While I usually rely on musicians to provide their own sound sources, I feel that having the ability to provide a great piano sound is part of being a well-equipped studio. The new Garritan/Abbey Road CFX Concert Grand Virtual Piano ($249) has redefined the standard as to what that entails.
In 1991, Yamaha began developing the CFX Concert Grand, a nearly two-decade project. It formed a 40-member team of top piano designers, technicians, craftsmen and players who proceeded to deconstruct and then rebuild the concert grand piano. Aspects of traditional piano design were evaluated, improved and tested. In the final stages of the design, numerous prototypes underwent thousands of hours of testing in concert halls around the globe. The result was the $180,000 CFX Concert Grand Piano, a spectacular instrument that surfaced to worldwide acclaim in 2010.
A couple years later, Abbey Road’s Mirek Stiles teamed up with Garritan, one of the world’s leading providers of virtual software instruments, to sample the CFX Concert Grand in Abbey Road’s acclaimed Studio One. The result is the Garritan/Abbey Road CFX Concert Grand, and it’s quite amazing.
The CFX Concert Grand sound library is AAX, RTAS, VST, and AU-compatible and powered by the ARIA Player. Due to its large size, Garritan doesn’t offer a download option, but the virtual instrument is delivered on a USB flash drive that includes both 32- and 64-bit versions both as a plug-in and a standalone player. While the full version requires 122 GB of free hard disk space, the compact version will fit into 24.5 GB of space. The plug-in version works best for my applications; I’m always using it within Pro Tools for either recording piano or replacing a piano that has already been played. Musicians who aren’t interested in recording but simply want to play will have better results using the standalone instrument; it doesn’t require utilizing the instrument in conjunction with a DAW.
Under the direction of Abbey Road’s staff, the CFX was recorded with multiple microphone setups for specific music styles. The three setups include: classic (natural tone), contemporary (bright) and player (piano seat experience). Each setup includes a group of editable presets that include starting points for mic, EQ and ambience settings. Editing is provided in four different page views: Main, Piano, Studio and Advanced. A basic mixer with close and ambient microphone channels, each with a stereo width control alongside a master control, is always displayed. The master control includes a switchable limiter that prevents output clipping. The Piano view provides specific piano controls including sympathetic resonance, sustain resonance, release volume, release crossfade, release decay and pedal noise. The Studio view provides a three-band EQ (hi, sweepable mid, low) provides independent equalization for the close and ambient mics. Additional warmth can be attained via the variable saturation control. The Advanced view allows the fine-tuning of velocity curves, dynamic range, system RAM, etcetera.
Abbey Road’s engineers have done an exceptional job capturing what is arguably the finest piano in production today while Garritan has provided outstanding control of the sampled instrument via an intuitive GUI. Selecting the desired variation of the instrument is quick and easy, and once the proper instrument has been selected, it can be finessed into the perfect sound via the instrument’s advanced settings.