Dry vs wet libraries - some thoughts and examples

muk

Senior Member
Hi everyone,

Dry versus wet samples. It's a hotly debated topic, and I am not giving an answer which one is better. But my stance has changed a bit recently, and I wanted to share my thoughts.

Pro's and con's of each should be pretty well established by now. Dry libraries offer more control regarding panning, and room size. The transitions are easier to program. But does artificial reverb on top of dry samples really sound like they'd been recorded in whatever room/hall/studio you are trying to insinuate? Wet samples have that natural sound of the room, but transitions can get smeary, or the room drops out etc.

I started with mainly dry libraries because I liked the control. But recently, the sound quality of the source has become increasingly important for me. And I have discovered some limitations that I have not been able to overcome. While I think that dry woodwinds work very well, with strings it has become a mixed bag for me. I was a long time user of VSL Dimension Strings. Playability, control, and consistency are second to none for me.

However, while for long notes I can get by with artificial reverb, I was increasingly bugged with the the short short sounds with strong transients. No matter what I tried, it simply never sounded like a real recorded pizzicato in a nice hall. If you go to a symphony concert and hear the strings play pizzicato, there is that nice bloom that seems to be more than the actually played note. And I can not get that from artificial reverb, no matter what I tried.

Here is an example. My old setup with VSL Dimension Strings, all pizzicato:


It sounds ok to my ears. There is some nice panning, but not too much depth. But most importantly, I don't hear that bloom of the sound in a nice hall. There is no room present. Compare it to this:


The difference is not even funny. Compared to this second version, the first one sounds completely flat. Hearing that second version I would never want to go back to the first one. I made a second version with Dimension Strings with more reverb. It is a bit better, but still lacks that natural room sound:



With long articulations the contrast is less stark, and the downsides of the wet recordings start to come into play. Here is a short comparison. A bit of the Elgar Serenade with the wet recorded strings from the second example above:


And here another version with Light and Sound Chamber Strings. They are not completely dry, but have been recorded in a room with little tail. The ERs come from the real room, the tail is artificial reverb:


Both work about equally well to my ears. I slightly prefer the first one, but that is mainly due to the timbre of the strings, not the room information.


So where does that leave us? Unsurprisingly, I think that choosing dry or wet according to the task you set yourself is the best way to go at the moment. If you need short sounds with present transients, I don't think that dry libraries can hold up with wet ones. For woodwinds, dry libraries work great for me. For strings, I am going to choose depending on what I need to do. For brass and percussion, I think the wet libraries have an advantage.

Anyway, I am curious to hear where you guys and gals are at with this.

If you are interested, here are a few more pizzicato examples:


Out of the bunch I think Spitfire Chamber Strings are a close second to my example above. Then VSL Synchron Strings. The drier libraries have a harder time at pulling this off convincingly.
 
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Oxytoxine

Member
Thank you for your effort to share the examples and thoughts!

I spent a huge junk of the last few months pondering exactly this question. Endlessly comparing libs to each other, experimenting with different reverbs / spatializing etc.

I started out with dry libs, as it was recommended to me that they are more flexible and that I would just have “to put them in the right room” and the results would be equally pleasing. While, depending on the musical context, this is true, and e.g. for pop / rock / hybrid music etc. where the strings are mixed with other electronic sound sources with a completely different mixing paradigm (that does not necessarily include realism), I prefer the dry approach. But I do not manage to get a nice, pleasing tonal character, sounding like it really was recorded in a hall, out of my dry string libs.

There is just no contest. Like you mentioned – for longs, almost anything goes, but the trouble starts with the shorts.

However, I am a beginner, so I was under the impression that I obviously am doing things wrong. Your post therefore resonates very well with me, will read with interest.

I also completely share your judgement of the posted examples. Example 2 is so much more pleasing. Which library is it? :)

The Light and Sound Chamber Strings with a bit of added tail are beautiful.

As I am a novice, I have nothing of substance to add to the debate, other than each dry and / or wet lib has its place and advantage in a certain musical context and its sweet spots, but bringing / mixing it all together or bend them to work in a musical context they are not suited to – what a pain. Personally, I am in the process of being a wet convert for creating a big junk of the music that I actually like the most.

Good luck in your endeavours!
 
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Scamper

Sample Hooter
For woodwinds, dry libraries work great for me. For strings, I am going to choose depending on what I need to do. For brass and percussion, I think the wet libraries have an advantage.
While I like my strings and brass wet, I almost prefer woodwinds, that are rather dry, which is odd.

Btw, I think your link for the Light and Sound Chamber Strings version of the Elgar example isn't right. It's the same link as for the BFC version.
 

nolotrippen

Active Member
A little reverb can do wonders. The instruments in Garritan are so bone dry as to sound thin and phony. Add some reverb (which is available in the Effects section, applied via the mixer), and "It's ALIVE!"
 
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Jimmy Hellfire

Senior Member
I feel pretty much the same. For long notes, I don't really need the natural ambience - often times I actually prefer dry oder dry-ish samples, because there's something about the releases and connections of "wet" long notes that really throws me off and it's kinda difficult for me to work around.

But with short notes and quick transients, dry will never quite get you there. Especially pizz is really tricky. I actually often use the Albion Legacy pizz patch - even if the rest is dedicated string sections - because that particular patch is really quite special and for me captures that symphonic pizz sound really well. Synchron Strings and SCS are lovely too, but there's something about that Albion patch I can't get enough of. I'll either layer them in or even use them on their own.

Woodwinds I prefer dry. There's something really weird about very ambient woods.
 

filipjonathan

Literally The Best Member
I think this topic is the same as ITB and OTB mixing. It's absolutely pointless trying to figure out which one is "better". It's all good, they all work. For some beautifully, for some not so much. Put a few hundred dollar reverb on the samples and they'll sound incredible. And in the end, samples will NEVER sound like the real thing. No matter how good they were recorded, programmed or produced. It's just not possible.

I think it's more important that we focus on making good, soulful music and not distract ourselves with things that are far less important.

Sorry for my little rant. I mean well 😊
 

John R Wilson

Active Member
I've kind of come from the other direction. I started with wet samples and have started moving towards using dryer samples. I previously used SSO for the majority of my pieces. However, on recently updating EWHO to diamond I have started using this more.

The problem I find with wet libraries such as Spitfire Symphonic Strings is that while the instruments do have depth to them and sound very nice in regards to the instruments tone, the overall mixes can end up sounding rather muffled with less clarity between instruments. This could just be a lack of mixing ability on my behalf. However, in comparison I have been finding EWHO more flexible in this regards and I seem to be getting more separation between instruments than what I was able to get with something like SSO.
 
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Saxer

Senior Member
My experience:

- I never get the same musicality out of wet samples compared to dry samples.
- I never get the same dephth and room out of dry samples+reverb compared to wet samples.
- Chamber sized orchestras are easier to create with dry samples.
- Larger sections combined don’t merge to a compact orchestral tutti sound when using dry samples+reverb.
 

robgb

I was young once
I prefer dry or semi-dry libraries. Recorded orchestras don't sound the same as listening to a live orchestra, so getting the pizz to sound the way it does in a live hall is probably an impossible goal. My goal is to make a good recording. Herrmann would mix his orchestras in ways that would be impossible in a live orchestra because he was going for a specific effect. That's the philosophy I adhere to.
 
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muk

muk

Senior Member
Thanks everyone. It's a fascinating topic for me.

Example 2 is so much more pleasing. Which library is it? :)
It is a chamber sized ensemble that I created by stacking Berlin Strings First Chair several times. It is not easy to handle, the playability is limited, but I really like the timbre and the sound of the room.

Btw, I think your link for the Light and Sound Chamber Strings version of the Elgar example isn't right. It's the same link as for the BFC version.
Weird. Thanks for the heads up. Should be working properly now.

@Jimmy Hellfire looks like we hold pretty similar positions on this topic. I prefer dry woodwinds, but for the rest wet libraries have really grown on me, despite the lesser playability. I think @Saxer's summary is spot on.

This thread gave me an idea. It's something I haven't tried yet, nor have I heard anybody attempting it. Nextmidi are layering dry solo strings (the Audio Modeling ones) with Spitfire Symphonic Strings. Sounds lovely.

But how would it sound if we layered a few instances of dry solo strings (Berlin Strings First Chair, Emotional Violin, or a modeled offering) in such a way that for long articulations you get more of the dry layer, while for short articulations more of the wet library?

I think this will be my next experiment with strings. If it works we could get the playabilty and expressivenes of dry strings for the long articulations, and the lovely room sound for the shorts. I guess it depends on how well it works timbrally - whether there is too large a difference in timbre between longs and shorts.
 
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muk

muk

Senior Member
What kind of reverb is on that?
Positioning and individual ER on each player, and then one unifying tail on everything. Independence Origami is the reverb program I used, with the same impulse response as on the Light and Sound Chamber Strings example.

Here is an in-depth description of the setup:

 
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maestro2be

Active Member
Wet libraries do have a natural beautiful sound out of the box, but they drive me insane mentally. I grew up playing the piano. It's a close and intimate dry sound. Even when performing it in concert halls, I still got the players position sound. My mom would sit there with me playing guitar and singing. Again, very dry and personal. I played in the marching band lead snare. Very snappy, dry and instant. Then I played in the concert band as well, percussion and piano. I have lived my whole life being around intimate sounds. These are much more dry and up close.

I have not spent much of my life being a listener in a performance hall, quite the opposite being the player. That raw huge in your face sound of VSL instruments just hits me the right way. I struggle pushing them back more because I can't stand to do it. It sounds unnatural to me and what I am accustom to. I find that if I use a wet library, I simply have to layer VSL with it or I go insane from it sounding so washed in reverb. It's really quite amazing when you think about all the possible reasons we all like what we like. I am just so happy that so many companies give us these options. I have really been lately falling in love with the sound of the Synchron strings and SCS. I use them, and layer the dry VSL libraries on them to liking. I am very happy we have both options because I suck at reverb settings.
 

Jimmy Hellfire

Senior Member
Wet libraries do have a natural beautiful sound out of the box, but they drive me insane mentally. I grew up playing the piano. It's a close and intimate dry sound. Even when performing it in concert halls, I still got the players position sound. My mom would sit there with me playing guitar and singing. Again, very dry and personal. I played in the marching band lead snare. Very snappy, dry and instant. Then I played in the concert band as well, percussion and piano. I have lived my whole life being around intimate sounds. These are much more dry and up close.

I have not spent much of my life being a listener in a performance hall, quite the opposite being the player. That raw huge in your face sound of VSL instruments just hits me the right way. I struggle pushing them back more because I can't stand to do it. It sounds unnatural to me and what I am accustom to. I find that if I use a wet library, I simply have to layer VSL with it or I go insane from it sounding so washed in reverb. It's really quite amazing when you think about all the possible reasons we all like what we like. I am just so happy that so many companies give us these options. I have really been lately falling in love with the sound of the Synchron strings and SCS. I use them, and layer the dry VSL libraries on them to liking. I am very happy we have both options because I suck at reverb settings.
Very interesting that you say that. I realized that this is a huge factor for me also. Something about the overboard ambience that many people prefer just really throws me off mentally, and that seems to, among other things, have to do with how I relate to instruments.

On the other hand, one thing that obviously influences many people is how scores of movies they like sound. That's absolutely not a factor for me. I don't listen to film music, I rarely care for any of it and when watching movies, I tend to block it out (many composers make that really easy for me too). So I don't really have that benchmark. My relation to recorded orchestral music are mostly classical works, and those often tend to be crisper. Obviously I do like the depth of sound that ambient samples can produce, especially for short notes and percussion, but even here I still tend to prefer closer and drier mic blends than you will usually hear from a lot of other people.

When I see folks preaching truisms about what's good and what isn't, what you should use and what not etc., what is non-negotiable if you wanna "make it", I often feel totally thrown off and kinda alienated because my own experience and perspective are so entirely different. You're absolutely right, it's actually such a complex and personal thing as to why someone has a certain perspective on how things should sound. I often wish composers and producers had a little more balls to understand that and stand by it.
 

Henu

Senior Member
I'm a huge advocate of drier samples.... until I tried to mimick 80´s Jerry Goldsmith (yes, I know, a bold statement but you get the point) styled stuff last month for a game soundtrack.

Lucky for me, it was just a test launch and the game is now taken down for re-evaluation but when listening to the soundtrack a week after the mix the only thing that kept bouncing in my head was that how completely detached everything sounded together despite of my reverbs. What I painfully learned is that the less you have stuff going on, the harder it is to create cohesion with the instruments, so when the "real" launch of the game is coming at some point, I will absolutely revisit the mix and do it from a scratch again. I should had known better. >.<
 
I don't like super wet but I like scoring stage wet. Not the longest tail but not a dry close tone either. It's impossible to recreate a good feeling of room and tonal lushness and width just with reverb. That is especially important if you want your music to sound like proper film scores in my opinion.
 

NoamL

Winter <3
This all seems similar to the "aren't you afraid of sounding like everyone with the same samples" discussion from a few weeks ago.

Allow me to make a point here ;) Let's examine the top 25 films of the US box office last year and see where the scores were recorded -
  • AVENGERS: ENDGAME ............................ Abbey Road Studios
  • THE LION KING ...................................... SONY Scoring Stage
  • TOY STORY 4 .......................................... Newman Scoring Stage
  • FROZEN II .............................................. Eastwood Scoring Stage
  • CAPTAIN MARVEL ................................... Abbey Road Studios
  • STAR WARS EPISODE IX ......................... SONY Scoring Stage
  • SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME .............. SONY Scoring Stage
  • ALADDIN ................................................ AIR Lyndhurst
  • JOKER .................................................... The DiMenna Center, NY
  • IT CHAPTER 2 ........................................ Eastwood Scoring Stage
  • JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL .................... SONY Scoring Stage
  • US ......................................................... SONY Scoring Stage
  • HOBBS AND SHAW ................................ Abbey Road Studios
  • JOHN WICK CHAPTER 3 ........................ ???
  • HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 3 .......... Abbey Road Studios
  • THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2 ................. Eastwood Scoring Stage
  • DETECTIVE PIKACHU ............................ AIR Lyndhurst
  • ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD .... n/a
  • SHAZAM! ............................................... AIR Lyndhurst
  • AQUAMAN ............................................. Eastwood Scoring Stage
  • KNIVES OUT ......................................... Abbey Road Studios
  • DUMBO ................................................ AIR Lyndhurst
  • MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL ......... Abbey Road Studios
  • GLASS .................................................. ???
  • GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS .... AIR Lyndhurst
[EDIT- updated with all the data I can find]

Apart from Joker, the list is just five recording spaces - Abbey Road, AIR Lyndhurst, SONY, Eastwood, and Newman.

Even a relatively midbudget movie like Knives Out (great film btw!), $40m budget, made in the USA, not a particularly large orchestra on the score, they still go all the way to London to record.

It would be logistically easier, financially cheaper, and sonically more diverse if all the A list composers were willing to record in different places... if someone like Hans or Danny Elfman or Thomas Newman said "You know what, let's do this film at The Village"... but that will never happen. Instead all the A Listers keep jockeying to get slots at these five large, world class stages. So, maybe there's something to these places after all. Maybe we shouldn't worry about sounding the same or having "uncontrollable" ambient samples.

There is something to be said for the fact that there are only three sample developers, so far as we know, in the whole world have access to these spaces. Spitfire developed an orchestra at AIR, CineSamples developed an orchestra at SONY, and Audio Ollie recorded LA Modern Percussion at Eastwood. There is a lot of hype surrounding Spitfire and the supposed magic qualities of their sound but... the hype is kind of real. You truly can just set up your mics and feel like it's 80% of the way there to theater ready sound. It is not easy to replicate these spaces ITB. If it were the A-listers would be doing it.

I do still love some libraries that weren't recorded at these places, just because the musicality and the sample-programming is so good. An example is Cinematic Strings 2 which was recorded at Verbrugghen Hall. It's not an in demand space, just the main concert hall at the University of Sydney, but the musicians are really on the ball and create a great, emotionally communicative sound in each of the samples. But, it's more work... careful comparison and EQ and reverb... to get it to sound "Hollywood." The problem I have with some sampled orchestras is this load of marketing which surpasses Spitfire for sure. For example EastWest "Hollywood" Orchestra recorded at Cello Studios which was never in demand for big Hollywood scores as far as I can tell from researching... it's a storied space for pop music but it's no Todd AO or MGM... Or for example the supposed acoustic properties of Teldex - it does sound good! but it hardly gets any American film work at all.
 
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erica-grace

Senior Member
Allow me to make a point here ;) Let's examine the top 25 films of the US box office last year and see where the scores were recorded -
And what do all of those spaces have in common? They are large, ambient spaces that do not produce a dry sound. There is a reason that orchestras are recorded in large, ambient spaces. And here we are, saying, I prefer dry libraries. :whistling:

Good post Noam - thank you for the info :)
 

ProfoundSilence

Senior Member
well they also have world class equipment and treatment on site, excellent control rooms ect.

that's potentially just as important to be able to monitor correctly and reliably, as well as having tools to potentially correct sounds before you track them.