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Addictive Keys Review at Sound on Sound

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XLN Audio's Addictive Drums VST instrument has been around for a few years now, and has gained many loyal fans. Now the Swedish company have embarked on a mission to expand upon their Addictive branding. Addictive Keys (aka AK) turns its attention from sticks and skins to ivories and strings — and indeed hammers and tines — with a product that aims to give keyboard players extensive creative control over its sounds.

The Instruments

It's not unusual for sampled pianos to offer different mic perspectives, typically in close, mid and far positions. Addictive Keys, however, addresses the subject in meticulous detail, using a selection of high-end boutique and vintage mics to provide up to seven mic perspectives for each instrument. Since using all the mics simultaneously would be needless overkill, taxing your computer severely and causing the Dowager Lady Grantham to raise an eyebrow in withering disdain, AK allows for up to three perspectives to be loaded at one time. (See 'Microphone Perspectives' box for more details.)

The Studio Grand is a Steinway Model D, recorded in a large studio from six mic perspectives. Four stereo pairs cover close, mid and ambient positions, with two mono mics to capture side and body tones. The impression is of a real instrument in a real space, with plenty of mechanical detailing and resonance. The natural recorded tuning is just imperfect enough to impart life and movement, and, while it's perhaps not Deutsche Grammophon perfection, the overall effect is pleasing. There's plenty of body and sustain, so you don't feel compelled to add compression to bolster it, although that option is open to you! An impressively wide range of tones is possible simply by careful mixing and matching of the mics, even before adding any other processing. For a highly detailed, in-yer-face tone suited to rock and pop, the close X/Y pair mixed with a touch of the close wide pair delivers the goods; adding some top-end EQ to the X/Y pair really helps it cut through. By way of contrast, a careful blend of mono body, wide mid and wide ambience makes for a mellower, classical sound, particularly when boosting sympathetic resonance above its natural level.

The Modern Upright is a Yamaha U3, recorded in an auditorium room in seven mic perspectives, covering the front, the sides, below, behind and ambience. This piano came as something of a revelation, having been disappointed by other sampled uprights suffering from a lack of body and sustain, along with the myth that dissonant tuning is a prerequisite for uprights. Not so in this case: like the Studio Grand, it's positively brimming with detail, and with plenty of sustain. Low-end tuning and clarity can often be an issue with upright pianos, but here everything remains focused, right down to the low A. The upper registers are an utter delight, with just the right amount of impact and a delicious, chiming quality. I could tinkle away dreamily up there for hours...

Conclusion

The cynical might be quick to consign Addictive Keys to Room 101 as just another sampled piano. However, spending some time exploring its features reveals just how malleable it is. I can't think of another sampled piano player that can alter the basic character of the instrument so much and still sound natural, or that offers anything like a comparable set of miking options. Personally, I've really enjoyed playing both acoustic pianos, and would happily consider them as a first port of call for recording. I'm not quite so keen on the Mark One, but, as they say, one man's meat... I look forward to seeing how AK develops, and what products XLN come up with next: Addictive guitars, basses, washboard, spoons... who knows?  

Read full review at Sound on Sound.

Buy Addictive Keys: Duo Bundle

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