I'm going to be looking for a piano lib before too long, and there are all kinds of posts here about piano samples, which is great, but I get a bit lost because I really don't have any piano sample libs (aside from what came with GS3), and I don't really know much about what the sonic differences are between the different pianos out there (the real pianos, not the libs). About all I know is that Yamahas are brighter than Stienways. So I find I can't keep up with some of these discussions because they're using the sound of the actual piano as their reference point, and I have no idea what a Bosendorfer sounds like, let alone the different types of Steinways, etc. I searched the forum for something like this but couldn't find any kind of overview of the most popular pianos, which is what would be great. Is there a link somewhere or a post that would give a real brief, even just bullet-point overview of the most popular pianos?
If you have a nice piano store somewhere close to where you live, the best thing to do is go there and spend a few minutes playing each piano. You'll get a very good feel for each brand's defining characteristics.
Pretty much all bets are off with sample libraries, since at least 50% of the "characteristic" sound is going to be determined by microphone type, placement, the recording signal chain, the room, the tuning and voicing of the sampled instrument...
There are a lot of great piano samples out there right now. The Post Hybrids are very responsive and interesting pianos. TBO is fantastic...that one eats my time, because I get caught up in it, and pretty soon a couple of hours are gone.
As Bruce alludes to, perhaps more important than knowing what real Yamahas, Steinways and Boesendorfers sound like is finding a sample library (or libraries...) you like, and which work(s) for the kind of music you do.
There are plenty of mp3 demos on the devs websites, and even better, some (such as Post and Sampletekk) offer downloadable playable demos which will allow you to really get to know a particular library.
As Bruce says, don't underestimate the "personnality" each developper gives to their library. At first glance, I really believe PMI piano sound like PMI pianos, Sampletekk pianos sound like sampletekk piano... Even the bunch of NI AKP pianos share the same sound type.
So the choice is like a the BBQ restaurant : what piece of beef and what sauce....
Trying actual -accoustic- grand pianos could also be misleading because they can be prepared very differently, and beside, they can differ a lot by their keyboard sensitivity/feeling (A Yam C7 has really really hard touch compared to a steinway !)
Well, if you want to follow the common taste of greatest pianists, you can't go wrong with a steinway... but you still have to choose the sauce...
Hopefully, there is a lot of playable demo around.
good luck !