Best Piano VST Plugins (Chosen by a Pro Composer) | 2019 Guide

Best Piano VST Plugins

It’s amazing what we can do with sounds in today’s digital world.

I’ll paint the picture: imagine you want to add a Steinway & Sons sound to your piano recordings, but you only have the budget to spend on a cheaper, more affordable digital piano.

With the help of VST instruments, you can make your keyboard sound like a Steinway grand piano, or perhaps a Rhodes electric piano, or an old-time Hammond organ.

You might not even own a full-length, 88-key digital piano, but may only have a MIDI keyboard with 49 or even 25 keys. Yet you will still be able to score that grand piano sound with the power of MIDI editing.

I own an 88-key Roland digital piano, as well as a Miditech 32-key midi keyboard, (and a Korg nanoKEY2 controller) – all of which can achieve the same remarkable sound through VST plugins.

What is a VST Plugin?

VST Instrument

VST stands for “Virtual Studio Technology” and refers to instrumental or effects plug-ins within a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) on your computer.

You may also hear VST instruments referred to as samples. Samples usually come in a library bundle called a “sample library.” Some well-known libraries include Native Instruments, Output, Vienna Symphonic Library, EastWest, and others.

In order to connect to a sample library, there is a program that hosts sound patches, otherwise known as a sampler.

Some well-known hosts include Kontakt 6 by Native Instruments, Play by EastWest, Vienna Ensemble Pro, and Spectrasonics. Think of these as “folders” containing different sampled sounds.

Native Instruments Kontakt 6 player

Kontakt 6 Sampler

For instance, opening the Kontakt player in a DAW will open a window where you can select the sound your piano will produce on a certain track. Selecting a trumpet sound will output your piano to sound like a trumpet.

Note that the instrument stays true to its range, so if you press the low keys on your piano, you won’t hear anything since a trumpet’s range doesn’t extend that low!

The sampled sounds are prepared by real people who devote hours recording a single note on an instrument in several different ways (such as staccato, legato, lower attacks, higher attacks, with a mute, etc.).

Most samplers can work as a standalone function on your computer (without the use of a DAW), so you’ll be able to play and hear the different samples. However, to record and edit compositions, you’ll need a DAW.

Some industry-standard DAWs for composition and high-quality recording include: Cubase 10, Logic Pro X, Pro Tools 12, and Digital Performer 10.

Apple Logic Pro X DAW

Apple Logic Pro X

GarageBand is an outstanding DAW for beginners (and comes installed with every Apple computer and device), and Ableton Live is a well-known DAW for producing electronic dance music (EDM).

When you connect your digital keyboard to your computer and use sampled piano sounds through a sample library, you are transferring the note you play on your keyboard into a MIDI format.

MIDI is a musical language understood by your computer that transfers your musical performance (the notes you play, the velocity at which you play them, their dynamics, and their articulations) and outputs this through your DAW.

MIDI technology

MIDI is an incredibly powerful tool that gives enables you to edit note pitches, the articulations of notes, and the phrasing and lengths of notes, as well as the dynamics, volume, and use of a sustain pedal.

Note that using a VST instrument is using a sampled or modeled sound, not the sound of your digital piano.

If you wish to record the audio of your piano, then refer to the PianoDreamers guide on recording audio.

Why Should I Use VSTs?

VST instruments offer a range of options for your recording needs. You may not like the preset sounds in your digital keyboard, or you may want to broaden your sound palette with different piano samples or to experiment with other instruments.

This may seem confusing, but you can use your digital piano as a MIDI controller, allowing you to play notes in a piano fashion, while your computer will output them as other instruments, such as a guitar or a violin, via VSTs.

Recording VST Plugin

Vocalists often ask me for a piano-backing track for a performance, but they need it in a different key. Instead of playing in another key and re-recording the original performance, I can move the MIDI notes in my DAW to transpose the sound.

You have the power to move around, change, and remove notes while experimenting with how they will be played. Is it a staccato passage? Should the pedal lift at the end of the phrase, etc.?

Recording MIDI in a DAW is less daunting since you have the ability to edit incorrect notes or change one note that was pressed a little too loudly.

This saves you time by eliminating the need to re-record or ‘punch in’ later (re-recording a passage within the piece). You can change a sample once you’ve recorded in MIDI, so you may audition various sounds, then choose the one you prefer.

Getting the Right Equipment

To use VSTs, you will need access to the following:

A digital piano or MIDI keyboard with access to either a USB Type B port or a traditional MIDI connection common to older keyboards. Please refer to our Connectivity Guide for connecting your keyboard into a computer.

A DAW, such as Logic Pro X or Pro Tools 12

A computer or laptop (recommended with at least more than 10% storage space remaining and at least 16GB RAM). This space enables you to download samples that may require sizable storage space, and the RAM empowers you to work quickly and efficiently without lag time in your DAW

A set of monitor speakers or headphones

Optional: an internal SSD to replace your computer’s hard drive (resulting in more CPU power and less PC crashes) and an external SSD for storing your samples.

If you can only afford one (since SSDs can be pricey), look to purchase an external SSD for storing your samples on the drive and for saving CPU usage.

For advanced users: you may also wish to utilize a ‘slave’ computer, which is usually a higher-end desktop PC or Mac Pro from which you can run sample libraries without using your primary PC’s CPU.

VST Plugins Gear

The more samples you have, the less efficient and longer it will take to work with your DAW, so many industry composers use a slave PC to save on CPU usage.

To connect the two computers, you’ll need Vienna Ensemble Pro, which acts as a sampler to host your samples from the ‘slave’ computer to your main computer.

Note that the two computers do not need to be the same model.

In my case, for instance, my ‘slave’ computer is a PC and my main computer is a Macbook Pro. Both computers run an internal SSD and my PC hosts 64GB RAM for running samples more efficiently.

VST Plugins RAM

This equipment setup is entirely optional and depends on your workflow.

If you wish to use a few samples for different sounding pianos, you may work easily from a single computer or laptop and will not need a lot of RAM to do so (at least 16GB is recommended, but 8GB RAM is still workable).

Alternatively, you may feature an audio interface within your setup.

With an audio interface, you will be able to connect other instruments and microphones to record them, so you are not limited to a piano as your controller within your DAW.

You’ll be able to record the audio of different instruments by converting an analog signal into an digital one, and you will not be limited to your MIDI.

FAQ (VST Plugins)

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using VST instruments as opposed to using a keyboard’s native patches?

Advantages:

— Access to a large variety of different piano samples which you may prefer over your keyboard’s original default sound(s).

 Access to thousands of samples to change your keyboard’s sound into a completely different instrument, such as: a high-quality trombone, cello, flute, or percussion recording, etc.

Experimenting and building a new sound palette to your compositions. For example, you may prepare a template that loads as a quirky ensemble of organ, saxophone, and string sounds which you can play around with as an ensemble.

Learn basic orchestration. By using different sound patches, you’ll familiarize yourself with various instrument ranges, the kinds of articulations they are capable of playing, and the register(s) in which they ‘shine’ best.

For example, you can play a flute in a higher register for brighter sound, whereas its midrange will feature a mellow tone, and the low range features a darker tone suitable for suspense music.

A violin’s lowest note is the open G string below middle C, so playing in a violin VST will teach you about writing for violin – where its range ends and which register to choose for certain kinds of tone (bright, warm, etc.).

This method alone is not the best way to learn orchestration; it is more like watching a TV show in a second language with subtitles.

They may repeat a word, so you’ll learn a few words or phrases in another language, but this won’t make you fluent. If you’re serious about learning orchestration, refer to orchestration texts or get a music theory instructor.

Disadvantages:

If you are new to music and rely on technology to teach you the basics, you’re in for a long journey ahead. While using VSTs can teach you subconsciously about basic orchestration (like instrument ranges), it is best to refer to other sources.

Since many new composers rely solely on technology, it should not be the only source to help them grow. They’ll also need to practice playing instrument(s) directly and notating actual sheet music.

You are limited to your VSTs. If you are composing something in your DAW alone, your violin sample may not have a portamento feature (slide), so you will never choose to write music with this technique.

This can be very limiting, so I suggest writing in a notation program as well as a DAW to help you grow as a composer.

 The process of learning about VSTs falls into music technology and production. This is a subject in itself, just like mastering the piano or learning to teach music.

Learning VSTs and making a setup from scratch can be complicated and daunting. Though I’m hoping this article lightens your load, it can still be complicated at first.

Are pianos the only VST instruments?

Not at all – piano VSTs are just a small percentage of sampled sounds available.

VST instruments categorize as orchestral samples, synthesizers and electronic soundscapes, and rock or jazz band scenarios, as well as instrumental effects and sound design. This is why sample libraries can get expensive really fast when you need a full library of sampled orchestral sounds.

It is also why the use of an SSD will make your workflow faster and more efficient. Imagine loading a DAW template with thousands of samples; with an SSD, the load time for samples decreases greatly.

Modeled vs Sampled VSTs

You may encounter the terms ‘modeled’ (aka synthesized) or ‘sampled’ when looking at VST piano instruments.

The difference between these terms is that ‘sampled’ sounds are actual audio recorded with microphones, while ‘modeled’ sounds are an imitation of an acoustic instrument produced by a synthesizer.

‘Sampled’ libraries outnumber ‘modeled’ libraries, since modeling instruments require more knowledge than does recording an instrument’s notes with a microphone.

Since sampled sounds are tiny bits of audio that have been recorded, this may be more demanding on your CPU and storage, while modeled patches are lighter on data storage and more efficient for CPU.

Modeled sounds can produce more articulate phrases and are not limited to samples recorded by real musicians. Sampled sounds, however, are good for recorded acoustic environments.

Many samples include the true vibrato, attack, and tone of an acoustic instrument, so you won’t need to do much programming to make a sample sound good.

Some pianistic sound elements, like sympathetic string resonance and key-off resonance, are difficult to record, so some sample libraries may use modeling to generate these effects.

Samples depend heavily on recording studio space, recording engineers, and equipment such as microphones and instruments.

Sampled piano VSTs include Garritan CFX Concert Grand, and Synthogy Ivory II, while modeled piano VSTs include Arturia Piano V, and Pianoteq 6.

How many instruments are included with a library?

This depends! You may be purchasing a single solo instrument or your library may include various instruments, different orchestral sections, etc.

Always check what is included with your library to know how many instrument samples you will receive.

The more instruments in a library, the more expensive it may be. Many libraries feature music track demos performed by musicians so you can hear what your samples have the potential to sound like. You should listen to these before you make a purchase.

How do I choose the best piano VST plugin?

There is no one answer to this question. A good place to start is to identify which acoustic piano brand produces the sound you prefer, whether a Steinway, Bösendorfer, Yamaha grand piano, etc.

Many of these brands to have been recorded meticulously into sample libraries. You may also wish to have a piano sample for a particular style, such as a solo performance, a piano be blended in with an orchestra, or a recording in a jazz or rock band.

Many VSTs are versatile and offer a solo patch as well as a piano sample that can be blended with other instruments.

Does bigger size (more GB) mean better quality?

Not necessarily…

Yes, the size of the library is an indirect indication of how meticulously the instrument was recorded, in other words how many samples were recorded at different dynamics per each key.

The more samples is recorded per key the more expressive and dynamic the piano sound is going to be, though there are other important factors that can affect that.

With that said, the size of the library, or in other words, the disk space it takes up after the installation can be a bit misleading.

The thing is that the final size of the library will largely depend on which format and audio compression method is used for samples.

Most high-quality piano VST libraries will use lossless audio compression, which preserves the exact copy of the original audio data, as opposed to lossy compression methods such as MP3, AAC, etc.

However, some libraries use the original uncompressed files (PCM), which makes it considerable larger than libraries that use lossless audio compression and store their samples in formats like FLAC, ALAC, etc.

That’s why when you download the Garritan CFX Concert Grand, it weighs less than 20GB but when you actually install it, the library decompresses to PCM and requires more than 100GB of disk space.

The Ravenscroft 275 and the Addictive Keys Studio Grands VSTs, on the contrary, require less than 6GB of disk space thanks for more efficiently organized storage using lossless compression formats.

The Vienna Imperial is quite large in size but it’s still very efficient, considering that it contains around 100 velocity layers per key (the Garritan CFX has 20) and still needs twice as less disk space as the Garritan CFX.

Can I hear the sound of VST instruments via my keyboard's built-in speakers?

The important thing to remember is that VST plugins are run on your computer/smart device.

So, it’s your computer (or whatever device you’re using) that generates the sound based on the MIDI data it receives from your keyboard.

In order to hear the VST plugin (or any other audio played on your computer) through your keyboard’s built-in speakers, you’ll need to route the audio signal back to your keyboard.

Remember that USB type B (aka USB to Host, USB type B) port found on most modern keyboards can transfer MIDI data, but not audio.

Therefore, to output the sound generated by a VST plugin to your keyboard, your keyboard should have an Audio In jack.

You can then connect your computer’s Headphone jack to the keyboard’s Audio In jack using a simple 1/8″ male to 1/8″ male TRS stereo cable (you may need an adapter or a different cable if your keyboard/computer has a 1/4″ plug rather than 1/8″).

When connected, the audio signal from your computer will go straight into the keyboard, and you’ll be able to hear it via the keyboard’s speakers.

Some higher-end keyboards (e.g. Roland RD-2000, Yamaha Montage, Yamaha MX series, etc.) as well as Yamaha’s newer digital pianos (P-125, P-515, YDP-144, YDP-164, YDP-S54) can exchange both MIDI and Audio data via their USB type B port (aka “USB Audio Interface” function).

In this case, all you need is a USB A to B cable, and (usually) some additional drivers that you’ll need to download from the manufacturer’s website.

Once you do that, you’ll be able to enjoy digital quality audio transferred to your keyboard via a single USB cable. The same cable will be used to send MIDI data from your keyboard to the computer at the same time.

But even then, this is not an optimal solution. The built-in speakers of digital pianos are usually designed to work best with preset sounds and may not sound great when connected to external audio sources.

Plus, the speakers on portable digital pianos and keyboards are hardly impressive, so it makes sense investing in a pair of good external speakers or headphones to get the most out of your VST plugin in terms of sound quality.

The Best Piano VSTs

1. Keyscape by Spectrasonics – Most Versatile

Keyscape Collector Keyboards VST


The Spectrasonics Keyscape library is one of the most versatile libraries available, featuring a collection of upright pianos, electric digital pianos, and grand pianos.

Keyscape is an incredibly large library with over 500 piano sounds and 36 instrument models and hybrid patches. The library can be hosted within Spectrasonics and integrated with the Omnisphere library.

Keyscapes requires 77GB of storage space with at least a 2.4GHz Intel dual core processor and at least 8GB of RAM.

The library is compatible with both Mac X 10.10 or higher and Windows 7 or higher.

It is quite heavy on CPU, so it is best to consider a higher processor (i7 is recommended), and preferably 16GB RAM or higher if possible. Because of its large storage space, an external SSD is recommended (but not essential) to make this library run easier on your system.

Spectrasonics Keyscape Interface

Keyscape C7 Grand (Stage Preset)

A unique feature of the Yamaha C7 grand piano (the main piano sound) is that it’s embedded with Renner® “Blue Point” hammers using Wicker felt.

This delivers sound with a wider tonal spectrum. Renowned LA piano technician, Jim Wilson, made it his mission to create this unique piano sound.

Within the VST editor window, you have the freedom to edit the microphone placement of close mics (great for solos) and room mics (great for ambience and atmospheric textures).

There is no ‘stage noise’ evident in the samples. Not every recording is perfect, but Keyscapes focuses on a clean recording with no noise but the sound of a piano key in each of the samples.

The Yamaha C7 allows you to experiment with mechanical noises and pedal noises for realism, and it features release overtones when a note is held (like a true acoustic piano).

Keyscape Yamaha C7 Grand Piano

Keyscape C7 Grand (Cinematic Preset)

Keyscapes offer the hybrid “duo” patches which partners a VST instrument with another to create a new patch.

These pairings can include the Yamaha C7 grand with a harpsichord, or a vintage electronic keyboard with a church organ to produce an ‘underwater’ tone.

The sounds include up to 32 layers of velocity, which is large for a sampled library and allows a great range for dynamics.

Without any editing on the user end, Keyscapes sounds good by default. More advanced subtleties like half- or quarter-pedaling and modeled sympathetic resonance are not supported.

The library shines more on upright and electric pianos, but still offers a terrific Yamaha C7 sound when a grand piano is required.

Keyscapes is purchased as their Collector Keyboards bundle, so you cannot purchase the Yamaha C7 alone.


2. Garritan CFX – The most accurate samples of the magnificent Yamaha CFX 9-foot concert grand

Garritan CFX Concert Grand


Although Garritan isn’t the first library you think of when considering samples, they feature an excellent Yamaha CFX Concert Grand recorded and sampled at Abbey Road Studios.

Powered by the ARIA player, there is no need to purchase a separate sampler.

Microphone perspectives include Classic, Contemporary, and Player positioning, using industry-standard microphones like the Neumann M49 and KM 184, AKG C12, and D19.

The library includes various presets that provide immediate inspiration. I am a user of this piano library and rarely build a custom patch. I use a preset with tweaked moderations instead (such as pedal noise and reverb).

The library offers up to 20 velocity layers per key, including sample sets for pedal up, sustain pedal down, and soft pedaling.

Partial pedaling is made possible as well as re-pedaling. The CFX comes with its own convolution reverb, so you won’t need a separate reverb plug-in.

Here is a piece of mine using solely the Garritan CFX with the preset ‘Paul’s Perfect Piano’:

I recorded this without a physical sustain pedal and instead drew one in the editor window, while increasing the sound of pedal noise for realism in my performance. A completely MIDI performance now sounds as if it was recorded live!

System requirements include a recommended 8GB RAM, multi-core processor, 133GB free storage space, and a fast interface hard-drive (such as SATA, USB 3.0, Firewire 800, or Thunderbolt).

The library is compatible with Mac OS 10.10 – 10.14 and Windows 7 or later, as well as with a soundcard with ASIO (most computers have this built-in).

As a film composer, I have added the Garritan CFX Concert Grand to my sample library because it was recorded in Abbey Road Studios, where many iconic movie scores are recorded.

Naturally, the sound of the piano presets blend in well with an orchestral film environment, suiting my work perfectly.


3. VIENNA IMPERIAL by VSL – Best sampled piano VST money can buy

VSL Vienna Imperial Grand


The Vienna Imperial virtual grand piano by Vienna Symphonic Library is recorded on the Bösendorfer 290-755 with a huge 1,200 of samples recorded per key applying a large magnitude of pianistic possibilities.

The VSL is an industry-standard library, well-regarded by composers. Many world-class film composers use this company for th realistic sounds and the engine it provides.

The Vienna Imperial library features 100 velocity layers and multiple release samples for differing note lengths.

VSL Vienna Imperial Bonsendorfer Grand

Vienna Imperial Recording Process

The interface has the option to view in Basic or Advanced View, where you can adjust frequencies, microphone positions (distant/audience position, middle/player position, or close/microphones placed in the body of the piano), convulsion reverb, pedal noises, sympathetic resonances, octave shift, and stereo width.

The Imperial was sampled on the Bösendorfer 290-755, meaning it has nine extra notes below the lowest A on a standard piano. These notes turn on in the Advanced View using the octave shift.

The tone of the keys on the Imperial are clear and distinctive. There are presets for different mic placements, including a player position and audience perspective.

The built-in EQ and Reverb settings are better than most built-in settings of other libraries (it is usually recommended to use separate EQ and Reverb plug-ins and to turn down any Reverb on a VST).

VSL Vienna Imperial

However, if you do not own an EQ or Reverb plug-ins, the Imperial’s are fantastic options since the EQ uses a three-band parametric arrangement and the built-in Reverb is a convolution reverb, which is not normally the case with built-in reverbs.

As a result, it sounds like the reverb was captured in the originally sampled space rather than by adding reverb length to it.

The Imperial fits in nicely within an orchestra. In my experience, I’ve found that some piano VSTs stand out like a sore thumb when mixed with an orchestra, but the Imperial blends in nicely.

Thanks to meticulous detail, adjustable settings, and a file size of 46.8GB, this is arguably the best piano VST money can buy.

At least 4GB RAM is recommended for your computer.

It is compatible with Mac OS X 10.10 or later and with Windows 7, 8, or 10. To use the library, a Vienna Key or other USB eLicenser such as the Steinberg or Arturia eLicenser is required.


4. Ravenscroft 275 by VI Labs – Our Favorite Pick

VI Labs Ravenscroft 275


The Ravenscroft 275 has been recreated using about 17,000 samples of notes recorded on the piano, as well as using four microphones (close, player, side, and room), allowing control in freedom of microphone placement, all of which can be altered within a user-friendly interface.

There are 19 total velocity layers, which include Silent Strike samples (as when a key is depressed but not actually hammering a string of the piano).

The piano is entirely sample-based, yet efficient with RAM and CPU resources.

Revenscroft 275 Titanium

Ravenscroft Model 275 Titanium

The Ravenscroft is recorded from the Model 275 Titanium concert grand.

It is one of the more versatile piano VSTs and fits many playing styles, serving well as a concerto grand that may be heard over an orchestra.

It has a large dynamic range, allowing for delicate passages and soaring fortissimos.

This VST prides itself in versatility and is a ‘jack of all trades’ able to pull off solo passages or mix into an ensemble.

The attack is sharp and clear, features an option of muted hits and staccato release trails, and offers the option of using the sustain pedal as well as the una corda and sostenuto pedal – a feature many piano samples exclude.

You have complete control over release noise, pedal noise, half-pedaling, key noise, silent strikes, and sympathetic resonances of sustain and resolution of chords.

You can even adjust a note’s tuning if you require atonal passages or want to experiment with different tonal centers and tunings.

Ravenscroft 275 Interface

Ravenscroft 275 Interface

You can also adjust the volume of the Pedal Resonance effect, True Pedal Action, and Re-Pedal by lifting the sustain pedal off and on again. Then the strings of the piano continue to resonate, but at a lower volume.

These effects are incorporated for realistic sustain pedal control. The half-pedal is sampled and also fully adjustable.

What makes the Ravenscroft 275 stand out is that the VST is completely sample-based, but the control resembles a modeled library.

The sound is multi-dimensional, emphasizing every note so that multiple layers and harmonies are heard clearly, not buried beneath melodic lines.

I’ve found that many libraries will muddy up the bass notes of the piano, but the Ravenscroft 275 clarifies the bass line instead.

The Ravenscroft 275 comes with a free sample player, the UVI Workstation 3, which you can use as a sampler in a DAW or as a standalone.

The library includes 22 convolution reverbs, so you won’t need a separate plugin for reverb. No dongle is required and it can be used by up to three computers.

You will need at least 6GB free disk space to install the sample library (5.32GB) and it is compatible with Mac OS 10.7 or later and Windows 7 or later, with a minimum of 4GB RAM.

The more samples you have stored, the more your RAM should be. 4GB RAM is low, but it is sufficient to run the Ravenscroft 275 on your computer. I recommend at least 16GB if you want to expand your sample library collection.

Most professionals will use 64GB RAM (assuming they use multiple sample libraries).

Listen to demos of the Ravenscroft 275 grand piano below.


5. Pianoteq 6 – Best Modeled Piano VST

Modartt Pianoteq 6


The Pianoteq 6 is arguably the best modeled piano library on the market. It can be used as standalone or as a plugin within your DAW.

The library requires Mac OS X 10.7 or later, Windows 7 or later, or Linux (x86, ARM). It does not require an iLok or USB dongle and can be used with any MIDI keyboard.

It may be easier to use a full-length keyboard with velocity sensitivity, but this is not essential since you can edit the expression and velocity manually in the MIDI editor of your DAW.

Pianoteq does not require a lot of RAM, as some sample libraries do, and only requires 256MB of storage. Pianoteq computes sound in real-time, so it can draw heavily on CPU.

Most computer and laptop processors should be able to handle this just fine, though it can get a little CPU heavy when using the bass notes on the piano along with the sustain pedal.

You will need a soundcard that supports ASIO drivers, as most soundcards do, meaning you should be able to use your built-in card.

Pianoteq 6 Stage Interface

Pianoteq 6 Stage

Pianoteq 6 is a modeled VST that provides you with more subtleties and nuances than a sampled piano recording may do, since it produces sound rather than playing back audio samples of differing limited velocities.

Another huge advantages of Pianoteq is the amount of sound tweaking options available in the Standard and PRO versions of the program including advanced tuning, microphone settings, hammer hardness, string length, sympathetic resonance, duplex scale, pedal  noises, hammer noises, and tons of other parameters.

Pianoteq 6 Pro Settings

Some of the many adjustable parameters

Sampled libraries usually offer about 16 different velocity layers which vary the attack and tone of a note. The Pianoteq, however, uses all 127 layers (velocity range of MIDI), allowing a very broad dynamic range.

Pianoteq is also capable of turning the sustain pedal on or off, as well as half-pedaling and quarter-pedaling (holding the sustain pedal a fraction down, and not all the way).

The softer the pedal is dampening, the less pedal sound you will hear. You can turn pedal noise off altogether or keep it active for a realistic performance.

You do not need a physical pedal to use the sustain pedal (you can edit the sustain pedal in using the MIDI editor window) or you can use your keyboard’s built in pedal.

Pianoteq 6 is physically modeled off the Steinway & Sons Model D and Model B, one of the most popular, best-sounding pianos. You can hear demos of these sounds on the Pianoteq website.

There are also a lot of other famous pianos they modeled including the Steingraeber E-272, Ant. Petrof 275 Petrof, C. Bechstein, etc.

You can purchase the piano bundles from $149, which includes multiple piano instruments (at least two instrument packs of your choice) or an instrument pack for $59 each, which is an affordable solution if you know the specific piano you are looking for.

The instruments vary from Baroque harpsichords and Steinway & Sons classical grand pianos, to rock pianos and auxiliary instruments like the xylophone and celeste.

Pianoteq Pro

Pianoteq 6 PRO

Payment is made via their website, which accepts most credit and debit cards. The bundle is then available immediately as a digital download to your laptop or desktop computer.

As a Pianoteq customer, you’ll receive bonus benefits, such as discounts to educational tools and a free one-year subscription to The International Piano.

Overall, Pianoteq 6 is a fantastic VST plugin for anyone wanting a classical piano sound, anyone who is new to VSTs, or anyone looking to expand their piano library without using too much storage on their computer.

As mentioned above, Pianoteq 6 prides itself in being compatible with a laptop with low system requirements while still producing a high-quality sound, so there is no need to make extra purchases in RAM, SSDs, iLok dongles, separate software, or extra hard-drives for storage space.


6. Synthogy Ivory II Grand Pianos – World’s three most famous grand pianos in one VST

Synthology Ivory II Grand Pianos


Synthogy Ivory II Grand Piano libraries have become one of the industry standards for piano VST instruments.

The library samples its sound from three grand piano models: the Bösendorfer 290 Imperial Grand, Steinway D Concert Grand, and the Yamaha C7 Grand, all three of which are included in the bundle.

Minimum hardware requirements include 1.5GB RAM and 22GB free storage on your hard drive, with a speed of 7200 RPM. The bundle is compatible with both Mac X 10.8 or later, and Windows 7 or later.

Synthology Ivory II Concert D Grand Piano

Ivory II Concert Grand Interface

The three grand pianos total 77GB of sample instruments, yet each piano can be installed separately.

Ivory II Grand Pianos feature up to 18 velocity layers, allowing a large dynamic range, from a passionate fortissimo to a delicate pianissimo.

The Bösendorfer allows an extended low octave below note A0.

The Ivory II features a Sustain Resonance DSP engine for realism in pedal performance and allowing half-pedaling.

You have the freedom to enable or disable pedal noise, per the aesthetics of your performance. You can also adjust the lid position to allow more freedom in tone.

The library bundle includes a vast array of presets, allowing you to preview the grand pianos in a different recording environment (microphone placements, hall/room types, reverberation, etc.) and to adjust these nuances accordingly.

Ivory II Concert Grand Settings

Ivory II Concert Grand Session Settings

The Ivory II has focused heavily on replicating grand piano samples and allowing users to recreate a piano performance as if they were playing on a Steinway, Bösendorfer, or Yamaha grand.

The library features Sympathetic String Resonance, which allows a true sound of resonance when a key is struck.

Another advanced feature incorporated into the sample library includes Harmonic Resonance Modeling, which projects overtones over the notes being held, just as an acoustic piano sounds when a key is pressed.

You can view demos of the samples at Synthogy’s SoundCloud playlist down below.


7. Addictive Keys by XLN Audio – Best Budget Pick

Addictive Keys Studio Grand


The Addictive Keys Studio Grand Piano is sampled from the Steinway Model D grand piano and is the best budget pick on the market.

This sample offers many basic features, such as pedal noise and sustain pedal resonances, warmth/brightness of tone, and close or ambient microphone placements, as well as built-in convolution and algorithmic reverb/delay and EQ to adjust frequencies.

Addicitve Keys Studio Grand Settings

Addictive Keys Studio Grand (Editing Options)

The library comes installed with presets ranging from beautifully natural grand pianos and ballad-rock piano patches to cinematic, experimental tones and textures.

Listen to some demos using the Studio Grand here.

Addictive Keys Interface

Addictive Keys Studio Grand Interface

Overall, this library targets pianists who are transitioning from an acoustic environment to recording on their computers.

The library is sparse compared to the others, yet it comes at a much more affordable price and – in the end – still sounds better than default piano patches that come with DAWs and samplers.

System requirements include Mac OS X 10.7 or later or Windows 7, 8, or 10 with at least 2GB RAM, not requiring a sampler or additional dongle. It can be used as a standalone.

Note: You can receive a copy of one of the Addictive Keys VSTs for free with a purchase of a Focusrite audio interface.

Final Words

The many options available for expanding your sound library which can be overwhelming at first, but experimenting with different sample libraries can enhance your performance and build your composition sound palette.

Remember, many pianists do not agree on the “best” acoustic piano, since we all have our subjective opinions, so mixing variety into your piano VSTs can prepare you for many composition situations.

You don’t need to know everything about sample libraries from the get-go. Learn as you go and begin with a sample you like and that you can afford.

In my experience, it’s better to save up for a better-sounding sample, otherwise you’ll end up paying twice (first for a cheap, poor-sounding sample library, then again for the more expensive one you originally wanted).

You may wish to purchase an orchestral bundle, so you won’t need to individually purchase all the instrument groups.

If you are looking for just a solo piano VST, hopefully this article has guided you closer to a great-sounding grand piano – even if you only have a MIDI keyboard with less than 88 keys!

About the Author – Samantha van der Sluis

Samantha Van Der Slius

Samantha is an LA-based composer and pianist who contributes to films, TV shows, and video games.

She works in the music department for all kinds of projects, including ‘The Secret Life Of Pets 2,’ ‘Star Wars IX,’ ‘Family Guy,’ and ‘American Dad.’

She has also recorded as a session musician, playing the piano in LA studios for TV commercial scores. She uses VSTs in her typical working day, producing mock-ups and music demos for other film composers.


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