Exploring Retro Tones With XLN Audio’s Modern Upright
The Modern Upright module in XLN Audio's Addictive Keys can sound surprisingly hi-fi. I've certainly heard a few real-world mini-grands that lacked its clarity of tone! However, a lot of the time, producers reach for upright piano when they're deliberately after a dose of lo-fi nostalgia, and there are loads of great options available for such retro timbres if you delve into the instrument's Edit Page.
The Sample Playback settings are particularly fertile territory in this respect. Under the Pitch tab, for instance, you've got the two Tune FX settings. With Dissonance you can immediately take the piano out of the studio into the real world, where few uprights are as carefully maintained as Modern Upright. Of course, if you overdo this, you'll find yourself in the realm of honky-tonk, but there are a lot of appealing shades of disrepair to enjoy before you reach that point! The Sample Shift control is great too, providing tinnier, almost toy-piano voicings as you turn it clockwise, while at the other extreme the lovely warm, muted tones are a perfect underscore for silver-screen reminiscences. Flipping over to the Filter tab, the BP12 filter type is another gem — switch off the Filter Envelope and crank the Cutoff and Reso controls to their two o'clock positions for instant transistor radio!
Of course, if you're into more technological retro, then the instrument's onboard effects can help out there as well. Although you can apply independent effects to each set of virtual mic signals, for this application it's easiest to click the Mixer's Master tab and do your processing there instead, as that way it'll apply the effects to the entirety of the sound. The Compress & Distort effect does very cool things when you push it hard by raising its Amount control and flicking between the different distortion models. Personally, I like to compress heavily too, as this evens out the distortion tone as you play different parts. Try a 6:1 ratio with the shortest attack and release times, and then pull down the threshold until it really kicks in strong!
The Noise effect can further regress the technological vintage, and I like the lovely soft Vinyl crackle in particular. Just be sure to increase the Decay setting enough so that you don't get any unwanted gaps between the musical phrases as you play. But my own personal highlight is the Chorus effect, which has a special Octave Mode that helps keep the sound tuneful even with large amounts of modulation. Combine that with a low Sample Shift value and you're immediately transported into one of those soft-focus cinematic 'childhood flashback' scenes!
Words: Mike Senior