Toontrack EZkeys Mellotoon Review

How do the sounds of this recreation of a 1960s tape-driven Mellotron compare with those of the original instrument? Keith Gemmell is all ears.

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Details
Price £103
Contact Time+Space 01837 55200
Web www.toontrack.com
Minimum System Requirements Windows XP SP3, 1.8 GHz, 1GB RAM
Mac OS X 10.5, G5 or Intel processor, 1GB RAM

Mellotoon is based on the early-1960s Mellotron M400, the first instrument of its kind to include samples of real instruments. However, unlike today’s digital samplers the Mellotron’s sounds were accessed by way of a magnetic tape loop attached to the keyboard.

Popular with artists such as the Beatles (Strawberry Fields Forever), King Crimson (In the Court of the Crimson King), or David Bowie (Space Oddity), it came with various sounds but its moody strings were the main attraction. Mellotoon is part of Toontrack’s popular EZkeys line and is sold complete with a copy of EZkeys.

Fab Sounds
There are 24 presets including the gloriously quirky sound of the original Mellotron piano. It’s impossible to describe it exactly but the sound of an old joanna recorded in the front room of a 1960s semi comes close – great for honky-tonk styles. Each instrument loads with a set of basic effects controls, which in the piano’s case, and most others, is a plate reverb and tape delay – limited but perfectly in keeping with the period.

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The flute and recorder are both good, the latter particularly so in its descant range. So, too, are the vibes, which are only let down by the slightly inconsistent percussive qualities, but that’s all part of its charm.

Original mellotron strings – what a treat! These are wonderful, with a beautifully mysterious sound quality. Five presets are available, each with cut and boost frequency controls. There’s no solo violin but the solo viola is a good substitute when played above its range. The same goes for the cello, which can be played lower as a bass.

The evocative sound of three violins, 16 violins and a full string section are also available, as well as a very creepy three violins low-speed patch. You won’t find any high-end sample library articulations or super legato transitions here (these instruments were recorded before such things were dreamed of), just sustained patches with that slightly weird and wonderful string sound unique to the mellotron – a bit tremolo-heavy but perfect for atmospheric pads or quirky solos.

Sing Out
The boys’ choir is good: no time-consuming Latin phrases or syllables to configure, just a very pleasant choir sound. Eight voices together is
another option that’s capable of producing a very rich choral sound with chordal voicing.

It’s subjective, of course, but brass was never one of the Mellotron’s strong points. Three presets are available here: a straightforward brass ensemble patch, a low-speed patch, and mixed brass complete with phasing (again, all part of the charm). All, though, have a touch of the crumhorn about them.

Several interesting mixed ensembles and pads show off the creative possibilities of Mellotoon, although the user’s sound editing effects are limited to four types simultaneously, and often only two are presented. All the usual EZkey’s goodies are here, though, including the built-in sequencer, a full MIDI library and songwriting and music education tools.

Although the MIDI files are fairly extensive, if more are needed €25 will buy the Keys & Strings MIDI construction kit with two separate but related song sections.

Not too many mellotron sample libraries have passed our way recently but at least one of us here has played the original, both live and in the studio. Toontrack’s Mellotoon provides sounds that are faithful to the original, with the addition of some modern pads and multi-instrument sounds. And there’s the further bonuses that you don’t need four people to carry it, and it stays in tune and doesn’t break down in the middle of a performance.

If you already own EZkeys and you are on the lookout for a mellotron recreation, Mellotoon is a no-brainer. If you just need a mellotron sample library it’s also a good buy because you will benefit from the many songwriting and musical education features that EZkeys has to offer.

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