Ravenscroft 275 Piano review – UVI add to their iOS offerings with heavyweight piano instrument

Download from iTunes App StoreRegular iOS music makers will be very familiar with the UVI brand through their excellent BeatHawk electronic music production app. While the company have a long track record in sample libraries/virtual instruments for the desktop, BeatHawk was (and still is) an impressive debut under iOS and UVI have simply added to the feature set with every update.

However, as I posted a few days ago, they have now launched a new iOS app from UVI; Ravenscroft 275 Piano. While I’m not absolutely certain of the details, I suspect this is built upon the sample base that can be found in VI Labs desktop instrument of the same name and that uses UVI’s popular front-end UVI Workstation 2. Quite what the relationship is between UVI and VI Labs (perhaps the latter is an off-shoot of the former?) I’m not sure…. but the desktop version of Ravenscroft 275 weighs in at 6GB, costs US$199 and has received very positive reviews.

As I’ve commented before on the blog, iOS is perhaps not (yet?) the best platform for ‘mega-sample’ virtual instruments – it has, until recently, lacked the processing grunt and the storage space – but things are improving. Indeed, things have improved so much over the last couple of years that we are beginning to see some very creditable sample-based virtual instruments appear that, in some cases – and perhaps for a limited range of instrument types/articulations – can match what’s available on the desktop. Maybe iOS still doesn’t reach quite up to the top of the desktop tree…. but it perhaps is competitive in the ‘desktop middle ground’.

Ravenscroft 275 Piano – UVI’s take on a top-end virtual piano for iOS.

Now, we already have a number of very impressive virtual piano instruments available under iOS such as Colossus PianoiGrand and Module….  As examples, I think the latter to are perhaps typical of what I’ve just described. They are easily good enough for routine piano duties – live or recorded – and, unless you are a real stickler for the ‘perfect’ sampled piano, would prove to be a sensible compromise between price, performance and sound.

Colossus is perhaps a somewhat different beast. The various IAPs available within the base app include some serious sizable sample data. I’ve only really used the Upright Piano for any length of time but even that comes in at 3.4GB, offers eight velocity layers and is priced at UK£19.99/US$19.99. The headline Concert Grand is UK£48.99/US$49.99 and a 14GB download…. eeekkkk! The demos sound very good indeed and, in sampling detail at least, this is most certainly up there with some of the very serious desktop virtual pianos.

The virtualkeyboard can be split for two-handed playing if you don’t have an external MIDI keyboard to hand.

So, what about the iOS Ravenscroft 275 Piano? With plenty of very useable competition and various price points and specification (depending upon your personal needs), where does it fit in? And, if it is going to make an impact, then it better have something to offer by way of an ‘edge’. That said, the paper specification suggests this could be a pretty impressive instrument….

Real world, virtual world

The virtual instrument is obviously intended to be a recreation of the high regarded (and very expensive) Ravenscroft 275 grand piano which – if you are into hardware acoustic pianos – comes with a specification to die for. UVI have attempted to recreate the sonics and performance detail of the original with some seriously detailed sampling (the app is a 900MB download and does, I believe, feature a selected sub-set of the samples found in the desktop instrument mentioned earlier, primarily the close mic’ed samples) and what looks like some very clever coding based upon ‘hybrid modelling’. There is, apparently, also some pretty sophisticated data compression going on based around the FLAC format; uncompressed we might have closer to 6GB of sample data.

No, I don’t know the specifics either, but I the aim is obviously to provide the most expressive acoustic piano playing experience currently found under iOS whilst keeping the footprint as small as possible….

The app works as a stand-alone instrument or via IAA, AU and (as shown here) Audiobus.

Elegant lines

The UI certainly tries to capture the elegance of the original hardware piano. It’s a pretty simple affair with lots of clean lines and all the main controls housed in a single screen. You also get a good technical spec on launch. Audiobus, IAA and detailed MIDI support is included and – yay! – the app is also able to run as an AU plugin within a suitable host. It requires iOS9.3 or later and an iPhone 5/iPad 4 or newer is recommended (yes, it is a universal app).

UVI’s Sparkverb is included to add some ‘space’ to the sounds and you also get a 3-band EQ. The latter is very effective in changing the tonal properties of the piano while the reverb is, like it’s desktop equivalent, very good indeed. The on-screen keyboard can be customised via the Split button to show two layers. The dynamics response when using an external keyboard (the graphic located on the right of the UI is very intuitive) can also be adjusted. Bluetooth MIDI is supported if you have a suitable MIDI keyboard.

The EQ and reverb options provide plenty of choice about the tone and ‘space’ for your acoustic piano sounds.

The ships with a core sample library but also a number of presets and you can, of course, create your own. I suspect the presets are simply derived from tweaks to the EQ and Reverb settings rather than their being different sub-sets of samples used within the overall sample base.

Anyway, the sounds go from a suitably grand classical piano, through a concert grand and into the world of pop and jazz before getting to things that provide a hint of electric piano or harpsichord. This is though, at it’s heart, a great sound acoustic piano – rather than any of these other things – and where you have good control over the tone and ambiance.

A range of presets are included with sonics tweaks for different musical styles.

‘Great’ I hear all you piano players say….  but what about the price? Well, that’s also interesting in its own way; UK£34.99/US$34.99. This is, therefore, not in the casual purchase category. If you are going to consider buying the app then I guess you will have to be pretty serious about your piano sounds.

You hum it, I’ll play it

While the on-screen virtual keyboard would do a suitable trick in the absence of a decent external MIDI keyboard, you need the latter in order to really do justice to a virtual instrument such as Ravenscroft 275. I suspect ‘real’ piano players would prefer a full-weighted MIDI keyboard for the ultimate piano-like experience but I did my own testing with my trusty Novation Impluse 61 MIDI keyboard controller. I spent most of my time testing the app stand-alone and via AU (my preferred way of working), but also gave the IAA and Audiobus support a quick run through.

Let’s start with stand-alone. I had no issues here and, just out of interest, I did use the Status app to see just how much load Ravenscroft was placing on my large format original iPad Pro (now about 21 months old I guess) and running the latest version of iOS. For what any of these system resource monitoring apps are worth, Ravenscroft seemed to add about 10% CPU load to my system when idle but up to 20% when I was bashing out some full chords and making good use of the sustain pedal (so plenty of notes were playing at the same time). That loading is not so bad although I’d be interested to hear from iPad 4 (the minimum recommended iPad spec) users to see what their experience was on this front (feel free to leave a comment below).

The app includes AU support as shown here within Cubasis.

Monitored through ear buds or the iPad’s own speakers, Ravenscroft sound very good but, if you are really going to appreciate what the instrument can offer, I think you need to go up market with your monitoring; decent headphones or a keyboard amp (or studio monitors in my case) make a big difference.

OK, so I’m happy to admit that I’m not a hard-core piano geek but I’ve played lots of virtual pianos, own some very good ones on the desktop and have used a good number of the iOS competitors to Ravenscroft. Sonically, and in terms of the playing dynamics, I felt Ravenscroft 275 was as good as any – and better than most – acoustic piano experience I’ve ever had under iOS. I particularly enjoyed the playing dynamics (and how easy they were to adjust to your playing style/keyboard response). This could easily become my iOS acoustic piano of choice….

Now, just how ‘good’ your virtual piano has to be is obviously a matter or personal taste but, from a sonic perspective at least, I’ve have absolutely no problems tucking my iPad under my arm and taking Ravenscroft 275 to a gig. Equally, I think it would do a very good job indeed in a recording context, even when exposed as a solo instrument.

Just for fun, I did put it up against a couple of virtual pianos I use on the desktop (mainly from Native Instruments and Toontrack’s EZKeys which I love for various reasons); Ravenscroft certainly wasn’t out of it’s league although the desktop instruments perhaps offered more choices and perhaps a touch more subtlety in response at times. But, of course, they also cost considerably more….. I suspect hard-core piano heads might be a bit more fussy than me (and so they should be) but this is an instrument I could happily put to good use in music production work I do for paying clients and not feel I had to apologise for the piano sounds….

Sonically, and in terms of playing dynamics, unless you are a real acoustic piano geek, I don’t think the Ravenscroft is too far out of its depth when compared to some of the obvious desktop equivalents such as Tooktrack’s EZKeys.

Plug-in piano

When used as an AU plug-in, or via Audiobus or IAA, you obviously get access to all the same levels of sound and response. There are, of course, other technical ‘between app’ things going on at the same time. Via IAA and in Audiobus, I didn’t experience any problems at all. However, when used via AU – in both Cubasis and Audiobus – I did experience some minor technical gremlins.

For example, in Cubasis, Ravenscroft occasionally produced a warning and requested a ‘reload plugin’. While it played fine in normal playback, the Cubasis CPU meter did show some serious spikes and, when I rendered my project as an audio file – even when I just had a solo Ravenscraft 275 track in my project – I did get some glitches in the resulting mix file. This may, in part, be a Cubasis issue rather than a Ravencrodt 275 one but I can usually render more complex projects than this without issues. Equally, the AU graphics within Audiobus – on my iPad Pro at least – were a bit scrambled.

I did experience some minor AU quirks… such as the display within Audiobus…. but UVI’s first update has already attended to some of these issues.

All that said, as I was carrying out the review, UVI popped the first update onto the App Store (v.1.0.1 appeared this morning). This most certain did improve matters considerably. Audio gremlins when rendering mixes in Cubasis reduced dramatically (although still there occasionally) so something in the updated Ravenscroft code has obviously helped here. Equally, the random spikes in the Cubase CPU meter also seem to have stopped. This is all very encouraging so I suspect UVI are very aware of any initial issues and that they are already busy ironing them out.

I did manage to run three instances of the updated app as an AU plugin within Cubasis without things going to far off track CPU wise. That said, this is undoubtedly a pretty hefty app – CPU and memory-wise – so I suspect it would be sensible advice to say ‘use the newest iOS hardware you can’ and, on older devices, expect to have to navigate the occasional resource hog in busy projects. Track freezing may be your friend here. Oh, and anyone using the app on one of the brand new iPads is welcome to leave a comment about performance below…. greater CPU capacity would also be your friend :-)

The price is right?

So, it sounds great and, a few technical gremlins aside that I’m sure UVI will so resolve, it performs solidly from a technical perspective. It’s ‘big’ enough to offer a really good playing experience yet not ‘too big’ to be found a home for on a suitable bit of iOS hardware. UVI have, I think, struck a good balance between sound, performance and resource demands.

But what about price? Well, what do we want to compare Ravenscroft 275 to? Compared to many other iOS virtual instruments, it’s at the top end of the price range. At UK£34.99/US$34.99, you are going to need to be (a) a serious piano sound junkie and (b) convinced it is ‘better’ than any other piano apps you already own, in order to take a punt.

Ravenscroft 275 is a serious virtual instrument so some serious resource demands are hardly surprising…. Track freezing – as here in Cubasis – can help on this front if you are running a busy project.

I can’t easily compare the app to the more expansive (and more expensive) IAPs within Colossus Piano but, in terms of all the other top-end iOS piano sounds I have at my disposal – iGrand, Module, etc., – Ravenscroft 275 would (currently at least) get my vote. Ass with any such comment though, this is a personal judgment; your idea of a good piano sound might well be very different from mine.

All that said, all of these other top-end iOS pianos ate also at the upper end of the App Store price range. In that context, I don’t think UVI are out of line here. It’s an expensive app but it is also – sonically – a quality virtual instrument; you are getting what you pay for compared to the cheaper alternatives. And if you don’t need ‘better’ piano sounds, don’t buy at the top-end of the price range.

While we have all considered this countless times, I can’t finish without some comparison to the desktop market. In that world, when it comes to ‘top-end’ virtual pianos, we are generally talking about US$200+. Indeed, that’s exactly where VI Lab’s Ravenscfoft 275 or Garritan’s Abby Road Concert Grand or NI’s Definitive Piano Collection sit. I use the last of these regularly. Toontrack’s EZKeys is €139 for the Concert Grand but this is a somewhat different product (it’s as much a virtual piano player as a virtual instrument) and there are lots of additional piano sounds you can add at extra cost.

There are some tweaks you can make to adjust the performance of the app if required.

At UK£34.99/US$34.99, it shouldn’t really be expected that a humble iOS app can compete with these sorts of hefty desktop products. I’m not saying it can…. at least not for the most serious and demanding of piano players…. but for the rest of us (myself included) I think it does a surprisingly good job. Would I always pick it over my personal NI or Toontrack options? No, I not sure I would, but I’d certainly give it a try in the expectation that, on occasions, it will be just the sound I’m after. In that context, the price tag is not so difficult to swallow.

In summary

In my own view, the Ravenscroft 275 sounds as good as it looks…. and, compared to an equivalent desktop sample-based virtual piano, I think it represents good value for money. That still won’t stop a lot of iOS musicians wincing at the price though, although I think that’s more a reflection of just how much value the App Store offers rather than any suggestion that UVI have ‘over-priced’ Ravenscroft 275. I hope UVI can continue to refine the performance of the app (I’m sure they will) but, even so, this is a pretty impressive debut.

Anyway, check out the trailer video below….  it looks and sounds fabulous. There are further audio demos on the UVI website that are also impressive. Then hit the App Store download button to find out more.

Ravenscroft 275 Piano

Download from iTunes App Store

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    1. If you figure the whole cost of Ivory (Module + Ivory) you’re looking at $70 US. Ravenscrort is half the price and sounds twice as good to me, and I am a piano player as well as a guitarist.

      • airmanchairman says:

        Twice as good as Module/Ivory? Care to qualify that?

        • Hi both…. these kinds of ‘this sounds better than that’ evaluations are hard to quantify…. and are also a very personal thing….. but I’d certainly agree that, from my own short time with Ravenscroft – and to my ears – it is certainly on a par with Ivory/Module. I love Module for all sorts of reasons but, if I was just after an acoustic piano, then I’d certainly have Ravenscroft as a contender.

          This kind of question does beg another though (and a long-standing one at that). At US$5, the lack of a simple ‘app trial system’ on the App Store is not such a big deal… but when apps get into the US$20+ bracket, the option to download a time-limited (even if just for 24 hours?) trial version would be a big plus for users and developers alike…. Come on Apple, make it happen…. best wishes, John

          • I think Ravenscroft sounds fantastic, but is it better than all other piano sounds on iOS? Agree with John, as it does get down to personal taste, mostly. The nearest competitor would be Colossus from Crudebyte, rather than Ivory, since Korg Module contains much more than pianos. And for the price I think Module is a great deal (but I’m heavy into the organ sounds, so there’s that).

            John has written about low app prices for a while now and it seems we’re seeing more higher priced apps recently and I wonder if this is a trend towards a normalization of proces on the App Store? Anyway, at $35, Ravenscroft is beyond my app budget, but I was lucky enough to Beta test the app I’ve been highly impressed with the quality of the sounds. But I think other piano app sounds are good and have a place in iOS music making. I still like some of the piano sounds in GarageBand.

            • Oops…typo: should be “…prices on the App Store?”

              Also John, I thought that DRC Synth had kind of trial period, at least when it first came out? I’m tired today from knowing my lawn, so I could be imagining that; but either way for higher priced apps it would be great to have some kind of look-see period to help us decide if an app is worth it, or not.

          • I’ve seen a few higher priced apps recently that are offering trial periods so it seems Apple must have changed something in their policies relative to free trials. And it surely makes sense with more quality apps at higher prices coming out.

            • Hi Nick…. thanks for that and interesting to hear. If you can recall any specific examples, drop me a line as I’d like to check out the process even if with a non-music app :-) Very best wishes, John

        • Maximilian says:

          I think what he meant to say is that it sounds twice as natural or twice as real. What sounds “good” is of course subjective and can differ a lot on the context of the music and the listeners taste.

          The Ravenscroft sounds incredibly real. Listen to the repetition of notes at the beginning of the demo – try that with any other ios piano. The sympathetic String Resonance is done extremely well resulting in a rich and alive pianoscape. The tuning and the velocity sampling seems very accurate, which in other piano libraries makes it sound artificial (like ios ivory) and unnatural, but the ravenscrofts crispness makes it even richer. I’m actually quite surprised by the mere size of only 900 Mb, it sounds 20 times bigger.

    2. Ravenscroft 275 is not only a great sounding piano app but alos the only one on the app store with a fully functional auv3, and the possibilities of adjusting the sounds goes beyond other piano apps. This has quickly become my favorite piano …

    3. Best Ios Piano Yet. by a country mile.

    4. Charles Telerant says:

      Hard to imagine anything competing with the 14 gig Colossus which I own.

    5. The Ravenscroft 275 VI instruments that can inspire and assist you get to the next level of creativity.

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