SLR Review of California Keys Kontakt

Review: California Keys from Q Up Arts 

by  Brian Brylow

PROS

7 great instruments in 1 library
Well recorded and scripted set of Vintage Keyboards
Amazing piano dynamics captured with 10 microphone channels
5.1 and 7,1 Surround Sound NKIs for the Fazioli Grand piano
Intuitive interface that is consistent across all of the instruments in the library
Excellent price for 7 instruments of this caliber

CONS

Grand Piano can be memory intensive with all Mic positions enabled requiring a more updated computer

After thoroughly investigating California Keys, I can’t recommend it enough. For me, the grand piano is what sets this library apart. Not to lessen their role in the library, but the icing on the cake is the addition of the other six vintage instruments.

Jump to the Demos of California Keys

Jump to the Videos of California Keys

Review: California Keys from Q Up Arts 

I am always fascinated by a library where I spend so much time lost in exploration that I can’t really pull myself away to write the review. California Keys definitely falls into that category.  It was clear to me from the start that this collection of instruments had been lovingly recorded, produced and scripted.  The detail, clarity and overall production are top notch and it comes through in the sound – especially the Fazioli Grand.

California Keys sells for $499.00, currently on sale for $399.00 from Q Up Arts

Thoughts

I have had the pleasure to review a previous offering from Doug Morton of Q Up Arts in the recent past; his partnership with Rhythmic Robot on the Emulator II series sampler libraries. This time out, California Keys is a solo effort from Doug and once again does not disappoint! Once you start to unpack this massive 40 GB library, you will find that California Keys is indeed the perfect name. What you have inside this library is a virtual studio’s worth of vintage gear made famous on the L.A. recording scene with a 10 ft. Fazioli Grand Piano as the centerpiece.

California Keys contains aFazioli Grand, Vintage Rhodes electric piano, a Vintage Wurlitzer electric piano, a Vox Continental organ, a Farfisa organ, a Clavinet D6 and a Hammond A-100 tone wheel organ.

This is truly a mind-boggling collection of history in a single library! In addition to the Grand Piano, which for me if the piece de resistance, you can also channel at will your inner Doors, Stevie Wonder, Deep Purple, Elton John, Ray Charles, or Supertramp…..you get the point; it’s a treasure trove of lovingly recorded gear that gives you incredible creative potential.

 

A huge bonus for me is the included snapshots for each of the instruments which also include snapshots for non-weighted keyboards. Admittedly each composer and musician likes to tweak the sound of instruments and you certainly can do that here, but these snapshots give you a real glimpse into the true potential of the California Keys collection. The other immediate standout for me is NKS support for the Native Instruments Kontrol Keyboards. In a library with seven independent instruments that is a great addition. Let’s take a look at what we have included in the libraries.
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The centerpiece of California Keys is the not-oft recorded 10ft Fazioli Grand. The recording technique for this gem is what will probably set it apart from the vast majority of other grand pianos out there. The grand was recorded with 10 channels of microphones including microphones placed above the hammers, under the piano, traditional room positions and also ORTF. Each of the microphone pairs can be adjusted for volume and pan independently. Clicking the “I” next to the microphone pairs will display the microphone models and position information.

The sound of the piano is simply amazing and I say that owning almost every major piano library or plugin. I would place the California Keys Grand in the top libraries out there. Let me talk a bit about what makes it so special. The CA Grand has all of the requisite features you would expect from a high end piano – envelope controls, velocity control for the curve and filter (using the Cutoff control), Reverb and Delay/Chorus/Phaser. What sets this one apart is the extreme level of control that you have in sculpting your sound. The Sustain knob sets the amount of sympathetic resonance derived from the use of the sustain pedal. Soft Pedal will soften the attack on the SCX microphone pair, while the Noise control will increase of decrease the amount of pedal noise heard from the sustain pedal. The Key Off control sets the sound of hammer coming back to rest.

Feature packed and offering up amazing sound quality, the CA Grand also offers surround sound in 5.1 and 7.1. Getting back to one of my favorite features – the snapshots; each of the piano NKIs (other than the Surround Sound instruments) are populated with a generous sampling of what the CA Grand can do from a haunting echo dripping “American Beauty” style to Classical, Pop, Rock and anything in between. I really like the sound of the CA Grand because you can capture such beautiful tone playing softly, employ sympathetic resonance for lush and dreamy sounding chords or play with full velocity and achieve excellent results. The CA Grand found its way onto a new recording project I am working on before I ever had a chance to write a word. This is definitely my new go-to Grand Piano. There is a good amount of detail in the documentation and to take full advantage of what CA Grand can do, I would urge you to explore the manual.

This is definitely my new go-to Grand Piano.

Let’s move on to the vintage keyboards and take a look.
First up we have the Clavinet D6. This classic keyboard has been used famously by everyone from Stevie Wonder to Pink Floyd, The Stones and Led Zeppelin. While it is known for that “Superstition” sound, there is much more to the Clav than being a one trick pony. Dial down the Wah and turn everything else up and you get that intriguing watery guitar echo from Floyd. The Clavinet has never been one of my favorites, but I really like the capabilities here.

Q Up Arts did a great job of maintaining a consistent interface across all six of the vintage instruments.

I will refrain from covering every control on each of the vintage boards so that my review doesn’t turn into the user manual, but I want to point out that Q Up Arts did a great job of maintaining a consistent interface across all six of the vintage instruments. While there are some differences in controls across instruments as you would expect, the layout and control naming is quite consistent.

I usually save my disclaimer on my preference for using premium plugins to mix in the room and avoiding FX that are included in most instruments, but in this case I am a big fan of the sculpting capability using the included FX for not only the CA Grand, but also the vintage instruments. I really had a great deal of fun tweaking and shape-shifting the sounds here. Since all the vintage keyboards were deeply sampled from the real McCoy, you really get a sense of playing the hardware and the interface gives you that hands on feel for each of them. If you do a little bit with Midi Learn on a keyboard with a bunch of knobs and sliders, you can sit back and really explore the sound sculpting potential.

Next up we have the Farfisa Organ. You probably know it from Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock” but you may not know how many other mainstream musicians incorporated the Farfisa into their music. What struck me most about the Farfisa here is that by adjusting the Depth , Feedback and Vibrato Rate, you can move from the traditional sound and venture between a pipe organ and a close facsimile of the cathedral organ sound. Most of the vintage instruments come with a number of NKIs and each has their own snapshots. This again highlights how much design work and care was taken to produce this wonderful set of instruments. I have even found that by exploring some of these keyboards and organs like the Clavinet and Farfisa that I would not normally gravitate towards, they have a great deal to offer in musical appeal.


The Hammond A-100 Organ is another great addition to the library. On this one, I was immediately drawn to open the instrument NKI called “Lordish” looking for – and finding the classic Deep Purple signature sound. This is another charming piece of gear that has been used in more musical genres than can be listed here, either as the A-100 or a C-Series. You can manually control the stops and the Leslie here or you can choose from a few different instrument NKIs, each armed with snapshots to go from gritty to a nice trippy echo to a nice jazzy Hammond sound. It is all in there and definitely one of my favorites.

The Rhodes Seventy Three electric piano really needs no introduction. If you’ve never heard one of these on the radio then you must be living on a desert island without a copy of The Beatles “Let It Be”! This one is presented with five NKI instruments for Full Layer, Soft Layers, Hard Layers, Ultra Soft Layers and X-Faded Layers. Again, each one contains snapshots to help you explore the limits of the instrument. This Rhodes is an excellent complement to the library and stands up well to other sampled Seventy Threes I have used.

A couple of feature notes here; the Type switch will toggle through the nine different Reverbs while the Level knob will control the level of the Reverb. The Dry toggle will disable all of the parameters in the upper position. While each instrument has some unique features, these are worth pointing out as they are generally patterned in the UI design for each instrument.

This IS the sound of the sixties! Everything from The Animals “House of the Rising Sun” to The Doors “Light My Fire” to Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” was recorded using the amazing Vox Continental.

This is another like the Farfisa were you can get that classic sound from the records, but you can also bend it and shape it in interesting ways.

One of my favorite snapshots here is a classic organ sound with a long delay tail that gives you a whole different take on the classic sound. This is again, not one of my favorites in the lineage to play but I really like what Q Up Arts did with this one. Having the organs and pianos handy in one library makes it really easy to play around without moving from each piece of gear to another in order to experiment. The consistency of interface and controls is a big plus here, as I said earlier.


The Wurlitzer Electric Piano, another of my favorites. Since I am into history lessons – who has played this one? Who hasn’t! From Supertramp’s “Bloody Well Right” to the top hits of Marvin Gaye and half of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”, this electric piano has defined its role in musical history.

This being another of my favorites amongst the litter, along with the Rhodes Seventy Three, I really enjoyed playing around with the snapshots as a starting point but then pushing things into different territory. The Dreamscape snapshot from the Wurli has some beautiful Reverb and Delay tails on the classic sound that fits really well into the mix of more introspective compositions and some quiet ambient that I am working on currently.

I spent a really lengthy period of time working with California Keys because I found so much on offer here. Like I said to begin with, when I meet the rare library that takes my attention away from writing and into composing right away, that to me is the ultimate experience. California Keys is an amazing library with six vintage keyboards and organs alone. Now add in the centerpiece – the Fazioli Grand and this takes it to a whole new level. The piano is simply amazing for all of the reasons I discussed. What blew me away were the Surround Sound instruments for the CA Grand and the snapshot variety for each NKI and microphone profile.

This is one library that after thoroughly investigating, I can’t recommend enough. I would recommend California Keys to composers of all genres based on the grand piano alone and then the icing on the cake is the six vintage instruments. I don’t mean to lessen their role in the library, but the piano for me is what sets California Keys apart and is worth the price of admission itself.
 

Facts

The library comes in at a whopping 40 GB. California Keys ships with the Kontakt Player software and will also work with the full version of Kontakt 5 or higher. NKS is fully implemented providing support for Native Instruments Kontrol keyboards.
The entire library is comprised of 8,000 24 bit/44KHz samples recorded at 192 KHz/24 bit into ProTools HD system. The Fazioli 10 ft. Grand Piano was recorded at Counterpoint Studios in Salt Lake City Utah, which is a Studio Bau:ton design. Recording was done using top quality microphones and preamps. The setup features 10 channels of microphones (Earthworks, Peluso, ORTF) run through NEVE, Grace and UA preamps. California Keys features Stereo presets as well as presets for fully discreet customizable 5.1 and 7.1 Surround Sound. The six vintage keyboards from the private collection of Arlan Oscar Schierbaum were restored by L.A. tech wiz Ken Rich and were recorded in a private studio in Topanga Canyon, California. Along with Doug Morton; Engineering was done by Robert Abeyta and Programming & Scripting were done by Michael Scott.

There are complete and detailed recording notes on the Q Up Arts website. As with all of my reviews, please make sure to review the online documentation as well as to watch the videos and check out the audio demos.

California Keys sells for $499.00, currently on sale for $399.00 from Q Up Arts

 

 


 

Doug's Blog #2 August 29th, 2016

 California Keys with Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88

I’ve been in a transcendent state playing piano for the last 3 hours.  I was so immersed that I completely lost track of time.

This trance-like state was induced because I was using the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S-88 with NKS and the grand piano, in surround no less, from our upcoming release, California Keys. 

Native Kontrol Standard (NKS) is Native Instruments’ extended plug-in format for all virtual instrument developers. NKS allows for intuitive and seamless interaction between plug-in instruments and KOMPLETE KONTROL and MASCHINE hardware – definitive integration designed by developers themselves. 

We’ve integrated NKS programming into California Keys. NKS offers unprecedented control over all parameters in real time while you play, directly from the front panel of the Komplete Kontrol S88.

 The S88 is an 88 note fully weighted hammer-action Fatar keybed with aftertouch. The S-series controllers feature real time control knobs to adjust parameters as well as browse and load from your Komplete Kontrol library.

 For advanced keyboardists and pianists that are used to a real grand piano, the combination of our California Keys Grand Piano and the S88 is the closest I’ve gotten to the emotional “state of consciousness” I feel when I’m playing my real grand.

While recording the amazing Fazioli 10 foot grand, our vision was to offer it so it would serve a large variety of playing styles. We mic’d the piano close up, under the piano, a classical ORTF configuration and two matched pairs of Earthworks mics behind and in front of the player 12 feet away. These room mics can be output through your surround matrix with the U87 through the sub. Close mics in front and viola! You’ve got a beautiful surround piano. The cool part is this; all of these mics are completely controllable from the front panel of the NI S88. You can control the volume of each mic, panning, reverb, ADSR, tone, sympathetic string level, note off and pedal sounds.

The range of tone and playability is truly amazing. I’ve never been able to play this softly on a digital piano. We recorded the quietest layers of the piano including the "bonus pedal".  This is a fourth pedal which raises the hammers up to within 1 inch of the strings for the quietest playing imaginable. 

We then added a velocity curve slider to adjust the sensitivity allowing you to access these layers easily according to your playing style.

 The N.I. S88 is hands down the best controller I’ve ever played. In addition to using the parameters we’ve set up, you can also assign the knobs to whatever paramenter you wish when using any instrument in Komplete Kontrol and save your own settings via snapshots.

If you’re a live player, you can finally stash the laptop and control instruments directly from the front panel.

All for now, I'm gonna play some keyboards!!

Komplete Kontrol and California Keys

A Sound Partnership

Available in several sizes.

 

 

 

Composing and Producing with Samples

Part One, August 5th, 2016

Welcome to part one of my new series where I share personal tips on using samples in composing and producing music. I'll be posting up here from time to time, whenever I have something relevant and helpful to say. I'd love feedback on this blog. Please ping me if you have ideas on subject matter. I'm learning too!! Comments welcome!

Composing and recording with samples opens up a world of instruments that you might normally not have access to. Finding a native American flute player can be very challenging depending on where you live in the world! Working with samples has been very enriching for me. I've learned a lot about cultural instruments, instrument ranges, how to "play keyboards like a guitarist" and much more. 

Over the years, as I've been producing sample collections through my company, Q Up Arts, I've composed and produced music for a variety of clients across the globe.   This has been great for my musical growth and the products as they all get "test driven" before going to market. I'd like to offer some tips on using samples in your music in this blog.

 

Tuning

In our product authoring, we ensure that our samples are in tune. This is a big deal. Like anything else, there are well produced sample collections and well, not so well produced ones. The subject of tuning also applies to the "real" instruments you're blending with the samples.   This becomes very evident when using perfectly in-tune sampled instruments along side real instruments. The out-of-tune guitar will become very apparent when sitting next to perfectly in-tune samples.  The out of tune guitar will become very apparent when sitting next to perfectly in tune samples. Most DAWs have a tuning meter built into the master instance, it's always a good idea to take a look at the tuning situation. Speaking of tuning, since it's so easy to change the key and tempo of your projects, I think it's a great idea to experiment with the key as it relates to tempo. Certain keys resonate differently in certain tempi. I encourage you to listen!! The correlation between tempo and key should be considered and listened to.

The Sweet Spot

Every instrument has a "sweet spot," a range of play where the instrument sounds its best. It's also desirable to play the sampled instruments in the true range of the actual instrument. I'll reiterate, Use Your Ears!! I've found that the quieter you play certain instruments, the nicer their resonance.  In the early days of sampling, we had limited memory footprints to fit the samples into. In most instances, we were allowed one layer of samples mapped in tri tones. These days of unlimited memory and sample streaming, there's lots of "deep sampled" instruments available with as many velocity layers as the designer desires. On our more recent releases, we try to offer as many velocity layers as the instrument will yield. This allows you to access the beauty and warmth of a delicately played instrument. Really accomplished pianists can play extremely softly. We can't all practice enough keyboards to attain this level of sensitivity. Luckily, with midi, you can easily record a performance and scale the midi data down to much lower velocities. The results can be amazing when lowering the velocity of your performance down into the midi range of pianissimo after you've hammered it out in double forte!!

All for now. Thanks for reading. All the Best, Douglas