Steinberg The Grand 3 (Mac/Win) Review

Steinberg''s sampled-piano virtual instrument has evolved significantly since EM covered The Grand 2 in “Software Eighty-Eights” in October 2006.
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The Grand''s streamlined user interface presents similar controls on their own pages, which are accessible via tabs along the bottom.

Steinberg''s sampled-piano virtual instrument has evolved significantly since EM covered The Grand 2 in “Software Eighty-Eights” in October 2006. The Grand 3 ($449.99 MSRP) features five newly sampled pianos: three grands, an upright, and an electric. The pianos were recorded in a large studio with high ceilings using 12 Neumann mics that capture two perspectives: Close (near the keyboard for a bright, low-ambience sound) and Player (near the strings and hammers for a more ambient tone). Two reverbs—Steinberg''s REVerence convolution engine and an algorithmic model—let you dial in your own ambience. And you can freely position the piano relative to two stereo outputs for 4.0 surround.

Steinberg uses lossless compression to squeeze its 88GB sample library onto 32GB of hard-drive space. You can place the sample content on any hard drive during or after installation, and you can choose which instruments to install. With as many as 20 velocity layers, The Grand 3 places significant demands on your RAM and CPU, but two resource-saving modes—ECO and RAM Save—mitigate that by, respectively, cutting back to seven velocity layers and unloading samples not used in your current project.

The Grand 3 comes in AU and VST plug-in formats and as a standalone application that supports ReWire, so you can use it with ReWire-aware DAWs that don''t host AU or VST plug-ins. It runs on Mac OS X 10.5 or later and Windows XP (SP2) or Vista (32- or 64-bit), and it uses a Steinberg Key ($33.99 MSRP, not included) for copy protection. I tested the plug-in and standalone versions on a 2.66GHz quad-core Mac Pro with 8GB of RAM running OS X 10.5.8, and performance was excellent.

The three sampled grands are a Yamaha C7, a Steinway Model D, and a 97-key Bosendorfer 290 Imperial Grand. The signature sound of each of these pianos comes through well in the Player and Close versions (see Web Clips 1, 2, 3 and 4). The Yamaha has the most cutting-edge sound, and although it''s not my favorite to play, it will punch through almost any kind of material in a mix. The Steinway, which is my personal favorite, is the most intimate. It is well-suited for accompanying a vocalist, for chamber music, or for just noodling. The Bosendorfer is in a class by itself—it''s big—and that''s why nearly every sampled-piano collection includes one.

Steinberg has done an excellent job of providing playing and performance options while keeping the user interface simple. Player view displays a keyboard graphic without key or pedal animation and offers only essential controls. Editor view has five pages: Model, Equalizer, Ambience, Control, and Options.

On the Model page, you select the piano and mic perspective, as well as set the level for five ancillary sound components: sustain resonance; string release; and key, hammer, and damper noise. You use the Control page to set polyphony, low-note reserve count, and the velocity curve. The Equalizer offers high- and low-shelving along with two parametric bands. The Ambience page is where you position the piano in the stereo or quad field and set up the reverb. The Options page gives you access to tuning options (stretch, reference pitch, and individual note or pitch-class offsets) and lets you select a tuning preset or import a Scala-format tuning file. All the pianos except the electric support una corda and sostuneto pedals, as well as sustain-pedal repedaling.

The Grand 3''s other two models are a Nordiska Pianofabriken upright and a Yamaha CP80 Electric Grand. The upright was the least satisfying; it''s not distinctive enough (a little creative EQ and retuning helps), and it lacks the sampled mechanical noises of the grands (see Web Clip 5). The CP80 is a wonderful addition because it was such a short-lived and unusual instrument—not quite acoustic but also not an electric piano. It implements only the sustain pedal, and instead of resonance samples and mechanical sounds, gives you tremolo and a phaser-chorus-flanger effect (see Web Clip 6).

The Grand 3 is priced in about the middle of the range for sampled virtual pianos, and given its selection of instruments, it is a bargain. The ambience and tuning options are welcome additions, and all the instruments are a pleasure to play.

Overall rating (1 through 5): 4
Steinberg The Grand 3 Product Page