almost instantly into the player.
An unscientific, variable estimate of the memory use: one of the factory models that uses all four mic positions only preloads about 50MB of RAM on the review computer. Running inside Apple Logic Pro set to a 64-sample buffer (which is on the low side), forearm smashes with the sustain pedal down peaked the processing meter but caused absolutely no audible glitches. That’s with the polyphony set to 100 voices, all four mic positions, and all the other components of the piano sound – sustain pedal noise, string resonance, ambience, etc.
So this instrument is efficient. As of this writing the Mac version is out, running in Apple Silicon native mode, and the Windows one is forthcoming.
Revolutionary? While there’s some mystery about the technology, we do know from discussions with Synthogy that their RGB approach works with any instrument that has a percussive attack (as opposed to one with continuously variable transitions like, say, a string instrument).
It’s highly unlikely that other keyboards won’t be forthcoming from Synthogy, but for example a snare drum that responds to infinite velocity – especially to extremely light taps on very sensitive pads – would be a breakthrough.
Incidentally, you can load Ivory 2 instruments into the new player and use many of its parameters – but of course not its infinite velocity to timbre.
Features. Most of the screens in the Ivory player are interspersed throughout this review, so ’nuff said about the sheer number of parameters that are there for the tweaking.
Just one example of a feature that isn’t obvious: Timbre Shift. This makes the instrument brighter or duller, presumably by changing the playback sampling rate – that is, “pitch shifting” without shifting the timing or pitch. At extreme settings it sounds like a cross between a ’70s Yamaha electric grand and a harpsichord.
If there’s one thing that distinguishes this instrument, it’s something we heard plainly before reading about it in the documentation: both the sustain pedal-up and -down resonance are very detailed, and not the same thing. These need to be modeled to be realistic, because sampling every combination of notes would require mathematical factoring – i.e. it probably would take longer than the age of the universe!
There’s also a clear difference between sympathetic and sustain resonance (yes, we got those correct terms from the documentation). Hold down a note and you hear the sympathetic resonance; press the sustain pedal and you hear the effect of the dampers lifting even while holding it.
Because of the precision in the resonance models’ harmonics, Synthogy refers to these as the models in Ivory 2 on steroids. It’s a subtlety that contributes above its weight to the overall sound and feel of the instrument, even to its character.
As to the sustain pedal, check this out. Obviously it’s raised to an extreme here, but it’s a great sound:
Grand and beyond. Ivory 3 includes a good assortment of presets, ranging from regular pianos to heavily processed ones and even an FM electric piano. There are also synthy pad layers, many made from a layer of Audiobro’s string libraries. You can use the pads on their own by turning off the piano.
If you’re interested in ambient sounds, there’s a whole category of presets. Some make use of the built-in effects – including the reverbs, which are outstanding, as well as the synth layers.
You’ll also be happy to hear that we gave up checking how long low notes sustain after 1-1/2 minutes. Close up, pianos sound like a symphony as sustained notes interact while they’re ringing. And in fact you can hear a lot of the “notes beating against each other” sound in Ivory 3.
If you save a project in your DAW, the preset along with your adjustments to the plug-in is recalled automatically, plus you can save it. You have to load a preset into the stand-alone version, because it defaults to silence. Not a huge deal.
Do we like it, do we really like it? Suffice it to say that Ivory 3 is now the piano in all my DAW templates. It’s a remarkable instrument.