If you got into piano playing for classical reasons, you’re probably content with an acoustic piano or a basic digital keyboard. But even if you’re not planning to moonlight as a DJ, you’ll need more than orchestral skills to survive in the modern music world. It helps if you can mix a track and add some beats to your songs. And piano VSTs are a cost-effective way to do that.
VST means Virtual Studio Technology. It’s a software that comes in various forms such as effects (reverb, equalizers, modulators), instruments (these are sometimes called voices or timbres e.g. organ, harpsichord, guitar), or plug-ins (these are uploaded to your mixer). You’ve already spent money on keyboards and soundboards, so let’s explore the best free piano VST.
1. Spitfire Audio Labs
The trouble with free software is it’s often a hobby project. So while it costs nothing to download and install it, it’s rarely updated. Spitfire is different because it’s created and compiled by London musicians and sampling experts, so it’s constantly upgraded. Besides piano, the lab offers downloadable VST instruments as wide-ranging as chorals and frozen strings.
2. Versilian Upright No. 1
Even if you know nothing about music, you’ve heard of Berklee’s music school. This famous college developed a 250MB piano VST with samples that are compatible with Mac, PC, or Kontakt. Each note has multiple samples recorded and layered at three speeds. The samples are taken from diverse mic perspectives so you get good acoustics and well-rounded sounds.
3. Neo Piano One
This plug-in VST from Sound Magic uses modeled samples recorded from a Yamaha Concert Grand. So you get the full acoustic sound and resonance. But remember, many VSTs use a freemium model, so while you get rich, sonorous notes, you’ll have to upgrade to the paid version of the software if you want authentic details like key-tap sounds and pedal-pressing pops.
4. Ivy Audio Piano in 162
You’ll find the term ‘round robin’ used a lot in the VST space. It means several samples are looped in an algorithmic sequence to create a richer, more comprehensive sound. On Ivy Audio, samples include two round robins, on-pedals sounds, off-pedal tones, and five dynamics. Each sample is modeled of the Steinway Model B Grand at both close and ambient angles.
5. Keyzone Classic
A lot of VSTs draw sound from acoustic models. But if you want a keyboard that feels electric and sits on your screen, try the Keyzone. Instead of sourcing sound from a single piano, it picks samples from five models that include a Steinway, a Fender, and a Yamaha. Because it’s a virtual digital keyboard, it also has clickable knobs for reverb, sustain, detune, and velocity settings.
6. Sample Science Pianotone 600
Still, in the realm of digital pianos, the Pianotone 600 VST is based on a retro electric keyboard. Sounds are sampled from the Jen Pianotone 600. It was a pretty bare-bones piano without touch sensitivity. So when you use the VST, you could opt for ‘original mode’ with no touch sensitivity or ‘amplitude mode’ that gives you more key control. It has 10MB of samples.
7. 4Front Piano
‘Free’ doesn’t necessarily mean low quality, but it can sometimes mean you get a ‘lite’ version of the product. 4Front – for example – only has one piano module. The module is still pretty rich because it’s compiled as a hybrid of multiple keyboards. The downside is the VST has no editing features, beats, or additional pre-set sounds. It’s a VST instrument with no mixer functionality.
8. Iowa Piano
Earlier in this article, we mentioned the various types of VST in passing. And just like 4Front, Iowa Piano is a VSTi (Virtual Studio Technology Instrument). This means you can access complete octaves, but your virtual piano won’t have any polyphonic, presets, equalizers, modulators, or anything like that. Iowa is sampled from Steinway Grand in three layers.
9. Prism Audio Atmos
The VSTi isn’t always a separate entity. A digital piano often has multiple built-in VSTi models, though they’re usually described as ‘voices’ or ‘timbres’. But if you need more than a piano keyboard, try Atmos. It’s a heavy 2.4GB unit that has both virtual piano keys and audio board. The audio board only comes for Mac though. With a PC, you only get the piano part.
10. Big Cat VSTi
Free software isn’t always bundled and packaged. Sometimes, it’s a side cache for hobbyist programmers and musicians. Big Cat seems to fall into this category. It’s a series of VSTi’s sampled from Skerratt London Pianos (upright) and Iowa Pianos (grand). Apart from the two sampled pianos, this VSTi also contains ADSR, panning, and volume control.
11. 99 Sounds Upright
If you specifically want sounds harvested from an upright piano, consider this software from 99 Sounds. It was put together by Rudi Fiasco, a professional pianist and sound engineer. He samples each key four times in six layers for better sound fidelity. It’s a plug-in, so apart from the sonorous keyboard, you’ll also get filters, reverb, and even a tremolo effect.
12. DSK AkoustiK KeyZ
You might wonder why these software companies spell words so strangely. Sometimes it’s a gimmick to stand out or a workaround to secure a web domain. But always run background, because typos are sometimes markers of low-quality software. This isn’t one of those times. AkoustiK KeyZ has three sampled pianos (grand and concert) plus additional mixer features.
13. DSK The Grand
AkoustiK Keyz will give you a limited number of editing tools and features. But if you just want to play uninterrupted with limited bells and whistles, this is an easier sell. It’s a VSTi sampled from a single grand piano. As with its plug-in cousin, it has four layers and four to six velocities per note. It also has a basic envelope with reverb, but not as many mixing tools as AkoustiK Keyz.
14. Salamander Grand Piano
If you thought six layers were a lot, the Salamander VST has sixteen! The software also samples the mechanical sound of pressing a key and tapping a hammer (one layer), and the resonance of vibrating piano strings (three layers). These velocities are ‘harvested’ off a Yamaha C5. Sampling is done in minor thirds and two positions. These mics are 12cm away from the strings.
15. Dead Duck DPiano – A
The type of VST you download will depend on your musical requirements. Some users just want a virtual keyboard so they can practice their fingering and sight-reading without disrupting the rest of the family. DPiano is this type of tool. It’s a VSTi sampled from an acoustic piano, so it has that rich, organic sound, pun intended. You can edit velocity and volume while you play.
16. RDG Audio Piano
RDG is popular for its free musical software, but you need to be careful where you download it from. Some former RDG links now lead to spam sites. Others require a donation before the free download. That aside, the samples are recorded using 4 microphones so you get an authentic perspective from close-up clicks to ambient sound. The VST also has reverb and pedals.
17. City Piano
Baby grand pianos are a convenient workaround if you have limited space but prefer horizontal strings. And City Piano uses a baby grand as its sample source. The keys are recorded in four velocity layers for a fuller sound. But because it only has one Baldwin piano module, it won’t take up too much space on your computer. Of course, this comes with limited functionality.
18. Japan Piano
Many pianos are manufactured in Japan, including Yamaha and Suzuki. So while the creator of this app doesn’t specify the source of his/her samples, some are sure to be Japanese. That said, the VST has one piano module and one virtual control knob, so you can’t do much mixing on this screen-based keyboard. It’s a sample oscillator and the knob works for sostenuto playing.
19. General Piano
The name may sound generic, but the quality is sufficient. The VST was developed by Safwan Matni, and while you can download it for free, the website does nudge you to donate to the programmer. It doesn’t have any mixing features, just a single piano patch. So if it’s just for piano practice, you’re good. But if you want to add functionality, you’ll need external input.
20. Jazz Baby
The name of this VST may seem puzzling since it’s not a baby grand or a jazz piano. It’s modeled off an upright piano. Of course, you can play jazz rhythms on this virtual keyboard. It’s more about chords, improvisation, and syncopation than keyboard selection. It’s a VSTi with no mixing functionality, so you may need external soundboards, phasers, or MIDI input for that.
21. Kontakt Start
Many of the VSTi’s we’ve looked at so far are designed to be compatible with Kontakt. This is because you can download a VSTi independently and add it to your mixer as a sound patch, but only if it’s compatible. So if you want a VST that has a piano and then some, skip the fluff and go to the source. Kontakt is a synthesizer rather than a piano, but it does have piano VSTi’s built-in.
22. MDA Piano
On occasion, you want a digital piano for your screen-based mixing. And in such cases, you may prefer a synthesizer rather than a regular acoustic. MDA is one such app. It’s an older VST so the skins feel rather retro. But the software has 32 polyphonic presets and lots of mixing features. You can use your virtual keys and knobs for tuning, decay, stretch, sustain, and much more.
Still, in the synth space, this model from Dexed has 144 customizable parameters for your digital audio workstation (DAW). The VST is modeled off the Yamaha DX7 digital piano. Because it’s a multiplatform virtual synthesizer, you can add patches from its cousins e.g. TX81Z or even the original DX7 that may not be included. This won’t slow it down or affecting its performance.
24. M-Sound Factory Monastery Grand
Sometimes, a piano calls to you. When the developers of this software found an old acoustic grand piano in the concert hall of a Czech monastery, they were spellbound. They sampled sounds from this piano near Pilsen using 16 mics set at different angles. They added samples from other pianos to create this massive 3.5GB musical repository. The VST has 4 resonators.
25. FL Studio Full Grand
If you already have a mixer you’re happy with and you just want more keyboard sounds, this Full Grand suite is perfect for you. It’s a small 185MB sound patch sourced from 25 pianos, but it comes as an 85MD .rar file. The sound font sources include both acoustic and electric pianos. You need a mixer that can read .sfz files though, or you can download a free .sfz reader.
26. A73 Piano Station
Producers want as much musical diversity as they can get. A73 serves it up, with 73 keys on its screen. These keys cover 6 octaves and you can click them on your computer or use a MIDI interface to feed external piano sources. You can select from more than 2o preset genres (e.g. jazz, blues, waltz, etc.) and 128 polyphonic timbres. You can stack up to 3 musical layers on this.
27. Helm Synthesizer
While it’s a synthesizer-based virtual piano, your sound engineering options are broadened with Helm. You can opt to use it as a sound patch, VSTi, LV2, AU plug-in, or VST3. It’s open-source and you can grab the 32-bit or 64-bit version. Some features like step sequencing and stutter function are laid out as sliders. This makes it easier for beginners to use.
28. EVM Grand Piano
This VSTi is mainly targeted at classical musicians (or rather, orchestral engineers). It’s based on an old baroque piano model that sounds more like a harpsichord than a contemporary piano. Sampled sounds are bright, sharp, and ‘plucky’ while the interface is simple enough for novices.
29. Mokafix Audio Glue Reeds
You can collect sounds from a keyboard in various ways. In the case of Glue Reeds, yes, the company manufactures an electric piano. But rather than sampling those keys, Mokafix synthesized its sound. The result is reedy because the initial Glue Reeds piano has sticky pads instead of hammers. This VSTi convincingly simulates that sound quality on your mixing screen.
30. CV Piano
Spectral morphing sounds like something a shape-shifting werewolf ghost might do. But in this context, it describes the process continuous velocity used in this VST. Other software brands use multiple samples and layers on every note. CV Piano samples a single baseline.
It then uses an algorithmic variation to twist and shape the notes. This morphing process continues both during piano play and after you release the key, adding enriching effects. The VST is modeled off the Kawai Grand 7’4″ that sits at Electric Larry Land Studios in Austin, Texas.
31. VK-1 Viking Synthesizer
We’ll close our list with this powerhouse virtual keyboard. The keyboard has 228 preset polyphonics, dual ladder filters, and three oscillators that continuously generate variable waves. It also has dual modulation busses and retina support to reduce eye fatigue during prolonged mixing sessions. The VST was developed by Blamsoft and needs 64-bit PCs or 10.11 on Mac.