ART VISTA GIGASAMPLER CD‑ROM Rating: **** 4/5 Stars
Ever since the dawn of sampling, creating a realistic sampled grand piano has been high on the agenda of almost every synth manufacturer. The main problem has been the transitions between multisamples, which are often abrupt, and the lack of real expression — playing from soft to hard on any acoustic piano cannot satisfactorily be emulated by opening up a filter.
The ideal approach is to sample every note of a grand at various playing strengths, and of course this is the perfect job for streaming samplers like the Tascam Giga range. Their bundled GigaPiano was a revelation, with 1Gb of samples recorded using a 15‑year old Yamaha Concert Grand, and reduced to a .gig file of 646Mb using proprietary lossless compression. It's certainly a wonderful instrument for cutting through a modern mix, but too aggressive for many jazz and classical performances.
Art Vista's Malmsjo Acoustic Grand is a 6ft Swedish instrument, built in 1894, which has a rich but mellower tone than the more biting modern concert pianos. It has been recorded with a small amount of room ambience, making it ideal as a 'live performance' sound, and also features true stretched tuning, which is slightly wider than the more common well‑tempered variety, but sounds better to many people.
This is the first Giga library I've reviewed that required the software's Import facility, rather than just copying the files across from the CD‑ROMs. This is because the two‑CD set produces a single .gig file of a full 1Gb, while the uncompressed library is a whopping 1.85Gb, largely because some of the notes last an amazing 60 seconds if allowed to decay naturally.
There are three instruments from which to choose. The original is the 'Malmsjo Acoustic Grand', with four velocity layers corresponding to pp, p, mf, and f. I found this extremely smooth and expressive. It certainly does sound somewhat darker and rounder than a modern piano, but its ability to respond to nuances felt far more like playing a real instrument than the GigaPiano, particularly in the upper registers.
The 'Malmsjo Rock Grand' has been created by EQ‑ing the f layer to make it sound harder. This is a useful option, but is still nowhere near what most people would consider a rock sound, being perhaps more suitable for intimate jazz or blues. Version 1.5 of this library, released in June 2001, added the 'Malmsjo Acoustic Grand X', with an added ff layer between C3 and C8 for even more expression when playing hard, and this was my favourite for delicate, laid‑back music.
Playing style can colour your opinion of any instrument, so Art Vista provide details of how to optimise your keyboard velocity setup to ensure the most expressive response. However, like all sampled pianos, you really need to hear the Malmsjo in action to see if it will suit your style, so Art Vista provide MP3 demos on their web site, including jazz and music by Chopin, Debussy and Liszt.
Malmsjo Grand is only available direct from Art Vista's web site, but they can ship anywhere in the world, and already have many enthusiastic customers. I'm not surprised, given the very reasonable price of $100 (about £69). The Malmsjo Acoustic Grand may not suit everyone, but it certainly appealed to me, and apparently to Edvard Grieg, who used one in his concerts. Martin Walker