Pianoteq is an incredible piece of software.
Unlike most piano VSTs and plugins on the market, Pianoteq isn’t sampled. It’s not made up of actual recordings of real pianos.
Instead, Pianoteq uses complicated math to recreate the sound from scratch – including all of the physical properties of the piano.
This makes it far more diverse and opens up an extreme number of options that you simply couldn’t ever get with sampled pianos. Again, sampled pianos are based on recordings – so, those aren’t ever going to change.
Pianoteq has come a long way and can in fact fool people into believing they’re healing a real, properly-recorded piano (which is both expensive and difficult to do.)
Unfortunately, some people feel that this software is not quite there yet, so I wanted to take some time to explore how we can help Pianoteq pianos sound a bit more authentic.
The Common Complaints
Now before I go any further, I want to highlight an important point.
Pianoteq is good. It’s really good. I would have no problem using it in production and pros love it.
Inside of a mix, the imperfections of Pianoteq will probably go unnoticed. Really, the flaws are most prominent in solo piano pieces, as you might expect.
And as a live performance tool, I would go as far as saying that Pianoteq is my absolute favorite. Because it’s physically modeled, there aren’t a ton of samples to load. It loads up in seconds. Hopping between pianos takes seconds. The playability and general responsiveness of Pianoteq is incredible. It feels alive and insanely responsive to touch.
And that is before we get into all of the unique ways you can shape the sound.
When people complain about Pianoteq sounds, there is usually two words that come up – ‘plastic’, and ‘tinny’ – almost metallic, like a steel drum. With some pianos, the issue is more prominent in the upper or lower end.
And while Pianoteq isn’t always my first choice for recording, there’s still a lot we can do to help improve upon the sound. That really is the best part of Pianoteq – being able to tweak and refine it to our liking.
1. Utilize The ‘Condition’ Slider
This is one of the quickest and easiest ways to add a bit of realism to your Pianoteq presets.
Real pianos have imperfections. Be it their strings not being 100% perfectly in tune or general wear and tear on the instrument, real pianos are just not going to sound absolutely pristine. Not only that, but our ears are not even used to hearing completing pristine pianos, even in professional recordings.
The condition slider runs along the bottom of your Pianoteq window. On most most presets, it’s set to be in absolutely perfect condition, with a numerical value of 0.
The slider goes all the way up to 10. I’ve found for my taste, between 0.25 and 0.4 are my sweet spot, at least for the pianos that I play the most.
Play around with this and find out what works for you. This is all about making little tweaks to shape your piano sound until it’s just the way you want it.
2. Play Around With The Following Sliders
In addition to the condition slider, there are a few others you’ll want to play around with in order to make Pianoteq sound better. These won’t be quite as noticeable as the condition slider, but can still make a notable difference.
For best results, play notes in each registry, and listen loudly with headphones.
Blooming Energy – If your piano is sounding ‘metallic’ or like it were made out of metal, make sure this slider is all the way down.
String Length – On most pianos, I find lengthening the strings slightly can help bring out a bit of realism.
Sympathetic Resonance – Boost this up, and it will bring more life into the piano, especially in the high-end.
Soundboard Impedance – Moving this up slightly will make the sound a bit longer.
Obviously, there are a ton of options in Pianoteq and each will affect your sound to some degree, but these ones are a good starting point. Remember, feel free to overboard for a moment in order to hear the difference, and then tone it back down. The default presets in Pianoteq are so good that you often don’t need more than just gentle changes.
3. Calibrate The Velocity For Your Keyboard
It isn’t obvious upon your first use of Pianoteq, but there’s a built-in calibration system to calibrate the velocity curve of Pianoteq to your specific controller.
This really can help Pianoteq feel even more expressive, which is one of its huge highlights – and part of what makes Pianoteq sound so great. Great pianists treat the piano like an extension of themselves – like they are one with their instrument, by their expressive touch and interaction with the keys. Again, it is so much more than just hitting the right notes at the right time!
To calibrate the velocity curve, click on the ‘Calibration’ button underneath the Velocity section.
Pianoteq will then have you play a series of notes – first as soft as you can go, then soft notes, notes played with a normal velocity, hard notes, and finally, the hardest you can play.
As you do this, it will automatically adjust the velocity curve based on how hard or soft you hit the keys.
When you’ve finished, you’re left with a velocity curve that’s best fit for for your specific MIDI controller.
You can then save this as a preset, so you won’t have redo the calibration over and over again.
All acoustic pianos have the natural reverb of the room that you’re playing in, and this is pretty important to your overall sound.
Even sampled pianos have a degree of unavoidable reverb that helps them to sound more natural.
Pianoteq has a reverb effect build in, and you’ll want to make sure this is turned on. You can make adjustments to the reverb by opening up the effects panel.
While Pianoteq’s built-in reverb is good enough to play around with, and to get a rough shape of your sound.
When it comes time for producing, I personally recommend using a third-party reverb plugin like Altiverb 7 or EastWest spaces 2 for more control. Reverb is such an important aspect to the overall piano experience that it makes sense to focus a lot of time on it if you’re really wanting to hone in your perfect sound.
5. Try Out Different Speakers
Finally, if you have several available I recommend trying out different pairs of headphones or speakers, especially if you don’t already have a pair of quality studio monitors to work with.
I’ve noticed that due to the way different headphones accent different frequencies, Pianoteq can quickly sound quite different – which is why it’s important to use something as flat as possible when you can.
You can always EQ it later, or as you can see above Pianoteq also has an EQ effect built right into it.
If your headphones or speakers color your sound too much, you may need to EQ the sound to compensate.
The included presets within Pianoteq are fantastic, and you shouldn’t need to tweak them very much in order to get an amazing sound.
That being said, making a few minor adjustments can help Pianoteq sound more like a real acoustic piano.
I hope you’ve found this article helpful. I’d love to hear more about how you’re using the power of Pianoteq to get an incredible piano sound for your arrangements.
– The Musical Sanctuary Team