SPITFIRE AUDIO string orchestra - libraries with greatest realism you can feel in your whole body + inspirational with playable full ensemble patches?

Question for you Spitfire sample library experts among us:


I don't actually own any real orchestral libraries (yet) but today, in preparation for the upcoming Spitfire Audio sale - as I was taking inventory of what I have so far in my sample library collection, I stumbled upon the LABS STRINGS 2 library and got very inspired by it. Oh yes indeed. Eight and a half hours later, I had written something that surprisingly even blew me away. A very romantic and gorgeous heartbreaking love theme. It was a very special day!


"SWELLS ENSEMBLE" string orchestra patch was the one I spent all day playing/writing with and while it sounds very good, I can still tell that I am listening to a sample library and not a real orchestra, even with some really detailed dynamic expression added in and with a majestic concert hall reverb added from Exponential Audio's Nimbus. And even if I playback the recording I made of the piece and stand out in the hallway and listen outside of the room. I am not fooled by it...but I want to be!

_________________________________________________________________________________

One thing I really like about this patch is that it seems to include separate samples of the various sections of the orchestra divided up and mapped across the different octaves of the keyboard. To my ears, it does not sound like one single strings sample that has simply been mapped across all the keys. So that part is good indeed.

In practical use, this means I can sit at the piano keyboard and play/write a whole composition as a performer using both of my hands which allows me to stay connected to the emotions I am feeling and endeavor to emote everything from within myself, happening in the moment. I love the idea of being able to stay in the moment and while I am not against overdubbing different parts/sections when I write music, I had a lot of fun today. I enjoyed being able to play a whole gorgeous sounding orchestra with my eight fingers and two thumbs.

I do understand that the way many composers work with sample libraries is by recording each part/section of the orchestra individually, into the DAW on separate tracks. Many of these orchestral libraries are built by creating very detailed samples of each articulation from each section. I am sure this also increases the realism for several obvious reasons, including having each section performed separately rather than "playing/recording" the whole orchestra as a single performance using a single ensemble sample <--- less nuanced. I get it.
_________________________________________________________________________________


While I understand the advantages and disadvantages of overdubbing separate samples for each section vs doing a single performance using a single sample set, I want to know which of Spitfire Audio's Orchestral libraries are they very best suited to sitting down at the MIDI piano controller and playing/writing an entire string arrangement as a single performance?


  • Best sounding orchestra that is "playable" and "expressive"
    LUSH sounding and could fool anyone into thinking it's a real orchestra
    Most realistic sounding full orchestra "ensemble" patches
    Most expressive legato articulations with playable full orchestra ensemble patches

I am not sure if orchestral music will ever be a part of my musical output but I find it a great deal of fun to compose using a full orchestra sound that I can play, write and perform by myself in the moment.



Thank you for any advice you can give, suggestions you might have, and thank you to Spitfire libraries which take my breath away!

:emoji_violin:
 

Greeno

New Member
Hi Asta

I don't know a great deal but from what I gather, Albion One is well regarded as a good all rounder so might be a good place to start? -(please correct me anyone if I'm wrong!)
I've got the NI Symphony series as part of Komplete 12 Ultimate, that is a very good way to get hold of a full library as well as tonnes of other sounds.

Maybe the Olafur Arnaulds one also? The BBCSO sounds well rounded but quite a clean sound.
 

Marsen

Member
Question for you Spitfire sample library experts among us:


I don't actually own any real orchestral libraries (yet) but today, in preparation for the upcoming Spitfire Audio sale - as I was taking inventory of what I have so far in my sample library collection, I stumbled upon the LABS STRINGS 2 library and got very inspired by it. Oh yes indeed. Eight and a half hours later, I had written something that surprisingly even blew me away. A very romantic and gorgeous heartbreaking love theme. It was a very special day!


"SWELLS ENSEMBLE" string orchestra patch was the one I spent all day playing/writing with and while it sounds very good, I can still tell that I am listening to a sample library and not a real orchestra, even with some really detailed dynamic expression added in and with a majestic concert hall reverb added from Exponential Audio's Nimbus. And even if I playback the recording I made of the piece and stand out in the hallway and listen outside of the room. I am not fooled by it...but I want to be!

_________________________________________________________________________________

One thing I really like about this patch is that it seems to include separate samples of the various sections of the orchestra divided up and mapped across the different octaves of the keyboard. To my ears, it does not sound like one single strings sample that has simply been mapped across all the keys. So that part is good indeed.

In practical use, this means I can sit at the piano keyboard and play/write a whole composition as a performer using both of my hands which allows me to stay connected to the emotions I am feeling and endeavor to emote everything from within myself, happening in the moment. I love the idea of being able to stay in the moment and while I am not against overdubbing different parts/sections when I write music, I had a lot of fun today. I enjoyed being able to play a whole gorgeous sounding orchestra with my eight fingers and two thumbs.

I do understand that the way many composers work with sample libraries is by recording each part/section of the orchestra individually, into the DAW on separate tracks. Many of these orchestral libraries are built by creating very detailed samples of each articulation from each section. I am sure this also increases the realism for several obvious reasons, including having each section performed separately rather than "playing/recording" the whole orchestra as a single performance using a single ensemble sample <--- less nuanced. I get it.
_________________________________________________________________________________


While I understand the advantages and disadvantages of overdubbing separate samples for each section vs doing a single performance using a single sample set, I want to know which of Spitfire Audio's Orchestral libraries are they very best suited to sitting down at the MIDI piano controller and playing/writing an entire string arrangement as a single performance?


  • Best sounding orchestra that is "playable" and "expressive"
    LUSH sounding and could fool anyone into thinking it's a real orchestra
    Most realistic sounding full orchestra "ensemble" patches
    Most expressive legato articulations with playable full orchestra ensemble patches

I am not sure if orchestral music will ever be a part of my musical output but I find it a great deal of fun to compose using a full orchestra sound that I can play, write and perform by myself in the moment.



Thank you for any advice you can give, suggestions you might have, and thank you to Spitfire libraries which take my breath away!

:emoji_violin:
If I´m getting you right, you mean playing a string section in a single performance sounding most real?
Or a tutti orchestra single performance?

First one, I could recommend all pro ensemble string patches like Spitfire Albion One, Orchestra Tools Inspire 1/2 or ProjectSAM Symphobia,
For second OT Inspire, VSL Smart Orchestra or maybe better Big Bang Orch. Andromeda and still ProjectSAM Symphobia.

Before I go any further, is it just strings or full orchestra?
 
Hi,

You might want to take a look at Spitfire's British Drama Toolkit Library. I don't have it, so I can't provide much feedback, but it sounds like it might be useful for what you are looking for.

https://www.spitfireaudio.com/shop/a-z/british-drama-toolkit/
Thank you for the suggestion. The playable aspect is definitely good.

I have watched the walk through video for BDT and while it is designed to be playable and certainly is, the sound is a group of soloists from both strings and winds rather than offering a set of samples of a full string ensemble where each instrument has a section of players.

I find that BDT sounds fake because of the very nature of the soloists being more naked which is always the dead giveaway with libraries where you have soloists. I think it is easier to make larger ensembles where you have sections of players for violin, viola, cello and bass sound more realistic. Easier to disguise the subtleties when you have a larger group and more layers of the same instrument.
 
If I´m getting you right, you mean playing a string section in a single performance sounding most real?
Or a tutti orchestra single performance?

First one, I could recommend all pro ensemble string patches like Spitfire Albion One, Orchestra Tools Inspire 1/2 or ProjectSAM Symphobia,
For second OT Inspire, VSL Smart Orchestra or maybe better Big Bang Orch. Andromeda and still ProjectSAM Symphobia.

Before I go any further, is it just strings or full orchestra?
This would just be for string orchestra or string ensemble. No winds or percussion.

The Albions are more generalized if I am not mistaken. Is there not a library that is more focused on strings where more attention has been paid to how realistic the strings sound? Libraries like Spitfire Chamber Strings or Spitfire Studio Strings?

What I mean is tutti - being able to play all of the strings within the strings sections of an orchestra in a single performance and sounding most real, yes!
 

JohnG

Senior Member
Libraries like Spitfire Chamber Strings or Spitfire Studio Strings?
Those are both excellent.

It also depends a bit on your budget. If you want to have great sounds, both those libraries are superb.

If you don't want to spend so much, you could also investigate Spitfire's BBC Orchestra, even though it also has brass, percussion and woodwinds. There are several versions, I believe, including one that starts at an extremely low price.

Are you writing songs, or trying to write string symphonies, or something experimental?
 

ism

Senior Member
I think your intuitions here are spot on. And as you probably know by now, I can't resist an opening to theorize about the way these kinds of musical and aesthetic moments arise from the technical dimensions of sample libraries. So I'll apologize in advance for any long windedness.

I suppose there's a simple answer to your question of ensembles - that ensemble patches are always good to sketch on in any string library, and with any library you just layer some longs, and then you can start improving. Then if you need more defined voice leading or counterpoint you might copy and paste your ensemble performance on Vl 1/2, Va, Vc tracks.


But I'd argue that this misses something important in the experience of composing with samples.


Specifically there's also the quality of "performability", which, more phenomenologically, I think is something closer to the experience of composing with a sampled instrument that you're describing. And I feel this is is an extremely important dimension to consider if you mean to compose *for* sample libraries, as opposed to composing on paper and merely mocking up you paper composition *with* sample libraries.


There are various dimension to this. But the bottom line is that the ensemble you choose to start writing on can be very important.


At one extreme you have, for instance, the way in the Olafur Chamber evolutions. If you sit down to improvise with the waves, you can just feel the emotion of the ebb and flow of the crescendos and decrescendo.

And you can feel youself in these waves, the dynamics and the orchestration and the sound are just so gorgeous that I feel it really impacts what I feel I want to write. And then, for instance if I write some woodwinds over the waves, or the evos for that matter, this emotion of the waves that has guided the composition to that point (hopefully, at least) this informs the emotion of the clarinet, and then the bassoon ... The point is that the specific quality of the OACE patch - it's dynamics, and the sound of the AIR hall (I often like to add some further valhalla cathedral long reflections).

But a key thing here is that the playability and emotional force of the Olafur waves as a sketching patch comes from the performance having been captured in the samples themselves.

And of course the waves are limited in their scope in that the arcs are pre-recorded (which is also why they sound so amazing). So when I need more control, my next favourite patch is (following a tip in one of Christian's videos) is to take the Vl + Vc flautandos from SStS, (though SCS would be even better if I had it) as a sketching pad.

And again, there's a particular quality to the sound and the dynamics, and the way I can control the entry of the violins (just by playing in the cello range below) is something I find a really gorgeous and fluid way to improvise and sketch.

One of the limits of this approach however, is that I find I don't tend to write very sophisticated countrpuntal textures when improvising like this. The 5ths just sound so gorgeous in the flautandos, and without legato, a lot of contrapuntal lines feels jerky and break the gorgeousness. So there's a different type of line I tend to write with this ensemble patch for sketching.

Something else you might find interesting if your on a budget and are interested in a chamber sound is the Light and Sound Chamber Strings (which I also like to drench in a cathedral reverb). They have this brilliant innovation that when you hold the sustain pedal at the beginning or end of a note you get a recorded crescendo or decrescendo. It's not as smooth at the Olafur waves, and in a big epic piece you'd probably not notice, but for subtler pieces, it really opens the possibility of a very different emotional quality - though it takes some practice to understand how to perforated and write for this aesthetic dimension. And so I find that to start improvising with LSCS has a real impact of the emotional quality of what I end up writing.


At the other end of the spectrum are solo strings. I find that improvising a string quartet on a solo string ensemble patch is almost a complete waste of time. Here I'm more likely to lay down some chords with one of the above ensemble patches, and start improvising over them with a cello (for instance), and then add futher lines.

For solo strings, I think that playability (or it's more extreme form of "plonkability", where you can just plonk in notes like a piano) is less important the performability - the ability to really craft the performance of your arcs, and to coordinate the arcs between different instruments. (I can point you to threads on this if you're interested. )


But the point is there is a point where improvising on an ensemble patch looses this quality of inspiring the musicality.

And one of the most obvious places is when you need a contrapuntal texture, or even just finely wrought voice leading. Here is where I'll often start working things out on piano, or else by improvising and tweaking each string part on their own, from their own legato patch. This makes a difference too. For instance, Spitfire Studio String and Light and Sound Chamber strings have very, very different expressive qualities in the their legatos, and I like to try write to the kind of emotional qualities each library really excelled at. And to really write to these strengths, I feel I need to be improvising and crafting the performance one instrument at a time.



I think that a second dimension to your question is about the lushness of a patch.

And here's where layering libraries can be really fun. Check out Christian's video for the Spitfire Solo strings, for instance. He isn't academically trained in orchestration and counterpoint to the extend that Paul is. But where I find his compositions brilliant is in the way he crafts just the right "lushness", or sound quality. And the Solo string video show him mixing quite a lot of Solo String and SCS articulations (with not a legato in sight) quite virtuosically to expertly craft a sound.

At least, I think this might be what you mean by "lush". But I'd argue it's much more virtuosic in it's how that sound have been crafted from multiple articulations than the word "lush" implies.

It's a bit like an Olafur Arnalds record - it's not just chamber musics in a standard room. Olafur's background is in production and sound engineering, and you can really tell that this is different from classical-music-as-usual in the sonority, right down to the nuances of the close mics on each cello, and the creaking of the piano.


LCO is another library to look it for it's ability to really craft a sound in the mix. Individually, the patches have this micro-tuning, which I was first sceptical about. And true enough, this quality of LCO can be used for horror and dissonance to great effect. But this same quality of mico-tuning also gives LCO strings a real richness - someone on one thread somewhere suggested that it's like adding "detune" to a synth patch, in ensemble you get a chorus effect and it in effect it gives you warmth and richness, rather than harshness and dissonance. Check out what Homay does with LCO to see this in action.
 
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Wunderhorn

Senior Member
Don't get hung up on the tutti patches. If you load individual section up in a multi in Kontakt you can play them together as if they were a pre-recorded tutti patch.
After recording, in post-production so to speak, you'll actually be grateful for the individual sections as you can then go in and edit things individually.
 

method1

New Member
You can also build your own multi patches in kontakt, or with the VSL VI/Synchron players.
It's a bit more effort but allows finer control over the individual elements.

I really like VSL dimension strings, which is more of a chamber size, but they also can be stacked creatively to sound big, I've built patches that have all the players together in one patch etc.

So with whatever library you find that sounds good to you, keep in mind that you can build your own patches even if the library doesn't come with a dedicated ensemble patch.

Also keep in mind that if your aim is "total realism" you're in for a lot of work, I don't think there's any out of the box solution for this yet.
 

Marsen

Member
This would just be for string orchestra or string ensemble. No winds or percussion.

The Albions are more generalized if I am not mistaken. Is there not a library that is more focused on strings where more attention has been paid to how realistic the strings sound? Libraries like Spitfire Chamber Strings or Spitfire Studio Strings?

What I mean is tutti - being able to play all of the strings within the strings sections of an orchestra in a single performance and sounding most real, yes!
Ok, realistic is relative. Where are so much different attempts on this.
If you are talking 'bout a single live Performance without Daw, you have to do a lot of keyswitching articulations for lively play. This is for ensemble patches regardless if Chamber Str. Or Studio. The only none keyswitch patches, I know from Spitfire are the Total Performance Legato patches, which are monophonic,.
Maybe best way to handle this switching live with an ensemble would be a small seperate midi-controller, like Guy Michelmore does.
 

AndyP

Senior Member
Thank you for the suggestion. The playable aspect is definitely good.

I have watched the walk through video for BDT and while it is designed to be playable and certainly is, the sound is a group of soloists from both strings and winds rather than offering a set of samples of a full string ensemble where each instrument has a section of players.

I find that BDT sounds fake because of the very nature of the soloists being more naked which is always the dead giveaway with libraries where you have soloists. I think it is easier to make larger ensembles where you have sections of players for violin, viola, cello and bass sound more realistic. Easier to disguise the subtleties when you have a larger group and more layers of the same instrument.
I have the BDT and I'm not very fond of it. When I bought it, I was hoping for something different. I don't find it very playable.
SStS Pro is good, especially because you can highlight the "first chair" player with the close mics.
But it is not a solo library, not a real "first chair".
Weak points of SSts are the legatos and there is only spiccato, no staccato articulation.

For moving strings I like to use Heavyocity for layering. Intimate Textures and Rhythmic Textures.
 

muziksculp

Senior Member
Hi,

Divisimate by Next Midi is not a library, but rather a MIDI Performance Tool that might interest you.

Maybe you know about it, but in case you don't, here is a link to their website. I don't have it, so can't elaborate much on it. But I have been checking what it offers once in a while, and seems to gain more popularity lately.

Divisimate by NextMidi

https://divisimate.com/
 

purple

Active Member
If you want to spend $600 on strings and you want realism, I'd look at Cinematic Studio Strings and Cinematic Studio Solo Strings. They work well together and the solo strings are intended to work basically like a first chair microphone for each section in addition to being a quartet. Mix in some of the solo strings to increase expression and focus, dial it back for more depth and to make the section sound bigger. These 2 have the best legato sound of any library, and are so consistent that you can easily copy and paste stuff you do with each of them to the other and even to Cinematic Studio Brass. I don't have to worry about whether stuff I am writing down at the piano will come across well with CSS. It all just works exactly the way it needs to no matter the key or register of the instrument.

While Spitfire certainly has a sound to it that many find inspiring and wonderful, I find that most demos I have heard from those collections leave much to be desired when it comes to realism in a more traditional orchestral context. Consistency issues also have me avoiding most of their collections (although I really do give most of them a shot when I see their youtube walkthroughs). Most of their libraries have some portions of the instrument that have bad samples and bad legato transitions and so on. The performance of the players is baked in in a lot of cases, which is great when it's what you want but horrible when it isn't. In some cases i've seen people complain that some instruments are just plain out of tune.
 

Mike Fox

Senior Member
I have just about every major string library out there, and in terms of playability, Afflatus is an absolute breeze. It's much more user friendly than anything Spitfire has ever done, imo.

Afflatus also has ensemble patches that are true polyphonic legato, which allows you to play with both hands and achieve smooth legato transitions!

Tone is subjective, but in terms of realism? More often than not, that has more to do with the composer's programming skills.
In the right hands, a 20 year old string library can sound amazing!

With that being said, if you're set on Spitfire, then i highly recommend SCS. It's a great string library and can achieve just about anything you throw at it. It also has ensemble patches, and the flautando articulations are absolutely gorgeous.

Many people will recommend CSS, but i personally am not a fan of the playability, as I find it to be very cumbersome. Also, if you go that route, make sure you like the tone, because it has a dark, and sometimes even a "lo fi" sheen to it. The ensemble patch also sounds very synthy to me. Regardless, CSS is fully capable of producing some very beautiful results.

Good luck with your search!
 
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TigerTheFrog

Reid Rosefelt
+1 for Cinematic Studio Strings. Based on what you wrote, I think it's exactly what you are looking for.

If you read up on this forum there is a general agreement that Cinematic Studio Strings has a legato that is as good as any available, even in libraries that cost a lot more money. Listen to it and see if you like the way it sounds.

 

jaketanner

Senior Member
Playing an ensemble patch, which is what you are describing, is not going to be very realistic...at least not at first without a LOT of dynamic programming afterwards. Also you will want a library with polyphonic legato, and Spitfire doesn't have that. You can fake it a bit if you properly overlap the notes slightly so that the notes blend gently into each other.

Also, as other have mentioned...if you don't have the skills to program the strings, no matter how good of a pianist you are, you will not achieve any realism. You can't play a string patch like a piano and expect it to sound real...totally different approach...It's all about balance, proper chord structure and arrangement. Unfortunately, you can't get good balance from an ensemble patch...why? Because sections overlap, and when they do, you may need one of those instruments louder or softer...not gonna happen with an ensemble patch, unless you have full control over each layer (some libraries do)...SF doesn't.

Ensemble patches are for sketching out ideas quick, then you go back and split out the MIDI notes and assign them to the appropriate articulation, or you replay it. Unfortunately, what you are asking isn't really a possibility in ANY library (again not without serious programming).

However...LOL Since SF only has 3 full sectioned string only libraries...your choices are limited. SCS, SStS and SSS...there is BBC but that is not string only. So if you have a direct question based off those three libraries, I can help you narrow it down...they are also all priced differently and if you have a budget cap, that will also determine which library you can get.

Best of luck!...BTW, if you haven't already, get the Discover library and you can test out the sustains from BBC to see if that works for you.
 

Saxer

Senior Member
Ensemble patches (sections spread across the keyboard) for both hand playing are nice improvisation tools but they have their borders. Especially strings sound emotional and realistic through the independent dynamic of the voices. And no long note string patch sounds good if you don't add continuous dynamic movement. I think orchestration and dynamic are 90% of good sample strings. Maybe you should think about a midi pedal or breath controller to add dynamic to your performance. Normally dynamic is driven by the modulation wheel (like the Spitfire Epic Strings) but you need a free hand for that.

A lot of the bigger string libraries have ensemble libraries as an additional goody beside the single instrument sections. You will pay a lot if you don't need those.
Cornucopia by Strezov Sampling is a good sounding pure ensemble library, only the basses are separate. It's one of the few string ensemble libraries I know which are not part of a bigger package.

This might be interesting too...
 
Hello,

I am overwhelmed by all the excellent responses. Thank you! I needed some time to think about everything that everyone wrote about. Overflowing informations. I appreciate all of the generous feedback. For me, it is an education. I am not new to sample libraries but I have never used sample libraries or a professional level scoring template in Logic or any other DAW to develop an orchestral score. Not yet. I may have an opportunity for it in my third of fourth year of my graduate program. For now, I dip my toes in the water while continuing to learn to transcribe and compose on paper and with music notation software apps.