Review – XLN Audio’s Addictive Keys Studio Collection
XLNAudio has expanded the sound capabilities of Addictive Keys to include the Electric Grand, Mark One, Modern Upright, and Studio Grand. Find out more in this close-up look.
by Rob Mitchell, Jan. 2014
XLNAudio is a software company based in Sweden, and they’re the makers of the award winning plugins Addictive Drums and Addictive Keys. They have expanded their total group of sounds for Addictive Keys to include the Electric Grand, Mark One, Modern Upright, and Studio Grand.
Recently they have put together the Studio Collection, which includes the Mark One, Modern Upright, and the Studio Grand. These are virtual reproductions of actual keyboards, for each of which the sound production starts with sample playback. Samples are taken along in the signal path, where you can modulate and modify them the way you want. It works much the same way as a synthesizer’s oscillator, where you can filter its audio, and add effects to get the end result you’d like.
Using these methods to change the sound of the sampled instruments, you can alter the signal into something entirely different than the original sample. Once you have fine-tuned your sound, completing the picture is a virtual recording environment, replete with a variety of mics at different positions relative to the instrument.
The Mark One is sampled from a Fender Rhodes Mark I, the Studio Grand is from a Steinway Model D grand piano, and the Modern Upright is sampled from a Yamaha U3 upright piano.
Each one of those is also available separately on their website. This collection is a great deal though, as individually they retail for $69.95 USD, but this trio of keyboards goes for $179.95. They also offer an upgrade path for $130 if you already own the Studio Grand.
The minimum requirements for running Addictive Keys are:
Mac Intel CPU, OS 10.5 or higher, 32 or 64bit
PC Intel or AMD CPU, Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, 32 or 64bit.
You must have an internet connection.
For this review, I tried the standalone version, as well as the VST plugin within Sonar X3 Producer. Both worked fine.
The installation requires an internet connection. After installing using the XLN Online Installer application, you will find you now have a standalone version, as well as the plugin version to load into your DAW.
When you first run it, it starts with the Studio Grand, and brings you to the Gallery page. You can also select the other two instruments that ship with the Studio Collection from here.
Explore Maps are where you can select different presets, and they are spread out across three pages. Each preset loads in very quickly, and you can click a preview button to hear a bit of how it sounds.
You can change the way the instrument sounds using the macro controls on the first Explore Maps page, or really change it up by clicking the Edit button in the upper right. I’ll get to how you can edit a preset (and create your own) later in the review.
In the upper left, you can load the presets for any of the three instruments by clicking on the name of the preset. If you click on one that is for a different instrument, it will still load rather quickly, and you can continue playing. I thought it might take longer when switching to another instrument, but it is really is quick.
There are controls to filter the presets so the browser will just show your own creations, or show all the product presets at once. Also available in the upper left is a selection menu to filter results down to just one type of instrument. The preview musical clips can be dragged into the host from here also. Click and drag the icon that says “MIDI” on to the track you’d like, and then you’re able to play it from there.
When you’re making your own preset, click the floppy disk icon to save it. Doing so brings you to a screen where you can add additional notes about the preset, if you’d like. You could notate what microphones were used, or some other detail that might have inspired the preset. Then you can also name the preset, and clicking the REC button lets you record your own preview for it.
The Memo Record is a handy feature they’ve added. It lets you record an idea whenever you want by clicking the red record button in the upper left. You can also rename the recording, and even upload it to My Cloud.
Editing a Preset
Clicking the Edit button brings up to the page where you change the characteristics of the sound. If you try to write over a factory preset, it won’t let you do that with the same name. You can rename it though, and save it after you changed it around to your liking.
There are many microphone types and placements available. For the Studio Grand for example, there are six different microphone placement settings you can choose from. Each of those settings uses various simulated microphones. Addictive Keys includes a M269, M250, Ribbon 6203, Tube T25, PZM MKE212, and a Ribbon 4038, among others. The types you can choose from depend on which keyboard you have loaded. For instance, the PZM is included in the choices when you load the Mark One or the Modern Upright, but it’s not included with the Studio Grand.
They’ve included nice controls for the pedals to give a touch of added realism. There’s a “softness” amount for the soft pedal, pedal noise, and sustain noise. These pedal controls are not available for the Mark One.
Envelopes and Effects
Go ahead and tweak the sound with pitch, filter, volume envelopes, and EQ control. If you’d like to give it some of that old school audio-realism, different types of noise are available for your preset. Some of these include a simulated vinyl record, 7ips and 15ips tape hiss, even a Big Muff stompbox simulation.
For effects, XLNAudio has added a chorus, phaser, tremolo, and even a compress/distort effect.
The chorus has a feature called “Octave Mode”. It will change the five-voice chorus so each voice will be going at a different rate. The chorus has a frequency filter as well. The compress/distort effect has some great distortion types, which include Tube Pair, Iron Transformer, Crunch, Zap, and Air Pressure.
One of the two MultiFX slots is pre-EQ, while the other is post-EQ. Each slot can load one of the four effects listed above. For instance, you could have a phaser on the pre-EQ, and a chorus in the post-EQ slot.
You can pick a different microphone type for each of the first three channels. Plus, each channel can have its own effects setup for it. They’ve also included volume, pan, solo, and mute buttons for each of those channels. Select the first channel by clicking on it, change the microphone, switch the effects around, panning, volume, etc., and then move to the next channel.
There also two FX slots, which have a delay and reverb. You can easily route different microphones to these with sends (FX1 and FX2), and each of the two slots also has its own three-band EQ.
If all that wasn’t enough, there is a Master FX section which has its own two-slot effects setup. You can choose from all the same effects that the two MultiFX slots can use. You also have the same choices for Noise to pick from, and a three-band EQ is added here as well.
In a nutshell, it is very flexible! You can make it sound subtle with a slight chorus, or distorted and raunchy with some EQ and a distortion effect. With the pitch, filter, and volume envelopes, you can make it sound nothing like a piano if you want. I experimented with those controls (plus some effects) and made the Studio Grand more like a synth-pad type of sound.
Up in the Cloud
If you are connected to the internet while you have Addictive Keys loaded (to install, you have to be anyway) any presets or memos you save are uploaded to My Cloud. It can sync up with another computer you might be using it on, so you have access to your saved presets on each one.
It also saves different versions of your presets as you go, and even the deleted presets and memos. There’s a way to share presets from My Cloud as well. You just click the “Share” button and it will create a link for that preset, so you can send it over to a friend of yours. Then they can access it from their computer, and add it to their own XLN account.
Performance settings for the instruments are specified on the Session Settings page. These include such settings as pitch bend, velocity response, X-modulation, Master tune, and Temperament.
There are 30 different temperaments available. The Session settings on the page won’t change from preset to preset.
The X-modulation can be set to affect certain settings within Addictive Keys. You can set these up using a mod wheel, aftertouch, or MIDI CC.
There are a good number of sampled piano plugins already on the market, but this one is so flexible, it really deserves special attention.
The basic sound of each of the keyboards included is excellent. On top of that, there are seemingly infinite ways to combine the different microphones, EQ, filters/envelopes, and multi/master effects that are available. You can also use automation on some of the settings of Addictive Keys. These include the X-mod, channel volume amounts, FX sends, and the master channel filter.
The high quality sampled sounds of the three keyboards are really top-notch. I can’t really think of anything negative to say on this collection of great sounds. I do think that it could use a few more presets, but that’s about it. Nothing else jumps out and makes me think…”If it only did this, or that, or maybe…”. They have really thought this out very well.
One thing that would be cool (and this is a stretch!) is if they made it so any microphone could be at any placement. The way it is now, the microphones are not interchangeable in the placements. The microphones they picked are well suited to where they are located, so this just nit-picking.
Before buying some other similar plugin, make sure to check out the Studio Collection. It’s very easy to use, presets load quickly, has a great interface, excellent sound, and the price is right.
You can check out the Studio Grand demo version on their website: