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Ministry of Rock review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £445
inc VAT

Needs PowerPC G4 1GHz (Intel Core Duo recommended) + Mac OS X 10.4 + DVD drive + iLok USB key (not supplied)

We last looked at an EastWest/Quantum Leap instrument with the release of Fab Four, the beautifully designed Beatles-inspired sample collection that was part genius, part disappointment: the drums and keyboards were great, the guitars less so.

With this in mind, we anticipated similar results when testing two other EastWest releases: Ministry of Rock and Quantum Leap Pianos. Ministry of Rock’s focus on guitars gave us initial cause for concern, as playing guitars on a Midi keyboard is often like mowing the lawn with a carving knife: it works, after a fashion, but it’s not the ideal tool for the job. Conversely, Quantum Leap Pianos is a natural fit for operation via Midi keyboard, being an entirely piano-based library.

Ministry of Rock is bristling with those well-established tools of rock: guitars, basses and drums, recorded appropriately growling, snarling and occasionally shrieking through amps from Fender, Vox and Marshall. However, although Ministry of Rock’s raison d’tre is lead-heavy metal riffage, taking single Ministry of Rock elements for use in other music styles opens up new vistas.

And the guitars work very nicely. It’s still not as intuitive as playing the real thing, but the fact that the articulations and programming of the samples were all reverse-engineered from real-world performances makes a big difference. The Telecaster sounded like, well, a Telecaster and with the other guitar flavours on board (Les Paul, Strat, PRS, Ibanez) multi-tracking guitar parts is easy – and fun, be it clean or overdriven, chords or finger-picked.

It was a similar story with the bass instruments, plus the drum sounds were as impressive as those in Fab Four. The Gretsch kit sampled for Ministry of Rock was the exact same kit used on Metallica’s Black Album, adding that stamp of hard-rocking authenticity. The drum kits are also optimised for use with Roland’s real-world Vdrums.

Our main issue with Ministry of Rock is more one of philosophy: do the kind of people who like heavy-metal music want to create it on a computer? Wouldn’t they rather get together with friends and, well, jam? That’s what makes loud music fun: it’s visceral, sweaty and real. The end results achievable with Ministry of Rock can certainly fulfil these criteria, but the Midi-based nature of input and performance runs contrary to rock’s primitive hedonism.

Quantum Leap Pianos represents an entirely different aesthetic. Two years in the making and featuring $500,000-worth of pianos, Quantum Leap Pianos presents the most pristine and realistic piano sounds available in virtual instrument form – all 263GB of them. Happily, given their huge system requirements, pianos can be installed individually.

Four world-class pianos – a Bechstein D-280, Steinway D Concert Grand, Bsendorfer 290 Concert Grand and a Yamaha C7 Grand Piano – were played and captured in a superb acoustic environment, EastWest Studios in LA. The pianos sound incredible and each instrument exhibits different tonal and response characteristics. Additionally, the ability to refine key parameters of each piano, as well as adjust the balance of the three mics, provides a wealth of sound-shaping options.

Juxtaposing Quantum Leap Pianos with Synthogy’s Ivory, playing the same piano in one app then the other, either version would satisfy the most fastidious pianist. However, the Quantum Leap Pianos version of each piano has the edge, exhibiting an even richer, more three-dimensional tone than the excellent Ivory instrument.

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