If you’re anything like me, I bet you probably don’t own a Steinways & Sons grand piano or an auditorium recording studio with amazing acoustics at your disposal.
You might not even own a full-length, 88-key digital piano, but maybe a MIDI keyboard with 49 or 25 keys.
But this shouldn’t stop you from scoring that grand piano sound, even on your budget or backup digital piano.
See, it’s amazing what we can do with sounds in today’s digital world.
You don’t need to snowball to achieve the same remarkable sound as the tricked-out models.
With the help of the VST plugins, you can make your simple keyboard sound like a Bösendorfer, Steinway, or even an old-time harpsichord organ.
For my case, for instance, I own an 88-key Roland digital Piano and a Miditech 32-key midi keyboard. While the combo is decent, they often start to sound less than realistic and far removed from a real grand piano, especially in a concert hall.
But with the help of VST plugins, I can effortlessly achieve a remarkable sound with so much character and personality.
Of course, no VST or a digital piano can compare to the feel of playing a real piano. But well-done VST will give the real pianos a run for their money.
But the piano VST plugins don’t come cheap!
Some are not even compatible with every digital piano, and you know there’s nothing worse than going big, only to realize the application doesn’t suit your needs.
Fortunately, you don’t have to sweat about it. In our guide below, we’ve reviewed the best piano VST we think they’re suited for your needs.
And if you’ve time, you can also go through our buying guide later in the guide.
Table of Contents
The Best Piano VST For The Money
#1 Addictive Keys By XLN Audio - EDITOR'S CHOICE
I wanted to start our list of the best piano VST with a solid yet affordable software.
I know quality VSTs are expensive, and chances are you’re looking for something within your means but with great sound quality.
The Addictive Keys Steinways is just that.
It’s among the inexpensive piano VST available.
Cost aside, the other reason why Addictive Keys outclassed all of the other contestants on our list is that it’s sampled after the Steinway D Grand piano.
Now, if you’re a piano enthusiast, you are aware you can’t go any bigger or better than a Steinway.
According to the folks at XLN, the manufactures tested more than ten different Steinway pianos before arriving at Steinway D Grand Piano for sound sampling.
As far as the sound quality is concerned, Addictive Key has a decent output.
However, if you’re looking for a top-notch grand piano sound, you can probably do better than with this library. To do so, however, means spending nearly thrice as much.
Overall, this software’s sound is quite good, though, provided you’ve decent monitors and aren’t looking for anything grand.
I like this software because most of the presets are great and to my liking.
I can easily tweak or edit any of the presets to my liking and save them as user patches for recall later.
Additionally, there’s quite a wide range of tweaks that can be made on the software, including microphone placements, the addition of effects, equalization, and dynamics.
The six different mic placements are my favorite preset adjustments as they allow for a different taste with each placement. I can adjust the mic from closer or ambient, depending on my music needs.
Players can even make global changes to tuning and velocity.
Another nice touch Addictive has added that I’m not aware of in other budget piano VST’s is the cloud account that saves your settings. It’s a nice feature to have, especially if you’re using the library for live performance.
You don’t need a super-fast computer to run this software, and this is a huge plus for players with outdated hardware. I’ve seen players talk about this plugin saying they’re running it on a computer as old as ten years.
Addictive Keys doesn’t offer tons of different presets, but the existing one sounds different and better than the default patches.
The sound is also good, and to me, the software is perfect for those who need software that sounds great without digging deep into their pockets.
The only deal breaker advanced pianists may not love with the software is you can’t do half-pedaling.
#2 Toontrack EZkeys Grand Piano - Best for Songwriters
Our second pick is an option that works well for both beginners and advanced players.
EZkeys samples sound from the Steinway Model D, and you’ll notice that it’s an extremely popular piano to sample due to how well it plays.
But let me start by saying the software isn’t all that impressive as a piano VST. The sounds aren’t terrible, but if you simply need a piano VST, you’ll do better just in about any price range (Addictive Keys in the low end).
I would say the sounds are great with the EZKey, but not my favorite sound. They’re not any less lively than other VSTs, but there’re better-sounding sample plugins.
Providing great piano/keys with plenty of tonal flexibility isn’t EZKeys strong point, and it doesn’t try to beat that.
EZKeys is a songwriting tool, plain and simple.
I got the EZKeys to bring me back to basics again… my roots of songwriting.
I’m not an accomplished piano player, but with the basic chord structure provided and amazing abilities to change each midi clip’s cords, EZKeys helps players get even more productive.
See, what I love most about this songwriting piano is how it allows players to arrange compositions quickly.
Even with minimal understanding of the basics of music, players can compose, assemble and arrange entire songs effortlessly.
You simply select a few chords, tweak, change and use the visual circles to create your music.
Alternatively, you go the simple way and use the built-in MIDI templates to apply different playing styles to the chords you select.
This VST is aimed towards the songwriters and producers. They’ve literally taken the “songwriting made easy” approach, and it works.
The library with this VST isn’t huge, coming in at 13 sounds in total.
However, it has an extensive MIDI library played by a professional pianist.
As with the Addictive Keys, EZkeys isn’t CPU intensive. You don’t necessarily need a fast and modern computer to run the software. In fact, you only need 500MB of RAM, so basically, most of the computers can support the programs.
Overall, EZKeys is an all-around instrument, probably bettered by others for the sound’s ultimate authenticity.
However, the songwriting element brings a whole new dimension to piano VST’s. It’s a perfect pick for players who need to dive into songwriting and need a genuinely innovative tool to help spruce their creativity.
#3 Keyscape By Spectrasonics - Most Versatile
Keyscape is easily the most diverse piano library in the market and is massive both in CPU and samples.
It’s by far the most fantastic sample piano instrument I’ve ever heard. It includes various instruments, but the most fantastic of them all is the grand piano.
What sets the software apart from other instruments is the level of excellence the manufacturer has put into making the plugin.
The instruments themselves are restored to a high level of excellence and beautifully tuned and recorded into something just incredible, for starters.
The plugin’s musicality is also on another level, and I don’t think our previously reviewed items can even match what it offers.
While EZKeys and Addictive Keys are also great, Keyscape is a feat of excellence that is hard to surpass and worth every penny.
My favorite sound from Keyscape is the LA Custom 7 Stage pre-set. I love the pre-set because it adds more realism to the piano VST and delivers more authentic and punchy sounds.
The Keyscape is also among the biggest libraries, coming in with over 500 sounds and 36 different models. While it’s good for adding variety, it’s pretty CPU intensive, so you’ll want to ensure you’ve nice hardware if you’re planning on getting the software.
Keyscape sound output is simply unbelievable, especially the bass notes. I love how they cut through nicely, and you can hear the tone surprisingly well.
We love this software because it allows users to play around with the pedal noise to deliver authentic sounds, just like a real piano would.
Additionally, the samples are all recorded clean, free from stage noise, so it’s easy to tweak them to your liking.
The other thing players will love with the software is they’ve the option of editing the mic placement for different parts of the song. For instance, soloists can bring the mic closer, and for players looking for texture, they can use ambient mics. It all depends on your music needs and style.
Even better, the software can model hybrid duo patches to spice your mixes. What this means is I can now blend my piano with another VSTi to create a unique patch.
For instance, I can take a C7 piano and pair it with a harpsichord for an even better sound. This is essential, especially when you’re playing live and need to create unique sounds.
Overall, you can see there’re plenty of pre-sets and adjustability features to play with on the Keyscape.
The sound is also pretty amazing, and in my opinion, this software would make great professional software for dedicated players.
#4 Garritan CFX - Best for Yamaha CFX 9 Samples
I’m going to start this review by saying I’m not a huge fan of Garritan products. The Keyscape has been my favorite piano for a while now.
But I also wanted to try Garritan since everyone else gushed over the product.
I took a leap of faith and went for it, and I have to say it’s more than expected, and I have grown fond of it.
At first, I wasn’t fully impressed with the purchase. CFX is a beautiful piano, yes. It also has a lovely reverb.
But it still didn’t quite measure up to what I was used to with Keyscape.
The piano feels a bit distant and with lots of brash/cutting, a far cry from Keyscape’s warm, sweet and intimate sound.
But I wasn’t ready to give up on the piano yet.
As it turns out, I was right, and the piano has a huge strength.
The software was recorded with different mic perspectives, with at least six stereo mic setups involved.
Garritan also has plenty of pre-sets, covering a wide range of styles and tonality. I didn’t go through all the styles, but if you’ve time to go through the presets and microphone positions, I’m sure you’ll find something you like.
I discovered three magical adjustments made all the difference for one.
The first one is saturation, and cranking this control resulted in a big and full sound. The second adjustment was the Timbre, a basic piano sound that helps with deepening the piano.
The final and probably the most important was the velocity curve. It’s a useful control for generating softer, the sweeter tone for my piano.
Surprisingly, the manufacturers have included studio reverbs, though some players commented that the piano has too much reverb.
However, you can always get a drier sound if you want, and I like the space-the big, open sound.
As part of the marketing strategy, the piano manufacturers assert that the recording was done at the infamous Abbey Road recording studios.
Plus, the Aria player powered the software, so no need to invest in an additional ampler.
I also loved the library presets, and this is crucial for me because every time I sit down to write music, I want to be inspired by pre-sets.
It’s also possible to tweak the reverb and pedal noise for particular patches to your liking.
While there’re numerous elements I love with this software, it’s CPU intensive and requires up to 8GB RAM and a multi-core processor.
But even then, I’m satisfied with Garitan’s performance on many levels. The piano is definitely better than other pianos and has more body and fullness, and precisely tuned.
#5 MODARTT Pianoteq 4 - Best Modeled Software
For a long time now, Modartt has been creating some pretty useful instruments in the keyboard industry.
Currently, it’s among the best brands for the best piano VSTs, and today, we shall be looking at one of its offerings, the Pianoteq 4.
It’s simple yet pragmatic software and among the most popular modeled software available.
Pianoteq 4 is a modeled piano with the ability to provide players with fantastic subtleties and organic elements that a majority of sample pianos struggle with.
One thing we love with this software is it makes it easier to dive insanely into sounds. In fact, Steinway & Sons have approved the sounds of Pianoteq 4 Steinway D and Steinway B.
This software’s sound output isn’t only fuller and richer but as authentic as it can get. Of course, it can’t match a real piano, but there’s no doubt it’s the closest thing you can get to a real piano sound.
Pianoteq 4 isn’t CPU intensive either, so you can easily run this VST with most laptops. The software requires little RAM and only 256MB of storage. It’s one of the software’s selling points.
However, it requires a sound card supporting ASIO drivers, but this isn’t a deal breaker as most PCs support this.
The software has plenty of adjustability settings, but what we loved most is the quarter and half-pedaling pre-set.
These presets are more advanced, and not many piano VST are capable of doing this. While you can turn off the pedals, I prefer leaving them on to allow for a more organic and real experience sound.
Pianoteq 4 is far down the list, but it’s still an incredible choice.
It’s adjustable, allowing players to tweak the different parameters per note.
Overall, I think the Pianoteq 4 should be among your top picks, and it’s easy to see why the software is growing in popularity.
Best Piano VST Buying Guide
Before choosing a piano VST, it’s important to remember that not one piano VST suits every producer’s needs.
Your music production differs from others, so you need to consider that before making a purchase.
Now, before we look at the elements to consider when purchasing a piano VST, let’s look at the types of VST plugins available.
Generally, piano VST are classified into two:
Sample-based pianos record or rather sample sounds from a real piano. Essentially, sample-based VST is a set of recorded sounds.
The manufacturers go into a recording studio and record all the 88 keys multiple times, including each key’s variations.
The more the variations, the better and more realistic the piano VST sounds.
- Realistic sounds since they’re actual recording
- Pianos used for recording are iconic and top of the line
- File size can be huge, filling up the small hard drive
- Limits to the piano model recorded
A modeled VST uses coded software or algorithm that sounds as close to an acoustic piano.
- Smaller size and loads quickly
- Not limited to any piano
- Doesn’t require software or a sampler to run
- Not realistic
Sample-based vs. Modeled based
Neither of the plugins can be considered better or worse.
Much depends on your playing needs and the type of piano player you are.
For instance, if you’re a classically-trained concert pianist and used to play high-end pianos, a sample-based VST would be a great pick.
On the other hand, if you’re an electronic music producer and piano player looking for flexibility, then a modeled piano would be a great pick.
Remember that these are just but examples to illustrate that there’re no hard and fast rules for who should buy what.
Chances are, our reviews and recommendations should already give you an idea of what to go for.
Factors to Consider When Selecting the Best Piano VST
Now that you’ve an idea of the different VST plugins let’s look at the different elements to consider when selecting a piano VST.
Sometimes, having more customizability on your VST plugin is a good thing.
For instance, you may want to pick a piano VST with more features if you need to create a unique sounding piano.
In other cases, a traditional piano VST is all you need to get the job done.
If you find yourself in this situation, having less clutter and fewer settings can help you get started faster and benefit your workflow.
Piano VST’s are expensive.
But the good thing is some of them are completely free.
I wouldn’t advise you to go for the free versions, especially if your production is ready for a higher quality piano VST.
However, if you’re just learning how to produce music, it may be best to start with a free VST.
If you’ll be spending some cash, understand there’s a wide array of paid options to choose from.
Generally, the amount you spend depends on your situation.
Compatibility is of the essence when it comes to any software.
VST plugins aren’t any different.
In fact, we recommend you check if the software you’re considering will work with your operating system and digital audio workstation.
Also, check whether a VST will require using an iLok to run.
If everything checks out, then you should be good to go with your piano VST.
Best Piano VDT Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q: How many instruments are included with a library?
A: It depends.
You may purchase a single solo instrument, or your library may include different instruments.
It’s always a good idea to check what’s included with your library to know how many instrument samples you’ll receive.
The more instruments in a library, the more expensive the VST is.
Q: Does a bigger size (more GB) mean better quality?
A: Not necessarily.
But remember, the library’s size is an indirect indicator of how meticulously the instrument was recorded.
The greater the number of samples is recorded per key, the more expressive and dynamic the piano sound is.
Q: Can I hear the sound of VST instruments via my keyboard’s built-in speakers?
A: Remember, VST plugins are run on your computer or smart device.
So, it’s your computer that generates sound based on the MIDI data it receives from your keyboard.
To hear the VST plugins through your keyboard’s built-in speakers, you’ll need to route the audio signal back to your keyboard.
Wrap Up: Our Choice
Our winner for the best piano VST is the Addictive Keys.
We feel this model struck the perfect balance between performance and cost.
Sure, it’s not the most tricked-out model on our list, but it has an impressive performance, especially compared to the price you pay for it.
Even better, Addictive Keys doesn’t cut corners with sound output,
The sound isn’t anywhere top-notch compared to the grand software such as Keyscape, but it’s decent by any means.
Sounds are richer, fuller, and livelier. They’re authentic, too, and will give you an output resembling that of a real piano.