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struggling with "unrealistic" strings..any advice on software to use and techniques..

i am currently using string patches within logic 8 pro and vsl orchestra with kontakt2. although these packages have been ok in the past as i'm now doing more tv work i'm finding that the quality just isn't up to scratch. i'm aware that nothing will beat a live performance but as there is never a budget large enough to consider that does anyone have any advice on packages or techniques i should be looking into that will help avoid the "synth" sound i always seem to end up with.

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Wow ... so much to write here.

For packages, look no further than Los Angeles Scoring Strings. It is the new gold standard of string samples. I own every other major string lib (VSL Appassionata, Symphobia, EW, Sonic Implants Symphonic Strings) and this is simply at another level entirely.

In terms of techniques, I recommend using multiple layers per string section and try and make sure you add in some solo strings as well for realism. Make sure these layers are slightly offset (I simply use quantize with an 8 tick randomisation) so that all of the layers start at slightly different times. This gives a much more realistic attack.

Also, use lots of articulations for realistic string writing. It really makes the difference. I wrote a blog post about this that you might want to check out.
Jesus, how long have you got?

I'm not speaking from experience, but more from hours and hours of research of demos, other people's compositions. My financial status at present compels me to use cheaper packages that I do my best with.

From what I know, VSL orchestral samples are the best on the planet, but as time progresses, technology becomes more competitive and the consumers' ears more discerning. As you're doing TV work, I would suggest Project Sam Symphobia. Personally, I hate them because it has hundreds of presets that seem to take away the joy of composition. Nevertheless, for cinematic work and incidental music, the strings sound amazing. It has to be said.

Also, I'm not sure if they're out yet but there is a revolutionary package that the big boys have been waiting for called LASS (Los Angeles Scoring Strings). From what I've heard, they really knock all competition out of the equation. If you google them, they might be on the market now.

Having said that, I would personally give my right arm for the VSL samples (their Special Edition is the very next item on my very slow shopping list). However, I don't write specialised cinematic music, I just write run-of-the-mill concert classical stuff. I take it that you know all about expression, de-quantisation and volume envelopes. But there are many ways you can experiment. Maybe have 3 violin patches blended with a tremolo patch, things like that. I've discovered some great sounds on my mid-range gear just by trial and error.

There is a composer on this site called James Semple, is semi-employed in this field and if anybody can give you good advice it is him. I'm sure he'd be happy to.

Meanwhile, I'm leaving you with the link to the slow movement to my symphony, which is written predominantly for strings. Here, I've blended Miroslav strings with HALion strings (both mid-range), but I really spent a long over the phrasing and expression trying to imagine bows being drawn, if you will. I'm not by means suggesting that you buy these packages at all. Just demonstrating what you can get if you work at it. Mind you, you probably won't be impressed if you've been working with VSL.


Sh*t, sorry James, didn't see you there. I just pointed this guy your way.
No problem Simon. I think you gave good advice.

Also the Miroslav samples are still used a lot by people due to their tone quality.

Incidentally I wouldn't knock Symphobia too hard. It's true that it was made to write stuff quickly and it does include pre-made effects and even chords but the general quality of the sounds is great and good for quite subtle stuff.

LASS is amazing ... really. I also think it's great for concert work as well.
hey james, many thanks for the advice! have checked out the audiobro site and listening to the explained demos..must admit that the software looks amazing. have you had a chance to check out the A.R.T script function yet? looks like what i have been spending hours doing for a pretty mediocre result could be a thing of the past! think i'm going to go for it but have to wait til the way, did you get charged import duty when yours arrived..looks like i've missed the boat a bit on the price front as it's gone up by $200 now.

also, been reading your very informative blogs! excellent stuff!

thanks alot for getting back to me about this so thing i'll be pestering you about is realistic brass and bourne/batman/epic type drum percussion packages!


hi ray, i agree..have used altiverb before..albeit an earlier version..and it is incredible! i use logic 8 which has a "similar" convolution reverb plug in but isn't really a patch on altiverb! er..finding myself looking for money behind the sofa and on the many wonderful toys out there! c
hey simon, nice tune and thanks for the heads up about james. i have managed to get some pretty decent results using vsl and the exs24 strings with logic 8 but the time it takes to get it sounding ok is too long (probably there are things i could be doing differently..which are now being pointed out to me!). i've only just started getting reasonably regular work now and the deadlines are always ridiculously tight..c
Hi Chris,

I'm currently scoring a romantic drama in a very Rachel Portman / Thomas Newman style so no use for those ostinato string passages at the moment. I will check out ART as soon as I can but I'm really swamped with this at the moment.

BTW, Ray is absolutely right about learning your reverb to get that singing strings sound.

Import duty is due but only on the price of the medium (i.e. a blank CD plus case). The money you are paying is for a licence to use the software ... which is not subject to import duty. :)

Realistic brass: I use Project SAM Orchestral Brass & Symphobia plus VSL Epic Horns, Fanfare Trumpets & Bb Trumpets plus EW Gold XP Pro

Modern percussion: Tonehammer! Their stuff is amazing. Storm Drum 2 is pretty cool as well.
Hi James, appreciate you taking the time to write given you're busy. good luck and hope the project goes well! cheers, c
The only advice - layer strings and uneven rhytms in tracks - that is what makes those runs closer to the real thing. Unfortunately, when you have artificial sounding libraries (as most of them do), you will always complain. Unless you have something like LASS, I heard... ;)
There are three issues here.

1. Knowing how to effectively write for strings.

2. Having good sample libraries.

3. Knowing which string writing techniques work best with samples to achieve a realistic sound.

With these three pieces, even "unrealistic" strings can sound good.

Even if you have LASS (see my initial review at, you still need to know how to write for strings.

The most realistic sounding electronic string parts are linear with minimum vertical harmony. Invest $17US into Corelli's Concerti Grossi ( The objective ISN'T writing like Corelli, but examining his vertical structures and then applying them to your writing style.

Recently, we released From Piano to Strings (see and I wanted to use the newer libraries to create MIDI mockups of the examples in the book. Now, I had done this once before with a single library years ago - the original Synclavier strings, which at the time, were the best there were. When I listened back to the demo CD before it went to duplication, I killed the project. I wouldn't release it, because the one library sounded so synthy.

So, TEN YEARS pass. Newer libraries. New 50th anniversary edition. I tried recording the same examples with individual libraries. Results - all failed. Every library sounded synthetic, including creating the dreaded organ sound.

OBSERVATION - dense orchestral string writing doesn't work well with single string libraries - for 10 years!

REALITY - simpler linear writing with open spacing using vertical intervals of thirds, sixths, and thirds and sixths in vertical octaves works the best - STILL!

HOLLYWOOD REALITY - A problem with most string libraries isn't the absence of legato, it's the absence of a large Violins 1 section that sounds great in the high and very high registers to create a soaring emotional line. I beta tested both original Vienna libraries, First and Pro editions. Neither library, nor the strings in Logic (which are also licensed from Vienna) can achieve this. So you need that 18 Violins sound from QLSO Gold or Symphobia to have that tool.

Peter Alexander
I got my hands finally on some of the string programs, which are: East West Symphonic Gold, and Sam Project Symphobia. I'm not sure what you prefer though, more options and customizations or upfront everything ready software? Symphobia just has a couple of presets, like Staccato laid out on the whole keyboard, then Tremolo laid and etc... East West Symphonic on the other hand, gives you option of loading only Violins , or only cello's or only Viola's.. Because the Symphobia loads all of the instruments already, doesn't matter if you are going to use cello's only or not, the other strings will be always part of the patch.

But the sound is Great!!! They both sound amazing. Superior.

And might I suggest, if you are making music for cinema or for yourself, try the program: East West StormDrummer 2..

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