By any measure, the concert-size grand piano is a remarkable and awe-inspiring musical instrument. With a length of approximately nine feet and a weight of more than 1,000 pounds, it is the biggest and heaviest acoustic instrument that is commonly used for recording and concertizing (see Fig. 1). Except for the pipe organ (which is typically part of a permanent installation), the concert grand piano has the widest range of pitches (over seven octaves) and the widest dynamic range of any acoustic instrument. It is also a highly sensitive and complex piece of machinery that has more than 9,000 individual parts. The piano's great complexity and the arcane nature of its inner workings have made it the ultimate “black box” of musical instruments; even many accomplished pianists aren't quite sure how the instrument really works.
The grand piano's impressive power and wide range of expressiveness have created an unparalleled demand for the instrument. That, in turn, has impelled a growing number of sample-library developers to capture the essence of the piano on sample CDs — a noble cause indeed, for few desktop musicians can afford to park an instrument the size of a station wagon next to their hard-disk recording system. With the newest breed of samplers, especially the powerful new software samplers, the sounds of a concert grand can be triggered — often with surprising realism — from a simple garden-variety MIDI keyboard.
The grand piano, however, is a tricky beast to capture. Its subtle nuances and changing interactive sonorities don't lend themselves easily to the more limited world of samplers. Developers have therefore focused their resources on different aspects of the piano sound, and the resulting sample libraries each offer an individual take on what makes a piano sound like a piano. To fully appreciate their efforts and to assess the appropriateness of a library for your needs, you must first know something of the inner life of a grand piano and what the instrument's true capabilities are.
A LOOK INSIDE
A piano key is simply a wooden lever. When you press the front part of the key, the back end rises and pushes up on the wippen, a complex little mechanism made of springs, felt, hinges, adjustment screws, and wooden levers (for a brief glossary of terms, see the sidebar “Piano Parts”). A small fingerlike protrusion within the wippen called the jack pushes on the hammer and drives it upward in an arc toward the string (see Fig. 2).
If the jack pushed the hammer all the way to the string, it would produce an unpleasant “thunk” because the hammer would strike the string and simultaneously block it from vibrating. The wippen therefore includes an escapement mechanism. The jack pushes the hammer almost all the way to the string and then at the last moment (at roughly an eighth of an inch from the string), the jack flips out of the way and sends the hammer into free flight. After striking the string, the hammer rebounds to an intermediate resting position (well away from the string) until you release the key. At that point, the hammer returns all the way to rest.
Some people mistakenly believe that you can shape the tone of a piano by caressing the keys or striking them in a particular way. As you can see, however, the hammer is on its own just before striking the string, so the pianist really only has control over two parameters: how long a note is held and how loudly it is played.
Aside from activating the hammer, the back of the key also raises a small lever that lifts a felt damper off of the string just before the string is hit. When the key is released, the damper drops back onto the string to muffle it.
Ideally, the damper should stop the sound immediately, but in the real world, one or two small pieces of felt are no match for the energy generated by a loudly vibrating piano string, especially the longer, more powerful strings. Moreover, the damper can't really stop the resonance that is generated within the body of the instrument. The cutoff is therefore not always entirely clean (especially after a forceful staccato note). A good piano sample should therefore not impose an envelope with a cutoff that is too abrupt, or it won't sound natural. Some sampled piano libraries even include a separate set of “release” samples to properly capture the sound of the damper cutoff.
Many people are not aware that the dampers cover only about the lower three-fourths of the keyboard (see Fig. 3). The short strings in the top one to two octaves die out on their own after being struck (an important point to keep in mind when editing samples). In addition, upper strings are always free to vibrate sympathetically when excited by the upper harmonics from the lower strings. The lack of dampers in the upper register adds a subtle sheen to the sound of a well-tuned piano. A close-miked, carefully recorded sample can capture that characteristic for added realism.
The piano produces its sounds with two types of strings. In the lower third of the keyboard range (the bass section), the strings have a steel core with a copper winding. Since the middle of the 19th century, grand pianos have used an overstrung design, wherein the bass strings are mounted diagonally and overlap the other strings. The first several notes in the bass section use single strings, while the rest of the section usually consists of double unison strings; a few models also add several triple unisons (see Fig. 4).
The remaining strings are referred to as the treble section. They use unwound steel strings of progressively thinner gauge as the notes move from the low-treble (the tenor section) to the high-treble section. All of the notes in the treble section use triple strings tuned in unison.
The different types of strings have different acoustic properties, and the different configurations mean that there are at least two transitions that are potentially problematic. The transition from single to double bass strings is usually not a serious problem in a well-designed instrument: all the strings are wound, they're strung in the same plane, and the transition is at the low end of the range.
The transition from the bass section to the tenor section is another story. On either side of the break, as it's called, the strings are not parallel to each other (the hammers in the bass and treble sections are mounted at different angles), the strings change from wound to plain steel, and the string groups typically change from double to triple unisons. The result is a noticeable change in tone as you play across the break.
Piano technicians refer to the combination of the string lengths, tensions, and wire gauges used in a piano as its scale, and one of the objectives of a well-designed scale is to minimize the transition across the break. In addition, careful voicing (tone regulation) can help smooth things out. Because different pianos use different scales, the number of bass strings varies from one instrument to the next, and the break may therefore occur at different locations. An astute listener will probably hear the transition even on a good piano. If the transition is too jarring, however, the piano may not have been properly prepared, or it may not be a particularly good instrument. Careful editing and processing of samples can sometimes mitigate the problem.
Most high-quality grand pianos have three pedals (see Fig. 5). Let's look at each one individually.
The pedal on the far right is properly called the damper pedal, although it is often referred to as the sustain pedal (especially with electronic instruments that don't have actual dampers). When you press the damper pedal, it raises all of the dampers at once. Any notes played while the damper pedal is down blend together and continue to ring until they die out naturally or until you release the pedal. A single note played with the damper pedal down sounds different than the same note with the pedal up, because releasing the dampers from the neighboring strings allows them to vibrate sympathetically, adding a much fuller but less distinct sound to the note.
The damper pedal is used most effectively for connecting chords. You play a chord and press the pedal before releasing the keys. The pedal sustains the notes as you move your fingers into position for the next chord. You then play the next chord as you release the pedal to cut off the previous notes. Press the pedal again to sustain the current chord and the pattern repeats.
The damper pedal is the most important pedal on the piano, but in many sampled piano libraries, it is not very effectively rendered. The usual approach is to have the MIDI keyboard's sustain pedal extend the sustain segment of an ADSR envelope. That comes close to achieving the right effect, but it doesn't take into account the interaction of the whole range of undamped strings and the resulting sympathetic vibrations that occur.
More sophisticated (and larger) libraries address this issue by including several layers of samples with the pedal down and with the pedal up. That creates a more complex sampled instrument but one that comes closer to the original sound. The MIDI Specification designates controller number 64 for the damper pedal, and all MIDI keyboard controllers provide a ¼-inch damper-pedal (or sustain) output jack.
The middle pedal is the sostenuto pedal. As its name suggests, it is used to sustain notes. But unlike the damper pedal, which indiscriminately holds notes by lifting all the dampers at once, the sostenuto pedal sustains only those notes that are being held when the pedal is pressed. Through the use of a clever device, the sostenuto mechanism catches and holds any dampers that are in the raised position; notes played after the pedal is pressed behave in the usual manner.
For example, you could play a triad with the left hand and press the sostenuto pedal to sustain those notes. You could then use both hands to play scales, melodies, and other chords while the original triad sustains until it dies out naturally (or you release the pedal). A common use of the sostenuto pedal is to play an octave as a held “pedal point” in the bass as you improvise against it in the treble.
Historically speaking, the sostenuto pedal is a rather recent addition to the piano, and its appearance in the literature is relatively less common than with the other pedals. Nonetheless, it is a useful resource to keep in mind when sequencing with sampled pianos. The MIDI sustain pedal could work as a sostenuto pedal, but you'll have to split the piano part between two tracks to separate the sustained notes from the others. You can, however, create the sostenuto's three-hands-playing illusion with a little planning and some careful MIDI editing. If your MIDI keyboard supports it, you can also use a pedal to send MIDI controller number 66 messages, which are designated in the MIDI Spec for sostenuto.
The pedal on the left is the una corda pedal, but most people just call it the soft pedal. When you press the soft pedal, the entire key bed — keys, hammers, and wippens — shift slightly to the right (in most cases) so that in the treble, the hammers strike only two of the three strings in each unison group. (In the upper bass, the hammers strike only one of the two strings.)
Of course, having fewer strings hit per note makes the notes quieter, but there's much more to the soft pedal than most people realize. Notes played with the soft pedal aren't just quieter, they also have a noticeably different timbre. That's partly because a two-string unison simply sounds different than a three-string unison. But more importantly, the change in timbre comes from the fact that the hammers have shifted out of their usual positions and are now hitting the strings with a part of the hammer surface that is not normally used. The more compacted part of the hammer's striking point is temporarily replaced with softer, less used felt.
Even with a well-voiced piano with relatively new hammers, you can still perceive a subtle change in timbre. In addition, the unstruck string in each group is still free to vibrate sympathetically with its neighbors, adding another subtle element to the tone color.
As you can see, the soft pedal produces notes that are softer both in volume and in timbre. A truly complete sampled piano library should include samples with the soft pedal engaged, because you can't accurately capture the sound by just lowering the volume. The MIDI Spec designates controller number 67 for triggering the soft-pedal effect, but unless you have a separate set of samples (a rarity), the effect probably won't be too realistic.
One final point should be made, especially for nonpianists: you don't have to use the pedals one at a time. Any combination of pedals is theoretically possible, although some combinations make more sense than others. Nevertheless, you could, for example, use the una corda pedal to soften the tone while pressing the damper pedal to sustain the notes. Or you could hold notes with the sostenuto pedal while pressing and releasing the damper pedal. Re-creating various pedal combinations is a big problem when working with sampled pianos, but the more sophisticated libraries with more samples might get you closer to a convincing sound.
Much has been written in recent years on the subject of various alternate and historical tuning systems, and new approaches to tuning continue to appear. Most people, however, are only concerned with having a piano that sounds as clean as possible and they aren't seeking arcane historical or experimental tunings. Nevertheless, the wide range and unique design of the piano can cause problems — even with a standard tuning — when the instrument is added to an ensemble. It may therefore be helpful to take a brief look at how pianos are tuned.
Because of certain laws of physics (I won't bore you with the details), it is simply impossible to divide an octave into 12 chromatic steps in such a way that all possible intervals (thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, and so forth) sound optimal. When you slightly widen or contract certain intervals to favor them, other intervals suffer.
All tuning systems, or temperaments, involve some kind of compromise. For example, the mean-tone temperament that was widely used throughout the 16th and 17th centuries offered a pure-sounding third and an almost pure-sounding fifth. That yielded a more sonorous sound than modern tunings do, but only in a few keys. The rest of the keys (beyond about one or two sharps or flats) went from bad to worse. Several keys were simply unusable.
A newer system called equal temperament began to catch on in the 18th century, although its roots go back much farther than that. The idea behind equal temperament was to divide a pure octave into 12 equal semitones. That means that no interval except the octave is acoustically pure, but the amount of deviation in the various intervals is kept acceptably small by spreading it out more or less evenly. Thanks to equal temperament, pianists can transpose into any key they want, composers can fluently modulate into and out of different tonal centers, and jazz players can continue to expand the harmonic vocabulary of music.
However, not all equal temperaments are equal. In an ensemble, oboists, trombonists, vocalists, violinists and other players are constantly making subtle adjustments in pitch to blend in. The piano's pitches, on the other hand, are fixed. It doesn't seem like that should be a problem, but it can be.
When a piano string is struck, it vibrates as a whole (generating a fundamental frequency) as well as in progressively shorter segments producing a series of overtones. The shorter a string (or vibrating segment) is, relative to its thickness, the stiffer it is. And the stiffer a string (or segment) is, the faster it vibrates. The first overtone of A 440 should vibrate at exactly 880 Hz, and the third overtone should vibrate at 1760 Hz. Because the segments get progressively shorter, however, the pitches get progressively sharper. That discrepancy between the theoretical pitches and the actual pitches of the overtones is called inharmonicity.
To compensate for inharmonicity, piano technicians “stretch” the octaves slightly so that the first overtone of a note doesn't clash with the fundamental of the note an octave above. Following the procedure up the keyboard from the middle section yields progressively more deviation as notes get tuned higher. From the middle of the keyboard down, the notes get progressively lower as the octaves stretch in the opposite direction. When properly done, the piano sounds perfectly in tune with itself, but the notes in the high treble and low bass may not match the same notes from an instrument that doesn't suffer from inharmonicity.
For example, writing a unison line in the high treble for synthesizer and piano or electric organ and piano is sure to cause trouble. The piano will most likely sound sharp in that register compared to the other instruments. In some cases, you may be able to alter the tuning of specific notes in your synthesizer or sampler. If you're handy with SysEx data, you can try using MIDI's Single Note Tuning Change message to adjust notes on the fly, but it's far easier to simply avoid problems through careful orchestration.
Surprisingly, two pianos may not even match each other. A large piano will likely have much less inharmonicity than a small piano (due in part to the different stringing scales), so note for note, its top register will not sound as sharp as the small instrument's top end. In rare cases, a sampled piano may be offered with an alternate tuning, but most of the time the pianos are tuned to sound their best by themselves, and in most settings that works out the best.
Before you go shopping for a piano-sample library, keep in mind that there is no objective standard for how a piano should sound. It's largely a matter of opinion and personal taste. Moreover, different pianos work better in different settings. For example, a piano that sounds too strident when playing Debussy may be perfect in a rock piece where it has to cut through a busy arrangement. And a piano that sounds great as a solo instrument might not play well with others in an ensemble. For that reason, many desktop musicians keep several piano libraries on hand so they can have some latitude in choosing the proper sound.
Sampled pianos are also greatly affected by the miking techniques used and by the acoustic characteristics of the room where the recording was made. Some people prefer their samples to be very dry so they can completely control how much reverb is added; other people prefer samples with a bit of natural reverb so the instrument sounds more realistic right out of the box. Some sample libraries offer both dry and processed presets.
In several of the sampled pianos, the notes pan from left to right as you move up the keyboard. That's great if you like hearing the instrument from the player's perspective, but it could be a problem if you're adding the piano part to other instruments in a score. You may have to do some minor editing if the panning causes a problem. Some libraries include presets from the player's as well as from the audience's perspective.
A number of piano libraries include individual samples for each of the keyboard's 88 notes (and for each of several Velocity layers). That approach yields the most accurate reproduction of the instrument, but it doesn't necessarily guarantee the best overall sound. Even the best pianos have a few weak notes here and there, so choosing the best of the 88 notes and spreading them out to fill the keyboard range may provide a more uniform sound.
An 88-sample patch could produce the ultimate virtual piano, but only if the original instrument is in excellent condition and is carefully tuned and regulated before being sampled. Otherwise, you simply end up with an accurate re-creation of a second-rate instrument.
On the other hand, using fewer than about 30 samples to represent the entire keyboard range robs the instrument of some of its unique character and blurs the natural timbral changes that appear when playing a real piano. As you can see, there are no definitive guidelines to rely on; each sampled piano must be assessed according to its intended use. In some recording situations, for example, uniformity might trump strict realism; as always, it's a matter of taste and expectations.
It would be completely impractical to review every sampled-piano library on the market; there are far too many. The following reviews, however, represent a good cross section, and several of the products reviewed are among the best that are currently available. Not surprisingly, the top-notch libraries are often the largest in size, with several Giga and HALion format instruments exceeding 1 GB. In general, the most realistic instruments have several Velocity layers for damper-pedal-up and damper-pedal-down (sustained) notes, and some also include separate release (or resonance) samples for added verisimilitude. Whenever possible, try to get a demo of the product before making a purchase. And remember that one piano seldom works in all situations.
Malmsjö Acoustic Grand
Art Vista's two-CD Malmsjö (pronounced malm-sheu) Acoustic Grand library offers GigaStudio users a chance to play a rare 19th-century Swedish “salon” grand. The six-foot Malmsjö was made in 1894, and its interesting provenance is detailed on the Art Vista Web site.
Each note on the piano was sampled at four levels (ppp, p, mf, f) and allowed to ring until it faded out. The choice of recorded dynamic levels and the careful calibration of the dynamic response has yielded an instrument with smooth control over quieter, more subtle dynamics. Because the Malmsjö has an 85-note keyboard (not unusual for a 19th-century instrument), the top three notes are pitch-shifted up from lower samples.
In an unusual (some might say questionable) move, developer Hans Adamson decided to sample all of the notes with the damper pedal down. That yields a more resonant sound that works well when you use your MIDI keyboard's sustain pedal, but some people might object to the lack of focus when playing individual notes. The piano's sound is soft and velvety, and the added resonance provides a faintly ethereal reverb quality. The bass notes, however, lack the punch of a large modern piano, and the overall sound may not hold up well in a hard-hitting mix, although it might blend nicely in some orchestral settings.
All of the samples have been carefully edited and processed, resulting in a smooth and consistent keyboard sound without any obvious breaks. The amplitude-envelope releases seem a bit unnatural, because each note transitions quickly from the resonant pedal-down sound to silence. Still, if historical instruments appeal to you and if you like your pianos mellow, this might make an appropriate choice for many new-age, classical, or pop projects.
With a length of 9 feet, 6 inches, the Austrian-made Bösendorfer Imperial Grand model 290 is a formidable piece of work, and developer Kip McGinnis has done an admirable job of capturing this top-of-the-line instrument. The Imperial Grand is famous for its 97-note keyboard; the extra keys are added to the bass section with the keytop colors reversed so they'll stand out.
A few 19th- and 20th-century piano pieces make use of the extended bass section, but even with pieces written for the traditional 88-note keyboard, the extra bass strings contribute to the sound. With the damper pedal down, the low strings are free to vibrate sympathetically, adding a subtle richness to the piano's timbre, especially in the bass and tenor sections.
Because MIDI keyboards don't usually have more than 88 keys, McGinnis decided to limit his sampled piano to the traditional keyboard range. (Each note was individually sampled.) The extra bass strings do come into play, however, because the Bardstown Bösendorfer library includes four Velocity layers with the damper pedal up, four layers with the pedal down, and a complete set of release samples.
The resulting sampled piano is highly responsive and real sounding. The Bösendorfer's “European” sound is bright but not edgy or strident. The bass notes are assertive, punchy, and clear without the clashing overtones and muddy sound of some smaller instruments. The treble is clean and focused all the way to the top. Because the piano was recorded in a concert hall setting, a modest amount of natural reverb is present.
Bardstown's version 2.3 upgrade adds a second, heavier Velocity curve to mimic a real piano keyboard more closely, and it adds a smoothed-out patch where the samples have been processed to minimize the natural variations between notes (although the original unaltered samples sound great). The Bardstown Audio Bösendorfer is a versatile instrument that is equally well suited to classical, jazz, or pop music. It shines as a solo instrument and should hold up beautifully in most mixes. Aside from the original 16-bit Giga version, this library is also offered in an improved four-CD 24-bit version for HALion and EXS24. By the time you read this, a version should also be available for Native Instruments' Kontakt.
The two-disc Total Piano library from Best Service was produced by well-known sample-master Peter Siedlaczek. Recorded at the Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw, this wide-ranging collection of piano sounds offers a rich potpourri of exotic unprocessed acoustic sounds and special effects that are often quite surprising.
The first part of the collection offers two main patches: a Brilliant Classical Piano patch and a Pop Piano patch. Both offer pedal-up and pedal-down samples, but they rely on only two Velocity layers (mp and ff) and lack separate release samples. In addition, only about every third or fourth note was sampled across the keyboard.
I like the bright Pop Piano patch with its buoyant quality; it might work well for some styles of ragtime or country-western music. The Classical Piano is more useful as a general-purpose instrument, although it lacks the subtlety and sophistication of some of the high-end libraries.
The rest of the Total Piano collection is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. The Harpsichord patch, for example, was created by playing the strings with a metal plectrum. The resulting sound is an unusual hybrid that melds the twangy timbre of a harpsichord with the range, depth, and damper-pedal capabilities of a piano. Cimbalom was created by hitting the strings with wooden mallets. It has an appealing ethnic-sounding quality that is vaguely like a cross between a hammered dulcimer and an Irish harp. The Circular Saw patch was produced by vibrating the strings with a “motor-driven cogwheel.” The zingy sound takes on an almost Asian quality in some registers. The Hyper Piano and Magic Piano patches transform the piano notes into muted ethereal sounds.
Thai Piano was recorded with metal screws between the strings; Rubbery Piano used bits of rubber instead of screws. The Thumb Tack Piano patch offers a very nice harpsichord-like variation. The rest of the library includes an array of percussive sounds, ambient textures, musical effects, noises, and sound effects too numerous to list. The samples are all great and should provide valuable fodder the next time you have to score a sci-fi or horror flick.
Big Fish Audio
John Cage Prepared Piano
If you're a fan of John Cage or you've ever wanted to experiment with “prepared” piano, this library is the ultimate resource. Based on Cage's written instructions, the two-CD set meticulously re-creates the preparation used in Sonatas & Interludes, the composer's landmark work from the mid-1940s. Nuts, bolts, screws, and pieces of rubber and wood (most from the original collection) were wedged between the strings of a Steinway model B according to Cage's detailed Table of Preparation at the head of the score.
The piano was then sampled in 24-bit resolution at three dynamic levels (p, mf, f) for staccato and sustained notes with all pedals up and also with the soft pedal down. The wide-ranging collection of presets is the only sample library authorized by the John Cage Trust. It affords a rare opportunity to accurately reproduce the music of John Cage without jamming a bunch of hardware into the family piano.
If you're not interested in its historical value, you can use the library as a palette for creating new sonic textures. Improvising on many of the patches produces an Indonesian-gamelan-meets-American-Steinway sound that is both fascinating and fun to play.
Estonia Acoustic Grand
Wedged between Russia and Latvia and bordering the chilly Baltic Sea, Estonia is a small country with a history of piano making that dates as far back as the latter part of the 18th century. Although it's not one of the big names in the world of piano manufacturing, the country's primary piano maker, the Estonia Piano Factory (founded in 1873), continues to produce a limited line of high-quality European-style grand pianos that have garnered rave reviews from a number of famous pianists.
The Bigga Giggas Estonia Acoustic Grand library was produced by prolific piano-sampler Michiel Post who captured the 9-foot concert grand with three pedal-up layers, three pedal-down layers, and four release layers (two up, two down). The full keyboard range was derived from 53 individual samples in each layer, and the notes have been left unlooped.
The first thing you notice when you play this instrument is how inviting it sounds. The lush bass section blends easily into a genteel tenor section; the low treble is smooth and velvety. The notes above the damper section have noticeably more resonance from the open strings than most other pianos, which may not appeal to everyone, but it gives the top octaves a nice luster. Minor flaws in the sound (a very faint buzzing in a couple of notes and some unevenness in the bass section) don't distract from the warm, understated character of the instrument.
The Estonia isn't the kind of piano to use for playing Little Richard hits; it's more appropriate for slow ballads, soft jazz, and a wide range of classical styles. And best of all, this elegant Eastern European piano can be yours for less than a hundred dollars, making it one of the least expensive libraries in this roundup.
If you've only played Mozart and Haydn on modern pianos then you've never really heard the music as the composers did. The 18th century pianoforte (also known as the fortepiano) was much smaller and lighter than the modern piano. The hammers were also smaller and the strings were under considerably less tension (see the sidebar “A Grand History”). The resulting tone was bright and limpid but with less sustain and with a narrower dynamic range.
Functional pianofortes from the 18th century are quite rare, but producer Michiel Post has successfully sampled a restored Anton Walter instrument. The 73-note FortePiano library includes three pedal-up, three pedal-down, and one release layer. The smaller hammers and lower string tension add a harpsichord-like flavor to the sound, although the response is definitely that of a piano. The Bigga Giggas FortePiano library provides a great chance to explore the true sound of the modern piano's early predecessor, and you can do it for less than $100.
For producing EastWest's Bösendorfer sampled piano library, Olivier Truan chose a 1995 Bösendorfer model 275. At just over nine feet in length, the 275 is a substantial instrument, although unlike the model 290, it “only” offers four extra notes in the bass; EastWest includes the extra notes in the library, extending the range down to F below the usual bottom A.
The piano was close-miked by Truan and his team in a Swiss studio, and each note was sampled at four Velocity levels with the pedal up and four levels with the pedal down. No release samples are included, although the releases sound convincing thanks to some careful editing of the unlooped stereo samples. In this library, every note was not sampled; depending on the layer, roughly two to three dozen notes throughout the range were derived by pitch-shifting a neighboring note.
The overall sound of the piano is smooth and transparent, the bass is full and brassy and the top octave shines with crystalline clarity. The voicing and tuning are exemplary. Unlike the Bardstown Bösendorfer, which includes a small amount of natural reverb, the EastWest Bösendorfer was recorded rather dry. The pristine recording quality, however, offers an excellent basis for adding your own processing.
EastWest's Bösendorfer is a highly responsive instrument and the four layers (p, mf, f, ff) blend seamlessly into one another providing a satisfying and realistic playing experience. If you need a good general-purpose piano, the 1.8 GB EastWest Bösendorfer is worth considering. It would be just as much at home playing Brahms or Chopin as contemporary jazz or pop.
Steinway's model B has long been a favorite for schools and recording studios because it offers a punchy professional-level sound in a more compact 6-foot, 11-inch case. For EastWest's library, producer Olivier Truan sampled a fine Hamburg Steinway in the same Swiss studio that he used for the Bösendorfer library.(Many performers prefer the German Steinway to its American counterpart.)
The Steinway appears to have been miked in a similar way to the Bösendorfer, with little natural room reverb. The digital recordings are very clean, and the careful editing has yielded excellent results. Unlike the Bösendorfer library, however, the Steinway library only offers six Velocity layers: three with pedal up and three with pedal down. Separate release samples are not included.
With only three layers for each pedal position, the Steinway's dynamic transitions are not quite as smooth as the Bösendorfer's. The jump to the highest level is occasionally noticeable. The stereo samples are all unlooped and allowed to fully decay (up to two minutes in a few cases). Unlike the Bösendorfer library, every note on the keyboard was sampled.
The Steinway's overall sound is broad and well-balanced. The low bass growls nicely yet remains warm and sonorous. The tenor section is assertive yet smooth. The high treble is clean, bright, and resonant right to the top of the keyboard. In short, this is a fine midsize piano that is well suited to a range of contemporary styles. If you're looking for that characteristic Steinway sound for recording or studio work, this library could serve you well.
The Ultimate Piano Collection
Like the previous two EastWest libraries, the Ultimate Piano Collection was recorded in Switzerland by developer Olivier Truan. Released in 1995, this single-CD collection preceded the other two libraries by a few years and was created specifically for hardware samplers (first Akai, then E-mu). As the name suggests, this is not a one-piano library but rather a collection of four top-notch instruments: Fazioli F-228 (7 feet, 6 inches), Bösendorfer 225 (7 feet, 4 inches), Steinway D (8 feet, 11.75 inches), and Steinway C (7 feet, 5 inches).
Although the pianos themselves are excellent instruments, the sample libraries that were derived from them are seriously hampered by the inherent RAM restrictions imposed by the hardware samplers. As a result, only a few banks of samples are offered for each piano. (You can combine the banks as needed for various controller- or Velocity-switching presets.)
The Steinway D and the Fazioli provide Loud, Soft, Pedal-down, and Marcato banks. The Steinway C offers Loud, Pedal-down, and Marcato; the Bösendorfer only offers Loud and Marcato. The confusingly named “Marcato” samples are actually the same as the loud samples, but they're edited down to 2.5 seconds to conserve memory. The shorter samples make it feasible to include more individual samples in a bank, which minimizes the need for pitch-shifting samples. The Steinway D, for instance, has every note sampled in the Marcato bank but only has 55 individual samples in the Soft bank. The Marcato bank makes sense if you play a lot of fast music; long samples would simply eat up RAM unnecessarily.
The Fazioli F-228 is a highly regarded handmade instrument from a small Italian company founded by Paolo Fazioli in 1979. Faziolis are noted for their meticulous craftsmanship and astronomical price tags. EastWest's Fazioli has a pleasing velvety smooth sound from the tenor section all the way to the top of the treble. I especially like the strong clear bass.
The Bösendorfer sounds a bit too thin and edgy for my taste, although it has the usual clean Bösendorfer bass section including four extra “sub-bass” notes. The concert-size 1978 Hamburg Steinway D offers the famous Steinway sound, including a powerful and luscious bass section. The Hamburg Steinway C has a relatively smooth tenor and treble, but the bass section is less gutsy than that of the model D.
When this library was first released, it represented a significant offering. Many musicians, however, may find this collection too heavily compromised in the current era of software samplers and their large highly detailed libraries.
Grand Gold Pianos
Created specifically for E-mu samplers, Northstar's Grand Gold Pianos is offered in 64 MB and 128 MB versions to accommodate samplers with different RAM allotments. To conserve memory, the samples (ranging from 3 to 9 seconds in length) are looped, and in some of the 64 MB presets, the sampling rate has been lowered from 44.1 to as low as 17 kHz (for some of the lower notes) to reduce bank sizes.
The Grand Gold library features three pianos: an American Steinway Concert D, Gino Vannelli's Yamaha C7 (7 feet, 6 inches), and Northstar's own Yamaha G3 (6 feet). The pianos are offered in different bank sizes with different characteristics, but the largest banks provide four Velocity-switched pedal-up layers based on 31 samples spread out across the full keyboard range. Vannelli's C7 is also offered in a full 88-sample version but with only three layers.
In a unique approach to piano sampling, the Northstar library does not offer separate pedal-down samples. Instead, all notes start as pedal-up samples and about a second after a note is played, a pedal-down sample emerges in a very subtle way. That yields a faintly resonant sound without muddying the initial tone. Northstar calls this process Resonant Sampling Technique. Sustained notes and releases are created with standard amplitude envelopes rather than with separate samples.
The Steinway D has a pleasant general-purpose sound with a smooth midrange and a clean, solid treble. The bass has a nice characteristic timbre, but the lowest octave is weak and lacks punch.
The Yamaha C7 (a popular model in recording studios) is bright and assertive from bottom to top. This is no shrinking violet; it could easily cut through any mix and would definitely stand out in a crowd. That makes it a natural choice for gospel accompaniment as well as for rock and pop.
The Yamaha G3 is a curious addition to the library. It offers a nice generic midsize grand sound, but lacks any noteworthy characteristics and suffers from a less focused bass section than the other instruments.
All three of the pianos were recorded with an array of eight high-end mics that were mixed to stereo (or mono for some presets). The recording quality is quite good. The best part of this library, however, is the long list of presets (over 100) for each piano. Several processed patches are great fun to experiment with and offer lots of creative potential, especially for film scoring and sound designing. One patch, for example, produces vocal-sounding notes with mod-wheel control over formantlike characteristics. Another preset generates unusual sci-fi sound effects from the notes. I especially like the patch that plays fourths on each note; it's simple but effective.
Post Musical Instruments
Producer Michiel Post has created a mammoth four-CD GigaStudio library based on a single concert grand. Recorded in the Netherlands, the 1965 Hamburg Steinway had served for decades in a Rotterdam concert hall before being brought to Bloomline Studio, where it was sampled. Omnidirectional mics were placed in a stereo configuration roughly five feet from the strings. The recording quality is excellent.
The main Instrument is the 1.7 GB Classic preset. It provides four pedal-up layers (p, mf, f, and ff), four pedal-down layers, and four release-triggered layers of soundboard resonance. In this patch, the Mod wheel can be used to attenuate the release samples. Six pedal-up and pedal-down layers were actually recorded for each note; they're offered in various combinations in different presets, some of which include several “virtual” layers.
All of the notes were sampled for their full duration and left unlooped. A new Maple Grandioso FX plug-in has recently been released by the developer; it adds new features to GigaStudio, allowing enhanced real-time sustain-pedal functions that provide smooth crossfades between individual sustained notes and pedal-down samples.
Two other Instrument sets are also included: a Compressed preset with processed samples and a Distant patch made entirely of ambient samples. When combined with the Classic patch, the Distant patch offers some intriguing possibilities for surround-sound mixing (ambient samples to the rear speakers, Classic patch to the front).
The Classic patch is full and powerful with a particularly wide dynamic range. The middle of the keyboard is relatively even and robust; the treble is clear, although in the original preset it's a bit weak in the upper range. (That problem has been resolved through a free downloadable update.) A few notes at the very top sound a bit more woody than their neighboring notes, and the top three notes produce a discernible knocking sound (most likely caused by an improper striking point). Fortunately, those notes are seldom used.
The thunderous and brassy bass section barks energetically, although I find the midbass section to be a bit difficult to play with consistency. Adjacent layers within some of the notes produce sudden timbral changes that are sometimes hard to control. A note might change from a cottony warm sound at a moderate Velocity level to a brash metallic sound with only a slight change in Velocity. A noticeable transition across the break adds to the problem.
With a little practice, you can learn to harness the keyboard's idiosyncrasies and capitalize on the Steinway's power and personality, but it may take some getting used to. (The new updates have helped to minimize the problems as well.) Post Musical Instruments has also just released a new Bösendorfer 290 library — part of its expanding Grandioso series.
The Grandioso Steinway D deserves special praise for its exemplary documentation. The library's informative 26-page booklet is filled with graphics and color screenshots and includes a great deal of technical information and background material. It should serve as a model for other sample-library developers.
Q Up Arts
The Holy Grail Piano
The Holy Grail Piano library from Q Up Arts is based on a Kawai GS-50 (6 foot, 9 inch) grand — a well-designed and generally well-regarded instrument with a clean, transparent sound. The library includes three pedal-up layers (pp, mf, ff) and one pedal-down (sustain) layer. Every note on the piano is sampled (for the largest bank), looped, and presented without separate release samples.
Unlike other libraries, the Holy Grail Piano includes several peripheral and nonmusical sounds that are produced by pianos when they're played but which are generally ignored by sample-library developers. Using a process called V.M.S. (Virtual Model Sampling), Q Up Arts adds several sound components (essentially individual sound effects) to the notes that the piano generates.
The added sounds include a Hammer On sample, which is the faint sound made by the hammer and wippen when a key is played so lightly that the string is not struck (a Velocity of 0 to 10 in this case). A Hammer Off sample reproduces the sound made when a key is released and the hammer and key return to rest after the note is played (at any Velocity). Another sample captures the ever-present sympathetic vibrations of the top register (above the damper section), adding a slight sheen or resonance to the other notes. And finally, the library includes the clunky sound that the damper pedal makes when it is operated.
Unless you revel in re-creating mechanical artifacts from musical instruments, you will probably find the V.M.S. sound effects to be a bit intrusive. Furthermore, the added noise may be inappropriate in a number of recording situations. For example, the Hammer Off effect was especially distracting because it obscured the note releases with a disembodied thumping sound.
The Holy Grail library was originally developed for E-mu samplers and was later adapted to the Akai format. On those platforms, adjusting the relative levels of the nonmusical sounds is relatively easy and straightforward. With a little effort, you can tone down the effects to make them work a bit better if you really like them (some people do, especially for solo work). In the GigaStudio version, you can use a multiple-output patch to control (or disable) individual V.M.S. components. The new EXS24 and HALion versions also let you control the V.M.S. effects.
If you eliminate the sound effects, you're left with a perfectly fine midsize grand piano library. The nicely voiced GS-50 has a smooth, satiny tone that remains consistent from bottom to top. The transition across the break is barely noticeable, and the top end has a crystalline clarity. The low bass is perhaps a bit less weighty than on a full-size concert grand, but it's clear and has plenty of bite for most kinds of music.
The Holy Grail Piano may not be the ultimate piano library that its name suggests, but it's a good general-purpose instrument suitable for jazz, classical, and popular arrangements. And with the sound effects disabled, it should serve well in most tracking and mixing situations.
Concert Grand Pianos
Although it works just fine with software samplers, Sonic Reality's library was actually created originally to meet the needs of hardware samplers. The Concert Grand Pianos library is based on two popular Yamaha models (only one of which is actually a “concert” grand): the midsize C7 (7 feet, 6 inches) and the concert-size CFIIIS (9 feet).
Both pianos were recorded with two pedal-up layers (mf and f) and one pedal-down layer. In the largest C7 bank, 67 samples are spread across the keyboard range for each pedal-up layer, fewer than three dozen samples provide the pedal-down layer. The largest CFIIIS bank spreads 40 pedal-up samples across the range with fewer than two dozen pedal-down samples. All of the notes have been carefully looped and presented with minimal processing. Separate release samples are not included.
The C7 was recorded in the “piano room” of a busy Los Angeles studio; the CFIIIS was recorded in a large sound-stage studio where it had just been used in a film-scoring session. Both pianos exhibit the characteristically bright Yamaha sound that is favored by many producers because it cuts through a mix and carries well.
The C7 has a strong, slightly uneven bass, a fairly smooth midrange, and a sparkling top end. With only two dynamic layers, changes in Velocity can produce sudden shifts in timbre as well as in loudness, because the two layers have quite distinct characteristics and don't always provide a smooth transition from one to the other (that is especially true of notes in the lower register).
The CFIIIS sounds much like the C7 but with a darker bottom end; because of the different room and mic placement it has a somewhat less in-your-face quality. It too suffers from the two-layer limitation.
The CFIIIS has another problem as well: three notes right in the middle of the keyboard have noticeably out-of-tune unisons. Those notes should have been resampled, or the samples should have been replaced by pitch-shifted samples from the neighboring notes. It's unfortunate that they're in a part of the range that gets such heavy use. The C7 would therefore be a better choice for any exposed piano part.
The Concert Grand Pianos library is offered in a large number of formats for hardware and software samplers. And various presets are included in each library to accommodate different setups and RAM capacities.
Developed originally by NemeSys Music Technology, GigaPiano kicked off the whole gigantic-sampled-piano craze with its introduction in 1998. In those days, many sampler owners wondered aloud about whether a 1 GB sampled piano was really just a bit much. The ensuing tidal wave of huge piano libraries, however, has shown that the demand is definitely there for high-end highly detailed sampled pianos, and several libraries have since surpassed GigaPiano in size.
GigaPiano is bundled with GigaStudio 160 and 96 (it's also available separately), so most GigaStudio owners are familiar with this library. It's based on a Yamaha C7 that was recorded in a popular Austin recording studio. The instrument was recorded with three pedal-up, three pedal-down, and one release layer. Thirty-one samples (selected from the original 88) were evenly spaced across the keyboard and left unlooped.
GigaPiano nicely captures the characteristic Yamaha sound: well-balanced and bright. The assertive bass section blends smoothly into a forceful but well controlled midrange. The lively treble is clean all the way to the top with a bit more open-string resonance in the top octave than is found in most other piano libraries. GigaPiano responds well to the touch; the different dynamic layers blend naturally into each other. Overall, this piano is a musical chameleon, serving adeptly for pop, rock, country, and several styles of jazz.
Before entering the glamorous world of magazine publishing, associate editorDavid Rubinspent a decade as a Registered Craftsman member of the Piano Technicians Guild.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
All grand pianos have strings that run parallel to the floor, and they all work in more or less the same way. The smaller instruments such as parlor grands, studio grands, and baby grands (see Fig. A) simply have shorter bass strings and usually don't sound as good as concert grands, which range in size from a fraction of an inch under nine feet (Steinway D) to more than ten feet (Fazioli Concert Grand).
Verticals, such as consoles, spinets, and uprights use a different kind of mechanism (with many similar parts but a different design) because the strings run vertically at right angles to the plane of the keyboard.
Grand pianos offer a more responsive feel with better tactile control in part because they make better use of gravity in the design of their mechanism. Verticals with their upright orientation must rely more on springs to make the mechanism function, and that along with other design factors often gives them a less precise feel.
It's a mistake, however, to assume that all verticals sound inferior to all grands. Many of the old uprights had bass strings that were as long or longer than some baby grands. Those old pianos offered a dark, rich sound that was often quite pleasing.
Nonetheless, most people buy verticals because they want a compact instrument, and the smaller consoles and spinets with their short, stiff strings can deliver only a mediocre tone quality at best.
To offer the most desirable sound quality and timbre, virtually all piano sample libraries use grands ranging from around six feet to over nine feet in length.
A GRAND HISTORY
Harps, zithers, dulcimers, and similar stringed instruments have been around for thousands of years, but it was not until the Renaissance period that a set of strings was combined with a keyboard and a mechanical interface to create an early form of the harpsichord. The harpsichord eventually caught on throughout Europe during the Baroque period and quickly displaced the lute as the instrument of choice for accompaniment and solo performance. It also set the stage for the later arrival of the piano.
The harpsichord produced its sound by plucking the strings with quills when the keys were pressed. However, because of the nature of the mechanism (called the action), performers could produce only a single dynamic level regardless of how hard or soft the key was struck. In more elaborate harpsichords, a second mechanism and set of strings (often tuned an octave higher or lower) could be linked to the first set to provide more volume. The second set was typically activated with a hand stop.
Having only a couple of volume levels was fine during much of the Baroque period, with its “terraced” dynamics. By the late 17th century, however, keyboard players were demanding a greater degree of expressiveness. They wanted more than just loud and soft; they wanted all the gradations in between.
Instrument makers in several countries began working on a solution, but it was the ingenious design of an Italian harpsichord maker named Bartolommeo Cristofori (1655-1730) that proved to be most successful. Around 1709, Cristofori introduced his new gravicembalo col piano e forte (harpsichord with soft and loud), which came to be known as the pianoforte and eventually as simply the piano.
By 1720 Cristofori had further improved his design. Although the piano continued to evolve over the next 150 years, its essential design concept has remained unchanged to this day: pressing a key activates a hammer (originally leather but now felt) that strikes a string or group of unison strings. The harder you strike the key, the harder the hammer strikes the string. As the key is pressed, a felt damper is released from the string to allow the string to vibrate. When the key is released, the damper returns to stop the sound.
Cristofori's design not only allowed subtle gradations in loudness, but it let the musicians play different notes with different dynamics simultaneously. That feature proved to be essential to the instrument as the new music of the time began to stress prominent cantabile melodies against more restrained accompaniments.
Cristofori's groundbreaking invention garnered little press in his home country. But in Germany, Austria, England, France, and later the United States, the piano evolved rapidly in myriad ways as its popularity grew.
The 19th century brought several important innovations to the grand piano. In 1821 Sébastien Érard introduced his double-escapement mechanism, which allowed for extremely fast repetition of notes. Four years later, Alpheus Babcock invented the one-piece cast-iron plate (frame), which by then was needed to withstand the increasing tension caused by the growing number and thickness of the piano strings.
The brilliant and thunderous 88-note concert pianos of the late 19th century were a far cry from the modest four-octave Italian instrument that spawned them. Modern grand pianos typically have more than 230 individual strings that exert a combined tension of more than 20 tons on the plate! In a concert-size grand, the lowest string has a speaking length of well over six feet, while the highest string is only a few inches long. It's easy to see how the piano's dynamic qualities, combined with its wide range of pitch and expressiveness, make it a daunting challenge to sample effectively.
action — the mechanism of a piano, consisting of thousands of parts, that enables the pianist to play the notes.
bass section — the lowest-sounding section of strings on the far left of the piano, which consists of the copper-wound steel-core strings. The number of bass notes varies from piano to piano based on the stringing scale.
break — the transition between the bass section and the tenor section.
concert grand — the largest of the grand pianos — usually around nine feet long. It is used extensively in jazz and classical concert performances as well as in many recording sessions.
damper — a device that uses small blocks of felt to cut off the sound of a vibrating string when the key is released.
damper pedal — the pedal on the far right which when pressed raises all of the dampers at once. It is also called the sustain pedal.
equal temperament — a system of tuning wherein each octave is divided into 12 equal semitones.
escapement — a mechanism that flips the jack out of the way at the last moment, allowing the hammer to freely strike the string and rebound to a position that is clear of the vibrations.
inharmonicity — the discrepancy between the actual overtone frequencies produced by a vibrating string and the theoretical (mathematical) overtone frequencies from the same fundamental.
jack — a small wooden fingerlike device (part of the wippen assembly) that pushes against the hammer, driving it toward the string.
regulating — adjusting the moving parts in a piano to establish the proper alignments, clearances, and other specifications.
scale — to piano technicians and designers, the scale — also known as the stringing scale — refers to the combination of string lengths, gauges, and tensions used in a piano.
soft pedal — see una corda pedal.
sostenuto pedal — this pedal functions as a type of selective damper pedal. Playing one or more keys and then pressing the sostenuto pedal before releasing the keys sustains only those notes; keys played after the pedal is pressed are not sustained and function normally.
sustain pedal — see damper pedal.
tenor section — the section of strings (part of the treble section) just to the right of the bass section; the tenor section has the longest unwound strings.
treble section — the range of unwound steel strings that includes all of the notes except the bass notes.
una corda pedal — this pedal, also called the soft pedal, shifts the keybed and hammers a small amount to the right, producing a quieter sound with a softer timbre.
voicing — adjusting the tone of a piano by hardening or softening the hammers and by regulating the instrument to optimize tonal quality.
wippen — the small triangular mechanism (which includes the jack) that serves as the mechanical interface between the back of the key and the corresponding hammer.
THE LIST GOES ON
It is truly amazing how many sampled-piano libraries are currently being marketed. All of the major sample-library distributors have at least one title and as you can see from this article, a number of smaller companies have also gotten into the act. Although I couldn't possibly review all of the available piano libraries in detail, here are several more worth considering.
Post Piano Suite, vol. 1
This is another library from Michiel Post, the world's busiest piano-sample producer. It includes a good general-purpose unlooped Steinway D with four pedal-up layers, two pedal-down layers, and a release layer. Other patches include several pitched percussion instruments (including celeste, marimba, and vibes), electric pianos, and prepared piano.
Black & Whites
Black & Whites is a standalone sampled piano that is also a piano module for use with Unity DS-1. The module includes mono and stereo samples from a Steinway B and D with three pedal-up layers (p, mf, f). It also includes several Rhodes electric piano patches and a string-ensemble patch.
This library contains mono and stereo patches based on a Hamburg Steinway D from a popular Prague concert hall. It has two pedal-up Velocity layers and no pedal-down or release layers.
Studio Series MegaPiano
The MegaPiano library for Unity DS-1 and Akai S5000 is based on a Steinway grand. It was recorded dry and offers as many as three unlooped pedal-up Velocity layers with about half the notes sampled. Pedal-down layers are not offered but the Akai version includes release samples and several strummed and plucked-string patches.
The Prosonus library is based on a Steinway grand with samples of all 88 notes. Two pedal-up Velocity layers are provided (mf and ff) in the largest (128 MB) bank. Smaller banks are also included.
Steinberg's The Grand is not really a sample library but rather a complete VST instrument with its own editing window, user interface, and onscreen keyboard. The Grand is based on the same recordings as Wizoo's Platinum24 Grand Piano. The cross-platform three-CD set demands plenty of free RAM to function properly and includes multiple unlooped pedal-up and pedal-down layers, release layers, true sostenuto action, and hammer release sounds along with several other features and editable parameters.
Universal Sound Bank
Acoustic Pianos, vol. 1
This library, recorded in Paris, includes a Steinway D and a Yamaha C7 with up to four pedal-up layers.
The Perfect Piano Series, vols. I and II
These are the first in a series of piano libraries from developer William Coakley. Volume I offers multilayered Steinway D and Kawai B grands with 16-bit, 16 MB looped patches in a variety of formats. Volume II offers a Fazioli concert grand and a Steinway D with 32 MB looped patches.
Platinum24 Grand Piano
The Platinum24 library is based on the same recordings (but edited differently) that were used to create Steinberg's The Grand VSTi. A late-model, top-of-the-line, $100,000 concert grand (Wizoo and Steinberg refuse to divulge the make) was meticulously sampled in state-of-the-art German facilities. The largest (1.1 GB) preset provides five pedal-up layers, five pedal-down layers, and no release layers. Depending on the preset, 22 or 42 samples are used per layer. Four different timbres — Natural, Bright, Hard, and Soft — are provided in three preset sizes.
Company Title Format Price Contact
Art VistaMalmsjö Acoustic GrandGiga$100.00(310) 398-4625; www.artvista.netBardstown AudioBösendorfer Imperial GrandEXS24, Giga, HALion$199.00(800) 814-0820 or (502) 349-1589; www.bardstownaudio.comBest Service/dist. by EastWestTotal PianoAkai S1000/5000/6000, E-mu EOS, Giga$175.00(800) 969-9449 or (310) 271-6969; www.bestservice.deBig Fish AudioJohn Cage Prepared PianoAkai S1000, Giga$199.95(800) 717-3474 or (818) 768-6115; www.bigfishaudio.comBigga GiggasEstonia Acoustic GrandGiga$95.00(760) 789-3791; www.biggagiggas.comBigga GiggasFortePianoGiga$95.00(760) 789-3791; www.biggagiggas.comBigga GiggasPost Piano Suite, vol. 1Giga$129.00(760) 789-3791; www.biggagiggas.comBitHeadzBlack & WhitesUnity DS-1$199.00(831) 465-9898; www.bitheadz.comEastWestBösendorferGiga, HALion$199.95(800) 969-9449 or (310) 271-6969; www.soundsonline.comEastWestSteinway BGiga, HALion$199.95(800) 969-9449 or (310) 271-6969; www.soundsonline.comEastWestUltimate Piano CollectionAkai S1000, E-mu EOS$199.95(800) 969-9449 or (310) 271-6969; www.soundsonline.comMiroslav VitousAcoustic PianoAkai S1000, E-mu EOS, Roland$149.00(800) 747-4546 or (818) 707-7222; www.ilio.comNorthstarGrand Gold PianosE-mu EOS/ESI/EIII$249.00(503) 760-7777; www.northstarsamples.comPatchman MusicStudio Series MegaPianoAkai S5000, Unity DS-1$145.00(216) 221-8282; www.patchmanmusic.comPost Musical InstrumentsGrandioso Steinway DGiga$295.00(323) 726-0303; www.tascam.comProsonusGrand PianoAkai S1000/5000, E-mu, Kurzweil, Roland$199.95(800) 717-3474 or (818) 768-6115; www.bigfishaudio.comQ Up ArtsThe Holy Grail PianoAkai S5000, E-mu E4, EXS24, Giga, HALion$299.00(800) 454-4563 or (801) 486-8225; www.quparts.comSonic RealityConcert Grand PianosAkai, E-mu EOS, Kurzweil, Roland, SampleCell, Unity DS-1$199.00(800) 747-4546 or (818) 707-7222; www.ilio.comSteinberg North AmericaThe GrandVSTi$299.99(818) 678-5100; www.us.steinberg.netTascam/NemeSysGigaPianoGiga$99.00(323) 726-0303; www.tascam.comUniversal Sound BankAcoustic Pianos, vol. 1Akai S1000/5000$199.95(800) 717-3474 or (818) 768-6115; www.bigfishaudio.comWilliam CoakleyThe Perfect Piano Series, vols. I and IIAkai, E-mu, Kurzweil, Roland, SampleCell II$299.00(800) 742-6625 or (561) 582-7709; www.williamcoakley.comWizoo Sound DesignPlatinum24 Grand PianoEXS24, HALion, Giga$139.95(800) 579-4832; www.wizoo.com