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Session Keys Grand Pianos (e-instruments) – Are they worth it?

If you're someone who wants something that's more than just another virtual piano, you may have come across the grand pianos by e-instruments (Sessions Keys S and Y) and are wondering if they live up to the $159 price tag. With so many different piano vsts available it can be hard to know which is the right choice. Luckily, we've put these pianos to the test and in this article, we're going to tell you whether they're worth it or not.

Session Keys Grand Pianos (Quick Review)

whippedcreamsounds

Sound Quality
Playability
Additional Features
UI, Resizing and CPU-friendly
Value for money
Ease of use for a recent buyer

Verdict

Despite a few very minor setbacks, the Session Keys Grand Pianos are fantastic plugins. The quality of sound is top-notch with plenty of customisability options. The extra features take them beyond just ordinary piano plugins and let you delve into the world of sound design, as well as making it easier than ever to create great piano ideas. They're very reasonably priced, however you don't necessarily need both as they have the exact same features and design and only differ in sound.

4.8

Is Session Keys Grand S and Y Worth It? (Quick Verdict)

Compatibility: VST, AU, AAX, NKS ( Windows 7+, Mac OS X 10.9+, Free Kontakt 5 Player or Kontakt 5 version 5.5.1 or higher, 4gb ram min.)
Price: $
159 ($99 Individually)

Yes, Session Keys Grand S and Y are definitely worth it. In fact, they're now two of our favourite piano vsts! If you're willing to invest in a high-quality grand piano plugin, then this is the choice for you. Both have an incredible and highly-realistic sound along with lots of customisability and fantastic features that take them beyond just another piano vst!

Pros

✅ Two high-quality sound banks, suitable for either classical/cinematic or contemporary music

✅ Animator function that plays tweakable and idiomatic piano parts in different styles and keys

✅ Pentamorph control that lets you select between or combine acoustic, reversed and mechanical samples

✅ You can use smart chord mode to create chord progressions based on your selected key and scale, which also includes extended and slash chords

Cons

❌ There are other piano vsts that are just as good but less expensive

❌ Sustain and sostenuto pedals control don't work as they should or are very impractical. You're better off using an external pedal

What are Session Keys Grand S & Y? What Do They Do & What's The Difference?

Session Keys Grand S and Y are piano vsts created by e-instruments that samples the legendary Steinway D and Yamaha CFIIIS Concert Grand Pianos. They have a strong ease of playability combined with a rich and warm tone, making both a perfect choice for songwriters, producers and composers alike. Both are exactly the same in terms of design and features but differ in sound.

Their animator and smart chord features can help you fast-track your way to creating catchy yet complex musical figures, and the pentamorph section gives you an extremely powerful tool that takes you into the exciting world of sound design.

Amongst other virtual pianos, the price tag falls around the middle of the market range yet the pristine sound and extensive fine-tuning options keep it near the top of the selection in terms of quality.

Both have the exact same design and features, with the sound being the only real difference. The sound of the Grand S is overall more suited to orchestral and cinematic music, whereas the Grand Y has a harder sound which would work better for songwriters.

You don't necessarily need both pianos but rather should go for the one whose sound is more suited to the type of music you make.

How Do They Sound?

We think both pianos sound flawless! They have clearly been meticulously recorded by excellent performers, giving you a clear, crisp and excellent tone.

The concert mode has an open-lid sound and was recorded with a classical microphone in order to get that iconic concert grand feel. We found this mode perfect for anything classical-based as well as for use in film music composition.

On the other hand, studio mode has the closed lid removed and goes for a more direct and modern vibe, which we found more suited to pop and contemporary styles.

There are also 20 different sound presets to choose from, which differ in tone depending on whether you're in studio or concert mode.

If you want to shape the sound further there are plenty of tonal controls and built-in audio effects such as eq, resonance, envelopes, noise, reverb, compressor, delay, and the option of reversed samples.

Here are a couple of audio examples, so you can hear exactly how the pianos sound out-of-the-box and without any additional processing.

Concert Mode

Session Keys Grand S

Studio Mode

Session Keys Grand S (with external sustain pedal)

What Features Do I Get?

Animator

The animator feature might possibly be the best thing about Session Keys Grand S and Y! It contains pre-programmed piano phrases that vary in style, complexity and form which you can use within your own chord progressions – a great way to quickly generate ideas!

From the song menu, you can find a list of different styles such as pop, jazz and Latin. Each one is split into 5 different phrases corresponding to a song and these are all assigned to key switches on your midi controller. Simply make a choice from the song menu, select a phrase then press any key and you'll instantly hear an idiomatic piano phrase!

Playing one note will give you a major chord phrase with that note as the root but the chord functionality goes far beyond that. Play any major or minor chord and there will be a delegated phrase for each one under every style available. In fact, the animator can play phrases over every possible extended chord as well as slash, suspended, augmented and diminished chords, which are all shown by the chord detection tab.

The complexity control allows you to cycle through 3 different levels of complexity and can be controlled by the mod wheel on your midi controller. So that's 3 different levels of complexity for each phrase under every style over any chord! That's a lot of flexibility and a great way to generate countless piano ideas.

Pentamorph

Another cool and innovative feature is the Pentamorph. This lets you drastically alter the sound of the piano, perfect for sound design.

  • Reversed – This mode plays only the reversed samples
  • Aerial – This mode combines both the reversed and the mechanical samples. The mechanical samples are the sounds of the keys and pedals being pressed and released.
  • Tonality – In tonality mode, the standard acoustic samples and the reversed samples are combined.
  • Acoustic – This is the standard piano sound and includes the acoustic samples only
  • Mechanics -This mode uses only the mechanical samples and also comes with a gain switch.

We really liked how easy it was to switch between and combine each mode together.

Each one is placed on a point of a pentagon shape and you can move a fader along every side to morph together two sounds to taste.

We personally loved combining the reversed and mechanical samples to create eerie and tense atmospheres, perfect if you're a composer of horror music!

Smart Chord

The smart chord feature plays musically correct chords for you by just pressing a single key. This can be done within the plugin window, on your midi keyboard and even from a pad controller unit.

The chords played are determined by the settings you select. There are two drop-down menus, which let you select the key and specific scale your chords will come from. All 12 keys are available and the scale options are major, natural minor, mixolydian (dom 7), and dorian.

But what about extended chords and inversions? Don't worry there's a way to play those too!

Whatever key/scale you're in, each chord is assigned to only the white keys of the piano starting from C. So even if you've got your smart chords set to the key of G major, playing the note C will give you the one chord in your selected key/scale, in this example a G chord. This leaves the black keys on the piano available for other functions.

As you can see in the image above, the black keys are used as modifiers, allowing you to have your smart chords played in 1st and 2nd inversion and/or as 7th, 9th, or sus4 chords. To achieve this you simply play the note for the chord you need alongside the black key modifier you want to add.

We think this feature is great for beginner composers/producers who are still working on their music theory and songwriting skills or don't have much piano playing experience, as it helps them quickly generate standard chord progressions.

However, there are some limitations for more advanced creators.

Firstly, there's a lack of scale options, with the harmonic minor scale being a noticeable absence. Secondly, the black key modifiers could be more detailed. We have sus4, 7th and 9th chords, but we don't have sus2, added 6ths, slash or any other extended chords. Finally, with a feature like this, you are limited to only the chords in your selected key/scale meaning doing techniques like borrowing chords require a lot of unnecessary manoeuvring.

Despite these limitations, we wouldn't really criticise the smart mode feature too much. If you're someone who has need of the things mentioned above, you're probably advanced enough already to a point that you don't need the smart mode feature to get there.

What About The Technical Stuff?

How Hard is Session Keys Grand S and Y on The CPU?

We tested both piano plugins on a 2017 Macbook Pro, running Monterey 12.5.1, with 16g ram and a dual-core Intel I5 processor, within Cubase. We ran them within a large template project, consisting of over 100 tracks and multiple instances of Kontakt, Sine player, Play Engine, and one Serum. The plug-ins performed extremely well with no issues at all.

The plugins do load quite a bit more memory into your ram (493.27mb) compared to similar products, such as The Giant by Native Instruments (188.58mb), but this is mainly because of the added features like the animator and smart chord mode creating more samples. This is not a problem, however, if you utilise Kontakt's sample purge function.

Based on our findings, anyone with similar or better specs will be able to run these plug-ins with ease. On the e-instruments website, they recommend an intel core 2-duo processor with a minimum of 4gb ram so most setups won't have trouble running them smoothly.

What Does My System Need To Run Them?

Here's a complete breakdown of what you need to run either Session Keys Grand S or Y on either PC or Mac.

SystemMacPC
Size11 GB / 4.91 GB (lossless sample compression) – Grand S
10.2 GB / 4.35 GB (lossless sample compression) – Grand Y
11 GB / 4.91 GB (lossless sample compression) – Grand S
10.2 GB / 4.35 GB (lossless sample compression) – Grand Y
KontaktRequires free Kontakt 5 Player or Kontakt 5 Version 5.5.1 or higherRequires free Kontakt 5 Player or Kontakt 5 Version 5.5.1 or higher
Operating SystemMac OS X 10.9+Windows 7, 8.1 or 10 (latest Service Pack, 32/64-bit)
Processor Intel Core 2 DuoIntel Core 2 Duo or AMD Athlon 64 X2
Ram 4gb (min)4gb (min)

Since it's an older version, Kontakt 5 and Kontakt 5 player are found via this link and requires Native Access to install.

What About UI & Utility? How Easy is It To Use & Any Stand-out Features?

Now, we want to talk about two more important and useful features as well as the plug-ins user interface.

Dynamic Response Control

This knob lets you control the overall dynamic response of the piano (the touch sensitivity). When turned off, you have no control over the dynamic range between each note and each one sounds at the same velocity. As you turn up this control a larger dynamic range will become available, allowing for more realism and musical expression.

We'd recommend keeping this to the default setting (around 75%) to keep it sounding realistic but not pushing it too far to a point where the dynamics are hard to control. If you're a very experienced pianist with a lot of control over your playing, however, feel free to push this control as high as suits you.

Pedal Controls

You didn't think pedal controls had been forgotten about, did you?

Of course not, these are piano plugins after all, but unfortunately, this feature is a little hit or miss.

There are three pedal options, just like on a real piano.

The first is the soft pedal, which gives you a more muted sound. We liked using this one when we wanted a more intimate or melancholic sound.

The second is the sostenuto pedal, which is meant to sustain the notes you play while the pedal is down but not any further played notes, avoiding a muffled sound.

That's what it's supposed to do, but here it doesn't seem to achieve that at all. Besides, this is one of the least used pedals on a piano with most people having no idea what it does anyway so you probably won't suffer too much from this problem.

The third and most used pedal option is of course the sustain pedal, which works as it should but is too impractical to actually be usable.

When selected it sustains the notes as expected but there's no good way to change the pedal between harmonies like you would on a real piano. The only way to almost achieve it is to quickly click on and off the sustain button between changes in harmony but as you can probably already guess that way is an absolute nightmare.

Instead, with this pedal switched on you just end up getting sustained and mushy harmonies that sound like bad piano playing. You're much better off just plugging in a sustain pedal into your midi keyboard if you have one, or drawing in the midi cc after you've recorded the part.

User Interface

Although these vsts have a lot of features, the user interface is very well thought out and easy to navigate.

At the top left, we have a drop-down menu for our different sound features. Below that we have the option to open either the tonality or effects tabs. Look top right and there you'll find the smart chord tab, which once selected allows you to open another tab with additional controls.

Towards the bottom of the plugin, we can switch between either our normal piano mode or the animator section. In piano mode, we have access to our dynamic response control, the pentamorph feature and the pedal options. Selecting the animator tab opens up a new menu with all the controls for this feature easily available.

So yes, there are a lot of features and controls but they're organised intuitively and you'll quickly be able to find your way around during your first use of either plugin.

What Are Others Saying About Session Keys Grand S and Y?

After scouring the internet we found mostly positive reviews. Many praised the quality of sound as well as the extra features, with others mentioning the ease of playability of the instruments as well as it being light on your system's CPU. One comment commended the fact that they also recorded the pianos with no lid and said this is more akin to how real pianos are recorded.

The general response we found to this product was mostly similar to our own positive experience, showing that Session Keys Grand S and Y really are software instruments at the top of their game.

How Do These Pianos Stand Up To The Competition?

What's best for you will depend on your budget, your personal preferences and the type of music you want to make. The choice can be hard but we've compared Session Keys Grand S and Y to some other popular piano vsts for you.

Native Instruments – Pianos (The Giant, Maverick, Gentleman, Grandeur)

A good alternative may be the pianos created by Native Instruments. These are The Giant, The Maverick, The Gentleman, and The Grandeur and can either be bought separately, or all together as a part of the Komplete Bundle, or just the latter 3 as part of the Definitive Piano Collection bundle.

Where price tags are concerned, each piano individually costs $99, which is the same price as Session Keys Grand S and Y when bought separately. The Definitive Piano Collection bundle (which doesn't include The Giant) is $199 and the Komplete 14 Standard bundle, including all of Native's pianos, is priced at $599.

The $599 price tag for the Komplete bundle may sound like a lot, but we'd recommend it for absolute beginners who have the budget to do so as you get 4 decent piano vsts along with a ton of other instruments and effects, saving you a load of money in the long run.

If you want better quality sounding plugins with more features, then we'd recommend going for the Sessions Keys Grand S.

Piano in Blue (Cinesamples) and Cinematic Studio Piano (Cinematic Studio)

These two are very popular choices for film score composers and if that's the sort of music you want to make, then we'd recommend going for either of these.

Piano in Blue is a bit more expensive, costing $149, but if you really want a fantastic piano for film scoring then this is a great choice.

If you don't want to spend as much, then the Cinematic Studio Piano costs only $69, the cheapest of all the pianos mentioned and an absolute bargain. We'd also highly recommend these if you already have products from either of these companies as they're designed to blend well together.

The sound of these two pianos does outshine both the Sessions Keys Grand S and Y pianos, but the latter benefits from their extra features and are probably more suited to beginners and those with less piano playing experience. It's also a better choice if you need something that's suited more to genres like pop and rock, rather than cinematic music, especially the Grand Y.

The Verdict

Session Keys Grand Pianos (Quick Review)

whippedcreamsounds

Sound Quality
Playability
Additional Features
UI, Resizing and CPU-friendly
Value for money
Ease of use for a recent buyer

Verdict

Despite a few very minor setbacks, the Session Keys Grand Pianos are fantastic plugins. The quality of sound is top-notch with plenty of customisability options. The extra features take them beyond just ordinary piano plugins and let you delve into the world of sound design, as well as making it easier than ever to create great piano ideas. They're very reasonably priced, however you don't necessarily need both as they have the exact same features and design and only differ in sound.

4.8

FAQ

Do they have electric piano/keys presets?

No, these are just acoustic piano plugins with some sound-shaping capabilities. There are no electric piano/keys presets.

The 20 presets available are for shaping the sound of the pianos through the use of eq, compression, reverb etc.

Does Sessions Keys Grand S and Y ever go on sale?

Yes, Session Keys Grand S and Y does go on sale. This is during Black Friday and other times throughout the year.

They are on sale frequently enough that, if you want to get them, it might be worth waiting a little longer until they go on sale so that you can save some money. The lowest we've seen them on sale for is $39 individually.

Do I need both Sessions Keys Grand S and Y?

No, you don't need both. They are very similar plugins but you can save money if you go for the bundle option.

If you are going to pick one we'd recommend making your choice based on what style of music you want to produce. The Session Keys Grand S is more suited to classical or cinematic music, whereas the Grand Y is better for more contemporary styles.

Are they better than a free piano VST?

Although there are some good free piano vsts out there, you do get what you pay for and we would recommend going for this if you have the means to do so.

A free plugin can be great but it always comes with some limitations. You won't find the same amount of useful features or an equal quality of sound with a free piano vst compared to the Session Keys Grand S and Y or other paid-for libraries.

I already have a piano VST, do I need to get another?

This depends on what piano VST you already have and how it compares to other piano plugins, as well as your budget and what your current needs are.

If you already have a piano VST that's close in quality and tone to the Session Keys Grand S and Y, as well as having similar features, then you probably don't need it. On the other hand, you may have a piano VST that's a bit more basic or has fewer features and it might be time for an upgrade. Just make sure you have the budget and are ready for something more advanced. Another reason is that your current library might be more suited for other purposes and Session Keys Grand S or Y could fill in the gaps that you're missing for making other styles of music.

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