Need a proper virtual piano and need it fast? Here are five of the key players rated and slated — and they’re all completely free
BitSonic Keyzone Classic
Stocked with the default ‘Keyzone’ piano, sampled Yamaha and Steinway grands, plus an electric piano and Rhodes to boot, Keyzone Classic offers a wonderfully solid tool to inject great keys into your tunes wherever you need them. The five types of keys sound impressive right out of the gate, but there’s more you can do to them...
You’ve got a volume control and Velocity Curve settings, and helpfully, a detune amount control to bring a different character to the sound, plus a knob to apply the onboard reverb, which sounds real-world, but can’t be pushed to more extremes than, let’s call it, a ‘large hall’.
An ADSR envelope lets you sculpt the response, helping the piano fade in and out — though with the release at its lowest setting, there are clicks. The LFO, set to pitch, expression (tremolo) or pan, is a great addition, though depth doesn’t always work as expected. Despite some tiny gripes, Keyzone Classic is a steal.
RDG Audio Free Piano
Despite a slightly dodgy-looking download site, and a bit of confusion on installation (at least on Mac), once you get Free Piano up and running, the results are well worth it. The piano itself is well-sampled and a solid candidate for getting ivories quickly, but there’s more to it than that.
Alongside the volume control for the piano, there are others for string and pad sounds, which can be layered in to bring an uplifting synthesised tone to the mix. Playing with these parameters turned up is an inspiring way to mess around, but there’s also the option to blend just a tiny amount into the mix to add some extra intrigue. Next to tune, pan and volume controls, there’s a reverb amount knob, and a low-pass filter to engage. The ADSR controls affect the extra layers only, but it would be nice if they imprinted onto the piano sound, helping it blend in for more tonal opportunities.
Versilian Studio VS Upright No.1
There isn’t much to this sampled Yamaha upright piano. Pan, reverb and volume controls meet ADSR envelopes, but the main focus is on quickly conjuring up a piano. The reverb is decent enough, but doesn’t go up especially high — a decent large room sound is possible, but you’ll have to look to external plugins if you want anything more grandiose. There’s a definite problem here, though: some of the samples contain onset clicks — a flaw even showing up in the plugin’s demo video. Though the onboard envelopes can help remove this, as well as being able to afford a few more creative opportunities, the presence of these clicks makes VS Upright No. 1 a bit of a non-starter. Were these clicks to be removed with a light spot of sample editing, VS Upright No. 1 would be a go-to for whipping up some quick, no-nonsense piano lines.
SampleScience Room Piano
Contrary to the usual antics of Pierre Parenteau’s SampleScience, Room Piano features the sound of a sampled physically modeled piano, replete with an LFO that can be sent to pitch, expression and pan. The ‘piano’ sound itself here isn’t exactly what you’d expect, being more of a plucky one, somewhat reminiscent of a harpsichord or even a banjo, in some ways. If you can get over that, there’s plenty more to add in here...
As well as attack and release dials, there’s a Sub parameter to add low weight to the sound, a Vinyl control to add crackle and age the response (only when you’re actually playing notes), low and high amp setting, and a pregain control. There’s built-in reverb with a filter attached, too. Perhaps most interestingly, and uniquely to this round-up, there’s a Glide setting for use with the legato voicing setting. It’s a very interesting set of features, but if you’ve been looking for the platonic ideal of a piano sound, this probably ain’t the one.
Spitfire Audio LABS Soft Piano
A meticulously sampled felted piano — that’s the one where a strip of felt between the hammers and the strings dampens the attack — this one offers three controls: expression, dynamics and reverb.
The piano sound itself is very well-sampled, as you’d expect from Spitfire. Felted piano recordings offer more opportunity for the piano’s mechanical noises to shine through, as they’re closer in comparison to the level of the string noises when the whole thing is turned back up. The result is a wonderfully introspective, subdued core piano sound that perfectly sets a thoughtful mood.
The effect of the expression and dynamics faders is subtle, this being a felted piano, but you can be assured that the reverb has the pedigree of Spitfire’s years of orchestral sonic experience.
Be sure to check out the rest of the LABS range for more free pianos and other real instruments.