Review – North 7 Vintage Keys from Spitfire Audio
Spitfire Audio applies their sampling philosophy to four classic electro-mechanical instruments.
by David Keenum, Nov. 2016
Let me start out by saying that I am an Electric Piano and Clavinet fan. I love them! Well, I love their sound. I don’t enjoy moving one. I really don’t enjoy maintaining one. And I don’t even enjoy playing one that much. But their sound … bliss. I still remember, as a kid, hearing the Wurlitzer piano play the intro to Three Dog Night’s Joy to the World or Mama Told Me (Not to Come). Or the Rhodes on Stevie Wonder’s You Are the Sunshine of My Life. Or Stevie’s Clavinet duo on Superstition. And I can’t forget the Door’s Rhodes piano and piano bass on Riders on the Storm. That’s why I said “Bliss.”
For me, it’s the sound of Rock and Roll and Pop (apologies to the guitar players). Iconic sounds. Organic sounds. A sound that fits with guitars, bass, and drums, but it still adds its distinctive, even complex flavor. And that complex sound is probably why early sampling efforts failed to capture these instruments completely. Thankfully, the technology has enabled us to have these sounds in an accurate form – and I’m loving it. No adjustments. No heavy lifting. Just gorgeous sounds.
And that brings us to Spitfire Audio’s North 7 Vintage Keys. Four classic instruments powered by their proprietary eDNA engine for Kontakt.
As I said, Spitfire has included four instruments in this collection: A Clavinet, an Electric Bass Piano, an Electric Piano, and a Wurli (Wurlitzer Piano). If you’re not sure what these instruments are, look them up. I think you’ll find the experience entertaining. Go ahead. We’ll wait for you.
When you open Kontakt, you’ll see four basic presets: Clavinet, Electric Bass Piano, Electric Piano, and Wurli. You’ll also see the folder of presets. We’ll look at that in a minute, but first let’s take a look at the “basic” presets.
Clavinet: This instrument was designed to be the keyboard replacement for the guitar. It didn’t work out that way, but, instead, became a new sound for a wide variety of musical styles, from rock (Green Eyed Lady by Sugarloaf) to funk (Outta Space by Billy Preston).
Electric Bass Piano – This instrument was most famously used by The Doors’ keyboardist, Ray Manzarek. The Doors usually overdubbed bass players on their studio recordings, but if you listen to the 1970 Absolutely Live, I think you’ll hear the Electric Bass Piano in all its glory. It sounds remarkably like a fingered Electric Bass.
Electric Piano – The Electric Piano! The Fender Rhodes or Rhodes was manufactured by several companies, and I believe it is currently being manufactured again. My guess is that the instrument recorded here is an extremely well-maintained Mark 1 Rhodes. The sound of this particular instrument reminds me a lot of The Doors Riders on the Storm. This instrument seems to have more body and less tine sound than most sampled EPs, and I like it a lot!
Wurli: Where the Rhodes EP got its sound by striking a metal bar, the Wurlitzer Piano struck a metal reed. It is known for its biting mid-range. One of the best examples of the Wurlie (or Wurley) was Ray Charles’ What’s I Say.
Each of these “basic” presets may start out plain, but it contains all the ingredients to create a wide variety of sounds. Editing is easy, but you may need a little instruction and experimentation. And all the editing is quickly accessible through the eDNA engine. What, you may ask, is the eDNA engine? Let’s take a look.
This past May David Baer wrote an article about the eDNA release from Spitfire Audio. This is where North 7 Vintage Keys derives its engine, and I think you’ll be pleased with the result.
When you hear one of these classic electro-mechanical instruments played on a recording, you are hearing the instrument enhanced by amp and/or effects. Here is where the eDNA comes into play, right in the GUI of the Kontakt preset. You can add a bit of drive, or Tape Saturation, or EQ, or you can add Tremolo, Vibrato, a Flanger, or a Phaser. In fact, with eDNA you can go a lot deeper than effects. And that, my friends, is what the Preset Folders are all about!
There are 3 Folders: Pragmatic FX, Mega Morphology, and Bassology. The Pragmatic FX folder mainly has “meat and potatoes” type presets arranged in the same order for each instrument. If you’re looking for a place to start for an effected instrument, this is where you want to be. And you can use the eDNA interface to dial in your sound the exact way you would like it. The preset list covers a wide variety of needs, but I have to mention a little “jewel” I found: Clavinet – Leslie (MW).nki! It had me playing for a while!
The Mega Morphology folder is where creativity (and eDNA) really shine. Like the Pragmatic FX folder, each instrument is represented with the same presets, but these presets extend the boundaries of how you would expect these instruments to sound. I immediately fell for Wurlie – Soft Glow.nki, but I’m having a hard time coming up with words to describe it. Well, it was inspiring and beautiful, kind of like using a volume pedal on each note.
The third folder is called Bassology, and it contains what you would imagine, bass presets, many of them “morphed.” These range from “Ugly Growler.nki (aggressive) to the obviously Ray-Manzarek-sounding Manzaroid.nki. From nasty to sweet.
The webpage for North 7 Vintage Keys contains instructional videos that should get you up and going quickly. I think you could figure most things without help, but the videos are interesting and informative. In fact, you can (and probably should) look at them before you buy.
First of all, I can’t find fault with the instruments or the sampling. Both are first rate. Obviously, this project received a lot of care and detail, and the instruments sound great. And as a lover of electro-mechanical sounds, I found every instrument in this collection a delight to play. The pianos especially seem to come to life when you play them. It’s like you are playing the real thing.
I have one warning. If you play a stage keyboard, you may be used to “hyped” EP sounds. These sounds are created to stand out on a stage and, frankly, while you’re playing them in the music store. Don’t compare the North 7 Vintage Keys instruments to a Keyboard workstation. These instruments are the real thing. They sound like the real thing – no hype. If you will just sit down and play them, they won’t disappoint. And you don’t have to carry them!
Find out more, view the demo videos and/or purchase here:
Price: £199 GBP (approx. $249 USD)
Kontakt Player included.