Galaxy II ($330 boxed, $125 per-piano download) is a major upgrade of Galaxy Pianos' Galaxy Steinway 5.1. The full package gives you three sampled grand pianos: a Bösendorfer Imperial 290 and a 1929 Blüthner Model 150 baby grand in addition to the Steinway Model D270 sampled in Galaxy Steinway 5.1. The new pianos are sampled in semitones as opposed to the whole-tone sampling of the Steinway, but only the Steinway is provided in 5.1 surround. You now get release, sympathetic string resonance, and una corda (soft pedal) samples.
Galaxy II is a Native Instruments Kontakt Player 2 virtual instrument and includes Kontakt Player 2 in standalone, VSTi, AU, and RTAS versions. Authorization is carried out online using the NI Service Center software. You can load the Galaxy II instruments in the full Kontakt 2 or Kontakt 3, but editing is disabled. The Kontakt engine is very efficient, and playing these pianos on my dual 2 GHz Power Mac G5 barely budged Kontakt's CPU and Disk meters.
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There are two ways to purchase the Galaxy II collection: on DVD from your local dealer or from EastWest Sounds Online (soundsonline.com), and by download from SoundsOnDemand (soundsondemand.com). In the download versions, the pianos are sold individually, and because buying all three is actually more expensive than buying the boxed version, the download makes sense only for those who want just one of the pianos.
The download versions have some important limitations. They are 16- rather than 24-bit, sampled in whole tones rather than semitones, do not include una corda samples, and come with 5 rather than 20 pads for layering. Galaxy Pianos promises an upgrade path from the download to the boxed version in the near future should you purchase the download and then decide you need those features.
Nine-foot Steinways and Bösendorfers are ubiquitous in sampled-piano collections, whereas finding a Blüthner baby grand is unusual. All three pianos have been meticulously sampled, sound great, and are fun to play. But the Blüthner stands out for its warm, intimate sound. If you're going to buy only one, this is probably it.
Galaxy Pianos has made extensive use of the Kontakt Script Processor (KSP) to give you precise control over these sampled pianos. Five custom-scripted panels address different aspects of the piano's sound, and a sixth, the Main panel, replicates the most essential knobs and buttons from the other panels.
The Tone panel's Colour, Reso, and Warmth knobs together determine the tone quality. Colour and Reso are not simply filter parameters; they balance different sample sets for hard and soft playing and string resonance. Loudness and Low Key knobs affect the loudness contour and level of notes in the piano's bass register, respectively. The Punch knob, along with compression settings (type and amount), affects dynamics. You access filter settings to simulate three lid positions with the Lid drop-down menu, and you can switch to the una corda samples with the Soft Pedal button when you don't have a MIDI soft pedal (CC 67).
The Anatomy panel controls stereo width and perspective (player or audience), dynamics, tuning, and temperament. Unlike many sampled pianos, Galaxy II has separate samples for sympathetic string resonance, and you can set their level as well as enable silent keying, in which a note played softly doesn't sound, but the sympathetic resonance of its strings will be triggered by other notes.
The Noises panel sets the level of release samples as well as hammer, damper, pedal, and string noises. The Space panel sets up a convolution reverb offering 21 IR spaces.
The Warp panel provides access to five different special effects that take you well beyond the realm of sampled pianos. Here you layer in synthesizer pads, degrade and distort the sound, add flanging and filtering, dial in convolution effects beyond the reverb in the Space panel, and process everything with a flexible feedback-delay line. Each effect has its own editor subpanel, and a Random Warp button will randomly activate and set all Warp controls (see Web Clip 1). Each piano has a presets menu with standard piano setups and three categories of warping: Playing with Pads, Warped Pianos, and Totally Warped.
If you already have a collection of sampled pianos, Galaxy II is still well worth a listen. Features such as sampled sympathetic resonance and radical sound warping, along with the degree of control over the sound of these pianos, make it something special.
Value (1 through 5): 4
EM's review of the original Galaxy 5.1 grand piano
EM's roundup of six leading sampled piano virtual instruments