Virtual pianos

We’ve had an interesting discussion lately on Wikiloops. It started with played vs. sequenced (or programmed) stuff, and I also took it to using natural vs. sampled or even modelled instruments.

The “king’s class” as we would say here in Germany are of course pianos (and I also took a piano sound as an example for what I was writing about in the Wikiloops forum). Yes, of course a Steinway Grand from Hamburg (or from New York, depends on your taste) is the non plus ultra. But not everyone can afford such an instrument (at around 150k upwards or so), or has the time to wait for it being built (2 years or so), or has the space for it (about 2.7 meters in your living room).

So compromises have to be made. Next best thing would be a smaller Grand, or even an upright piano, and the latter ones now even exist as hybrids, like the Yamaha N1, 2, and 3 series. Still 5 digit, still take some space because they’re a bit bigger than your usual upright. But at least these can be played more or less “silent” already.

Which is the next big point. If you live in a rented apartment together with other people living in other rented apartments around you, you might need to play and/or practice and/or record more or less silently – and this is where virtual pianos come into play. Meaning that you still need some kind of keyboard, best a weighted one (a Kawai VPC-1 would be a nice example), plus some software for your computer, either sample based, or a “modelled” piano. Or you can have some integrated solution like a Yamaha Clavinova and its siblings from other companies.

So which one is best, and how do they sound like? Well listen to some here (it’s not a complete overview over the market, but it has some nice ones. Would love to have the XLN Audio piano included which came with my Focusrite interface, or even some free ones which you can download as well). Listen and come up with your own judgement:

Zuleikha briefly listened to these yesterday evening before she went to bed, and she liked some of the upright simulations and models. Pianoteq are “modelled” pianos which never existed, so no recorded (Giga-) samples, which makes them small and therefore suitable also for older or less capable computers. They even offer Linux versions I think. And while I don’t like the Pianoteq upright much, Zuleikha did. She plays a cheap Yamaha Arius here, a Yamaha Concert Grand in her music school, and lately played some nice Kawai uprights in a local music store.

So what’s your opinion? I did a comparison for myself already and decided that XLN is nice, but so was the free “Salamander” Grand (search for it, you can download samples with a few Gigabytes of size if you’re interested). Pianoteq would be interesting since all sample based instruments cut off differently than modelled ones. But I’m no piano player – and if you are, you have to come up with your own judgement.

Thanks for reading.

Edit: as Zuleikha told me, the music school has moved that nice Yamaha Grand, and now they’re back to an upright for her classes as well. Anyway…