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Grammy-winning artist Alicia Keys says virtual piano is as good as the real thing

Once you discover the amazing world of virtual synths, you’ll soon be on a journey to see and hear what instrument plug-ins are available and which ones are regularly used by famous artists.

Take, for instance, Alicia Keys.

The piano used by this multi-Grammy garnering pianist and vocalist is a Yamaha C3 Neo piano that was built to celebrate Yamaha’s 100th anniversary in 2002 and represents the very top of the Conservatory Collection line. You know what’s cool? I have it in my studio and you can have it in yours. Or at least we can have the sounds from it. And the sounds are enough for even Alicia Keys. Even though she own the piano, she didn’t use the piano itself on her new album. Instead she opted to use the soft synth version which you can now buy as Alicia’s Keys, the true piano sound of Alicia Keys, from Native Instruments. Keys’ album, The Element of Freedom, is an amazing project and to have those sounds at my fingertips is incredible. And get this, the street price is about $99.

“Not once did I record a live piano because there is just no need to, it is that good and that consistent,” Keys said. “I plan to tour with this sound and use it all around the world. I love how it gives those who may not be able to buy an acoustic piano a true piano experience.”

I can tell you that I’ve played pianos of all sizes and brands for more than 36 years and this is one of the finest piano sounds I’ve heard. I absolutely love it. It’s proof in my book that Native Instruments (NI) is one of the top providers of soft synths. When you delve into the meticulous sampling process the German company uses to capture sounds, you’ll have a whole new appreciation for the sampled eloquence of acoustic instruments like Alicia Keys’ piano.
In fact, the Keys product, which is based upon NI’s free Kontakt 4 player, entails more than 3,000 individual samples accounting for 17 gigabytes of samples with 12 discrete velocity layers per note.

The rich sounds of the C3 Neo were painstakingly captured by Thomas Skarbye, Kontakt script wizard Nils Liberg, and Grammy-award winning engineer Ann Mincieli using vintage microphones and preamps. They analyzed the intricacies of Keys’ playing and have emulated sonic aspects like key release, sustain pedal functionality and (an option) fingers hitting the keys. This soft synth work on NI’s Kontakt 4 platform which can be accommodated on Mac or PC.

I’m also a big fan of Native Instrument’s ‘57 Drawbar Organ. I’ve played the two tiers of this soft synth with two of my keyboards and I can tell you, it rocks. This organ synth is based on the Hammond C3 drawbar organ from 1957 and is sampled note for note from the original. You have access to every drawbar and just like the real thing, key click, percussion and a rotor cabinet with tube distortion are available. There’s just nothing quite like a B3 or C3 Hammond organ and this is as close as it gets without having the real thing. Street price is about $60. This soft synth uses Native Instrument’s free KORE player and works on Mac or PC.

And for the record, I really enjoy Komplete 6 (Mac or PC), which represents almost the entire enchilada of sampled sounds offered by NI. Komplete 6 includes Absynth 5, Kontakt 4, Guitar Rig 4 Pro, Battery 3, FM8, Massive, Reaktor 5 and Electrik Piano, together offering more than 7,000 sounds.

My pick of the crop, however, is Kontakt 4 which entails more than 1,000 instruments, 43 gigabytes of samples that include choir, orchestral, world, vintage, band, synth and urban beats. Each sound is instantly accessible via the Kontakt 4 browser.

To play the sounds from your computer, all you need is to launch the NI player, such as Kore 2 or Kontakt 4 on your computer, connect your keyboard to your computer via MIDI, choose your setup preferences, connect your audio interface, and you’re in business. The software also includes VST and Audio Unit (AU) plug-ins that work like a charm with Apple’s Mainstage 2.

There are so many choices from NI you’ll want to be sure to make a purchase decision based upon the best choice of sounds for the type projects you create.

Find out more at www.nativeinstruments.com

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