Before I say anything about Pianoteq 4.51 Stage, I should talk a bit about why I was looking for a dedicated piano plugin. I have Ableton Live 9 Suite with their grand piano plugin, which really does sound pretty good, but I noticed that while the piano sounds good on it's own, it didn't really "work" for the music I am doing. There was something just not right about the sound in my mix, and when I compared it to some pianos found in the music I like - house and dubstep - it just wasn't the same. So, I went in search of a piano plugin that would offer me more options when it comes to piano sounds.
After reading through the forums, and looking into several mainly sample based plugins, I came across Pianoteq and was intrigued by it. The idea of a physically modeled piano seemed good to me. Being able to change or tweak the piano sound in real time sounded like what I needed to be able to match a good piano sound to my mix. Also, I heard really good things about the sound, and that the program was tiny, a mere 20MB compared to some other piano plugins out there that take up to 77GB of hard disk space.
Pianoteq offers up 3 varieties of software: Stage, Standard and Pro. Since I am on a budget, I went with the cheaper of the 3 - "Stage" and added 2 add on pianos, another grand piano (yamaha based) and the upright piano. I figured this would give me a lot to work with.
Now, after having spent several hours playing Pianoteq, I am 100% satisfied with my purchase. This program really does live up to the name. So here is a short list of why I like the program and why you should consider it if you are looking for more piano sounds:
1) INTERFACE: The Pianoteq interface is clean, easy to use, scalable, and offers easy ways to both audition piano sounds as well as to tweak them. While "Stage" doesn't offer ALL of the customization options that Standard or Pro offer, there is still quite a lot of parameters that you can tweak to get almost exactly the piano sound that you are looking for.
2) SOUND: This is where Pianoteq shines. Piano tech sounds clean, and sounds GREAT. Because Pianoteq models a real piano, but synthesizes the sound in real time (as opposed to using samples), this allows Pianoteq to be very flexible, nuanced, and tweakable, and able to reproduce a wide variety of different types of pianos, and even "Stage" offered up at least 6 pianos with many preset options for each, to cover a wide range of uses, and ALL of these pianos are adjustable to get exactly the kind of sound you are going for. Also, the guys who made Pianoteq obviously went to great lengths to capture even the subtle nuances of sound, such as the sound of each key resetting after being released, which further adds to the realism, and the adjustable velocity curve, as well as the many other tweakable parameters and on-board effects allows for a huge range of possible sounds in many different acoustic environments. I found that playing Pianoteq really captures a lot of subtle cues that make it FEEL like you are playing a real piano.
3) PRESETS: In addition to several pianos, Pianoteq Stage also includes some older instruments from the 1600s and 1700s that were precursors to the piano itself. While I wouldn't make much use of these sounds, other people might, and they all sound great as well.
3) MEMORY, DISC AND PROCESSOR: While I found Pianoteq to be a bit more processor intensive than some of my other synths, the quality versus processor usage is a solid tradeoff. The plugin is stable, fast, and as long as you don't go too crazy with your other tracks, there should be plenty of room to run this plugin. The best part about Pianoteq, in terms of memory usage is that there are no samples, so it hardly takes up any space on the hard drive, which is a big plus for me working on a laptop. Also, since no samples are being loaded in real time, hard drive speed is not an issue with Pianoteq.
4) UPGRADES / EXPANSION: I am plenty happy with "Stage", which is Pianoteq's lowest price package, and was very surprised to find out that while you can't adjust things like string length or sound board parameters (to "build" your own virtual piano sound from scratch) you can still tweak many parameters such as acoustic environment, 3 slots for on board effects, including gain, as well as parameters such as action, mallet bounce, EQ and type of sound output: mono, stereo or biaural. When you add all this to the dozens of presets, you get a wide variety of possible piano sound, as well as some sound that you just can't get from a real piano. But if you want to go a step further, you can upgrade to Standard or Pro which will allow you to literally "build" your own virtual piano from scratch, as well as to set up multiple mic positions and room acoustics to get exactly the sound you want. However, this costs more money! If that still isn't enough, there are many add ons to Pianoteq, including even more pianos, and many sounds that aren't even pianos. (Stage comes with church bells and tubes which sound fantastic and which I will be using for something!).
I suppose that there are many piano aficionados out there who might not like the idea of a "virtual" piano, and would be willing to pay a lot more money for a lot larger sample plugin, but I think for my usage, which is having a really good sounding piano that will work in a mix, I'll take this plugin over some others.
The bottom line is that Pianoteq precisely fit my needs: It was relatively inexpensive, it is small, fast, gives me a huge range of piano sounds to work with, is highly customizable, and easy to use, and of course sounds great.
I have no hesitation recommending this plugin, and since I can't find anything wrong with it, it gets a 10.