If you love playing the piano, you’d probably love to have one in your home. But acoustic (analog) pianos can cost thousands of dollars. Even digital pianos can clock in the hundreds. Plus, what happens if you don’t have space for a physical keyboard, even a portable one?
Or maybe you’re a sound professional – a DJ, music producer, or studio technician. You want a ‘piano’ that can fit in your tiny musical space while packing maximum features. VST for piano (Virtual Studio Technology) is a good solution, so let’s find the best piano VST for your needs.
When you’re shopping for a particular item, you’re always better off with a ‘bundle’ or ‘collection’. It combines different offerings into a single comprehensive package, often at a discounted price. Spectrasonics Keyscape is one such bundle, and it holds more keyboard samples than any other brand on the market. It has other musical instruments loaded too.
These include clavinets and key bass, making a total of 36 sound patches. Apart from the keys and strings of those individual instruments, the VST is pre-loaded with 500+ sounds. These sound patches were separately sampled from rare restored keyboards. The process took 10 years so you can rely on the company’s dedication to sound quality and pitch fidelity.
But before you get too excited about all the specs and available tools, recheck your computer specs. To work effectively, this VST needs at least 80GB of unused storage space and 8GB RAM. You also need a minimum processing speed of 2.2GHz, preferably spread between two or more cores for redundancy, efficiency, and enhanced computing performance.
Because each sound patch is painstakingly sampled from a given physical keyboard, you get a broad range of play. But in addition to these 30+ instruments, the software has hybrid duo patches that mingle relevant instruments and sounds into a dually sourced ‘folder’. These patches have curios names like Uber Upright, Planet Vibrabell, and Mellow Phase Vibe.
The multisampling process and extended duration used to generate this digital library ensure your sounds are rich and expressive. The STEAM Engine – as the Spectrasonics Sound Development Team is known – offered meticulous attention to every intricate attention to every musical detail. Every patch has customized controls to enhance instrumental versatility.
Spectrasonics put a lot of time and effort into this VST. It features more keyboards than its rivals, and the tailored control panels contain designated effects for every patch.
Keyscape boasts the largest keyboard collection in the world.
It has over 500 built-in sounds and 36 instrumental models.
The library includes duo patches that combine congruent sound-sets.
With all those libraries and features, it may take a while to learn the available tools.
You may know the source of virtual recording samples is one of the most important factors. And that the quality of your recording equipment comes close behind. This Garritan VST combines these two facets to result in an exceptional product. The tones were from a Yamaha CFX grand piano, and each tone has three perspectives so you can vary your musical ambiance as needed.
As for the recording itself, it was done in Abbey Road’s famous Studio One. You may know the name from that 1969 Beatles album. Or maybe you know Studio One as the location where famous film scores were done including LOTR (Lord of the Rings), Star Wars, and Avengers.
Popular artists who have recorded in Studio One include Kanye West, Harry Styles, Stevie Wonder, and U2. All this name-dropping is proof of the exceptional acoustics, sound engineering, and sound crew available at Studio One. And these accolades ensure you’re getting the best sounds possible for your Yamaha Grand piano CFX sound patch.
For playback, Garritan uses the Aria Player so you don’t need a dedicated sampler. It does effective VST tasks, letting you load and play files via MIDI. And when you need finer control for streaming, stops, and ranks, the software is fitted with Endless Wave technology from Conexant. Beyond sound editing, the Garritan can be used for standalone playback when needed.
When you’re seeking a realistic sound, you can set the microphone to ‘close’ or ‘ambient’ volume to heighten your surround sound response. Each of these mics has its own equalizer. Although this is a virtual piano, you can control ‘physical’ features like the lid, pedal, sostenuto, and resonance. The stereo ‘angle’ can be set so you can hear it either as a ‘listener’ or ‘piano player’.
The reason this VST is so effective is its rich source material, its wide range of features, and its curated recording process at one of the world’s best studios in the world. It’s worth a look.
The sounds were recorded off a grand piano is an iconic studio.
It uses the ARIA player for sound-editing versatility and quality playback.
The mics provide from three perspectives – classic, player, and contemporary.
If you’re shopping online, you may think the software is loaded on a bootable CD. But it comes as a flash drive on a keychain. But if you flash it before use, you’ll lose all the software data, so ensure your antivirus is up to date before installing.
VSTs are populated either by sampling (live recording from the acoustic source instrument) or modeling (synthesizing sound waves that simulate the original instrument). Synthogy uses both, modeling the tones using the patented Harmonic Resonance Modeling.
Sounds are sourced from Yamaha C7, Bosendorfer 290, and Steinway D9 grand pianos. You can use the three piano tones from a communal library or you can opt to install them as separate sound patches for easier access and organization. The software allows you to mingle these sounds just like a real grand piano, with half-pedals sympathetic string resonance.
This resonance is sometimes defined as ‘true harmony’ because of how closely it duplicates the acoustic grand pianos that sourced it. To authenticate your VST even more, you can filter in lid position, key sounds (the subtle tap as you press down a wooden piano key), and timbre. The lid position (e.g. fully open, partially closed) affects sound quality, and Synthogy mimics this well.
The software has 18 velocity levels for each of its 88 keys. And for the Bosendorfer sound patch, there’s an additional lower octave. And while this VST reproduces the sounds of three classic instruments, you can get an optional synth pad is you’re interested in contemporary pop mixes. This virtual piano has particularly powerful unlooped full-length sostenuto samples.
In total, this piano VST is preloaded with more than 8,000 samples. It works best on computers that have 22 to 77GB of storage space, 1.5 to 2GB RAM, and 2 to 2.5GHz, preferably in dual cores. It works with Windows 7, Vista, and XP and Mac Tiger, Leopard, and Snow Leopard.
Sympathetic string resonance is one of the most envied features of acoustic pianos, and the Synthogy Ivory II piano VST reproduces this effect with immense accuracy. Try it out.
This VST holds samples from three grand pianos.
It’s compatible with both Macs and Windows-run PCs.
You can include mechanical piano cues like
The VST needs iLok licensing, and it’s not included in the box.
When you’re playing the piano, you can only hear it from a performer’s perspective. But your audience will hear you differently if they’re sitting beside you and singing along, crowded at the back (standing-room-only!) or careening in the ‘nosebleed’ section. So as a songwriter or producer, if you want to duplicate authentic piano sounds, you need all three angles and more.
XLN achieves this effect by recording samples from a Mark One stage piano, upright piano, electric grand piano, and studio grand piano. You can buy these packs as separate VSTs, but this collection bundles them into a single unit. All tones are recorded from multiple angles. These perception points include tube microphones positioned next to your piano strings.
In addition to the varied sound perspectives, the VST has features for reverb, filter, phasers, delay, compression, (deliberate) distortion, and ornaments. The software even has a noise generator to replicate that live unplugged sound. And when you’re in a rush or you’re unsure of what you want to mix, you can check out the presets in ExploreMaps.
These presets can be used as they are or they can inspire you and give you some direction for as you sound-design your tracks. All the presets have previews for quick reference. You need a live internet connection to install this app, but you can use it offline. Your computer needs at least 2GB of RAM, and the VST is compatible with Windows 7 (or higher) and macOS 10.9 or higher.
If you’re using it on a website, your web host has to be compatible with AAX, AU, or VST plug-ins. XLN is a Swedish company, so you’re assured of (sound) engineering precision.
Tones are sampled from various perspectives to ensure authenticity.
It has a built-in recorder so you can send yourself musical memos.
The app is linked to MyCloud so you can sync your work across devices.
It’s an imported brand and some users are wary of that. Especially because it’s a European brand and their sound sensibilities diverge notably from American ones.
Some brands upgrade their products without making any significant changes. Instead, they focus on optics and splashy launches. Spectrasonics doesn’t play that way. Their Omnisphere 2.6 is a newer version of the brand’s flagship software. It’s easier to link, thanks to its hardware synth integration. And it 100 times more fidelity via its 400 DSP waveforms.
Since the software has over 14,000 sounds, you may worry you’ll never find what you’re looking for. Luckily, it has a powerfully intuitive built-in browser that sub-divides your effects by type, author, genre, and category. They also added 25 new effects to their library. So you can consciously and systematically work through them to come up with hundreds of piano mixes.
To deepen the possibilities of your virtual piano play, the software has a new Granular Synthesis algorithm. It helps you work through the seemingly endless possibilities on this VST and come up with magical melodies. One way you can use it is to change the genre of a song. In a few simple steps, it goes from trap to country, just like Lil Nas X. You can also synth from scratch.
Meaning instead of using source material. You can play around with the Morphing Wavetable and the 8 new filters and achieve incredible flexibility. Every loaded sound patch has up to 10 oscillators and every oscillator has a dedicated wavetable, so your mixing options are close to infinite, whether you’re composing a concerto, making a backing track, or DJ-ing a house party.
Other features that have been improved in this version include unison, frequency modulation (FM), and ring modulation. So whether you’re upgrading or first-time-buying, this is a good one.
We’ve already looked at a Garritan, and it was a pretty good one. But that was pure piano. This version still has a virtual piano, but it also has an instant orchestra. The Garritan Instant Orchestra is fully loaded with every instrument you can want. You can mix them in unison, individually, in layers, or in crossfades to get the most versatile mix with minimal effort.
Some people get annoyed by tools like this because they spent decades mastering the bassoon and practice their clarinet 8 hours a day. With GIA, you can compose, record, and play a complete concerto without the ability to read sheet music. Of course, classically trained musicians can use it too, especially if they have pop leanings a la 2Cellos or Piano Guys.
Like other Garritans, this one benefits from the Aria Player and Conexant Endless Wave technology. These two features make it possible to stream large orchestral pieces with ease. You can use the Garritan Instant Orchestra as an independent backing track, sort of like orchestral karaoke. Or you can use it in its VST format to arrange and compose orchestral pieces.
It’s a heavy computing device, so you need at least 3GB RAM and 7,200 RPM on your hard drive fan. It does work on older machines though, so if you have anything after Windows XP or Mac Snow Leopard (OS X 10.6), you’re sorted. You can also cast it onto a TV, but unlike newer systems, you need a CD-ROM drive to install it on your computer.
In addition to piano feeds, the VST has orchestral instruments.
It’s built off the Garritan Aria player.
This multifunctional software is compatible with RTAS and OS X Audio Units.
Its built-in volume is on the lower side so you’ll need FireWire Audio or USB installation to raise it. Plus if you’re using a MIDI keyboard, you’ll need an adaptor for the USB port.
Many musicians opt for upright pianos because they don’t have the space or budget for a grand piano. But beyond having a smaller footprint, the vertical string arrangement and larger casing make a distinctly different sound from the horizontal strings on a grand piano. So when you’re sampling from an upright piano, it’s immensely different from using a grand piano as a source.
The average ear can’t tell the difference but as a sound design professional, they’re miles apart. So it’s worth having a VST with an upright piano sound patch. Ilio Ilio has four upright piano sources – Yamaha U5, Honky Tonk, Hume Vintage, and Real Tak. It holds 84GB of internal storage and is Mac and OS. It can also work with 32-bit and 64-bit systems.
This is a strong digital tool that lets you control and recreate every aspect of an upright piano. This ranges from the position of the lid, half-pedal footwork, authentic (and sustained) string vibration, and timbre. You can even heighten realism by inputting the distinct sound of pressing an antique ivory piano key. Other improved features are stereo, perspective, and velocity.
Using Synthogy’s renowned Harmonic Resonance, the Ilio Ilio achieves true sympathetic string vibration, so it sounds more like a real piano than many of its rivals.
It uses samples from four upright piano models.
The software’s internal library holds 84GB of musical data.
It has 16 velocity layers and the true execution of sympathetic string resonance.
You need a faster computer and lots of storage space to use this one.
Virtual Studio Technology (VST) is a piece of software that mimics musical instruments. It may contain a virtual keyboard or it may be linked to a digital musical instrument via cables or wireless connections. What factors help you identify the best piano VST for your requirements?
Type of VST
As we’ve mentioned, a VST might have a virtual piano built-in. This type of VST is sometimes called VSTi (Virtual Studio Technology Instrument). It could clone a piano or include an entire orchestra in its memory banks. If you’re not looking for a screen-based piano keyboard you could opt for VST effects. Most digital pianos have these built-into their presets.
VST effects include equalizers, reverb, and phasers. They’re useful for layering and crossfading. The third type is the VST MIDI plug-in (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). It translates sound waves into universal digital signals. It was developed to facilitate compatibility across music brands and allows you to link and feed your musical instrument into your computer.
If you’re shopping for a piano VST, you’ve probably played piano, whether it was an acoustic grand or a digital console. So you know the sound isn’t produced as soon as you touch the keys (or click the keyboard). There’s always a millisecond lag. In software, this lag is labeled latency. And because these VSTs simulate pianos, the lag time has to be programmed into your software.
In your VST, you’ll find the latency listed under buffer settings. It’s defined by the ‘number of samples’ per unit of time. The smaller the number, the shorter the delay. But your computer needs to be fast enough to process your musical instructions in real-time. Many musicians set their buffer to 128 samples. Some faster versions can hit as low as 32 samples in their latency.
Digital pianos reproduce acoustic piano sounds through recordings from live acoustic pianos. These recordings are converted into binary code then installed onto your digital piano. You can choose to record the sounds from a particular acoustic piano. This is called sampling and it lets you add individual piano key tones to your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).
It results in a virtual version of a particular piano e.g. Steinway Model D. The other option is modeling, where sounds are synthesized from several variants of a brand e.g. Steinway B, Steinway D, and other relevant sources. With a digital piano, the recorded sounds are produced when you touch the keys. With VSTs, the sound comes to you when you click the virtual keyboard.
Depending on the VST you buy, you can connect it to a piano keyboard or have a built-in virtual keyboard that displays on your computer screen. Some VSTs have massive internal libraries. Others let you download additional libraries. These libraries comprise ‘samplers’ or ‘folders’ or ‘sound patches’ that correspond with various piano models and other musical instruments.
But unless you intend to buy a new computer, DAW, or hardware, you need a VST that’s compatible with the processing speed and storage space in your existing equipment. You may also have to consider what operating system you’re using. The VST Standard cuts across most Windows PCs while Apple products work better with Apple’s customized Audio Unit.