Piano Sounds – Which Are The Best Available?

Updated 14/7/16
Piano Sounds – Which Are The Best Around?

Digital piano sounds have evolved immeasurably in recent years, but which are the best available?

The dawn of sampling technology revolutionised the piano world. Until then, electronic piano sounds were generated by analogue means.

This resulted in some classic instruments (Rhodes, Wurlizer, Clavinet…), but they were not free of the drawbacks of an acoustic instrument. Plus, they didn’t really sound like acoustic pianos… Many still required tuning and were still pretty heavy.

Sampling changed all this. The computer technology made electronic pianos lighter, and far more realistic.

Since then, the amount of sample RAM used has expanded hugely, and the pianos themselves employ lots of clever trickery to make piano sounds more authentic than ever.

Here are five ways of getting of the best piano sounds available…

Piano Sounds – Which Are The Best Around?

Roland – SuperNATURAL technology

Roland’s flagship SuperNATURAL technology is a great example of how the brand ‘trickles’ its innovations down to more affordable products. Initially, this was only seen on its top piano models and drum-kits. Now, it features on nearly all of its piano models and drum kits.

Essentially, SuperNATURAL starts with a great multi-sample of an acoustic piano. This means recording every key at multiple dynamic levels. Then, it employs some clever techniques to avoid the obvious ‘sample switching’ of other piano sounds (where its becomes obvious that one piano sample is being changed to another).

Best Piano Sounds - Roland RD-64 Stage Piano

Notes transition smoothly across the keyboard and through the dynamic range, with a full, rich tone throughout.

Best Piano Sounds - Nord Piano 2

Nord Piano Library

When the Nord Piano was launched, it took a very different approach to piano sounds than many of its contemporaries. The Swedish brand is renowned as having a slightly obsessive attention to detail, and in many ways, this new instrument was a great illustration of this.

It took a far more natural approach to the recordings of the original instruments, which resulted in sounds with extraordinary character. For example, if you play a unison at the bass end of the keyboard, you’ll hear the gentle phasing between notes that you’d expect on an acoustic instrument.

Best Piano Sounds - Nord Stage 2

The upright sounds are particularly full of character in this regard. Add in some unnervingly authentic sympathetic resonance (the un-played strings resonating when played strings are struck), true pedal noise, and the ability to download all-new piano samples for free, and you have one of the best sounding digital pianos that money can buy.

This technology is available on the Nord Piano 2 and Stage 2 models.

Best Piano Sounds - Yamaha CLP-480PE

Yamaha Real Grand Expression

Yamaha has been a key player in the digital piano world ever since the launch of the original Clavinova. It has a very big advantage, compared to many brands, having a catalogue of excellent acoustic pianos to draw on as a source for its piano sounds.

Its current leading technology is the Real Grand Expression system. This samples the flagship CFX acoustic grand is painstaking detail, with extensive multisampling over many velocity layers, half pedalling and damper resonance and 256 note polyphony, to ensure that even the most complex pieces won’t result in stolen notes.

Best Piano Sounds - Korg Kronos

Korg Kronos Premium Piano Engine

Korg’s Kronos workstation offers so much in the way of sonic firepower, it’s difficult to know where to start. One of its nine different sound engines was a premium piano engine, however, and it was immediately one of the very best piano sounds available.

Best Piano Sounds - Korg Kronos

Exploiting the Kronos’s internal solid-state drive, it could use far bigger samples than its contemporaries. This meant long, un-looped stereo samples, and eight different velocity levels for every key. Plus, sympathetic resonance and damper resonance also feature, along with pedal noise. You can even adjust the height of the virtual ‘lid’.

The Kronos has 2 different grand piano sounds: the German D model, and a Japanese C model. If you don’t need all of the features of the Kronos, the German D piano features in the more affordable Krome models.

Best Piano Sounds - Native Keys

Native Instruments Piano Libraries

Yes, I know that it’s not a digital piano. However, it would be wrong to talk of the best piano sounds available without considering the incredible software plug-ins now available. In many ways, software sample technology has driven the development of piano sounds.

Without the constraints of onboard RAM, sample libraries could be much bigger, which led to the development of many technologies that we now take for granted, such as velocity switching, and different articulations.

Best Piano Sounds - The Giant

Native Instruments was at the forefront of these technologies, with its Acoustik Piano plug-in. This offered hugely detailed recreations of real pianos in software form, with easy to use visual interfaces.

Nowadays, these are available as individual libraries for use within its Kontakt sampler or free Kontakt player. An incredible range are available, from stunning uprights and grands, to the monster ‘The Giant’ – a recreation of the world’s biggest upright piano.

For more information about any of the above, call our stores or customer service team (01925 582420). Alternatively, visit the Dawsons website for more information on digital pianos.

Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.

Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.

Comments

  1. So which one is the best?

    • Hi,

      Well, it’s all down to taste- you can’t go far wrong with any of those above. Personally (and it is personal), I love the Nord, but I have friends who prefer each of the others above. Try some of them out, and you’ll find your favourite, too 😉

      Joe

  2. I’m sure the models / makes you mention are all splendid, but I am surprised you left Kawai out of the list; ignoring all of the proprietary features that all brands promise make theirs the “best”, when we bought our digital piano we did so based on one criterion above all others: the sound. The Kawai CA111 we bought (now discontinued, the closest equivalent seems to be the new CS10) is the ONLY digital piano I have ever heard where you could actually believe it is a “real” piano. Secondary benefits (fantastic keyboard, it looks great etc) helped to seal the deal, but it was the sound that did it.
    Andrew

    • Hi Andrew,

      You’re absolutely right on every level- the CA111 is a great piano, and many of the Kawai pianos do sound incredible. I guess the reason it’s not there is because I only have so much space in these pieces, so unfortunately, some do end up missing out. The Kawai did in part because it’s far more difficult to find concrete info on how the sound engine works, too!

      But, as you say, the CA111 is a truly stunning instrument, and sonically, up with the best available.

      Thanks for your comment!

      Joe