Are you looking for an intuitive way to create sophisticated sounds of a grand concert to enhance your production? You can easily create complex productions when you have the best piano VST plugin.
You can use the piano plugin to write music, arrange your compositions, and produce great sounding music. A piano VST plugin is a helpful tool to have regardless of the music genre you specialize in. It helps you create better music.
The problem is that most of the VST plugins for piano out there are too expensive. Some of them cost a fortune but the good news is that you can also get free and low-cost piano plugins that you can use to achieve the same effect as the pricey VST.
In this comprehensive guide, we show you some of the best VST piano plugins that work on both PC and Mac machines to give you inspiring acoustic piano sounds straight from your DAW.
Read on to learn more about the key factors to consider when choosing the right VST.
So, what exactly is a VST piano plugin? VST is actually short for Virtual Studio Technology, which refers to effects or instrumental plugins used in your computer’s DAW.
Piano VST instruments, also known as samples, come in a library bundle often called the sample library. There are many popular libraries such as Native Instruments, Vienna Symphonic Library, Output, and many more.
The piano virtual studio technology uses software to emulate the sounds of an acoustic grand piano in your computer without using any piano hardware or hard drive. All you need is a MIDI controller, preferably one with 88 keys, to create piano sound similar to those of a real piano. You can host the VST on any DAW such as Ableton, FL Studio, or Logic.
VSTs are created by recording all the 88 keys of the traditional piano using a microphone in a studio. The engineers record each key several times to get different variations needed to create the best sampling piano VST. The goal is to create sample VSTs that sound as close to an actual piano as possible.
VSTs are used by both professional musicians and budding artists. The virtual instruments are quite useful to those who cannot afford a piano to include piano sounds in their music. The software also come with additional sound effects and layers that you can use to enhance the quality of your music.
Just like other technology and software programs, there are many factors to consider when choosing the best free piano VST plugins for your music composer tool kit.
Keep in mind that just like digital pianos are different, VST software also differ in many ways.
Your choice will therefore depend on the kind of production you’re working on.
However, some of the common factors to consider when choosing the best VSTs include the digital pianos model you want to emulate, the overall piano tone you want to achieve, dynamics such as range, dynamic levels, and balance, the number of microphones you want to mix, and the overall sound quality of your recordings.
You need to have the right equipment to use VSTs including the following:
Before you choose the right VST, it’s important to understand that VSTs come in two types namely synth or sample VSTs. It’s therefore important to know the benefits each type of VST provides before you can decide which option best suits your needs.
Synth based piano VSTs have several advantages. For instance, they come in smaller file sizes, don’t need software samplers to run, and are more customizable. The downside is that they don’t sound as realistic as other VST types.
Sample-based piano VSTs more realistic and better quality sounds. However, they come in large file sizes. They are also limited when it comes to customization and require sampler software to run. Your choice will therefore depend on the kind of music production you’re after and the type of equipment you have.
For example, if you produce trance music, you may want to get a VST that produce high-quality sounds that are more realistic. If your computer is limited in space, then go for a synth-based VST.
It’s also important to consider customization and compatibility before you choose a piano VST.
Customizability is a good thing to have in a piano VST because with more customizable features the more unique piano sounds you can create from your equipment. If you just want a traditional piano VST with less clutter and fewer settings, go for one without a lot of customization features.
Compatibility is critical when it comes to any choice of piano software, including VST piano plugins. Always check and confirm that the software you download or buy works perfectly with your operating system or DAW. Check if the VST needs license management software such as iLok. The VST should work seamlessly with your computer and other peripherals.
Now that you know the key factors to look for in the best piano VST, let’s look at the top options available in the market today.
This is a Keyscape Virtual Keyboard collection based on the LA Custom C7 Grand Piano. The collection gives you samples of an expansive sound library for every type of genre.
It features rare much sought-after keyboards collected, restored, and multi-sampled by the famous Spectrasonics Sound Development Team in a period of over 10 years. The highly expressive sounds are designed to inspire you to play more.
You can even transform the sounds into more creative output using the STEAM engine. The VST piano plugin comes with Custom Controls for each patch that allows you to play beyond the original sound.
It also features an intuitive interface with performance controls and creative effects to enrich your production. The VST comes with 36 well-sampled keyboard instruments in a single package as well as vintage keys multi-samples. Each musical instrument has variations like Yamaha C7 Grand Piano has cinematic, classical and rock. It also integrates seamlessly with most DAW and Omnisphere 2.
You also get hundreds of Patches to customize and add versatility to your music. Spectrasonics has further refined this VST plugin with more features for authentic sounds including vintage amplifiers and classic effects such as mechanical noises, release overtones, and release overtones. Overall, it's a top pick by our experts.
When you are looking for the best upright piano VST that money can buy, you won’t go wrong with the Vienna Imperial by VSL. It’s a virtual grand piano developed by the famous Vienna Symphonic Library and recorded on the Bosendorfer 290-755. The virtual piano features a massive collection of 1,200 samples recorded per key.
The VSL is a well-known industry-standard that’s highly regarded by composers all over the world. In fact, most internationally recognized film composers regularly use VSL because of the realistic sounds and high-quality engine that the company provides.
Some of the key features of the Vienna Imperial piano VST include a library of 100 velocity layers, multiple release samples with varying note lengths, and Basic/Advanced view interface from where you can easily adjust your preferred frequencies, microphone positions, pedal noises, convulsion reverb, stereo width, octave shift and much more.
The Vienna Imperial also features in-built EQ and Reverb settings. It comes in a huge file size of 46.8GB and requires at least 4GB RAM on your computer. In terms of compatibility, the Vienna Imperial VST works perfectly with Windows 7, 8, and 10, and Mac OS X10.10.
You will also need the Vienna Key or another USB eLicenser like Arturia eLicenser or Steinberg to use the Vienna library. Overall, it’s a best piano VST money can buy.
Native Instruments’ latest upright piano VST comes with one of the highest celebrity endorsements today. It’s developed in conjunction with celebrity musician and songwriter Alicia's Keys together with her sound engineer Ann Mincieli and well-known programmer Thomas Skarbye. The VST is based on the Yamaha C3 Neo that Alicia Keys uses in her studio and live performances and it's more advanced than The Giant piano model.
So, besides the celebrity status, what does this VST deliver? Well, for a start you get 6 tabbed pages comprising of features such as algorithmic and convulsion reverbs, attack/release behavior, and sympathetic string resonance settings among others. Some of the great features of the NI Alicia's Keys VST is its fader control that controls mechanical noise, pedal, key, and microphone hiss.
It’s basically a single grand piano sample with a visualized interface and a budget-friendly price. The VST uses a grand piano sample and comes with Alicia’s very own keys. The unique VST was built to celebrate Yamaha’s 100th anniversary back in 2002 but is still one of the most sought-after Conservatory Collection samples.
It comes in a huge size of 6.3 GB with 3,000 individual samples, 12 velocity layers, and plenty of uncompressed WAV audio. To use the Native Instruments’ Alicia Keys piano VST, you need the free Kontakt Player or Kontakt system requirements.
Addictive Keys from Sweden-based XLN Audio is the latest plugin from the company with VST, AU, and RTAS. The VST features three multi-sampled classic keyboards namely the Yamaha U3 Upright Piano, Fender Rhodes Marl 1, and the Steinway Model D Concert Grand.
XLN Audio Addictive Keys provide a unique way to put the classic sounds of the Steinway Model D concert grand piano into your music productions. The Addictive keys come with a full XLN Audio Addictive Keys engine, which means that you won’t need additional piano software when using the VST.
The Addictive Keys Studio Grand comes with a variety of presets ranging from open and natural to processed and much more. It also features 6 selectable microphone perspectives to give you unique piano tones for both stage and production tasks.
The plugin comes in a smaller disk footprint of just 4GB. It includes additional visual and functional features such as pitch, volume, and filter envelopes on the Edit page. Overall, Addictive Keys Studio Grand is one of the best upright piano VST with a small file size available today. It sounds great and has good user interface.
This is one of the most accurate collections of samples of the Yamaha C7 and CFX 9-foot concert grand pianos. It has been sampled by Garritan - the well-known virtual piano software and instrument developer.
In this virtual piano, Garritan seems to have taken a multi-pronged approach in an effort to compete with other popular VSTs in the market such as the Synhogy’s Ivory and Modartt Pianoteq 6. The Garritan VST features great sounding Yamaha CFX Concert Grand sampled and recorded at Abbey Studios. You don’t even need to buy a separate sampler with the Garritan CFX because it’s powered by the ARIA player.
Garritan Abbey Road CFX concert grand comes with several microphone perspectives such as Contemporary, Classic, and Player positioning. It uses industry-standard microphones such as the KM 184, Neumann M49, D19, and AKG C12. It has a vast library with a wide range of presets that allow you to create inspired productions.
The library comes with 20 velocity layers for every key and sample set for various functions such as pedal up, soft pedaling, and sustain pedal down. It also includes partial pedaling and re-pedaling. The Garritan CFX concert grand also features its own convolution reverb. That means you don’t need another reverb plug-in to use it.
If you’re looking for the best way to introduce grand pianos into your musical library, check out the Synthogy Ivory II American Concert D.
Synthogy Ivory II delivers clear transparent, clear, and beautiful sounds of a grand concert instrument. It features an award-winning Ivory II Piano Engine developed by leading piano sound engineers at Synthogy Ivory. This VST is a perfect choice for beginner and advanced players as well as composers and producers.
The Ivory II American Concert D comes with over 20 velocity layers per key that give you smooth velocity and flawless note transitions. It also features harmonic resonance modeling for a excellent sympathetic string resonance. You can use it as a plugin or as a standalone product.
It’s compatible with both Windows and macOS and can easily be installed in your existing Ivory II library for those who already use Ivory II. It’s a great upright piano VST that gives you access to all Ivory II features from one interface compared to other VSTs like Cinematic Studio Piano.
This is one of the best modeled VST pianos on the market today. You can use it as a plugin in your Digital Audio Workstation or as a standalone application.
The Modartt Pianoteq 6 is compatible with Windows 7, 8, 10, Mac OS x 10.7 or later and Linux x86, ARM. You can use it with any MIDI keyboard without a USD dongle or iLok account.
The Pianoteq 6 doesn’t need as much RAM as other sample libraries do because it only needs 256MB of storage. It also computes piano sound in real-time and may use a lot of CPU resources keep in mind that the Pianoteq 6 is a little heavy on CPU when you are bass notes on the piano together with the sustain pedals at the same time. However, most laptops and computer processors can handle it just fine.
Other key features of the Pianoteq 6 include MP3 and FLAC file exports, better MIDI mapping, MIDI playlist, and automatic recording. Overall the Pianoteq 6 virtual piano offers a near-cinematic 3D sound quality. It’s one of the best digital piano VSTs for live performance and music production.
1. How can I use a VST plugin?
A VST plugin is a software program that runs on a computer. Therefore, to use it you need a computer and a MIDI keyboard which allows you to play the piano sounds.
The MIDI doesn’t create sounds on its own. It sends the signal of the key you have pressed to the VST which then produces the corresponding sound. You’ll also need a program that can run the VST.
2. Are VST Piano plugins ideal for beginners?
Of course yes but as a beginner, you’ll need to do your research to find the best software suited to your needs and skill level.
A VST software provides great support if you’re still a beginner in music production. It helps you expand your reach and polish your skills on the DAW.
3. How many instruments does a sample library have?
The number of instruments in a library depends on the library you choose. You can buy a library with a solo instrument or one with various native instruments.
Most importantly, always check and confirm the number of instrument samples included in your library because the more instruments there are in a library the more expensive it’s likely to be.
4. What are the benefits of using VST piano instruments compared to the native keyboard?
The best VST plugins and instruments give you access to more piano samples that the default keyboard sounds.
VSTs also come with thousands of samples that you can use to alter your keyboard’s sound into a completely unique instrument.
It can create different sound instruments such as cellos, trombone, flute, and percussions among others. VST helps you to learn basic orchestration of music using different music ranges and sound articulations.
5. How can I choose the best VST plugin?
Your choice will mainly depend on the kind of music you want to produce.
Look for the best piano VST plugin that can produce the sounds of an acoustic grand piano brand that you prefer such as Yamaha Grand Pianos and Yamaha C7, Steinway, and Bösendorfer.
The VST should also be capable of producing the overall tone you want to achieve and other dynamic range such as the number of microphones you want to mix, range, and balance.
There are many VST piano plugins options available today. Finding the best piano VST for you can be overwhelming at first.
However, you can always experiment with different sound libraries to find one that best suits your needs.
The options covered in this review can help to enhance your performance and come in different price points to suit any budget.
Linda Ritter is a piano lover who is currently a content contributor at the PianoNadu.com blog. She also collaborates with several musicians and brands.