Walker 1955 Steinway D by Embertone
Yet another piano library has landed, and it’s again another Steinway D – possibly the most sampled grand piano of all time alongside the Yamaha C7 – but this time it’s from the folks at Embertone, and it weighs in at a hefty 200G for the full library, so today we’ll be seeing just how Walker 1955 Steinway D holds up when compared to other modern offerings.
Embertone has been around for some time, designing highly specialized libraries with advanced playability and scripting. Examples include the Intimate Strings soloist libraries, Crystal Flute and Chapman Trumpet among others.
They’ve gathered a reputation for being perfectionists, so the Walker 1955 Steinway library has big expectations to live up to. The library provides pedal up and down sustains with and without the soft pedal (una corda), staccatos, and a variety of release samples for different playing styles. This is all delivered for six different mic perspectives, with a robust 36 velocity layers for each note.
The library is downloaded using the Connect application, which downloads and installs the library automatically to your chosen folder. Then you can register the library with Native Access (which can be downloaded from Native Instruments) by using the registration number provided after purchasing the library. The standard library is around 30G, while the full library (with the extra mic perspectives) will require a 200G installation.
As a note – I encourage users (especially those with older computers) to batch re-save the patches before loading them. The initial unsaved load time is quite hefty, and attempting to re-save the patch after loading can stop your DAW dead in its tracks. Batch re-save before using, and you won’t have any problems.
The Walker 1955 Steinway is, by all means, a treat to play and listen to. It has a very controlled and balanced tone with a subtle woody flavor and an incredible lilting resonance in the high notes. The lower notes are bold and aren’t bloated or bottom-heavy, so the clarity of this instrument overall is outstanding.
It doesn’t sound clinical like some piano libraries do, but it doesn’t sound too characterful to the point where it only suits specific genres. To put it just, it’s a rare balance of great all-round tone with just enough color – and it should be, considering the library has been in the works for years. The hard work shows here.
The main mics (a pair of AKG C414s) are delivered in the standard version of the library, and I’m pleased to say that the best overall mic perspective was chosen for this standard version. Some developers hide their more premium mic perspectives behind a paywall, but the main mics genuinely shine here with a tasteful warmth and intimacy that will fit most applications, and they sound great.
The other close mics deliver a slightly more precise tone, with a brighter and thinner overall sound. These are great for pop and rock tracks.
The hammer mics give an even closer sound with a tighter transient and would also suit modern applications. The full mics deliver a warmer, intimate tone suited to cinematic or solo applications. The binaural mics provide a true-to-life sound of sitting at the piano as you play, and have an excellent clarity and air that sounds great in any kind of track.
The room mics have more presence and bloom, but they still sound close enough to work on their own in a lot of different styles – these definitely aren’t the kind of washy room mics you’re used to hearing – they have the same kind of clear transient detail as the close mics, which is lovely.
The sustains themselves have the expected dryness with the pedal up and a rich resonance with the pedal down. It’s a clear resonance rather than a frequency-heavy washy resonance, so playing with the pedal down never gets hazy or too dream-like. The staccatos are short and bouncy and have just the right amount of length to perform accents or fast repetitive passages, so that’s a plus for players who love slamming their chords in 8th or 16th notes.
The real star for me though are the una corda samples. If you like the sound of the piano but wish it had a more soft and cushiony touch, you can just flick a switch to activate the una corda samples and drift off to a world of caressing keys. The una corda tone for each of the mic positions is slightly different, but each one gives a velvety (but not too velvety) response with a disciplined sound.
For me, this kicks the library into high gear, because the piano will perform wonderfully in an upbeat orchestral track, but then can downshift into a carefully smooth tone for the more intimate moments. The obsessive sampling has paid off in this regard, and not many piano libraries offer both standard and correct una corda samples.
The sound is lovely – but it’s also backed up by a flexible and straightforward GUI that allows the user to purge up or down pedal samples (so you can use just the pedal down samples if you want), the staccatos, the adaptive releases and the una corda samples. You can also purge velocity layers to simplify the sound and save heaps of RAM – a must have for a library of this size, especially if you plan to use more than one mic position patch (each mic position is its patch).
You can shape the velocity response as well as the volume response for each velocity – so you can have only the softest layers playing at a higher volume if you’d like. You can also change the sample start time (useful for tightening the staccatos further), the volume for the pedal and release noises, and even a handy ‘sweetening’ section is provided that thins out the tone, adds some compression, or adds some subtle saturation at the flick of a switch.
You can even choose which MIDI CC controls the pedal down samples, the una corda samples or sostenuto playing – which allows you to hold down a set of keys, hit a pedal to sustain those keys, and then openly play nonsustained notes while the held keys ring out. It really has been well thought out to give the user enough flexibility without getting complex.
Of particular note though are these two features – the adaptive releases and the pedal catch. Different release notes have been captured for hard playing, soft playing, quickly released notes, and held notes.
These samples are then activated when you release the keys quickly or slowly for lower and higher velocities, which means you get a life-like response from the piano – this is quite a rare feature in a piano library, and it allows the player to get very real-sounding staccatos and soft note-offs by just playing. A top feature.
The other element of note is the pedal catch – if you hit some keys, release them, then engage the pedal quickly after releasing, the notes will re-engage at a lower volume, just like a piano would in real life. Brilliant.
The only feature not offered in the library as of writing this article is a transition between pedal up samples to pedal down samples when engaging the pedal while holding the keys down.
After getting in touch with Jonathan Churchill of Embertone, he revealed that there were and still are plans to implement this feature in the library, but they were compelled to release the library sooner rather than later. So anyone noticing the lack of this feature in the library can rest assured that it is being worked on and will be added at a later date.
User interface & Usability
Overall, Walker 1955 Steinway is a behemoth of a piano library that offers almost everything a piano player could want in a library, deeply sampled, and provided in 6 different perspectives that each stand on their own rather than being fragments of a studio setup – which is a feat that Imperfect Samples, Synthogy and even Spectrasonics haven’t risen to.
Sure, if you want to take advantage of all the velocity layers and sample sets, you have to wait a while for them to load into RAM, and re-saving the patches can get ugly (just save a snapshot instead), but that’s the price you pay for having it all at your fingertips.
The Walker library as an instrument is top of its class and sounds phenomenal, and as a heavyweight 200G package it also sits alongside notorious instruments like HZ Piano from Spitfire – but Walker can be purchased in smaller chunks and at less than half the price.
Rating: Five out of five stars
What we mainly have here with Walker 1955 Steinway D, is a piano library that delivers the kind of next-gen sampling and scripting finesse to secure a spot in the “deepest sampled pianos” list while challenging the high price that libraries like this usually charge. It’s a fireball that may just change up the way future piano libraries are sampled, presented and priced – in other words. Walker 1955 Steinway D is a game changer.
POPELKA BASSOON: Embertone
If you’re looking for the filet mignon of bassoons, this one isn’t for you. Popelka Bassoon is a raw + organic quinoa stew with no artificial flavoring. Embertone recorded Julie’s natural, intimate tone.
A TON of densely-recorded legato transitions at 2 dynamics – Marcatos and Staccatos at 2 dynamics and mucho round robins. Sampled in the same vein as Chapman Trumpet, but loaded with all the advanced features and improvements that you’ve come to expect from an Embertone release, Popelka Bassoon is sure to dance its way from the forest and into the warm protection of your composing arsenal. It’s one of Embertone’s most endearing instruments to date.
Popelka Bassoon Features
- Kontakt 5.5 (Full Retail) is 32/64-bit, MAC/PC compatible (NOT Kontakt Player)
- Quirky, Expressive, intimate
- All of our newest programming techniques
- 2 recorded dynamics (2000+ legato samples)
- Complete Vibrato Speed+Intensity/Dynamics Control
- Intuitive Staccatos and Marcatos
- 2800+ recorded samples
- 2GB of files on your hard drive, 150MB of RAM required without “adaptive legato”
1955 Walker Concert D Embertone’s Flagship Piano Updated to Version 1.1
1955 Walker Concert D 1.1
For more on the excellent 1955 Walker Concert D see our Walker 1955 Steinway D by Embertone Review “is a piano library that delivers the kind of next-gen sampling and scripting finesse to secure a spot in the “deepest sampled pianos” list while challenging the high price that libraries like this usually charge. It’s a fireball that may just change up the way future piano libraries are sampled, presented and priced – in other words. Walker 1955 Steinway D is a game-changer. (Rating: Five out of five stars)”
According to Embertone you need to prepare an original installation folder for updating and then follow the detailed instructions provided. After fully updating the library in the steps above, upon loading a new instance of Kontakt you may notice that your Walker 1955 Concert D library is either gone or displaying an error message in the Libraries section of the Browser: Library content not found. Click Locate to set the content. This happens when the access path to your Kontakt Library has been changed.
See the full update Instructions here: https://www.embertone.com/instruments/ConcertDFullUpdate.html
1955 Walker Concert D 1.1 New Features
- Half Pedaling: You can now perform half-pedaling using a compatible sustain pedal or other CC.
- Silent Key Strikes: Enables non-hammered silent notes on the lowest velocity.
- Sustain-Damper Sympathetic Resonance: A new sympathetic resonance engine to model the behavior of notes vibrating during the release of dampers on held notes, for realistically transitioning between Dry+Sustain articulations. 3 modes for selecting the quality of this feature are located within the Details page and share association with the Half-Pedaling engine.
1955 Walker Concert D 1.1 Updates
- Switched the Sostenuto Pedal to CC66
- Made a slight change to the DFD settings for performance gains
- Modified all Kontakt/NKS Snapshots to reflect the new features
- Included Legacy patches for users with Kontakt 5.3.1+
- Snapshots have been updated to include the new Half-Pedaling mechanism
1955 Walker Concert D 1.1 Bugs
- Fixed Bad Samples
- Smoothed inconsistent velocities, particularly the lowest velocity layer
- Fixed an issue where a glitch occurred when simultaneously activating the sustain pedal and a note
- Fixed an issue where reverb was not active when loading the instrument, despite the UI showing as such
- Fixed an issue where Legacy patches would not respond correctly to Dynamic and Velocity Curve adjustments
- Fixed some graphical/text errors
- Fixed the Multis from functioning improperly at times
AN INTERVIEW WITH ALEX DAVIS, CO-FOUNDER OF EMBERTONE by Thorsten Meyer
AN INTERVIEW WITH ALEX DAVIS, CO-FOUNDER OF EMBERTONE
by Thorsten Meyer
Alex Davis from Embertone did take the time out off his busy schedule to provide some insights and background information about Embertone and the virtual instruments which help some many to write inspiring great music.
Thorsten Meyer: You mentioned that you appreciate other virtual instrument companies in the market. Now you are in a market lead position yourself and inspire other start-ups to follow you.
Alex Davis (Embertone): It comes from enjoying the process of making VIs — and obsession for detail. Jonathan and I got into this for the fun of it, and that is what sustains us still. When it’s not fun, it’s an uphill battle (and probably not worth it!)
Alex Davis and Jonathan Churchill run Embertone, tell us a little about Embertone and about the team including other team members like Andreas Lemke?
Embertone is a partnership between Jonathan and I. We work with dozens of composers, musicians, artists, programmers, affiliates and other developers. It’s incredibly gratifying to interact with so many talented people! Andreas is one of our closest partners. He has been working with us since the beginning, and we initially reached out to him in 2011 because of his amazing work revitalizing the Westgate instruments. His experience with true legato was the initial draw, but his talent is huge… he has created some amazing VI scripts for us, and continues to surprise us as we deepen our work together.
Elan Hickler of Sound Emote has been our go-to sample editor for a few years now. His work is incredibly advanced, and his obsession with perfection is really impressive…
How did it all start?
Jonathan and I both worked as 9-5 staff composers at a marketing agency in Raleigh North Carolina USA, We began recording some virtual instruments just for fun… and when we had collected a handful of them, we realized that we could build a company around it. A few months of work and we were able to release our first 6 products in July of 2012… it was a really big moment for us!
How do you position Embertone to the market?
We try not to take ourselves too seriously. We want to have FUN first and foremost. Beyond that, our concept is to develop a la carte instruments at really affordable prices. We’ve done our best to honor those founding principles still – even though some of our products are deeper and more expensive these days. I still love the idea that we can create a simple, useful, beautiful VI and sell it for around $20!
Let’s focus on your string instruments. How and where do you capture and record your instruments?
We tortured our musicians with hours of monotonous transition recording. Our first solo string was Friedlander Violin, which was recorded in a large room in an office building… Although our recording space and concept has evolved a whole lot since then, the overall approach for recording these instruments has not changed: we aim to capture a close and intimate sound, which allows us to bend the sound to our will a bit more. Another benefit of this recording style is that it allows our users to place the instrument in their own space, using IR or Algorithmic reverb.
When recording the string libraries, who did perform the instruments and helped to record them?
3/4 are players in the NC Symphony: Leonid Finkelshteyn on Bass, Chris Fischer on Viola, and Dovid Friedlander on Violin. For our cello we hooked up with Blake Robinson, the Australian Cellist/Composer.
Tell us more about the same note re-bow and the different legato types?
I believe that we were among the first to capture both bowed and slurred legato styles, which helps with realism by a huge margin! Each of the Intimate Solo Strings has bowed, slurred and portamento legato styles, with speed control as well… meaning that as you play slower and faster, the transitions will compress and expand, allowing for more comfortable real-time performance AND more realistic results. The same note legatos were recorded so that a user can make realistic note repeats. By holding down the sustain pedal and replaying a note, a “real” performance of a “same note” is heard.
How many round-robins and dynamics did you include?
The number of round robins vary greatly depending on the instrument and the articulation. In general, short articulations will have 4X round robin and 4 dynamics. Note sustains also generally have 4 dynamics as well. In terms of the legato transitions, however, the instruments in the series vary. Our violin and cello have only a single legato dynamic layer, while the bass and the viola have two. Having the two dynamics is so much fun! It allows users more variety and color in their playing, and the dynamic sets can be crossfaded without any phasing due to the way we processed the samples.
When you did release the Fischer Viola you included new features like color morphing, dynamic morphing and an improved vibrato. Tell us more about those and how they help when scoring.
Color morphing and dynamic morphing are important features! The dynamic morphing is a fancy way of saying that you can crossfade between dynamics seamlessly, without the pesky phasing effect that will usually occur. The color morphing is similar, but applies to the position of the bow between the fingerboard and the bridge. With the violin, viola and the bass, users can seamlessly move their virtual bow to any position, varying the timbre of the sound greatly. There’s a nice warm sound as the bow moves closer to the fingerboard, and a harsh, nasal quality (Sul ponticello) as the bow drifts toward the bridge.
We plan to update our cello and violin with as many of the newer, more advanced features of the viola and bass. The process is quite challenging and it has been a long road getting there. We hope to have some great updates this year!
Where are you on updating all string instruments to the same level of features, any timeline you want to share?
None as of yet. It is very high on my todo list.
What is the reason to no offer single articulation patches?
It’s simply not in our concept. As a compromise, however, I plan to allow users to purge any sample set they wish to from within the single instrument. We see these projects as VI’s more than just sample libraries. So it’s our sincere goal to integrate all of these articulations and styles into a single, intuitive interface!
Let’s talk about the Ensemble feature. What is your guidance on how to use it best?
Ensemble mode is Andreas’ vision. The concept is not very hard to understand, but to create it is a whole different story. Ensemble Mode is a complex system of using neighboring notes and re pitching them all on a single note… and also subtly repositioning notes to attack at slightly different times to further avoid any phasing. The Ensemble Mode is a lot of fun, especially because it approximates a full section of instruments playing bowed/slurred/portamentos. There are some more advanced features here as well, such as panning control and the ability to change the size of the ensemble by removing/adding players.
An important note about Ensemble Mode — a powerful computer is needed to handle it, because the voice count becomes quite high!
Tell us more about how artist can use the instruments with their tablets or other devices?
All of our Intimate Solo Strings come with Touch OSC templates. Touch OSC is a nifty little iOS/Android app that allows you to control dozens of settings within the space of a single tablet. I should emphasize that Touch OSC is NOT needed to get the full experience from these instruments. HOWEVER, it is really fun to be able to control most UI parameters with your 5 fingers. Most exciting perhaps is the X/Y vibrato grid. X for SPEED and Y for amplitude! It’s really fun and intuitive.
More about Touch OSC at www.hexler.net
Is there any score where the string instruments have been used you like to point out?
The composers who use our products throw our instruments everywhere . We recently received some glowing reviews from composer Jason Graves – he creates mock ups with our solo strings all the time, and especially fun because he knows and works with Chris, Leonid and Dovid from time to time. So he has access to the virtual players before bringing them into the recording studio and laying down real tracks!
Thank you for your time.
We’re glad to be involved, wishing you the best!
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