Review – C. Bechstein Digital Grand

 

 

What do you get when you combine pristine sampling of an exquisite grand piano with a wealth of editing controls? The C. Bechstein Digital Grand is here, so find out in this review.

 

by Rob Mitchell, Jan. 2017

 

Sampled piano libraries are one of the most popular types of sample content available these days. Without a doubt, there are a host of them to choose from. When the C. Bechstein Digital Grand was introduced, I wanted to find out how it holds up against the competition. One feature in their promotional material was that it is about 25 gigabytes in size. That alone grabbed my attention. It uses lossless compression, and the documentation mentioned that the actual size was around 80 gigabytes originally.

To use the C. Bechstein Digital Grand, you’ll need a PC or Mac and either the full version of Kontakt, or the free Kontakt Player. No further exact requirements are given – only that you should be using a PC or Mac built in the last few years. This is a bit vague, but I would think you’d want an i5 CPU (or higher) and a large amount of RAM to make sure it works well. For my review, I used my PC with an i7 Intel CPU and 16 gigabytes of RAM. An SSD is recommended.  Using foot pedals will help get the most from the product, of course. Half-pedaling can be used as well, as continuous controller technology is supported. I do not have an SSD, but so far it has been working fine.  I have it saved on my secondary SATA 7,200 RPM hard drive. Later in the review we’ll see how well that worked out.

After you’ve added the library to either the full version of Kontakt or Kontakt Player, it must be activated with a serial number supplied with purchase. Once that is done, you’re all set and you can start using the C. Bechstein Digital Grand. There are three separate instruments that can be loaded: Player, Side, and Top.

Each of these use different microphone placements. “Player” is from the player’s perspective, with a normal left to right stereo perspective. “Side” uses the audience’s perspective (listening from the side). “Top” is a closer microphone setting which is above the strings of the piano.

 

Time to Play

Once you’ve selected one of the instruments, you’ll see the main display. In the upper-left you can select from some presets they’ve included to get you started. Below the browser are four tabs that stretch across the display. It starts out on the first one, which is simply named “Play”. This is where you’re able to make adjustments to overall stereo width, the amount of dynamic response, and even the piano’s lid angle can be adjusted. Other controls include “Stage”, which lets you change the reverb amount, and the “Strings-EQ” control, which can dial-in an overall amount of EQ/tone. Many the controls I am mentioning have extra adjustments you can make on the other tabs, allowing you to fine-tune their settings. In the lower right are controls to adjust the settings for the pedals, and their icons will flash when they receive MIDI information. These three pedals respond to MIDI CC#64 (half-pedal), #66 (sostenuto), and #67. (una corda/soft)

 

You can make many adjustments for the Strings-EQ by clicking on its tab, where you are able to control up to four different settings that affect the overall EQ/tone of the piano: Base, Partials, Body, and Mellow. “Base” refers to the fundamental of whichever note that you want to boost or cut. The “Partials” setting is for adjusting the amount of overtones, and “Body” will increase/decrease the sustain amount. The “Mellow” setting will basically smooth out the transients, and lessen the edge on the sound.

Any of those four features can be enabled or disabled, and you are able to boost or cut the amount of each with the mouse in the graphic interface. Using the mouse, you drag across the screen to boost the level (for example) of the first octave’s “Body” setting. You can see the keys going from left to right to use as a guide. After that’s set how you want it, you might want to cut the amount of the “Partials” setting for the second octave. It is very easy to draw in the changes across a range of keys, or you might want to make each and every key have its own particular setting. I wouldn’t do that myself, but it is possible.  It is really up to your own creativity and how you’d like it to sound. 

 

Audio-Design

 

In the Audio-Design screen, adjustments can be made to M/S (Mid/Side) that affect the stereo width. This is tied to the same “Width” controller on the Play tab. If you turn it all the way to the left, it will have a mono signal, and turning it fully to the right is for Side only. Of course, you can dial in a balance anywhere in-between those two if you’d like. Below that control are separate Mid and Side compression and equalization settings. You just set the amount of the compression and equalization. Below those controls are simple drop-down menus to select the type of compression or EQ that you may apply. The four choices for compression range from “Moderate” to “Extreme”. For the EQ, it has four choices as well, and they include choices such as “Moderate” and “Classical”. It’s all very straight forward and easy to use. In the middle of the screen is a large round “Character” control that lets you adjust the overall warmth or brightness of the tonal quality. You just click and drag it up or down to adjust it how you’d like. In general, it can go from a more subdued and warm sound to a harder, brighter type of character.

Below that are the “Aura” and “Lid” controls. Aura will produce an amount of ambient reverberation when turned to the left, and when turned to the right, it uses over 2,000 additional samples which round out the ambient sound. This gives it a fuller/richer sound, not that the piano doesn’t sound that way already. But it definitely gives it a boost in that department. You just might not need it for all occasions.  To release those extra samples from memory, you just click the red X icon. The Lid control is the same as on the first “Play” screen that I mentioned earlier. Any changes on that screen tie into this one, but you may want to adjust it from here as well.

The last controls on this screen that I want to cover are for the reverb effect. There are a decent number of settings for the room size, and the “Amount” control dials in how much you’d like to add. There’s nothing fancy here, but the reverb itself does sounds very good. The “Dreamy” setting has a long, spacious tail which sounds like it is modulated in some form or another. There are no other controls available to adjust any modulation that may be going on in there, but it sounds great nonetheless.

 

Details

 

The fourth tab brings you to the final screen at which we’ll look. It is called “Details”, and the first four settings available are named Keys, Dampers, Pedals, and String Releases. These adjust the amount of mechanical noises that will be audible, giving it more of a realistic sound. In the “Velocity Curve” section, you’re able to adjust the range and levels for the velocity. The “Shape” control dials in the amount of the curve shown on the display, and it has three settings to choose from: Standard (linear, until the Shape control is increased), Curved (exponential), and Shaped (similar to a sine wave shape). You can also draw in the shape in the display with your mouse, instead of using one of the three pre-defined shapes. The bipolar “Dynamic Response” control will adjust the effect of velocity on dynamic range, and I noticed it can yield interesting sounds when set to -50. It is experimental sounding for sure, but it’s always fun to switch settings around in that way and just see how it sounds.

The last controls on this screen are for the NKS (Native Kontrol Standard) settings, Resonance, and Sympathetic amount. First of all, I don’t have a Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol keyboard. However, I did want to mention that the manual states that using the “Native Map” functionality can affect automation in your DAW. For this reason, they’ve made it possible to switch off the page switching feature. Finally, you can select the mapping for the NI keyboard’s Touch Strip (or use a mod wheel) from a dropdown menu. 

The “Resonance” controls adjust the amount of Color (adding slightly more character using some phase modulation) and Depth. It isn’t a huge change in the sound, but this feature is slightly more noticeable when you use the sustain pedal. The last control is called “Sympathetic”, and it boosts the amount of overtones that are heard when the sustain pedal is down. This effect is somewhat dependent on the velocity of the key strikes.

 

Conclusion

This piano has a warm, inviting sound with a good deal of character and depth. The many controls included let you adjust some settings I really hadn’t considered before. At the same time, the controls are well thought out, and definitely broaden the scope of what is possible. If you have the full version of Kontakt, there are (most likely) more ways to customize it that I was not able to try out. Also, it seemed to function just fine on my PC without an SSD, but your mileage might vary, and it may be a good idea to purchase an additional drive. I’ve seen them online for around $100 USD with 240 GB of storage. That would give you enough room to store some other data/libraries as well.

I am a decent piano player, but I thought I should test it out with some more serious playing “chops”. I found a MIDI file for a Mozart piano Fantasia that actually sounds like it was played live, with lots of dynamic range, and it has pedal information recorded into it as well. The C. Bechstein Digital Grand held up under pressure, and all the many nuances that a piece like this contains were able to shine through. In addition, I didn’t hear any issues with missed notes or dropouts. I was afraid something like that might occur, as I don’t have an SSD to test out with this library. It may have helped that I have a large amount of RAM in my PC, something that is becoming more of the norm these days. There are many piano libraries on the market, but this one is a cut above many of those in the virtual piano world. It’s well worth checking out, and I highly recommend it.

The C. Bechstein Digital Grand retails for 249 Euros, which is around $262 USD. It is also available pre-loaded on to an SSD for an additional cost. You can get more information on their website here:

https://www.bechstein-digital.com/

There is also some interesting information about Carl Bechstein located here:

http://www.bechstein.com/en/the-world-of-bechstein/tradition/1850-1855/

 

 

 

 

 

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