sample library

Review - Afflatus Chapter I: Strings by Strezov Sampling

The art style represents the unique quality of this library

The art style represents the unique quality of this library

Here it is! The big review for the massive new release from Strezov Sampling, Afflatus Chapter I: Strings! This library has been the talk of the town on social media and composer forums since the first teasers began leaking out, and hearing the demos, the unanimous decision was that it sounds incredible. A new revelation dawned once the library actually released : It’s EXPENSIVE, costing 799 euros at the time of writing, which is roughly $909 USD. When you see user opinion on this library, a clear pattern emerges: everyone seems to agree it sounds amazing, but many simply refuse to budge and purchase a library with such a high price, which is understandable since there are so many great string libraries out there already, many for a fraction of the cost. Also, many composers have at least one or two all intensive string libraries already, so many are wondering “what will this do for me that I don’t already have with my other libraries?”

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Details

This library is massive, coming in at ~123 GB Hard drive space for the library (59GB for installation files and 64 GB extracted full size library). This library does NOT require the full version of Kontakt and runs in the free Kontakt Player, which is a major plus for many users. Upon hearing the demos and reading the first details of this library even before release, you can get a feel for what Strezov is trying to accomplish here: incredibly realistic and flowing string performances captured in samples, with none of the nuance and emotion lost in translation. Here is an excerpt taken directly from their official site :

“Inspired by film and classical music icons this collection pushes the boundaries of traditional sampling methods by introducing revolutionary features like Auto Divisi combined with Polyphonic True Legato and a Thematic Approach towards playing techniques. Gone are the days of soulless samples.”

The more I delved into the details of what this library offers, the more excited I became. I have a few string libraries, each with their own pros and cons, but never have I had one that I can just load up and play with my keyboard and have it perform completely naturally, until now (and many more libraries will begin to implement this in the future, I can guarantee that). I had chalked it up to simply being the limits of sampling in general: I assumed legato patches would only be feasible on individual sections, playing one note at a time, and not being able to perform polyphonic chords or sections while still applying the beautiful legato transition. That is, until I got my hands on some newer libraries which implemented this exact technology (Genesis Choir by Audiobro and Silka Choir by 8dio, specifically, although this polyphonic legato is also a feature on Strezov’s Wotan and Freya Choirs). I really love using polyphonic legato featured in the libraries I mentioned, but I really desired a string library with the same features, as I (and most composers I know of) write more for strings than for choir.

The Interface/Content

Useful help messages pop up when needed

Useful help messages pop up when needed

One immediately notices the beautiful art design used for the promos and GUI of this product : very noir with a vintage color palette. Don’t let this fool you, as while some patches very distinctly emulate vintage style recordings/arrangements, there is something for everyone here in this library, from the classical and traditional film composer to the modern and more bombastic/aggressive styling. I was initially a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content here, as I started to realize why this library may be a bit more pricey than other standard string libraries. Not only do you get the incredibly realistic and playable polyphonic legato and auto divisi technology, you get full ensembles ranging from 50+players to a more intimate chamber size ensemble and everything in between. These patches offer instant gratification the likes I haven’t experienced with any other string library to date and are incredibly rewarding to just load and play to your hearts content.

You can enable and disable the legato for all the long patches, and there is a very useful “overlap” toggle button, which will allow for a more traditional legato transition once you play a new note, as opposed to playing both notes simultaneously. Some features I’d like to see in future updates : adjusting the speed and volume of the legato transitions between notes themselves, to enable faster and tighter legato phrases.

afflatusstrezovGUI2 patches ensembles.png

There are many unique combinations here as well, such as “Shark Strings”, which is a combination of 10 cellos, 8 basses, and 2 pianos (Jaws, anyone?). “Christmas Strings” are violas and cellos accompanied by a pleasant alto saxophone, “The Mouse Strings” are a detailed Pizzicato ensemble. “Contemporary Strings” is a short spiccato 12 string patch. There is a TON of content here and they’re all properly labeled and explained in the provided user manual. Some personal favorites are the Lush Strings (standard big Hollywood Sound) and Minimalist Strings Legato (a more intimate and detailed sound). I also really loved “Warrior Basses” which is a combination of bartok pizzicato, timpani, percussion and male shouts. There are also preset patches tailored to modern pop and ethnic/world music as well as modern and vintage film music and classical genres as well. As you can see, you really can get an immediate and focused sound for almost any single genre of music imaginable from this one library alone. Each ensemble comes with the option to use “All Samples” , “Full Section Only”, and “Half Section Only”, which can help save computer resources. Not all patches provide the option to enable Divisi (using only half of the number of selected instruments), but most allow the use of sordino or dampened/muted playing. This library also provides experimental patches, which provide many unique instrument combinations you would never normally find in a string library, and are listed below:

The addition of so many unique instrument combinations is really incredible

The addition of so many unique instrument combinations is really incredible

Some small critiques here about the arrangement and categorization of patches: These would ideally be arranged in “Long” and “Short” categories, where as some of them are labelled by articulation in the patch name, others are not, and it feels a bit inconsistent and leaves it up to you to remember that “Contemporary Strings” only provides the spiccato articulation, as opposed to simply naming it “Contemp Strings Spic” or simply having two categories for “Ensemble Long” and “Ensemble Short”. Another thing I noticed was there are limited keyswitches available. For instance, “Lush Violins 1 KS” only allows you to keyswitch between long/legato and tremolo. It would be nice to have at least one large patch that allows you to switch between Long/Legato, Short/Spiccato, and Tremolo, to prevent from loading up multiple instances of this library with each unique articulation patch, for users who may need to conserve CPU and RAM. Also, only two patches provide a marcato articulation (“Red Army Strings” and “Shark Strings Marcato”). These critiques are small, as the library provides a truly staggering and impressive array of content, and some patches are more niche (such as the combination patches). While many of us already have a more generic/standard library with the “bread and butter” articulations already, some users may never spend this amount of money on a String Library that doesn’t at least give them a patch with the ability to key switch between the basic articulations of long, short, trem, pizz, etc.

The Sound

The sound and playability of this library are truly amazing. There is a built in reverb slider to make it as dry or as wet as you want. Overall the samples are dripping with realism and emotion, capturing the nuance of a real performance in every stroke. The polyphonic legato feature is incredible, and a massive time saver (load up ONE polyphonic legato ensemble patch instead of each individual legato section). The sheer variety of sounds this library is able to produce is phenomenal. In one library, you get typical large orchestral string sizes, as well as smaller chamber sizes, sordino, harmonics, “vintage” film/classical sounds, “trailer” patches with a more bombastic and intense phrasing, trills, molto vibrato, as well as standard pizzicato, bartok, spiccato, marcato, not to mention the vast amount of combinations, experimental patches, and pads. This library can do the classic Hollywood sound: huge, lush, and soaring (think CSS and Hollywood Strings) ; while also easily tackling the smaller section sizes with increased detail and clarity (think 8dio Century Strings or Spitfire Chamber Strings). The sound of this library alone is absolutely incredible, and just has an amazingly sweet and realistic tone, but what really pushes it to the next level of greatness is how it plays and performs. Out of every string library I have tried, none so far come close to the instant gratification and ease of use that I got from Afflatus Strings. This library is capable of producing the most realistic and beautiful string sounds with an absolute minimal of tweaking, it just works, right out of the box, and enables any composer to skip with the fuss and painstaking editing and tweaking we’re so used to with other libraries. It doesn’t eliminate tweaking completely, as sometimes legato transitions need to be adjusted slightly, and sometimes legato transition volume can be slightly inconsistent (hence my recommendation for a legato speed and volume slider), but it succeeds better than any other library at getting the performance AND sound as close to perfection as possible.

The Verdict

We all knew Afflatus Strings would be great, no doubt. What I did my best to determine was answers to the following:
Does it bring anything new to the table? - Yes


Is it versatile, can it do modern music? (such as fast paced and tight action, as well as the more traditional film style focused on in the trailers and most demos) - Yes

Does the amount of content justify the high price, and can it be the one string library to cover all grounds? - It depends.

The answer to the third question definitely depends on what you own so far, and how much use you will get out of the unique combinations and patches. Some people may never want a string section combined with a saxophone, or low strings and two pianos playing simultaneously. Some others may still be put off by the high price and lack of in depth key switch options between articulations, or furthermore the lack of a comprehensive list of articulations (some standard articulations in other libraries aren’t well represented, long patches only keyswitch between trem and legato/sustain, etc.)

For me the library is incredible and delivers wholeheartedly on sound and content (and then some) and for long strings and the full patches, nothing comes close to matching the realism and sweet sound of the polyphonic legato, not to mention the auto divisi which is not a prominent feature on many string libraries whatsoever. I did have a few critiques that I do believe, if updated and addressed, could push this string library into the realm of perfection (an unprecedented full 10/10 score). I know there are planned updates to this library, so I have very high hopes these features can and will be implemented in the future.

*Future updates are bringing in First Chairs and SCENE D'AMOUR Celli

(Scene D’Amour = “very small string ensemble playing con sordino and with molto vibrato. Very emotional performances. Patches also have Tenutos”)


Final Score: 9.5/10

Pros+
+Incredible sound with unmatched playability.

+Polyphonic legato and auto divisi perform exceptionally.

+Massive amount of content, capable of a staggering amount of sound possibilities and combinations to match ANY style.

+THE library to beat for the traditional and classic soaring “Hollywood Sound” (John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Henry Mancini, Bernard Hermann, etc)

+Every patch is dripping with emotion, soul, and realism.

Cons-

-Some ensemble patches should be categorized or labeled better (into long and short, etc)

-High price is only fully justified if you plan to use the full extent of the library: unique combinations and playing styles, and varying ensemble sizes, may not be for everyone (although the price is justified for the amount of content, IMO. Normally you’d pay 500+ for an orchestral string ensemble, and 300+ for a chamber string ensemble, etc.).

-Limited keyswitch options and some missing articulations that are standard in other libraries.

Review: 8Dio Legion Series - 66 Tubas

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You guys asked for it, so here it is! My review of 8Dio’s newest addition to it’s Legion Series , 66 Tubas. I’ve been on a bit of a hunt for some insane low brass ensembles, so this came at the perfect time for me. I purchased at the intro price so I believe I paid around $138 dollars. Currently it retails for $248 dollars here at the 8dio website.

So, this one is fairly self explanatory. It’s 66 freaking people each playing a tuba in one giant room. It sounds HUGE, deep, brassy, a bit farty, and they threw in a bunch of sound design presets as well.

Obviously, this is not the kind of library for the purists out there, as you’ll never be able to reproduce these sounds with a traditional orchestra. I feel it really embraces the Hans Zimmer approach to sampling, which is a mindset of pushing the boundaries, and usually “bigger is better”.

The GUI

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The interface is fairly straightforward, easy on the eye, and provides the most needed controls all laid out right underneath the main articulations. The “Chaos” button randomly sets all the parameters and is appropriately named. Sometimes it can be fun to see what you get here. This library is pretty solid for sound design as well, especially for drones. The “Stack” button allows you to stack multiple articulations at once, and can definitely come in handy. It’s also nice to have an option to reverse each sample right there in the GUI. This library loads in the quick-load section or in the file browser, and has separate folders for main and spot mics, each including a DFD (Direct from Disk) folder, two time machine folders, and a separate section just for the sound-design presets.

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The Sound

66 Tubas is humongous, that goes without saying. What I did notice immediately, is that the first patch that loads from the sustains section is very quiet (playing at a gentle PP), and you’ll notice that when playing through the patches, some of them are surprisingly mellow. This library sounds incredible in the range of C3 all the way up to a surprisingly high C5. I find that going lower than G2, the notes on their own don’t really hold up, as they are so deep sometimes it’s even hard to tell what note is playing. However, when you layer this low end with the higher notes, or with a standard trombone or horn library, the result is impressively massive. This library is generally also not a “smack-you-in-the-face” type of brass sound. It is a very wide, thick, and slow burning type of sound, in my opinion. It’s not as brassy as a trombone ensemble, and the sound isn’t quite up front at all, but more subtle and provides a nice growl at the higher dynamics. I believe most of this is due to the amount of players here, and I honestly think they did go a bit overboard with the amount of players and it cost them in terms of providing a focused sound. The sound can become very muddy, and there really is no close mic sound, and there also is not much of a difference between the various mix mixes, besides the trailer mix (which was my preferred mix). The trailer mix is more up front and provides a nice balance.

This library goes up to a surprisingly high register, and can be transposed even higher with the pitch selection in Kontakt. I found the higher notes to be nice when layering, but by themselves, I noticed a bit of phasing, and some overall quirks that made them unusable in an exposed setting. Like I mentioned previously, there is also a muddy quality to the recordings overall, simply from having so many players in the same room, I believe. This is a very niche library and truly provides a sound you absolutely cannot get anywhere else, and I give 8dio serious props for that. I can definitely see it being used for modern epic tracks and trailer work, but anything that requires a more focused sound would best stick to more traditional ensemble sizes. In terms of being used in my own work, I see it having definite potential as a layering tool, but not much else.

The Verdict-

7.25/10

Pros+

+MASSIVE, thick Sound

+Highly unique product that pushes the boundaries, you will not find a library like this anywhere else right now.

+Good for layering and providing a wide, thick low end.

Cons-

-Frequently too big for it’s own good. (Muddy sound, lack of focus)

-Notes in extreme low register are hard to make out

-Notes in higher register have strange phasing issues

-Inconsistencies in Legato sustain patches

Here’s a patch walkthru and pointing out some of the complaints I mentioned above.

Review - Spitfire Albion ONE. (A great starter/all-in-one orchestral library)

Hello everyone! I have so many reviews piling up that I need to get through, so expect to see a lot more in the coming weeks/months. Today let’s review one of the most used and recommended “all-in-one” orchestral libraries, Spitfire’s Albion ONE.

Albion ONE is the 10th anniversary re-release of their original Albion library.

Albion ONE is the 10th anniversary re-release of their original Albion library.

If you ever search around sampling/virtual instrument forums, this library is guaranteed to come up all over the place, constantly being recommended to beginners for it’s all inclusive approach, and for a good reason. This library has everything you need to write an orchestral track, saving time and hassle by having large sections that are easy to pick up and play instantly. Albion One combines the separate string instruments into one full-section patch, and the brass is split into Low, Mid, and High sections, while the woodwinds are split into High and Low. Each patch will load the most used articulations, including shorts (spiccato, staccato, pizzicato, etc) and longs (sustains), with additional legato patches for strings, woods, and brass. Large sections like this are fantastic for beginners and for those on tight deadlines, and helps in keeping the resource consumption to a minimum while providing big sound palletes to instantly play with.

The GUI.

The GUI.

This product really succeeds at being instantly usable right out of the box, and everything is recorded quite wet in their acclaimed Air Studios. It is great for beginners or those who aren’t full time composers and don’t want to dive to deep into orchestral writing and just need say, small string or brass sections in the background of a symphonic metal song or some other genre. The sound is overall quite good, even if the hall/reverb is baked in (which is a plus for some!). Instruments are all recorded centered, lacking the ability to properly pan instruments as they are combined into larger sections. I’ve also noticed all Spitfire libraries are VERY quiet when you load them up. I always have to turn them up +6.0 db to get them to match the rest of my orchestral samples, which isn’t a problem, just an observation worth noting.

The things I absolutely love about this library: The staccato and spicatto articulations are phenomenal! The short strings are an all time favorite and for a large ensemble have yet to be beat in my opinion. They sound absolutely impeccable and truly thunderous in the lower ranges, yet still provide a great amount of detail. Load this patch up for instant inspiration and endless hours of fun just playing on the keys. The low brass is also a favorite of mine, and provides an amazing amount of brassy bite and grit for intense action sequences (especially the “nasty” articulation). The Brunel Loops are subtle and very unique, providing wonderful textures of found percussive sounds and warped and processed to create clockwork style percussive loops, and the Darwin Percussion ensembles provided are also top notch and fill out the loud intense end of the percussion spectrum. I have yet to find such hard hitting drums in the lower register. The legato strings patches are also surprisingly good, giving off a rich, soaring Hollywood vibe. Think John William’s ET finale.

Some small quibbles keep this from being a perfect collection. Albion One advertises itself as “Epic Composer Tools” and I honestly have to somewhat disagree with this. Some of the sounds are incredible and are used in every single one of my compositions, but this library tops out fairly early in terms of dynamics, and is quite lacking in the horn section of the brass, which in my opinion is absolutely one of the most important section for epic music. I do realize you won’t get JUST the horn section as it’s combined into mid brass or high brass, but the mid brass especially is radically lacking bite and intensity in the sustains. The long strings are also overly synthetic and are rarely used for me, but they get the job done. Overall the middle ranges in this library are a bit muddy and lacking clarity to my ears, and I mostly use this for the lower end of the spectrum. I find this library has a strange dynamic range, as it’s not quite loud and bold enough for over the top epic, but also provides inconsistencies across the dynamic ranges, not providing a smooth enough transition from soft to (semi)loud.

I can absolutely see why this is such highly recommended for beginners, as it offers a very large amount of content and you get a lot of bang for your buck. The amazing and unmatched quality of some of the patches are sadly contrasted by synthetic string sustains and an overly muddy middle range. I still frequently use this as a base for writing a lot of my action oriented pieces, and then layering more detailed sections on top. It is one I will probably always keep on my system for the short strings and low brass patches alone, even if it doesn’t cover all my needs and provide enough detail for what I write these days.

The Verdict : 9.0/10

Pros

+ Unbeatable Low Brass and Short Strings.

+Large amount of content for the price (Orchestra, Synths, Percussion, and Loops)

+Hard Hitting Percussion could be the only ones you need.

+Brunel Loops and Stephenson’s Steam Band synths are wonderful and unique.

+ Perfect way to build a foundation for a more detailed piece, or for sketching.

Cons

- Not for detailed writing with the included patches, no solo instruments or sections.

- Sometimes overly muddy sound, especially in middle range (especially long brass) is lacking clarity and bite.

- Doesn’t cover enough of a dynamic range to be truly epic or for subtle/delicate passages.

- Lacking a piano of any kind which would round out the package quite well.

Review - New Spitfire Solo Strings

***UPDATE 10/11/2018 :
Spitfire has released an update for this library, which addresses one of my main disappointments with this library: the lack of an all-encompassing and expressive performance patch, ie Joshua Bell Violin by Embertone. This update has added exactly that! A Solo Violin (Virtuoso) Total Performance Patch. I must admit, I was not expecting them to add this, but it’s quite amazing and performs VERY well. I feel this now fills the gap that was missing between having a truly intuitive, deeply expressive, and instantly playable solo string instrument and having a library that does everything else well. They have also fixed the issue with the batch re-save that I mentioned earlier. Overall, I am very pleasantly surprised with this update, and I feel it’s only fair to update my final score for this library now that it has been significantly improved.

UPdated score (with Violin Virtuoso Total Performance patch)

9.25/10

Original review is as follows:

Hello all! Today we are taking a look at a new solo string library from the folks at Spitfire Audio.

The original Spitfire Solo Strings was their first sample library ever, and the release of an all new Solo String library from Spitfire has been long awaited. I owned the original Solo Strings and got a discount upon purchasing the NEW Solo Strings, and they cost me $189 instead of $399. 

This library loads up through Native Access so it has it's own panel in the Library Tab of Kontakt, which is a welcome addition.

This library loads up through Native Access so it has it's own panel in the Library Tab of Kontakt, which is a welcome addition.

This library features all new players and recordings from the original, as well as an updated GUI. I was expecting a MASSIVE step forward in terms of sound, and more importantly, instant playability. I must admit that, while delivering on the quality of the recordings and providing many useful and great sounds, in the end they did not live up to expectation in regards to playability.

The library has all inclusive patches for three separate Violins (Virtuoso, 1st Desk, and Progressive), Viola, Cello, and Bass. For more detailed info about the different types of violin patches than I could ever give in my quick review, see the official page here.

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I feel in every Spitfire collection I own, the short notes always stand out as being spectacular, while the longs and legato leave quite a bit to be desired. I found this library to continue this tradition. The shorts are always crisp, tight, and highly detailed and realistic. I also thoroughly enjoy some of the new articulations, like the Long Flautando and Long and Short Harmonics. I feel this library nails the articulations that are unique and provide some very interesting textures and timbres to add to your existing orchestral palette. 

I found the standard long notes in the main NKI files to be quite lacking. It takes a lot of time and MIDI programming to get these to sound good in my opinion. With so many libraries simply sounding incredible from the first note "right out of the box", this was quite disappointing especially after so much hype and waiting so long since their original Solo String Library. The attack and release leave a lot to be desired and require a lot of tweaking to get these long articulations to sound realistic.

Legato GUI

Legato GUI

Now, when it comes to instant realism and playability for Solo String libraries, in my opinion there is NOTHING more vital than a highly expressive legato patch. I was honestly quite concerned when there was less than a month until the release of these new Spitfire Solo Strings, and there was yet to be a single demo showcasing any type of legato patch. In fact, there was no such legato demo until the library had already launched. With so many incredible and expressive libraries already on the market (such as Strezov Samplings' Macabre Strings, and Embertone's Joshua Bell Violin), I was hoping they would really deliver on this aspect and take a new step in expressive realism for solo string instruments.

The legato is definitely a step up from the original Spitfire Solo Strings from a few years ago, but still, in my opinion this again takes a lot of time and effort to get to sound realistic. It does allow for faster playing between notes, which is a plus, but it still does not have enough expressiveness and instant gratification to stand against some others currently on the market. I often have to deliver tracks for clients in a matter of days or sometimes even hours, and I (and many others) simply need something that just WORKS as soon as you open it up. This is the magic of modern sampling in my opinion, those moments when I am utterly blown away at the sound coming out of my speakers, and I am thoroughly convinced I am listening to a real musician playing this instrument in front of my as opposed to samples. Sadly this does not quite deliver that "wow factor" that so many other sample libraries have managed to achieve.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This library is more of an all-compassing solo string library and probably has every articulation you could need for solo string writing in a standard or classical arrangement, but in terms of expressiveness and true emotion it cannot deliver the “wow factor” of some others on the market. For the price you do get a lot, however I don't believe I will ever use the sustained notes in any of my compositions simply because I do not enjoy the sound. The short notes are amazing, as is to be expected from Spitfire audio, but the standard sustained notes are like night and day compared to the realism of the shorts and actually sound a bit grating. I wish they would have focused more on making this instantly gratifying and easy to play straight out of the box. For the basic articulations, it definitely delivers, but for emotional and virtuoso playing, I'd simply look elsewhere. I often use the short notes and occasionally the Flautando and Harmonics to add unique textures. I prefer solo string libraries for those fluid and emotional legato lines, which this library does improve upon from the original Spitfire Solo Strings, but doesn’t stand up to what’s available on the market from other companies. There is also too many violin player patches that don’t differ enough for me to be really impressed by one over the other, I do however know these could be very useful to some composers, I just am not one of them at this time. I must admit I used to be excited about new Spitfire Audio releases, but lately I have not been a fan of their marketing and focus as a company, as they seem to release countless string libraries and fail to truly innovate, not living up to the reputation they once had as an exciting and top of the line sampling company, instead lately I find them a bit boring and pretentious in the way they market themselves, which is strictly a personal opinion and does not mean they do not produce quality products, I just fail to get truly excited when they fail to innovate like the did with the Albion series and some of their artist specific libraries and composer toolkit’s. There is also a bug preventing a Batch Resave within Kontakt with this particular library, which makes loading very long every time I open it.
 

Spitfire Audio New Solo Strings (2018)

Verdict - 8.0/10

Pros

+ Vast amount of content and playing techniques.

+ Realistic sound, providing the superior detail and quality expected from Spitfire.

+ Unique articulations you may not find elsewhere.

Cons

- Simply can’t match the emotion and expressiveness of other libraries on the market.

- Long notes have an overall sterile and bland feel.

- Three violin player patches that fail to deliver anything significantly new or exciting to make them stand out from one another.