Most piano sample libraries provide a collection of sounds from traditionally played instruments, but Best Service's Total Piano ($199.95, two-disc CD-ROM

Most piano sample libraries provide a collection of sounds from traditionally played instruments, but Best Service's Total Piano ($199.95, two-disc CD-ROM set) aims to capture the multitude of unconventional sounds that one piano can produce. The results are stunning, inspiring, useful, and downright cool. Total Piano is available in Akai S1000, Akai S5000/S6000, E-mu EOS, and GigaSampler formats; I reviewed the S5000/S6000 version.

Pop Goes the PianoAlthough the collection focuses on unusual sounds, disc 1 contains two standard multisampled pianos-Pop Piano and Brilliant Classical. Both are available with and without sustain pedal. The Akai and E-mu versions of these pianos use approximately 60 to 70 MB of RAM; the GigaSampler version uses around 200 MB.

Pop Piano is bright and edgy, but transitions between the hard and soft samples of this Velocity-switched program sound awkward to me. It works better within a track than as a solo piano sound, but I prefer Brilliant Classical for all styles-including pop music.

I used the Brilliant Classical piano extensively in several recording projects. It sounds more authentic to my ears than many piano programs in the higher-priced libraries that I own. And despite the name, it's very versatile.

Both Pop Piano and Brilliant Classical suffer from a slight high-end fuzziness, possibly because these pianos-including the pedaled and unpedaled samples-are processed and sampled at 22 kHz to reduce memory consumption; the rest of the library is sampled at 44.1 kHz. Brilliant Classical gives you the option of replacing the 22 kHz fortissimo samples with 44.1 kHz versions (the program is Velocity-switched between mezzopiano and fortissimo samples), although the sonic difference isn't dramatic.

Not the NormWhere Total Piano really shines is in its collection of unorthodox sounds-all made with a real piano. Several programs, found mostly on disc 2, center on unconventional playing techniques such as muted, Harpsichord (a piano played with a metal plectrum), Cimbalon (struck with wooden mallets), and Circular Saw (stimulated with a motor-driven cogwheel). Hyper Piano and Magic Piano feature unique and ethereal timbres but were created without the use of outboard effects.

Several prepared-piano programs are available: Thai Piano (metal screws between the strings), Rubbery Piano (pieces of rubber between the strings), Honky Tonk, and my favorite, Thumb Tack Piano (thumbtacks stuck into the hammers).

The Piano Effects category provides an incredible 170 MB of outstanding special effects and atmospheres. These evocative clusters, glissandos, kicks, knocks, sweeps, hits, and "drum" sounds are destined to enhance many compositions and serve as creative springboards for further sound design.

Total Piano's best feature is how well all the various timbres of the library work together. In this collection, Best Service succeeds in maximizing the piano's potential. Total Piano is a winner.

Overall EM Rating (1 through 5): 3.5