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Thoughts on Spitfire Chamber Strings, VSL Dimension, Berlin, Cinematic Studio Strings

Apologies up front for asking what must be a common question from a noob. Which library do you like the best from this list and why? I'm new to the forum and have listened to what seems like countless sound demos of the various string libraries on manufacturers websites, youtube and this forum. My existing EWQL Symphonic Orchestra Gold was a basic intro into string libraries, but I need a more realistic and versatile string library that works equally well from early music mockups to modern game and film scoring needs.

The recent Cinematic Studio Strings (CSS) thread was invaluable to me in getting my list narrowed down to libraries found in the title of this thread.

So far I've generated my own non-user impressions.

Spitfire Chamber Strings(previously Sable): Pros - Very intimate, detailed, classical sounding, refined, playable runs, vast articulation list. Cons - Can sound somewhat sterile or lacking in the lushness department at times as a result of a lack of humanization controls, no divisi?

VSL Dimension Strings: Pros - Individual players gives unparalleled flexibility in sculpting my own desired sound and ensemble size. Divisi flexibility is excellent if I put the work in, very detailed sounding, classical sounding, vast articulation list, the best available humanization options with VI Pro, the most realistic sound for baroque, early classical i've heard. Cons - Can sound lacking in the lushness department for game and film scoring on its own, needs VIPro for humanization controls, individual players have too much mic bleed to be used as exposed solists, no auto-divisi for quick mockups, no emulated or real con-sordino. Not the best "only" string library since it lacks the gravitas or lushness of other libraries?

Berlin Strings: Pros - Refined, classical sound, con-sordino emulation for entire library, excellent (the best?) fff brutal attacks in the shorts, more lush sounding than SF and VSL out of the box, some humanization controls. Cons - No divisi capabilities so the ensemble can quickly sound unbalanced when playing chords within a section.

Cinematic Studio Strings: Pros - Lush, dark sound very suitable for legato sweeping melodies, very "Hollywood" sounding out of the box. Emulated con sordino for entire library, easist library of these to use out of the box. Cons - Lacking the vast articulation list of the others limiting the sonic palette , less detailed sounding than the others, thicker sounding, less dynamic range, non-vib to vib bugs, no divisi capabilities, user reported delay in triggering of samples via midi frustrating to use?

So.....these are my impressions which may be close or far from the truth. I would love to hear if anyone can share some direct comparisons of how these libraries handle lyrical lush vs harsh and everything in between (using the same midi file). Or if you could share your thoughts on your experience in using these libraries good or bad!
 
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novaburst

Senior Member
If given the choice and it was the only choice I would have to live with for many years,

I would 100℅ go for VSL DMN pro, I think you will do well in with your CPU foot print that mean you will be able to load more instances, than the rest of the library's,

There is no baked in reverb, which means you can also choose your room or hall you want,

And obviously VEPro will be a great match for the library,

Second choice will no doubt be Berlin strings,

If I could not get the first two I spoke about only then would I consider CSS and spit fire.

I know I know fan boy
 

maestro2be

Active Member
I just wanted to add that Diminsion Strings do in fact have Con Sordinos, you just need to buy those as well since they are a second package. I own Sable/Chamber Strings and they are also amazing.
 
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EuropaWill

Member
I just wanted to add that Diminsion Strings do in fact have Con Sordinos, you just need to buy those as well since they are a second package. I own Sable/Chamber Strings and they are also amazing.
Could you post some audio comparisons of Dimension and Sable/Chamber strings? How would you summarize the differences, pros and cons between Dimension and Sable/Chamber?
 

Jimmy Hellfire

Senior Member
Some thoughts:

Spitfire Chamber Strings ... Can sound somewhat sterile or lacking in the lushness department at times as a result of a lack of humanization controls, no divisi?
"Sterile" is probably the last attribute that belongs in the same sentence as "Spitfire Chamber Strings". They in fact sound particularly lively and animated, lots of "character" (if a string library can have such a thing). IMO there's also no need for extensive humanization control for this library. There are some things one can adjust (tightness etc.) but the recordings themselves are so lively and textured that you wouldn't ever really feel the need to further "humanize" something.

VSL Dimension Strings ... Cons - Can sound lacking in the lushness department for game and film scoring on its own, needs VIPro for humanization controls, individual players have too much mic bleed to be used as exposed solists
I wouldn't call any of that "cons". A library that sounds extremely detailed and has unparalleled "classical" sound naturally won't sound very convincing in the "lushness" department simply because it wasn't made for that purpose. It's of course also not meant to be used as a soloist library. VI Pro certainly is an additional expense factor - but it's not a "con". Best sample player out there is more like it!

Cinematic Studio Strings: Pros - Lush, dark sound very suitable for legato sweeping melodies, very "Hollywood" sounding out of the box.
Actually I don't think it's even that much "Hollywood". Vintage Hollywood is perhaps more like it. Reading the CSS threads here on the forum, I was sometimes under the impression that some people expect this library to sound bigger and more "cinematic" than it actually does. Not sure why - maybe because some of the examples that were available early were done with ensemble patches, which to me is generally a strange thing to do.

I wouldn't say that it sounds less detailed than the others. The shorts are very very crisp, agile and not flubby at all, the vibrato is very noticeable and characteristic - you can actually tell that the sections aren't that big. The ambience is also quite intimate.

All in all it's a wonderful library. Unbeatable bang for buck ratio, quite unique, wonderful sound, very versatile. Has all the crispness and intimate qualities you'd need for short note pieces, intricate voicings etc., but on the other side can also sound lush and creamy enough for sweeping melodies, big harmonies etc.

Regarding divisi: I personally wouldn't fuss around that too much. String libraries don't really work like "real life" anyway. Section sizes matter less, designations of dynamics can be deceiving. And even if a library does have some kind of divisi function - it doesn't have to be a guarantee that it actually sounds plausible, balanced or realistic. You can write divisi parts with a library without a "divisi mode". Just make it work.
 

ModalRealist

Active Member
I would love to hear if anyone can share some direct comparisons of how these libraries handle lyrical lush vs harsh and everything in between (using the same midi file).
They are all just libraries. Little snippets of recorded sound glued together. There's a really limited sense in which they can play from lyrical to lush and in between. They sound the way they sound and there is a limit to the sonic variety in those recordings. Everything else is smoke and mirrors (read: sweat, blood and tears) on the part of the person doing the mockup. And yes, some people produce the most incredible smoke and mirrors.

To that end, the best way of comparing libraries is to go listen to their walk through videos, where someone is playing them live or in a "technical" setting with little MIDI snippets. BST, DMN, SCS all have such videos, I'm sure CSS does too. Specifically, listen to the video with your eyes closed. Actually hone in on the raw sound of the library. Don't ask yourself if it sounds "good": ask if it sounds bad. Vibrato not quite right for you? Slightly too tinny? Weird frequencies? Dodgy transition sound?

All of these libraries are top quality. There's nothing wrong with them: but you're going to be hearing the recordings of the one you buy over and over and over again on the way to magicking them into a unique performance of your music. And you'll sure as hell have a much better time on that journey if you're not internally screaming at this or that thing which most people don't notice but sticks out to you like a sore thumb.

The only other considerations are if one of the libraries has articulations you need that the others don't, and the workflow of the library.

So:

  1. Listen to the library. Which tone(s) do you enjoy?
  2. Listen again, especially to walkthroighs/rough playing - what's wrong with it? What bothers you? Which library is most amenable to your ears?
  3. Do any of the libraries lack articulations you need?
  4. Does the library's organisation/workflow look like it would suit you?
 
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EuropaWill

Member
Some thoughts:



"Sterile" is probably the last attribute that belongs in the same sentence as "Spitfire Chamber Strings". They in fact sound particularly lively and animated, lots of "character" (if a string library can have such a thing). IMO there's also no need for extensive humanization control for this library. There are some things one can adjust (tightness etc.) but the recordings themselves are so lively and textured that you wouldn't ever really feel the need to further "humanize" something.
I suppose I meant relating to the tuning of the ensemble. It's good to hear though, that your impressions differ. That offers a good counter opinion based on use rather than my mere observations.

I wouldn't call any of that "cons". A library that sounds extremely detailed and has unparalleled "classical" sound naturally won't sound very convincing in the "lushness" department simply because it wasn't made for that purpose. It's of course also not meant to be used as a soloist library. VI Pro certainly is an additional expense factor - but it's not a "con". Best sample player out there is more like it!
Part of the downside with VSL is everything costs more. Con-Sordinos, humanization, etc... At least its available, but with the other libraries they offer included solutions even if they are not perfect or ideal.

Actually I don't think it's even that much "Hollywood". Vintage Hollywood is perhaps more like it. Reading the CSS threads here on the forum, I was sometimes under the impression that some people expect this library to sound bigger and more "cinematic" than it actually does. Not sure why - maybe because some of the examples that were available early were done with ensemble patches, which to me is generally a strange thing to do.
One of the reasons I've narrowed down to this list is they all seem to varying degrees, seek to achieve a more detailed, and smaller sound than the libraries that have sampled much larger ensembles. I very much like that CSS sounds smaller than CS2 for, instance.

I wouldn't say that it sounds less detailed than the others. The shorts are very very crisp, agile and not flubby at all, the vibrato is very noticeable and characteristic - you can actually tell that the sections aren't that big. The ambience is also quite intimate.
Good to hear. In the samples I've heard though, I don't hear the light airy detailed sound that i've heard in the other libraries but that just might be a factor of not yet being exposed to it enough or hearing the right audio samples.

All in all it's a wonderful library. Unbeatable bang for buck ratio, quite unique, wonderful sound, very versatile. Has all the crispness and intimate qualities you'd need for short note pieces, intricate voicings etc., but on the other side can also sound lush and creamy enough for sweeping melodies, big harmonies etc.

Regarding divisi: I personally wouldn't fuss around that too much. String libraries don't really work like "real life" anyway. Section sizes matter less, designations of dynamics can be deceiving. And even if a library does have some kind of divisi function - it doesn't have to be a guarantee that it actually sounds plausible, balanced or realistic. You can write divisi parts with a library without a "divisi mode". Just make it work.
Thanks again for all your input and insight! I still look for divisi but perhaps that's because I'm a purest at heart. If I could get over how LASS sounds, it would be on the list for that alone. Symphony Series SE also didn't make the list due to its sound not matching my sensibilities, but those two libraries are on the right track IMO with divisi. Same goes for Kirk Hunter.
 

Saxer

Senior Member
One big argument for a library is the playability. There are libraries that are sounding live by helping the performer: some baked in envelopes like swells at the note start or evolving vibrato over time. Other libraries don't do anything but give the control to the player. With this libraries you have more control but need more realtime performance skills.

VSL sounds extremely dead when you don't move any controller. But if you do it feels very direct and connected.
CSS sound already alive when playing just a note on the keyboard. But especially the slow note transitions do 'their own thing'. They do it wonderful but they do it on their own.

Playing a lot of VSL I'm used to give every note it's own little swell and follow the dynamic very detailed (second nature using an breath controller). Sending the same midi to CSS sounds very anxious and has 'holes' on note transitions. CSS wants big dynamic curves. On the other hand a good CSS played performance sound rough and lifeless when played by VSL.

CSS and VSL to me are the most different examples in your collection concerning playability. The others are somewhere in between.

It's not a question of quality but you should know what you prefer.
 

muk

Senior Member
but I need a more realistic and versatile string library that works equally well from early music mockups to modern game and film scoring needs.
That is going to be a tough requirement to fulfill. Basically almost every aspect of strings playing and recording is very different between these two. Either you go for a detailed and well balanced sound with smaller sections, or you aim for a big, lush and smooth sound of film recordings. If you have the grit and detail, the rosin and the wood of ‘early’ music strings captured in the recordings you won’t completely get rid of it no matter the tools you use. And if you have, on the other hand, a silky smooth big sound there is no way to get the detail and finesse into it that is needed for classical music.

So, if you go for Dimension Strings forget about the lush Hollywood sound. Maybe you can approximate it, but it will be struggle and the results will never satisfy entirely. Hollywood Strings or CSS are much better choices for this. And conversely trying to approximate an ‘early’ music sound with CSS is a lost battle. Totally different timbre, wrong vibrato style etc. In short, it’s a completely different aesthetic.

If you want to go for some kind of middle ground Berlin Strings would probably be your best bet. But then again, for not much more money you could get Spitfire Chamber Strings (if on a sale) and CSS. Or for a lot less money Hollywood Strings and Light & Sound Chamber Strings. (The L&S Chamber Strings have a very nice tone for classical music, by the way. Unfortunately they are a bit light on articulations for this kind of music.). If you are really handy with mixing maybe LASS can be convincing in both styles.


It seems that you did your research and investigated the libraries properly. Now you need to make up your mind which sound you want, and which of the libraries is closest to that. My only advice would be to not think that you can bend a library into doing styles it was not created for. Depending on the library you can to a certain degree, but it will never be fully convincing and thus not satisfying in the long run. If you are very handy at mixing it’s possible that LASS could be good at both. But I don’t have it so I cannot say for sure.
 

Straight2Vinyl

New Member
Blimey, I really don't think that libraries not having a divisi option is big deal in the sample world. Certainly not enough to be listed as a con!
I think that given how Audiobro had divisi 8 years ago it should just be expected by companies now. I mean it's always mentioned as a good advanced feature to have and nobody ever says it's not worth having, so why would any relatively new orchestral library be without it at this time?
 

Vik

Scandi Member
I think that given how Audiobro had divisi 8 years ago it should just be expected by companies now. I mean it's always mentioned as a good advanced feature to have and nobody ever says it's not worth having, so why would any relatively new orchestral library be without it at this time?
And sometimes, the main reason I miss division a library, isn’t because I want to use the divisi samples for a divisi function - but just as a smaller sized version of the same ensemble. Havng divisi/half sections in libraries like Berlin Strings, Spitfire Symphonic Strings and Cinematic Studio Strings would have made these libraries ore than twice as valuable for me. These extra samples could have been used for several functions:
As divisi strings
As a layer on top of the main ensemble samples
In combination with other small (divisi) or large ensemble samples from other libraries
As stand-alone strings
 

Straight2Vinyl

New Member
And sometimes, the main reason I miss division a library, isn’t because I want to use the divisi samples for a divisi function - but just as a smaller sized version of the same ensemble. Havng divisi/half sections in libraries like Berlin Strings, Spitfire Symphonic Strings and Cinematic Studio Strings would have made these libraries ore than twice as valuable for me. These extra samples could have been used for several functions:
As divisi strings
As a layer on top of the main ensemble samples
In combination with other small (divisi) or large ensemble samples from other libraries
As stand-alone strings
Absolutely. Many of us don't need a huge section, particularly if we are not making a full orchestral piece. If I just need some nice violins for a pop track it would be nice to not have to look at an entirely different library. Instead just choose another patch and be on my way.
 

Karma

Spitfire Audio
I personally just don't think it makes much of a difference with samples. Nobody is going to really hear the difference between 10 Cellos and 20 Cellos, especially if you compensate for the 'divisi' part by bringing it down a couple dB. Not only would it be much more expensive in the extra cost it would take to record, but it's just borderline unnecessary compared to other things that could be focused on.
 

Saxer

Senior Member
Nobody is going to really hear the difference between 10 Cellos and 20 Cellos, especially if you compensate for the 'divisi' part by bringing it down a couple dB.
Thats true. But you can hear the difference between 3 and 10 cellos. For chamber or pop tracks I'd very rarely use a 10 cello library.
 

Karma

Spitfire Audio
Thats true. But you can hear the difference between 3 and 10 cellos. For chamber or pop tracks I'd very rarely use a 10 cello library.
You're using divisi with 3 Cellos? o_O

In all seriousness, even with SCS you could get away without a divisi option.
 
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