Monday, 1 October 2012

Free Piano VSTs: The Diary


In this post I describe some of my experiences of searching for VSTs that emulate pianos.   

I recommend a couple of very good software companies that I advise you check out for yourselves.  

I also share some of the difficulties I have faced whilst searching and offer solutions that I hope you find helpful. 

A freeware favourite: DSK  

One of my favourite freeware manufacturers is DSK.  I have used DSK’s free VST’s a lot over the past couple of years and I am usually really satisfied with the results.  They have a wide range of plugins that emulate both electronic and acoustic instruments to often good, sometimes great, degrees of success.  This is something to be thankful for for two reasons:
  • It is difficult to find an emulation that realistically replicates a ‘real’ instrument
  • With DSK, you get a good rendition for free.
DSK products I love and recommend trying out include:
  • Overture – This is fantastic and probably my favourite plugin of theirs.  It contains so many rich, evocative and realistic sounds, from timpanis and glockenspiels to strings sections. If you have an older PC - like I do -  it can be very CPU hungry, but it is a wonderful collection.


  • ChoirZ – An ethereal 80’s keyboard sound rather than a proper human choir section.  I could play with the ChoirZ all  day.  In fact, on several occasions, I have.
  • RhodeZ – Another favourite of mine.  It doesn’t get that Fender Rhodes sound 100% but you cannot expect it to. I use this a lot.  I think it has a lot of warmth, although, going forward, I may manipulate it in various ways to try give it a little more ‘oomph’.  More on that in a later post, though.
  • Strings and Brass (two different packages) – I have to pick and choose when it comes to DSK Strings and DSK Brass.  Not every instrument in these packs does it for me but some are very nice sounding, so explore them as much as possible and make them work for you.
  • OranZe – I love this strange set of synthesizer sounds and haven’t used it as much as I want to.  I would use it sparingly in a track, but I really like what I have heard from this plugin.
AkoustiK Keyz: What am I doing wrong?

DSK's piano VST AkoustiK Keyz doesn’t seem to satisfy in the same way that the above recommendations do.  I often feel the need to slip the AkoustiK Keyz behind or underneath the other tracks in a song because it seems to sound a little flimsy to me.  This hasn’t been much of an issue until now, as my piano tracks have always been subtle extra touches, rather than leads.  However, one new project of mine requires a more prominent piano and AkoustiK Keyz just doesn't cut it.  On top of this, I have begun to find something a little jarring about the frequencies outside the mid-range.  In my opinion, the lower-end seems a bit boomy and the highs seem a little harsh.

This isn’t an attack on DSK.  Pianos are notoriously difficult to emulate and music is, like any other art form, highly subjective.  This may be nothing more than a simple difference in taste.

Disclaimer out of the way, I might try parallel compression to get rid of this perception of flimsiness, although for some reason the idea of parallel compressing a piano track scares me a little.  To try to remedy the percieved boomy and harsh lows and highs, I may try a bit of A/B testing using the excellent Stillwell HP/LP filter that comes with REAPER.  Another option I have is removing the use of a piano VST altogether and getting some samples in there instead. Hmmm.  I will do a follow up post once I have got somewhere with this little experiment of mine. 

A popular alternative: Supreme Piano

A lot of people really rate the Piano One plugin by Supreme Piano.  I look forward to downloading and testing it as an alternative plugin over the coming weeks.  I'll update you as soon as I've tested it out.



In the meantime, don’t just take my word for it, visit the DSK and the Supreme Piano websites at the links below, test out some of these great plug ins and let me know what you think!     


DSK Music
Supreme Piano

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