Although VR pianos cannot be radically transformed into ‘better VR acoustic pianos’ there exist a few tweaks for improvments in nuances and ‘traps’ to avoid worse sound
(I) Problem Overview : overview over the ‘problem zones’ of VR pianos
(II) VR ‘Piano’ models/patches : description of VR AP models so you can chose your preferred model
(III) General tuning options for VR APs : tweaks to improve or at least modify the AP sound
(IV) CTRLR EDITOR ‘V-Piano’: : using CTRLR EDITOR V-Piano ‘enhancer’ in a live situation
(V) VR Owners Settings, examples: : some VR owner settings from VR09/730 Facebook group
(II) VR Acoustic Piano Analysis : deep analysis of VR09/730 Grand (for those interested)
(I) Problem Overview
Despite Rolands PR claims that VR pianos would “rivals Roland’s dedicated stage pianos”, the VR pianos are not in any sense comparable to Roland SuperNatural modeled pianos (or even old SRX cards) but are as a matter of fact simple GM2/PCM low-quality pianos from Rolands Juno Di/Gi/XV sound era.
They are regarded as ‘shrill’, ‘thin’, ‘metallic’, ‘difficult to control’, lacking dynamics, etc etc. They have a too short decay, no sympathetic resonance, etc etc
Surprisingly the old V-Combo VR700 had a ‘better’ piano implementation than todays VR09/730: much longer decay, full dynamic range (imitating even ‘hammer response’), less aggressive velocity-modeling, full sympathetic resonance simulation (including lid position etc), dedicated ‘piano EQ’, etc.
(II) VR ‘Piano’ models/patches
Comparing and analysing different VR Grands might help you to understand your preferred piano patches.
‘GrandPianoV’ vs. ‘GrandPianoV2’ vs. ‘Mono Piano’
- GrandPianoV: the VR factory patch ‘GrandPianoV’ is the ‘clean center Grand’ without any added VR-EFX. It is of the ‘3-velocity-sample’ type (3 ranges of key pressure – low/mid/high – using different samples each) combined to (quite aggressive) ‘dynamic modelling’ which adds ‘brilliance’ with increasing key pressure.
- GrandPianoV2: the VR factory patch ‘GrandPianoV2’ has VR-EFX TONE set – if you reset TONE to zero, ‘V2’ turns out to sound nearly like ‘V’:
In the high and mid velocity sample range, both patches share the same sample and modelling: they sound identical
The difference is in the low velocity sample range: ‘V’ has an unmodelled (‘constant’) and slightly brighter sounding sample whereas ‘V2’ applies modelling also to its low velocity sample: it starts with a softer/warmer sound and increasing key pressure adds subtile brilliance (before it switches to the mid velocity sample). ‘V2’ also has a slighly wider dynamic low range (lower minimum level). Note that dispite modelling, the ‘jump’ from low to mid velocity sample sounds more abrupt compared to ‘V’.
- Mono Piano: the VR factory patch ‘Mono Piano’ is NOT a real mono (‘mono sampled’) piano but nothing other than VR GrandV2 where Roland applied a ‘trick’ to render it into mono: Roland engages Overdrive (!) – VR Overdrive has the property to switch a (any) VR sound from stereo to mono by summing R and L channel into one signal ! The result of this ‘R+L monoisation’ is the same false sounding interferences (phase distortions) discribed in later ‘STEREO vs. MONO’ chapter. Add to this the amount of overdrive Roland had opted for and you hear what you hear: a piano from a 1920 shellac recording 🙂
Turning VR EFX (Overdrive and Compression) of ‘Mono Piano’ to zero (disabeling ‘monoisation’) reveals … nothing other than GrandPianoV2 (without EFX either) 🙂
⇒ GrandPianoV2 without EFX is nearly identical to GrandPianoV
⇒ Mono Piano (miss)uses ‘EFX generated monoisation’ – resulting in a phase distorted sound
⇒ Mono Piano and GrandPianoV2, both without EFX, are identical
(III) General tuning options for VR acoustic pianos (AP)
STEREO vs. MONO and the ‘blind plug’ trick
The ‘problem’ (‘trap’) of VR when used with mono amps/PAs: when connecting only VR ‘L/Mono’ lineout, VR internally summs R+L channels of the ‘stereo instrument samples’ and sends the sum to ‘L/Mono’. With acoustic pianos, R and L channels ‘waves’ differe over the entire frequency spectrum – when added, the differences “interfere” creating ugly and artificial (un-realistic) side-frequencies (usually called ‘phase distortions’): you can hear this with some notes sounding very quirky while others being suffocated.
Unfortunately the Grand samples of VR are VERY PRONE to the interference-effect (much more than most digitals)
Also VR patch ‘Mono Piano’ is – despite its name – not a ‘real’ mono piano (a real piano recorded-sampled in mono) but a stereo piano sample that Roland ‘faked to mono’, injecting the ‘stereo-to-mono-sum’ interferences into the factory patch itself (see ‘Mono Piano’ below)
How to deal with this ‘mess’:
- if possible use VR with stereo amps/PA
- if you’re forced to use mono PA/speakers or you’re an orthodox follower of the “I-used-mono-my-entire-life-and-won’t-change” doctrine you can apply this trick to avoid the interferences: instead of ‘L/mono-sum’ you use EITHER L OR R channel as ‘mono’:
- connect ‘L/Mono’ lineout to PA and stick a ‘blind’ TS-plug into ‘R’-lineout – the ‘blind plug’ prevents VR from ‘making stereo-to-mono-sum’ and gives you the pure L-channel
- alternatively use ‘R’-lineout without connecting ‘L’: this will give you the pure R-channel
Important notes when using ‘pure L or R channel for mono’:
- acoustic pianos sound differently on R/L channel: on left side, bass notes are emphasised whearas on right side discant notes are more dominant. If you use the “R”-channel, VR Grands will sound (even more) brighter/shriller. Recommendations is to use the “L” channel which has less VR shrillness and bigger bass
- avoid any STEREO-TREMOLO on your patches (e.g. on EPs): stereo tremolo will result in a totally destroyed sound. Use simple mono tremolo instead
- pure R/L has a positive effects on VR organ Leslie (!): under some circumstances (e.g. for certain chords) L/Mono-sum adds side-bands to the Leslie rotation, resulting in ‘un-realistic spin frequencies’ – which do not appear when using pure R or L for mono
More fine tuning:
- KEY INITIAL TOUCH (VR menu ‘Keyboard’): lowering ‘key touch’ cuts off the tinkling high velocity piano sample, resulting in a less harsher tone in forte. On the negative dynamic range for velocity sensitive playing is reduced. A good ‘balance’ is ‘GrandPianoV2’ (with lower ‘low velocity’ than ‘V’) plus key touch ‘7’ (which leaves a moderate rest of the high velocity sample). Note that the reduction of dynamic range can be corrected with CTRLR EDITOR V-Piano (see chapter below)
- KEY SENSITIVITY (VR730 only): affects your ‘feeling’ for the keybed
- the REVERB Trick: setting reverb to 12-2 o’clock. (12-14 european time) with e.g. ‘Stage’-type adds a kind of ‘stereophonic enrichment’. To counterbalance (decrease) reverb length, set ‘wall type’ (VR menu ‘EFX’) to ‘Drapery’ or ‘Carpet’. Attention: exaggerating with reverb knob, going beyond 2 o’clock, will turn into a chorale effect. Instead of ‘Stage’ type in order to adjust reverb length you can also use ‘Room 1’ (CTRLR EDITOR users only) or ‘Hall’
- TONE: turning clockwise gives a very clear V-shaped Grand sound with big bass but also overly pronounced ‘mechanical noise’. Use TONE to find the best setting for your amp-system.
- COMPRESSION: a bit of compression “flattens” the decay curve of a note, which gives a softer, fuller sound with smoother decay. Attentions: exessive compression adds distortions and an ‘attack rebound’ : tune to the best amount but don’t exceed 11 o’clock.
- CUTOFF: on ‘VR Grands’ the filter can be used only to brighten the sound. On others (e.g. Rock Piano) cuttoff works also for dampening the hights
- LAYERING 2 pianos (e.g. GrandV + Classic Pno, Grand + EP, etc., with the 2nd piano reduced in level) can result into a more powerful ‘band-piano’ sound but also has risks of adding ‘non-pianesque’ sound and running into the ‘interference trap’ (equal to adding R+L towards a mono signal)
- EQ-ing with an external equalizer: lowering ‘high frequencies’ will soften the harsh tones and decay loops of VR APs, lowering bass frequencies will dampen the exagerated VR piano ‘mechanical knock’ noise
(IV) CTRLR EDITOR ‘V-Piano’ (as a ‘live tool’):
When you use CTRLR EDITOR ‘live’ (tablet/laptop connected to VR) you can use its ‘V-Piano feature’ to improve VRs pianos:
V-Piano actively interacts with VR (modifying VR pianos with VR ‘official and hidden features’) and is responsive to the damper pedal:
- V-Piano can add (customisable) key velocity control/curves (VR hidden features): this allows to adapt the keybed-response to your taste and to cut off shrill ‘high velocity samples’ while preserving (or even increasing) dynamic range of keys
- V-Piano can add (customisable) brilliance, ‘fake sympathetic resonance’, (mechanial) damper noise effect, etc. in dependance on the damper action and has internal processing to make the sound ‘richer’ and more ‘Grand’-like, especially when sustained
(V) VR Owners Settings, examples:
VR patch ‘JD Piano’
VR ‘JD Piano’ is derived from famous Roland JD 800 ‘AC Piano 1’. To bring it closer to the original JD 800 patch:
* MFX: select hexa-chorus, set amount to 10 a.m. (side effect of hexachorus is more 'depth' to the bass required for the JD patch) * TONE: 3 p.m. (15:00) (we need 'bass' 🙂) * REVERB: 'Plate' at 9 a.m + WALLTYPE 'brick' * Cutoff: ca. 10 * Attack: 1 or leave it to 0 (1 barely changes things, 2 is too much - the sweet attack of the JD800 patch cannot be rebuilt on VR) * Shift octave 1 down (!!!) * Level of piano to 7 (if higher, VR distorts)
NOTE: original ‘AC Piano 1’ has mulitilayers and much finer sample quality and reverb – while VR ‘JD Piano’ only uses one layer and VR ‘Reverb’ – so it’s just an approximation 🙂
Some facebook user settings
- ‘T.F.S.” (Tim Fleischer Setting) for VR730: Sound=GrandPianoV2, Overdrive=0, Tone=4, Compression=16, MFX=0, Delay=0, Reverb=Stage 32, Initial touch=7, Keyboard touch=super light
- Geoff Conwell (possibly originally by Dean Erickson): Sound = Mono Piano. Overdrive must be switched to 0. Tone at two o’clock; a little bit of reverb
Many users get a better AP sound by layering two patches.
How to layer to pianos: It’s dead easy if you use CTRLR (see website…!) but from the keyboard simply layer a piano and synth sound using the buttons below the LCD, then on the display select the synth sound, press piano in the badly named Pianos selector block (next to the E Piano button) and select the patch you want. See also Bugs, Tips & Tricks
- Sean A Kelly – layers JD Piano with Classic Piano, produces a bright piano that fits through a band well
- James Clare – layers Grand with Rock Piano, all effects off, similar to Sean, slightly less bright.
(VI) VR Acoustic Piano Analysis
This is a detailed analysis of the VR acoustic piano (Grand) sound that can help to understand why it is as ‘mediocre’ as it is and why there are no miracles to ‘make it better’
The VR ‘APs’ (Acoustic Pianos) lack in a lot of things (to understand the terminology reading the Stage Pianos essay about digital pianos will help)
In short: Heavy issues are: rather poor quality of VR ‘tone’ samples reaching from ‘acceptable’ to ‘tin can noise’, high volume samples too harsh, tone decay too short and bad sounding (artificial), badly calibrated key response for Grand and in the case of VR09 not the best feel of the action.
Subtle issues are: the absence of all whisles and bells of ‘Grands’ that have become standard in even low level DPs (and in the VR predecessors…): enhanced ‘modelling’, sympathetic string resonance, chassis resonance, mechanical damper noise, etc.
- velocity samples: on a real piano, if a key is hit harder, the tone not only sounds louder but also changes its timbre. To reproduce that change DPs use different samples for certain dynamic ranges (the best digitals use 7-8 or more different samples per note). These samples are called velocity samples or velocity layers. Modern DPs add ‘algorithms’ to smooth the transition from one sample to the next (so called modeling of the sound): in a good DP, when repeating one note by constantly increasing key pressure, you barely can hear the switch to the next velocity sample. Roland calls this technology ‘SuperNatural’.
VR Grands use 3 velocity layers with only very limited ‘transition modeling’: the lowest velocity sample is not modeled at all, some ‘velocity dependend brilliance’ is added to samples 2 and 3. Playing near the transition-‘switch’ between 2 velocity samples results in random flipping between the samples and especially the switch from 2nd sample to the very shrill sounding 3rd sample is very unpleasant and disturbing
- dynamic range: For VR GrandV and GrandV2, the ‘lowest playable volume’ (even with the lightest key touch) is not ‘zero’ (piano-pianissimo) but somewhere between piano and mezzoforte. This is a big constraint on expressivenes, especially ‘solo piano parts’. Note: 1) lowering ‘VR key touch’ reduces the dynamic range even more 2) the ‘mezzoforte offset’ can be corrected by ‘hidden VR options’ accessible through CTRLR Editor
- sample quality: The quality of the (velocity) samples of the VR Grands has big variations: depending on the note range (or single tones) and the ‘velocity layer’ there are good souding samples and others that sound like hitting a kitchen pan. Unfortunately the C4-C5 ‘main octave’ has some of the most kaputt samples (D-F#)
- knocking on heavens door…: one of the few gizmos added to the VR APs is the mechanical ‘knock’-noise when hitting a key and actuating the hammer.
In the 2nd and 3rd velocity layer Roland engineers exaggerated that noise: playing through a powerfull speaker results in a wild tock-tock-tock-tock that cuts through the piano sound itself
- decay time: decay is how a note fades out if you hit and hold a key or use the sustain pedal
Decay time of the VR Grand is way too short, resulting in low richness of the sound. Compared to Casio PX stage piano:
lowest C (C1): PX: 30 seconds – VR: 13 seconds
middle C (C4): PX: 20 seconds – VR: 10 seconds
- decay looping: on top-spec digital pianos, the entire decayed sound comes from one long sample. Long samples need a lot of (expensive) memory, therefore entry level stage pianos use short samples that are ‘looped’ (repeated) to construct a long decay tone. You can hear the restart of each loop as a periodic ‘hiss’. Roland SuperNatural technique uses modelling to balance the restart of each loop: even on the basic FP10 you cannot hear any looping.
VR uses very short samples and NO SuperNatural decay modelling: especially in the high octaves the looping is very pronounced at a high rate and results to very artificial and sterile sounding decays full of high noise artefacts
VR Gand decay looping of note C4
- sustain: on a real piano, the timbre of a note differs between damped and undamped (sustained) mode. DPs use different samples for damped and undamped, or change the timbre by modelling (Yamaha, Roland SuperNatural)
VR uses the same samples for damped/undamped: ‘sustained’ notes are simply ‘elongated samples’ (without any SuperNatural modeling)
- sympathetic string resonance: on a real piano, playing a note ‘excites’ the strings of other keys, the so called ‘string resonance’. This effect becomes really strong when the piano damper is off (sustain pedal pressed) and the entity of all strings is ‘excited’ and does freely vibrate. Resonance contributes very much to the richness and opulence of a piano. DPs add resonance using samples and/or sound algorithms (Roland SuperNatural modelling). On most DPs string resonance can be customised
VR does not add any sympathetic string resonance, resulting in less ‘richness’ of sound. The absence of string resonance is negligible in a rock band but comes into play when soloing the piano
- damper noise, chassis hall etc: on a real piano you have all kinds of ‘noise effects’, e.g. a ‘hall’ of the chassis, a ‘klonk’ sound when actuating the damper pedal etc… DPs more or less add these ‘authentic’ sounds (the more expensive the more noises).
VR does not add any of those ‘noises’ – with on exeption : the mechanical ‘ploc’ sound when pushing down a key – which is totally overemphazised on the VR and competes the drum set of your band ….