Cinesamples Piano in Blue

test system: MacPro 2.66GHz (Nehalem), 12GB RAM, Avid Mbox3Pro, Cubase 5.5.3

The story is a captivating one: highly regarded sample-library makers Cinesamples got the opportunity to record a classic Steinway D, just hours before it was decommissioned. It was the piano used on Miles Davis’ classic “Kind of Blue” album and Glenn Gould’s “Goldberg Variations”, and Cinesamples managed to capture its sound and preserve it for posterity in the form of a Kontakt instrument.

I was just about to purchase Galaxy’s Vintage D, but when P.i.B. appeared on the radar I changed my mind last minute and got this instead. Cinesamples enjoys an enviable reputation as purveyors of high-quality sample libraries, so I had no doubt that this would be a fantastic instrument.

As it turns out, it is not. Rarely have my impulse buys turned out to be great investments, and this is no exception. But let’s start with the good stuff, because P.i.B. is not quite the trainwreck, either.

For starters, the sound is pretty good, if vintage vibe is your kind of thing. You can tell this is not a brand-new Japanese grand in an A-list concert hall, and that can be a good thing. PiB sounds intimate and smoky, and I can see how this would work great for film noir stuff.

There is three different mic positions: close, room and surround. Combining the first two options usually results in a rich and full sound. Adding the surround mics adds brightness, but not clarity. I find that all mic positions sound unimpressive in isolation, and some kind of blending is necessary.

I also like the GUI, it is well laid-out and easy to use; not always a given with Kontakt instruments. Changing velocity settings is straightforward and produces audibly different responses, and the included reverb is pretty good, too. However, I do wish devs would offer numerical value input in addition to virtual knob twisting.

Frankly, all the pieces for a great instrument are in place, which begs the question: where does it fall short?

To sum it up: playability. In all fairness, this is a highly subjective thing, and perhaps there are others who feel differently, but from what I have heard I am not alone with this assessment. For one, while the adjustable velocity response is great and effective, I have yet to find a setting that works for me. It is either not dynamic enough or way too much, with notes jumping out randomly.

Again, this may very well be a personal thing, but the inherent lag is not. Upon striking a key, there is a tiny hesitation that makes for a disconnected feel and playing experience. This not much of a problem at lower tempi or when you space out the notes, but for something a little more involved it just falls flat.

And although I mentioned that combining the close and room mics produces a rich and full sound, it also introduces a certain phasiness that I find unpleasant. The close mics in isolation sound bland, and the room mics in isolation reveal a room that really doesn’t sound all that great. You can disguise this with the included reverb, but I don’t really wanna go there.

Now, none of this stuff is beyond remedy. The instrument’s character is charmingly old-skool and it lends itself well for acoustic stuff (think double bass and brushes). If Cinesamples could tidy up the programming to address the lag and the velocity response I would like this a whole lot better. Here is hoping for a software update.

September 20, 2012 update:
v2 came out just last month and it would appear that they have addressed some of the concerns voiced in the review above. I updated yesterday and will report back soon.

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