There’s nothing like the soft, warm tones of a piano to elevate a musical composition and bring all the elements and instruments together to delight the listener’s ear. A piano is an indispensable instrument that shouldn’t be missing from any musician’s, composer’s, or producer’s toolbox. However, if you’re recording and mixing from a home studio, you might not have enough space to fit a full-scale grand piano, especially if you like to experiment and you already have a lot of musical equipment around the house. If you’re on a tight budget, a grand piano might also not be at the top of your priority list. But that’s where piano VSTs come in, to make life easier for emerging artists or musicians on the go.
Software and DAW developers have been working hard over the past decades to create piano VSTs that can replicate the dynamic sound of a real grand piano. While there are countless plugins and resources to experiment with out there, not all of them are able to offer the depth, the richness, or the warmth of actual piano keys. So, we’re here to lend a helping hand and recommend what we think are the best piano VSTs currently available on the market. Check them out, give them a try, and see which one works best for your specific musical needs. Also be sure to check out our list of the best guitar VSTs available right now.
1. Spectrasonics Keyscape
If you really want to hone in your piano skills and put theory into practice, then Keyscape is possibly the top choice currently available on the market. It boasts 36 separate modeled keyboards, and you can pick from different piano types, including electric and acoustic pianos, clavinets, and even toy pianos. There are over 500 presets included in the software, which manage to capture the distinct tones and quirks of the original keyboards, so much so that only a trained ear would be able to spot the differences. Features of Keyscape include multisampled sounds with up 32-way velocity switching and Round Robins, pedal, release, and mechanical noise modeling, and loads of modeled amplifiers and effects. It’s really a pleasure experimenting with this VST - and it works on both Windows and macOS.
2. Vienna Imperial by VSL
The Vienna Imperial by Vienna Symphonic Library is a best-in-class virtual piano instrument that will replicate the epic, majestic sound of a Bösendorfer Imperial grand piano, one of the most renowned pianos in the world. This plugin offers amazing realism and it’s a great choice for classical music composers, musicians, or producers, but one that can be enjoyed by artists in any genre. The Vienna Imperial somehow manages to capture the tonal richness and dynamic range of the real thing, while offering a wide range of techniques and tools, including meticulously recorded pedal-up and pedal-down notes in up to 100 velocities. It offers audience, player, and close microphone recording positions, adjustable pedal noises, sympathetic resonances for sustain pedal up and down positions, dynamic range controls, as well as a convolution reverb that replicates the halls of the famous Vienna Konzerthaus. It’s truly a premium option for artists looking to experiment with a top-class grand piano without breaking the bank on the real thing - Bösendorfer pianos can be insanely expensive.
3. Garritan Abbey Road Studios CFX Concert Grand
Another solid option for musicians looking to up their piano game is the Garritan Abbey Road Studios CFX Concert Grand VST. This popular plugin manages to capture the depth and dynamic range of the Yamaha CFX grand piano recorded at the iconic Abbey Road Studios in London. It does it so well, an untrained ear (and even a trained one) won’t be able to tell the difference. The legendary piano was recorded using best-in-class tech and multiple microphone positions, allowing users of the plugin to play around and experiment with different customization options. It’s a highly versatile tool for anyone looking to experience the ambiance of Abbey Road Studios, however, it’s a bulky piece of software, so load times can sometimes be longer than we’d like. The end result is worth the wait, though.
4. Synthogy Ivory II Studio Grands
With exceptional attention to detail and a plethora of features to play around with, the Synthogy Ivory II Studio Grands provides the experience of playing on a Bosendorfer 225 and a Steinway B Grand in the comfort of your own bedroom. The pianos were recorded with utmost precision, and the result is that you get an impeccable-sounding VST that replicates the depth and range of these iconic instruments. This one is a favorite among composers and producers, and it’s easy to see why. It boasts a basic, perhaps slightly outdated interface, but makes up for it with a wide range of customization options that enable you to enjoy and create top-tier piano sounds and compositions.
5. Ravenscroft 275 by VI Labs
The next piano VST on our list is the Ravenscroft 275 by VI Labs, which replicates the sound of the Ravenscroft 275 grand piano, which is renowned for its tonal richness and dynamic range. VI Labs’ plugin stands out from the crowd with its highly-detailed sampling process, capturing virtually all the nuances and tones of the original piano. The virtual piano was recreated using close to 17,000 samples and 4 microphone positions, to provide musicians with a near-perfect digital replica of this iconic grand piano. From sampled resonance and real sampled Una Corda pedal, to rich clear hammer attacks, staccato Release Trails, and unique Muted Strikes, this piano offers an abundance of options and features to experiment with.
6. Modartt Pianoteq 8
Modartt has collaborated with some of the best piano manufacturers in the world, including Steinway & Sons, Petrof, and Bechstein, to make the sound of legendary grand pianos accessible to emerging musicians and digital nomads. Launched on the heels of the award-winning Pianoteq 7 comes Pianoteq 8, a top-class piano VST that works on Windows, macOS, and Linux. All the instruments featured in the plugin are physically modeled, and they replicate the sounds and tones of the real pianos without fault. The great part is that you can try out the budget-friendly Pianoteq 8 Stage, and upgrade to the Standard or PRO versions if you love the tool and wish to explore more. It’s definitely one of the best piano VSTs out there right now, and one for true piano lovers.
7. Toontrack EZKeys 2
A versatile virtual piano instrument that’s great for beginner musicians and composers, the Toontrack EZKeys offers a wide array of sampled acoustic and electric pianos, including grand pianos. The tool also boasts an integrated MIDI chord and phrase generator, allowing musicians to create complex compositions and intricate piano arrangements even without much experience playing the actual instrument. EZKeys 2 features a scalable, fully resizable interface, an all-new grand piano recorded with a range ambiances and microphone positions, an onboard grid editor, mix-ready presets, and a core sound library. It’s a great tool for beginner musicians and piano players, but it also has plenty to offer to experienced musicians looking to experiment more with VSTs.
8. Spitfire Audio Hans Zimmer Grand Piano
The legendary, Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer has been working with Spitfire Audio for a while. The Hans Zimmer Grand Piano VST is the latest collaboration, replicating the in-house Steinway Model D grand piano at Lyndhurst Hall at AIR Studios, one of the best stages in the world. The piano was recorded by Hans’ engineers together with the Spitfire team, and the result is a near-perfect replica of the dynamic and rich sound of the grand piano. It was recorded using 60 microphones and the result was refined for 12 months before release, to ensure everything sounded just right. If Hans Zimmer is your favorite composer, and you’d like to try to emulate his sound a little bit in your own work, then this is the best choice for you. The only downside is that it can be quite pricey, but it’s a great investment if you feature piano heavily in your own work as an artist.
9. XLN Audio Addictive Keys
If fast load times, amazing sound quality, an intuitive digital interface, and a wide variety of customizable features are important to you when looking for a piano VST, then the XLN Audio Addictive Keys is worth checking out. It’s a great tool for musicians, composers, producers, and songwriters alike, and whether you have a lot of experience working with DAWs and VSTs or not, you’ll get the hang of it in no time. It boasts various presets arranged intuitively in ExploreMaps, and each preset comes with previews to make it easier to navigate and choose what you need. For beginner musicians or artists looking to enhance their existing compositions, you can use ready-made presets, or you can experiment and create your own sounds and even mix different microphone setups. While not as complex as the Hans Zimmer Grand Piano, for instance, it’s a great option for musicians looking to explore new skills and incorporate realistic piano sounds into their work.
10. Native Instruments Alicia's Keys
If you’re a fan of Alicia Keys and her piano work, then this is the right choice for you to explore. The Native Instruments Alicia’s Keys VST faithfully reproduces the artist’s Yamaha C3 Neo grand piano, and all the playing was done by the singer-songwriter herself. This VST provides the rich, intimate, and soulful tones that work great for musicians looking to explore or dive deeper into the world of R&B or soul. The virtual piano tool comes with an intuitive interface, 17GB of samples, 12 velocity layers per key, and various customization options. If you’re looking to replicate the soulful, warm sound of Alicia Keys’ playing, this is the only way to go. The piano was recorded using all vintage microphones and preamps, with the help of Grammy-award-winning engineer Ann Mincieli.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a VST Plugin?
A VST (Virtual Studio Technology) plugin is a software component that integrates into a digital audio workstation (DAW) or music production software, adding specific functionality or virtual instruments to enhance the music production process. VST plugins come in various forms, including virtual synthesizers, effects processors, and virtual instruments like pianos or drums. They allow musicians, producers, and composers to expand their creative toolkit by providing access to a wide range of sounds, effects, and processing capabilities within their DAW, making it possible to shape and manipulate audio in diverse and innovative ways, ultimately enhancing the quality and depth of their music productions.
Why Should I Use VSTs?
You should use VSTs (Virtual Studio Technology) because they significantly expand your creative possibilities in music production. VST plugins offer a vast array of virtual instruments, effects, and processing tools that can transform your compositions and recordings. They allow you to access high-quality sounds and effects that might be otherwise unavailable or expensive in the physical realm, opening up a world of sonic experimentation and customization. VSTs also streamline your workflow by enabling you to work entirely within your digital audio workstation (DAW), eliminating the need for external hardware and facilitating a more efficient and flexible music production process.
Can you use VST with a digital piano?
No, you cannot directly use VST plugins with a standalone digital piano. Digital pianos are self-contained instruments with built-in sounds and do not typically support VST integration. VST plugins are designed to work within digital audio workstations (DAWs) or music production software on a computer. However, you can connect your digital piano to a computer via MIDI or USB to use it as a MIDI controller for VST instruments within your DAW. This way, you can trigger and control virtual instruments and effects on your computer using the digital piano's keyboard and other controls while benefiting from the extensive sound libraries and capabilities offered by VST plugins.
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