Review: California Keys
from Q UpArts
by Brian Brylow/
Sample Library Review.com
After thoroughly investigatingCalifornia Keys, I can’t recommend it enough. For me, the grand piano is whatsets this library apart. Not to lessen their role in the library, but the icingon the cake is the addition of the other six vintage instruments.
Review: California Keys from Q UpArts
I am always fascinated by alibrary where I spend so much time lost in exploration that I can’t really pullmyself away to write the review. California Keys definitely falls into thatcategory. It was clear to me from thestart that this collection of instruments had been lovingly recorded, producedand scripted. The detail, clarity andoverall production are top notch and it comes through in the sound – especiallythe Fazioli Grand.
I have had the pleasure to reviewa previous offering from Doug Morton of Q Up Arts in the recent past; hispartnership with Rhythmic Robot on theEmulator II series sampler libraries. Thistime out, California Keys is a solo effort from Doug and once again does notdisappoint! Once you start to unpack this massive 40 GB library, you will findthat California Keys is indeed the perfect name. What you have inside thislibrary 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 a FazioliGrand, Vintage Rhodes electric piano, a Vintage Wurlitzer electric piano, a VoxContinental organ, a Farfisa organ, a Clavinet D6 and a Hammond A-100 tonewheel organ.
This is truly a mind-bogglingcollection 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 yourinner Doors, Stevie Wonder, Deep Purple, Elton John, Ray Charles, orSupertramp…..you get the point; it’s a treasure trove of lovingly recorded gearthat gives you incredible creative potential.
A huge bonus for me is theincluded snapshots for each of the instruments
A huge bonus for me is theincluded snapshots for each of the instruments which also include snapshots fornon-weighted keyboards. Admittedly each composer and musician likes to tweakthe sound of instruments and you certainly can do that here, but these snapshotsgive you a real glimpse into the true potential of the California Keyscollection. The other immediate standout for me is NKS support for the NativeInstruments Kontrol Keyboards. In a library with seven independent instrumentsthat is a great addition. Let’s take a look at what we have included in thelibraries.
The centerpiece of CaliforniaKeys is the not-oft recorded 10ft Fazioli Grand. The recording technique forthis gem is what will probably set it apart from the vast majority of other grandpianos out there. The grand was recorded with 10 channels of microphonesincluding microphones placed above the hammers, under the piano, traditionalroom positions and also ORTF. Each of the microphone pairs can be adjusted forvolume and pan independently. Clicking the “I” next to the microphone pairswill display the microphone models and position information.
The sound of the piano is simplyamazing & I say that owning almost every major piano library orplugin.
The sound of the piano is simplyamazing and I say that owning almost every major piano library or plugin. Iwould place the California Keys Grand in the top libraries out there. Let metalk a bit about what makes it so special. The CA Grand has all of therequisite features you would expect from a high end piano – envelope controls,velocity control for the curve and filter (using the Cutoff control), Reverband Delay/Chorus/Phaser. What sets this one apart is the extreme level ofcontrol that you have in sculpting your sound. The Sustain knob sets the amountof sympathetic resonance derived from the use of the sustain pedal. Soft Pedalwill soften the attack on the SCX microphone pair, while the Noise control willincrease of decrease the amount of pedal noise heard from the sustain pedal. TheKey Off control sets the sound of hammer coming back to rest.
Feature packed and offering upamazing 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 pianoNKIs (other than the Surround Sound instruments) are populated with a generoussampling of what the CA Grand can do from a haunting echo dripping “AmericanBeauty” style to Classical, Pop, Rock and anything in between. I really likethe sound of the CA Grand because you can capture such beautiful tone playingsoftly, employ sympathetic resonance for lush and dreamy sounding chords orplay with full velocity and achieve excellent results. The CA Grand found itsway onto a new recording project I am working on before I ever had a chance towrite a word. This is definitely my new go-to Grand Piano. There is a goodamount of detail in the documentation and to take full advantage of what CAGrand can do, I would urge you to explore the manual.
This is definitely my new go-toGrand Piano.
Let’s move on to the vintagekeyboards and take a look.
First up we have the Clavinet D6.This classic keyboard has been used famously by everyone from Stevie Wonder toPink 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 trickpony. Dial down the Wah and turn everything else up and you get that intriguingwatery 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 ofmaintaining a consistent interface across all six of the vintage instruments.
I will refrain from coveringevery control on each of the vintage boards so that my review doesn’t turn intothe user manual, but I want to point out that Q Up Arts did a great job ofmaintaining a consistent interface across all six of the vintage instruments.While there are some differences in controls across instruments as you wouldexpect, the layout and control naming is quite consistent.
I usually save my disclaimer onmy preference for using premium plugins to mix in the room and avoiding FX thatare included in most instruments, but in this case I am a big fan of thesculpting capability using the included FX for not only the CA Grand, but alsothe vintage instruments. I really had a great deal of fun tweaking andshape-shifting the sounds here. Since all the vintage keyboards were deeplysampled from the real McCoy, you really get a sense of playing the hardware andthe interface gives you that hands on feel for each of them. If you do a littlebit with Midi Learn on a keyboard with a bunch of knobs and sliders, you cansit back and really explore the sound sculpting potential.
Next up we have the FarfisaOrgan. You probably know it from Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock” but you may notknow how many other mainstream musicians incorporated the Farfisa into theirmusic. What struck me most about the Farfisa here is that by adjusting theDepth , Feedback and Vibrato Rate, you can move from the traditional sound andventure between a pipe organ and a close facsimile of the cathedral organsound. Most of the vintage instruments come with a number of NKIs and each hastheir own snapshots. This again highlights how much design work and care wastaken to produce this wonderful set of instruments. I have even found that byexploring some of these keyboards and organs like the Clavinet and Farfisa thatI would not normally gravitate towards, they have a great deal to offer in musicalappeal.
The Hammond A-100 Organ isanother great addition to the library. On this one, I was immediately drawn toopen the instrument NKI called “Lordish” looking for – and finding the classicDeep Purple signature sound. This is another charming piece of gear that hasbeen used in more musical genres than can be listed here, either as the A-100or a C-Series. You can manually control the stops and the Leslie here or youcan choose from a few different instrument NKIs, each armed with snapshots to gofrom gritty to a nice trippy echo to a nice jazzy Hammond sound. It is all inthere and definitely one of my favorites.
The Rhodes Seventy Three electricpiano really needs no introduction. If you’ve never heard one of these on theradio 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 onecontains snapshots to help you explore the limits of the instrument. ThisRhodes is an excellent complement to the library and stands up well to othersampled Seventy Threes I have used.
A couple of feature notes here;the Type switch will toggle through the nine different Reverbs while the Levelknob will control the level of the Reverb. The Dry toggle will disable all ofthe parameters in the upper position. While each instrument has some uniquefeatures, these are worth pointing out as they are generally patterned in theUI design for each instrument.
This IS the sound of the sixties!Everything from The Animals “House of the Rising Sun” to The Doors “Light MyFire” to Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” was recorded using the amazingVox Continental.
This is another like the Farfisawere you can get that classic sound from the records, but you can also bend itand shape it in interesting ways.
One of my favorite snapshots hereis a classic organ sound with a long delay tail that gives you a wholedifferent take on the classic sound. This is again, not one of my favorites inthe lineage to play but I really like what Q Up Arts did with this one. Havingthe organs and pianos handy in one library makes it really easy to play aroundwithout moving from each piece of gear to another in order to experiment. Theconsistency 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 thisone? Who hasn’t! From Supertramp’s “Bloody Well Right” to the top hits ofMarvin Gaye and half of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”, this electricpiano has defined its role in musical history.
This being another of myfavorites amongst the litter, along with the Rhodes Seventy Three, I reallyenjoyed playing around with the snapshots as a starting point but then pushingthings into different territory. The Dreamscape snapshot from the Wurli hassome beautiful Reverb and Delay tails on the classic sound that fits reallywell into the mix of more introspective compositions and some quiet ambientthat I am working on currently.
I spent a really lengthy periodof time working with California Keys because I found so much on offer here.
I spent a really lengthy periodof 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 attentionaway from writing and into composing right away, that to me is the ultimateexperience. California Keys is an amazing library with six vintage keyboardsand organs alone. Now add in the centerpiece – the Fazioli Grand and this takesit to a whole new level. The piano is simply amazing for all of the reasons Idiscussed. What blew me away were the Surround Sound instruments for the CAGrand and the snapshot variety for each NKI and microphone profile.
This is one library that afterthoroughly investigating, I can’t recommend enough. I would recommendCalifornia Keys to composers of all genres based on the grand piano alone andthen the icing on the cake is the six vintage instruments. I don’t mean tolessen their role in the library, but the piano for me is what sets CaliforniaKeys apart and is worth the price of admission itself.
The library comes in at awhopping 40 GB. California Keys ships with the Kontakt Player software and willalso work with the full version of Kontakt 5 or higher. NKS is fullyimplemented providing support for Native Instruments Kontrol keyboards.
The entire library is comprisedof 8,000 24 bit/44KHz samples recorded at 192 KHz/24 bit into ProTools HDsystem. The Fazioli 10 ft. Grand Piano was recorded at Counterpoint Studios inSalt Lake City Utah, which is a Studio Bau:ton design. Recording was done usingtop quality microphones and preamps. The setup features 10 channels ofmicrophones (Earthworks, Peluso, ORTF) run through NEVE, Grace and UA preamps.California Keys features Stereo presets as well as presets for fully discreetcustomizable 5.1 and 7.1 Surround Sound. The six vintage keyboards from theprivate collection of Arlan Oscar Schierbaum were restored by L.A. tech wiz KenRich and were recorded in a private studio in Topanga Canyon, California. Alongwith Doug Morton; Engineering was done by Robert Abeyta and Programming &Scripting were done by Michael Scott.