Virtual instrument
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Exclusively for Pro Tools users, Digidesign Velvet delivers realistic samples of a Wurlitzer and three Fender Rhodes electric pianos.

Because I learned to play on a Rhodes Suitcase 73, I was thrilled to hear that Digidesign had developed an electromechanical piano plug-in. By combining high sampling rates and sophisticated modeling technologies, the company's Advanced Instrument Research group has made Velvet ($249) one of the most realistic virtual electric pianos I've heard. This RTAS plug-in accurately emulates the Rhodes Suitcase 73, Rhodes Mark I and Mark II, and Wurlitzer A200. To successfully capture the personalities of these electromechanical pianos, the development team paid strict attention to their individual characters and idiosyncrasies, resulting in a software emulation that sounds remarkably authentic.

The Real Thing

I used Velvet with a Digidesign 002 and Pro Tools LE 7.3.1 on a dual-processor Power Mac G5. Installation went without incident. Digidesign sampled some prime specimens of Rhodes and Wurlitzer pianos and captured every quirk and nuance. As soon as I played the first preset, it was instantly apparent that Velvet sounded surprisingly like the real deal.

The original Rhodes and Wurlitzer pianos were very straightforward but were limited in their tweakability. Velvet's user interface lets you customize the piano sound, and programming could not be simpler. If you just want to install Velvet and start making music right away, the plug-in ships with some of the most convincing electric piano presets I've heard from any software instrument.

Velvet's Model Selector allows you to choose from four piano models: SC73, MK.I, MK.II, and A200, each with 50 presets. The Wurlitzer A200 has a range of A0 through C6, whereas the Rhodes pianos have a range of E0 through E6. A Key Extension switch lets you access notes beyond the default ranges.

It's a Setup

Although the plug-in's interface resembles the original pianos' front panels, it offers additional parameters for tailoring the sound's character. The Mechanics settings let you enable the kinds of mechanical noises a vintage piano would make, even re-creating the sound of a piano with its lid removed. Likewise, Key Off triggers the sound of releasing the keys and provides a Staccato setting. The Pickup Level knob controls the amount of signal coming from the piano's pickup. You can turn it down if you want to blend in more mechanical noise. The Condition knob ages the pianos virtually by simulating the tuning and dynamics issues present in older instruments needing maintenance; it ranges from Mint to Bad.

As with a real Rhodes, the timbre of the Rhodes models changes drastically depending on how hard you play. Play softly and you'll hear a mellow tone; strike hard and the timbre will burst out at you. The Timbre, Velocity Response, and 4-slider Velocity Curve functions let you control how Velvet responds to your playing. The Timbre knob works in conjunction with the two Velocity Response knobs. Additionally, the Memory selection switch lets you conserve memory by determining how much data will load for each piano; your choices are Eco, Mid, and XXL.

Velvet's tremolo model is based on the original tremolo that was standard on the Wurlitzer A200 and Rhodes Suitcase pianos, but its onboard signal processing goes way beyond tremolo. The preamp section features a single-knob compressor, tube drive, and an equalizer with Bass and Treble knobs and a parametric mid band. Mono and stereo delay effects simulate tape echo (with a maximum 2-second delay) and supply knobs that control Time, Feedback, Tone, and Mix. Other effects include three types of distortion, footpedal-controlled wah, and chorus, flanger, and phaser modulation in mono or stereo. You can also choose from three cabinet models with 3-band EQ and Ambience controls.

Always en Vogue

By now, it must be obvious that Velvet impressed me in a big way. Its user interface is a breeze to navigate, and the onboard signal processing and effects are perfect for spicing up your sounds. Its presets are so convincing, you'd swear you're hearing the real thing. The raw pianos are modeled to perfection, and the ability to add the idiosyncrasies of the originals gives Velvet a huge advantage. If you want to add authentic-sounding electroacoustic piano to your bag of tricks, this plug-in is more than worthy of your consideration.

Value (1 through 5): 5