Best String VST Plugins & Sample Libraries

Hello Composers, Mike here! :smiley:

What are you favorite orchestral string libraries right now, and why? Do you use them in any specific way? Here are my favorites:

Afflatus Strings by Strezov Sampling

  • I mainly love this library for the incredible tone and emotion in the bowing. The legato and portamento transitions are amazing, and the range of presets in different styles makes this feel like many string libraries in one! =)

Cinematic Strings 2 by Cinematic Studio Series

  • I know most composers have switched to CSS and CSSS, but I still love the lush hall atmosphere in the Cinematic Strings 2 recordings. It’s also farily easy on the CPU, Disc Space and RAM compared to most new libraries.

NOVO - Modern Strings

  • This string library has that cutting edge modern and processed sound. Very good for sharp and focused ostinatos, bold basses, and rhythms overall. The legatos are not my favorites though. However, the string designer is amazing for creating pads and textures! =)

So let me hear your thoughts my fellow composers. What are you favorite orchestral string libraries right now, and why? =)

Sincerely,
Mikael “Mike” Baggström
Founder of professionalcomposers.com

Joshua Bell Violin by Embertone
Lovely sampled Stradivarius violin. very playable. Lots of options.
I don’t own it (yet), but have played with it… And it’s good. (on my “to buy list”)

Solo Violins (EX) by Chris Hein
A huge pack of solo instruments, consisting violins, violas, cellos and contra/double basses.
Deeply sampled, lots of parameters to tinker with. Very realistic sounding. Each solo instrument has a different sound character, which is really useful. You can pick what you need.
Listen to the demos and hear how realistic it can sound.

Nocturne violin and cello by Orchestral Tools
Also very playable libraries out of the box. Sounds very classical (non hollywood).
Love the transitions (legato). Don’t have this one yet… but also on my to buy list.
Somehow barly nobody mentions these two beauties. But have played with them…
i know these are very good and useful

SWAM solo strings bundle by Audio Modeling
This is not a sample library, but a physical modeling engine. It recreates the real instrument by clever algorithms based on one tiny (very short) sample. The result is a very detailed recreation of a real string instrument (being it a violin, viola or cello and contra/double bass), that can do everything the real thing can do in real time. Think bow pressure, bowing techniques, etc…

Cinematic Studio Strings by Cinematic Sampling
Awesome ensemble library, with the darkish tone of the early hollywood sound.
Very good legato’s. However, it needs time to make the transitions, so there is some latency involved.
It’s advised to compensate this delay, before you record, so you can play realtime without noticable latency. I use this a backing ensemble underneath soaring strings.

Soaring Strings by Musical Sampling
This is my latest string library i own, and it has become my go to for the lush emotional string writing.
The sound reminds imediately of all those blockbuster emotional/drama string parts everyone knows.
Typical John Williams/James Horner type of sound. Very playable out of the box, very good legato transitions without noticable latency.

Adventure String by Musical Sampling
This library is aimed at the agile/aggresive playing of strings. Those types you hear in action movies.
Thinks all kind of shorts, thrills etc… The sound is typical hollywood sound. Easily playable, great dynamics. Efficient, great sounding library.

Ensemble strings by Chris Hein
If you need a chamber orchestra string section, with lots of parameters to fiddle (no pun intended) with during play or afterwards. And a realisitic sound (the somewhat harsh tone, you get with a chamber section in real life) This library delivers. Very authentic sound.
For the more up close/small/midsized chamber sound, i prefer this one.

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Ah, quite a long list here. I guess I should have separated solo strings and ensemble strings perhaps into different topics. But in any case, great breakdown of your favorites! =)

Musical Sampling again? I might need to check more into them. Very nice playability from what I’ve read.

Oh yes, Joshua Bell is amazing! Especially once you configure your own mapping system (which I love when you can).

SWAM strings is a great concept (as all modeled instruments), but I have struggled with the tone. Especially the bass is lacking in my humble opinion.

Cinematic Studio Strings has to be the best legato of all. It’s like…their main USP haha.

Yes, musical sampling again :slight_smile: (i bought all of their libs in the sale they had recently)
took the plunge, since there isn’t much talking about them in the social media/forums… but…it played out nicely, beyond expectations to be honest.
Still havent played all of them yet, trailer strings and trailer brass (time is short haha), but the ones i’ve played with (soaring strings, adventure strings and adventure brass)… oh boy… they deliver what they advertise, very well.
Hmm wait a minute i forgot adventure string in the list… facepalm… i’ll add it.

SWAM is indeed a tricky beast of an engine. And indeed some of the instruments are weaker recreations than others. However the violin an cello are my favs of the bundle. the tone is imho right, for a solo instrument. note though: It need lots of processing to sound right in a mix… then again, because they are bone dry, you have all options open in terms of processing.
It’s a pro and con… depending on the angle of view. :slight_smile:

Cinematic studio strings has indeed a very good legato, ONE of the best legato’s in ensemble libraries.
However, soaring is more emotional (Molto expressivo vibrato) in tone. Therefor it gives the extra mile in sound. Both these libs together are a dream :slight_smile:

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I agree, Violin and Cello are best in the SWAM strings bundle. Violas are tricky in any library since we composers love to hate the tone of violas haha. I find the violas in Afflatus Strings to be the most pleasing personally. But that’s because I actually like a lush, romantic sound with some warmth in most of my compositions.

I have heard a tip on dry instruments that you can use a special early reflections reverb. I have no idea how to, or which ones are good, but I can understand the concept of it.

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Tried a lot of string libraries over the years and I have to say for me spitfire win almost every time. Started with Albion one and moved to chamber string which is great. Really felt I wanted a dry library though and then my wishes were granted when they released studio strings so I got that. I must say that studio strings is hands down my go to library now. I’ve used cinesamples and novo in the past which were great… I think the difference is that with those libraries I didn’t feel like I was doing much… where with most libraries I want it to just work and sit well out the box, I like to sculpt my strings and studio string forces me to sculpt them even more than I usually would… an that’s just because they’re unforgiving… so you hear the mistakes in your articulation or modulations etc. Definitely a big plus. I think cinesamples session strings. Ones very close for me though.

I would say that I’m not a fan of east west libraries, and never have been. Just a preference thing but I can see how people are drawn in by those libraries.

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I tried EastWest CC, the tone of the strings and the instant Hollywood lush sound is there, imo at least. But I hated the interface, and I lacked more advanced features that I’ve got used to with for example Afflatus (true polyphonic legato etc.). For me playability is a HUGE thing since I record every part myself with MIDI keyboard, and then I shape the expression with CC automation so I want lots of control there. :slight_smile:

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Excellent points. I’m very similar!

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I do love Afflatus but find I have been using it less lately, especially for the big symphonic sounds, their Lush Legato ensemble is super fun to play, but I really don’t like the sound nearly as much as Spitfire Symphonic Strings or Hollywood Strings for that classic film sound. Here are my favorites:

Spitfire Symphonic Strings: my favorite sounding strings out of them all, the realism is unmatched IMO. I also use the whole Spitfire Symphony Orchestra, and there really is some magic happening when you have the entire orchestra recorded in position in the exact same hall! If I compare the shorts from this library to some of my other favorites, like NOVO and Jaeger, the others sound good but truly don’t come close to the realism of SSS. Plus it has so much content and articulations available, and the performance legato is amazing as usual.

Afflatus Minimalist Legato Ensemble: this is the more intimate, chamber sized section and IMO the absolute best sounding patch out of the entire library. The ease of playability is unparalleled due to the polyphonic legato, but I’ll be honest, the ensembles in Afflatus encouraged me to be a bit too lazy with writing, as I would neglect writing parts for each section and just write everything using an ensemble. While this is super convenient, you miss out on a lot of realism because you can only edit the dynamics of the entire section, instead of, for example, having the cellos play softer than the violins, etc. The great thing is Afflatus has sooo much content and covers so much ground, you can explore it for months and still not discover everything.

8dio Century Strings: this one almost sounds like a chamber section, in truth the size of this string ensemble is in between a standard symphony and chamber size. The result is the most detailed and romantic string library I’ve ever heard. I use this library mostly for the “arc” articulations, again they are invaluable to achieving realism and lush beauty in every song I write. The legato in this library is also incredible, and offers a more up close sound, with lots of woodiness and bow sound, so it blends beautifully with strings that are more lush and airy! The downside is these can be TOO detailed sometimes, being very gritty and scratchy on the shorts, for example.

Honorable mentions :

NOVO by heavyocity, mostly for the shorts and string designer/rhythmic options, as the sustains have zero vibrato and the legatos … well, they suck honestly. However this library isn’t aimed at realism and excels at thick, chunky shorts and beefy low end, a perfect companion for writing hybrid music!

Berlin Inspire Strings section : this offers whole ensemble, 8va patches, and even first chairs only for a more intimate sound, these strings offer an impressive amount of detail and are a staple in my template when I need more detailed shorts, with less air and more bow sound.

Metropolis Ark 1 low string ensemble : while the short articulations are insanely disappointing in this library (constantly out of sync due to varying attack’s on the round robins), the longs and marcatos of their Lo String ensemble are a force to be reckoned with, offering the thickest, most aggressive low end out of any string library I’ve heard. Amazing for epic, over the top music.

Jaeger Strings: the best Strings legato I’ve heard (besides possibly CSS, they actually have a very similar sound), and the shorts are a great balance between detail and lush air. The legatos of the violins and Celli are perfect and have earned a permanent place in my template!

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You do have quite a string collection I see Brian! :stuck_out_tongue:

I’d agree with NOVO sucks for legato. I love it for the sharp shorts though. And designing string pads.

Spitfire…well I still have resisted to open up that Pandora’s box, as they have so many products I might sucked into a black hole of GAS :stuck_out_tongue:

Jaeger, so many people speak highly of this product even though it is a collection. I will probably get this in time, I’ve also heard great things about the vocals in it.

Metropolis line…well I haven’t got it simply because I don’t want to be sucked into the over-the-top loudness war kind of orchestral writing, as I am a fan of huge dynamic range personally. :slight_smile:

Great breakdown of your thoughts and uses of your main library…this shows how much more quality post you get in a real community compared to a Facebook group. Thank you so much Brian! :slight_smile:

Definitely agree with spitfire string libraries. I love them all, especially the dry libraries as there’s so much more versatility!

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There’s one for smaller ensemble that wasn’t mentioned.
I tend to always put Spitfire’s British Drama Toolkit for cellos or ensembles.
They sound lush and raspy with bow movements.
Albion V has great ones too on the quieter side.
I usually don’t use Ark or Jeager for strings. Rather for brass or drums

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Great suggestions here. My main list would include:

CSS - my go to choice for romantic cinematic strings, a touch on the darker side which is nice for background.

Berlin Strings - beautiful tone, very expressive, a touch harsh due to the smaller nature of the ensemble, but layered with CSS it works beautifully.

Afflatus - I’ll occasionally use this for layering as well, super expressive.

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Ah, I need to get CSS, I have basically never heard any composer talk badly of it after trying it out for a while! :stuck_out_tongue:

However, I am curious…do you have Cinematic Strings 2? It is older, but it has a bigger/lusher sound than CSS. :slight_smile:

The ensemble patches in Afflatus are unbeatable imho. :wink:

If you’re happy with the libraries you already own, there’s really no need to add CSS to your template unless you want it just to have it. :smile: It’s romantic and lush, but so are the other libraries you own as well!

CSS seems to be more intimate than CS2; CS2 seems it can fit in more situations for that large Hollywood ensemble string sound. I don’t own it myself, but this is what I’m thinking based on what I’ve heard from the walkthroughs.

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Soaring strings might be another good bet for that romantic string sound, as previously mentioned.

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I’m down this very rabbit hole right now.

I’ve had VSL’s Cube for many years - the only thing I still use string wise from it is occasionally the Chamber Strings and the solos. The chambers have one of the most useful Spiccato articulations there is - and polyphonic legato - but one does have to place them in space, and give them a great room, and so on - and they lack features that current libraries have, even in their Syncron incarnations.

I also have 8Dio’s Adagio and Anthology and Agitato stuff. Sounds lush, but it’s cumbersome and imprecise and has editing and recording flaws that will never get any better. It gets rare use because I prefer track-per-section and the template I made using MindControl, though serviceable, required a custom Lemur switching matrix to make it do what I wanted and after all that still didn’t have great shorts.

Also I have Spitfire SSS, which I bought on sale and gave up on early because I felt it wasn’t as agile as I wanted, because I wasn’t wild about UACC and the interface in general, and because at the time I was more interested in dryer sounds that I could place in more spaces, and the close mics for the strings are not fabulous. And honestly at that time I was suffering from my head being severely turned by AudioModeling’s strings -more on that in a sec. Recently, however, I have begun to use Spitfire again more because I am now controlling it with Composer Tools Pro, which means I don’t have to look at their interface and all of my key switches are labeled and I have faders for everything it does. I wish it were easier to integrate legato alongside other articulations, and I wish the more florid vibrato were not off in single patches with no legato, and I wish it were not so married to that room sound, but it’s not a bad room sound by any means.

So – AudioModeling. There’s nothing as responsive as their solo strings and woodwinds, although they do need tweaking and placement in order to be fully convincing and some instruments are better than others. I experimented considerably with building ensembles out of the single instruments and spreading and randomizing them so as to achieve a reasonable ensemble sound, and though I liked the results and found them incredibly fun to play, they were incredibly DSP – intensive, and I didn’t really want to have a single string ensemble take over an entire computer – especially at cinematic sizes. So I use that sometimes, in fact just recently for a short film, but mostly as part of an overall approach. It’s really wonderful how one can make a single sustained note speak so much, and especially when paired with a breath controller like the BC2, it’s absolutely amazing what you can get the instrument to do. Having modulation of vibrato speed triggered by my head tilting slightly forward or backward, though it sounds funny, I realize, is not only incredibly intuitive but also in many ways a game changer as far as realism is concerned. And now, SampleModeling has released their own ensemble and solo string package, based on the same concept of micro samples and modeling and impulse responses of various instruments, and theirs does the ensemble work itself. Considering that AudioModeling (who do the SWAM engine and used to partner with SampleModeling) have been talking about their ensemble string library coming out this year and that it’s based on the exact same concept, I’m wondering at the backstory there. I do love AM’s instruments, but how many micro-sampled string libraries does the world need? (Answer: one more than it has.) Also: if you are in the market for the SM Strings, don’t base your decisions solely on the classical demos on their site - I wouldn’t even consider them if that were all I heard. There’s a thread on vi-control that has some users putting up their own demos that are far more effective-sounding.

Let’s just say I have Hollywood Strings and never use it because PLAY among other issues and leave it at that.

I also have several pre-baked libraries - all the Metropolis Arks, Symphobia, and Albion One - and also Spitfire’s Masse. They are all useful but not as a foundational library for strings. I really like the MetArks - and to address something said before, there are many dynamics available in addition to fff, and they sound very good.

I’m looking at Berlin Strings and CSS right now. I like CSS’s limited articulations, actually, and the programming seems accurate and the sound is clear and warm, and it’s at a great price point - even with the first chair library added it’s less than Berlin. The downside to me is more of a mixed blessing actually - what’s great about it is the predictable offsets one can use with it to get it to play back on the grid, but what seems weird is getting to the point where one could play it live without going back and editing because of the lag. Maybe someone here could speak to that?

Berlin is a full-on string library. Not huge sections, and I honestly haven’t heard an example of the typical warm cinematic ensemble sound out of it that CSS, even with its size, seems quite capable of - but it has every sound the strings make, if you buy all of the expansions. Capsule (which I use with MetArk) is a reasonably elegant system, and they have a new engine due this year that will make it even more flexible - as well as make it possible to buy individual articulations as needed, which is a great feature. But you know - if the first thing one says about a library is “it’s great when you layer it with X library”, that gives me pause. I have a complex-enough template without having to point tracks in multiple places to get the basic sound I want.

That’s my two cents. My goal with a library is a good versatile sound with lots of articulations, reasonably nimble and with good ensemble patches.

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Wow, this is the kind of in depth posts I love. And in fact the very reason I started this community, because I was tired of the thin and shallow content on social media groups. Thank you for truly contributing to the conversation! :smiley:

I am totally with you about the playability and expressiveness you can get with a breath controller. And I am very much looking forward to more physically modeled instruments in the future.

In fact, I have been looking at another controller for expression called Touché by Expressive E. It seems to mainly be to add expression to synthesizers at the moment. But I am hopeful for more developments in the area.

I actually hate key switches. And I hate programming emotion. I want to add expression in the very performance, and look for playability and expressive capability more than anything in software instruments.

Sincerely
Mike

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Cheers, Mike. You might really love the SM Strings if you hate keyswitching - but the touché thing? It seems like a novelty to me. So every time I want to use dynamics I have to give a large black slug a back rub? :smile: I have the LeapMotion as well, and what I love about my combo of BC2 and pedal assigned to mod wheel is that I still have both hands to play.

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Haha, well it might be. But honestly, a mod wheel is plastic, small and cheap…and most of all feels bad to me. What I want personally is to add expression with something that has a lot of tactile surface and really nice feeling, like playing an instrument as opposed to turning knobs or sliding faders.

I would love if the left/right motion on the Touché could create real natural vibrato. I want to “vibrate” something to control vibrato speed and depth…again not use a slider or fader to create a “value for vibrato”. Music to me is more about emotion than digital numbers created by knobs.

Breath controllers feel very natural so I really love my BC2. Leap Motion looks amazing for expression, but a bit too technical and “unforgiving” at least from what I’ve seen? How hard is it to control what you want, and with a high degree of control? :slight_smile:

I do think I will get an expression pedal later too, because then I can play full string arrangements with both hands and still add dynamic movement. But I guess it will take some practice. :stuck_out_tongue: