Review: iGrand Piano for iPad

It’s been quite some time since I’ve felt either the need or desire to purchase an iOS App, and I can count on one hand those Apps that I was willing to pay more than a few pounds for. Then I spotted IK Multimedia had released iGrand Piano for iPad – in their words “The Concert-Quality Piano App for iPad” with the promise of a Gallery of World-Class Pianos, Literally at Your Fingertips. Sounds almost too good to be true… 

There is a free version that’s restricted to one Grand Piano sound and a range of only a few octaves (49 keys), but having downloaded that – and registered the App to unlock a second instrument – I was so impressed with what I was hearing that I simply had to upgrade to the full version of the App (for just £13.99) to unlock all the different piano sounds and full 88-note keyboard range. Not only that, but I also paid the £6.99 in-app upgrade cost so I had access to the full collection of piano sounds.

iGrand Piano is the first concert-quality piano app, offering 18 gorgeous sounding, true-stereo, multisampled pianos, with fidelity that rivals the best professional piano instruments for Mac and PC, and a low-latency response that makes it feel like you’re playing a real piano.

All acoustic pianos sound and feel different, and finding a life-like piano sound in a digital instrument has often been referred to as like searching for the Holy Grail. Certainly, when I first experienced digital pianos in the mid-80’s, whilst they were exciting in their own way, sonically – and physically – they fell incredibly short of the mark, sounding synthetic and feeling either too spongy or too light.

Skip forward 25 years or so (which I have to say makes me feel old!) and things have changed dramatically, with digital pianos sounding and feeling much more realistic – you only have to look at Yamaha’s AvantGrand to see just how far things have moved on. Of course, that features a proper Yamaha wooden grand piano action, is housed in a beautiful black polished polyester cabinet with powerful sound reproduction system and costs just as much as a small family hatchback. Or a decent acoustic piano for that matter.

Technological developments have seen the growth of software instruments in recent years, with various piano sample libraries and stand-alone piano instruments available. These instruments sound very realistic, and are the result of meticulously sampling each key on the keyboard at several velocity levels. However this usually means that not only are they massive, multi-gigabyte libraries, they require powerful computers to run properly.

Back in the day there was a revered piano sound module – the Kurzweil Micropiano – which despite a relatively humble technical specification managed to produce a very believable and very playable piano sound, and was favoured amongst professional musicians and music producers alike. If memory serves me correctly, the original samples for the Micropiano sound chip were recorded at three different velocity levels and every three or four semitones – the resulting sample size was in the range of a few megabytes, and nothing like the multi-gigabyte core sample libraries available today.

I’ve always thought if Kurzweil could produce such a believable and playable instrument with the technology available at the time, looking at the power of the latest iOS devices, wouldn’t it be great if someone could develop a piano App that gave today’s musicians that same, life-like and playable piano sound? I think it’s fair to say that iGrand is that App.

The thing that struck me first about iGrand was the quality of the sound, and for lack of a better word, the honesty and playability of the sounds. Like I said above, all pianos are different – I’ve played everything from a beat-up, out-of-tune and un-regulated upright to a pristine Yamaha concert grand, and elsewhere in this blog I’ve mentioned my ‘old friend’, the Model B Steinway grand which I trained on and played regularly in my teens.

iGrand is the first digital instrument I’ve played in a long time that gave me the feeling of playing some of those instruments again. Of course I have no idea which pianos were actually recorded to create iGrand’s collection of sounds, but Jazz Piano certainly hints at the Steinway I used to know, Rich Upright reminds me of the old Bechstein in room E4, and the main Grand Piano sound may well be a Yamaha, but none of that matters – what’s important is that each sound has a distinctly different timbre and feel, and each one inspires you to play, immersing you in the unique, individual characteristics of its’ tone.

I applaud IK Multimedia’s efforts and wholeheartedly recommend you try out iGrand for yourself. However, for the sake of balance, I ought to mention that whilst impressive, the App does have limitations – the lack of sympathetic resonance and pedalling nuances do mean iGrand falls short of the ultimate realism. Also, the velocity response of one or two sounds is a bit odd too – Classical Piano doesn’t have quite enough dynamic range for my taste, although I do have to say that Chopin sounds lovely when played on the Jazz Piano. Occasionally, the jump from one stretched sample to the next across the key range isn’t as discreet as it could be, but having said that it would be fair to point out that these transitions are just as noticeable on the vast majority of stand-alone digital pianos if you listen out for them.

Whilst it merely dulls the high-gloss polished black finish slightly and certainly doesn’t tarnish it completely, iGrand’s polyphony seems to only be around 12-16 notes on my original iPad, so you need to be aware of note-stealing, especially if you’re fond of using the sustain pedal. I have no insider knowledge and write this merely as an inspired returning pianist, so it may be that performance on the ‘new iPad’ (and indeed the iPad 2) is better in this respect. It is pleasing however to note that latency is a complete non-issue – by default the App was set up in Ultra Low Latency mode which resulted in a few clicks and pops in the audio playback, but switching to Low Latency mode cleared that up completely, and there was still absolutely no discernible delay between playing a note and it sounding.

I was pleased to discover I was able to play iGrand by simply hooking up my Roland FP4 stage piano’s USB connection to my iPad via Apple’s dock connector to USB adapter (from the Camera Connection Kit). Whilst that will be entirely sufficient for my needs right now, IK Multimedia do also produce the iRig MIDI interface which not only provides regular MIDI connections so you can control iGrand from any MIDI-equipped keyboard controller (i.e. them all!), but also allows you to power the iPad at the same time.

I’ve not mentioned any of the other features in iGrand, so if you want to read more about the built in metronome and recorder, or find out that you can tweak the lid position, tone and reverb of each piano sound too, I suggest you head over to IK Multimedia for more information. Better yet, just download the free version on your iPad and give it a whirl – I guarantee you’ll be impressed enough to splash out for the full un-restricted app, and probably the piano pack upgrade too, if only so you can do your very own Winifred Atwell impression – the Black & White Rag never sounded so good!

*UPDATE* If you’ve seen my quirky iPhone cases, you’ll probably already know about my Bosendiphone iPhone case. Since redbubble have added iPad cases to their portfolio, I’ve also created a quirky iPad case design too, and my more elaborate Bosendipad Grand Piano iPad Case is now available for iPad 2 or ‘new’ Retina iPads – perfect if you’re running iGrand on your iPad!

Advertisements

14 thoughts on “Review: iGrand Piano for iPad”

  1. This is an excellent review; very honest and therefore helpful! I just bought SampleTank for the pianos (upgraded them as well) and am wondering if iGrand has any advantage over what I just bought – in terms of sample quality, that is. I downloaded the iGrand demo and I think I hear the exact same sample stretch on Grand Piano 1 on both apps. Are they the same?

    1. Thanks 🙂 Having not tried SampleTank, I can’t say if iGrand would offer you any advantages or not, except to suggest that it is dedicated to piano sounds only and you can tweak the brightness and lid settings. Plus it looks grand! It may well feature the same sample(s) as SampleTank (makes sense), but again I’m not sure if you have access to the same varied collection of different piano in SampleTank? Having played with iGrand some more, I have to say I really like the uprights as well as the main Grand Piano and Jazz Grand sounds, but the Baby Grands are my least favourites. They suffer from too much ‘room’ in the samples for my liking – the early reflections are too strong, creating an almost echo-like effect, which is a shame, as these piano sounds have great character, and are indeed quite charismatic.

    1. Thanks again for that – most useful information! Double what the old M1 had, and a much, much better piano sound…. oh for a time machine LOL!

  2. Great information(!) and will keep me from making an unnecessary purchase as the babies were what I would have wanted. Here’s their direct response to my email:

    Very few of the Piano sounds in SampleTank are used in iGrand Piano. Most of the iGrand Piano sounds are new samples that were recorded at our top-of-the-line recording facility in Modena, Italy.
    The Piano sounds from SampleTank that are used in iGrand Piano will have additional velocity-based samples that are not included in SampleTank. For example, the Grand PIano 1 instrument is the same between both SampleTank and iGrand Piano. But the iGrand Piano version will have additional samples based on the velocity of the MIDI note played, these are samples not included in SampleTank.
    There you have it. I think I’ll go ahead and get iGrand in addition to SampleTank.

    Yes, a time machine would be nice, Professor Frink.
    I bought a Memorymoog back in ’82, one year before midi came out! I also had Yamaha’s very first mono synth, the SY-1, complete with colored preset tabs, a la the CS-80 🙂

    I’ll never forget the first live sight and sound of a Synclavier in a jazz club in Austin! I was already drooling from the blue vinyl demo beforehand.

    1. I doubt the baby grands were recorded in that fancy recording facility in Modena… they do have a distinctly different sound quality to them, and for me the ‘ambience’ in the original samples is a touch distracting. Having said that I don’t regret buying the upgrade pack, as the rest of the extra sounds are very usable. Nice to get some info direct from Sampletank though – having a more complete piano sound with extra velocity layers in iGrand makes sense.

  3. I’m glad they did that too. I can hear the difference from the SampleTank version. That being said, there’s a Gentle Piano in ST, combined with certain other settings that’s inspired me to compose a new CD using that one piano exclusively.
    If you go to http://www.RichardinConcert.com and email me, I’ll send you 4 images that compare the partials/overtones on the Grand Piano and East West’s Steinway that’s 2 GB. Very telling! Will do another analysis on the new iGrand soon…

  4. Did the new analysis and they are almost identical! New sample layers must have been on the upper end of the velocity curve. That really is amazing considering the size of an iPad vs my desktop. I am extremely pleased with that result. iGrand is equal to the 2Gb Steinway D.

  5. I have owned a very nice Yamaha GT20 for a few years now since getting rid of my 6’2″ Bluthner and have always been impressed with the sound it can produce from a mere 16mb of memory…yes, that’s just 16mb! I’ve been looking for some time for decent piano samples to play using the Yamaha as a midi keyboard and this package is just excellent. Superb samples and the ultimate keyboard in the GT 20 are a match made in heaven. Many thanks for your wonderful review.

    1. Ah, the GranTouch! I remember not being able to afford one, and sadly the same is true of the current AvantGrand… the Yamahas feel great (obviously), and I can appreciate how using your GT20 to control iGrand would make for a really nice combo. Thanks for commenting, glad you enjoyed my mini review 🙂

      1. Bit of a noob here, just stumbled upon this site.. Thinking of buying a gt20 at this moment, but how does this work exactly? What do you plug into your iPad or iPhone (own both)? Do you use that irig midi device? I’m just curious because this would indeed make a very big difference to me if you easily add more sounds this way ! Thanks a million in advance

      2. I can’t remember if the GT20 has a USB “to host” connector or not, but suspect that it does. If so, you should be able to use Apple’s USB to 30-pin adaptor (from their Camera Connector Kit) to send midi data from the GT20 to the iPad/iPhone. If the GT20 only has standard 5-pin DIN MIDI Out and In connections, the yes, you’ll need an iRig Midi or other similar device. Hope that helps 🙂

    1. Thanks Lacy – I wasn’t sure about the GT20 specs, and I’ve never come across a generic MIDI to USB cable before! It looks like it might work out cheaper for Boos to just to get the iRig Midi though (unless they already own the Camera Connection Kit).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s