Best Harpsichord VST Plugins – 2020 Top Picks

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When you think about classical music, the harpsichord is a sound that probably defines that era the best. Once you hear it you will immediately travel back to the time of royal courts and curly gray wigs. Let’s see what makes this instrument so unique and how it can be used today.

Our Top Picks for Harpsichord VST Plugins

  • 18th century Harpsichord
  • Two different harpsichords
  • More piano sounds provided
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  • Sample-based Kontakt library
  • Velocity sensitive option
  • 40 convolution reverb IRs
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  • Synth-like harpsichord
  • 3 ADSR envelopes and LFO
  • Basic FX panel with Amp
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Comparison of the Best Harpsichord VST Plugins

IMAGEPRODUCT
  • Sound of a typical 18th century harpsichord
  • Two different harpsichords included
  • Acoustic and electric piano included
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  • Sample-based harpsichord for Kontakt player
  • Velocity sensitive option included
  • FX panel including 40 convolution reverb IRs
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  • Synth-like harpsichord plugin
  • 3 ADSR envelopes and basic LFO
  • Basic FX panel including Amp
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  • Sample-based harpsichord with two manuals
  • 256-voice polyphony
  • Key switch change of register
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  • 1,640 samples with 8x round robin
  • Samples recorded with 4 microphones
  • Virtually unlimited polyphony
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  • True authentic Italian harpsichord sound
  • 3 playing registers provided
  • Extended instrument range
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What is a Harpsichord? 

Harpsichord is a string instrument that creates a sound by pressing the keyboard which triggers plucking. It may come with additional keyboard manuals and stop switches that add or remove certain octaves from the sound by using a jack system. With this system, dual manual harpsichord provided the player an option to choose which strings will play and it also allowed a player to cover extra octave range.

It was used very frequently in Baroque as a backing and solo instrument. With the creation of the fortepiano in the 18th century, the harpsichord lost its place and remained to be used only in opera.

VSL Harpsichord

Are Harpsichord Plugins Hard to Use?

If you have some piano skills, a harpsichord won’t be so hard to use. Otherwise, you will have to learn how to arrange your score so that you use both hands naturally. There are a couple of techniques regarding thrills and you will have to adapt your playing technique to play without a sustain pedal, but more or less, everything will be quite the same. As a matter of fact, most harpsichord pieces can be played on a piano.

Soundwise, it won’t be so hard to tune the sound and for most situations, presets provided within the software will sound more than good enough.

Quick Take: 
Top 3 Picks

Review of the Best Harpsichord VST Plugins

Harpsichords are not so easy to be found as a single VST plugin, so this is the best we could find for you:

PROS

  • Two different harpsichords included
  • Extremely small storage space requirements
  • Sound of a typical 18th-century harpsichord
  • Physically modeled acoustic and electric piano included as well
  • Sound parameters editable in ways not possible with a real instrument

CONS

  • Condition slider might not work as expected
  • Some editing options might be available in more expensive versions

Features and Specifications

Pianoteq plugin decided to recreate some historical instruments that can’t be played so often. Speaking of the harpsichord, it provides you with the sound of two harpsichords from the 18th century - French Blanchet and Italian Grimaldi. Grimaldi is especially specific because there are only 3 left in the world while the French model will provide you with a lighter and warmer sound with richer overtones. They both share the interface of the original Pianoteq and as they are physically modeled you can edit every sound parameter individually and even include a sustain pedal.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This plugin was designed for piano sounds at first. But, these free add-on libraries come with the original purchase of any Pianoteq and that’s why we couldn’t resist but select Pianoteq 6 Stage as an ideal purchase for a harpsichord. You would get not just the great harpsichord with the option to buy even more specific harpsichords, for the same price you get a wonderful clavichord, pianoforte, and electric piano for any kind of live or studio performance as part of the KIViR project and on top of that you get an acoustic piano officially endorsed by Steinway & Sons.

PROS

  • Basic 3-channel mixer 
  • Velocity-sensitive option included
  • Sound recorded with three microphones
  • Sample-based harpsichord for Kontakt player
  • Complete FX panel including 40 custom convolution reverb IRs

CONS

  • Basic amp envelope would be nice
  • Takes up 1.5GB of storage space for a single sound

Features and Specifications

This harpsichord comes with 1.5GB of samples and uses up to four round-robin repetition per note. Samples are recorded with three microphones placed at a close, mid, and far position and you can readjust their level thanks to the basic 3-channel mixer given within the plugin.

The Effect panel seems pretty capable and it consists of EQ, several compressor types, basic modulation effects such as chorus, flanger and phaser, amp simulators, tape saturation, and distortion module and convolution reverb with 40 custom convolution reverb impulse responses.

Why it Stands Out to Us

While we approve how detailed they wanted to be with the sampling of this instrument, we are even more thrilled that they were thinking about RAM management and allowed you to manually pick how many round-robin samples you want to load. This way you can tailor the resource intake based on your CPU power.

And while real harpsichord doesn’t have any dynamics, it doesn’t mean that modern plugin should follow that route if there is an option. Luckily, guys from Wavesfactory thought the same, so you have a unique opportunity to use great samples with playing velocity applied.

Best for the Money:
SONiVOX Harpsichord

PROS

  • 3 ADSR envelopes
  • Basic FX panel including Amp
  • Affordable sample-based harpsichord
  • Typical synth-like LFO modulation included
  • Delay and LFO can be note-based or time-based

CONS

  • Note release sample could be better
  • Low pass filter could include resonance

Features and Specifications

This is a budget-friendly harpsichord VST. It’s sample-based, comes at 366MB of file size, and provides you with the typical straight-forward user interface with all parameters visible at the single pages. There are three dedicated envelopes for an amp, pitch, and filter. LFO can be applied to every envelope at different amounts for some experimental purposes and its depth can be controlled to the mod wheel separately. The effects panel is made from EQ, Amp, Chorus, and basic stereo delay that can be both time-based or note-based.

Why it Stands Out to Us

If you’re looking for an affordable harpsichord plugin and you don’t care how realistic it actually sounds, this is your pick. It’s not that it sounds bad, it does what it should, but from our specific vibe, something might be missing. For other purposes, such as rock music it will work great. As a matter of fact, change that envelope a little bit and you may get a nice and unique replacement for a steel guitar sound. To be honest, several hardware keyboards would be glad to include this harpsichord in their soundbank.

Best Orchestra Harpsichord:
VSL Harpsichord

PROS

  • 256-voice polyphony
  • Realistic humanize options
  • 3 standard harpsichord registers provided
  • Registers available by pressing a key switch
  • Sample-based harpsichord with two manuals

CONS

  • No MIDI learn option
  • Muted registers are missing

Features and Specifications

This sample-based plugin comes at 1.5GB of the installation file and provides you with the three most typical registers found at harpsichord with two manuals - 8’ upper, 8’ double and 8’ double + 4’ upper also known as tutti register all available at the single preset and 256-voice polyphony. Those registers can be accessed by pressing the required key switch. There is a basic envelope with attack and release sliders and optional filter and reverb features. All parameters can be controlled with the MIDI controller by assigning the CC numbers shown above the certain slider.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Vienna Symphonic Library has a long tradition of delivering software with classical instruments so this review list wouldn’t be complete without their product. Once again, they have proven their reputation by sampling double-manual harpsichord.

Sound is just wonderful and the articulations sound punchy and bright especially in that tutti register. We also may say that the key release sample never sounded so nice. Humanize options can provide you with an extra set of realism if needed as it will create very subtle timing playing imperfections often found just like when the real human being is playing.

PROS

  • Key switch change of register
  • Virtually unlimited polyphony
  • Samples recorded with 4 microphones 
  • Sample-based dual manual harpsichord
  • 1,640 samples with up to 8x round-robin sample picking

CONS

  • No effects panel
  • Huge installation size for just a harpsichord sound

Features and Specifications

There are 1,640 samples recorded with 4 premium quality microphones recorded at Close, Tree, Ambient, and Outrigger positions and can be turned off completely if that’s necessary. Every microphone has a dedicated volume, pan, and stereo width slider so the sound can be mixed to your taste. 

Polyphony is based on the CPU resource so it can be practically unlimited and as it requires 6.6GB of storage space to be installed completely, a useful purge unused samples feature is provided that will remove any unused sample from the RAM.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This plugin provides you with all registers found on a harpsichord. Other software comes up with three most usual registers, Spitfire captured every register from the scratch and even the muted registers for both manuals. Release samples are just marvelous and you can control the level of those sounds separately. Neighbour zones feature turns out to be handy regarding sound realism as it uses the closest key samples to increase the sample pool up to 24 samples. Due to the nature of the harpsichord sound, it significantly broadens the sonic palette of the instrument without damaging the audio quality in general.

Best Baroque Harpsichord:
Pianoteq Harpsichords by the Ruckers

PROS

  • Extended instrument range
  • 3 playing registers provided
  • Bassoon sound-switching pedal
  • True authentic Italian harpsichord sound
  • Physically modeled harpsichord Pianoteq add-on

CONS

  • Requires purchase of Pianoteq 6 plugin
  • More creative presets would be welcomed

Features and Specifications

This plugin uses physical modeling of the real Ruckers harpsichord from 1624, but extends the instrument range, from 41⁄2 to 61⁄2 octaves.

It relies on all editing parameters and pedals found in Pianoteq interface so once you pick one of three registers (lower and upper 8’ and upper 4’) you can utilize the features such as sustain pedal or quite interesting bassoon pedal that allows you to switch from muted to rattling sound instantly.

It’s supported by all versions of Pianoteq with the limitations given at certain versions.

Why it Stands Out to Us

We don’t tend to review add-ons for plugins, but, because Pianoteq is the best piano VST on the market and as they have devoted themselves to deliver every piano-related sound we have to make an exception here.

Simply put, what Stradivarius means for the violin, that’s what Ruckers meant for harpsichord sound. And with that being said, we doubt that you will find a better baroque harpsichord VST. And on top of that, thanks to the same user interface, you can model it in a way it couldn’t be possible with the real harpsichord.

What Purpose Does a Harpsichord VST Serve? 

Let’s see what purposes you can find from a Harpsichord VST:

Classical Music

Finding a real harpsichord may not be so easy these days. If you’re a classical piano student you would probably like to play Bach’s Menuette on the instrument it was originally intended to be played. While the keybed may be an issue, this is still the second-best from playing a real harpsichord.

Pianoteq 6 Stage Grimaldi & Blanchet

Metal Music

Melodic heavy metal bands that use keyboards often blend harpsichord sound with the lead guitar sound to emphasize fast-playing parts. Due to the sound characteristics of the harpsichord, those parts will sound even faster and tighter. Also, it’s quite frequent to mix classical music with metal into a genre called neo-classical metal and harpsichord can contribute a lot to create such a vibe.

Soundtrack

Any kind of soundtrack that asks you to create a medieval atmosphere will benefit from having a harpsichord track. It can be used in the movie industry and it will especially work well with the games with mythical and magical creatures like Castelvania, for example.

But, apart from that, if used correctly, a harpsichord can also have a quite sinister sound that is ideal for depicting some evil or madman theme in modern environments as well.

Plugin Comparison Overview 

If you’re not familiar with keyboard instruments, here’s a quick recap:

Harpsichord vs. Piano 

Harpsichord is a predecessor of the modern piano and it comes with fewer keys and therefore narrower sonic range. Speaking about the sound, piano has a huge dynamic range and sustain pedal that allows you to let the notes ring once you put your hands off the keys, while the harpsichord sound is more bright with less decay. Roughly speaking, its sounds can resemble the sound of the acoustic guitar.

Harpsichord vs. Clavichord

Clavichord is the instrument that existed along with the harpsichord. The main difference is that the sound of the harpsichord is created by plucking, while clavichord strings are struck. That being said, you were able to create some sort of dynamics while playing a clavinet while it’s not possible with a harpsichord. And just to add a small trivia. Clavinet is nothing else than an electrical version of the clavichord.

Harpsichord vs. Organ

They share the keyboard interface, multiple manuals, and the fact that they were really important classical musical instruments at their time. Organs were only to be found in churches, while harpsichord was much more portable. However, the sound they produce and the audio spectrum that it covers is quite different.

Conclusion 

Harpsichord is not that instrument you will use daily. But it’s simply irreplaceable when you need it. It had a huge role in the history of both classical music and music instruments manufacturing and it seems that it gets more attention once again thanks to the modern software recreations.

People Also Ask

Now that we have explained everything regarding Harpsichord’s purpose, traits, and flaws and also provided you with the best software out there, let’s move on and find out more about its invention, original creator, what’s so important about it and where it belongs in the music instruments family.

When Was the Harpsichord Invented?

The first recorded trace about harpsichord goes back to 1397. However, the harpsichord was most frequently used around the 16th and 17th centuries. The oldest preserved and working harpsichord found today is from 1521 and it comes from Italy.

Who Invented the Harpsichord?

At the end of the 14th century, a certain Herman Poll claimed that he had invented a clavicembalum, an Italian word for harpsichord, but besides written reference, there was no proof of his work. That being said, it’s quite sure that Italy was the harpsichord’s motherland and it was used widely starting from the 15th century.

Why is the Harpsichord Important?

Harpsichord is a predecessor of the acoustic piano. Many musical pieces were actually composed of a harpsichord, especially J. S. Bach opus. While those pieces can be played on a real piano, it’s nice to check how it was meant to sound original. Many piano manufacturers also started as harpsichord makers. 

What Family is the Harpsichord in?

Just like the piano, harpsichord belongs to chordophones, percussion instruments that create a sound by striking and plucking the strings found behind the keyboard interface. But, apart from that attribute, if we talk about the interface that harpsichord uses, then it belongs to the keyboard instruments family.