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Top 5 Piano VSTs

Best Piano Plugin
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Updated May 2021
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6 Plugins & VSTs

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The Best Piano VSTs - How We Made This List

To start off, we want to tell you what led to us to want to create this best piano VST guide. Some time ago, we noticed a pattern while browsing our favorite forums and musician communities on the web. We noticed that certain threads appear over and over again, with the same questions being asked every two weeks (or more often in some cases). We took one such question, “what studio headphones should I get?,” and turned it into our best studio headphones guide. We spent days - weeks even - combing through every single thread we could find and tallied up the results, so we could put an end to that question once and for all, and get a snapshot of what the best studio headphones are as recommended by musicians from all walks of life.

We have several piano players on staff at Equipboard, and a couple of them are classically trained pianists. We noticed the same thing, with people asking, “what is the best piano VST?” or, “what is the best free piano vst?” in forums at a staggering rate, each time giving rise to a heated discussion.

So, we went to work! Many days or research and several dizzy spells later, we have emerged with a list of the best piano plugins (both free and paid). We combed through 22 forum threads, many spanning multiple pages, and tallied up a vote for every favorable piano VST review or recommendation from an owner. We also took the best sound bites, to get a feel for what people like and dislike about the various piano plugins. We hope you enjoy this list, and that it helps you make a buying decision, and discover piano plugins you perhaps didn’t even know about!

If you want to skip straight to the list, click here to jump to the top piano VSTs. If you want to learn more about what makes a good one and how to go about selecting the right one for you, we urge you to read on!

What Makes a Good Piano VST?

The piano is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful sounding and elegant instruments, whose invention can be traced back to 1700. Selecting and buying a real acoustic piano is a complicated affair, to say the least.

Luckily, as technology has pushed forward, owning a piano does not have to mean spending a fortune on a giant delicate instrument. You’re probably aware of this, since you’re here reading this guide! As the piano has gone digital, there are two ways to own it in that form:

  • Digital Piano: A digital piano is a self-contained hardware instrument that emulates a real acoustic piano. It’s typically an 88-key weighted keyboard, it probably has on-board speakers so you can hear yourself play, a headphones jack for quiet practicing, and it primarily specializes in piano sounds (it may also have organs and strings). Yamaha, Casio, Kawai, and a few other brands are making great digital pianos these days. In fact, we have an entire guide especially dedicated to selecting the best digital piano.
  • Piano VST/Plugin: A piano VST (Virtual Studio Technology) is a software that emulates a piano. It’s just software, no hardware. Meaning, to play it like a piano, you need to have a MIDI keyboard controller (preferably with 88 weighted keys if you want to simulate a real piano). You also need a computer to run the software on. The piano plugin can either run as a standalone program, or be “hosted” inside of a DAW like Logic, Ableton, or FL Studio.

If you’re on the fence between the two solutions, they both have pros and cons. A digital piano is self-contained, meaning you ONLY need it and you can play by yourself or in a band. It’s much more portable than a real acoustic piano, but it can still be bulky and heavy. You can spend as little as $200, or several $1000s if your budget allows. A piano VST means you need to own several things: a relatively modern and powerful computer with the piano plugin installed, speakers or headphones, and an 88-key MIDI keyboard. Some piano VSTs are downloadable for free, and some cost several $100s. Of course, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison to a digital piano, since you have to consider the cost of all the things we mentioned (which can be high).

Types of Piano VSTs

Alright, so let’s say you’ve decided a piano VST is the right solution for you. How do you decide which one to buy? Let’s talk about the two main types of piano plugins.

The first is sample based. This is where the piano sounds in the plugin are recorded (or sampled) from a real piano. The piano VST manufacturer goes into a studio, and together with a recording engineer, various microphones are placed in and around the piano. All 88 keys are recorded multiple times, since it’s important to capture variations of each individual key. Since a piano is an acoustic instrument, many dynamics are at play that are extremely difficult to emulate in software. Thus, the more variations of the real piano sound are recorded, the better and more realistic the piano VST can sound. When you buy a sample based piano plugin, you’re essentially buying the set of recorded sounds.

Recording and sampling a real acoustic piano

Pros of a sample based piano VST:

  • These are the most realistic sounding piano plugins, since they are actual recordings of real pianos.
  • The pianos used to record are iconic - from Steinway to Bösendorfer to Fazioli. If you’re going to spend a lot of time and money recording a piano, it might as well be an amazing, top of the line, very expensive piano. The recording equipment used is also top of the line.

Cons of a sample based piano VST:

  • File size can be huge, often filling up a small hard drive.
  • You’re limited to the piano model that was recorded. If your piano VST is recorded from a Steinway Model D Concert Grand, it will always just be that (as great as that piano is, you might crave variety).
  • Since you’re buying a set of samples, you might need a sampler software like Native Instruments Kontakt to load in the samples and play them.
  • They tend to be pricier.

The other type of piano VST is modeled. This is basically where the plugin manufacturer coded up some software - an engine or algorithm if you will - that sounds as close as possible to an acoustic piano. This is much more akin to the way popular synthesizer plugins work, like Sylenth1 or Massive.

Pros of a modeled piano VST:

  • The software has a much smaller file size and loads quickly.
  • You may get multiple piano styles/types/brands, and the piano sounds are very customizable.
  • Doesn’t require a software sampler to run.
  • Tends to be more expressive. Since you’re not reliant on recorded samples, the nuances can be as detailed as whatever the manufacturer is willing or able to program.

Cons of a modeled piano VST:

  • Realism suffers. It’s near impossible to perfectly replicate a real acoustic piano without actually recording one.

Neither style of piano VST can be considered better or worse, as you’ll see in our best piano VST list. There are some fantastic versions and some not-so-great versions of each. Much depends on what you are looking for, and what type of a piano player you are. For example, if you are a classically trained concert pianist and are used to playing on high-end Baldwins and Yamahas, then perhaps you are looking for a sample-based piano VST that gets the closest to those specific pianos. If you’re an electronic music producer and piano player who wants the flexibility of playing the piano solo or layering it in a mix, then maybe you want a modeled piano plugin that offers a mix of traditional and nontraditional piano sounds. Again, these are just examples to illustrate the point that there is no hard and fast rule to who should buy what. Chances are as you research the piano plugins we recommend here, you’ll start getting a good feeling for what’s best for you.

Top 5 Piano VSTs

Without further ado, here are the results for the best piano plugins as based on recommendations and reviews from musicians around the web. We’ll also show you where you can buy them (we only show stores we trust and have worked with before like Amazon, Musician’s Friend, and Plugin Boutique for example).


1. Modartt Pianoteq 5

MODARTT Pianoteq 5 Software Piano Instrument

Number of votes: 41
Modeled or sampled: Modeled
Formats: Standalone, VST, AU, RTAS, AAX
Includes piano sounds based on: Steinway Model B, Steinway Model D, Blüthner Model 1, historical pianos from the 18th and 19th centuries including Dohnal, Besendorfer, Erard, Streicher, Broadwood, Pleyel, Frenzel, and Bechstein

When we count up the votes for the best piano VST, Modart Pianoteq 5 steals the show. Pianoteq 5 does not rely on samples, and instead is a software model (thus keeping the file size very manageable). The reason it’s so loved is because despite it not being based on actual samples, it sounds fantastic. Aside from sounding very convincing, it’s extremely expressive. It just feels better than any other piano VST we’ve played.

Another nice thing is that price-wise, it’s sort of a “choose your own adventure.” It comes in three flavors: Stage, Standard, and Pro. Stage offers a great introductory price, and is the no-frills version for the musician that just wants to play a great piano. Standard adds the ability to set and tweak virtual microphones around the piano, which is actually a really cool feature. Pro offers maximum tweakability, letting you adjust 30 parameters for each note on the keyboard.

When you buy it you get two piano instruments, and you can always buy more if you want to expand. The basic pack is the D4 Concert Grand based on a Steinway D grand, and the K2 Grand Piano, which is not based on any specific model. The D4 sounds fantastic and full, and is a favorite of many users. The Blüthner Model 1 is another favorite and sounds rich, brooding, and full. If you make electronic music producer and are wondering how well Pianoteq sits in a mix, this is actually the piano plugin DJ/producer Alesso used for the main piano lead in his hit Years.

Pianoteq 5 can run as a normal standalone program in your computer, or as a plugin inside most DAWs. Between how good it sounds, how expressive it is, and small file size, Pianoteq is the Best of the Best.

Here's what users have to say:

  • “…light weight compared to most sample based solutions.”
  • “…sounds awesome and it's both cheap and low on cpu usage.”
  • “…by far the best, and most customizable piano VST I've ever used is Modartt's Pianoteq. It has a great sound… and it has both VST and standalone functionality.”
  • “You can really control every aspect of the sound.”
  • “It’s modeled, not sampled, and it does that cool sympathetic resonance thing. It is a whole new level of real IMO.”
  • “…sounds like a true grand piano to me. A lot of these VSTs try to make the piano sound too good, whether it be too soft and light or overly powerful.”
  • “I use the Pianoteq Blüthner almost exclusively. The response makes it feel more like I am playing a real piano than any of the other VSTs I have tried before (Some Ivorys, Addictive Keys, etc). Unlike Ivory and other VSTs, I don't notice Pianoteq getting in the way of what I want to express while playing. On top of that, the customization functionality is pretty cool (action, equalizers, mic positions, etc). And there's no super-annoying USB lock. And it's a couple hundred MB, not dozens of GB. And it's very easy to work with their program without another piece of software. It's pretty light on system resources too - I play my Clavinova through my older MacBook Pro all the time. Right now I just have the Stage model plus the Blüthner addon. I've considered upgrading to Standard due to the awesome additional piano customization features.”
  • “After having bought Pianoteq, I never touched a piano sample library again, though I also own Ableton Live Suite and Komplete Ultimate. Pianoteq sounds great and very realistic - and just behaves like a real piano would. All of this in 20 MB instead of a lot of crazy gigabytes, thanks to the modeling technique. The electric piano expansion is also highly recommendable. For my live band purposes, the stage version of Pianoteq is sufficient, so it's even quite affordable.”
  • “For my money nothing touches Pianoteq… it just feels better and more alive than all the sample based stuff.”
  • “…a physically modeled synth of sorts, and you only need to try it to forget about samples forever.”
  • “…it's very musical to play with a decent weighted controller.”
  • “…best for feel and response…”
  • “For raw playability, Pianoteq is hard to beat but for me, it still lacks realism with the sound. I'm particularly fussy when it comes to piano sounds though and Pianoteq sits fine in a mix.”
  • “You can quickly make it sound more "realistic" by turning down the "condition" slider and slapping a good verb on it (or moving the virtual mics around, very useful when mixing).”

Check Price on Musician's Friend


2. XLN Audio Addictive Keys Studio Grand

XLN Audio Addictive Keys: Studio Grand

Number of votes: 24
Modeled or sampled: Sampled
Formats: Standalone, VST, AU, AAX
Includes piano sounds based on: Steinway Model D concert grand piano

Coming in 2nd place is XLN Audio Addictive Keys. To better understand this piano VST, think of Addictive Keys as the “platform” or “container.” Within this container, you can load any of the Addictive Keys Instruments, which include Studio Grand, Modern Upright, Mark One, and Electric Grand. The one we’re focusing on here is the XLN Audio Addictive Keys Studio Grand instrument.

This is a sampled piano plugin, meaning that the folks at Addictive Keys went to a studio in Sweden and recorded a very prestigious Steinway Model D Concert Grand piano using “rare vintage tube and ribbon microphones.” The cool thing is that within the software, you can see the exact real-life recording setup with all the microphones and their positions, and change anything you want on the fly.

Of all the piano plugins out there, this one is probably the easiest to use and most accessible in terms of the interface. Loading and editing piano sounds is just very intuitive and quick. This is great, because the last thing you want in a piano plugin is to lose hours digging through cryptic menus and looking things up in the manual every 5 minutes. When you fire it up the Studio Grand instrument will be loaded in the Gallery page, and you can select different variations of it by clicking on “ExploreMaps” like “Producer” or “As Recorded.” When it comes to editing your piano, Addictive Keys really shines. Again, the interface is very modular and easy to navigate, and you can quickly edit practically anything you want like pedal settings, pitch, filters, volume, vibrato, chorus, and the list goes on. It’s very synth-like in that regard, and you can quickly turn your piano into something that sounds nothing like a piano (there are some crazy effects, like being able to run your piano through an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff guitar pedal). Another really nice thing about Addictive Keys is that everything loads really smoothly and almost instantly, which is rare for a sample-based piano plugin, and just makes it more fun to use.

The sound of the Addictive Keys Studio Grand instrument is lively and feels very natural. The Steinway Model D they recorded sounds fantastic, and it’s hard to find fault in it. Probably its biggest strength is that you have so many ways to edit your piano sound, that fitting it into a mix can be done with relative ease.

In terms of value for the money, the XLN Audio Addictive Keys Studio Grand is almost a no brainer. It’s the least expensive piano VST we recommend, provided you are just buying the Studio Grand instrument. What’s nice is that there is only this one version; you don’t have to worry about trading off features for cost savings. Remember how we said to think of Addictive Keys as the “container”? Well when you’re ready for more instruments, there are more available to get such as the Mark One, which is based on a Fender Rhodes Mk. 1 Stage Piano. Easy to use, budget-priced, quick, and a really nice grand piano sound. XLN Audio Addictive Keys Studio Grand wins Best Bang for your Buck.

Here’s what users have to say:

  • “The price is a steal for that quality of sound.”
  • “…has a rich sound and various key types plus built in editing.”
  • “The studio grand is all you really need… the price is pretty competitive for what it offers.”
  • “It can be loaded as a plug-in, but it's also very easy to use as a stand-alone program, for live playing/gigging. It has a very simple interface, loads quickly and allows a ton of customization.”
  • “Addictive Keys is the best sounding and most versatile for me.”
  • “…powerful, excellent sounding and versatile.”
  • “Cheap and cheerful, not as good sounding as Ivory but they do sound really good.”
  • “…a no-brainer for what it costs. It is very versatile and sounds great in any mix. What's cool is that it is also a container for the electric grand and the Mark One which are also very well done.”
  • “…fits perfectly into mixes and is very, very customizable.”

Check Price on Musician's Friend


3. Native Instruments Alicia’s Keys

Native Instruments Alicia's Keys KOMPLETE Instrument

Number of votes: 24
Modeled or sampled: Sampled
Formats: Kontakt Instrument - requires free Kontakt 5 Player, or Kontakt 5 which is included in Native Instruments Komplete 10
Includes piano sounds based on: Alicia Keys' very own Yamaha­ C3 Neo grand piano

As you might have guessed by the name, Native Instruments Alicia’s Keys is a piano VST based on singer, songwriter, and record producer Alicia Keys; well, her Yamaha­ C3 Neo grand piano to be exact. According to the plugin’s official website:

“Alicia’s Keys was sampled from her own playing, recorded in the artist's own studio under the supervision of her trusted engineer, Ann Mincieli.”

She also supposedly exclusively used this piano plugin on her album, The Element of Freedom.

Alicia’s Keys is a Kontakt Instrument, which means it needs to run within Native Instruments’ Kontakt sampler. The good news is there’s a free version of it, which you can find here. One downside of this piano plugin is that the file size is pretty enormous - it’ll set your hard drive back about 7GB. In terms of features, while it’s not editable to the extent that Pianoteq or Addictive Keys is, you have control over the Room, Keys, Pedals, Resonance, and Noise. The interface is very visual and is nice and straightforward (some people don’t like the pink color, we think it’s fine). There aren’t many hidden menus to navigate to, and Alicia’s Keys just does a nice job of staying out of your way so you can focus on playing. There’s also a nice list of presets to get you started.

Alicia’s Keys sounds very articulate and expressive. We have not had the luxury of playing on as high end of a Yamaha grand as the one Alicia Keys owns, but based on other people’s reviews this plugin comes very close to the actual sound.

It’s widely agreed that this is the best grand piano available for Native Instruments Kontakt. It’s a little bit of a hassle that you need Kontakt in the first place, but that’s how it goes. If you’re playing complicated pieces it will definitely tax your computer’s CPU, and you’ll need a good bit of free hard drive space to install it. And finally, it’s not quite as versatile as Pianoteq and Addictive Keys, since you’re limited to a single grand piano model. If you can overlook these things, Alicia’s Keys is the next best thing to actually owning her magnificent grand piano, at a budget-friendly price point.

  • “Great for mellow and deep piano sound.”
  • “I find the sound to be easy to manipulate, but has a clean, heavy sound to begin with.”
  • “Alicia's Keys is fantastic. It's been my go-to piano for many years.”
  • “…hands down one of the best piano libraries I've heard for Kontakt. If you're going for that deep rich emotional piano sound I think it's worth it.”
  • “I think it just has a nice soft inviting sound. In my opinion, all of these other samples are brighter/harsher to some degree. Some people might interpret this as a desirable "clarity" and in some degree they might be right, but alot of them just don't fit the sound I'm going for.”
  • “Alicia's keys is a little warmer with a RnB pop feel, but it is still Yamaha Grand piano. I was surprised at how realistic and nuanced it was. I think it wins as my favourite.”
  • “For jazzy chords this is the very best. It doesn't sound any dissonant even with the most weird intervals.”
  • “Incredibly high quality recording of a Yamaha C3 Neo.”

Check Price on Native Instruments


4. Native Instruments The Giant

Native Instruments The Giant Kontakt Instrument

Number of votes: 19
Modeled or sampled: Sampled
Formats: Kontakt Instrument - requires free Kontakt 5 Player, or Kontakt 5 which is included in Native Instruments Komplete 10
Includes piano sounds based on: Klavins Piano Model 370i

Like Alicia’s Keys, Native Instruments The Giant runs within Kontakt, and is the next-most recommended piano VST out there. Staying true to it’s name, The Giant is sampled from the world’s largest piano, the Klavins Piano Model 370i. You’ll need about 4 GB of free space to install it.

The Giant is interesting because it has two different personalities - the normal piano sound, and the “cinematic alter ego” as Native Instruments puts it. The cinematic version does away with the realism of a piano in favor of extremely atmospheric and unconventional pianos. If you’re a film scorer or produce music for commercials, this is absolutely the piano for you. The normal piano sounds great, which you would expect given all the recommendations this piano plugin gets. You can edit the tone, dynamic range, reverb, equalizer, compressor, and more, all from a straightforward interface.

There are many pianos to choose from with Native Instruments Kontakt. If you want a very expressive and nuanced grand, we would recommend Alicia’s Keys slightly above this one. However if you want the best cinematic piano sounds around, this is the one to get. Just like Alicia’s Keys, The Grand has a budget-friendly price tag.

  • “I’ve tried a lot of piano VSTs but I really like this library the best. It's able to provide you with a full range of piano sounds from dark to bright and it's really easy to dial in what kind of sound you want. The presets are really good as well.”
  • “…the low end of The Giant will make your toes curl.”
  • “The Emotional preset is my go-to. It sounds so damn good.”
  • “…excellent, and funny enough, the libraries used for the PX series from the CASIO Privia.”

Check Price on Native Instruments


5. Synthogy Ivory II Grand Pianos

Synthogy Ivory II Grand Pianos

Number of votes: 17
Modeled or sampled: Sampled
Formats: Standalone, VST, AU, RTAS, AAX
Includes piano sounds based on: Bösendorfer 290 Imperial Grand, Steinway D Concert Grand, Yamaha C7 Grand

Synthogy Ivory II comes up in just about every “best piano VST” discussion, so it’s little surprise that it made it onto the top 5 list. This is a sample-based piano, and Ivory II actually has several piano models which you can purchase separately (it’s a little bit like Addictive Keys in this way). We’re specifically focusing on the piano sound of the Synthogy Ivory II Grand Pianos collection, which includes three grand piano models (you can install any or all of them, depending on if you can spare the hard drive space).

Speaking of hard drive space, this is by far the biggest hard drive hog. Synthogy recommends 22 GB of free space at a minimum, and ideally a whopping 77 GB. The boxed version comes with several DVDs which take a few hours to install. Also, this is important: You NEED to buy an iLOK USB software authorization device separately in order to use Synthogy Ivory II (it’s fairly inexpensive and ships quickly from Amazon here). Admittedly this is kind of annoying, since you have to not only buy it separately, but also have it plugged into your USB at all times when using this piano.

Luckily, this piano VST is so good, that it’s worth the hassle of the iLOK device, and the hard drive space if you can spare it. It can run standalone, or within your DAW. When you open it up, there are menu buttons in the top left that let you access the main edit panels of Synthogy Ivory II. The Session menu lets you play with the velocity mapping, amongst other things. The Program screen has settings like sympathetic resonance, pedal and key noise, lid positions, and many more. The Program screen also has a setting to turn on the Synth Layer, which adds things like lush, warm pads and strings to your piano for added versatility. The Effects screen is exactly what it sounds like (Equalizer, Chorus, Ambience/Reverb). It doesn’t have distortion or anything crazy like Addictive Keys, but we don’t consider that a must-have by any means. There’s a tremendous amount of complexity here, honestly there’s not much you cannot do, and the good thing is that everything is easily accessible within these 3 main menus. “What you see is what you get,” as they say. For live performance you can easily map any editable parameter to a button/knob/slider on your MIDI controller keyboard to affect the sound on the fly.

The Synthogy Ivory II Grand Pianos collection sounds phenomenal. The pianos are rich and complex, extremely expressive, and respond nicely to your playing. Because of the many GB of samples that make up the backbone of Ivory II, switching between presets takes a moment to load new samples, which is slightly irritating.

All in all, Synthogy Ivory II Grand Pianos is fantastic, and while the differences between all these fantastic piano plugins we’re listing can be subtle, this one might just be the best sounding one when it comes to realism. Unfortunately you have to put up with some annoyances - the huge file size, the iLOK, sluggish load times between presets, and the slightly higher price tag. If those aren’t deal breakers for you, Synthogy Ivory II Grand Pianos gives you nearly limitless editability, a straightforward interface, and sounds from prestigious Bösendorfer, Steinway, and Yamaha grand pianos.

  • “Having the Yamaha, Steinway, and Bösendorfer samples is awesome. I have a classical piano background and I haven't found anything better. Downsides are the price and the FUCKING ilok dongle.”
  • “I grew up playing my parents baby grand and when I moved out it sucked not being able to have that true rich piano sound on my e-piano. Now I use my e-piano and my laptop running Ivory and often use headphones and it is a dream. It really does have the most realistic sound from everything I have heard.”
  • “Concerto D (with a lo pass filter). So beautiful. Hate the fact that I had to plug YET ANOTHER usb licensing device into my computer though... So dumb.”
  • “Yamaha C7. Probably the best piano VST I've ever used.”
  • “…markedly superior to the ones I have played (many) if you are an experienced pianist.”
  • “I haven't heard anything else come close if realism is your main interest.”

Check Price on Amazon


About the authors
Michael Pierce

Michael bought his first guitar, a Fender California Series Stratocaster in Candy Apple Red, in 1998. He likes rock of all types, from classic to punk to metal. Michael co-founded Equipboard to satisfy his curiosity around what gear his guitar heroes use. Read more

Giulio Chiarenza

Giulio co-founded Equipboard with his friend Michael. He plays the piano, guitar, drums, and had a brief stint signed to a label as an electronic music producer. Read more


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Comments 4

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dreyer
4yabout 4 years ago

I just did a table with ALL vPianos out there, hope you'll like it: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/15HpaLkKSn0I4mhlAh5FZvGtxeFE-ZWW-CswqN2rKCyY/edit?usp=sharing

2
djkaneki
4yalmost 4 years ago

Thanks you a lot for article. Btw if someone interested in piano samples try to find some deep sounds here : https://www.lucidsamples.com/hip-hop-samples-packs/68-vinyl-cut-chords-download.html

1
roberto_guerra
3yover 3 years ago

Thanks @roman_dreyer for your useful list! It is incomplete: i just added other 20 pianos... ;-)

2
roberto_guerra
3yover 3 years ago

I updated table with all pianos. Most of these I really own and I think the 5 top piano in this article are not my preferred. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Pxk49XgA1jPAhd1vAojuJmfhsu0I4Dms/view?usp=sharing

2