Best Physical Modeling VST Plugins

Hello Composers, Mike here! :smiley:
I am a huge fan of physical modeling instruments, meaning VST Plugin Instruments that use advanced algorithms and synthesis to re-create “real” instruments as accurately as possible. This technology has been around for ages, but in the recent years advancements in computer power has made physical modeling take a huge leap forward!

Please share your experience on Physical Modeling Instruments you have used, and add suggestions of plugins. Here is a list I’ve compiled of all the “best” Physically Modeled Instruments as VST Plugins on the market:

List of the Best Physical Modeling VST Plugins (in the world)

  • Drums - MODO Drums
  • Bass - MODO Bass
  • Piano - Modartt Pianoteq
  • Piano - Piano V
  • Keys - V Collection
  • Acoustic Guitar - ?
  • Electric Guitar - Iron Axe
  • Strings - SWAM Strings
  • Strings - Sample Modeling Strings
  • Strings - Arché Collection
  • Brass - Sample Modeling Brass
  • Woodwinds - SWAM Solo Woodwinds

Again, please share any tips, tricks, or personal experience on Physical Modeling Instruments! :slight_smile:

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I will start by sharing my top tips regarding using many of these physically modeled instruments. The main advantage imho is the incredible control over the sound, tone, expression and performance you get compared to “sample libraries”. Simply because samples are “burned in”, like a bunch of pictures (even though there are 1000s of them). While physical modeling at least tries to be more like a real instruments, meaning unlimited variation in every aspect of the sound. :smile:

My Top Tips

  • Use a Breath Controller
    It really makes a huge difference on the authenticity and expression on instruments that are naturally performed with your breath (brass and woodwinds)
  • Assign CC-faders and knobs
    Use all the added power of expression and control that comes from physical modeling, by assigning controllers to various aspects of the instrument
  • Use extra Expression Controllers
    If you have more ways of inputting (recording) expression in the performance, use them. This can be a sustain pedal, an expression pedal, or any add-on MIDI controller for expression.

Please share your own tips on using and performing physical modeling VST instruments! :slight_smile:


As a BFD user , I was chewing at the bit to try MODO Drums…
Theres a Video on YT, and for me, Id buy the Plug just for the Hi Hat articulations… The way it goes from closed to open is well… fking Voodoo…

PSA for Users of Computers with CPU’s pre 2011 (generally)
Im a fan of the cMP’s… Personally I have a 4.1 , flashed to 5.1, Hex core 3.46, evga 980 GPU, PCI SSD’s USB ect ect ect…
Its 10 years old, and with all the updates As a Logic User, and a Mac user, its never failed me… I did an entire Score for a feature even with its original 4 core 2.66 cpu… Though , cue by cue…

So its upon me… AVX…

So far, MODO Drums and Massive X are not viable…

Damn, its painful, just hope all these companies dont start only supporting AVX capable CPU’s…
Afterall, Most the stuff ive read, its mainly for the gui side of things…

As for Physical modelling…
Cant go wrong with Sculpture, especially for sound design…
But overall, I have the Arturia V6 collection…
No doubt, as a Suite of plugs, Arturia really have brought it.

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I’m glad to hear your studio computer lasted that long without failing you. Even though I suspect you will see more new plugins not being viable due to performance issues and not compatible. =/

MODO Drums is intriguing, I think they did a fantastic job on MODO Bass which is now my go to for all electric bass sounds. The amount of detail you can do in sound design and customizing the tone is insane! :smiley:

I believe we are at a new frontier for physical modeling. I am hoping Arturia will continue in this field too as they have a great reputation and the resources as a “bigger company in this field” to do it.

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Wouldn’t it be magic If Yamaha released the VL1 as a VI…

Unless they have and ive missed it.

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Interesting SWAM demo:

For the strings, the tone and details are still not quite there, IMHO, but with “bowing mode” it starts getting real interesting…! Of course, with the right controllers, you also start entering the zone where you pretty much have to be able to play the real instrument to play the modeled one, but even so, I see incredible potential.

The saxophone and clarinet sound really impressive to me, though - but, disclaimer: I don’t play those instruments! :wink:

Really tempted to grab some of these, and try out the BBC2 + Touché combo.

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Let me ask you a philosophical question David: if a synthesized instrument doesn’t sound exactly authentic, but exceeds the original instrument in Capability for expression, range of style, tone, and every sense of playability, will it still be an inferior instrument?

To sum up: does a instrument have to sound acoustically authentic?

I have no answer myself, I’m just opening up the question :smiley:


I think it’s a pretty complicated question, actually.

Of course, there are all these (part objective, part subjective) parameters that make a sound “good” in a musically useful way. I think part of the problem with the violin family of instruments, is that they have a pretty harsh and nasty “natural” voice, and even though a good player has a lot of control over the tone, the instrument itself still needs to strike a delicate balance of resonances to sound pleasant, even when played really well. So, it’s about the worst family of instruments to model! Ever so slightly off, and it just sounds terrible, or at best, weird. I believe this is true to some extent for all instrument one would refer to as expressive and interesting: They are balancing right on the edge of sounding horrible, like a human voice that is just on the verge of breaking up.

Another side of this is the “uncanny valley” phenomenon. I think the most obvious example of this would be human speech vs voice synthesis. “Retro style” voice synthesis, though perfectly intelligible and also musically useful, just sounds weird and alien. But, when it’s realistic enough that you can’t tell for sure if it’s a bot or a human, you start listening for other things, and unless it’s extremely realistic, it will probably come across as a creepily neurotic person, and at that point, it doesn’t really matter if the tone of the voice is however pleasant.

In short, I think it needs to sound either pleasant and musical (like more traditional synth sounds), OR both pleasant and incredibly realistic, or it will just not work. It’s basically a different flavor of the same problem we have with sample libraries: Not quite there yet, but sometimes close enough to fool most listeners when used in context, and avoiding the problem areas.

So, it’s going to be yet another while before we can fool a professional violinist with a virtual rendering of the Paganini Caprices.

And, we’re still going to need a professional… player of weird MIDI controllers, to pull that off. These are, by all means, real instruments in that regard.

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Heads-up: Deal on MODO Drums; crossgrade is €125 over at Best Service.

I’m tempted, though I’m not impressed with the cymbals and hi-hats… (Still samples, apparently?)

What about brushed snares? AFAIK, that’s still pretty considered the Holy Grail of percussion, that cannot be faked (yet), and the only way to do it properly would be physical modeling. (I’ve had… interesting results with Phase Plant + Touché, but going for realism is another level entirely.)

My opinion…“meh”. And yes cymbals is still samples. MODO Bass however is beating all my other electric bass libraries! :stuck_out_tongue:

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Yeah, I’m really liking the Bass! Haven’t found anything that really impresses me about Drums, though, and in particular, nothing even demonstrating proper brush playing. I have loads of great, massively deep sampled drums and cymbals in my BFD3 library, so I don’t really feel a need to model any of that.

I guess because I was so impressed with MODO Bass, I was feeling disappointed with MODO Drums. Not a step up imho.

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Just accidentally found out that Pianoteq 7 has been released. (My recent purchase awarded me an automatic upgrade, but I didn’t receive any notifications or anything…)

The morph feature seems handy for custom pianos and fun for sound design, and the refined physical model (double polarization) seems interesting - but some are not entirely pleased with the sound, apparently. I haven’t actually tried it yet.

Thoughts? Experiences?

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So “morphing” is not the same thing as layering, right?
Let’s compare it with the “dual mode” in Keyscape for example. I love the creative aspect of that mode.

I have non idea what double polarization means! :stuck_out_tongue:

When you say some are not entirely pleased with the sound, are you referring to the morphing…or the engine as a whole?

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Indeed; it appears that the morphing is done on the model parameter level, so you literally create “crossbreed” instruments, as opposed to layering the sounds from different models. (Seems like they added layering as well, BTW, but that’s a different feature!)

There is a brief description in one of the tabs on the site (direct links don’t work), but what it basically boils down to is modeling string vibration in two dimensions; along the soundboard, as well as perpendicular to it. I think this is about emulating a phenomenon that can sometimes be seen with the naked eye in freely vibrating strings, where they continuously transform between different modes of vibration, which also tends to have a subtle phasing effect on the sound. Apparently subtle enough that it’s not generally considered worth modeling - until now.

The complaints are about the overall sound being overly bright and “synthy” - but then again, there have been complaints about “synthiness” about the earlier versions as well, in particular in the octaves near middle C. I’m not quite sure what to make of it yet. These things are somewhat subjective in nature, especially considering that real recordings and sample libraries tend to be made with great care taken in microphone selection and placement, along with heavy engineering, so it’s not really fair to compare “raw” modeling to that either.


Subjective opinions can be placebo as well…I only trust blind-tests for this reason! :stuck_out_tongue:

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Exactly! People tend to expect things to sound a certain way, and hear things that aren’t actually there. Like, people complaining about live recorded strings ensemble sounding to synthy (true story!) and things like that… :smiley:

As for these bright “synthy” overtones some are complaining about; indeed, I hear something like that in Pianoteq, which is not as prominent in sample libraries - but I realized it’s often clearly audible in recordings of real pianos! Clearly, it’s an actual phenomenon, that’s typically hidden by microphones or processing. Now, I’m still not sure how accurate the Pianoteq modelling is here, but I’m kind of thinking that real pianos don’t actually sound as smooth as people think they do.

(Same for strings, BTW. A violin actually has a pretty damn harsh tone up close, and it only gets more “aggressive” with more potent instruments. I suspect this is part of the problem with the SWAM strings, as they demonstrate some of this “rawness” that one normally tries to counteract through microphone placement and mixing.)

Anyway, it might be worth noting that I haven’t even tried using Pianoteq for anything without also involving Precedence, Breeze, and Spaces II. The integrated mic simulation seems nice, but it’s not a complete spatial mixing solution, and I’m not sure about the integrated reverb either. Considering how much the tone changes by just moving mics/piano around a bit with either solution, I would be careful about drawing conclusions directly from the raw sound you get out of Pianoteq, or any other modeled instruments. (Or bone dry samples, for that matter.)


I’ve just got the full Pianoteq 7 bundle, and wow! This is THE best modeled instrument collection I ever heard! :stuck_out_tongue:

Will do a full review and demonstration video soon. But so far, the most amazing things imo are the unlimited variations you can create both from presets and from sound/parameter shaping. Plus the more experimental sound design aspects like morphing and even a randomize dice! :smiley:


Awesome! \o/

Well, I just did a quick comparison between 6 and 7 with the Steinway D Prelude preset, and they’re clearly different, in that there is more “space” and depth in 7. Can’t really say that I’m hearing any obvious issues, though. It’s just… different. Different frequency curve for starters - which is why the EQ settings are different, I suppose - but they still differ, with or without the EQ. And, they added a third mic to the default “Sound Recording” setup, so that’s no a fair comparison either, but most of the extra depth in 7 is still present without the extra mic, so it’s not just about that.

On the technical side, they’re different enough that summing or subtracting the signal doesn’t give anything interesting, but looking at the spectra and stereo energy distribution, it seems like apart from the sustain (obviously) being longer in 7, there basically seems to be a bit more going on (which would explain the perceived extra depth), but it’s difficult to draw any useful conclusions from just looking at that.

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Ah, issues. I mean, with sample libraries you always get one of “those” notes. Like F#5 at a certain velocity level has a weird noise. Or tuning issues on some samples. Or timing inconsistencies…and so on.

With modeled instruments you get none of those issues. The only “issue” may be what some people call a synthetic sound. I am NOT hearing that in the case of Pianoteq at all to be honest! :stuck_out_tongue:

Now, some aspects are probably not the greatest. For example, the internal FX, like delay and reverb are not that inspiring to my ears at least. But when I added Reverberate as an insert FX on a dry pianoteq output…I was in nirvana! :smiley:

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