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The venerable Fender Rhodes electric piano came in two varieties: a Stage model with removable legs (for ease of lugging) and a Suitcase model with its own amp and speaker system (which was not easy to lug, as I can attest). The latest incarnation of the Rhodes is a virtual instrument from Applied Acoustics Systems called Lounge Lizard EP-1 ($199). Using the physical-modeling synthesis engine of Applied Acoustics' Tassman, Lounge Lizard re-creates the classic sounds of electromechanical pianos such as the Rhodes and the Wurlitzer.

No matter which hardware and software you use, Lounge Lizard has you covered. It supports Windows 98, ME, 2000, and XP, as well as Mac OS 9. It also runs the gamut of drivers and plug-in formats: ASIO, DirectX, DXi, EASI, MME, VST, WDM, DirectConnect, MAS, and FreeMIDI. Its stated minimum system requirements are a Pentium III/500 MHz or a G3 processor and 32 MB of RAM for either platform, but I recommend a seriously beefy computer with a low-latency audio interface. My Celeron 1 GHz notebook wasn't able to run multiple copies of Lounge Lizard despite its half-gigabyte of RAM. One instance at a time was wonderfully snappy and responsive, though, thanks to the extremely efficient drivers of my audio interface.

Playing the Field

I used Lounge Lizard in standalone mode and with both Cakewalk Sonar XL 2.0 and Steinberg Cubase VST/32 5.0. In standalone mode, you control the sample buffer (and therefore the latency) within the program's preferences, but in VST or DXi mode, the latency depends on the host program's buffer settings. If your performance is inadequate, you can lower the polyphony, thereby easing the burden on the processor.

Once you have the performance settings dialed in to your satisfaction, operating Lounge Lizard is a piece of cake, and the sound is just as sweet. Along the bottom of the main window are two banks of four switches that call up Presets. The first bank is hardwired to factory Presets, and the second bank opens user Presets. A Variation switch toggles to a different set of Presets, allowing clean and dirty variations of each Preset, for example.

My only major beef with Lounge Lizard is that you must use the Open menu command and go through a standard file dialog to call up Presets other than those assigned to the eight switches. In an ideal world, all soft synths would display a cascading menu of Presets when you click on the appropriate button. Applied Acoustics says that it is working on an improved method.

Every switch and knob on Lounge Lizard's front panel can be controlled by MIDI messages. Most are already mapped to controllers, but you can use MIDI Learn mode to assign any knob or switch to the next Control Change (CC) message it receives; either select the control and choose Learn from the Edit menu, or simply right-click on the control. Assigning controllers that way allows you to turn effects on and off and to manipulate parameters, such as the stiffness of the mallet, that mold the instrument's sound and response as you play. Unfortunately, though, you can't use MIDI messages to change Presets.

Sonic Chameleon

To gauge the accuracy of the Lizard's Rhodes emulation, I put on a Joe Sample album and spent a couple hours trying to match the sound of his instrument. It took very little effort to tweak some of the Presets into a good likeness of the real deal. The stock Rhodes Presets lacked some of the “bark” that I expected on accented notes, but by raising the degree to which mallet force tracks Velocity, I was able to fix that.

Lounge Lizard includes numerous variations on Rhodes Suitcase and Stage models as well as excellent Wurlitzer emulations. A variety of experimental Presets is included, and still more are available online. Four vintage effects (wah, phaser, tremolo, and delay) are integrated. All hark back to the effects that electric-piano players often used. The tremolo even does the beautiful left-to-right stereo effect that was built into the Rhodes Suitcase model.

Aside from its patch-loading procedure, the only thing I'd change about Lounge Lizard EP-1 is its name, but that probably has more to do with my early gig experiences than anything else. It's a great little virtual instrument, providing satisfyingly realistic emulations of vintage electric pianos without all the weightlifting and maintenance issues.

Overall EM Rating (1 through 5): 4

Applied Acoustics Systems; tel. (888) 441-8277 or (514) 871-4963; e-mail; Web

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