I need to invest in some decent sample libraries to kick start my compositional journey, but where do I start?
Some of the most common questions that we get asked here at Thinkspace are based on which sample libraries to buy. Which string library is better? Can I use this library on my system? How does it work? Here are Tim Johnson’s thoughts and suggestions on the various options available! What are your thoughts and opinions?
I’m sure you have all realized by now that there is a lot of choice out there and the companies making sample libraries are getting better and more competitive all of the time. Some are very expensive, some are about what you would expect to pay and some are excellent value. The aim of this blog is not to tell you which library to buy. Many of you will have heard me say again and again that a lot of the time it comes down to personal preference and the skill of the programmer. Usually the VSL flute is great but if you want that really expressive tone then 8Dio is the way to go – so what is the answer? In the long run the answer is have both! But not everyone has the cash to go buying every library out there, so here are my suggestions for building up your comprehensive orchestral sample libraries from nothing on different budgets.
(Prices are after student discount has been applied where possible)
£300 or Less:
Eastwest Symphonic Orchestra Gold £185
This is a great starter pack library. The Swiss army knife of the orchestral composers tool-kit. Is it the best thing on the block? Honestly, most of the time no, it isn’t, but there are still some gems in here. I’ve heard some fantastic mock ups using this library but you really have to know what you are doing in terms of programming tricks to use it to it’s full potential. Some of the best patches in this library are in the percussion section. Chances are you are unlikely to load up any patch and think “that sounds terrible”, but more likely say to yourself “yeah, that’s not bad”. Fact is, it’s a lower end library and it’s cheap! Having said that, the PLAY engine that it runs in has got a bad rap over the years for being very CPU hungry, so be sure to check your PC specs are up to the challenge.
Eastwest Spaces £110
Ok so it’s not a sample library, but it is one of the best reverbs around and incredible value for money. It’s the main reverb in my template!
£650 or Less:
This was a hard price range to think about, but ultimately it came down to the fact that you will not have access to some of the best sample libraries around without having the full version of Kontakt 5 (£339 on it’s own). So in essence we are really investing in the future here. Let me explain further:
Native Instruments Komplete 9 £429
The cost of the Kontakt 5 sample engine on it’s own is £339, so it’s an absolute no brainer to be buying the Komplete 9 bundle which includes 33 products INCLUDING the Kontakt 5 player for £429. In terms of bang for your buck there is little that can kompete (sorry) with that.
So I’m left with £220 to play with. If you don’t have Eastwest Symphonic Orchestra then get that! If you already have symphonic orchestra then you can perhaps start to look at some more specialist libraries. For £201 (after student discount) you could be the proud owner of Cinebrass Core or 8dio’s Adagietto, which, as luck would have it, both run inside the full version of Kontakt 5. Good job you just bought that!
Cinesamples Cinebrass Core £201
A great sounding brass library. One of the best actually, and certainly worth the asking price. It’s my first choice for most things, but it particularly excels at large scale bombastic action music. It struggles at the lower end of the dynamic range but at the top it is nice and… well… brassy!
8dio Adagietto £201
Aimed at those with slightly smaller budgets but would still like to get in on the action of 8Dio’s great Adagio range. This is a good value library with a surprising number of articulations and a lovely warm sound. Lush, expressive sustain patches are the highlight here. Dynamic range suffers in the same way as Cinebrass, but you get a full string section with all the main articulations for £201!
£1000 or Less:
Ok, so now we are talking about a figure where instead of buying a “Swiss army knife” library such as EWSO, which is a jack of all trades but master of none, we can start to be a bit more specialized with our choices. Please note that for many of the libraries from this point on in the blog you will need a FULL version of Kontakt 5. So with that said the first buy is still going to be Komplete as mentioned above. Having more money to spend doesn’t make it any less of a good deal!
Native instruments Komplete Bundle – £429
So we have roughly £570 to play with. Can you get 3 or more specialist libraries covering woodwind, brass and strings for that? Well… no. I’m afraid not. Don’t shoot the messenger!
What are the options? Komplete has probably got you covered for synths and world instruments for the time being. The pianos aren’t half bad either so you’re good to go there. The drum kits are also pretty darn good! So what’s next? A good string library is usually a good starting point as so many people use them as the core of the orchestra.
At this point I start to struggle in telling you what to do. The reason why I start to struggle is because there is a little voice in my head screaming “don’t settle for that library when you could have a better one for £100 more!”, but I will try to limit myself to a £1000 budget.
Cinematic Strings 2.1 – £180
With a 30% student discount (after VAT) this is a steal. Great library! Sounds excellent out of the box, very intuitive interface and the legato scripting works well for lush, slow emotional passages as well as ferocious, speedy parts. Limited on articulations but the ones you do get cover most of the “basses” (sorry again). You get longs, legato, staccato, spiccato, tremolo and a cool setting for measured tremolo with legato for super speedy trem lines. The usual mic positions are available but the “mix” mic is all I have ever needed! Overall, excellent at what it does but it has it’s limitations.
Some people will be saying what about 8dio’s Adagietto? Or Cinestrings? EW Hollywood Strings (diamond)? LASS? Well, nothing wrong with these libraries. It is simply my personal opinion that in this price range Cinematic Strings 2 is the best value, the easiest to use and the most versatile. How does it stand up against the others in sound quality? Personally I think CS2 take it, but some would argue that 8Dio is it’s closest rival in terms of warmth. I find Cinestrings a little two clinical and EWHS a little over processed for my tastes. LASS is out of this price range, except for the “lite” package, which does not come with nearly enough features to make it a contender. A word of advice with EWHS, you will need a very powerful computer with a lot of RAM (16gb+) to run this effectively.
Let’s assume you took my advice and bought CS2. We still have roughly £350
Two options to consider:
Cinebrass Core + EW Spaces
Spitfire’s Albion 1 – £300
This is a tough one to ignore! A total powerhouse of a library that is great for Epic scoring, but surprisingly good at the quieter stuff too. It is also more versatile than even Spitfire would have you believe from reading their description. The strings are excellent, particularly the octave legato patches. The Spiccs are great too. Brass, woodwind and percussion sound awesome straight out of the box, with the Easter island hits featuring on virtually every trailer since the library was released. Sure, you have to deal with the instruments grouped together a bit, but it’s an easy thing to forgive when you first start messing around with this library. Grouping the instruments together is not without its merits either, which becomes apparent when you start to hear the tones reverberating around that gorgeous Air Lyndhurst hall. Not quite a jack-of-all-trades library, but it is certainly a master of what is trying to do.
It is worth mentioning that at the time of writing this, Eastwest’s Complete Composers Collection is an absolute steal. I was astounded at how cheap it was. It is customizable so I cannot give you a set price, but it is well within the budget of this price range. That said, although the libraries are incredibly cheap the hardware needed to run it is not. To comfortably run all of the instruments you will need more like 32gb RAM and are more likely to need a slave PC.
£1,500 or less:
Now we are really cooking. So again the first £429 is going on the Komplete bundle for reasons previously stated. Can we get some really nice libraries and cover all the main things we need with the £1,070 we have left? I think we can.
Spitfire Mural £399
In my personal opinion the best commercially available symphonic string library out there right now is Spitfire’s BML Mural. I don’t know what to tell you! Go and listen to the demo’s and fall in love for yourself! Plenty of articulations, multiple mix mic’s, including the incredible Jake Jackson’s choice of mic positions, that gorgeous Air sound and all recorded to tape.
Cinebrass Core £201
Still hard to beat even in the higher price range! Alternatively there is EW Hollywood Brass, which is very good and probably the best in the Hollywood range, but again you will need a pretty powerful computer to run it properly.
Woodwinds we have a few options. The 8Dio “Claire” range is very good and each instrument is reasonably priced. The tone is excellent and they are recorded very well. It is simply my humble opinion that they are not the easiest things in the world to work with, but if you put the time and effort in they are hard to beat. Another option would be the brilliant Berlin woodwinds, but that takes us over budget. I think the library that I would have to go with here would be:
VSL special edition £280 (roughly, price depends on the retailer)
The woodwinds in this library are brilliant and feature heavily in my own template. There are those that can compete with them but very little that can beat them. The added bonus with this purchase is you also get the rest of the orchestra too! By now you will be craving a few of the more subtle instruments, such as a harp, or a xylophone, glock or bells. This does all of these very well, and the VSL interface is one of the best. The strings are ok, but a quick comparison with Mural and you probably wont load them up again.
The rest of your cash should probably go towards Eastwest Spaces. VSL has a nice built in reverb, and Cinebrass has a natural scoring stage reverb, but neither are better than a good Spaces patch, and it is perfect for blending with the huge Air Lyndhurst reverb embedded in Mural.
The sky is the limit!
I have mentioned just a few of my favorite orchestral libraries already but just to cover all bases as far as the orchestra is concerned let’s fill in the gaps:
Lots of options but the big ones are 8Dio’s Requiem, Soundiron’s Voices of Olympus and Cinesamples Voxos. I think both in value for money and warmth 8Dio probably take the crown here. I bought all of them because one choir library is never enough!
Too many options to go through, but my two personal favorites are Cinesamples piano in blue (which is also cheap!) and Soundiron’s Emotional Piano.
Spitfire Redux Percussion is excellent but has that big Air reverb built in, so perhaps not so versatile for really intimate scores. Between that and VSL special edition there isn’t much you won’t be able to do.
Cineperc is also a great library with multiple extensions depending on what genre you want to write. Definitely worth an investigation.
Damage – O.M.G. Buy it.
I have done my best to restrict myself to set budgets. There is so much out there that this could easily turn into a 10 page list of possible libraries. I haven’t even gone into hybrid scoring libraries or synths. Some are good, some excellent, some are expensive, some are great value. All developers do things slightly different, and what I prefer in terms of workflow or tone may not be the same as yours! Few good libraries are less than £100, which is not a small chunk of cash, so always feel free to contact me and/or the rest of the team before you part with your money, and always watch the demo videos of independent reviewers online before you buy.
These are my personal views from using these libraries myself and do not necessarily reflect the views of the entire Thinkspace team.
So what do you think?! Are you a Die hard Spitfire fan like Tim? Or are you an 8Dio enthusiast? Are Cinesamples the only libraries for you? Are you about to burst a vein because Tim didn’t mention your favorite library? Let’s hear your thoughts!
Happy shopping, and good luck!
If you enjoyed this, why not check out our Cinematic Orchestration course?