Review – Mini Grand by AIR Music
Can a low cost, easy to use sampled piano plugin hold up to the competition? Our reviewer takes it for a test drive to see if that is possible.
by Rob Mitchell, Sept. 2015
AIR Music Technology has recently released the Mini Grand and the DB-33 in VST and AU plugin formats. Previously, these were both only available within Pro Tools, but now you can use them in your DAW of choice. For this review, I will be covering the Mini Grand.
Like the name suggests, this plugin is all about the piano. Nothing complicated here, as it is just a straight-forward, easy to use software instrument that will bring some great piano sounds to your projects. Since this isn’t a particularly complex plugin, the review will not be very long. I will still try to cover everything it has to offer.
The download for Mini Grand from the AIR website is just over one gigabyte. After I started the installation, it gave me the chance to pick what I wanted to have installed, and where I’d like it to go. I didn’t see any system requirements for it on their website, even though the manual says to check their website for that. The link provided in the manual didn’t lead to a requirements page for the Mini Grand, but I suspect they are similar to some of their other products. It does use a serial number during the installation, and you will also need to have the iLok license manager installed for authorization as well.
Mini Grand worked fine with my PC running Windows 8.1 (64-bit), and I had it loaded up in Sonar X3 Producer. I would suggest that you have at least four gigabytes of RAM installed, as it is a little over one gigabyte when stored on the hard drive. Eight gigabytes is probably a more realistic amount to have, as you will probably have many other plugins loaded in at once besides the Mini Grand. Also, I am not sure if it has any sort of disk streaming built-in, but I didn’t see any settings to change that.
After you load it in your DAW, you will see the main display. Actually, that is the only display it has, but there are a few extra functions that I will get to shortly. Its controls are basically self-explanatory, but you might wonder what a few of them do.
Over on the left side is the “Model” control. This works a bit like a variable filter control, as it changes from a more muffled and gentle overall sound (Atmos setting) to a wide open/bright, and “in your face” kind of tone (Dance setting).
The next control to the right is the “Dynamic Response”, which will dial in the amount of dynamics the piano will have. At the minimum setting, it will play at nearly full velocity, as if you are always striking the keys harder. The maximum setting will have the most velocity range it can muster, so it will reproduce the velocity levels in a more realistic manner. You may want to set it to around the halfway point (12 o’clock) on this control to get a good balance, depending on the style of music you are using it for.
The Tuning Scale has settings for either equal or stretched tuning. “Equal” means that the pitch of the notes in relation to each other is normal and in tune, and “Stretched” means the higher notes are bit higher in their tuning. This makes it so the higher notes are more in tune with the overtones of the lower notes.
Next we have the Room and Mix controls. This section is for Mini Grand’s easy and simple to use reverb. There are a good number of varied room presets, including Soft, Bright, Studio, Chamber, Hall, and Ambient. The Mix control dials in the amount of reverb, but there are no other controls to edit the actual reverb settings. Last but not least is the main output level control, which is located over on the right side.
MIDI learn is included by way of a right-click on whichever knob you want to setup. From there, you can also set minimum and maximum values, and the range can be inverted.
Along the bottom is a keyboard you can use to trigger notes manually, and the preset menu is located below the keyboard. 30 presets are included, and you can save your own creations. Clicking the wrench icon brings up a small display in which you change the polyphony (from 2 to 64 voices), switch to an Economy mode to save resources, and load/save/reset MIDI assignments.
This plugin does sounds great, but it doesn’t have any other options such as microphone placement, or added features that are in some of the other major sampled piano sound sets. Also, it might not have quite as many velocity levels as some of its competition, but then again it is only around one gigabyte in file size. This really is a bonus when you think about it, as it will take up much less room on your hard drive. One other nice quality it possesses is its low CPU usage.
While playing around with the different settings that are available, I found that I could get a decent amount of variation in the sound, especially when used with the various settings for the reverb. Another major selling point for the Mini Grand is its price, as it retails for just $79.99 USD. At the time of writing this review, there is special crossgrade price available. If you’re an owner of Pro Tools 8 or the Air Instrument Expansion Pack, it is now available for $49.99 USD.
If you want a great sounding piano that is very easy to use, then this is definitely a good one to try out. There is a demo version and more information on the Mini Grand located on their website: