GARRITAN STEINWAY BASIC

Versions tested: 1.04
DAW: Cubase 4.5.2 and 5.5.1 and 5.5.3
computer: iMac 2.16 GHz Core2Duo, 3GB RAM
computer 2: MacPro 2.66 GHz Xeon W3520, 12GB RAM

This was an impulse buy. Garritan had just put this up on their site for $99 as a download and it was instant gratification that made me do it. I love being able to purchase and download right away.

Everything was straightforward and painless, from the paypal transaction to the 3+ GB download, from installation to activation (which requires a virtual keycard, a very elegant approach to anti-piracy). The whole process took less than 30 minutes and I was ready to play.

As Garritan states explicitly on their site, this instrument needs a weighted keyboard. With a semi-weighted action there isn’t much there. With my dirt-cheap Yamaha KX-8 controller the piano came to life.

The basic sound is very good, nicely recorded samples, with a warm and velvety character. This is great as most other digital offerings (software and hardware) tend to lean towards the brighter side, something that works well for pop and rock but isn’t always desirable for acoustic-oriented stuff.

A disadvantage is that this instrument sounds gentle and civilized all the time, it refuses to bark and growl when you really hit it fortissimo. But it works well for intimate stuff.

The user adjustability is somewhat limited, there is quite a few parameters but I can’t say they do a lot for the basic sound. The EQ is not bad, but I never use it. I do have the reverb on most of the time, but I usually replace it later on. Then there is the resonance, maybe my ears aren’t great but I don’t really hear it doing much, unless at extreme settings and that isn’t always a good thing.

An important ommission is lack of MIDI channel select, no big deal in a DAW, but it limits standalone functionality for live use.

Nevertheless, at $99 it is grrrrreat value, but Garritan has since raised the price to $149. Still not unreasonable, but no longer an absolute bargain. At $99 it competes directly with Alicia’s Keys and I would recommend it. As it is, I still like and use it a lot, but I’m not sure I’d give in to instant gratification at $149.

update
All Garritan Steinway products have been discontinued. Current owners can download the latest (64-bit compatiable) ARIA player to ensure compatibility with the latest hosts. Sad to see it go. I had been waiting on an upgrade path to the Pro version since 2010, but it never happened.

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