Review – Lipp Piano from Strezov Sampling
Yes, here is yet another piano library. And yes, we can hear you yawning already. But hang on …
by Dave Townsend, May 2015
Are you a collector of piano libraries? Think you’ve got enough of them already? Well, you probably don’t have one quite like this one from Strezov Sampling. We also take a look at an inexpensive offering from Strezov that evokes the tone of your grandmother’s parlor piano.
The Lipp Piano from Strezov Sampling is a $90.00 piano instrument for Kontakt version 4 or 5 (full product only, not compatible with the free player).
Yes, yet another piano library. And yes, I can hear you yawning already. But hang on…
If you’re like me and many other piano players, you’ve already got an armload of piano libraries on your disk drive. But even if you already have a sizeable piano collection, you’ll still want to give this one a listen because chances are you don’t have one quite like the Lipp.
The piano sampled for this library is a concert grand manufactured by Richard Lipp & Sohn. Although not well-known in North America, the name has been around a very long time, since 1831. The company was originally based in Stuttgart, Germany, and prior to 1985 the Lipp pianos were German-made and highly regarded.
Unfortunately, nowadays they’re manufactured in China by Hyundai under a license by an Australian company. These modern instruments have little in common with the old Lipp & Sohn products other than the rented name.
But George Strezov knows his pianos, and he would never waste his time sampling a piano manufactured by a company that also makes excavators and container ships. No, this is one of the good ones, the old ones. Really old – over 100 years. A century of aging does things to a well-made piano that you can’t design in, mostly resulting in a smooth, mellow tone.
If I had to describe the Lipp’s tone in one word, it would be “delicate”. It may not have the deep power of a Steinway or the cut-through-anything brilliance of a Yamaha, but it’s got its own unique, mellow sound that’s quite pleasant. Not for hammering out Jerry Lee Lewis covers, but great for gentle ambiances, ballads and solo piano pieces.
Of course, as you’d expect from a company famous for top-tier orchestral instruments, the samples themselves are flawless: clean, consistent, completely unprocessed and natural-sounding. 16 gigabytes’ worth of ‘em. All recorded with high-end microphones on a sound stage normally used for film, TV and video game scores, as well as Strezov’s famous Storm Choir, Thunder percussion series and orchestral brass libraries.
As you’d expect from such a space, the room ambience sounds great – but it’s only there if you want to hear the room. If you need a dry, up-close and personal sound, you can have that, too.
There are three microphone positions (close, stage and hall) that may be mixed to your liking. The hall mike is highly reverberant while the close mike is bone-dry, so you can dial in just as much (or as little) of that lush acoustical reverberation as you want.
Although many piano libraries offer multiple mikes and a mixer, the Lipp has a nifty feature that I haven’t seen before: mix presets you can morph between using the mod wheel or other MIDI controller. The slider is labeled “wet/dry”, but that makes it sound like it’s just a simple fader when it’s actually cooler than that.
Here’s a little experiment I did, linking the mod wheel to the wet/dry slider. I first recorded a MIDI phrase and then drew in a CC1 (mod wheel) envelope. Then I clicked the “MIDI Learn” button next to the wet/dry slider and played back the clip. This linked the mod wheel to the wet/dry slider so that I could then tweak the morphing crossfade to taste. Alternatively, you can just wiggle the mod wheel on your keyboard after clicking “MIDI Learn” to make the link, and then operate the mod wheel by hand in real time or draw in an envelope.
This sample uses the default morph preset, but you can define your own.
How to represent a piano in the stereo panorama is an important choice when mixing. In an orchestral setting, a case can be made that the piano should be a mono point source, since that’s how the audience hears it. But piano players would rather everyone heard the instrument the way they do from the piano bench: wide, deep and complex.
The Stereo Spread control lets you go to either extreme, or to choose something in between. This is made possible by having used six microphones to record the piano, capturing each of the three positions in full stereo. Turn the knob fully clockwise and you’ll hear the player’s perspective, fully counter-clockwise for an orchestral setting, or somewhere in the middle for an intimate recital.
Also note that each of the three microphone positions has its own pan control, so you can do interesting things such as blending left-panned close mikes with right-panned hall mikes.
A 24 dB per octave low-pass filter with MIDI-learn button, a pedal-noise volume knob, and enable buttons for both round out the simple user interface.
It’s not a complicated instrument, but then there is no reason a piano sample library should be. Ultimately, it’s all about the fundamental tonal quality of the instrument, and this one sounds pretty nice. Hear it here:
The Belarus Piano
As a kid, my grandmother had an ancient upright that they’d dragged all the way out West from Oklahoma when they fled the infamous dustbowl of the 1930’s. Although they’d sold off nearly everything they owned to finance their journey, two precious items remained: my grandfather’s guitar and my grandmother’s piano. She must have been very attached to that piano to load it onto a flatbed rail car and then haul it by horse-drawn wagon to their remote homestead in western Montana.
Growing up I had a great fondness for that old piano. It was boomy and noisy and impossible to tune. But to me, it sounded exactly like a parlor piano was supposed to sound like. And it was that sound of Grandma’s piano that popped into my head as soon as I started played Strezov’s Belarus. I imagine this one might well have a similarly interesting back-story, too.
This piano was Strezov’s first foray into piano sampling. It’s not as deeply sampled as the Lipp, but having been recorded in the same studio with some of the same high-end microphones it’s just as clean and natural-sounding. By natural, I mean flaws and all.
The instrument is an old, generic (the actual manufacturer’s name cannot be written in a Western font) Eastern-European model that might be found in your grandmother’s front room – if you lived in Bulgaria. Even though it had been tuned prior to the sampling session, it still sounds slightly out-of-tune. It’s definitely got what you’d call “character”. What it’s also got is a pleasant round, mellow tone.
There are no audio examples on the website, so here’s a short taste, an improvisation I made with the Belarus that includes the Reverse effect explained below:
There aren’t many controls or tweaks here, just two buttons labeled “RR Mode” and “Reverse”.
The RR Mode button enables a clever pseudo-round-robin mode, wherein round-robin samples are simulated by borrowing neighboring notes. This gives more variability than you’d expect from an instrument that doesn’t actually have any round-robin samples.
The Reverse option is a strange one; as you might imagine, it reverses the samples for an other-worldly effect. Sure, any DAW can reverse a clip, but this is different. We’re talking about playing the melody forward using reversed samples. It’s pretty cool.
And that’s about all there is to say about the Belarus. It’s pretty basic. There’s just one microphone position (close), but there are six velocity layers and every note is separately sampled. Despite its limited options the basic tone is quite nice. Best of all, it’s only 20 bucks. As with the Lipp, you’ll need the full version of Kontakt, version 4 or 5. Get it here [LINK: https://www.strezov-sampling.com/products/view/Belarus.html].