VSL Synchron Steinway D-274 Lite vs Std vs Full

re-peat

Senior Member
I have the full version of the D-274 and I can’t say I enjoy playing or listening to it very much. I bought it without expecting much — none of the demos really convinced me and the Synchron CFX (standard version) which I have, isn’t exactly one of my best purchases either — but I did need something that can sort of suggest a Steinway-ish piano in a classical concert situation and there being nothing much available, I gave in to the Black Friday offer.

The thing sounds very rompler-like to me, I must say. It’s much better of course than even the best rompler piano, but there’s something in the sound that instantly makes me think of a hardware piano module rather than a real instrument. That processed/desinfected/optimized PCM-samples-sound, you know. Again, it’s better than that, but there’s enough of that in it to distract me everytime I play or listen to this library.

And it requires a lot of tweaking to get rid of that ‘bakelite’ timbre (hard and cold) which is the default timbre of this piano (an unpleasantness it shares with the CFX).

Strangely enough though, despite that hard sound, the piano sounds very poorly defined in a mix. Diffused, almost. As if it’s filtered out in the middle. This is something than can be addressed to some extent with EQ’ing, but isn’t it sad that you first have to EQ the high end quite drastically to give the piano some roundness of tone, and that you then also have to EQ the mids quite heavily in order to give the instrument the necessary presence in a mix? A well-sampled instrument shouldn’t require nowhere near this amount of EQ’ing, in my view.

Luckily, the software is mostly excellent, allowing for individual notes to be edited (if that hadn’t been possible, I think I would have already deleted this library from my HD), good use of the wealth of microphone perspectives goes a long way in masking some of the less appealing characteristics of this piano and, eventually, I did manage to end up with something that doesn’t make me wince too often playing or listening to it.

But if I had to give points: 3 out of 10.

_
 

Michael Antrum

Only the good die young....
Hi Piet,

I read your comments with interest, as you are a well known and highly respected member on this and other forums - so I'm always going to be interested in your views on a library.

I think 3 out of 10 is, well, rather harsh. Unless, that is, you are giving it 3 out of ten when comparing it to a real Steinway D, in which case, you are probably correct. But to compare a 400 euro sample library to a 6 figure real instrument is, shall we say, a trifle unfair.

I also find it surprising that you purchased such an expensive product with such low expectations.

For many years I have used the Ivory II American Concert D as my main piano, and been pretty happy with it, though course it's now getting on a bit now, and it has its problems - IMO the release samples leave a lot to be desired, amongst other things. The rest of the Ivory II's libraries similarly leave me cold, with the exception of the uprights collection, which I think is great fun.

I've tried the Ravenscroft 275 and many others, but I always retuned to the Ivory II American Concert D, which I fed through Spaces II, until I got the VSL Synchronised D274.

I cannot abide Pianoteq, though many people whose opinions I respect think it's terrific. I find it tastes of plastic - but that's just my opinions and my ears, or should I say ear.

For someone whose lifelong passion has been music, and in particular the piano, life played a cruel trick on me, and I was born with no hearing whatsoever in my left ear. (I happen to think this state of affairs has both its drawbacks, and oddly enough, some advantages)

So with this in mind, I certainly can't argue with you about the sound, as I hear things differently to everyone else, and even the most basic audio effect - Stereo - is completely lost on me.

But I have been playing since the age of eight, and the VSL D274 is the closest VI I have felt to playing a real instrument. Having said that, I've only had the library this weekend and whilst I admit it's possible that I have had my head turned by a rather racy young thing, I have a feeling this might end up being a little bit more than a one night stand, so to speak.

I would be interested to hear what VI pianos you think are superior, and I am genuinely interested, as there might be something I have overlooked.


- Michael
 

Matt Riley

Active Member
I picked up the full version this weekend and I’m having a hard time getting the tone to be workable with mics. It sounds very bright,cold and tinny. My EWQL Bosendorfer sounds so much better. Maybe I haven’t spent enough time with it.
 

Lee Blaske

Senior Member
I have the full version. It is clear to me that a LOT of effort and work went into this project, and that the player is a highly developed piece of software. I have the standard version of the CFX, which I actually like more. I was expecting the Steinway D-274 to be a lot warmer and richer than the CFX, but to my ears, it's also a bright, aggressive concerto piano.

Maybe it's a situation where the piano technician that VSL uses has a certain idea of how a piano is supposed to sound, and that's what we're getting on three different pianos from different manufacturers.
 

CGR

Pianist, Composer & Arranger
I have the full version. It is clear to me that a LOT of effort and work went into this project, and that the player is a highly developed piece of software. I have the standard version of the CFX, which I actually like more. I was expecting the Steinway D-274 to be a lot warmer and richer than the CFX, but to my ears, it's also a bright, aggressive concerto piano.

Maybe it's a situation where the piano technician that VSL uses has a certain idea of how a piano is supposed to sound, and that's what we're getting on three different pianos from different manufacturers.
Do you also have the VSL Bluthner Lee? I haven't heard many "warm" sounding demos of that piano either.
 

Lee Blaske

Senior Member
Do you also have the VSL Bluthner Lee? I haven't heard many "warm" sounding demos of that piano either.
Haven't gotten that one yet. From what I hear, it's still a bright sounding instrument, but it has more of a blurry focus. Might be better for impressionistic music.
 

ptram

Senior Member
Do you also have the VSL Bluthner Lee? I haven't heard many "warm" sounding demos of that piano either.
I have the Blüthner, and I confirm it is a surgically cold library. But it is different than what I can hear in the other pianos. It is simply an exact, neutral reproduction of the sampled instrument. The Steinway has a metallic quality added, something more cybernetic than organic. I think the Blüthner is extremely sincere and musical, while I can't convince myself the Steinway can be described this way.

@Rob showed how it can be made sounding good with various musical genres, but they are also musical examples kept from styles requiring a very bright sound (a piece conceived for harpsichord or fortepiano, and a jazz piece).

Paolo
 

CGR

Pianist, Composer & Arranger
I have the Blüthner, and I confirm it is a surgically cold library. But it is different than what I can hear in the other pianos. It is simply an exact, neutral reproduction of the sampled instrument. The Steinway has a metallic quality added, something more cybernetic than organic. I think the Blüthner is extremely sincere and musical, while I can't convince myself the Steinway can be described this way.

@Rob showed how it can be made sounding good with various musical genres, but they are also musical examples kept from styles requiring a very bright sound (a piece conceived for harpsichord or fortepiano, and a jazz piece).

Paolo
Thanks for your info Paolo. There is a rawness in the VSL Bluthner I really like - it would be interesting to experiment with a mix of mics, EQ and maybe some subtle compression to see if it can achieve a warmer, fuller tone.
 

Rob

Senior Member
things to keep in mind: as the length of strings increases the sound becomes more firm, less "elastic" so to speak, and thus less expressive in a way. At least that's what I've experienced when playing large concert pianos... tuners get some movement in the tone by accurately detune one of the strings for each key. This Steinway was tuned very precisely (but for hi f# and g) and lacks some movement.
The plugin has two regulations that have an impact on tone... midi sensitivity, which limits the range of velocity (I like to keep it around -20) and dynamics (try lowering around 60%).
This said, this piano has its voice, and if one doesn't like it there's nothing to do about it.
Personally I like it very much, though I'm mainly interested in a closer sound and jazz/modern applications...
 

re-peat

Senior Member
Hi Michael,

I have quite a few sampled Steinways — way too many perhaps — and they all have qualities that can be put to good use if the circumstances are right, but there’s not a single one that I would call ‘a great sampled Steinway’.

The one that’s given me the most enjoyment thus far, is the Vintage D. It’s got a rather upbeat character which I happen to like in a piano: lots of focus in the attacks, making for crisp, well-articulated piano that sounds quite at ease in much of the music I like to write. But it’s equally capable of soft, gentle and tender things too. A suprising big expressive range, for a sampled instrument, in fact.
By today’s standards, it’s a fairly simple affair, but if the samples are right — and they are in the case of the VintageD — a piano library doesn’t need complex scripting or three pages of editing parameters in order to qualify as a satisfying product. Also, despite its limited number of velocity layers and the absence of sophisticated features, I find the Vintage actually more expressive and satisfying to play and improvise on than the Synchron Steinway and all other sampled Steinways. But that’s a personal thing, of course.

Unfortunately, the VintageD is only recorded from very up close and it’s Saharaishly dry as well, and even with the most advanced spatialization techniques that are available to us today, it’s quite impossible to turn this virtual piano into a convincing ‘concert hall presence’. I’ve tried, with every tool I have and using every trick in the book I know of, but it just doesn’t sound the same as a piano that was actually recorded in a concert hall.

Hence the Synchron.

Which I like even less today than I did yesterday. I’m working on something and I keep hearing always new things that annoy me in this piano. The latest in my annoyances, for example, is a distinctly gritty, dirty sound in the room and mid mic’s of several of the notes in the G4-D5 range. When I first heard it, I thought I was inadvertently distorting the signal somewhere, but a quick check revealed that that wasn’t the case, and that this most unwelcome sound is actually what was sampled. Here’s an example of what it sounds like. As of this afternoon, my score is 2 out of 10.

midi sensitivity, which limits the range of velocity (I like to keep it around -20) and dynamics (try lowering around 60%).
Uncanny. I arrived last Saturday at almost the exact same values for both parameters, Rob. But again: isn’t it a sign of there being something quite wrong if, next to the rather drastic EQ'ing, we also have to condense the MIDI-input and the dynamic response to such a degree before the Synchron Steinway starts to become more or less enjoyable?
If only the Synchron Steinway would have been sampled and programmed more competently to begin with, none of this extensive fiddling about with it would be necessary: it would simply sound (and play) great upon loading (after, perhaps, a few minor adjustments depending on one's personal preferences and keyboard controller).

It's so problematic that I'm forced to load two instances (maybe even three) of the library for this piece I'm working on: one instance to render the more intense moments with (where the piano needs all the brio and majesty that the Synchron Steinway can generate) and another instance, with entirely different settings for several parameters, for the more introverted moments ... Surely, one shouldn't have to do that with a 266 gig library that is said to provide 'utmost realism' and 'an unprecedented level of authenticity, liveliness, and feel'?

_
 

Rob

Senior Member
I know what you mean Piet, but some kind of perversion makes me rejoice whenever I can pick an imperfect thing and fix it and find my way of using it... I'm also very attracted by the many velocity layers, that make the instrument respond very well under the fingers. I have played some Steinways and they all have, in different measure, this kind of clearness/coldness so I wasn't surprised to find it here. A few months ago I did a concert here in my home town's theatre with my trio and they provided a model M because the hall was upstairs and there was no way to take the D up. I was expecting a poorer sound from the instrument but was very happy to discover that it had a magnificent voice, warm and enchanting... maybe because of the limited dimensions. But in a minimal quantity the narrow quality of the sound of the Steinway family was present. I don't doubt the competence of VSL technicians, but have some reserve about the timbre of the Synchron stage, which may not be the warmest for piano recordings, just speculating though...
 
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I know what you mean Piet, but some kind of perversion makes me rejoice whenever I can pick an imperfect thing and fix it and find my way of using it... I'm also very attracted by the many velocity layers, that make the instrument respond very well under the fingers. I have played some Steinways and they all have, in different measure, this kind of clearness/coldness so I wasn't surprised to find it here. A few months ago I did a concert here in my home town's theatre with my trio and they provided a model M because the hall was upstairs and there was no way to take the D up. I was expecting a poorer sound from the instrument but was very happy to discover that it had a magnificent voice, warm and enchanting... maybe because of the limited dimensions. But in a minimal quantity the narrow quality of the sound of the Steinway family was present. I don't doubt the competence of VSL technicians, but have some reserve about the timbre of the Synchron stage, which may not be the warmest for piano recordings, just speculating though...
That's really interesting! But then if we consider that there are D libraries that are much warmer/fuller-sounding (eg Walker D, Piano in Blue), we must conclude that VSL made some specific decisions with regard to piano setup (as you said) as well as engineering before they even recorded a note, and those decisions might be anathema to some ears, as they are to mine from the demos. (But NB I'm not a pro pianist but a composer whose first instrument is the piano, and I've only had the luck to play a smaller Steinway on a regular basis.)
 
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I know what you mean Piet, but some kind of perversion makes me rejoice whenever I can pick an imperfect thing and fix it and find my way of using it... I'm also very attracted by the many velocity layers, that make the instrument respond very well under the fingers. I have played some Steinways and they all have, in different measure, this kind of clearness/coldness so I wasn't surprised to find it here. A few months ago I did a concert here in my home town's theatre with my trio and they provided a model M because the hall was upstairs and there was no way to take the D up. I was expecting a poorer sound from the instrument but was very happy to discover that it had a magnificent voice, warm and enchanting... maybe because of the limited dimensions. But in a minimal quantity the narrow quality of the sound of the Steinway family was present. I don't doubt the competence of VSL technicians, but have some reserve about the timbre of the Synchron stage, which may not be the warmest for piano recordings, just speculating though...
Agree, I like VSL pianos and overall at least for solo playing they are among the best. But the last ten years we can`t be completely satisfied with any sample piano probably judging on the fact that sample piano is not real acoustic piano so our ears shift direction from time to time seeking for new love or old in this example . Couple of days ago I was reading about pianos in this forum, I think it was 2016, so based on different opinions especially CGR opinion, I put Hammersmith pro Steinway on my desktop again, default M49 mics, no factory preset and I add Room Decca tree mics about the same level and interesting enough I use factory reverb (very rare for me). I must say it sounds very very good. I use it right know as default piano beside Emberton which I use for warm sound.
 

re-peat

Senior Member
(...) but some kind of perversion makes me rejoice whenever I can pick an imperfect thing and fix it and find my way of using it ...
I share that rejoicement, Rob — couldn’t have survived 25 years of buying sample libraries, if I didn’t — but when I buy, or think I’m buying, stuff from the higher end of the quality spectrum, as these Synchron pianos supposedly are, I hope I can be forgiven for getting somewhat depressed when I find I have to go through much the same ‘fixing imperfections’ routines which libraries from the lower end of the quality spectrum force me to.

Just for once it would be nice to buy a library and find that it’s all it promised to be. The Synchron D-274 isn’t that library.

- - -

The Hammersmith and me never got along well. I really do like SonicCouture stuff as a rule, but for several reasons which I needn’t go into here and now, the Hammersmith (I bought the Pro version) was another one of those piano disappointments for me.

- - -

My idea of good Steinway piano sound — recorded sound, that is — is, for example, what you can hear on the releases of Víkingur Ólafsson and Rafaël Blechacz. Here’s one example of each:

- Olafsson
- Blechacz


_
 

Buz

New Member
At some point it does become more about the instrument and the space. Perhaps we're just beginning to reach that point now (personally I was VST-sceptical until Synchron happened).

Just as in life, for effortless vibrancy you would look to a piano that slightly overpowers its room. And for warm resonance you would prefer the vintage Steinways (material access prevents them from recapturing their classic sound). But for VSL to demonstrate consistency and control going modern was the correct choice. And for that live concert feel the big empty hall is unmistakeable (though we're still waiting for the Synchron audience library).

As for the OP, I would've thought all the extra mics would be the easiest and most natural way to find a sound that blends. But you certainly pay through the nose for this flexibility.
 
OP
C

cadenzajon

Active Member
I agree with Piet as a VintageD owner, the piano I'm looking for is basically just a set of good concert room mics for that piano.

I understand Garritan CFX was recorded in Abbey Road and keeps getting good reviews (although my eyes usually just glaze past it because Yamahas tend to have the brighter sound I'd like to avoid), can anyone vouch for its room mics? Any opinions on how it fits the bill for a concert stage piano (vs the Synchron line)?
 

shawnsingh

Active Member
For those who say this library is too clinical/sterile/bright/tinny/hard/cold - totally fair if you feel this way, but I want to offer a different perspective =)

This was my initial reaction too, for the Yamaha CFX, but after much trial and error and effort in tweaking the mic mixes, plus some post-EQ, I eventually found a mix that exceeds my expectations and I love the tone of it now! Given it's the same room and same recording setup, maybe a similar strategy would work for the Steinway being discussed here.

I found that the various room mics (tree, surround, high surround) are **essential** to use even if you want a closer, dry feeling mix. The closer mics (close/mid) seem to have a LOT of transient and less sustain in the tone, which I think is part of the clinical/sterile/tinny/hard/clinky feeling. But with room mics added, there's a balancing point where the room mics are quiet enough that they don't actually add so much of "the room", but they still add an incredible sense of resonance and breathing room, which (for me) removes the clinical feeling and adds a lot of beautiful sustain and roundness to the tone.

The close mics in this library are really, really, close, to the point where they do sound quite awkward by themselves, in my personal opinion. The mid mics are more what I felt would sound like a close mic usually, but still quite transient heavy. But the combo of one of the close mics for attack and stereo image definition, mid mic as a "main mic", and room mics to add that rounded, resonant dimension, is the basic strategy that has been working for me. If nothing else, it has given me very deep respect for mixing engineers for classical music that can bring out the magic by combining mic positions.

Here's a thread posting where I attached an example of my Yamaha CFX mix: https://vi-control.net/community/threads/which-synchron-piano-has-more-timbre-range-between-low-high-velocities.80610/post-4401414 - feedback welcome, especially if you don't like the sound, that would be very interesting to me. I'm always worried about getting stuck in a subjective bubble thinking my junk sounds good :whistling: