Many of us don't have access to an acoustic piano, but if you have a MIDI keyboard, the sound of a $10,000 grand is just a few clicks away, thanks to the ever-expanding range of high-quality piano plugins. Here's a handful of our favourite options, including an excellent free plugin from Spitfire Audio.
1. Spectrasonics Keyscape
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Keyscape is a total compendium for piano-related instruments. Instruments range from the Yamaha C7 concert grand piano, through to a felted grand, uprights, various Rhodes and Wurlys, electric grands, and more obscure instruments, such as toy pianos and electric harpsichords. It also integrates seamlessly with Spectrasonics’ Omnisphere suite.
2. Synthogy Ivory 3
Recently released, Ivory 3 features one of the most carefully sampled Steinway Model D concert grand pianos available. Synthogy also offers a wealth of other piano-related library content, which is available to purchase separately. These include collections of upright pianos, and even the beautiful Italian Grand, which extensively reproduces a Fazioli.
3. Native Instruments Definitive Piano Collection
This bundle includes two grand pianos and an upright, all providing depth, detail and the ability to adjust mic signals, until you’re happy with the sound of the instrument. Being fuller in tone, they’re ideal for more soloistic and ensemble settings, where a defined tone may be required.
4. Spitfire Audio LABS Soft Piano
Amazingly, the free LABS Soft Piano has become a cinematic classic. Despite its non-existent price-tag, it has been used on so many television shows and soundtracks that it would have easily earned its keep as a paid product. It’s a classic felt piano, with all of the creaking and character of an acoustic instrument.
5. Toontrack EZ Keys 2
This update to the original package brings a number of enhancements to the fore. The included piano is a sampled Fazioli, recorded at RMV studios in Sweden. Apart from the rich nature of the sampled piano, there is a wealth of MIDI content, geared toward songwriting and composition. Pianistic inspiration awaits.
6. Modartt Pianoteq 8
Pianoteq is a modular plugin that allows you to expand your preferred model. The elementary Stage pack includes two pianos, which can be chosen at purchase. Options are extensive, with both Steinway Model B and D, Bechstein, Blüthner, and a swathe of packs which include rock pianos, harpsichords and other keyboard and percussion instruments.
7. Sonic Couture Hammersmith Free
This classic little freebie is sampled from a Steinway Model D, and includes a staggering 4.8GB of samples, which is quite something, given the lack of price. It sounds fantastic, but includes only one mic position. Other mic settings await, should you choose to upgrade to its paid, larger sibling.
8. Cinesamples Randy’s Prepared Piano
For something more experimental and prepared, this is a great option. There is a substantial set of articulations, with different hammer types, as well as colours from foreign objects being laid inside the piano. It’s certainly worth a look for more ambient genres.
9. A real acoustic piano (not a plugin!)
You’ll be staggered what some people want to get rid of, and luckily you can often find pianos for nothing. A quick scour of the recycling or second hand ads will likely turn up a piano, with the caveat being that you’ll need to go and get it. Hire a van, and you’ve got yourself a real piano. If you've got the cash for a new model, check out our guide to the best acoustic pianos.