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If you are a professional movie composer you likely have quite an investment in computers and detailed sample libraries. These libraries are often priced in ranges that  make them prohibitive to the beginning composer or even a more seasoned composer who isn't presently funded in any way for their work.

Though it should be said that most of the better sample library companies offer entry point software, sometimes for free in order to get you started. These beginner packages often don't offer enough capability for serious composition. This is the beginning of a long expensive road to acquisition of everything needed for large scale orchestra composition using these libraries.Some companies have started a monthly rental fee to make using these libraries more attractive to more composers.

Thankfully there are products that fill the gap between those libraries and soundfont/rompler kinds of sounds that often just sound cheesy and unrealistic when coupled to a composition you have worked hard to make.Some of your choices might be limited to either use of a DAW for composition or notation software. DAWs offer more flexibility here over the end result of the sound in particular. Many notation programs offer sometimes passable included soundsets or the capability to mate the notation program to a DAW which is in my option, the best of both worlds if you write notation. Much of this depends on the composers personal standards with respect to the quality they demand for their work.

Thankfully there are sound libraries priced at points much more attractive to the budding composer that faithfully reproduce a good facsimile of the instruments. Since this is mostly a site dedicated to orchestral compositions both small and large I will omit the smaller instrument dedicated libraries and save that discussion for another time. Instead I will concentrate on the "all-in-one" kinds of libraries that a composer will need in order to make entire orchestral mock ups. It should be noted that it is of prime importance to make sure your computer specs either meet or exceed the expectations of the software requirements. Often the minimum spec isn't enough for serious work and so I recommend a computer that far exceeds these expectations. This is also a subject for another time. This isn't to say you need the very best, but old OS using 32 bit programming languages on computers showing some age are probably not good hosts for this sort of thing.

In order to use these libraries one either needs notation software that hosts them or a DAW. Many Libraries also require a program made by Native Instruments called Kontakt since it is the shell they load into. Here's a plug of one of my favorite free DAWs- Cakewalk by Bandlab. This program is miles ahead of anything else free out there.

Here are the libraries not listed in any particular order.

Amadeus Symphonic Orchestra

The Orchestra

Miroslav Philharmonic- Note Kontakt is not required.

Garritan Orchestra

As a general rule these libraries sound ok. Some better than others What they often lack in comparison to their more expensive siblings are mic positions and less command over the sounds. Sample quality sometimes isn't as good.

Having said that they are excellent in many composition settings and work well as sketch pads or examples that sound mostly realistic in comparison to sound fonts and often are useful in some professional applications.

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Ingo, hi!

I'm inclined to agree with Fabio. It would be difficult to stack solo strings without duplicating tracks to put each a couple of milliseconds out of phase. It won't work in the Instruments player's slot rack as (as Fabio says) that would play the same sample. 

But Dimension Strings looks good. Gives options above the alternatives like forcing playing on individual strings; no open string playing and on. The blurbs claim individual instruments are mic'd but I'm not sure that means a soloist can be extracted. They also talk about letting the composer sculpt their own string ensembles. For that it seems to need Vienna Instruments Pro (also on sale at 55 euros) to use all the options. The free player would still work but doesn't have the 'humanise' option. (Dimension Strings comes in at 285Gb...crikey!) 

I'm tempted...aaarghhh! though I already have the solo strings. I'll be going live chat when there's a person on the other end to find out about soloists and the pro player. Anything relevant, I'll report back. 


Dane, if Vienna Pro is still on sale, it's probably worth it in the long run. for me, I have gone back to the free ensemble player, as it always works. whereas, after a power failure for example, and I have not shut my computer down, I have a heck of a time getting Vepro up and running again, at least so that my DAW (Cakewalk) has audio drivers. since there is at this point no advantage for me using one or the other, I have regressed to the mean. I might end up using Vepro in the future, but for now it's too much of a hassle for no tangible gain. but, at that price? Why not? 

As for epic Orchestra, I got a few sounds that are useful for spot work, like the cornet, oboe d'amore, and some string patches, but I could also easily live without it. I wouldn't touch the other with a ten foot pole. you're right, it's the death of actual composing. 

Fabio Biolcati said:

@Ingo. Not sure layering solos always gives you good results — you must almost rely on the "half tone trick" to avoid phasing due to same sample being played at different pitches, bla, bla…

If you are interested in VSL, the Dimension series offer ensemble building capability with per-player tweakability.

If I'm right, the Honourable Jos Wylin here is VSL Dimension user; if so, he can certainly tell us something about using it in real life.


Ingo Lee said:

Can you get an ensemble sound by layering solo strings or do you really need one of the ensemble packages like 'chamber strings'?

Hi Fabio,
Hmm, I'm not so honorable as you make me look...
Indeed, I'm a Dimensions user. And indeed they com as separate instruments, which can be put together into an ensemble. Vienna comes with some preset ensembles (e.g. violins a 2, violins a 4, violins a 8), but you can put up any set as you like. The recording technique is very refined: all the single string instruments were recorded separately while playing in the ensemble so that they glue together. That way, they interact and still they have a distinct soloist sound. All the recorded strings are different instruments, played differently by other players. Thus they build and ensemble that is very realistic as it would be in a real orchestra without the immanent danger of 'phasing'.
Small disadvantage: the Dimensions tend to sound a bit harsh and sometimes the vibrato is a little aggressive and hard to tame. For chamber music, I still prefer the Chamber Strings though.
Here is an example realized with the Dimensions (4-3-2-1-1); the solo cello is the VSL Cello 1.


 The VSL prices seem a bit high to me but maybe I'm looking in the wrong places. Cumulatively this could get to be very expensive if I picked up a bunch of the packs over time. Hence my reason for attempting to identify "mid level" all in one sample libraries. If it's a string sectional I'm probably covered for that already.  The thing about most string sections is there doesn't seem to be huge differences in sound quality to my ear between the more expensive libraries and the others when playing in groups. It's when the instruments are solo and exposed that the differences seem more apparent.

I've been continuing my investigations into the available options. I found this review of Garritan from SOS magazine at plugin boutique. 

If I were looking at VSL and dropping 5 bills or more, I would also consider East West Orchestra Gold. It sits comfortably in both Movie composer and hobbyist tool kits and earned accolades for good reason more than once. See discussion on VI Control HERE. You could buy those East West packs separately as well if you only wanted one or two of them. Educational discounts apply which could potentially pull the price down from 499.00 to the low 300 range if you happen to be in education. Why pay for a subscription? 

The thing for me is I can get Sampletank 4 MAX as a crossgrade from my Sampletank SE4 for around 200.00 US if I apply my jam points on the IK site. Typical crossgrade pricing is 299.00. That's a behemoth of a program that includes much much more than simply orchestra sounds. The pianos and keys on general in Sampletank SE 4 are amazing. I would think maybe combining some good solo instrument libraries with what I already have plus Sampletank 4 MAX  might be overkill for my purposes. 

I think it should be said that you don't need as much for realistic demo work as you do for movie sound track work in my opinion.

Hi Tim,

I think it started because the VSL Starter (Special) Editions which themselves are mid-market have been offered at sale prices. It's how I started on modern samples. I think the Vol 1 bundle cost me about £200....didn't include everything but enough to put a basic orchestral work together. The solo instruments were ok-enough to post a couple of pieces here. 

I'd love to try other libraries E/W looks good but are a bit on the pricey side of mid-market - list price £345 for the Symphonic Orchestra gold. The Hollywood Orchestra gold comes in at £430. The iLok key = £43 so even at half price, either are still expensive given their limitations. The one that attracts me is the Choir + Word-builder. Nigh £600. Spitfire also has a choir, the attraction of which is it includes humming. I'd have to choose. An extravagance to get both! 

Ironically, the choir that came with my earliest cheapo samples is quite wonderful!  Here's an extract from a wordless madrigal for it.

Working with those antique samples was a very worthwhile learning curve!


Dane I subscribe to the East West Composer Cloud and it is a mixed bag.  I like that it has thousands of things, didgeridoos to 'Voices of Passion" (let your imagination run wild)  I'm not that happy with the orchestral stuff although people have gotten good sounds with it.  Here is a chorus plus word builder video I did, experimental to say the least. Good luck trying to understand the words!

I believe that you can subscribe and then turn Composer Cloud on and off still which would allow you to try things out and then either purchase or go elsewhere without spending a whole lot, just a thought.

Dane your choir piece is a great example of making good use of simple tools, very nice.  On the other hand I'll bet I can make VSL sound cheesy!

 Hey guys those are both really nice choir compositions! Enjoyed them both.

We are now getting out of the "all-in-one" territory and that's fine, although I think some of the libraries mentioned do pretty well at covering pretty much everything in an orchestra.

Thanks Dane for the info on VSL Vol. I am not averse to VSL, I like the sounds in the libraries. I have their Big Bang Orchestra. I am trying to avoid the need for additional large additional paks. Instead having one or two core programs with all instruments and augmenting is a direction I decided to take. I wish they had an all-in-one package that has ALL of the necessary instruments in it. 

Soundiron have excellent choir libraries BTW. Their Lite versions are quite nice. I picked up Olympus Lite awhile back. It's only 39.00 US. The nice thing about buying a lite version is you usually qualify for a very reasonable upgrade path at certain times of the year. Soundiron is one of my very favorite sample companies. I have their harp and church organ among others

I realize this is a never ending quest for many. You may hear something in another package you like more and buy that to augment something else. 

I have seen East West on sale for much less on occasional sales. I will periodically throw out other options and comment on sales. There is a sale right now at Cinesamples on a few of their soloist ranges. I don't think you will find a better cello than the Tina Quo Cello.The acoustic cello legato is discounted 40% as of this writing. I already have a good violin. A good cello would go a long way toward making a nice realistic duet. Difficult to find a decent solo viola. For flutes I have not found a better celtic flute than the one at Precision Sound. This is my go to for most flute work.For realistic bagpipes check out  Bolder Sounds celtic pipes. I also have their violin. It was hard for me to get the violin to sound like a realistic folk fiddle, but keep in mind I play folk fiddle so I'm picky.

Though I have never played these, the SONiVoxline of products look VERY interesting to me. Some of the demos I've heard sound  good to my ears. Even though they divide strings, brass and woodwinds separately their individual prices are very reasonable...just priced their strings bundle at 55.00 US on the JRR site. The SONiVOX player doesn't seem to need Kontakt. Not sure how they sampled the instruments. They seem to closely follow East West in how you compose using a keyboard GUI. Maybe someone else who used them could comment?


Your choir example was most useful in that you've rendered it fairly dry and ok, I couldn't tell what the words were but the character came across. Nice video. The music vaguely reminded me of a pagan hymn from Quo Vadis but brought forward in a modern vein closer to how I'd work! It's the one pack from E/W that tempts me. I think I have 60Gb left on my drive so it'll join the queue awaiting funds. (It'll have to follow Dorico which I'm more or less set on now.) 

Dane your choir piece is a great example of making good use of simple tools, very nice.  On the other hand I'll bet I can make VSL sound cheesy!

I have to disregard your challenge. The few pieces of yours I've listened to are far from cheesy!

My madrigal by contrast was done with samples that cost a tenner and represent prime matured Stilton. (I was quite proud of the closing cadence though, using the dominant 11th - with the 3rd in the same chord....)


FYI, East West is having a 50% sale.

Michael...thank you.

The sale certainly looks like a good deal for those who'd like to make a start. 

The temptation is the choir/wordbuilder set. 34% off which is not bad at all. 

I'll do some research this afternoon. Three things bother me:

i) the size and price of the iLok key.

ii) what guarantees come with the iLok key and what does a recovery plan cost, should it be stolen or I lose or break it?

iii) can the iLok license be transferred from a computer software license to the key and vice versa?  

I see there's an even more expensive "iLok smart key". I have to determine what's different from the scruffy one. Pinstripes, no doubt.

michael diemer said:

FYI, East West is having a 50% sale.

The iLok key is about the size of a small usb thumb drive. 

You can store licenses in the cloud. The licenses are stored right in the key so if you move to a different computer the iLok can be moved.

I'm pretty sure that if something happens to the key they still have record of your license online. You would only need to get a new iLok. 

That process has been  painless for me. Other than the used usb slot I never know it's there. When iLok programs launch there are no steps to go through. 


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