Review: Garritan/Makemusic Abbey Road CFX Concert Grand

Can software make you forget it's sampled?

To create CFX Concert Grand, Abbey Road Studios contributed the piano, studio, mics, and recording methodology, and Garritan contributed the sampling expertise and programming experience. Yamaha’s hand-built, $180,000 CFX piano is one of the finest instruments made. When Mirek Stiles at Abbey Road decided to sample one, he called on Garritan to pool their resources. Abbey Road’s staff chose the miking techniques and supervised the recording sessions, and Garritan transformed the recordings into a software instrument. Together, they captured every sonic detail of the piano in Abbey Road Studio One.

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Abbey Road Studios CFX Concert Grand (CFX) comprises AAX, AU, RTAS, and VST plug-ins as well as a standalone application. Simply run the installer, choose the full (122GB) or compact (24.5GB) content, register online, and save the activation file to your desktop. Because the included brochure tells you very little about using the software, you should refer to the user’s manual.

CFX offers three sets of virtual mic setups, called perspectives. Engineers used two mic kits to capture each perspective: one close to the piano and one in the room to capture ambience. Classic is the most detailed perspective and makes a good choice for solo performance, whereas Contemporary is the brightest and plays best with others. The Player perspective comes closest to making you feel like you’re actually sitting at the piano in Studio One.

CFX’s five views share controls for loading perspectives, changing mic levels and panning, and specifying keyboard parameters. A pop-up menu selects Full or Compact versions of all three perspectives, determining CFX’s impact on computer resources. Thirty-two excellent presets are duplicated for each version. Knobs and sliders control stereo width and the balance between close and ambient mics. You can fine-tune pitch, transpose by semitones and octaves, and pick from a dozen tuning standards.

Piano view supplies knobs for pedal noise, sympathetic and sustain resonance, and release volume, crossfade, and decay. You can select lid positions, too. Duplicating an acoustic piano’s sympathetic string vibration is a challenge for any digital piano. CFX’s sympathetic resonance responds realistically to your playing, and is available in both the Compact and Full versions.

Controls for the integrated convolution reverb appear in Studio view. Impulse responses include concert halls, rackmount hardware, and even an underground cave. You also get three bands of EQ for close and ambient microphones, and a saturation effect that affects harmonic texture.

In Advanced view, edit, save, and load velocity curves. Specify the range between the softest and loudest notes, and choose from 15 included temperaments, import additional temperaments, and dial in stretch-tuning adjustments. CFX can load MIDI files directly into the standalone version. Buttons at the bottom of every view provide transport functions and allow you to record a WAV file of your performance. Choose Render Offline to convert MIDI files to WAV files using the current piano sound.

Playing Abbey Road CFX comes as close to playing an acoustic piano as any software or digital hardware I’ve tried. It sounds superb at both ends of the tonal spectrum, bright and dark. For that reason, along with so much control over mic placement, and stunningly natural reverb, the Abbey Road CFX is my new go-to studio piano.

Beautiful tone. Responsive touch. Convincing sympathetic resonance. Gorgeous room sound. A versatile workhorse.

Full installation requires 132 GB of disk space and a fast drive.

Abbey Road Studios CFX Concert Grand:
$249 street

Former senior editor Geary Yelton has been writing reviews for Electronic Musician since the very first issue.