Hi all
thought I'd post my thoughts about Galaxy ii. I play acoustic normally (mostly various upright Steinways, and once in a while, a grand Fazioli (not a piano imho) and grand Steinway), and was really impressed by this VST, even though I tried it on a terrible Fatar keyboard (vmk188 pro). The mixdown is immensely better than the old Galaxy (1), which was horrid, as well as the velocity mapping (which in 1 had inexcusable discrepancies).

I will now focus on what seems to me the 2 (or 3, depends how you divide them) most important things to improve in this VST in order to allow for serious piano playing (I am ignoring the deficiencies arising from controller keyboards that have primitive actions - this is a matter that has solely to do with the compatibility of the mechanism with human physiology. Note: It makes no sense to regard a grand-Steinway's mechanism as "ideal" for digital emulation goals. It is perfectly possible that a future digital controller keyboard which feels different from any acoustic would improve upon the real pianos in the touch aspect, enabling pianists like Sokolov or Pollini to achieve their miraculous legati with less practice than what they would have required with a real Steinway)

1. (this is obvious but I will mention it anyway) Galaxy ii needs continuous (or what is sometimes known as "half-") pedaling !!!. Actually the term half-pedaling is misleading because it implies that we only use 3 pedal positions: on, off, and half. Actually we need continuous pedaling - that is, the ability to "ease-in" the dampers onto the strings to control decay. This is not only crucial for ends of phrases (cut short a chord without too abrupt an ending) but also throughout almost every piece. (In the Romantic repertoire this is essential; in Baroque-Classical this depends on your playing style. It is common nowadays to eschew pedaling altogether in Bach and sometimes Mozart as well...). It is simply impossible to play seriously without this feature. It is also necessary to introduce a /graded/ half-pedal. This means that it must be possible to cancel out the higher voices, but retain the bass, by a light ("half") pedal switch. The bass strings are "harder" to dampen in a real piano... Without this you cannot play any of Scriabin's pieces! (Not to mention countless others.).

I might also note that continuous dampening from each key control (independently of the pedal) is also neglected. I'm not even sure whether keyboards send midi data regarding the speed in which you /release/ a key, but if they do, this is something that should be supported in the VST - you should be able to release an individual key so slowly that the note dies off at your chosen rate (the damper closes in on the string as you pull back...)

2) ["Positive"] sympathetic resonance: though Galaxy ii includes this feature, they have added it by separately recording samples for the resonance and mixing it in. Now, first there are the bugs that many people mentioned: it is not activated on all keys and speeds, and also if you hit a key and then activate the pedal only after a while, the sympathetic resonance does not kick in very well - or at all.

Second, and more importantly, this is only half of the story in real pianos! It is not simply the case that the key you hold down is supplemented with additional "voices" (samples in the VST case) if you hold down the pedal. This aspect is important for emulating the beauty of sound in good pianos, but it is not as musically important (for phrasing and /bel canto/) as the following, neglected aspect of sympathetic resonance: When you hold , e.g., two keys down (even with no pedal!), such that they stand in harmonic (overtone) frequency-relations to each other, energy is transfered from one to the other (most notably from the bass to the higher voice), and this enables you to /prolong the soprano voices/ to support your phrasing, and thus to avoid a "percussion effect" that chops your phrase into discrete chunks and mangles it (think of Schubert's long-note phrases...a real piano allows you to reinforce the soprano-voice with the bass, and "lead" one note into the next)! This is absolutely crucial in almost all of the repertoire (yes, even Bach, since this is not pedal-specific - holding down the pedal augments this effect even more, but it is easily apparent even with no pedal at all). Try this experiment: hold down a middle A, without hitting a string (just hold the key down). Without holding down the pedal, strike a low A and let go. Even after the low A is dampened and dead, the higher one will sound. This is not emulated in Galaxy ii.

2b) (this is less critical than the above for working on basic musical aspects with your piano, but also important): [Negative] sympathetic resonance. Just like energy is transfered between concurrent consonant intervals, there is likewise a phase-cancellation in dissonances, that lends the piano one of its distinctive acoustic aspects. Play a minor second or major seventh and you will hear a fast "beat" (as if somebody is vibrating a gain slider REALLY fast). This is important in the elusive sound of piano legato - which is an art in itself within the art of piano playing. The dissonances arising from the overlapping notes (major and minor seconds when playing scale-based legato phrases) are supplemented by this phase-cancellation, giving the legato its distinct "timbre curve". This actually affects /the way the strings move/! That is to say, it is not just a "mixdown in the sound board" effect. To emulate this in the VST, a filter must be applied to the samples (or alternatively you must multiply the number of samples to an insane quantity...) according to which other notes are in play. This beat is also apparent in the context of tuning: if you play a perfect fifth anywhere on the piano, you will hear a slow beat (because the fifth is not really "perfect" in modern tuning: it is narrower than the 2:3 frequency ration of a "really perfect" fifth). Not in Galaxy though...

anyway I would be interested in hearing your thoughts about this. I think Galaxy ii is immensely promising in general, and that if the first 2 aspects above are fixed, which seems to me to be fairly easy, once the quite primitive Kontakt 2 is adequately updated, this VST will be good enough for preliminary piano practice (by that I don't just mean practice for kids, but for pianists; though of course one must also play a real piano before the concert! --At least until some fine acoustic details not mentioned above are properly emulated, and digital keyboards are up to par).

Regarding the continuous pedaling issue for example, though this could be done rigorously with samples or complex filters, I think implementing it via primitive gain reduction upon pedal release (provided it is graded, i.e. bass notes die hard) is much better than (the current) nothing.

Another small issue: a VERY easy feature to implement in order to make up for keyboard deficiency is individual-key velocity mappings...in case you have an uneven keyboard. Strange that they did not already include that; it is trivial to program.

anyway I would love hearing your thoughts about this and about the future of piano emulation.