Review: Synthogy Ivory II Studio Grands

Two excellent pianos that can go anywhere you go
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The Ivory II 2.5 engine provides a wide variety of parameters that let you alter the tone and feel of the instrument to fit your needs.

The Ivory II 2.5 engine provides a wide variety of parameters that let you alter the tone and feel of the instrument to fit your needs.

I love a piano. (And so did legendary composer Irving Berlin, as his song of the same title attests.) From a battered upright to a glorious concert grand, there’s just nothing like the wood, steel, and felt of the real thing vibrating together in harmony. But as many of us who tour and record for a living know all too well, affording and maintaining concert-quality instruments can be a daunting proposition at best. Many top-tier concert pianos cost more than $100,000 these days.

That’s why Synthogy’s Ivory has been so popular for more than a decade. Its ability to capture the organic essence of great acoustic instruments has made it the go-to software piano for legions of pro users around the world, both onstage and in the studio.

Keyboard magazine has reviewed numerous additions to Ivory (now Ivory II), from Ivory II Grands (with its Steinway, Bösendorfer and Yamaha instruments) and Italian Grand and Upright Pianos (featuring Fazioli and Yamaha, among others) to the American Concert D, which sampled a 1951 Steinway concert grand. All of those were stunning, supple representations of their physical counterparts.

Now, with Ivory II Studio Grands, Synthogy has added two new instruments to its impressive virtual lineup—a 6'11" New York-made Steinway Model B sampled at the Power Station New England in Waterford, Conn., and a Bösendorfer Model 225, the company’s 7'4" concert instrument, recorded at Firehouse Recording Studios in Pasadena, Calif.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Fig. 1. You can further customize the playability of each instrument from the Session page, including Half Pedaling.

Fig. 1. You can further customize the playability of each instrument from the Session page, including Half Pedaling.

Like other members of the Ivory II family, Studio Grands harnesses the processing power of the Ivory II 2.5 engine. New features include the ability to authenticate licenses using either a traditional PACE iLok key or via machine-based license authorization without the use of an iLok. Ivory 2.5 also adds a Shimmer feature, which provides unique control over the decay/ sustain portion of the piano note, new half-pedal controls (accessible from the Session page), and support for the MIDI CC88 High Resolution Velocity prefix (see Figure 1).

After installing Studio Grands using the included USB thumb drive and then authenticating the license, I quickly delved into the numerous virtual incarnations of these acclaimed instruments. The instrument is based on a 112GB core library offering up to 24 velocity levels, as well as a plethora of tone-shaping controls, effects, and a synth layer for adding pads to the piano voices, as well. The sound possibilities are vast.

I’ve spent the better part of the past two decades on tour around the world, so by this point I am intimately acquainted with the physical versions of both of the pianos sampled in Studio Grands. (Some favorites of mine include the American Steinway Model B CD178 in Steinway Hall in New York City, and the Bösendorfer 225 in the now shuttered Joe Zawinul’s Birdland Jazz Club in Vienna, Austria). While these instruments are roughly the same size, they have distinguishing characteristics all their own. I would describe the sound of the New York Steinway B as lush, and that of the Bösendorfer as clean and clear. A quick sampling of the 20 varieties of each model con firmed what I had hoped; that Ivory II’s recorded versions of these pianos capture their signature sonic personas, spot-on.

UNDER THE FINGERS

First up in my test drive was the “Intimate Model B Steinway” preset. I was immediately struck by the humanness of the sample set. Digital pianos can often sound sterile, but that’s not the case with Studio Grands. This particular Steinway preset came alive and sounded so much like an acoustic piano that I lost track of time digging into it. Notes at the top and bottom of the keyboard rung-out with a richness that belied their digital source. Other standouts for me were “Model B in the Marble Staircase” with its trailing reverb, and “Country Pop B,” which could sound at right at home on the current Nashville hit parade. I especially like the ease by which you can tailor sounds on the Session and Program pages, changing parameters such as key noise, soundboard quality, pedal noise, and more. With a few quick keystrokes, I added a pad alongside my piano preset and my inner Bruce Hornsby (circa 1986) was ready to go!

The Bösendorfer presets were no less impressive and reminded me of numerous jazz gigs I played in Europe where I was fortunate enough to perform on such a powerful piano. I particularly liked “Jazz Bose 225,” with its resonant bass notes and bell-like top end, and the bright “Rock ’n’ Bose 225” preset, which had me doing the best impromptu Jerry Lee Lewis impersonation I could muster on short notice!

AT HOME AND AWAY

Synthogy’s Ivory II Studio Grands is about as close as you can get to owning and performing on these famed instruments (without the bank loan or moving fees), and its sounds are versatile enough to fit into just about any live or recorded situation. As a piano purist myself, I would have no reservation using Studio Grands onstage or in the studio. It’s that good.

In addition to being the editor of Keyboardmag.com, Jon Regen is a singer, songwriter, and pianist from New York City.

STRENGTHS

Stunning virtual representations of two legendary acoustic pianos. Myriad tone-shaping controls.

LIMITATIONS

Your piano dealer might have just lost a sale!

$279 street
ilio.com