Applied Acoustics Systems has released a new version of its Lounge Lizard virtual piano, updating it from EP-1 to EP-2 ($249). Like the original, EP-2 emulates electromechanical pianos using physical modeling, which sounds realistic and lets you change timbre radically as you're playing.
Several versions of Lounge Lizard are available. The cross-platform CD is compatible with Windows 98, 2000, ME, and XP and with Mac OS X 10.2 or later. For Windows, VSTi and DXi plug-ins and a standalone version are supplied, and Mac users get Audio Units, RTAS, VST, and standalone versions.
EP-2's slightly retro-looking interface is straightforward and uncluttered, providing a single page with a separate control for every parameter. The controls are grouped and laid out coherently by function, which makes it simple to program the instrument. Every control is mapped to a MIDI CC value, allowing you to tweak the tone in real time from your MIDI keyboard or controller. A Learn function lets you easily reassign MIDI CCs.
EP-2 offers four groups of parameters for tweaking the mechanics of the modeled piano: Mallet, Fork, Pickup, and Release. The Mallet parameters model the behavior of the mallet that strikes the tine when a key is pressed. The Fork parameters model the metal bar that generates sound by ringing when struck by the mallet. The Pickup parameters model the magnetic coil that transduces the fork's vibration into an electric signal; you can adjust the pickup's position and amplifier characteristics. The Release controls affect the behavior of dampers that mute the fork when the note is released.
Each group of parameters is subdivided into smaller groups that model particular characteristics. For example, the Mallet group is further broken down into Stiffness, Noise, and Force subgroups, each of which has a few controls of its own. All told, the Mallet section has 10 parameters, and the complete piano model has 24 different settings. That may sound a bit daunting, but I got good results by simply selecting a factory patch and then tweaking a few parameters to taste.
Just as the electric pianos of yesteryear were often connected to effects pedals, EP-2 features four effects wired in series: wah, phaser, tremolo, and delay. The wah is an LFO-controlled bandpass filter sweep, often called an auto-wah. It sounds good, but an envelope follower function would be a welcome addition. The phaser adds some nice animation to the signal but is mono only. Tremolo adds amplitude modulation with two LFO shapes. Tremolo does have a stereo mode, which enhances the sound considerably by adding a wide soundstage. The delay effect has individual delay-time and feedback settings for the left and right sides, but no modulation parameters; delay times range from 10 to 1,500 ms. All four effects sync to MIDI, allowing you to control modulation or delay time from a host sequencer. Last in the signal chain are bass and treble shelving-EQ knobs and a big master Volume knob.
I was pleasantly surprised at the realism and depth of many of the Rhodes patches. Both Suitcase and Stage models are portrayed, capturing the velocity-based gritty growl that is missing from many sample-based Rhodes simulations. EP-2's understated, groovy character truly evokes the real instrument. In a recorded setting, I would be hard pressed to distinguish between EP-2 and a real Rhodes. In contrast, simulations of Wurlitzer electric pianos are basically variations on the Rhodes sounds and not dead ringers of the real instruments. Additional factory patches range from new electric pianos that don't sound like Rhodes instruments to otherworldly synthlike chimes and ambiences.
EP-2's latency was very low on my dual-processor Power Mac G4/867 MHz. When I used the RTAS version of the plug-in, I was delighted to see that all parameters were available for editing from my Digidesign Control|24. Unfortunately, I had several crashes and MIDI glitches using the standalone and RTAS versions from within Mac OS X. However, I never resolved whether the problem was in my MIDI interface, the Mac's low-level MIDI software, or Lounge Lizard itself.
Applied Acoustics has developed a wonderfully realistic Rhodes emulation with EP-2. Right out of the box, it offers plenty of parameters to tweak, good effects, and lots of great-sounding factory patches. If you want to add a Rhodes to your recording rig without the hassle and maintenance of the real thing, Lounge Lizard is worth a serious listen.
Overall EM Rating (1 through 5): 3.5