Native Instruments Elektrik Piano ($229) is a sample-based virtual instrument that focuses on four classic '70s-era electro-mechanical keyboards: the Fender Rhodes Mark I and Mark II, the Wurlitzer 200A, and the Hohner Clavinet. The designers opted for simplicity over programmability, offering a no-nonsense interface modeled after the Fender Rhodes.
Elektrik Piano uses a hardware-specific authorization process, requiring registration and reauthorization when you change major hardware elements or operating systems. However, you can authorize it on two different machines. Elektrik Piano ships with plug-in and standalone versions on three cross-platform CD-ROMs (Windows XP/Mac OS X 10.3). The plug-ins support VST 2.0, DXi 2, and RTAS formats under XP, and Audio Units and RTAS under OS X. The standalone version supports ASIO 2.0, DirectSound, and MME audio drivers under XP, and CoreAudio under OS X.
The Elektrik Piano virtual instrument gives you the sounds of the Rhodes, Wurlitzer, and Clavinet.
Elektrik Piano requires a fairly powerful computer to operate at peak efficiency and with appropriate polyphony. A Mac G4/1 GHz or a Pentium III/1.2 GHz are recommended. The instrument stores 2 GB of stellar samples on your hard drive, and the minimum RAM requirement is 512 MB, although the more you have the better.
Pianos, Pianos, Pianos
Elektrik Piano's presets are loaded through a pop-up window, then assigned to the F1-F8 function keys. There are four preset-specific parameter knobs; Tune, Pan, and Volume controls; and a hip-looking vertical VU meter. Presets cannot be stored individually, but must be saved in banks of eight instead.
Elektrik Piano's instruments sound accurate, true to life, and clean. The presets range from meat-and-potatoes unprocessed versions of the instruments to buzzy distorted pianos and funky filter-enveloped Clavinets. There are also some techno-oriented sounds, using sample-and-hold and delay-based filter changes, that take these classic keyboards in interesting, new directions. The presets are varied and well thought out, giving the player a wide range of instantly recognizable and musically useful timbres.
Because the samples are clean and dry, they might benefit from a bit of reamping (rerecording the output through a guitar amplifier) to give the sound a more aggressive attitude and some “air.” And you'll certainly want to run the Clavinet patches through a wah-wah pedal to get an authentic funk sound.
The version of Elektrik Piano I received on CD-ROM played the samples from RAM. That made loading and removing instruments painfully slow, choking the CPU and causing frequent dropouts in the audio. With this version, the performance was so sluggish that the instruments were practically unusable on my machine — a dual-processor Mac G4/867 MHz, with 768 MB of RAM, and running OS X 10.3.4.
To alleviate this problem, Native Instruments offers the direct-from-disc (DFD) extension for Elektrik Piano (as well as other Native Instrument products), which is available as a free download from the company's Web site. The extension allows Elektrik Piano to work like most modern sample-playback systems: it reads the samples from the hard drive as necessary, which requires much less RAM. Once I installed the extension, Elektrik Piano went from being unusable to smooth, supple, and easy to work with. Alternate versions of some of the factory presets, which require small and medium amounts of RAM, are also available online.
Although Elektrik Piano doesn't play exactly like the real thing, it comes pretty darn close. And it's a lot easier to carry to a gig. Overall, the patches sound great, and the DFD extension makes the instrument easy to work with.
Overall EM Rating (1 through 5): 3.5