Heavyocity – ASCEND: MODERN GRAND – Review

Heavyocity – ASCEND: MODERN GRAND 
the immortal Concert D, reimagined.

KK-Access Review

Heavyocity continue to further fill any remaining gaps in their uniquely stylized and already rich compliment of cinematic instruments with this latest release, a beautiful Steinway concert D grand piano. which has been specifically auditioned and selected to fit the companies unique trademark sound. In doing so Heavyocity have once again created another must have library that is certain soon to be found gracing the SSD’s of many a contemporary composer, and will undoubtedly find it’s way onto an even greater number of small, medium and big screen productions and music tracks in the near future!

Ascend, Out of the blue…

I really don’t know why it didn’t occur to me sooner that at some stage Heavyocity would not release a cinematic piano library. As a keen follower I have observed them move from the pure cinematic trailer based products, and then venture into the cinematic orchestral worlds of strings and brass, all indispersed between with some extremely tasty morsels like the Gravity and Novo packs, and the more recent Mosaic Keys and Voices, . my brain was perhaps prewired to next expect a foray into the world of Woodwind as a predictable follow up outing, Yet suddenly out of the blue I found myself hit over the head by the landing of a classic concert D piano, not literally of course as I would not be around to write this review, but what a very welcome fourth quarter surprise for 2019 this is!

Tech Specs…

Ascend requires either the full version of Kontakt 6.1.1 or higher, or the free Kontakt player and is NKS ready for use within Komplete Kontrol. The 47.8Gb library has been compressed to 21.4Gb in the NCW file format, and boasts over 12,000 samples.

there is one Ascend Modern Grand NKI master file, with 110 snapshots providing the additional Komplete Kontrol presets.

Downloading & Installation…

Download comes courtesy of Heavyocity’s own proprietary software management application, into which you paste your authorization code, and the product will then become registered to your Heavyocity account and available for download. The application handles all of this, and leaves you with a single Ascend product folder for placing in your location of choice on your system.

The final step is to use the same authorization code within Native Access to add it to your Kontakt & Komplete Kontrol set-up.

As always it’s worth taking an extra minute or two to batch resave the library with Kontakt 6, to ensure everything loads and runs as smoothly as possible in use from the outset.

Lastly, open Komplete Kontrol in standalone to scan your new library into KK, and the job is done, it’s time to go play and create !

Komplete Kontrol Browser & Plug-in Edit Parameters…

Let’s dive in straightaway with the customary walk through the NKS hardware assignments…

Browser

Knob 1 & 2 – Vendor & Product
Knob 3 – Bank, Ascended, Core Concert D, Extended, Rhythmic, Rhythmic Melodic
Knob 4 – Unallocated
Knob 5 – Type, Piano/Keys,
Knob 6 – Grand Piano,
Knob 7 – Acoustic, Sample Based, Melodic, Tempo Synced,
Knob 8 – Presets x 111

Plug-in Edit Parameters…

Note, the assigned control knob functions for the Four available FX will vary with each preset, as they are defined by what effects have been assigned.

Page One – FX On/Off & FX 1

Knob 1 – FX1
Knob 2 – FX 2
Knob 3 – FX3
Knob 4 – FX 4
Knob 5 – Threshold
Knob 6 – Ratio
Knob 7 – Attack
Knob 8 – Make-Up

Page Two – FX 2 & FX 3

Knob 1 – Time
Knob 2 – Feedback
Knob 3 – Defuse
Knob 4 – Level
Knob 5 – Pre-Delay
Knob 6 – Size
Knob 7 – Colour
Knob 8 – Mix

Page Three – FX 4 & Convolve

Knob 1 – Pre-Delay
Knob 2 – Size
Knob 3 – Colour
Knob 4 – Mix
Knob 5 – Convolve On/Off
Knob 6 – Master
Knob 7 & 8 – Unallocated

Page Four – Shape

Knob 1 – Shape On/Off
Knob 2 – LP Cut
Knob 3 – HP Cut
Knob 4 – Unallocated
Knob 5 – Gate Rate
Knob 6 – Gate Amount
Knob 7 & 8 – Unallocated

Page Five – Ambience

Knob 1 – On/Off
Knob 2 – Delay Time
Knob 3 – Delay Amount
Knob 4 – Unallocated
Knob 5 – Pre-Delay
Knob 6 – Size
Knob 7 – Mod
Knob 8 – Mix

Page Six – Arp & Echoes

Knob 1 – Arp On/Off
Knob 2 – Rate
Knob 3 – Octave
Knob 4 – Swing
Knob 5 – Echoes On/Off
Knob 6 – Transpose
Knob 7 – Rate
Knob 8 – Amount

Page Seven – CH1 & CH2

Knob 1 – CH1 Volume
Knob 2 – Pan
Knob 3 – CONVOLVE effects Level
Knob 4 – Tone
Knob 5 – CH2 Volume
Knob 6 – Pan
Knob 7 – CONVOLVE effects Level
Knob 8 – Tone

Page Eight – CH3 & Random

Knob 1 – CH3 Volume
Knob 2 – Pan
Knob 3 – CONVOLVE effects Level
Knob 4 – Tone
Knob 5 – Random On/Off
Knob 6 – Scatter
Knob 7 – Drift
Knob 8 – Unallocated

Page Nine – Stereo & Tone

Knob 1 – Stereo Width
Knob 2 – Flip
Knob 3 & 4 – Unallocated
Knob 5 – Resonance
Knob 6 – Resonance Volume
Knob 7 – Release
Knob 8 – Release Volume

Accessibility Considerations…

It’s usually at this point in a review that I have a little grumble about all the rich features that are not available to blind users via Komplete Kontrol’s hardware controls. Admittedly, there are some elements we cannot reach, namely the ability to select our own sample sources for each of the three available sound channels found within Ascend.

Also being able to choose from the large range of convolve effect impulses is something that is out of reach to us, and this I suspect is more to do with the ability to make this possible given the limitations of assigning certain parameters to the KK knobs.

I did discover that some controls that I initially thought were completely absent, were in fact available if I loaded Ascend into Kontakt 6 on it’s own, and then brought up the parameter list within my DAW.

In a perfect world of course, it would have been great to have these all premapped via NKS in Komplete Kontrol. As we all know, it’s not a perfect world, and despite this being a bit of a workaround for us, this secondary option is better than none at all, at least providing us with at least a few extra possibilities when using the main Ascend Modern Grand NKI.

I found that there was a total of 92 parameters available directly within Kontakt, whilst the parameters exposed to Komplete Kontrol totalled 63, so the available difference is something not to be dismissed.

So what are these other parameters?, among them there is attack and release for each of the three sample source channels, Up and Down pedal and key noise and Velocity curve adjustment among others.

The only real caveat being that we can only change these additional parameters when loading the single main Ascend NKI master preset, unless you have an accessible method of loading the NKSN snapshot presets into Kontakt directly, and then saving any adjustments back out as an NKI. We could certainly load the master NKI and make adjustments to say the velocity curve and resave the NKI, this would then become the default for the main Ascend preset when used within Komplete Kontrol. It would be wise however to retain a backup of the main Ascend NKI before deciding to make any permanent changes.

Many of us I feel sure will probably be content to use and interact with Ascend as it is presented out of the box, however I wanted to make readers aware of the further potential for tweaking.

Lifting the lid on Ascend…

Heavyocity have created an entirely new GUI and engine for Ascend, which better befits the more subtle nuances of a Piano instrument.

Gone are the by now familiar Punish and Twist controls , although of course could still be applied if you happen to own Heavyocity’s Punish effect in the separate plug-in version.

With Ascend, it’s probably fair to say that the FX treatments are much more respectful to the tonal beauty of the Steinway D, rather than being overtly edgy or wild, and I think this is a sensible approach given the obvious due care and attention that has been applied to the recording process.

That’s not to say that there are not presets within the library that are distinctly ‘non concert D’, there are a well balanced number of pad, drone and more effectual patches, which are the signature of a Heavyocity product.

Engine Essentials…

There are three channels of sample sound sources that can combine to make up any one preset in Ascend. These have NKS controls to adjust the level, Pan, Convolve effect and tone for each of the channels.

There are four effects from a possible twelve available to us at any one time which have all been preconfigured per preset. these can be turned on or off completely if desired, but unlike the separate convolve effect chain, when used via the NKS knobs these FX are global across all three channels.

Specifically there featured FX are a Clean Compressor, Dirty Compressor, Overdrive Saturation, Aging (Tape Saturation), Equaliser, Filter, Gate, Diffusion Delay , Stereo Delay, Digital Reverb, Plate (Reverb) and Hall A (Reverb).

As mentioned these FX have been preassigned on a per preset basis, so as such we are unable to change them. again I suspect this is more to do with the GUI controls possibly being drag & drop in nature, and not easily lending themselves to the paradigms of KK, and hence certainly not the blind user.

We can at least turn off individual, or even all of the FX if we choose to do so, and this option of course opens the door for us to add our own choice of effect combinations using the extra slots in Komplete Kontrol for creating our own custom effect chain.

If you do opt to make use of the excellent FX, which really do define the quality and indeed shape the resulting sound of the Ascend presets, you won’t be disappointed. There are some very warm and lush reverbs that make the tones of the concert D sound stunning, and feature Heavyocity’s own custom created convolution impulses, many of which build and swell beyond the initial natural attack and release of the piano, when the note or chord is continually held down.

The Sound of Ascend…

As is usually the case with any Heavyocity product, for blind users the recompense in any shortfalls in access to the GUI controls, come by way of a generous number of presets. Ascend is no exception here, and those provided represent an A to Z of the breadth of sounds that the library is capable of producing.

For the real piano players and purists among you, of which I have to stress I am not, there are several presets that are less treated and offer a more vanilla sound.

The default ‘Ascend Modern Grand’ patch, to my ear seems generally quite soft in it’s tonality, and it’s existence here make it ideal for cinematic use, working well in an emotion evoking solo performance, perhaps with an added application of lavish reverb.

There are also in contrast other patches such as ‘Basic Concert D’, that deliver a harder edged tone, presumably created using Ascends equalisation and filters, that will quite competently hold their own and cut through a busy instrument mix.

Some presets make good creative use of Ascend’s arp and echoes feature, in some cases singularly and others in a combination of both, for example the echo when applied liberally can add a nice and gentle ambience to an otherwise straight playing performance.

There are of course as any Heavyocity fan would demand, a good number of presets that are what one would describe as being ‘audibly disassociated’ from a concert D grand piano, utilising more of the bowed string, twangs and less harmonic elements of the instrument. These remain tastefully done though, providing much more in the way of atmospherics than the aggressive trailer punching hits we perhaps associate with previous libraries.

There did not appear to be any presets that had parameters assigned to the modwheel by default, which is a shame as this provides an opportunity for additional expression and sound modulation.

Ascend has no keyswitches, presumably because there are no articulation variables that require switching to. Devotees will recall that previous products would sometimes use this method for adding effects during a performance, but as this is essentially a 9 foot grand, there is little in the way of redundent octaves!

Thoughts & Conclusions…

There are seldom ever going to be sample libraries that can be deemed 100% accessible, with Heavyocity I feel I have now come to know what not to expect in terms of access, certainly there are elements that would extend our sound design capabilities if they were present, but it has never really been a show stopper, and as ever the preset selection come to the rescue when working creatively with the library.

For my sighted readers, they need have no concerns as Ascend will more than fulfil upon it’s promise of being the Concert D Reimagined, and with the list price of the real thing being around $156,000, this will come as somewhat of a bargain!

to summarise, Ascend is yet another worthwhile and desirable edition to the Heavyocity stable of professional and highly polished media composers tools, it will immediately fit right in with any other product you might own from their now extensive sample library portfolio. Ascend will work alongside you delivering that sought after signature sound, to competently carry your chords and melodies and convey the emotions you write into them with ease.

Ascend Modern Grand is available for purchase from the Heavyocity website for an introductory price of $119.00 until October 11th (usually $149.00)

Ascend Product Page:

ASCEND

Ascend Trailer:

Ascend Demo Walkthrough:

Ascend Preset Walkthrough:

Ascend Content Overview:

Ascend Controls & FX:

Heavyocity Ascend User Manual:
https://heavyocity.com/Downloads/ASCEND_Manual.pdf
(c) Chris Ankin
KK-Access.com
October 1st, 2019

Disclaimer

The author accepts no responsibility for subsequent purchase decisions made as a result of this article,or Any inaccuracies found within this review. All opinions or product functions stated are based soly on information perceived as a blind user whilst using the product or gathered from official factual sources on the web or product manual.

About the Author

Chris Ankin has worked previously as a freelance review contributor with articles published in Sound On Sound, Home & Studio Recording and ST Format Magazines.

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