Synthogy Ivory II Grand Pianos (Mac/Win) Quick Pick Review

Opinions about sampled pianos vary, but Synthogy Ivory has long been my go-to virtual piano. In my August 2006 review of Version 1.5, I concluded, “Ivory is without a doubt the finest sampled piano that I have ever played.”
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Ivory II Grand Pianos is the first of three new virtual piano collections from Synthogy.

Opinions about sampled pianos vary, but Synthogy Ivory has long been my go-to virtual piano. In my August 2006 review of Version 1.5, I concluded, “Ivory is without a doubt the finest sampled piano that I have ever played.” After using Ivory II Grand Pianos ($319; upgrade $89) for some time and noting an obvious uptick in authenticity and playability, I can enthusiastically reaffirm that impression.

With 11 double-density discs, installing Ivory II on my 2.3GHz 8-core Mac Pro took a while, but you don''t have to install all the pianos. I used the AU plug-in with MOTU Digital Performer 7.21 in addition to the stand-alone version. My keyboard controller was a Yamaha CP5 with local control turned off.

Like previous versions, Ivory II Grand Pianos supplies detailed multisamples of a Bösendorfer 290 Imperial, Steinway Model D, and Yamaha C7. Rather than the 40GB of sample data that V. 1.7 supplied, Ivory II comes with almost twice as much content, including more velocity layers, release samples, and soft-pedal samples. Ivory''s GUI has changed slightly: The main screen is now called the Program screen, which provides access to 16 Bösendorfer presets, 16 German D (Steinway) presets, and 16 Studio 7ft (Yamaha) presets, along with eight synth pads, any number of user programs (25 are included), and any older Ivory programs you already have installed. The Bösendorfers and Yamahas each have 16 velocity levels, and Steinways have either 12 or 18 levels.

A few parameters have moved to new locations, and the Program screen adds knobs for sympathetic resonance, pedal noise, dynamic range, and trim, as well as for synth gain, decay, and release. The Session screen replaces the prior Velocity screen; in addition to velocity settings, you can change the polyphony and tuning parameters, which were previously on the main screen. Two bands of shelving EQ on the Effects screen have been joined by one fully parametric band, with knobs for gain, frequency, and bandwidth. Chorus and Ambience parameters remain the same as before. On the new Preferences page, you can specify whether knobs respond in a circular or linear fashion, as I requested in my 2006 review.

Acoustic pianos exhibit sympathetic string vibration, a tendency for undamped strings to resonate at the harmonic frequencies of the strings being played. Because sympathetic resonance is a physical phenomenon rather than just a sound, simply sampling the vibrations isn''t enough to reproduce the effect. Synthogy''s new Harmonic Resonance Modeling faithfully reproduces this effect algorithmically, making Ivory II sound and respond more like an acoustic piano than any other sampled instrument I''ve heard. You can test it by lightly playing a chord and then striking a harmonically related lower note to vibrate the strings in that chord. For as long as pianos have been sampled, sympathetic string vibration has been a missing link that is finally in our clutches. One beef I have with most sampled pianos is that, unlike on a real piano, it''s impossible to press a key so slowly that it doesn''t make a sound. Synthogy corrected this issue by allowing you to adjust Ivory''s Silent-Key Velocity threshold, below which you won''t trigger a hammer strike. Brilliant!

Ivory II''s larger sample library allows it to re-create a broader range of piano sounds. For example, well-trained pianists are accustomed to pressing the damper pedal halfway down to mute the strings only partially, a technique called half-pedaling or feather pedaling. A few digital pianos allow for this, and thanks to its generous sample set, Ivory II does, too. You''ll need a sustain pedal that supports continuous data, such as the Yamaha FC3 or Roland DP-8. (I''ve had an FC3 for more than 20 years, and it works perfectly for this purpose.) Other new content that enhances realism includes samples of soft pedaling, pedal noise, and five lid positions.

I''m extremely impressed with what Ivory II Grand Pianos delivers: sampled pianos so realistic they''re indistinguishable from the real thing. The Bösendorfers are excellent for classical and jazz, and the Yamahas are perfect for rock and country, but my personal favorites are the rich and versatile Steinways. If you own an earlier version and haven''t upgraded yet, what are you waiting for? Granted, you''ll need a powerful computer to take advantage of everything that Ivory II has to offer, but if you have the horsepower, I suggest you try it without hesitation. Θ

Overall rating (1 through 5): 5
Ivory II Grand Pianos Product Page