Why Your High-End Piano VST Still Sounds Like Garbage
Sometimes I listen to YouTube and just let "autoplay" do its thing and take me where it will. This morning I moved quite randomly from Kapustin into Prokofiev and this started playing:
Update: turns out the video was deleted, so, uh, no more video.
Within a handful of seconds I knew I was listening to a fake piano, and the video description confirmed it. It's very faithful to the score, the "pedaling" is handled well, the voicing is great, but it just sounds bad almost immediately. Why?
The answer has nothing to do with the VST, actually. The video above uses Synthogy's Ivory piano, which, if you do a quick YouTube search, can sound really fantastic. Largely indistinguishable from a real piano, frankly. No, the answer has everything to do with performance. It's quite obvious that these short works were sequenced note-by-note:
- Every time a chord comes up, every note of it sounds at the exact same instant.
- Rhythms are way too perfect. Every note of a certain type (e.g., sixteenth note/semiquaver) is that exact duration every single time, down to the microsecond.
- The pulse is rigidly metronomic (largely because of the previous point).
- Crescendos, diminuendos, accelerandos, ritardandos, etc. occur perfectly linearly.
All of this unnaturally perfect stuff combines into a performance that sounds, well, wholly unnatural. Even the best pianists in the world do not hit every note in their chords at the same microsecond, or play a "perfect" run in terms of absolutely equal note durations. It's not possible. But the sum of these tiny imperfections is what makes a performance sound human.
Now, that said, maybe the example above isn't the best: I'm sure there's more that can be done to make the VST itself sound better, but the real point is that its immediately jarring sound comes from the nature of the "performance" itself, and that's why even high-end fake pianos frequently sound like garbage.