Virtual Piano Software – A Buyer’s Guide

Anyone who has ever set out to purchase a virtual piano will know all too well that there are umpteen products to choose from covering everything from electric to acoustic instruments. So how do you know which is right for you?

Here at Time+Space, three of our major brands – Garritan/Make Music, Synthogy and Toontrack – all offer virtual pianos, each with their own individual user interfaces, and in some cases, types of pianos. However, when choosing a piano, it’s worth bearing in mind that two products used together may work better than a single plugin.

For example, Toontrack’s EZkeys product line offers numerous features that are specifically designed to make writing a piano track an extremely easy task – perfect if your piano skills leave a lot to be desired or you’re simply running short on inspiration. However, you might actually prefer the sound of Synthogy’s Ivory II American Concert D piano, in which case why not use EZkeys to create your song then bring in Ivory II to produce your final track?

Here’s a summary of each of the main pianos available from Time+Space which should help to define the differences of each plug-in, giving you an idea of which will suit your own style of music as well as your production workflow. Don’t forget, you can try these pianos out for yourself via the Time+Space Media Suites which are situated in several music retailers throughout the UK, click here to find your nearest one.

Synthogy Ivory American Concert D

Synthogy Ivory II Pianos

Synthogy, as a company, are entirely devoted to developing and releasing virtual pianos, and, as such, they feature among the world’s most popular virtual piano product lines. In fact you can read about the lengthy process involved in creating their software in our interview with co-founder Joe Ierardi.

There are currently four Ivory II titles available, incorporating the following pianos:

Ivory Grand Pianos: Features a Bösendorfer 290 Imperial Grand, a German Steinway D 9’ Concert Grand and a Yamaha C7 Grand.
Ivory Upright Pianos: Includes a new Yamaha U5, a 1914 A.M. Hume, a 1915 Packard and a 1900s Tack piano.
Ivory II Italian Grand
: A 10-foot Italian-built Concert Grand
Ivory II American Concert D: A 1951 New York Steinway D Concert Grand

Each title features the same easy-to-use software/DSP engine, with all effects and customisable user controls easily accessible across four main user interface pages.

The biggest selling point, and most remarked upon, feature of Ivory pianos is their incredibly realistic sound and playability. This is due to advanced sampling techniques in combination with Synthogy’s powerful custom built engine.

Ivory II Interface

The Sympathetic String Resonance of the Ivory II engine fulfils a long sought after characteristic of real pianos, allowing for a true replication of the harmonic resonant content. Meanwhile, the realism is also enhanced thanks to each Ivory II piano delivering multiple velocity levels for all keys – with the American Concert D offering up to 20! The pianos also include real release samples, Soft Pedal samples, and Pedal Noise enhancements.

Ivory II Soundboards

Unique features to the Synthogy engine include:

Customisable soundboards for each piano – to allow for additional/reduced resonance for when the Sustain Pedal is pressed.

An optional synth pad layer –  for creating quick and deep modern/pop combinations.

World class digital FX including Chorus, EQ and Real Ambiences of world-class studios and concert halls.

Dozens of user-adjustable presets; from programing presets, velocity mapping, Synth layering and effect presets.

The Ivory II engine also allows for a wide range of customisable user controls, including; Timbre, Stereo Width and Perspective and Mechanical Key Noise.

Ivory II Interface

Features overview:

  • Several pianos to choose from
  • The pianos in each package can be installed individually, thus saving valuable disc space
  • Synthogy’s exclusive powerful playback engine
  • Customisable user controls & tuning alterations
  • Use the Ivory II piano either as a standalone program or as a plug-in in your favourite music host

Click here for more information about the Ivory II product line

EZkeys Grand PianosToontrack EZkeys Pianos

The most defining feature of Toontrack’s EZkeys product line is its dedication towards simplifying the process of songwriting – no longer do you have to be a piano player to put together a professional sounding piano part. With it’s songwriting features that include chord change suggestions to the simple transposition of a song or section, creating a beautiful piano piece is now easier than ever.

EZkeys Wheel of Fifths

EZkeys features a huge MIDI library performed by professional pianists, covering a wide range of genres, all organised into simple song layouts; intro, verse, chorus, bridge, ending and more.

The great thing about working with a MIDI library as opposed to a sample based loop library, is the ability to keep the MIDI fresh and unique. Just a couple of clicks within EZkeys and you can change tempo, the root Key and even specific chord changes via a wheel of suggested chords that would harmonically fit the song.

If you are a piano player, you can hook up your MIDI keyboard and quickly record in your own MIDI parts, while the EZkeys engine instantly displays what chord is being played in real-time. Once you have created your piano track inside the EZkeys timeline, simply either enable ‘host synch’, drag and drop it to your DAW or export it as a MIDI or Audio file.

There are currently five EZkeys pianos available:

EZkeys Grand Piano
EZkeys Upright Piano
EZkeys Classic Electrics
EZkeys Retro Electrics
EZkeys Electric Grand

Once you own an EZkeys piano, you can add additional pianos to your collection for almost half the price, thanks to the Sound Expansion option. Each piano includes a range of presets to help get your sound to fit your style of music, there are also a range of MIDI packs available to expand your library in genres to suit you – for example R&B, Gospel, Country, Rock etc.

EZkeys MIDI Library

Features overview:

  • Timeline song builder
  • Wheel of fifths chord suggestion
  • Dynamic & tuning adjustments
  • Tonal and reverb controls
  • Add more to your EZkeys MIDI library with additional EZkeys MIDI expansion packs
  • EZkeys can be loaded in standalone or as a plug-in in all major music hosts
  • Free demo version available

Click here for more information about Toontrack EZkeys pianos

Garritan Abbey Road CFX Concert GrandGarritan Abbey Road Studios CFX Concert Grand

Two of the most immediate unique selling points of this library is that 1), it is the first virtual emulation of Yamaha’s CFX Concert Grand piano, and 2), it was recorded in the famous Abbey Road Studio’s historic Studio One.

A further defining feature of this product is the choice of three different perspectives:

Classic: captures the natural tonal character, clarity, and nuance of the instrument

Contemporary: produces a bright and brilliant sound with definitive attack from the hammers

Player: delivers the unique experience of playing from the piano bench in Studio One.

CFX Control Panel

Like all virtual instruments released by Garritan, the CFX Concert Grand utilises the Garritan Aria engine.

Thanks to its inbuilt presets and user controls,  you can easily tweak your piano sound to suite your individual needs. Either load in one of the 32 Ensemble presets to get an array of different manipulations from across the three perspectives, or use the included Control, Mixer or Effects panels to really adjust your sound; from adjusting the blend between close and ambient microphones, adjusting the velocity curve of the piano, to setting up how much pedal noise you want captured in your mix.

CFX Perspectives & Presets

Features overview:

  • 132 GB sample library (install from a USB key)
  • Install the Compact OR Full version according to your computer size
  • Adjust grand piano lid position
  • Close Mic and Ambient Mic control panel
  • 3 perspectives to choose from with 32 presets
  • Notation version also included for easy use in notation software
  • Option to either use the dedicated CFX plug-in/standalone or load into the Aria Player.

Click here for more information about the Garritan CFX Abbey Road Studios CFX Concert Grand

Garritan Abbey Road Studios CFX Concert Grand being used in Finale Print Music 2014

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