Orchestral Strings – A Buyer’s Guide

IMPORTANT: It’s with great sadness that we announce Spitfire Audio products will not be available to purchase from Time+Space or any other Spitfire retail partner from June 1st.

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with the Spitfire team over the past two years and we wish them all the best in their future endeavours.

Please do feel free to browse through our other manufacturers who create brilliant orchestral and electronic libraries
Orchestral Strings Buyer's GuideComputers have revolutionised music creation in a variety of different ways which has opened up a whole raft of creative possibilities to musicians and artists. Software developers have provided us with access to some of the world’s best instruments and performers, all in the comfort of our studios and all at the click of a mouse.

Over the years, many have tried to capture the magic of orchestral strings and present them in a software package. In fact, it has become one of the most competitive areas of the virtual instrument industry, making it an expensive but worthwhile investment.

We’ve put together a list of some of our top selling orchestral string virtual instruments to help you find out which is the right one for you.


Spitfire Audio: Spitfire Symphonic Strings

When it comes to virtual instruments, Spitfire Audio set the bar very high; their arsenal of diligently crafted libraries cover all areas of the music spectrum, spanning from the unmistakably classic Albion composer tools range to the next generation electronic DNA series. And now Spitfire present a new range of definitive products: Spitfire Symphonic series, offering the most advanced instrument sampling yet. The range consists of strings, brass & woodwinds, all available for Kontakt or the free Kontakt Player, let’s take a look at the strings.

“If there was a single product that could sum up the foundation of Spitfire’s approach to sampling it would be this.”, say Spitfire about Symphonic Strings, and this is a statement not to be taken lightly, becoming apparent the moment your fingers touch the keys. The level of sound quality is evidently a step up from previous libraries; the low end offers a broad yet delicate sound that sits perfectly underneath the pure mid & high ranges. The three microphone positions, various dynamic levels, multiple round robins & 175 different articulations (!!!) all compile to make this an extremely flexible library that can be used in an array of genres & styles.

In true Spitfire style, the GUI of Symphonic Strings has been payed close attention to just as much as the sounds; a simple & neat interface offering 3 panels: the Overview panel, the General Controls panel & the Ostinatum panel, each consisting of a wealth of easy access controls. The Overview panel provides you with the essentials such as mic mixes, articulations and controller functions for dynamics, vibrato, release etc. Switch to the General Controls panel (pictured above) to find additional controller functions & round robins, which play an important part in the diversity of this library. The Ostinatum, described as ‘a little inspiration machine’ is Spitfire’s take on a sequencer; create in depth ostinatos with the freedom to adjust rhythm, order, velocities, note lengths and other details. Layer these ostinatos on top of eachother and this opens up a whole new page of performance potential.

Symphonic Strings doesn’t come cheap with a price of £699 to it’s name, but I can assure you it is worth every penny. Check out the video below to get a taster of what’s in store, or click here to see the product page with walkthrough videos and audio demos.

Cinematic Studio Strings

After the popular release of Cinematic Strings 2.0 back in 2012, the Cinematic Strings team are back with a brand new collection of professional orchestral sample libraries for Kontakt Player titled ‘Cinematic Studio Series’. Put together by a team of world-class composers, the aim of the new series is to capture the grand sound of cinematic orchestral playing and pack it into an intuitive, playable interface. So far, the series consists of Cinematic Studio Strings & Cinematic Studio Piano, with the release of 2 new libraries coming this year titled Cinematic Studio Brass & Cinematic Studio Solo Strings. The final 2 libraries, Cinematic Studio Woodwinds & Cinematic Studio Percussion are also due for release at a later date.

Cinematic Studio Strings was recorded at Trackdown, a premier scoring stage in Sydney. The samples were recorded clean with no reverb applied, giving them a raw and very realistic sound, and the natural ambience of the recording space does them great favour. The 3 different microphone positions available make this library accommodating to the serious composer looking for variety in tone, whilst the simple yet brilliant interface allows users of all level to play and write at ease. The legato system in Cinematic Studio Strings is genius; embeded into the unified interface, you’re able to play true legato transitions for each note and by simply changing the velocity you play the notes at, you will experience different speeds and introduce stunningly realistic portamento slides. The other articulations on offer are equally as impressive, with a selection of sub articulations for each one which appear in the panel on the right, keeping the GUI tidy.

I look forwards to hearing the rest of the Cinematic Studio Series once they are released, and it will be interesting to see how they work alongside this powerful library. Cinematic Studio Strings certainly has it’s own character and sound, perfect for true Hollywood style compositions, and coming in at £370 it’s a real bargain.

Output Analog Strings

This is an entirely new release from Output, and certainly one to watch out for. Analog Strings combines a diverse collection of real orchestral strings, vintage synths and sound design elements, all controlled within an intelligent custom built engine. It is clearly different to the other libraries in the fact that it is aimed towards a much more modern style of writing & performance, but that doesn’t shun it away from the orchestral sound; Output deeply sampled a 60-piece string orchestra, a 22-piece orchestra and a handful of soloists at the BMC Hall in Budapest to achieve a selection of 30 orchestral sound sources that can be combined, manipulated & mangled in what seems like an infinite number of ways, making it a very creative instrument.

The dual layer system makes bridging the gap between natural & electronic sounds a seamless transition, and with a total of 90 sound sources including one shots, pads & tape loops, you can literally spend hours just forming your own presets without even moving onto the other panels. The sleek & modern interface is similar to SUBSTANCE, Output’s modern bass engine released towards the end of last year, but with some exciting new added features and controls adjusted to suit a string based sound. The 4 main macro sliders are something I’m happy to see continued through Output’s range; choose between 19 different parameters such as Motion, Talk or Pulse and quickly manipulate a sound from the main panel (this is especially useful with NKS compatibility). The tape loop soundsources allow for even more creativity with the instrument, you can adjust the start & end points of the audio or reverse it to find a completely new loop. The other 4 pages include an edit page for deep manipulation of envelopes, an FX page in which you can find separate layer effects as well as global ones, a rhythm page which enables complex modulation with some great preset patterns and finally, an in depth dual arpeggiator. The great advantage of this product is that you’ll be getting the best of both worlds, real orchestral strings as well as creative & twisted presets, all under £200!

I’ll leave you with this very impressive performace video put together by the Output team. Click here to find out more!

ProjectSAM Orchestral Essentials 2

Firstly, I’ll mention that this is not solely a string library, it features an entire orchestra, so I’ll be focusing only on the strings as they deserve a place in our list! ProjectSAM’s primary approach to sampling is to produce libraries with a deep, warm sound that composers and producers can feel comfortable using without worrying about using a ‘fake’ sound. Aimed towards cinematic soring, their products cover a range of instruments & styles and the Orchestral Essentials are a perfect package of strings, brass, woodwinds, percussion, keyboards, harp, choir & more, all carefully selected from other ProjectSAM libraries such as the Symphobia series & the True Strike series. It’s worth mentioning you also get a set of effect & sound design patches aswell such as orchestral tuning noise which could prove useful for creating ambiences etc.

In terms of strings, here is a list of instruments & articulations they come with:

  • String Ensemble Sordino
  • Violins Spiccato and Fast Note Down
  • Violins Flageolet
  • Violas with Cellos Ponticello Tremolo
  • String Ensemble Fast Crescendo
  • String Ensemble Textures
  • String Ensemble Effects

All of these have clearly been developed with a lot of care as they sound fantastic and stick to ProjectSAM’s cinematic based sound. The floary, airy Flageolets in the violins are an instant inspiration to write beatifully haunting music, whilst the snappy spiccatos hint at a darker tone with movement & excitement. Layer these on top of eachother and discover a fresh sound that you can then shape to your liking. This applies to all the various effects and articulations on offer, they can be mixed & matched to form ultimate cinematic scoring tools.

Take a listen to the strings of Orchestral Essentials 2 below.

VSL Orchestral Strings Bundle

This bundle combines 2 powerful libraries from VSL, the first focusing on Violins & Violas, the second on Celli & Basses. “…it’s the closest thing to having a string orchestra at your beck and call”, say Future Music about this full size, impressive string orchestra that offers a total of 38 players. The instruments were played by leading names in the world of classical music, meaning every articulation & technique is recorded at the highest standard possible. Each section has it’s own unique character, yet when you play them all together you instantly hear a satisfying, warm string sound that feels natural to play.

The bundle covers a wide range of articulations & techniques including glissandos, tremolos, col legno, con sordino as well as some interesting runs and harmonics. The Permormance Patches are particularly impressive; VSL took advantage of having a large ensemble by using the natural “inexactitude” among players. When moving from one tone to another or performing techniques such as trills, the ensemble were all playing slightly different versions of the same technique, so this was captured and offered as a patch, resulting in a highly realistic playing style.

The bundle comes with the free Vienna Instruments sampling software as well as the Vienna Ensemble mixing software, which can be used to get the absolute most out of the products. With instant instrument switching, you’re able to easily access all instruments presented within an efficient mixer and just by clicking on the instrument channel, you’ll then be directed to it’s user interface in the Vienna Instruments sampler. The sampler holds an intelligent set of detection tools that analyse your playing and automatically adjust to ensure true authenticity.

Click here to be directed to the product page and find out more

Garritan Personal Orchestra 5

Garritan’s Personal Orchestra 5 is again an entire orchestral library, but within it you can find a great collection of strings. Acccessibility & affordability play a key role in why Personal Orchestra 5 has made it into our list, but this certainly doesn’t mean the sound quality is lost. Garritan’s Personal Orchestra for years has widely been known for the being the perfect start up orchestra for anyone; we managed to speak with Gary Garritan himself in an interview early last year who said ‘The original Personal Orchestra began as a dream to make a software orchestra for every musician.”, and this is evidently still the case. For the more advanced software users, there is still a huge amount of high quality content which is considered some of the best available in the market, especially at such an attractive price of just £129. So let’s take a look at the strings.

As well as numerous solo techniques for all string instruments, GPO5 also contains a first violin section (12 players), a second violin section (10 players), a viola section (10 players), a cello section (8 players), a double bass section (7 players) and a selection of group techniques for various small ensembles. This means you’re able to craft your own ensembles by mixing & matching instruments, which is a really handy feature when you’re looking for a particular group sound. GPO 5 comes with it’s own sampler: the powerfully built ARIA player, which can be used inside your DAW or as standalone to record and playback live. The mixer window inside the player is an easy way to quickly bring sections in or out and adjust levels without having to switch between pages. You can also find a useful effects page, offering a selection of performance spaces & reverb presets.

The main asset that attracts so many to GPO 5 is how adaptable it is, you’re able to shape it to match your style of writing with the bonus of high quality sounds & an intuitive user interface. If you’ve got a spare 30 minutes, I’d definitely recommend taking a look at the walkthrough video below.

Spitfire Audio London Contemporary Orchestra Strings

Spitfire’s newest release, London Contemporary Orchestra Strings, explores an entirely new & unique sound world for an orchestral library; never-before-sampled playing techniques & articulations are combined with Spitfire’s faultless sampling process to produce a library that will inspire you to venture into the realms of experimental & contemporary music.

Over 100 articulations were recorded using 6 Violins, 4 Violas, 3 Celli & 2 Basses in a tight room to capture a dry and natural sound, leaving room for the engineers to use technology to their advantage and deliver instruments you would never hear outside a sampler. Find avant-garde articulations such as Long Woozy Vibrato Unmeasured, Short Super Pont Scrapes, Long Snores and Short Slackened, with names like that how could you not be interested in what they sound like?! All sections also include a unique ‘Detuned Open String’ instrument which can be used to create haunting textures suitable for film, tv & game scoring.

The GUI, similar to Spitfire Symphonic Strings, contains all parameters necessary to get the most out of these versatile sounds. The General Controls panel holds a selection of mic mixes: a close mic, a room mic to add a bit more distance and 2 FX mics which were processed using analogue outboard gear and introduce more of a harsh ambience to the mix. The Ostinatum enables you to craft compelx patterns and tweak them in a variety of ways; use the chord mode and experiment with some wild harmonies!

This is a very diverse library and you may not realise how much you need it until you have it; from stunning, close up playing to disjunct & detuned techniques, London Contemporary Orchestra Strings is an essential addition to your collection.

Cinesamples Cinestrings Complete

This bundle combines CineStrings RUNS, CineStrings CORE & Cinestrings SOLO at a special price to form a huge collection of ensembles, solos, techniques, effects & much more, perfect for achieving a full, authentic orchestral string sound. This bundle has the advantage of being able to offer 3 very different products that all use the same unparalled recording quality that Cinesamples are known for.

RUNS is a substantial part of this bundle and a unique product by itself; a comprehensive assortment of scales runs & rips that will add variety & movement to your scores. The innovative ‘Sync to Downbeat’ function will intelligently sync the end of the run to the nearest downbeat, regardless of where you start in the bar or your time signature, making it an excellent tool for getting down ideas quickly. Choose from major, minor, harmonic minor, octatonic, whole tone & chromatic scales with further variations of starting note & number of octaves.

CORE contains all the articulations you would expect with smooth dynamic morphing across 4 levels & quickly selectable presets. The “Hairpin Creator” is a very unique feature of CORE; it automatically produces “swells” in the playing using crescendos & decrescendos, but doesn’t require you to trigger it using keyswitches, so playing feels even more natural & realistic. The most recent CineStrings update 1.2 now includes several new ensemble patches from CineSymphony LITE focusing on short & sustain articulations. On top of this, you can find some additional ‘Advanced Controls’ for these patches which control the range of the different instruments within each section

SOLO features deeply sampled solo patches for 2 violins, viola, cello & bass. Cinesamples’ unique legato engine can be appreciated in full when using these solo instruments; analysing the intervals you play, then playing the appropriate transitional leap between the notes to create a seamless crossover. Speed up your workflow with the new mapping system in SOLO which allows for articulations to be blended together, using polyphonic keyswitching or overlapping velocity/CC range.

All 3 of these products work brilliantly together, providing a huge amount of content. And what’s more, you’ll be saving over £130 compared to individual purchases!

Hopefully this has given you a clearer understanding of what is on offer in the market today in terms of orchestral string libraries. It can be a tough decision to make, but follow your instinct and choose the library that you know will suit your needs the most! Click here to view all orchestral string virtual instruments at Time+Space


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Posted by Jamie Farrington

After studying music for 12 years as a tuba and piano player, I was eventually introduced to the studio a few years ago and it opened my eyes to a whole new side of music. Since then I've been producing and recording all sorts of music, with my main interest being in ambient and experimental electronic music. Working at Time+Space has enabled me to work with some great musicians, composers, producers and above all, some amazing software!

Website: http://www.timespace.com/

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