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Spitfire Audio, Chris Hein or Cinematic Studio Strings

JohnnyRocket

New Member
Hi Everyone,

I'm new to this forum and hope you can help. I'm considering getting a solo and maybe ensemble string collection. The DAW I work with is Cubase. I'm looking to compose piano and strings. The three main contenders that keep coming up are Spitfire Audio, Chris Hein and Cinematic Studio Strings. If any of you have used all three of these VSTs, I would love to hear the pro's and con's for each.

Right now I'm leaning toward Chris Hein. Recently I heard with Spitfire audio you can play live with out using switching articulations and just use velocity and speed to control the sound. I'm not sure if you can do that with CCS or CH though. Any advice would be much appreciated.
 

DarkestShadow

Senior Member
I'm confused.

Cinematic Studio Strings would be an ensemble library (which you only "maybe" want) and Cinematic Studio Solo (!) Strings the solo companion (although it doesn't have a bass).

And Spitfire has several string libraries (excluding the more "specialized" ones there are still 3 solos, 1 small ensemble, 1 mid and 1 big ensembles) so which one is of interest for you?
 
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JohnnyRocket

New Member
I'm confused.

Cinematic Studio Strings would be an ensemble library (which you only "maybe" want) and Cinematic Studio Solo (!) Strings the solo companion (although it doesn't have a bass).

And Spitfire has several string libraries (excluding the more "specialized" ones there are still 3 solos, 1 small ensemble, 1 mid and 1 big ensembles) so which one is of interest for you?

I'm mainly interested in solo and ensemble at this point.
 

constaneum

Senior Member
I only have Cinematic Studio Strings and Chris Hein Ensemble Strings. Both excel in their own way. For Cinematic Studio Strings, I'll pump up the high freq to make it more bright. By default, it's quite a dark sounding strings. Chris Hein's is another beast. It has FX as well which is quite interesting. It comes with bigger strings section setup and smaller strings section setup which both work great in different setup. Very suitable for pop songs as well, in my opinion. Chris Hein's is in fact a very versatile ensemble strings library.
 

col

Active Member
Any choice you make will involve a sharp learning curve in getting a really good sound. None of them are a magic push button for instant perfect results.
All doable - but be prepared to invest some time in learning which ever product you get.
 

Goldie Zwecker

Active Member
I'm in a similar - yet slightly different situation.
I have the Spitfire Symphony Series, along with chamber strings. For solo strings i have the Embertone intimate strings bundle and the Joshua Bell violin.
I'm considering the new Spitfire Solo Strings, mainly because "theoretically" it's supposed to blend better with the spitfire stuff i already have, since they were recorded in the same hall.
But the question is whether with all the Embertone stuff - and specially the JB violin - is the spitfire solo strings redundant in my case, and will be too much $$ just for a small variation in tone - or is it miles ahead of the Embertone stuff. Appreciate some advice. Thanks!
 

jbuhler

Senior Member
I'm in a similar - yet slightly different situation.
I have the Spitfire Symphony Series, along with chamber strings. For solo strings i have the Embertone intimate strings bundle and the Joshua Bell violin.
I'm considering the new Spitfire Solo Strings, mainly because "theoretically" it's supposed to blend better with the spitfire stuff i already have, since they were recorded in the same hall.
But the question is whether with all the Embertone stuff - and specially the JB violin - is the spitfire solo strings redundant in my case, and will be too much $$ just for a small variation in tone - or is it miles ahead of the Embertone stuff. Appreciate some advice. Thanks!
I can only compare with the viola, where I have the Embertone. I find the Spitfire viola, even with its relatively rudimentary legato, is much easier to use with other Spitfire libraries and I much prefer its tone. Generally, I like the sound of the Embertone instruments (I have the clarinet and the viola), but have always struggled getting them to sit in an ensemble.

I've also been playing around with the new Spitfire virtuoso violin, and I can say the more I work with it the more impressed I am with it. I don't have the Embertone JB Violin, but I can do things easily with the Spitfire virtuoso violin—especially with the spiccato, staccatissimo, and ricochet articulations (at least that's my best guess as to what's being triggered in these fast virtuoso passages)—that I can't manage with, say, the Virharmonic violin at all. I can't say that I've fully mastered the interaction between the mod wheel and vibrato control on the instrument. It still feels like I'm just scratching the surface with this instrument.
 

ism

Senior Member
The most important point - that I really don't think can stressed enough with solo strings - is that the notion of an "all round solo string library" is just not a particularly helpful one when it comes to thinking about sampled solo string libraries.

Instead, I'd suggest trying to understand the sweet spots of each library, and the expressive dimensions you think you might need in you solo strings phrasings.

Joshua bell for instance - has an epicly beautiful, delicate, hyper-classical tone and unbeatably smooth, expressive legato. Which is achieves with omething like 12 types of legatos - lthough one of the live stream Alex, kind of hilariously, seems to keep remembering more types of legato that he'd put in. So I'd completely believe that might be more like 15. Which contributes to making the JB unbeatably smooth. But smooth legato in not the only dimension of expressiveness.

But note that, in additional to the phenomenal depth of legato sampling, the source of JB's smoothness, in practice, comes also from what it doesn't do - its dynamics always smooth in part because it never even attempts to do dynamic crossfades. You have 4 excellent dynamic layers, but once you play a note, you can alter its volume a little, but you can never get that violin 'flowing and ebbing' effect that comes from the timbre changing on dynamic arcs. (There are a couple of lovely recorded de/crescendos, but as dynamic arcs, they're very limited)

In contrast, the Embertone viola does have crossfade across two dynamic layers via a technique I like to call 'extreme' phase alignment - which means you get extremely smooth morphing between p to f with the timbre change that implies. Which sounds lovely, and opens up dynamics changes as an entirely new expressive dimension that the JB simply doesn't have.

And yet ... getting the phases of two samples recorded at different dynamics (and therefore with two completely different timbres) to align so perfectly that you can crossfade them without that horrible phasey effect, is very hard, and seems to always come at great cost of tone.


So compare this to the Spitfire viola, which I agree is absolutely the best sounding sampled viola available. It's not the fastest - it's not much good for 64th notes legatos. But the tone is spectacular. It also has three dynamic layers with - crucially - the ability to crossfade the dyamics across all three layers. It's possible that Spitfire is doing some kind of phase alignment (or something) here because the crossfade sounds pretty good. But whatever it is, it's clearly not the extremely phase alignment technique of Embertone approach, because a) it does so without any noticeably cost to the sound quality, and b) it leave you with a slight bumpiness at the transition boundaries.

What you get instead is what I feel is the fundamental sweet spot of the Spitfire approach - uncompromising sound quality combined with as much expressiveness as is possible without damaging the sound quality.

Whey you play the Spitfire instruments, you can craft the dynamics of your phrases - including within individual notes - via crossfading between the three dynamics layers. This is an expressive dimension that simply doesn't exist in the Joshua Bell, and that comes only after taking a significant hit to both the quality and character of the sound in Embertone viola (and any instrument that employs the extreme phase alignment technique in my opinion).

But of course, this Spitfire sweet spot of sound quality and dynamic expressiveness comes at a certain cost - which is that you do need to be careful whey you're playing on the edge of the dynamic layers, where there can be bit of roughness. Roughness that is, compared to the Embertone viola , which avoids roughness via extreme phase alignment, at the expense of tone. And compared to the Joshua Bell Vl, which avoids roughness by simply by not permitting this particular dimension of dynamic expressiveness in the first place ( I believe this is the approach of CSSS also).


Much the same distinction holds for vibrato. Spitfire has uncompromising sound and excellent expressive in the dimension of vibrato. But Embertone's approach give you smoother vibrato transitions - but its simulated vibrato, which are surprisingly ok, but really sound nearly as good as the spitfire true sampled vibrato. Spitfire sounds great - at the cost of bumpiness.

(JB is a little more complex - it has the same simulated vibrato much the same as the ISS instruments, but additionally a really gorgeous sampled vibrato. But like the JB's approach to dynamic layers, your start either as non-vibrato or as (sampled) vibrato, and then you can't crossfade between them. So you can have superb vibrato sound in the recorded vibratos, but the expressiveness matches neither the simulated vibrato, nor the spitfire instruments which let you move between vibrato and non vibrato (again, at the cost of a certain roughness in the transition).


Here are (again) a couple of my little noodley demos, intended only to highlight the dynamic and vibrato expressiveness of the Spifire instruments (and again, apologies to anyone getting tired of my noodlings, but people keep asking more or less the same question, and I think this is the easiest way to clarify things): Note that they use the first chairs violin only (the new virtuoso Vl has its own expressive dimension that go beyond even anything you I've used here):



So basically, just some slightly exaggerated noodling in which hopefully you can hear how the particular style of I'm going for hinges entirely on the crafting the phrases by really taking advantage of the expressive dimensions of dynamic crossfade and vibrato transitions. You could never get pull off this kind of performance with Embertone (especially he JB) or Vir harmonic, or most other libs.

But at the same time, you can probably hear a bit of roughness in the transitions, and some might feel that eliminating that roughness is important enough to move to a simulated vibrato and/or or extreme phase alignment to restore the smoothness - for instance, maybe you're working on something like a Mozart violin concerto where the ultra pristine super smooth is valued uber alles, in which case JB is probably the best choice. Personally, for most of what I actually like to write, I'll take this roughness in exchange for the mix of expressiveness and sound quality any day.

And if I've been working with the Spitfire instruments for while and then switch to the JB, when I instinctively try play phrases with that ebbing and flowing of dynamic timbre change I really love in string instruments, and then hear basically nothing, it drives me a bit crazy. Until I remember the instrument I'm actually working with and start thinking in terms of the sweet spots of the JB.


So my point here is that all of these instruments are best-in-class, and you should measure them in terms of their respective sweet spots and against the kind of expressiveness you value.

And you could really write a lot on the various sweet spots in all the libraries, and the various expressive dimensions.

But maybe one more dimension I'll comment on quickly - for it doesn't seem to be discussed much in the sample library world and I've been trying to get my head around it for a while - is the distinction between the virtuosic solo instrument and the ensemble instrument. Instruments like the JB are superb for up-front centre of attention concerto-style works. But they can be hard to blend.


And for solo string ensembles blending is an immensely important dimension. But something I'm working through at the moment, and that I don't think is at all obvious in any of the marketing or reviews, is the way in which expressive dimensions (like dyamics and vibrato) contribute to what I call the 'string quartet effect'. ie - that moment when the 4 voices both blend beautiful, but also separate into 4 distinct perceptual steams. Which is one of the truly beautiful things about solo string ensembles in the first place. Being recorded in the same space, and with the intention of blending with an orchestra gives libraries like Spitfire solo strings and CSSS an advantage over mix and match virtuosic libs like Embertone and Vir harmonic. But I'd argue that to really get an ensemble to first cohere, the ability to coordinate your instruments at the expressive level of dynamics is far more important that is generally understood. And similarly, the ability to get them to maintain separate perceptual streams, expressive effects like having one instrument switch to vibrato slightly before another can be as important - maybe more important? - than the conventional techniques of voice leading and countpoint. (Actual string players would understand this in much greater depth than myself).

So I include the second demo above because starting at ~0:54 I think can hear this 'string quartet' effect start to kick in, and it's not just that the instruments are blending well (although they do), its that, even though its just a bit of noodling, I performed each line while listening to the others, so I think the dynamics and vibrato all work together to support both the cohering into blendedness of the mix as a well as the way the voices maintain their perceptual independence. Which is an effect that good string quartet writing (apparently) hinges on.


.. continued ...
 
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ism

Senior Member
... continuing ...

And note that this is far from a comprehensive list of the sweet spots of these libraries. Spitfire's ability to blend is another massive sweet spot. Whereas the JB's ability to dominate any orchestra it player with as the complete virtuosic centre of attention is another sweet spot. The fast legatos on the Embertone viola are another. The super-incredibly-o-my-god-that-is-fast 'arpegio legato' on the Spitfire virtuosic violin is another that doesn't seem to have drawn much comment yet. And of course the Embertone simulated vibrato is another for cases when you need complete control and smoothness in crafting your vibratos. And so on.


Unfortunately, I don't have Chris Hein, so can't be helpful there. For me it never quite hit the sweet spot in terms of tone, but perhaps some of this is subjective as I happen to like the spitfire sound in general. The dynamic crossfade patches in particular, while very good, sound closer to the Embertone viola in approach - with the sacrifice of sound quality that implies - than the spitfire approach. But have a listen for yourself. In terms of control and programmable of expression though, it's probably the most technically advanced of all.
 

Vik

Scandi Member
The three main contenders that keep coming up are Spitfire Audio, Chris Hein and Cinematic Studio Strings.
Which Spitfire libraries are you thinking of? If you are thinking about their chamber strings (I have SSS and SCS, but haven't tried the newer Spitfire Studio Strings yet), I'd look at Spitfire or Cinematic Studio Strings first. The Chris Hein Ensemble Strings does some stuff really well, but the feeling I have after having spent some time with it is that it may be worth waiting for an update or two before relying on it as a main library.
 

jbuhler

Senior Member
... continuing ...

And note that this is far from a comprehensive list of the sweet spots of these libraries. Spitfire's ability to blend is another massive sweet spot. Whereas the JB's ability to dominate any orchestra it player with as the complete virtuosic centre of attention is another sweet spot. The fast legatos on the Embertone viola are another. The super-incredibly-o-my-god-that-is-fast 'arpegio legato' on the Spitfire virtuosic violin is another that doesn't seem to have drawn much comment yet. And of course the Embertone simulated vibrato is another for cases when you need complete control and smoothness in crafting your vibratos. And so on.
Excellent analysis on all of this as always. With the Spitfire virtuoso violin, I'm finding that the mod wheel and vibrato interact in great but unexpected ways, and I haven't been able to fully get my head around what's happening. And then velocity adds yet another dimension but so does the length of the note, especially if you are trying to get the ricochet bowing effect. My keyboard doesn't really allow me to play it consistently, but if I program it, I find it produces quite remarkable results. Right now I'm finding I can just leave more or less leave the expression CC out of it completely, and even with the shorts velocity is less important to a credible impression of the effect than I would have thought.
 
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ism

Senior Member
Excellent analysis on all of this as always. With the Spitfire virtuoso violin, I'm finding that the mod wheel and vibrato interact in great but unexpected ways, and I haven't been able to fully get my head around what's happening. And then velocity adds yet another dimension but so does the length of the note, especially if you are trying to get the ricochet bowing effect. My keyboard doesn't really allow me to play it consistently, but if I program it, I find it produces quite remarkable results. Right now I'm finding I can just leave more or less leave the expression CC out of it completely, and even with the shorts velocity is less important to a credible impression of the effect than I would have thought.

Yeah, I'm just starting to get my head around the virtuoso Vl. I don't really know what the arpegio legatos are doing, but I'm kind of gobsmacked at the effects.

And it extends the expressive dimension of the vibrato considerable. So far I'm mostly been using it in the same way as I use the first chairs violin, but this is scratching the surface. Although I attempted a mockup of a 400bpm beethoven quartet, and it did remarkably well. (The viola legato sadly, doesn't do quite so well at 400bpm).
 
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