Bechstein have exhaustively sampled one of their own instruments to bring us this lavishly produced virtual piano.
The sampled piano market, as most players and purchasers will know, is jam-packed. At the more expensive and specialist end there seems to be every kind of instrument on offer, from ultra-clean no-disk-space-spared modern-day Japanese beauties to deliberately aged, European character pianos complete with studio and artist provenance.
Bechsteins, though, are generally not well represented — you’re much more likely to come across sampled Steinways, Bosendorfers, Yamahas and even Faziolis. And that’s a fair mirror of real life too, on the concert hall stage. The perception in classical circles has often been, rightly or wrongly, that the Bechstein grand is a more delicate, lighter-sounding instrument, and less suitable for doing battle with a symphony orchestra in really big repertoire, despite its tremendous historical legacy (Liszt, Debussy, Scriabin et al). But maybe that unique character would make it an ideal candidate for sampling: something distinct that could be an attractive alternative for pop and jazz as well as concertos. As someone who spent much of their teenage years stationed in front of a Bechstein (albeit an upright, still in the family), I was quite keen to find out if that theory stood up to scrutiny.
Let’s get some factual stuff out of the way first. This sample library is an official Bechstein product — the piano factory and digital offices share the same Berlin address — and the piano recorded was a modern C Bechstein D 282 concert grand, in the renowned Teldex studio.
Digital Grand runs as a proper self-contained library in Kontakt (5.6.8 or later) or Kontakt Player, and the website blurb says you should have an i5 or i7 chip or better, 8GB RAM, and store the samples on a built-in or USB3-connected SSD. Authorisation is via Native Instruments’ Native Access application, and there’s no physical dongle.
Miking was done from three different perspectives. ‘Player’ uses an M/S mic setup, while ‘Side’ and ‘Top’ are both said to use ‘classical stereo miking’ techniques, with top recorded close to the strings. You choose which to use by loading a dedicated Kontakt instrument for it: there aren’t any onboard mic-mixing facilities. Well, that’s not strictly true actually, as each perspective can blend in another so-called ‘aura’ layer, made up of either a simulated convolution reverb return or a genuine additional set of roomy-sounding samples.
On top of this, the full-on Digital Grand instruments have almost every bell and whistle going, in terms of the state-of-the-art piano sampling: pedal resonance, sympathetic resonance, separate key, damper, pedal and string release noises, plus una corda and sostenuto pedal support. Meanwhile, all purchasers of the Digital Grand get a separate product, Digital Grand Essentials, thrown in for free. This piano is a mere 2.4GB in size compared to its bigger brother’s 25.5GB (compressed), and it also includes a Kontakt instrument that loads completely into RAM.
There’s rather a lot to say about Digital Grand’s four-page interface in Kontakt and potential for sound design, but we’ll come to that in a moment. First, I’ll leap straight to the...
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