Best Piano VSTs 2020: 8 Virtual Pianos with Lush, Real Sound - Careers in Music
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Computers have the power to conjure up incredibly detailed and emotive piano sounds.

The quality and depth of the sampling and modeling have got to epic proportions and now you can have legendary instruments recreated on your screen. The sound is perfect, the playability nuanced and adaptable to whatever quality of MIDI controller you have plugged in. A piano VST instrument can be an extraordinary thing and all you have to do is sit back and enjoy playing.

Virtual pianos appear in all sorts of workstation style VST Instruments but for this roundup, I’m looking for those pianos that are deliberately crafted to be exemplary. Where the modeling or sampling has gone far beyond the sound of an acoustic instrument and into the essence of what draws us to this sound in the first place. Some on this list are instruments dedicated to the piano, others are part of larger collections of similar instruments.

What you’ll find here are lovely sounding pianos that when coupled with a good quality MIDI controller will give you immensely playable pleasure.

In no particular order, the best Piano VSTs:

  • Garritan Abbey Road CFX Concert Grand
  • Synthogy Ivory II Studio Grands
  • Spectrasonics Keyscape
  • Modartt Pianoteq
  • Vienna Imperial
  • E-instruments Session Keys Grand S
  • VI Labs Ravenscroft 275
  • UVI Grand Piano

What Is the Best Virtual Piano Software?

Well, that will depend on how you approach it, but probably the most well regarded and most complete piano VST is the Pianoteq from Modartt. But you’ll find many on this list that will offer a sumptuous sound and the stunning realism of an authentically modeled instrument. These are the sorts of instruments that professionals would use in studio recordings when the real thing is available.

So...What Is a Piano VST?

Well, a “VST” is a software plugin format that uses your computer to emulate a real or imaginary musical instrument or effect. So, a piano VST would be a software version of a real piano. You would more accurately call it a “VST Instrument” or “VSTi” in order to show that it’s a plugin that makes sound rather than an audio effect plugin which is usually what “VST” refers to.

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Best Piano VSTs 2020

Garritan Abbey Road CFX Concert Grand

Garritan takes on a Yamaha CFX Concert Grand Piano but it’s not just any old piano sitting around somewhere, this is the Yamaha CFX that sits in the famous Abbey Road Studio A in London. Some of the world’s finest musicians have sat on that stool and tinkled on those ivories.

More importantly, for this instrument is that some of the “world’s best Engineers” helped set up some of the “world’s greatest microphones” and equipment to enable the capture of this stunning instrument.

Studio One is a huge space that can accommodate 110 piece orchestras. It has a warm and clear sound, taking full advantage of the room’s 2.3 seconds reverb time. It has hosted everything from the London Symphony Orchestra to The Beatles’ famous live performance of “All You Need Is Love.”

The Yamaha CFX was hand-built in 1991 by a small team of experienced and skilled craftsmen. It’s a refined and expressive instrument with enough tonal presence to be heard over an entire orchestra.

The microphone placements for the recordings formed three discrete perspectives. They call these “Classic” for the most natural tone, Contemporary to emphasize the brightness and attack, and then Player offers the experience of sitting on the stool. From those recordings, various presets have been created which reflect further audio processing to create a sound for many different occasions.

Pros & Cons

  • Top class Yamaha CFX piano
  • World class recording environment
  • High end equipment used throughout and it shows
  • Multiple perspectives and presets
  • Requires a multi-core processor and a fast drive with 133GB free for a full installation.
  • Very specifically this piano which may not be for everyone.

Street Price: $199.95
Garritan Abbey Road CFX Concert Grand

Synthogy Ivory II Studio Grands

Synthogy has been sampling pianos for a very long time. This latest release features two very different pianos, the Steinway B Grand Piano and the Bosendorfer 225 Grand Piano. The Steinway sits in the Power Station New England in Waterford and the Bosendorfer resides in the Firehouse Recording Studios in Pasadena California. Both were recorded with all the expertise that Synthogy has built up over the past decades.

For these sorts of instruments, the location was key. The Power House NE was modeled on the famous Power Station/Avatar space in New York and this recording was engineered by Mark Donahue. The Firehouse is a historic studio space and engineered by Tony Sheppard. Both pianos were recorded in exacting detail with multiple microphone setups and perspectives.

These instruments are built in the new Ivory 2.5 sound engine using 112GB of core library. Each note is sampled to 24 layers of velocity with multiple levels of soft pedal and release samples triggered by velocity and duration. They even included the pedal noise.

For processing, they use a custom Soundboard Emulation DSP, digital effects and Harmonic Resonance Modeling for a truly sympathetic string resonance.

Pros & Cons

  • They’ve done this before
  • Two different pianos with different characters
  • A lot of user control over tone and perspective
  • Interface a little dated
  • Very specific pianos that won’t suit everyone
  • No alternative mic perspectives

Street Price: $299
Synthogy Ivory II Studio Grands

Spectrasonics Keyscape

Keyscape is an enormous collection of keyboards. Where other VST Pianos focus exclusively on a single instrument Keyscape takes in 36 models of keyboard instrument. Many of them are electric and eclectic but there’s a wonderful Grand Piano, a pair of uprights, a Butterfly Piano, and 3 Toy Pianos. But we’ll just focus on the Grand piano.

The LA Custom C& Grand Piano is a unique instrument owned by LA piano technician Jim Wilson. It has some special modifications taking “Blue Point” hammers and very rare felt that contribute to the very wide tonal spectrum. It has an amazing dynamic range and color palette.

Spectrasonics spent a year perfecting this instrument and modeled everything from the subtleties of pedal noise to the intricate interaction of the release overtones.

Keyscape features innovative harmonic controls including “Color Shift” adjustments and “Character” control that enable a wide range of piano sounds to emerge from the same instrument. You can also match the instrument to the velocity curve of your MIDI controller making the playing experience far more realistic.

You probably wouldn’t buy Keyscape just for the Grand Piano but this is an inspiring piece of work that contains a wealth of keyboard sounds and possibilities.

Pros & Cons

  • Huge range of sounds from rate and beautiful instruments
  • Innovative character and color modeling
  • Duo mode where you can combine two instruments
  • Might be a lot more than you need

Street Price: $399
Spectrasonics Keyscape

Modartt Pianoteq

When people talk about virtual pianos, Pianoteq is invariably the first one that comes to mind. It’s the daddy of Piano emulations. It’s won more awards than any other virtual piano and is probably the deepest, widest and most beautiful.

The key to all this is that it doesn’t use samples – Pianoteq uses physical modeling. A physical model is a computer emulation of every part of a piano’s physical being. This enables software to change and emulate every possible combination, every nuance, every resonant string, or mechanical noise. It’s all in there and takes up next to no space on your hard drive.

The sound of Pianoteq is so good that it is the only software approved by Steinway & Sons. It has uniquely adjustable physical attributes like unison width, octave stretching, hammer hardness, soundboard, string length, sympathetic resonance, and duplex scale resonance.

It does have layers of velocity samples it can use the full range of 127 MIDI velocities. You can adjust the lid position, emulated mic positions, instrument condition and there are 10 types of pedal you can swap in. There’s polyphonic aftertouch, convolution reverbs, effects, EQ and keyboard calibration.

Whatever you set, however you configure it, Pianoteq will construct the sound in real-time as you play in response to how you play. Piantoeq now covers a wide variety of pianos that you can select and buy and comes in three versions.

Pianoteq Stage removes all the configuration elements and offers you the phenomenal sound engine and 2 instrument packs. Pianoteq Standard enables a bunch of powerful tools including mic placement and lets you choose 3 instrument packs. Pianoteq Pro opens up everything to you and comes with 4 instrument packs.

Pros & Cons

  • Simply the most versatile piano available
  • Huge sound design potential
  • Very small install footprint
  • Wide variety of instruments
  • Gets pricey with additional instruments

Street Price:
• Pianoteq Stage $129
• Pianoteq Standard $249
• Pianoteq Pro $369

Modartt Pianoteq

Vienna Imperial

The Vienna Symphonic Library is world-renowned for its authentic splendor and nuanced sound quality. When it came to creating a virtual piano they brought the full weight of their expertise to bear on it.
 
The instrument in question was the Bösendorfer Imperial 290-755 and they spent 2 months sampling it. And we’re not talking about setting up a few microphones and stitching together a virtual instrument. They recorded 1,200 samples for every key. That’s an unimaginable amount of data.
 
It was meticulously recorded in pedal-up and pedal-down in up to 100 velocities, sympathetic resonances, and multiple releases. It’s safe to say that the Vienna Imperial is the most realistic sampled piano ever captured and fills 69GB of space.
 
Despite the complexity of the library, the interface is simple and intuitive where you can load the piano and play. Or if you want to get into the details of the sound and design your own unique take on the Bösendorfer Imperial 290-755, then you can do that, too.

Pros & Cons

  • Incredible detail
  • Multiple levels of sampling
  • Sounds perfect
  • Uses a huge amount of drive space
  • Pricey

Street Price: $540
Vienna Imperial

E-instruments Session Keys Grand S

Another Steinway D captured into a simpler 11GB of sampled instrument. What E-Instruments do well is the straightforward, uncluttered approach to making excellent sounding instruments that are easy to use and work well in any environment. It works within the Native Instruments Kontakt engine and takes advantage of the modulation and animation possibilities.

You start with a fabulous Grand Piano sound with multiple microphone positions and with the lid off as well as up. That resulted in two quite distinctive characters which they’ve called the Concert and the Studio versions.

The Concert version is bright and lively whereas the Studio is softer and better able to melt into a mix. Then they built in the ability to transform the sound with “Pentamorph” which is like a macro that shifts various characteristics to push it into different tonal areas.

The Animator section is designed to add harmony and phrasing around your playing which has the ability to inspire the less able players. There are over 400 flexible piano phrases that you can tweak and control the intensity of. Alongside is a Smart Chord tool which can add chord changes and arpeggiations to your notes.

Session Keys Grand S is ideal for the less advanced player and brings in tools that’ll improve the way you use a piano in your music.

Pros & Cons

  • Two great sounding piano tones
  • Easy tonal changes on a single control
  • Built in chords and phrases
  • Advanced players wouldn’t need the Animator side
  • Not enough control for serious sound design

Street Price: $99
E-instruments Session Keys Grand S

VI Labs Ravenscroft 275

A more unique and specific instrument, the Ravenscroft 275 approaches the sampling level of the Vienna Imperial but aims for character and customization over simple authenticity.
 
Within the interface, you have full control over the mixing of four microphones placed for the detailed sampling of this instrument. All the multiple layers are pulled together via a detail scripting engine to ensure that what you hear follows the character and quirkiness of the real-life piano.
 
It has incredibly detailed samples of hammer attacks, muted strikes, staccato release trails, resonance, and pedal noises.
 
You have lots of control over the tuning, the velocity curves, the amount of noise and expression given to every note and it’s an absolute joy to play.

Pros & Cons

  • Detailed sampling of sound and noise
  • Deep level of control over the character
  • Sounds unique
  • It’s just the one instrument

Street Price: $199
VI Labs Ravenscroft 275

UVI Grand Piano

Our old friend the Steinway Model D gets sampled again for this great value instrument from UVI. Using similar deep level multi-sampling techniques and the best equipment on a fabulous European sound stage, they believe they have captured the essence of this majestic instrument.

UVI doesn’t go into much detail about the process unlike many of the other instruments on this list and instead focus on the stripped-down simplicity of what is a great sounding piano.

Every care was taken to sample this piano at multiple velocity levels and with and without sustain. Rather than aiming for versatility and the ability to drastically change the tonal nature of the instrument, UVI has gone for a natural, realistic sound of this piano in this space.

So this instrument plays exactly as you imagine it would. You have a bit of tonal control with some EQ and reverb. And then, over the top, they’ve added some nice synthesizer style elements such as envelopes, filters, and modulation.

It’s the cheapest piano on the list while being completely competent.

Pros & Cons

  • Realistic Grand Piano
  • Synthesizer elements for tweaking
  • Only 1GB and easy on CPU power
  • Great value
  • No deep sound design within the instrument
  • Less versatile

Street Price: $49
UVI-Grand-Piano

FAQ

What is the best virtual piano software?

Robin Vincent

If you are looking for the best virtual piano software your computer can offer, in terms of real piano sound, look no further than Pianoteq from Modartt. It’s won more awards than any other virtual piano, is endorsed by Steinway & Sons, and is probably the deepest, widest, and most beautiful.

It uses physical modeling to emulate every nuance, noise, tone, and movement of real piano from hammer hardness to string length and sympathetic resonance. You can adjust the lid position, microphone placements, and the condition of the instrument. It simply sounds more authentic than any other piano and gives you an astonishing amount of control over the sound if you need it.

What VST plugins do professionals use?

Robin Vincent

Waves is a good place to start. They have plugins for everything but pay special attention to the Studio Classics Collection and the Abbey Road Collection. Sold State Logic (SSL) offers their entire range of high-end plugins for a monthly subscription. Another option is to use DSP hardware from Universal Audio to run plugins that appear in your DAW but don’t use up your computer’s CPU power. These are the sorts of plugin collections you’ll find in every professional studio.

That said, when working in a professional environment the plug-ins that get used the most are the ones that are going to do the job right for that project. Doesn’t matter if it’s a freeware plug-in or something very expensive: what’s important is that it’s appropriate to the task. But there are some collections of plugins that professionals wouldn’t be without, as they contain some of the best hardware emulations that would end up in almost every project.

What is a piano VST?

Robin Vincent

A “VST” is a software plugin format that uses your computer to emulate a real or imaginary musical instrument or effect. So a piano VST would be a software version of a real piano.

You would more accurately call it a “VST Instrument” or “VSTi” in order to show that it’s a plugin that makes sound rather than an audio effect plugin, which is usually what “VST” refers to.

There are many piano VST Instruments, ranging from exact models of acoustic grand pianos through to uprights, prepared, broken, or imaginary pianos. There are electric pianos of every kind, organs, and harpsichords so there’s plenty of choice.

What is the best Synth VST?

Robin Vincent

Serum by Xfer is generally considered to be the finest software synthesizer ever produced. It’s a VST Instrument that offers complex and versatile wavetable synthesis at an amazingly high level of quality.

The interface makes it easy to edit sounds and start being creative and if you want to get down to the details you can get to every parameter and even import your own custom wavetables. It looks fabulous, sounds amazing, and has been winning awards for years.

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