- Finding the perfect piano or keyboard sound can be a difficult task
- From upright, to full grand, to electric pianos and Hammonds, this list has you covered
- 6 piano/midi keyboard software to get you inspired
If you’ve ever spent an hour or two (or ten) flicking through a library of snares or kickdrums to find the one perfect sound for your drum rack, the likelihood of you having the same issue with pianos is probably rather high.
Some of the free ‘virtual pianos’ out there are mind-bogglingly incredible, but unfortunately, some of them leave a lot to be desired.
In this article, I’ll help you navigate past the trash and straight to some of the best and most usable piano VSTs/midi keyboard software in 2020.
One of my favourite examples of a premium high-end piano plugin is the Native Instruments collaboration with Alicia Keys aptly titled “Alicia’s Keys” which runs within Native Instruments’ infamous Kontakt sampler, which retails at £89, and that’s not including the Kontakt 6 software itself, which itself retails at a hefty £359.
This article will list a decent selection of quality and unique piano plugins available to you for free, right now, as youre reading this, wasting time on digesting my words instead of running out and grabbing everything on this list because its free and its great.
6 Of The Best Piano VST/Midi Keyboard Software (2020)
1. A73 Piano Station Review
The A73 Piano Station has 128 instruments built-in. This includes basic sequencer functionality and features bass riffs, instrumental loops and percussion options – allowing up to 3 layers to be stacked in order to make a ‘mini performance’ which can then be exported.
This program utilises 73 on-screen keys which can be either clicked or controlled via the computer keyboard or a midi device, giving you 6 octaves to play with, which is more than enough to be able to play across a dynamic range.
Ease of Use/Functionality
The A73 Piano Keyboard supports both 32-bit and 64-bit systems with the ability to be controlled in a number of ways including via external midi keyboard devices. This piano also have the ability to save internal projects when used in stand-alone mode.
- Allows the user to stack up to three different melodic and percussive elements to create a unique composition
- Over 20 user-controlled settings including Rock, Blues, Jazz, Waltz and more, with full tempo and swing control.
- This virtual piano works with any General Midi compatible software and hardware synthesizer, including Microsoft GS Wavetable SW Synth, amongst others.
- Customizable user interface with an aesthetically pleasing selection of colour palettes.
As far as midi piano sounds go, this is a cheap and cheerful sounding example. Although sampled in a very dry-sounding way, this piano actually sounds really nice when some reverb and pre-delay is applied to it.
Given the fact that this comes with over 128 different instrument sounds built into it, its a really cheap (FREE) and easy way to add a chunk of extra content to your plugin library.
2. Spitfire Audio ‘LABS SERIES’ Soft Piano
The SpitFire Audio SOFT Piano is a brilliant little bit of free software from spitfire audio’s free range of plugins titled ‘LABS’. This particular piano was sampled by Nick Taylor using a matched pair of Schoeps MK4 microphones on a ‘Felt’ piano.
The recordings took place in ‘Air Adel Studios’ in London and have been treated and sampled using the highest possible standards, delivering a really truthful and honest sounding piano with all the delicate and subtle nuances you would expect from a real piano.
Regarding the capability of most midi piano keyboards, The ‘LABS’ range of plugins exceeds standard expectations and aims to work in a way similar to NI’s Kontakt Player. Not only does it give users a really playable experience, but it also provides a platform that can be built upon and used moving forward as a versatile sampler for other instruments like drums, brass, strings etc.
Ease of Use/Functionality
SpitFire has made the SOFT piano super easy to use, featuring three easy to use controls, a simple dynamics control (managing the minimum and maximum velocity of the notes), a volume expression control (used to shift volume within the plugin as opposed to externally), and a nice big fat reverb knob for all that shiny glittery magic.
- Super streamlined GUI makes for easy use and understanding of the plugin without overcomplicating it (it’s a piano after all)
- Recorded in a premier London studio by an industry professional using the highest quality gear and standards.
- This plugin sits perfectly alongside a selection of other free plugins from the SpitFire LABS range, Spitfire’s own version of the infamous Native Instruments Kontakt Player.
Whether you’re looking for something bluesy, jazzy or modern, this plugin manages to provide only three settings which when used correctly can give you a multitude of different piano sounds, easily controlled from any usb midi keyboard controller. From the dry heavy slamming low end of a big grand piano to the tiny tinkle of the gentle pattering of keys; this piano won’t leave you feeling anything other than glad that you own it. Alongside the other LABS plugins offered by SpitFire, this resource is really hard to beat and should be considered when looking for a piano with more realistic feeling and emotion.
3. SampleScience Room Piano
SampleScience has delivered us a wonderful FREE Lo-Fi piano, designed for use with usb midi keyboards modelled from an upright vintage Kawai room piano. This plugin is not only zero-dollars but gorgeous to look at, exhibiting some unique and underrated (in my opinion) effects that really help this piano lend itself to a variety of applications.
The ‘Room Piano’ features a selection of cool tape-effects, lofi, vinyl and reverb effects as well as having a fully controllable ADSR envelope to help shape and craft your sound.
Ease of Use/Functionality
The Room Piano is super easy to use with a ‘front-facing’ display, offering the user everything in one easy place without any menu-diving or scrambling around the interface. The plugin is beautiful to look at, with a warm vintage woodgrain and toned layers of paisley, it is clear that this piano was inspired by a certain period in time, with its dusty sound matching it perfectly.
- Beautiful and unique interface design, features full ADSR envelope control and multi LFO settings.
- Fits perfectly into the Lo-Fi genre and vintage hip-hop niche.
- Designed with ease of use and narrow purpose in mind, but fits into a very wide variety of moods and genres.
All up, this is a very good MIDI keyboard plugin for those who are into ‘boom-bap’ style beats or anything sample-based.
This free piano will fit in well with vintage samples and sounds, and melds with its surrounds as if it personally knows that it belongs in the sonic landscape of sample-based hip-hop, while also offering users a multitude of other purposes including use as a cleaner sounding and more classical piano.
4. RDG Audio Free Piano
This multi-sampled piano comes from RDG Audio group, known for their quality free and paid plugins. RDG has been around for a while and offers a selection of amazing snare, string and other orchestral plugins; but today I want to talk about their Free Piano. This plugin allows you to layer up to three separate tracks and record, edit and playback your piano parts within your favourite DAW or on your favourite OS.
Ease of Use/Functionality
The faceplate of the plugin leaves something to be desired, having a faux-futuristic look about it.
This Piano features a large amount of features including staccato, auto sustain, and was recorded in a ‘round robin’ format (achieved by recording several different iterations of the same notes and arranging the software so that no two notes play one after the other). This helps bring a real human feeling to the RDG FreePiano and gives it a much more interesting appeal beneath the covers, as it were.
These samples were collected using a four-microphone setup, meaning the overall result is a very rich and authentic-sounding piano. With front-facing features like a fully functional ADSR envelope, panning, tuning, low pass filtering and a nice sounding reverb, this piano delivers a genuine thundering low end that you’d expect from a typical grand, whilst maintaining all the subtleties that might be expected from a higher level piano player when using a properly weighted MIDI keyboard.
- Has a distinctly rich and vibrant sound, similar to that of a Steinway stage piano or something of a much higher calibre than what you’re actually dealing with.
- ‘Round Robin’ sampling, ensures a more human and organic feel when playing repeated notes, rather than mechanically playing the same sample of the same note without differentiation.
- The thundering low end is outstanding as one of the loudest and deeply ranged midi pianos on this list.
If you don’t mind the dated ‘early 2000’s’ look of this midi keyboard plugin, you’re going to be pretty happy with this one, considering its FREE.
This plugin has everything required to get a huge grand piano sound and would be highly recommended for use when scoring or writing musical parts, particularly accompanying dramatic visual content.
Along with its great sound comes a lack of menu-diving (this is a good thing), and a healthy dose of attention to detail, making this a must-have for those interested in immersing themselves in one of the richest low-end frequencies on this list.
5. 99Sounds Upright Piano
Made in collaboration with 99Sounds and Italian pianist Rudi Fiasco, The 99Sounds Upright Piano is modelled from the classic wooden tallboys of yesteryear.
This ‘digital’ upright piano has a beautiful resonance and features a snazzy and unique set of effects. Featuring 6 recorded layers per note, this piano gives a rich and timbral sound and embodies the resonance of an upright wood-body piano.
Ease of Use/Functionality
The 99Sounds Upright Piano makes use of some often overlooked features such as tremolo, key dampening, reverb and Attack/Release envelope control to give you an authentic-sounding experience from the comfort of your own home or office.
This simple-yet-powerful plugin creates an authentic vibe that sits neatly amongst most mixes and tends to use subtlety in favor of power.
- Tremolo function gives an alternative to typical LFO type movement and introduces a more melodic and rhythmic motion to the sound of the keys.
- Created in conjunction with well-known pianist Rudi Fiasco, the original untreated samples are also available for download on Rudi’s website.
- Made for simple tasks and to function as a basic piano utility, while maintaining the full integrity of the original sound source in a brilliant manner.
The Upright Piano from 99Sounds pulls you out of your studio and into an intimate setting, with its charming natural-sounding reverb and true-to-life dampening effect, this plugin gives anyone with a midi keyboard and a sustain pedal a licence to jam, with a super simple interface and no unnecessary bells and whistles, the piano purists are most likely to really enjoy this little freebie.
It is also worth mentioning that 99Sounds also has a plethora of other cool free stuff to give away, including their drum machine and clap machine, both of which are really great additions to anyone’s percussive repertoire. This is a great free midi keyboard plugin.
6. Versilian Upright No. 1
This classically recorded upright piano from Versilian Studios was designed to be used as a ‘sketching piano’ – namely, it was created for quick jams, recordings or notations, should inspiration strike. This classic upright is designed to be playable and reminiscent of the standard upright pianos found in bars, clubs and homes all over the world.
Ease of Use/Functionality
The Upright No. 1 comes with everything you’d expect from a basic upright piano model. Sticking to the simplicity of the essence of the upright piano, this plugin has full ADSR envelope control functionality, a reverb dial and a panning dial, all easily and conveniently located on the front-facing design of the plugin itself.
- Simple, easy to use, sounds great with no bells and whistles needed, recorded using a wide stereo configuration, using multiple microphones.
- Has a bright and clear tone, with the ability to be played softly and savagely with appropriate realism.
- Sampled in ‘Round Robin’ format so that repeated notes have slightly different sounds or timbres, giving the sound a more realistic feeling when a key is pressed repeatedly, rather than playing the same static note, which is very noticeable.
A great little on-the-go style plugin, this one is really for those true piano purists who want something that will cheaply and cheerfully fit the bill at a moment’s notice. Versilian Upright No. 1 does a faithful job of re-creating the sound of the more common ‘everyman’ upright piano.
With a pretty acceptable file size and more than enough attention to detail, this plugin is a great little option for those looking for a simple and effective virtual piano.