Review – Virtual Grand Piano 3 from Art Vista Productions
We present a reasonably priced piano library with variety and versatility and ease of use. Is that even possible?
by David Keenum, May 2017
Piano libraries can become an expensive obsession. “All I need on one more!” And they can seem to be like a retelling of the Goldilocks story. “This one is too dark, while this one is too bright. And this one has too much (or too little) ambience.” It’s a never-ending quest!
The Virtual Grand Piano 3 from Art Vista Productions is a library that promises versatility – from Classical to Jazz to Rock and Pop. Let’s take a look at it, and get one man’s opinion as to how versatile it is.
Art Vista Productions
Art Vista Productions is a “Boutique” developer with several products, ranging from Bass to Vibes, but their main focus is pianos. They have three offerings for piano, the Malmsjö, the Virtual Grand Piano 3, and the Supergrand (a hybrid of the Malmsjö and the Virtual Grand Piano’s 1960 Steinway B. Today’s focus is on the Virtual Grand Piano 3 (from now on referred to as VGP3).
Before we go any further let me introduce you to Hans Adamson and Amanda Seward of Art Vista Productions. Hans wears a number of hats, from composing to production to sample library development. Amanda is a lawyer, primarily focusing on the entertainment industry. We have an interesting interview with Hans in this issue (read it here: http://soundbytesmag.net/interviewwithhansadamsonofartvistaproductions/ ). In it, Hans shares his views on MIDI keyboard controllers that directly apply to any discussion of piano libraries. I will refer to the interview during this review.
If you purchase it new ($99USD), the VGP3 needs the full version of Kontakt 5. If you have an earlier version you can upgrade with the Kontakt Player 5 version for $49 USD. Installation on my iMac 4GHz using macOS Sierra 10.12.4 went without any complications. The installed VGP3 folder is 1.5 GB. In use, my CPU load was extremely light. Art Vista uses a watermark system of copy protection.
When you load VIRTUAL GRAND PIANO 3.nki you get everything the instrument has to offer. All of VGP3’s presets can be loaded from this GUI, and you can easily customize the preset to your liking. There is a drop-down menu for you to select a preset and your controller. (We’ll discuss controllers in a minute.) There are also a variety of switches and knobs so you can customize the preset, or create your own preset.
I found myself regularly turning the Hall setting down and turning the reverb off. In a mix I would use reverb, but I wanted to hear more of the piano. And I’ll admit I’m not a big reverb fan. For me, less is more. And from looking at the interface, you can see that these are very easy edits.
When you open VGP3 the Classical preset is loaded. VGP3’s presets give you a wide variety of options. For example, Vintage Rock is a good bit brighter than Vintage Pop, with Vintage Jazz and Vintage Soul between them in brightness. The aforementioned Classical Preset would work well as a scoring piano. You can hear the hammer as well as the body of the instrument. The highs sparkle and the bass rumbles.
My favorite preset changes from day to day, but today it is Funk Piano. It has a clear, tight sound… and it is “dry as a bone.” No reverb. Maybe my aversion to reverb got me again.
Speaking of presets, there are two additional folders of presets. These come from earlier versions of VGP, but they are still interesting. The Special Effects folder uses effects and/or ADSR to achieve some unusual sounds, but, for me, the interesting folder was Recording Styles folder. It contains presets with famous names like Billy Preston, Aretha Franklin, Elton John (think Rocket Man), Norah Jones, and the preset that kept me playing for a while, Let It Be. Yes, there are presets named after both classical greats (Arthur Rubinstein) and Jazz (Bill Evans and Chet Baker to name just two), but Let It Be stopped me a few times. And yes, I played THAT song… and Hey Jude. I couldn’t help myself.
The Controller Dilemma
When I received VGP3, I immediately noticed the Keyboard drop-down menu with its 22 choices. My controller, a Yamaha CP4, was not on the list, so I sent a quick email to Hans Adamson, the developer. He responded with a mini tutorial about MIDI Controllers and the wide variety of choices they make in MIDI velocities. To read the story behind his Keyboard drop-down menu, and to read more of Hans’ opinions on this matter, go to our interview with Hans Adamson. I think you’ll find it interesting.
Before we leave the subject, let me tell you a quick story. Hans suggested I record one note played 127 times, gradually increasing the velocity of my key strokes. The idea was to try to get a gradual increase from 1 to 127. I quickly realized that I would NEVER be able to create (or would it be recreate?) this test! I did find that some of my velocity values were only one number apart, but I was nowhere near anything resembling a steady increase from softest to loudest. For your amusement, I have included a screen grab of one of my tests, a sample of which is seen to the right.
How do you describe a piano’s sound? What words do you use? I can see using words like “bright” or “dark,” but on this library, words escaped me. So I asked my wife to listen and give me a word. Her comment was, “Natural. It sounds natural.” And it does. I can hear the slight chorusing in the multiple strings the way a “real” piano sounds. And it’s almost like I can hear the soundboard, if that makes any sense.
VGP3 is a sampled 1960 Hamburg Steinway B. I don’t believe I ever played a Hamburg Steinway, but I have had the pleasure to play an American Steinway. Of course, I can’t remember exactly how it sounded, but, if my memory serves me at all, that is what I hear when I play VGP3. It does not sound like a Yamaha or any of the modern pianos that have adopted Yamaha’s sound. Therefore, VGP3 sounds a little vintage, and I like that. That’s not to say it couldn’t be used in a modern production. A quick listen to the User Preset 3 or Funk Piano will dispel that idea. But it does sound, to me, like a 1960 piano that has aged gracefully. All in all, I feel safe in generally comparing the piano’s sound to that of 1960’s classic recordings. But I could also envision this piano being used on a Norah Jones recording or a movie soundtrack.
After reading what I just wrote, I’d suggest you go to the VGP3 website (URL just below), and take a listen to the audio demos. I wonder if you can hear what I’m hearing.
A $99 USD piano library is interesting. A versatile piano library is even more interesting. Will it fit all of your piano needs? Probably not. It doesn’t have that tight, bright but silky sound of modern pianos, but it has character. Maybe not “One piano to rule them all,” but the presets create a versatile instrument. And it has nostalgia. And sometimes nostalgia is exactly what you need.
For more information on Art Vista products:
The direct link to Virtual Grand Piano 3: