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.