A lot of piano VSTs sound extremely real when compared with than piano functions in keyboard workstations. Honestly, we shouldn’t be surprised by this considering the sheer power of high-quality Macs and PCs.
With that in mind, let’s take a deeper look at the best piano plugins.
A Quick Glance At The Best Piano VST Plugins 2021:
- Spectrasonics Keyscape — overall best
- Garritan CFX Concert Grand — signature sound
- Synthogy Ivory II Studio Grands — hyper-realistic
- Native Instruments The Gentleman — ultimate upright
- Native Instruments Noire — soundtrack composers’ dream
- Native Instruments Alicia’s Keys — singer songwriter’s slice of heaven
- Native Instruments The Giant — unique
- VSL Vienna Imperial — Bösendorfer lovers
- VI Labs Ravenscroft 275 — all-rounder players’ miracle
- Pianoteq 6 — RAM conservatives
1. Spectrasonics Keyscape
The number one piano VST plugin.
When we think of virtual instruments, Spectrasonics is the first company that comes to mind. They’ve set the bar for virtual pianos incredibly high with their Keyscape Collector Keyboards VST
Keyscape comprises 36 keyboards into one plugin. You’ll find everything from classic grand pianos to Clavinets, from Rhodes to obscure harmochords, and much more. The fabulous attention to detail Spectrasonics puts into discovering, restoring and recording rare instruments is.
Whatever instrument you choose to play with, you’ll notice that it has many variations. For instance, the Yamaha C7 Grand Piano has classical, cinematic, rock and other styles to pick from.
Image credit: Spectrasonics
Simply put, Spectrasonics Keyscape Collector Keyboards is the best piano VST plugin. It took them roughly 10 years to make which just goes to show how much effort, love and attention to detail they poured into it.
We haven’t found another piano plugin that creates such a crisp and articulate sound that truly stirs the soul as a “real” grand piano would. It doesn’t just sound nice — Spectrasonics respects the tiniest details.
2. Garritan CFX Concert Grand
Abbey Road Studios’ signature sound.
Garritan adopted the right thought process here — take the Yamaha 9-foot CFX concert grand piano and place it into Abbey Road Studio One.
If you love all things piano, then you’ll know that the Yamaha CFX concert grand is globally recognised for its broad palette of tonal colour. Thus, Abbey Road Studio One was its match made in heaven. But how did they manage to capture all of the magical detail we hear you ask? With a boatload of extremely high-quality microphones!
Garritan has split the presets into three categories — player, classic and contemporary. Of course, each of these has sub-presets like jazz and Bach-inspired classical notes.
For those who prefer to be completely in control, the player category is the one for you. Garritan captured all the characteristic nuances of the CFX to give you the ultimate experience.
Alongside all of this, they’ve compiled it into a very attractive user interface. Right from the beginning, you’ll be playing like a pro.
Image credit: Garritan
Honestly, it was hard to know whether to put this ahead or behind Synthogy’s Ivory II. But, ultimately, the user interface of Garritan’s plugin won us over.
3. Synthogy Ivory II Studio Grands
Hyper-realistic grand piano emulator.
Synthogy is one of the titans of the virtual piano software industry. Some people will tell you that they are still the best. Their Ivory product line has never ceased to amaze due to its astounding realism.
This plugin features two grand pianos — Steinway Model B and Bösendorfer 225. Both are beautiful, iconic instruments.
After taking a deeper look into the specs of this plugin, the most outstanding feature has to be the 112 GB library. The number of samples (and the time it would’ve taken to acquire them!) is just astonishing. Each instrument comes with a maximum of 24 velocity layers, as well as tons of soft/release pedal samples.
Ivory II also showcased the brand-new sound engine — Ivory 2.5 Piano Engine. Alongside the enhanced sound, it came with innovative features such as “Shimmer” which enables incredible control over reverb..
Image credit: Synthogy
There is no denying that Synthogy has produced some amazing technology — who can argue with a 112 GB library and accurate, crystal clear sounds? However, their interface feels quite dated which does let it down.
Nowadays, people expect intuitive software. Unfortunately, you just don’t get that here. Although, if we were to judge on sound alone, you won’t find a more realistic piano VST.
4. Native Instruments The Gentleman
The ultimate upright piano VST.
If you’ve done your research, you’ll have noticed that The Gentleman is one of the best-rated upright piano plugins out there. It was made by Native Instruments when they were living the life of success by creating one groundbreaking VST after another..
The feature that stands out the most is that it was recorded from a vintage 1908 piano. You might not have found this especially fascinating. But, we should point out that it was fully functional with all its original parts! In short, you can’t find an upright piano with this much character and old-world charm.
Native Instruments managed to capture its charming tone and every nuance in a total of 2300 samples and 16 velocity zones. Yes, you read that right!
The plugin also comes with a huge variety of tweaking options packed into a sleek, clean interface for stress-free using. From the main screen, you can edit reverb, tone and other aspects. But, the proper editing screen allows you to fiddle with everything to ensure perfection.
Overall, the sound is warm rather than bright but features the characteristic growl that you expect from an old upright. Having said this, adjusting the 3-band EQ and other parameters, you can move towards cheerier tones.
Image credit: Native Instruments
If you are looking for a modern upright sound, you will be pretty disappointed with this (its samples are from a 1908 vintage, so what do you expect?). However, you just won’t find the character that comes with these antique instruments anywhere else.
The downside here is that depending on the velocity range you play in, you might hear a little click accompanying a few notes. It’s quite a shame really since the recording process was so in-depth but, c’est la vie! Regardless, we still think this is the best upright piano VST.
5. Native Instruments Noire
Excellent for all the soundtrack composers out there.
Inside, you have two sound settings to pick from: pure and felt.
As you can imagine, pure is very clean and untouched; the classic grand piano sound. Felt, on the other hand, has been sampled from the same piano but with a felt moderator tucked between the hammers and strings. This leads to a muted and far gentler tone.
Of course, you can tweak the main sound settings a lot more by fiddling with the knobs (colour, dynamic, reverb, delay and tonal shift) located at the bottom of the screen. The first thing we noticed with Native Instruments Noire was the sheer elegance of its user interface.
So, why is this plugin any different from the rest? We have two words for you — Particles Engine. This is a feature that was primarily imagined by Nils Frahm himself. What does it do, we hear you ask? It creates a harmonic tone depending on how you’re playing. They can be mechanic or percussive sounds or even work with the pitch. It adds momentum to your music.
Image credit: Native Instruments
Even though Noire is fairly new on the market, it’s proving itself to be more than worthy with composers and producers (not as good for performers though).
Let us clarify — performers need a great sounding pure piano tone (most of the time), right? Well, in our opinion, Noire’s doesn’t win when compared to Keyscape or Ivory II. But, it’s still a great programme since the unique elements give it an edge.
All in all, it’s pretty good as a performance piano but absolute heaven when used for composition!
6. Native Instruments Alicia’s Keys
Perfect for the singer songwriter’s virtual piano needs.
This plugin by Native Instruments was the first of their VSTs to be a huge success. Although, some people were sceptical, claiming that it was down to the fact it was named after a celebrity. If you forget the name and knuckle down to the sound quality, you can find the true answers.
This plugin is aptly named. After all, it was based on the super rare Yamaha C3 Neo grand piano that Alicia Keys famously played. And, she didn’t just whack her name on after it was made — she came into the studio to record samples and help develop it!
Honestly, the whole team was pretty impressive. They had Thomas Skarbye leading the group of Grammy winners and world-renowned masters of the industry who were working on this piano VST.
The completed version has a huge 17 GB library full of samples, and more than 12 velocity layers per key. This means there are over 3000 samples throughout the layers! That is too mind-blowing to process!
At the time it was released, it provided the clearest, cleanest tone of any virtual piano available on the market. But, that isn’t where their attention to detail stopped. Alicia’s Keys has a remarkably natural sustain and release phase — we’re yet to find a competitor.
As far as the user interface goes, it’s pretty straightforward. All the tabs are clearly labelled so you know exactly what you’re clicking on. Not to mention that the controls (for reverb type, mechanical noise, microphone position, and more) are super easy to use. You can even opt to hear the piano from the audience’s point of view!
Image credit: Native Instruments
Even though the days where Alicia’s Keys was the best-selling grand piano VST are over, it’s still up there with the best.
The sound quality is brilliant. The low-range is thick yet beautifully defined and the mid-range is perfect for minor chords. Just bear in mind that this is not a classical piano.
7. Native Instruments The Giant
If unique is what you’re looking, you’ve come to the right place.
Native Instruments shook the digital music world when they released The Giant. It’s entirely new and utterly different. The samples come straight from the Klavins Piano Model 370i which, for those who aren’t aware, is the biggest upright piano on the planet.
Their plan with this VST plugin was to capture the intense dynamics that the sheer height of the Klavins Piano Model 370i presents. It delivers a sound that you just won’t hear anywhere else so, all their samples are fully raw and natural.
The Giant has two personalities to choose from: day and night. The user interface changes according to which setting is chosen by displaying a city skyline at corresponding day times.
Here, you will find three control panels: space, tone and anatomy.
The tone section has a self-explanatory knob to adjust the softness/hardness of the colour. At the bottom, there is an XXL button which will ramp up dynamics when turned on. Space is all about reverb (amount, size and distance). Whereas anatomy deals with the dynamic range and mechanical noise. Plus, the anatomy and tone panels expand to show you more parameters and an extensive selection of controls
When the night personality is selected, you will be offered two control sections: sources and convolution.
The sources panel deals with extreme sounds. Essentially, any resonance that this huge upright piano makes when pushed can be sorted out here. Unsurprisingly, the night personality is more dramatic and darker (shocker, right?).
The convolution part gives you a seriously detailed EQ, filter and limiter. This is probably one of the more accurate EQs available today.
Image credit: Native Instruments
The Giant is one of our all-time favourite VSTs. While it doesn’t necessarily match up to others in terms of library size or velocity layers, we simply don’t care! Its unique sound is enough.
When the day personality is activated, you can manipulate The Giant into sounding like a pop instrument if you wish. Yep, as extreme as this instrument is, you can adapt it to a bright, cheery sound.
Alternatively, when the night personality is turned on, everything becomes extreme — perfect for those eerie, atmospheric soundtracks featured in horror movies.
If you’re not a mainstream musician, The Giant might just turn out to be your very own BFG.
8. VSL Vienna Imperial
For Bösendorfer lovers.
Vienna Imperial features samples from the Bösendorfer 290-755 which gives you a rare and wonderful opportunity to create all sorts of tracks.
Its library is pretty extensive. In total, it holds 1200 samples. Not to mention that it features 100 velocity layers — talk about setting the industry standard!
Regardless of whether you are a beginner or seasoned pro, Vienna Imperial offers basic to advanced options for you to play with. Obviously, it provides the general frequency, position and reverb control that every VST comes with. However, clicking on to “Advanced View” will let you discover its true depths.
In terms of sound, you can expect a clear and distinctive tone. This changes depending on your microphone placement settings but, it’s a little bit of desktop magic if you ask us!
Image credit: Vienna Symphonic library
The interface is lovely and sleek, and we can’t fault the range of controls it delivers but, it’s hard to fall in love with a library you can’t use without a license. We understand why but, it’s just a bit of a shame!
9. VI Labs Ravenscroft 275
All-rounder players will adore this.
Ravenscroft has been made from recordings of the Model 275 Titanium concert grand. It features a variety of samples that will blow the all-rounders socks off.
With 17000 note samples from the aforementioned piano and 19 velocity layers, it is ridiculously versatile. Whether you plan on playing with an orchestra or performing solo, Ravenscroft is the perfect partner.
Its dynamic range is unbeatable. Its attack is sharp and incredibly clear. Plus, you have control over every little detail — release noise, half-pedalling, silent strikes and more.
Image credit: VI Labs Audio
This plugin is super intuitive and very well made. You don’t have to decide whether to be a player or producer, you can seriously do it all with this VST. We don’t like the amount of disk space it takes up but, with such a powerful programme, it’s to be expected.
10. Pianoteq 6
For the RAM conservatives.
We can’t lie. This is cool. You can use it as a standalone programme or a plugin!
Considering you can use Pianoteq 6 on its own, it doesn’t take up a lot of RAM space. Since it does all the work in real-time, it will draw power from your CPU instead of sitting stagnant on your hard drive.
Regarding the sound, you receive all the nuances and subtleties that a real piano has, ensuring you enjoy a completely immersive experience. Alongside this, are the tremendous number of controls — pedal noise, hammer noise, and duplex scale, to name but a few.
Image credit: Modartt
Thanks to the 127 velocity layers that Pianoteq offers, it is a fantastic choice for those who want to fine-tune their craft. Attention to detail has been at the foreground of the developers’ minds here.
Unfortunately, the interface is very dated. While it’s easy enough to use, the overall design is not great.
The Bottom Line
If you’re new to piano VST plugins then it can be a little scary thanks to the stories of glitches and MIDI problems. But we encourage you to ignore them! As long as your system can handle the plugins’ requirements, you’re good to go.
Much like choosing an instrument, picking a VST that’s right for you can be difficult since they all excel in different areas. Luckily, our list includes suitable plugins for every style and ability.
Don’t waste any more time, get playing!