Best Piano Library for Playing/Practicing?

tack

Damned Dirty Ape
It's worth pointing out that different Pianoteq pianos can sound radically different. For example, the Bluethner is worlds apart from the Steinway B. (My favorite Pianoteq model is the Bluethner.)

For a classical pianist looking for something to practice with, I daresay everything is going to disappoint except modeled pianos like Pianoteq. Personally, I simply can't abide the pedalling behavior of sampled-based pianos for any serious playing.

The Vintage D remains, even today, my preferred choice among the sample-based pianos I've tried and its pedalling feel is pretty damn good for samples, which I would call "ok". But even then it's just not possible to sculpt your performance with the pedal like you can with Pianoteq.

For practice, IMO, it's no contest. For recording, I'd prefer Vintage D because it really does sound great. You'll just need to make compromises on how you perform and, as with all sample-based piano VIs, treat it with kid gloves in terms of how you approach pedalling.

Pianoteq has a demo mode. No reason not to try it and see how you get on with it.
 
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Lee Blaske

Senior Member
TL;DR - I'm a classical pianist who mainly plays Bach, and I'm looking for a piano sample library that will respond as close to a real piano as possible for practicing on a digital piano. I want lots of velocity layers (very deep sampling), half-pedaling, and really good velocity response.

Hi! I'm a pianist who practices at home with a Casio CDP-130. Really cheap stuff I know, but it sounds (in headphones) and feels realistic to me, at least compared to my upright.

However, whenever I try to record the MIDI of a performance from the digital piano and sample it through a piano VST, the results always sound awful in terms of the velocities. The velocities sound nothing like how I played. The soft notes are too soft, and the loud notes are too loud. Sometimes, two notes that have similar velocities, like 99 and 102, would sound drastically different because they happen to fall into the end of one velocity layer and the start of another velocity layer, respectively. For example, the the velocity layer "medium soft" could be for notes with 80-99 velocities, and the velocity layer "medium hard" could be for notes with 100-115 velocities. The result is that, although these two notes are played with similar velocities, they sound drastically different.

I have tried altering the velocity curves to all kinds of shapes and it never solve the problem. I have also tried increasing and decreasing all the MIDI notes as a whole to see if there's a sweet spot I could hit, but that didn't help either.

I have had this problem with all the piano libraries I have tried, which include NI Berlin Concert Grand, NI The Giant, Spitfire Concert Grand, and Spitfire Felt Piano. The only piano library that does okay in terms of velocities is the stock Logic Steinway, but it doesn't sound the best in terms of tones, and I do need to put a MIDI compressor to kind of flatten the dynamics of my playing. Here's what it sounds like.

The only thing that I think might help a lot is to actually monitor my performance by listening to the piano VST live, instead of listening to the sound from the digital piano. I have tried that, but I found the way the piano VSTs respond doesn't feel as real as how the digital piano responses.

In case you think I have bad techniques, I really don't think so! I'm classically trained (through private lessons) pianist and I had been playing on my upright piano for 10 years before I moved countries and needed to rely on a digital piano. So I don't think my playing is the culprit here.

Recently, I have been eyeing NI's Noire. I love that it has both a regular mode and a felt mode. It sounds fantastic, but I don't know if it will respond to my playing well.

Thank you in advance!
I haven't read all the responses, so maybe someone might have already mentioned this, but the best piano library in the world will not feel good (i.e. responsive and predictable) under your fingers UNLESS you are playing it with a HIGH QUALITY keyboard controller (e.g. something on the level of a Kawai VPC1).

The problem with less expensive keyboards, even if they *feel* somewhat okay under your fingers as you play is that they are not made with precision. The velocity response will be different from note to note, sometimes varying widely. In other words, if you were to play with the exact same force going from note to note, the velocity numbers will be different, because of poor quality construction. Selecting a different velocity curve will not fix this problem. It's a manufacturing problem, and you get what you pay for.

Some keyboards are worse than others, but the inexpensive ones are usually quite bad when it comes to note-to-note velocity calibration. I've found Fatar actions (found in many keyboard brands) to be really bad. As inexpensive keyboards age, they can also get a lot worse.

So, if you get the feeling that when you play expressively, and you're not hearing what you think you're playing, look first to the quality of the keyboard action. Most likely, if you're using one of the higher quality sample libraries, the problem is not with the sample library. A different library will not fix the problem you're experiencing.
 

Fleer

Feeding the Trolls
For Bach, I’d pick the Embertone Walker or the Bechstein Digital. But definitely also try the latter’s implementation by Pianoteq. It’s their best for Bach, IMO.
As for the FP-30 action, it’s interesting to note that Roland’s new RD-88 stage piano has the same keybed.
 
OP
HokageKakashi

HokageKakashi

Member
It's worth pointing out that different Pianoteq pianos can sound radically different. For example, the Bluethner is worlds apart from the Steinway B. (My favorite Pianoteq model is the Bluethner.)

For a classical pianist looking for something to practice with, I daresay everything is going to disappoint except modeled pianos like Pianoteq. Personally, I simply can't abide the pedalling behavior of sampled-based pianos for any serious playing.

The Vintage D remains, even today, my preferred choice among the sample-based pianos I've tried and it's pedalling feel is pretty damn good for samples, which I would call "ok". But even then it's just not possible to sculpt your performance with the pedal like you can with Pianoteq.

For practice, IMO, it's no contest. For recording, I'd prefer Vintage D because it really does sound great. You'll just need to make compromises on how you perform and, as with all sample-based piano VIs, treat it with kid gloves in terms of how you approach pedalling.

Pianoteq has a demo mode. No reason not to try it and see how you get on with it.
I did give Pianoteq's trial a try today! The response was very good, but I couldn't get past the synthetic sounding samples. I did try various models (or are they presets?), including the Steinway Prelude, the Steinway Classical, most of the "Recording" ones. Some were better than the other but I wasn't satisfied with any, unfortunately. The binaural mode was super intriguing though; under that mode, it did sound like I was physically in front of an acoustic piano if I close my eyes. I wish more piano libraries had a binaural mode. That would be killer for practicing.

Because I mostly play Bach, I barely touch the sustain pedal, so that's really low in priority for me.

When you said Vintage D, are you referring to the one in Pianoteq? Or the Galaxy Vintage D?
 

tack

Damned Dirty Ape
Yeah, Galaxy Vintage D.

I understand what you mean about the sound of Pianoteq. I don't like any of the Steinway models from Pianoteq either. The Bluethner is the only one I'm able to get along with, and then combined with the unparalleled responsiveness it's all I use for practice.
 

AllanH

Senior Member
My two favorites: Pianoteq/Bluethner and the Garritan CFX. Your 88-key controller is very important in getting a good feel and its velocity curve must match your playing style and expectations.
 
OP
HokageKakashi

HokageKakashi

Member
I haven't read all the responses, so maybe someone might have already mentioned this, but the best piano library in the world will not feel good (i.e. responsive and predictable) under your fingers UNLESS you are playing it with a HIGH QUALITY keyboard controller (e.g. something on the level of a Kawai VPC1).

The problem with less expensive keyboards, even if they *feel* somewhat okay under your fingers as you play is that they are not made with precision. The velocity response will be different from note to note, sometimes varying widely. In other words, if you were to play with the exact same force going from note to note, the velocity numbers will be different, because of poor quality construction. Selecting a different velocity curve will not fix this problem. It's a manufacturing problem, and you get what you pay for.

Some keyboards are worse than others, but the inexpensive ones are usually quite bad when it comes to note-to-note velocity calibration. I've found Fatar actions (found in many keyboard brands) to be really bad. As inexpensive keyboards age, they can also get a lot worse.

So, if you get the feeling that when you play expressively, and you're not hearing what you think you're playing, look first to the quality of the keyboard action. Most likely, if you're using one of the higher quality sample libraries, the problem is not with the sample library. A different library will not fix the problem you're experiencing.
I did mention that I always wondered how much the keyboard plays a factor in this, but because I don't know much about the specs of keyboards in general, I was never sure. It's good to know it does play a big factor in it.

I'm saving up for a keyboard upgrade in the future—do you have any recommendations? What kind of keybed feels the closest to a real piano?

I want to get a MIDI controller or a synthesizer with at the very least a modwheel and a pitch wheel, because apart from practicing the piano, I also want to use the keyboard for composing and songwriting purposes. I thought the Komplete Kontrol S88 would be the one to go until I read here that the Fatar keybed doesn't feel like a real piano.
 
OP
HokageKakashi

HokageKakashi

Member
If you want a MIDI controller AND a piano AND a synth PLUS speakers, have a look at Roland’s RD-88. I just got it in. Sweet.
As I read the first half of the sentence, I was so afraid what was coming would be "you are shit out of luck!" haha.

I just stumbled upon the RD-88 today because I read that it is a recent release by Roland. Its keybed is close to a real piano?

I don't really need speakers, will that give me more options to choose from?
 

Lee Blaske

Senior Member
I did mention that I always wondered how much the keyboard plays a factor in this, but because I don't know much about the specs of keyboards in general, I was never sure. It's good to know it does play a big factor in it.

I'm saving up for a keyboard upgrade in the future—do you have any recommendations? What kind of keybed feels the closest to a real piano?

I want to get a MIDI controller or a synthesizer with at the very least a modwheel and a pitch wheel, because apart from practicing the piano, I also want to use the keyboard for composing and songwriting purposes. I thought the Komplete Kontrol S88 would be the one to go until I read here that the Fatar keybed doesn't feel like a real piano.
For actual piano playing, I REALLY love the Kawai VPC1. It has real wooden keys, and a mechanical action that faithfully emulates a real grand piano action (if you slowly depress the key, you can feel the "bump" that you'd feel on a real piano).

Other than that, I haven't tried it yet, but I've read glowing reports about the feel and construction of the new Roland A88 MkII (it's half the price of the Kawai). The A88 MkII is one of the first MIDI 2.0 products out there, and MIDI 2.0 promises greater accuracy (assuming the keyboard construction is good). The A88 Mk2 is also a graduated action, heavier on the low notes, lighter on the high notes, like a real piano. So check that one out. I've heard reviewers say it's the same action as in the Roland RD88, but that it feels better because the A88 MkII case has more mass with its MDF bottom than the RD88.

So, see if you can check those two out. You might watch eBay and Craigslist for a good, used Kawai VPC1 in your area (they're quite heavy, so people don't like to ship them).
 

Fleer

Feeding the Trolls
I’m also sure a Kawai VPC1 would have a better action than the RD-88.
On the other hand, the RD-88 has the same action as the Roland FP-60 and that’s a good one. If you don’t need internal sounds or speakers, definitely look into controllers like the new Roland A88 Mk2, as Lee suggested. Personally I don’t like MDF bottoms, though I concede they do render a better mass ratio for playing. But the reasons I opted for the RD-88 also included the presence of 3000 Fantom Zen Core sounds and MainStage compatibility.
 

Rory

Filmmaker
There are quite a few YouTube videos on the Kawai VPC1. Starting at 02:45, the fellow who made this review plays VI Labs's Ravenscroft 275 with it. Incidentally, in addition to the Bechstein Digital Grand mentioned earlier, I also have VI Labs's "German Piano". Less well-known than VI Labs's Ravenscroft, this is also a Bechstein, and also very nice to play.

 
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Lee Blaske

Senior Member
BTW, speaking of the Kawai VPC1 and Ravenscroft, there is the special, tweaked model of the Kawai VPC1 that Ravenscroft sells for about 2.5x's the price of the VPC1. Supposedly, they put 40 hours of work into it. I'd be curious to know how different it feels for that price, because on its own, the VPC1 is really, really nice. It's as nice as I need (especially since I also have a real Yamaha CFIII). ;)

Ravenscroft keyboard link here... https://ravenworksdigital.com/product/the-studio-model-i/
 

Rory

Filmmaker
BTW, speaking of the Kawai VPC1 and Ravenscroft, there is the special, tweaked model of the Kawai VPC1 that Ravenscroft sells for about 2.5x's the price of the VPC1. Supposedly, they put 40 hours of work into it. I'd be curious to know how different it feels for that price, because on its own, the VPC1 is really, really nice. It's as nice as I need (especially since I also have a real Yamaha CFIII). ;)

Ravenscroft keyboard link here... https://ravenworksdigital.com/product/the-studio-model-i/
That is pretty cool. Your link has a YouTube NAMM video on the Ravenscroft modification to the VPC1 and the VI Labs Ravenscroft 275 library.

VI Labs seems to have been a one-shot company. It released all of its pianos around about the same time. I purchased the "German Piano" because I just preferred it, although it wasn't as popular as the others. VI Labs still exists, indeed I had an exchange with it last week, but it's kind of mysterious. I've always been curious to know more about it.

Anyway, here's the old NAMM video:

 
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newman

Active Member
VI Labs seems to have been a one-shot company. It released all of its pianos around about the same time. I purchased the "German Piano" because I just preferred it, although it wasn't as popular as the others. VI Labs still exists, indeed I had an exchange with it last week, but it's kind of mysterious. I've always been curious to know more about it.
Noooo! VI LABS just released a Yamaha U3 in 2020. This is very well liked at the PianoWorld forums by classical musicians.

They also released an iOS version of the Ravenscroft maybe a year or two ago.

There are rumours of another piano VI in the foundry.

 

Rory

Filmmaker
Noooo! VI LABS just released a Yamaha U3 in 2020. This is very well liked at the PianoWorld forums by classical musicians.

They also released an iOS version of the Ravenscroft maybe a year or two ago.

There are rumours of another piano VI in the foundry.

Cool, just checked the web site, the Yamaha is the first product that VI Labs has released in at least seven years. All of the True Keys pianos and the Ravenscroft were released in about 2012/2013. This Sound on Sound review of the True Keys pianos was published in August of 2013: https://www.soundonsound.com/reviews/vi-labs-true-keys-pianos The web site looks pretty much like it did then :)

It's not exactly a high-profile company. Hence my curiosity, as an early True Keys purchaser, about whether anyone knows the history.
 
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shawnsingh

Senior Member
Bösendorfer has a much wider color palette than other pianos, which is exceedingly useful for controlling multiple lines of polyphony. Tiny adjustments to timing and velocity during a live VSL Bösendorfer performance of even the most dense polyphonic passages yield clarity an order of magnitude greater than other virtual pianos.
Yeah this had been my experience with EWQL pianos Bosendorfer when I used that piano previously. Combined with compressing the MIDI dynamic range, it's possible to really over-emphasize the change in color from soft to strong which easily adds to the emotion. I'm very happy you're saying this is a trait of Bosendorfer in general, I always wondered if it was simply some property of how EWQL had sampled it. So if VSL has the same property - then it's going to be my new favorite VST piano!
 

Ashermusic

Senior Member
I prefer hardware for serious practicing to software instruments. My Dexibell Vivo S7 is perfect for this. Feels great , sounds great, and the pedaling works as I want it to.

A lot better than the Wurlitzer spinets I practiced on in the Boston Conservatory of Music practice rooms in the late ‘60’s :)