Ten of the best virtual pianos

We don’t need to rehash the importance of the piano in music and culture, but given the practical implications of owning, maintaining and recording a real piano, virtual pianos are often presented as a viable alternative for many and in some cases it’s the only one! With that in mind we have sifted through forum discussion data to find out which AAX, AU and VST plug-ins for virtual pianos the Gearslutz community is talking about. Here’s the list — in alphabetical order:


 Abbey Road CFX Concert Grand

Garritan Abbey Road CFX Concert Grand

Garritan is a widely recognized name in the world of orchestral instruments, with a very respectable lineup of products that have earned the company a solid reputation. Their CFX Concert Grand is an enticing entry on their roster, bringing a Yamaha CFX Concert Grand - recorded at Abbey Road Studio One - to our computers via their proprietary ARIA engine and plug-in. Garritan also offers two versions of the CFX: a “Grand” version with multiple microphone perspectives from different distances, and a cost-friendly “Lite” version that retains the core features but only includes a single close-mic position.



 Production Grand 2

Production Voices Production Grand 2

Presenting one of the most daunting sample pools in terms with nearly half a terabyte (!), Production Voices Grand 2 represents perhaps the biggest effort to date to capture the famous Yamaha C7 Grand with all its nuance and finesse. Boasting eight microphone positions (that even include a microphone under the piano), the Grand 2 team spared no expense in order to achieve their goal. That includes not only a recording session in a high-end studio to capture the C7 Grand in all its glory but also detailed and comprehensive scripting work to make all those samples come together in a virtual instrument. (Note that a full version of Kontakt is required to make use of this monster!)



 Ivory II Studio Grands

Synthogy Ivory II Studio Grands

The Synthogy Ivory line of virtual pianos arrives at its second iteration and further establishes itself as one of the most popular solutions out there. Ivory now comes in five flavours: Studio Grands, American Concert D, Grand Pianos, Italian Grand and Upright Pianos. Featured here is the ‘Studio Grands’ edition, which brings two famous grand pianos (the Bösendorfer 225 and Steinway B) that were sampled to the utmost detail, offering up to twenty-four velocity layers, multiple round-robins, soft pedal variations and even a synth pad layer for when more modern sounds are required. Note - if you are an iOS producer/user, Ivory is now also now available for the iPad as an expansion for the Korg Module.



 Keyscape

Spectrasonics Keyscape

Regarded as one of the best purveyors of software instruments, with Omnisphere and Trillian ranking amongst the best of their kind, Spectrasonics is a beacon for high quality VIs. Keyscape is the company’s latest effort and brings their excellence to the keyboard game, basically doing for piano what Omnisphere did for synth and what Trillian did for bass. Spectrasonic spent ten years developing this product and the result is an instrument that is as vast and comprehensive as can be, including not only the classic studio keyboards & pianos but also exotic instruments from all around the globe. Keyscape gets even better if you own Omnisphere, since you can merge both instruments libraries for the ultimate “endless” sonic palette.



 Pianoteq 6 PRO

MODARTT Pianoteq 6 PRO

Modartt’s Pianoteq is the only instrument on our list that is not sample-based - instead it uses advanced modelling algorithms instead of real recordings. Their proprietary technology has gathered many accolades since its 2006 debut and is considered by many to be a milestone in music software development, even earning the approval of the legendary piano manufacturer Steinway & Sons. Currently on its sixth iteration, Pianoteq brings all sorts of pianos, including acoustic, electric and also chromatic instruments (such as the xylophone), and it’s available in three versions which can be upgraded and expanded with more sounds.



 Pianos

EastWest/Quantum Leap Pianos

EastWest has been one of the top players in the sample-based virtual instrument game since its early days. Quantum Leap Pianos was developed over the course of two years and brings four industry-standard pianos: the Bechstein D-280, Steinway D, Bösendorfer 290 and a Yamaha C7, all recorded using the finest equipment in a room designed specifically for pianos. Each piano has a whopping sample pool of over 60GB to deliver three distinct microphone positions, over ten velocity layers and many articulations. As with other EastWest instruments, Quantum Leap Pianos runs on their “Play” engine/plug-in for all DAWs.



 Ravenscroft 275

VI Labs Ravenscroft 275

As the name hints, VI Labs transports the Ravenscroft 275 Titanium to the digital realm on an officially licensed virtual instrument for the free UVI Workstation. Contrary to others on our list the Ravenscroft is a relatively new concert piano, combining traditional piano building techniques with modern innovations such as computer aided design. VI Labs did a very meticulous job of recording this exquisite piano, with full sampling of pedals, sympathetic resonances, Una Corda soft pedal, mute strikes and much more, while also keeping the storage footprint surprisingly low thanks to the UVI engine.



 The Grandeur

Native Instruments The Grandeur

Native Instruments is a reference when it comes to virtual instruments, but for this product they’ve partnered with the piano-sampling experts at Galaxy Instruments. This is The Grandeur, a concert grand piano which was extensively used for recordings and performances. As expected it features an extensive amount of samples to capture every possible nuance, including dedicated samples for the piano’s overtones and resonance, and it also offers in-depth controls such as pedal level, hammer sound and a tone control to match every need. The Grandeur is available as a standalone instrument for the Kontakt player and also as a part of the Native Instruments Definitive Piano Collection, which also includes two other vintage pianos.



 The Hammersmith

Soniccouture The Hammersmith

The experts at Soniccouture have also taken upon the task of sampling a grand piano, and their choice was the classic Steinway Model D. The result is the Hammersmith, a very well-polished virtual instrument that comes with twenty-one velocity layers, sustain sampling, different microphones at various distances (including the elusive Neumann binaural head), tuning options and scales controls among other features that enable the highest possible degree of realism. This fine instrument comes in two tiers: a professional edition with six mic positions and a standard edition with only two positions - that can be upgraded. Both versions are compatible with the free Native Instruments Kontakt Player.



 Vintage D

Galaxy Instruments Vintage D

Galaxy Instruments Vintage D aims to be the definitive recreation of the Steinway D, one of the most iconic pianos that can be heard on numerous recordings, from classical to pop and jazz and more. For this product Galaxy Instruments obtained access to Bauer Studios’ Steinway D Grand Piano from 1920 and sampled it down to the smallest detail through vintage Neumann mics and an Neve console. It features over two thousand individual samples, thirteen velocity zones, onboard reverb, a synth pad layer and a simple-to-use interface powered by the Kontakt Player.


Honourable mentions go to: Acousticsamples C7 Grand, Native Instruments Alicia's Keys, SONiVOX Eighty Eight Ensemble and Soundiron Emotional Piano, all of which were heavily discussed on Gearslutz.com.

What do you think of the state of the virtual piano in 2018? Have they met all the necessary requirements for production or are they still lacking any particular details? What else could be improved right now? What do you personally use? Are there any famous pianos that are overlooked in the sample library world? Please share your thoughts!