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.