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A brown, wooden piano with the lid up sits in a room with a few chairs. The piano bench is ready for a player. Photo is by Dalia Dalprat and via Pexels.

Piano Sample Libraries You Love to Hear

I’m working on a new piano album. So, I’ve been thinking and listening a lot about piano sounds — aka sample libraries.

Sample Library Losers and Winners

Over the years, I’ve collected quite a few piano sample libraries. Previously, I compared four of them: Walker 1955 by e-instruments (Native Instruments Kontakt), Ivory by Synthogy, Ravenscroft 275 by VI Labs (UVI Falcon or Workstation), and The Hammersmith Pro by Soniccouture (NI Kontakt). Those all are in this current comparison as well.

I’m amazed at how many different attempts there have been to capture the beauty, richness, and nuance of the piano. Each sample library comes at it from a slightly different vantage point leaving us to judge how well they did.

Tech-head Stuff

I used the same MIDI file for all of the sample libraries in this comparison. First, there is a 48-second A-minor bit to demonstrate the range of the instrument. It starts at the lowest A on the 88-key piano range and goes to the top C. This bit is played first with no sustain pedal and then with normal sustain pedaling. After that comes an improvisation in Db-major.

For each instrument, I chose a basic setting, but removed any effects: notably compression and reverb. I wanted to be able to hear the sample library on its own without being embellished. Even during mixdown, I did not use a compressor. Instead, I normalized the resulting audio files to -1dB. This makes it easier to compare the examples since one is not significantly louder or softer than another.

Of the 38 grand pianos you can hear on this page, 22 of them run in Native Instruments’ Kontakt 5, 6, or 7. For simplicity, I ran all of these in version 7.

From the Bottom to the Top

Some contenders did not make the cut. We’ll start with those.

I have used and appreciated some of the sample libraries from Kirk Hunter Studios. However, their pianos do not measure up. The one above is a Yamaha C7 from “Traveling Pianos”. There must have been some extreme EQ settings to get the strident sound you can hear especially in the improvisation.

Kirk Hunter Studios: Traveling Pianos, C7

Different Virtual Instruments

Next up is a piano sample library that goes far beyond the sound of the pianoforte. Sound Yeti did a decent job of sampling the instrument, but I would not use it on it’s own in a recording.

Sound Yeti – Revelation Scoring Grand

Where this VI (virtual instrument) succeeds is with its 4-layer engine (built in Kontakt from Native Instruments). Once you layer this piano (or another one) with their complementary synth and acoustic sounds, you can create some magical music.

Sadly, I could not find any such redeeming factors with the next six contenders in our comparison. Well, the “Piano In 162” is a free download. Another noteworthy mention is that the Arturia pianos are not sample libraries. Technically, they don’t belong here, but I wanted to compare this physical-modeling instrument side-by-side with the libraries.

Impact Soundworks – Pearl Concert Grand
Xperimenta – PF2
Arturia – Piano V3 – German Grand
Arturia – Piano V3 – Japanese Grand
Ivy Audio – Piano in 162 (free)
Native Instruments – The Maverick

Not Quite

The next four of our listening choices are from EastWest (aka SoundsOnline). Note: I did re-record these after another astute listener on vi-control noted that these didn’t sound right. I had to switch from using the close and room mics to only the player mic to get a decent sound.

EastWest Quantum Leap Pianos – Steinway D
EastWest Quantum Leap Pianos – Yamaha
EastWest Quantum Leap Pianos – Bosendorfer
EastWest Quantum Leap Pianos – Bechstein

The next three are from the UVI KeySuite series. There are so many piano VIs better than these, so I cannot imagine using these in a recording either.

UVI KeySuite – Austrian Grand
UVI KeySuite – Model D
UVI KeySuite – Japanese C7

Getting Better

Before I licensed some of the top contenders in this list, I recorded with these next five sample libraries. They cover the basics, but these do not have the full nuance available in some of the better libraries.

SampleTekk – White Grand MkII
Arturia – Piano V3 – American Grand
SampleTekk – Black Grand MkII
Xperimenta – Due C7
Xperimenta – Due C3

Sample Libraries – Almost There

Like the Sound Yeti piano, ASCEND Modern Grand from Heavyocity is a gem. Besides a well-sampled (not quite ready for a solo, in my opinion) grand sound library, there are lots of tweaks and additions that will spark inspiration for many composers. I often turn to ASCEND when I want “more than a piano”. But for this comparison, here is the raw piano.

Heavyocity – ASCEND Modern Grand

Hammers + Waves from Skybox does a similar set of sparkles in their Modern Grand VI. See what you think of their un-sparkled grand piano sample library.

Skybox – Hammers+Waves – MODERN GRAND

Now We’re Talkin’

Next up are ten piano sample libraries you’d be proud to use and inspired when you play. See if you agree.

Soniccouture – Hammersmith Free (yes, it’s free)
VI Labs – Ravenscroft 275
Auddict – Dorian Marko – “Concert”
Synthogy – Ivory II – German D
Synthogy – Ivory II – Yamaha C7
XLN Audio – Addictive Keys – Studio Grand
Native Instruments – Alicias Keys
Simple Sam – Signature Series – Distant Grand
Native Instruments – The Grandeur
Synthogy – Ivory II – Bosendorfer

Top 6 Piano Sample Libraries

Here are my current top-six picks for grand piano VIs. Even if you disagree, I hope you’ll find these examples helpful in picking the one that’s right for you. Be sure to also check out the Web-Story (short) version of this post.

Embertone – Walker 1955 D
Orange Tree Samples – Evolution Rosewood Grand
Fracture Sounds – Spotlight Piano
Simple Sam – Signature Series – Intimate Grand
Native Instruments – Noire
Soniccouture – The Hammersmith Pro

Bonus Sample Libraries

Here are 11 upright pianos. These are such a different sound from the grand pianos. Quite delightful in many contexts. Check these out (in no particular order).

MuleTone – Upright Piano
Native Instruments – Cuba Spotlight Collection – Cuban Upright
Native Instruments – Kontakt factory library – Upright with Overtones
Native Instruments – The Gentleman
e-instruments – Session Keys – Upright Open
Spitfire – Mrs Mills Piano
Kirk Hunter Studios – Traveling Pianos – C5
Sonora Cinematic – Verticale – FELT
Splash Sound – Old School Keys – Upright Pop
Native Instruments – Una Corda
Skybox – Hammers+Waves – UX UPRIGHT

2 thoughts on “Piano Sample Libraries You Love to Hear”

  1. Stan, do you feel at ease working with such a wide range of sampling. Does it ever gets to you, meaning, you find yourself improvising over pre-recorded themes and ideas, and then having a hard time sorting everything out as to what is yours and what is not?
    It’s that ancient nurture vs nature debate, slightly augmented, if you would. But it smacks right into the issues over chatboxes and fake videos of dead idols, reimagined and sometimes even modified to the point of non-recognition, perforiming their old songs or even new ones, AI-inspired. It’s a not too brave new world out there but for us, there’s always this fear that, after a few centuries of respect and value to the authorship system, we’re going back to a time when there were no authors, or individuals, and everything that moves and sings and breathes belong to the state. No, I’m not a conspiracy nuts) but we can see the writing on the wall.
    At the same time, we can’t deny the corruption that grew out of the system too, along the years, as in the case of remote relatives standing to a gain a windfall without having any merit for it and, in certain cases, having even been openly against the artist while he or she was alive. Or the spurious practice in the 50s and 60s, of producers to share undue authorship credits with underprivilieged artists, mostly blakc and minory people, under their managership. And of course, everything else involved. Sorry, this came out overly extended. Cheers

    1. I really appreciate your thoughts on this, Wesley! Personally, I have not found too much value in using AI to generate art up to this point. I don’t even as you mention “improvising over pre-recorded” material. I create all my own beats and loops, avoiding pre-loaded ones in almost every case.
      Due to the combination of space and expense, I don’t have an acoustic piano. I’ve found that the better sample libraries do the trick for me.
      I always appreciate your wise and caring responses.
      Thanks again,

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