Best All-In-One Orchestra

I’m very poor, but am finding that the “free” VST options just don’t offer what I need for composing.

I even spent $100 on Steinberg’s Halion Symphonic Orchestra and of the few Tremolo options I see, they don’t even have any perceptible Tremolo effect at all, it’s still just a normal Legato.

I’m willing to spend $500-1000 or so on a quality orchestra, but I would want something as “complete” and “all inclusive” as possible, while not suffering in sound quality because of it.

I would like to have something with deep user control (or options) for things like different Tremolo / Vibrato speeds, etc. Preferably adjustable via MOD / Expression wheels / sliders, but I’m not sure if things like vibrato speed and length can be set for live adjustment like that (I’m new to all this).

Some suggestions so far have been Spitfire’s “Albion One”, EW’s “Hollywood Orchestra - Opus Edition”, NI’s “Komplete 13 Ultimate”, and Red Room’s “Palette: Symphonic Sketchpad”.

Would you kind folks be able to offer your take on which would be best and why? Responses are very much appreciated, thank you.

2 Likes

I can give a little advice. First- Kontakt Komplete doesn’t have a full, sampled, orchestral library. It is a nice, comprehensive package, but not for orchestral work.
Albion One is very highly regarded as an all-in-one package. I really like the strings, but for me, none of Spitfire’s offerings have brass with enough oomph. But as it sounds like your focus is more with the strings, you might really like albion one. Abbey Road (also by spitfire) is a similar package, similarly priced, but with a more cinematic sound to it. Again, very nice strings, less so the brass.
I use Cinesymphony Lite by Cinesamples. It’s considered a sketchpad, meaning a great way to put down ideas easily and requires less processing and RAM than the more ‘professional’ packages. As I’m just beginning to dip my toes into the orchestral pool, it’s deep enough for me. And I like the oomph in the brass. (I’m a trumpet player, go figure…)

Lot’s of audio examples out there for all the products- hopefully they will help you in your search. Good luck!

Steven

1 Like

Thanks so much Steven!

It’s so difficult to choose without direct conversation with others, i.e.- the descriptions from the source don’t help because they use all the same fluff and selling hype for each product, and don’t tell you simply that “this one is geared more toward film, this other one more toward band, this one doesn’t include x” and so on, so thanks for sharing!

For instance, I just found out from another personal comment elsewhere, that Albion One only has ensembles? Really? Wow! I would have spent a lot of money on what seems the wrong choice.

At the same time, I’m reading that Abbey Road One “doesn’t have legato”? How is that possible? This makes me think that I still don’t know near enough to even understand what’s going on… how could any library options not have legato, the most common way to sound notes? I must be missing something.

I’m definitely going to be more focused on strings, but for writing purposes am really mostly looking for “the most control options” even if the sound isn’t the best available, i.e.- I’d really like something where I don’t have to worry that “this one doesn’t have vibrato options” or “this other one doesn’t have Tremolo”.

I really like the Spitfire sound, but hopefully between EW’s “Hollywood Orchestra” or one of Spitfire’s more expensive packages, something like that exists? Would it really cost $30,000 to ensure I can have all the most common articulations for all the instruments?

That would be disheartening.

2 Likes

I’m assuming you’re aware of the various walkthroughs on youtube. I find those to be helpful because you get to actually hear the sounds, and they are typically trying to show off the product, so they will try to bring out the capabilities.
For example:
The new albion one: Albion ONE: The Albion Orchestra, Walkthrough - YouTube
EastWest Hollywood Opus: EastWest Hollywood Orchestra Opus Edition Walkthrough - YouTube
Cinesymphony Lite: CineSymphony LITE Walkthrough - YouTube
Spitfire’s BBC Symphony Orchestra: Scoring with Spitfire's BBC Symphony Orchestra - YouTube
IK Miroslav Philharmonic 2: Miroslav Philharmonik 2 Tutorial 1 - Articulation Switching - YouTube

Apologies if you’ve already covered this ground.

Steven

1 Like

I would probably recommend Spitfire’s BBCSO Core or Pro as that is an all-in-one, full orchestral library. It has the full range of instruments and sections for a standard orchestra, it’s great for articulations; it doesn’t cover all (no proper measured tremolo for example) but it has most of the common ones. The UI is easy to use and understand and it run through Spitfire’s own player, so you don’t need to purchase the Kontakt player from NI as an extra cost. Also, Spitfire allows one to purchase most of their products through Afterpay or Affirm, which allows you to make usually bi-weekly payments on your purchase instead of paying in full up-front.

Next is Audio Imperia’s Nucleus. Again, this is an all-in-one, full orchestral library, which also includes some soloist instruments as well as a full orchestral choir. About the same price as BBCSO Core. Very capable, good clean sound, good for beginners. Downsides are there aren’t legatos for all instruments, specifically the woodwinds, violas and contrabass, so you have to write parts for them mostly as rhythmic/color parts–it’s geared more toward epic cinematic or trailer music. You do need the Kontakt player to use, but good news is it works with the free player.

Another option–one that I’m pursuing–is going with Orchestral Tools’ libraries. There are the five Metropolis Ark libraries, all which perform slightly different functions, but come with about every articulation known to man between them all. They are largely pre-orchestrated ensembles, though there are plenty individual instruments between all five and the good part is, you don’t have to purchase the full library, as OT now offers most of their libraries a la carte so you can build your own custom library in a sense.

OT also has full libraries covering each of the individual orchestral sections, Woods, Brass, Strings and Percussion, that you can build a full, traditional orchestra from. But, this would require a very powerful computer and lots of storage space. But again, you can purchase the instruments a la carte and build your own custom orchestra for what you need. Very detailed and realistic sounding samples recorded in Berlin’s Teldex studio, giving them that classic, big film score sound. They play through OT’s own stand-alone SINE player, so no need for Kontakt.

Hope this helps!

Awesome, it does indeed, thank you all! Extremely helpful!

That sounds really appealing about the OT options. Perhaps I can buy a base library and buy whatever individual things missing afterward, I’ll just have to invest some serious time into massive quantification of which ones have and don’t have what (per Steven’s suggestion) to spec out my needs.

Thanks again!

Hi,

I have BBCSO CORE, Nucleus lite and Vienna Symphonic Library’s Big Bang Orchestra (most of the individual libraries from the collection).

I use mostly VSL because it sounds amazing, it runs in their super nice Synchron Player with lots of options, easy to navigate and understand.

It can definitely go to FFF especially in the great brass libraries which are the strenght of the whole collection for me.

The basic Big Bang Orchestra full ensemble is free and all instruments play at once. It sound so good! Try it out! It’s FREE!

I would recommend on SALE:

  • Hercules
  • Jupiter
  • Kopernikus
  • Andromeda
  • Lyra (High strings)
  • Muska (Low strings)
  • Zodiac (this is a huge one with strings and epic brass: 9 trombones and 12 horns)

As for free instruments:

  • Heavyocity have just released a spiccato strings freebie and a piano too.
  • Orchestral Tools have some nice freebies too
  • Project Sam has some very great sounding free Orchestra

Also, Nice ones in Spitfire Audio’ Originals

Awesome, thank you Jonathan!

That’s the second time I’ve seen Vienna Symphonic and hadn’t heard of that one previously. I think our forum mate Jerry Gerber may be fond of them as well. Will definitely have to check it out!

1 Like

Happy to help!

:slightly_smiling_face:

I’m going to say something that won’t be popular but may be useful. Please be aware that virtually every one of the Spitfire packages beginning with Albion and including everything (except the libraries that literally indicate they are a full representation of a section, like Chamber Strings, Symphonic Strings and the like) that Spitfire have a lot of pre-recorded combinations in them that you sometimes can not avoid, such as groupings of instruments (“low strings”, “low brass”), which sounds like something you would want to avoid. The Albions and Metropolis Arks and Big Bangs lack detail and subtlety - they are made (I imagine) primarily for new composers who want something to make a big sound when they press a key or composers in a hurry who don’t want to just sequence instruments playing in octaves. Yes, they are. They often limit your choices as far as orchestration goes. And they are by no means comprehensive and can not compare in functionality to a comprehensive library. And with Albion in particular but all of those, really, if you want to write a solo line in your instrument of choice, you almost certainly can’t. For someone who writes music and just wants to write whatever the orchestra can do, Albion, MetArk and Big Bang are absolutely the wrong choice to start with.

BBC Core might be a good call if you like how it sounds and if it has all of the articulations you want and if your computer is powerful enough to play back what you need to hear. Spitfire Symphony Orchestra is a venerable but mostly solid collection though it lacks any percussion. I’m not really a Spitfire fan in general, but BBC seems like it was designed for your purposes. And the others I mentioned are likely a waste of your money and time.

1 Like

Richard - That’s exactly the kind of take I’m looking for thanks so much!

Not being able to buy several different libraries, I would definitely rather not even consider those that aren’t the most inclusive. I would rather have to put in the extra work and effort with a library that is most comprehensive toward instruments, articulations, etc. than one that might have a better sound and with nice ensembles but lacks many solo instruments / articulations.

I forgot to mention another option if you want the most “realistic” option in terms of orchestration, and that’s using a notation software program. I use and highly recommend Dorico Pro with Noteperformer as the playback option. This way, you can score your instruments in the most realistic way. For example, in many cases horns are used for adding harmonic “glue” to the piece and are often scored with four horns, #1-3 playing the high harmony note and #2-4 playing the low note. Or you can have each horn play one note to achieve a four-note harmony, etc. You can obviously do any solo instrument you want and you can also do divisi sections with the strings–something that can be very important in achieving proper harmonic/instrument balance–which most other virtual libraries cannot do.

Even with a quality library like BBCSO, the instruments are still recorded in unison and the woods for example, are all a3, so whenever you play ONE NOTE on the flutes, oboes, clarinets or bassoons, you have three playing in unison. So if you wanted to do some traditional orchestration, like doubling one bassoon with the cellos and the other with the contrabass, you’d technically have 6 bassoons playing, which is unrealistic. Noteperformer is only $100 is actually a great value for the price, but the downside is that the instruments are mostly modeled, so a bit less realistic sounding and detailed (and the oboes in particular don’t really sound like oboes) but when put all together it’s very satisfying.

I’d have to disagree with Richard in regards to the Metropolis Ark series. To be sure, to get the most out of them, you’d need to purchase all five libraries, which would be massively expensive, but like I mentioned before, you can purchase the instruments a la carte. No, they are not just for beginners. They are high quality, detailed samples and all together have more creative possibilities than any other library. I own all the other stuff and recently I’ve been using OT almost exclusively as I’ve found that they have the best sound I’m looking for and create the most professional sound I’ve ever gotten once mixed.

Also keep in mind that with sample libraries, you often will “layer” or use multiple libraries together in one piece as what you want to do can’t be performed by one library or another. Even with BBCSO, I often do not use the brass and sometimes the woodwinds, but substitute them with Cinematic Studios Brass and CS Woodwinds, as they are superior sounding and recorded a2, which is more to my taste.
Lots of things to consider. :smiley:

Here’s some examples of my work using Dorico Pro with Noteperformer, if you want a sense of how it can sound.

“This way, you can score your instruments in the most realistic way. For example, in many cases horns are used for adding harmonic “glue” to the piece and are often scored with four horns, #1-3 playing the high harmony note and #2-4 playing the low note. You can also do divisi sections with the strings–something that can be very important in achieving proper harmonic/instrument balance”

Matt, that is such valuable information, and exactly the example of “things unknown to the noob” I described in another post on others orchestrating basic compositions ( Quality “Mock Ups” by others? ).

Things like that are where I fear my score will lacking for my first film scoring project. I’m watching as many tutorials and reading all I can, but it’s never enough and such insights are a great help. I may have bitten off more than I can chew, but I’ll definitely be looking into Noteperformer and all the other suggestions from everyone.

Loved the low strings at 1:10 and the great sounding brass afterward on Masquerade…

BTW – I ready your bio and it’s pretty much my story as well, hahaha.

1 Like

No fear Ameer! We all had to start somewhere😁 Orchestration is as much a part of the art as writing the music. It’s a lot to learn but like any instrument, you will get better with more practice. I’ll just say that no matter what you decide on for libraries, I don’t think there is a “perfect” one out there, but getting two or three really high quality ones that can do/sound most of how you want is a good strategy. Keep doing your research!

Absolutely. And CSStrings are absolutely hashy-sounding. If you put them next to anything else it’s quite apparent. I bought them for sketching and never use them except occasionally for the spiccati. The delay concept foiled me utterly.

The absolute worst for demos is often AudioModeling. Their demos are abysmal. Lots and lots of people playing not-amazing music with insufficient dynamics and expressiveness. I mean things get louder and softer, but in the manner of someone who isn’t familiar with the instruments being emulated. If I hadn’t been a rabid fan of modeled instruments and told myself I was hearing potential in them, I’d never have bought them. But I did, and I’m delighted by them. Are they 100% perfect? No. But you can >play< them. They will go where you tell them to. Same with SampleModeling Brass - if you know what brass do and you have a breath controller (without one, I say don’t even bother), they will do what you tell them to. Hard to get a super bright sound from them, but they emote if you drive them. I played horn for many years and love them. And I love their strings also. But the first demos were not great. Here’s an aspect of modeled instruments that’s great - you can vary the speed of the vibrato dynamically, and this is something that string players and wind players do all the time; and you can start soft with vibrato and crescendo with vibrato and there’s no phasing or weird crossfading of out-of-sync vibrato - you just play it.

And demos - to me Spitfire (the more boutique-y selections) and 8Dio sound best if you write like the guys who make them. (I’m not speaking about BBC because I only have the discovery version and haven’t been moved to write with it.) One has to take care with their demos because with Spitfire and especially with 8Dio, they only play the sounds that work in the way that they work - meaning they won’t do a dynamic if it’s not great, and they will avoid the heinous pitch issues - and then you buy it and there it is on F4. (They all say this adds realism because it sounds human, and I always say those humans needed to do a few more takes.)

So this is not to say that one can’t get good things out of any library - but I’ve been using libraries for a long long time - Synclavier days when I was a young man - and there are some old hurdles I just don’t want to deal with any more. I have some 8Dio but I stopped buying them because they left a lot of little wonky things in them that shouldn’t have been there - intonation, timing, legato stuff - and the discounts just didn’t make it worth it. And Spitfire does make lots of usable things - I have SSO, their Percussion, and my favorite thing they ever made - Aperture. Others as well that I don’t use, including Studio Woodwinds, which was a huge waste of money for me. The only thing that would have made that worse is more mic positions, honestly.

And a note about BBC, which you can take with a grain of salt from someone who only has the Discovery version but can do math - okay, it’s lots of gigabytes. But look at the number of mic positions there are, divide the total disk space needed by that number, and that there is what they cram an entire orchestra into. Something had to give - and what it was, was articulations and dynamic layers. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t work - just that a lot of that space is stuff you will likely never use unless you really want to hear the horns from the woodwind mic perspective. I don’t. I wish they had recorded more moves. And better horns, as I believe has been alluded to here. But what they did was keep every mic perspective.

And there’s an issue with that: the more mics you have open, the mushier the legato will be. The more ambient the recording is, the mushier the legato. This also goes for shorts - it’s no fun trying to dry something up or get more transient out of it. This is always, always true. You have to watch out for that when you play. And if you have a ton of mics open, then crossfading between levels and differing vibrato and so on is far more obvious - and you end up having to mask that with external reverb, so you now have even more early reflections present, which the ear hates. I’ve said this before publicly and had folks say they didn’t know what I was talking about and there was no problem, and to that I can only say I’m sorry they didn’t hear it.

Then you should skip everything I post. Though you had your own opinions as well…:grin:

Seriously - it’s a touchy subject. Composers need - NEED - to feel confident in their libraries. Nobody likes to hear someone else trash the thing they bought and use. And deeper, nobody likes to feel like there are things they don’t hear about their own work that they have sweat bullets over. But nobody ever gets to be the smartest person in the room all the time. We all have something to learn from someone.

I disagree with lots of things I read here and elsewhere. That’s okay. Where I run into trouble is that I can be very specific about my complaints. When things sound less like opinion and more like something someone didn’t notice… it’s rough. But we all get some.

Wallander. It was a bit early, though very much in a good direction.

AudioModeling winds aren’t that kind of money. But I stand by my assertion that you do it with a breath controller or you don’t do it. Ever watch those Roli videos where they do strings? It’s unnecessarily not there. Because there isn’t anything you can do on a keyboard that also does note on that is analogous to bowing, but you can do it with breath. I’ve seen people bowing other stuff too, but that doesn’t seem to work if you aren’t a violinist to begin with and even then… most often not.

First I’ll describe my approach and then I’ll give my recommendation, since my approach colors my recommendation. In my approach, I have 2 big libraries that I chiefly use and then a sprinkling of solo instruments and pads to fill in the details.

My main library is Spitfire BBCSO Core. I started out with the Discover version and loved it so much I quickly upgraded to Core. I really like the sound of the instruments and the sound of the room. I’ve had string passages I’ve recorded with it that sound just like strings from old film scores by Horner or Goldsmith.

My other main library is EastWest Hollywood Orchestra. This fills in a lot of the gaps that BBC has and I’m able to mix the two pretty well. In my template, most of my strings come from BBC. But I’ve found that BBC is not always great at doing fast runs on the strings, so I’ll use Hollywood for that.

Most of my brass comes from Hollywood. BBC has warmer, “prettier” brass but has trouble getting extra brassy when I need power, so I keep a few of the BBC articulations ready but mostly use brass from Hollywood.

For woodwinds I stick with BBC. I think their woodwinds are great and Hollywood’s woodwinds are mostly not.

For percussion I use a mix of BBC, another Spitfire library called Drumline, I think the cymbals in Hollywood are better so I use that for crashes and suspended cymbals. And I use another EastWest library called Stormdrum for big hits and more unusual percussion. And I have a collection of random taikos, toms, and homemade drums that I use.

I have a couple of solo instruments. Joshua Bell Violin is great. Tina Guo Cello too. There’s a bass clarinet from 8dio that I use often. And for pads, most of that comes from Spitfire LABS. They have a lot of versatile sounds and they’re free.

All of the stuff I just listed are there because I tried things, found things that didn’t work, and added more to fill that gap. For me, starting with BBC was great because it fits how I like to compose and it sounds like the style of music that I want to sound like. But I hit a limit with it when it came to brass and solo instruments. So I did the Composer Cloud subscription to add EastWest. For me the subscription totally made sense because I wanted to try it out and see if it fit my sound. I also knew that the EastWest libraries are older and starting to age out. And Composer Cloud includes a ton of variety. But Hollywood Orchestra did fill the gaps in BBC that I needed and let me write pieces with stronger brass and faster strings. But I still had a limit of solo instruments. I had things I wanted to write that required a violin and cello, so eventually I added in the solo libraries.

At this point I don’t feel like I’m limited by anything any more and I’m more in the tweaking stage. I think I’ll eventually drop EastWest in favor of something else. I’m looking at Cinesamples new Musio subscription platform to try them out. The main thing I’ll need to replace is the brass but I know that Cinebrass is supposed to be great. As long as Musio has that covered and maybe a few good drum libraries that will work. And I might get the library of solo instruments that Audio Imperia has to fill in some more solo potential.

So, I would not recommend Hollywood Orchestra by itself. I think it fills in gaps and mixes well with other libraries, but I think it would be tough to get any realism from only EastWest. I would recommend BBCSO, especially since you can try it out for cheap/free with the Discover version. You can even do some realistic things with just Discover. I think BBCSO is a great library that gives you most of what you need if you want more of an old-Hollywood sound. But you’re going to hit a limit with it where you’ll have to add things to fill the gaps.

I’m not sure if there is a true all-in-one library where you won’t run into a limit. I think BBC comes close. Albion One and Abby Road One are probably at a similar level. I don’t think Native Instruments has anything like that. I don’t know anything about the Red Room library you mentioned, but if it’s called a symphonic “sketchpad” then it’s probably designed for sketching and not full, fleshed out pieces. Metropolis Ark might work, but will depend on the sound you want, as it seems to have a more modern, harsher sound, which is great for trailers and hybrid scores, but less so for older style scores or moody atmospheres.

Longwinded, but now I’m done. Hope any of that is helpful.

Great advice and thanks for links