While Toontrack’s brilliant Superior Drummer has some very worthwhile competition, EZ Keys, which offers a similar concept for the virtual pianist, has perhaps a more open field in which to play. It’s not that we don’t have plenty of high-quality sampled pianos to choose between, but the addition of an impressive library of MIDI performances makes creating that perfect piano track as easy as Superior Drummer makes creating that perfect drum track.
Of course, there are pianos and there are pianos, and Toontrack’s latest offering in the EZ Keys line is Studio Grand. Sonically, this perhaps sits between their Grand Piano and the Upright Piano so, if you are looking for a versatile ‘do it all’ sound choice — or just wanting some extra variety to your existing sounds — the Studio Grand might be a good bet. For £95.95, you get the full package with both stand-alone or plug-in formats of the virtual instrument. However, if you already own the EZ Keys front-end, then you can also buy the Sound Expansion version of Studio Grand for just £43.95. In both cases, at the time of purchase, you can also select one of the available MIDI expansion packs for free in a style of your choice.
A Steinway B-211 was sampled for the library and, to my ears at least, I have to say it sounds very good indeed. It stands up to close solo listening and slots well into a mix. The sound is full without being muddy, and bright without getting harsh. As with all the EZ Keys range, as well as the default patch, you also get a number of variants on it. Each of these includes a different combination of sound controls you can tweak — reverb, compression, pedal noise, EQ, chorus, etc — and you can also save your own patches. Aside from adjusting the MIDI dynamics and global tuning, you don’t get to dig under the hood of these processing options much but they are very effective and, as demonstrated by the presets, allow you to coax quite a range of sounds out of the sample set. Indeed, having tried a good number of the EZ Keys sound options, Studio Grand would seem to be an obvious place to start if you want to explore the EZ Keys line; it sounds fabulous and is very versatile.
And while this is primarily a review of the Studio Grand sounds, I can’t finish without emphasising just how integral the MIDI performance element is to the EZ Keys concept. For producers or singer-songwriters without piano skills, the style-based MIDI performance packs are a real treat and the EZ Keys Browser and MIDI track make building a polished piano performance for your latest song idea almost too easy. EZ Keys is, therefore, both virtual instrument and virtual pianist. Top-notch stuff.