40 Best Orchestral VST Plugins & Sample Libraries for 2020

BEST Orchestra plugins and LibrariesNo matter the type of music you produce, having access to high-quality orchestral sounds is essential.

But not everyone has the means to record a professional orchestra in their home studios. Thankfully, there are many orchestral plug-ins and libraries available, many of which are quite convincing.

The best orchestra VST plugins provide such rich and detailed performances that it’s almost as if a full orchestra showed up at your studio for an extended recording session!

In this guide we’ll take a look at a number of these selections.

PS: you might need to bookmark this one, in case you may need to get back to it in the future.


What’s In This Guide

Best Orchestral Plugins – Full Orchestras

EastWest ComposerCloud X

Eastwest ComposerCloud X

Few producers will ever need access to 40,000 virtual instruments at once. But if you do, EastWest ComposerCloud X has got you covered. EastWest’s ComposerCloud gives you all that and more, with a staggering range of instruments that cover every imaginable acoustic and electronic category, and then some. Better still, signing up for the subscription-based program gives you access to future releases of all ComposerCloud Gold products, even exclusive content.

Basic specs and useful features

The ComposerCloud instruments weigh in at a staggering two terabytes, with more than three million samples, phrases, and FX. As you might expect from an EastWest product, the quality is nothing short of breathtaking. Most every instrument you could think of is included, so you’re covered for every genre from orchestral to rock, pop, hip-hop, video game, and EDM.

User impressions

Producers generally have divided opinions about cloud-based subscriptions, but most users don’t seem to mind ComposerCloud’s implementation. Being able to play the instruments from the Play 6 interface definitely eases the experience, as does being able to download the instruments instead of streaming them from the cloud. Access to the same instruments used by the leading composers in the business is also a definite bonus.

Bottom-line

EastWest’s ComposerCloud X provides a staggering range of instruments of outstanding quality. Even if you aren’t a fan of the subscription-based cloud model, ComposerCloud is a must-try.

Price and Demos @ Sweetwater
Demo


SONiVOX Film Score Companion

SONiVOX Film Score Companion

Film Score Companion combines five of SONiVOX’s most popular collections in one convenient package. For the price, you get Brass, Strings, Woodwinds, the Eighty-Eight Ensemble (piano), and the Big Bang Cinematic Percussion. Film Score Companion is by no means the most comprehensive orchestral plug-in around. Even so, these five collections should cover you for most compositional and production needs.

Basic specs and useful features

SONiVOX enlisted members of the Boston Pops and Boston Ballet Orchestras to create the sounds in Film Score Companion. Using the same instruments they play in concerts, the musicians were meticulously recorded with spot and ambient mic’ing. Throughout the recording process, careful attention was paid to preserving the acoustic qualities of the instruments and the performance space, resulting in an authentic and organic feel.

User impressions

Users find that Film Score Companion delivers surprisingly accurate and lifelike results in a versatile and easy-to-use plug-in. The patches are set up to allow a good degree of control over many aspects of performance, so users aren’t restricted to static sounding patches.

Bottom-line

Film Score Companion isn’t the most complete orchestral collection available in a plug-in. But most of the basics are well represented, and the realism and quality are absolutely topnotch. If you place more value on quality than quantity, SONiVOX’s orchestral collection is worth a look.

Price and Demos @ Plugin Boutique
Demo

Best Service Sonuscore: The Orchestra

Best Service The Orchestra, by Sonuscore

Best Service’s Sonuscore: The Orchestra is a relatively simple orchestral plug-in that boasts of a surprisingly beefy collection of high-quality sounds. We say “relatively simple”, because this collection doesn’t cover as many articulation and nuance options as the larger orchestra plug-ins do. Instead, Sonuscore: The Orchestra provides a solid and fairly comprehensive virtual orchestra that lets you get the job done without a lot of messing around with the minute details.

Basic specs and useful features

Comprised of 80 individual “players”, The Orchestra covers most every conceivable studio scenario. You also get 88 single-instrument patches, which lets you compose melody lines and liven up arrangements with more realistic articulations.

The most intriguing aspect of The Orchestra is the Ensemble Engine, which gives you a flexible and powerful interface from which you could harness the power of the instruments. With the Ensemble Engine, it is even easier to assemble full orchestral compositions. And with features such as Orchestral Colors, Orchestral Rhythms, and Animated Orchestra, the results you get will impress even the most discerning listener.

User impressions

Users of The Orchestra appreciate how it simplifies the process of creating orchestral compositions. The plug-in especially appeals to composers and producers working on tight deadlines, who need to put arrangements together quickly without having to tweak every little detail.

Bottom-line

Despite its relative simplicity, Sonuscore: The Orchestra is capable of very impressive results. A versatile and useful orchestral plug-in that lets you get the broad strokes down, it nevertheless provides sufficient complexity for more demanding projects.

Price and Demos @ Sweetwater
Demo


Garritan Personal Orchestra

Garritan Personal Orchestra 5

Garritan Personal Orchestra (GPO) has been around for more than 16 years, which practically makes it a relic in the virtual instruments world. But strategic updates and a continuing emphasis on quality and ease of use have kept GPO from obsolescence. Now on version 5, GPO proves that it is still as just as capable as costlier orchestra plug-ins.

Basic specs and useful features

As with the earlier versions, the latest incarnation of GPO gives you a full orchestra at your fingertips. Version 5 comes with over 500 instruments, covering the range from strings, brass, and woodwinds to percussion, keyboards, and a lot more. You also get a good selection of techniques and articulations, each designed for specific instruments. Along with the reverbs, spaces, and body resonances, you get plenty of options to create realistic performances.

The GPO instruments are accessible via the included ARIA Player Advanced Instrument Engine. This interface allows you to assemble custom orchestras one instrument at a time, or choose from many pre-configured combinations. Either way, you get convincingly expressive performances dripping with nuance and character.

User impressions

As expected, Garritan Personal Orchestra appeals mainly to producers and composers that need to put together quick mockups. Although many users decide to replace certain sections with more detailed patches, much of GPO’s content is good enough to make it to final production.

Bottom-line

Garritan Personal Orchestra continues to fill an important niche in modern production studios and composition suites. Even if you decide to pick up a more comprehensive orchestral plug-in, GPO will continue to be useful for demos, mockups, and even full productions.

Price and Demos @ Sweetwater
Demo


Spitfire Albion One

Spitfire Albion One

Albion One is Spitfire’s most impressive orchestral sample library yet, providing composers and producers everything they need to put together professional-sounding compositions. The collection is centered on a 109-piece orchestra, with accents and rhythmic accompaniment provided by a huge percussion ensemble. There are a few other bundled goodies besides, giving you a wide range of sonic tools to realize your most complex creative vision.

Basic specs and useful features

The orchestra covers most every orchestral section and then some. Albion One also includes an impressive cinematic percussion section, which provides all the bangs, crashes, and thunderous accents necessary to make your compositions come to life. You even get a good selection of warpable loops to spice up your tunes or to serve as the backbone for your compositions. Albion One even comes with a selection of steam synthesizer sounds that will make your productions stand apart from the run-of-the-mill cinematic scores.

User impressions

Albion One has become a standard of sorts among film composers, with its beautifully captured legato strings and thunderous drums finding their way into various productions. Producers especially like how the library can go from clean to epic with a few tweaks. Other standouts include the dynamic winds and brass, the quirky Steam Synth selection, and the rhythmic loops.

Bottom-line

Spitfire Albion One is an industry-standard for many reasons. Although it is more expensive than most other orchestral libraries, the quality and range of sounds are hard to beat. Recommended for contemporary film scoring.

Price and Demos @ Spitfire
Demo


8Dio Majestica

8Dio Productions Majestica

Users of 8Dio’s V8P sample library can expect more of the same breathtaking orchestral sounds from Majestica in a powerful and convenient user interface. Developed specifically for composers and producers, Majestica delivers some of the best symphonic sounds available, with unparalleled flexibility and playability.

Basic specs and useful features

Majestica is one of the largest symphony orchestra libraries ever developed, with more than 240 players covering strings, brasses, woodwinds, and percussion. The string section is especially impressive, with more than 100 pieces grouped into bass, cello, viola, and violin sections. Each section contains a wealth of articulations and performance techniques, giving your compositions a good dose of realism. The other sections are just as comprehensive, allowing you to produce anything from delicate melodies and subtle swells to powerful crescendos and everything in between.

The percussion section is also worthy of mention, with 20 pieces that will cover all your accenting and rhythmic accompaniment needs. Between the tom ensembles, the snares, cymbals, and gongs, you have a good range of options at your fingertips without having to spend for a dedicated percussion library.

User impressions

Majestica’s expansive and high-quality soundest is one of its main selling points for many users, but the outstanding user interface also gets a lot of praise. More experienced composers like the advanced articulations available via the controls, articulation sequencer, and arpeggiator. Other users enjoy the precise degree of control available via the Majestica user interface.

Bottom-line

8Dio’s Majestica is one of the costliest orchestral plug-ins available, but the articulations alone are well worth the price. For detail and depth of control, Majestica stands apart from most other orchestra plug-ins.

Price and Demos @ 8dio
Demo


EastWest Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra

EastWest Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra

EastWest is one of the most respected names in sample libraries, and Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra shows exactly why. A huge selection of symphonic instruments oozing with realism and detail, Symphonic Orchestra provides an expansive set of sounds that could catapult your projects to the next level.

Basic specs and useful features

The Symphonic Orchestra comes in two flavors: Gold and Platinum. The sound sets of both versions consist of hundreds of individual string, brasses, winds, and percussions, along with scores of other useful orchestral elements. Both also have the Intelligent Performance feature, which gives you control over portamento, legato, repetition, and other aspects of the sound. There is also a convolution reverb built into the Play engine, which makes your tracks sound as if they were recorded in a world-class concert hall.

The Platinum version comes with additional mic’ing options such as “close”, “stage”, and “hall”, all of which could be blended for even more convincing sonic perspectives.

User impressions

Longtime users of EastWest’s libraries already know what to expect from Symphonic Orchestra: topnotch sounds. But for many, the detailed articulations are what makes the Gold and Platinum libraries stand out. Discriminating producers also praise the intelligent release trail engine, which ensures that sounds taper off convincingly without being cut off unnaturally.

Bottom-line

The Gold and Platinum editions of Symphonic Orchestra provide a solid set of orchestral material that should cover most projects. The sounds and available articulations are flawless, and the additional mic’ing options in the Platinum edition make it an even more flexible option.

Price and Demos @ Sweetwater
Demo


EastWest Hollywood Orchestra

EastWest Hollywood Orchestra

Orchestrating scores for films comes with its own unique set of challenges. For projects that require more drama and excitement than most orchestral plug-ins could provide, EastWest’s Hollywood Orchestra is exactly what you need.

Hollywood Orchestra comes in Gold and Diamond versions, both of which include hundreds of world-class sounds, rhythms, and textures. More than just a grab-bag of blockbuster-friendly patches and loops, Hollywood Orchestra is a well-thought-out collection of instruments and orchestral sections that are versatile enough for any production.

Basic specs and useful features

Hollywood Orchestra Gold has more than 100GB of 16-bit samples, while the Diamond Edition comes with more than 680GB of content recorded in industry-standard 24-bit quality. Gold owners can upgrade to the Diamond Edition for higher fidelity and a much wider range of sounds. That being said, the content you get with Gold is easily good enough to measure up to the best orchestral libraries on the market.

As expected, both editions include comprehensive sections that cover almost every area of the typical orchestra, each with a wealth of articulation options. The Diamond Edition also offers five microphone positions for each instrument, giving you more control over presence and ambiance.

User impressions

Many producers find Hollywood Orchestra to be just as useful for album and song production as film scoring. Although a few other current offerings eclipse the range of sounds available, EastWest’s trademark diversity and quality make both the Gold and Diamond Editions essential tools. For orchestral mockups to pop demos, and even full-blown productions, Hollywood Orchestra consistently delivers quality results.

Bottom-line

You could spend a lot more cash and still not get the same quality and range of sounds available with EastWest Hollywood Orchestra. For a solid orchestral library that continues to deliver the goods, Hollywood Orchestra–the Diamond Edition, in particular–is worthy of consideration.

Price and Demos @ Sweetwater
Demo


IK Multimedia Miroslav Philharmonik 2

IK Multimedia Miroslav Philharmonik 2 CE

IK Multimedia’s Miroslav Philharmonik 2 could very well be one of the most evocative and emotion-laden orchestral plug-ins around. Earlier versions of Philharmonik made waves with its outstanding collection of sounds contained in a surprisingly simple and fairly modest package. With Philharmonik 2, IK Multimedia packs more of what made the earlier releases so popular among composers and producers.

Basic specs and useful features

Emotion is clearly what Philharmonik 2 is all about, with soaring strings, light and airy woodwinds, and brass sections oozing with character and authority. There are also abundant articulation options that add movement and expression to your tracks.

SampleTank owners will be glad to know that they can play Philharmonik’s instruments directly without having to convert them beforehand. However, you might want to stick to IK Multimedia’s player to make use of the expressive macro controls developed specifically for Philharmonik 2. These controls give you access to the instruments’ most musically relevant parameters, and there is even a dedicated “Edit” page for more in-depth tweaking and sound design.

User impressions

Philharmonik 2 appeals to producers and composers that need production-ready sounds right out of the box. Having polished and expressive sounds without having to tweak parameters endlessly also makes Philharmonik 2 a popular choice among pop, rock, and hip-hop producers with relatively little orchestral knowledge.

Bottom-line

IK Multimedia’s Miroslav Philharmonik 2 is one of those orchestral plug-ins that just works right out of the box. Although you can get deep into sound sculpting if you wish, the beauty of Philharmonik 2 is how quickly you can get expressive performances without a lot of tweaking.

Price and Demos @ Sweetwater
Demo


Vienna Symphonic Library SE Vol 1: Essential Orchestra

vienna symphonic library special edition volume 1

Vienna Symphonic Library (VSL) is a name that stands out among today’s crop of orchestral plug-ins for many good reasons. The brand has become synonymous with high-quality expressive content that fits right in with classical, as well as pop and rock productions. With Studio Edition (SE) Volume 1: Essential Orchestra, VSL proves that it still has what it takes to be a useful library for modern studios.

Basic specs and useful features

Like the best orchestral plugins and libraries, Essential Orchestra contains a solid selection of strings, woodwinds, and brass, along with a comprehensive percussion section. The strings come with ensemble and solo options, with the most important articulations included. You also get VSL’s celebrated legato and portamento performances.

The woodwind and brass sections are equally well-stocked, with the character and expression that you need for truly world-class productions. There are also loads of instrument-appropriate articulations, more of which are available when you purchase the Special Edition Volume 1 PLUS.

User impressions

Composers and producers of all levels appreciate Essential Orchestra’s detailed articulations, as well as the quality of its raw sounds. Unlike many other plug-ins and libraries, Essential Orchestra doesn’t hide substandard samples with heavy modulation. The excellent quality of the library makes Essential Orchestra a popular choice among those that want to do their own customizations. Even so, relative beginners like being able to flesh out full compositions without having to dig under the hood.

Bottom-line

Essential Orchestra proudly upholds Vienna Symphonic Library’s tradition of excellence. Equally suitable for pop and classical productions as well as film scores, Essential Orchestra provides excellent value for the money.

Price and Demos @ Sweetwater
Demo


Best Orchestral Plugins – Orchestral Sections

Traditionally, orchestras included strings, brass, woodwinds, and percussion sections. Each of these sections could include several players who either double each other’s lines or play in harmony or counterpoint. There are also smaller orchestras that omit the percussion section entirely, and even ensembles consisting of only one or two sections, such as strings and woodwinds.

You may not need an entire collection, but your composition or production style may only call for strings or brass. Then the Orchestra Sections is for you.

Otherwise, having at least one complete full orchestra collection is a good recommendation. But not all collections are alike, hence it’s a good idea to make selections, based on how you see fit, of one or a few sections. This tops off your collection with a well needed variety of orchestral sounds and colors for your projects.

Strings

SONiVOX Orchestral Companion – Strings

SONiVOX Orchestral Companion - Strings

SONiVOX Orchestral Companion – Strings specializes in the lush, evocative strings that typically underpin cinematic tearjerkers. Whether you need to open up the floodgates for a dramatic scene or wring out every bit of emotion from your symphonic metal opus, SONiVOX’s Strings could be exactly what you need.

Basic specs and useful features

The Strings set consists of 90 string programs, each crafted for accuracy and realism. The bulk of the bundle is made up of string ensembles that you can use to flesh out arrangements quickly or fill out the background of your compositions. You also get individual sections that provide more control over assembling your string parts. These sections comprise first and second violins, violas, cellos, and contrabasses, with a wide range of articulations provided for each.

Of course, samples are only as good as how they were recorded. All the content in the Strings bundle was captured with state-of-the-art B&K 4011 microphones, with players positioned in correct orchestra seating. Minimal post-processing was applied to ensure that the sounds are as organic as possible.

User impressions

Users of SONiVOX Orchestral Companion – Strings appreciate the depth and range of the collection, making full use of the ensembles and the individual sections. The raw quality of the samples and the extensive articulations also consistently won praise from more discriminating users.

Bottom-line

SONiVOX Orchestral Companion – Strings is an inexpensive and expensive-sounding string library that comes at a surprisingly reasonable price. Even if you are well-covered in the strings department, this is one library that you will want to add to your collection.

Price and Demos @ Plugin Boutique

Output Analog Strings

Output Analog Strings

Output’s Analog Strings comes with a large and a small string section, each meticulously sampled for maximum expression. This library is not intended for traditional orchestral use, but finds its home in modern musical styles. You get solo instruments that you can use for composing evocative lead lines, plus vintage synths and a handful of unique sound design elements. Although this collection does excel in traditional string sounds, its focus is more on warm and vibey tones that will fit right into any modern electronic  production.

Basic specs and useful features

At the core of Analog Strings is a pair of meticulously sampled string sections, with ‘large’ and ‘small’ options that you could use depending on your sonic goals and system capabilities. You also get a slew of solo string instruments, characterful vintage synth patches and effects processors, and quirky sound design elements that offer a welcome alternative to typical string libraries.

Control over the sounds is provided by the powerful user interface, which combines a deep modulation matrix, two arpeggiators, and a couple of tape loopers. You also get a flux sequencer, which is your ticket to intriguing rhythmic variations. Four macro faders give you even sound-shaping options, so you aren’t limited to standard string arrangements–unless that’s what your song needs.

User impressions

Many users of Analog Strings were initially drawn to the quality of the samples, but the extensive modulation capabilities are what ultimately won many of them over. The user interface is one of the most powerful in a string library, giving users access to sounds that go well beyond the capabilities of most string ensembles.

Bottom-line

Output Analog Strings is more than just your average string library. The vintage synths and effects, sound design elements, and deep modulation options make it a useful all-arounder for most studio productions.

Price and Demos @ Plugin Boutique

EastWest Hollywood Strings

EastWest Hollywood Strings

If you’re fortunate enough to land a big Hollywood scoring gig, EastWest’s Hollywood Strings could easily handle the bulk of your string orchestration needs. EastWest is known for some of the most realistic and highest quality libraries around, and its string collections, in particular, are good enough to hang with the best of them. But even if you’ve yet to bag that juicy scoring deal, Hollywood Strings’ quality content and wealth of articulation options earn it a place in your growing pile of software instruments.

Basic specs and useful features

Like many EastWest collections, Hollywood Strings come in Gold and Diamond Editions. This gives you a choice between a light and affordable library and a more fully-featured selection for a little bit more money.

The good news is that even the Gold Edition packs a good range of string ensembles and solo instruments. All instruments are recorded from a single mic position in industry-standard 16 bit, 44.1 kHz. This is certainly adequate for most productions, but if you want more sounds and mic options, you could go for the Diamond Edition, the content of which comes in 24- and 16-bit versions. You also get five mic positions, so you have more options to set your sound stage the way you want.

User impressions

Both the Gold and Diamond Editions are generally well-regarded among composers and producers, although some did lament the less realistic short articulations that come with the Gold Edition. There is no such issue with the Diamond Edition, so most composers recommend paying slightly more for the ‘bigger’ version.

Bottom-line

The Gold Edition of Hollywood Strings provides excellent value, and most composers will find it sufficient for mockups and even finished productions. However, the Diamond Edition provides more instruments, extended ranges, additional mic positions, and more articulations for not much more money. We, therefore, recommend shelling out for the Diamond Edition right at the outset.

Price and Demos @ Sweetwater

Vienna Symphonic Library – Dimension Strings

Vienna Symphonic Library - Dimension Strings

How many string samples do you really need? No matter what your answer is, Vienna Symphonic Library – Dimension Strings definitely has enough to fill your needs. No less than 1.2 million samples are included in this package, making it one of the most comprehensive string libraries ever assembled. Whether you need a quick mockup or a fully-fleshed out orchestral masterpiece, Dimension Strings has got you covered.

Basic specs and useful features

The Dimension Strings collection consists of 24 ‘players’, covering violins, violas, cellos, and double basses. Each section was recorded as a homogeneous group, which captures the live interaction and ‘imperfections’ of actual humans playing together. The result is a performance that is as close as you could get to a live concert. And because each player was recorded with a separate mic, you have full control over the mix and spatial balance.

User impressions

What makes Dimension Strings stand out for discerning users is the depth of control over the individual players. Hardly any other string library compares in terms of legato transitions, short articulations, and harmonics. Even owners of huge multi-terabyte libraries turn to Dimension Strings when only the most convincing performances will do.

Bottom-line

Dimension Strings is by far the most deeply sampled string libraries around. Of course, you do have to pay a premium for the privilege. But if only the best of the best will do, Dimension Strings’ exorbitant price tag might just be worth it.

Price and Demos @ Sweetwater

Spitfire Symphonic Strings

Spitfire Symphonic Strings

Spitfire’s Symphonic Strings isn’t the most expensive string library on the market. It’s not even the most expensive in this roundup. But it does come with a pretty steep price tag, which could make cash-strapped producers consider other options. But the comprehensive range of instruments and the depth of control the plug-in gives you makes it a worthy contender among all the other string-focused collections out there.

Basic specs and useful features

Right out of the box, Symphonic Strings provides you with 60 string ‘players’, comprising first and second violins, violas, cellos, and basses. Nearly 200 articulations are available for the entire collection, along with several round-robin, dynamic layering, and mic positions. There is also a dedicated ensemble tool that gives you even more articulations, so you don’t have to put up with boring arrangements or ‘baked in’ modulations. With Symphonic Strings, your ensemble performances can be just as detailed and convincing as your solo lines.

User impressions

Spitfire libraries are widely praised for their quality and realism, and Symphonic Strings is no different. For many producers, the quality of the base samples easily measures up to the best string libraries, with even more value care of the extensive articulations and excellent user interface.

Price and Demos @ Spitfire Audio

Heavyocity NOVO Modern Strings

Heavyocity NOVO Modern Strings

Heavyocity NOVO Modern Strings was developed to meet the needs of modern composers and orchestrators. Like the best string libraries, it is deeply sampled, with a wide range of string instruments that should cover most orchestral needs. But what sets Modern Strings apart is its sound design, layering, and sequencing options, which deliver performances that aren’t possible with your average string library.

Basic specs and useful features

Modern Strings’ base sounds are certainly impressive. Weighing in at nearly 40GB, the library consists of meticulously sampled natural instruments, as well as a handful of more unusual selections that add spice to your orchestral creations.

But what tweakers will really appreciate is the ability to shape the bundled sounds in numerous creative ways. Much of this power is due to the Cycle dynamic playback engine, which gives you a wide range of tools with which to sweeten the string patches or warp them beyond recognition. From traditional swells and swirls to pulsing rhythms, glitch effects, stutters, and more, Cycle provides sound-shaping capabilities that go beyond what you would expect from a string library.

User impressions

The versatility and intuitiveness of Modern Strings is what seems to impress users the most. The ability to morph standard string parts into outlandish electronic textures makes this plug-in a popular choice among producers who need more esoteric flavors from their string libraries.

Bottom-line

Modern Strings could easily handle most of your bread-and-butter string requirements, but its strength lies in creating modern and synthetic textures. Whether you are looking to create convincing orchestral mockups or you are in search of creative inspiration, Modern Strings will deliver.

Price and Demos @ Plugin Boutique

Woodwinds

SONiVOX Orchestral Companion – Woodwinds

SONiVOX Orchestral Companion - Woodwinds

SONiVOX bills Woodwinds as one of the most realistic and lifelike woodwind collections around. Part of the Orchestral Companion series, Woodwinds provides a comprehensive set of ensemble and instrument programs that cover most orchestral applications.

Basic specs and useful features

Woodwinds comes with more than 115 programs, each of which was meticulously developed by SONiVOX’s sound design team. For the price, you get a good selection of full woodwind ensembles, which are useful for sketching out orchestral compositions in broad strokes. You also get smaller wind sections that provide more detailed performances, plus solo instruments that could serve as the lead elements of your arrangements.

Realistic articulations are par for the course with the best orchestral libraries, and Woodwinds doesn’t disappoint. Regardless of your playing and compositional skills, you can’t help but make these instruments sound good. With multi-velocity layers and modulation swells, you could easily craft woodwind parts that almost sound as if you are in the same room as a world-class woodwind ensemble.

User impressions

The nuance and intimacy of Woodwinds’ instruments make a good impression with many users. Many also appreciate the spot and ambient mic’ing options that allow for more convincing sound staging. Experienced producers also liked the orchestrally-correct seating, which helps simulate a more authentic orchestra experience.

Bottom-line

The attention to detail that went into the creation of this plug-in is pretty apparent. Woodwind parts can be difficult to approximate in a sample library, but Woodwinds does a great job of helping you deliver convincing performances.

Price and Demos @ Plugin Boutique

EastWest Hollywood Orchestral Woodwinds

EastWest Hollywood Orchestral Woodwinds

Like EastWest’s string and brass plug-ins, Hollywood Orchestral Woodwinds comes in Gold and Diamond Editions. You can therefore choose between a basic sound set and a more detailed collection. With either version, you get high-quality woodwind sounds that will fit right into a major Hollywood blockbuster. You also get a good range of options by which you could tweak them to perfection.

Basic specs and useful features

From the moment you load up a patch, it immediately becomes apparent that Hollywood Orchestral Woodwinds is all about expression. Most every aspect of the instruments can be controlled for maximum expressiveness, resulting in ensemble and solo performances that stand out for their realism.

The Gold Edition comes with a full range of articulations, including dynamic legatos, double tonguing, repetitions, and stirring runs. Notes sustain convincingly, and round-robin selection is provided to keep your staccato performances from sounding artificial.

The Diamond Edition includes all that and more, with the addition of five mic positions that let you set your sound stage to perfection. And with a full complement of articulations available, your woodwinds will sound as convincing as ever.

User impressions

Users of the Gold Edition of Hollywood Orchestral Woodwinds were pleasantly surprised to have wide extended ranges available even with the ‘budget’ version of the plug-in. The Diamond Edition is even more impressive, with the range of articulations and mic options making the already spectacular collection of sounds even better.

Bottom-line

Like most EastWest plug-ins that come in Gold and Diamond Editions, there isn’t enough price difference between the two to warrant going for the cheaper version. With the added articulations and mic options offered by the Diamond Edition, we strongly recommend that you go for the higher-priced option.

Price and Demos @ Sweetwater

Vienna Symphonic Library Synchron-ized Woodwinds – Standard Library

Vienna Symphonic Library Synchron-ized Woodwinds

Synchron-ized Woodwinds offers all the fidelity of Vienna Symphonic Library’s VI Collections Woodwinds in a re-mastered and re-edited library. The realism and performance capabilities of the previous versions have been retained, with the added advantage of being optimized for the new Synchron Player. With this release, you get access to an exquisite sounding collection of production-ready ensembles and instruments that will fit perfectly with your most complex orchestrations.

Basic specs and useful features

VSL’s Woodwinds I & II serve as the basis for this new plug-in, which is more flexible and easier to use than ever before. The articulations have been reworked extensively, providing better interaction with the other instruments in the woodwind sections and the rest of the Synchron Series.

Full control is provided by the Synchron Player, which VSL’s proudly claims to be one of the most powerful sample playback engines available. Samples team seamlessly from disk, with a wealth of articulations and performance options available. With the Synchron Player, you can get amazingly expressive performances with a few simple controls.

User impressions

Users of Synchron-ized Woodwinds love how easy it is to come up with convincingly realistic parts. The Synchron Player allows for a full range of control over various aspects of the sound. Even so, most producers find that they only have to tweak a few controls to get their woodwind parts to ‘sing’.

Bottom-line

Many sample libraries and orchestral plug-ins claim to offer production-ready sounds out of the box, but Synchron-ized Woodwinds is one of the few that delivers convincingly. If you don’t want to spend a lot of time getting your woodwind parts just right, Synchron-ized Woodwinds is one plug-in you won’t want to miss.

Price and Demos @ Sweetwater

Spitfire Symphonic Woodwinds

Spitfire Symphonic Woodwinds

Spitfire Symphonic Woodwinds gives you all the power and authority of a world-class woodwind section in a convenient and easy-to-use package. This intriguing plug-in offers you the depth of expression and range of control that you would normally expect to find in much pricier plug-ins. The sound quality is impeccable as well, owing to the state-of-the-art recording process that has captured some of the most accomplished woodwind players in the U.K.

Basic specs and useful features

Like most of Spitfire’s offerings, Symphonic Woodwinds covers a comprehensive range of quality woodwind instruments. Better still, all of these can be made more expressive by a wide array of articulations. You also get three mic positions that enable you to set the sound stage just how you want it.

All the standard woodwind sounds are present in this collection, and you get a few more esoteric options besides. Along with alto and bass flutes, the selection also includes rich-sounding contrabass clarinets, which greatly expands the sonic range you can cover.

User impressions

Users of Spitfire Symphonic Woodwinds are generally impressed by the range and quality of sounds on offer, but the plug-in’s excellent interface also garnered some praise. Some users did find the sounds a bit too present and over-the-top. But for those who like their woodwinds big and bold, Spitfire Symphonic Woodwinds ticks all the boxes.

Bottom-line

Spitfire Symphonic Woodwinds is a huge collection in terms of sound and scope. The sounds lean more towards the massive and cinematic as opposed to subtle and intimate. But if that is what you are looking for in a woodwind library, look no further than Symphonic Woodwinds.

Price and Demos @ Spitfire Audio

Heavyocity VENTO: Modern Woodwinds

Heavyocity VENTO Modern Woodwinds

Heavyocity’s VENTO: Modern Woodwinds is not something that you would mistake for a traditional woodwind library. Like most of Heavyocity’s other products, this plug-in offers a fresh and original take on the typical woodwind selection. For the price, you get a rich array of sounds that are especially suited for modern cinematic scoring.

Basic specs and useful features

More than 160 organic articulations are included in the Modern Woodwinds package, along with 400 tempo-synced loops and a hundred hybrid snapshots. The articulations are perfect for adding a dose of realism to your sequenced tracks. But the loops and snapshots give you the ability to create sounds well beyond the scope of most woodwind libraries. With these tools, you can quickly go from uplifting, pastoral motifs to broodingly dark and evolving soundscapes that defy categorization.

Of course, Modern Woodwinds provides enough quality samples to let you come up with period-authentic woodwind parts if you wish. But if you are after rich and distinctive textures that blend in with more contemporary cinematic scores, Modern Woodwinds has the tools that allow you to get them quickly.

User impressions

Modern Woodwinds appeals to composers who prefer a more hybrid approach to film scoring. Although the plug-in can be used to create more traditional-sounding themes and motifs, the ability to crank out dark and menacing drones is a big selling point for this plug-in.

Bottom-line

If you already have a woodwind plug-in that covers the traditional end of the spectrum, Modern Woodwinds is an excellent alternative for darker, moodier tones. Definitely check this out if you are looking for woodwind-based sounds that depart from the ordinary.

Price and Demos @ Plugin Boutique

Brass

SONiVOX Orchestral Companion – Brass

SONiVOX Orchestral Companion - Brass

SONiVOX Orchestral Companion – Brass consists of 80 high-quality brass programs, each crafted for accuracy and authenticity. Like any respectable collection, you get full ensembles and smaller sections, along with a complete array of solo instruments. With all the sounds that come with SONiVOX Brass, you will be pretty much covered for all your brass orchestration requirements.

Basic specs and useful features

All the major elements of the typical orchestral brass section are present here, including trumpets, trombones, French horns, and tubas. The selection of articulations is quite comprehensive as well, with different types of tonguing, staccato and sustained notes, swells, mutes, and sforzando and marcato voicings.

Even more modulation and performance options are available via SONiVOX’s internal sound engine. Among the most useful of these are LFOs, dynamic envelopes, MIDI key switching, and a lush-sounding reverb.

User impressions

The authenticity and realism of the sounds are easily the high points of SONiVOX Brass, with most users praising their fidelity and consistently high quality. Many producers also appreciated how little post-processing was applied to the sounds, which gave them more leeway to shape the patches to their preferences.

Bottom-line

SONiVOX Orchestral Companion – Brass stands apart from many other brass libraries with its lifelike quality and attention to detail. There are other plug-ins with a wider range of sounds to be sure. But SONiVOX Brass does a great job of covering most bases and the quality of the sounds is undeniable.

Price and Demos @ Plugin Boutique

Vienna Symphonic Library SYNCHRON-ized SE Vol 6 – Dimension Brass

Vienna Symphonic Library SYNCHRON-ized SE Vol 6 Brass

Those familiar with VSL’s Dimension Brass I & II will recognize many of the instruments in Vienna Symphonic Library SYNCHRON-ized SE Vol 6 – Dimension Brass. This new collection contains five of the finest brass ensembles from the earlier series, so you have access to the same production-ready sounds right out of the box. As expected, you get a good selection of articulations, along with a few other goodies that will enable you to craft some truly impressive brass parts.

Basic specs and useful features

Volume 6 of Dimension Brass comes with a decent array of instruments including trumpets, French horns, trombones, and a nice selection of Wagner tubas. There is also a great sounding Low Brass ensemble that is perfect for cooking up dark and brooding drones.

Of course, the raw quality of the sounds is superb, which should come as no surprise for those familiar with VSL’s SYNCHRON-ized Dimension Brass I & II. This particular set contains the most important normal and muted articulations, which add life to even the most static and repetitive arrangements.

Like the best VSL plug-ins, Dimension Brass gives you direct access to each of the ensemble’s voices. You could switch between different sizes of ensembles, so you can tailor your brass sections to fit specific scenarios.

User impressions

For users of Dimension Brass, the option to specify the number of players in every ensemble is a welcome feature. Many also appreciate being able to automate the volume of each player within the Synchron Player, which allows for more precise control over the mix.

Bottom-line

SYNCHRON-ized SE Vol 6 gives you impressive-sounding brasses right out of the box without having to do a lot of tweaking. Even so, there are many options for customizing your sounds via the flexible and powerful Synchron Player.

Price and Demos @ Sweetwater

EastWest Hollywood Brass

EastWest Hollywood Brass

EastWest has become a standard of sorts for producers who need quality sounds quickly without a lot of tinkering. The company’s string and woodwind libraries are among the most popular in orchestral, pop, and rock circles, providing great value and excellent quality in an easy-to-use interface. With Hollywood Brass, EastWest shows that it is equally capable of delivering outstanding horn sounds. With this plug-in, composers and film scorers have an impressive selection of quality instruments and powerful tools at their disposal.

Basic specs and useful features

Like many of the company’s other plug-ins, Hollywood Brass comes in Gold and Diamond Editions. The Gold Edition comes with all the instruments in the Hollywood Brass series, recorded in 16-bit resolution from a mid mic position. The plug-in also includes all the available articulations, arrangements, and alternative-style performances. You even get the same convolution reverb used in Quantum Leap SPACES.

The Diamond Edition consists of 150GB of samples, covering ensembles of different sizes and configurations. Each can be milked for maximum expression with the bundled articulations, and five microphone positions are provided for custom sound staging.

User impressions

For most users, the highlight of Hollywood Brass is the depth and dimension of the sound. Many also make full use of the high-quality convolution reverb, which goes a long way in recreating realistic performance spaces.

Bottom-line

The sound quality is the main reason to go for the Hollywood Brass collection. Whether you choose the Gold or the Diamond Edition, you are assured of a great sounding and fully controllable collection of world-class brass instruments.

Price and Demos @ Sweetwater

Spitfire Symphonic Brass

Spitfire Symphonic Brass

Spitfire’s Symphonic Brass brings together the finest brass players in the U.K. and presents them to you in a stunningly recorded brass library. Featuring the same exquisite acoustics as Spitfire’s string and woodwind libraries, Symphonic Brass is an essential tool for creating magnificent brass orchestrations.

Basic specs and useful features

Almost every imaginable type of brass instrument is included in Symphonic Brass, from trumpets to tubas and trombones, with several useful variations of each. There are even more esoteric options such as cimbassis, contrabass trombones, and contrabass tubas, which opens up your range of sonic possibilities considerably.

Spitfire has also seen fit to include instrument groups for solos, chamber music, symphonies, and cinematic applications. Unlike other libraries that limit you to a single set of instrument groups, Symphonic Brass provides enough variations for more creative orchestration.

Like Spitfire’s other libraries, control over the instruments is provided by distinct panels. The overview and general control panels give you a wide range of control over mixing and performances. You also have an ostinatum panel that lets you set up ostinato pattern sequences just as you would with an arpeggiator.

User impressions

Users of Symphonic Brass find the range of sounds to be amazingly detailed and diverse, with most of the traditional brass instruments covered. Those in search of more unique sounds also appreciate having lesser-known variants of trombones and tubas on board.

Bottom-line

Spitfire Brass is a gorgeous sounding library that impresses with its power and range. With the comprehensive collection of sounds available plus the extensive control options, this could be the only brass library you will need for a while.

Price and Demos @ Spitfire

Heavyocity FORZO: Modern Brass

Heavyocity FORZO Modern Brass

As the name suggests, Heavyocity’s FORZO: Modern Brass is better suited for hybrid composers than traditional orchestrators. Although you can certainly use the plug-in for period-correct compositions, much of its content leans more toward the contemporary end of the sonic spectrum.

Basic specs and useful features

The FORZO: Modern Brass collection weighs in at a staggering 25GB. The plug-in consists of three sound engines: “Traditional”, “Hybrid”, and “Loops”.

“Traditional” is, of course, what you will use to come up with classic brass orchestrations, with 100 deep-sampled articulations provided.  The “Hybrid” engine is better suited for contemporary film scoring, with the power and punch that modern cinema projects require. The “Loops” engine gives you access to more than 400 rhythmic elements, each tempo-synced so you could easily drop them into your compositions.

The Modern Brass collection includes most standard brass instruments along with a few variations. Although a bit lacking in more exotic brass options, there is more than enough range here to cover a wide variety of orchestral applications.

User impressions

The sample content that comes with FORZO: Modern Brass is a big part of its appeal for many users. Experienced composers and orchestrators especially like having a range of complex articulations at their disposal. For more discriminating users, articulations such as cluster bends and random flutters make Modern Brass essential for expressive performances.

Bottom-line

Heavyocity’s FORZO: Modern Brass is ideally suited for modern hybrid compositions, where power and punch are valued above all else. If you like your brass sections big, bold, and authoritative, FORZO: Modern Brass is the library for you.

Price and Demos @ Plugin Boutique

Percussion

SONiVOX Big Bang Cinematic Percussion

SONiVOX Big Bang Cinematic Percussion

Most every orchestral project needs a well-spec’d percussion library to provide rhythmic accompaniment or massive impact. SONiVOX Big Bang Cinematic Percussion could well be the most capable tool for the job, with an impressive collection of drum and percussion sounds. Boasting of the same clarity and dynamism as other SONiVOX libraries, Big Bang Cinematic Percussion is a quick way to get powerful drums in your orchestral productions.

Basic specs and useful features

The core of any library is its sample content, and Big Bang Cinematic Percussion definitely delivers the goods. The plug-in contains a staggering array of quality drum and percussion sounds, each captured to perfection by SONiVOX’s team of ace sound designers. Each instrument offers multiple velocities and takes presented in round-robin format, which helps provide a much-needed dose of realism to your drum parts.

SONiVOX also includes a variety of tools that enable you to squeeze every last bit of expression from the drum programs. You get full control over aspects such as pitch, dynamics, and panning, and there is even a dedicated filter page with a good choice of excellent sounding filters.

User impressions

Picky producers like having such a wide range of sound design options with Big Bang Cinematic Percussion. The huge array of sounds also makes the library a popular choice among composers that need a full range of percussion options for action-packed scores.

Bottom-line

SONiVOX’s Big Bang Cinematic Percussion is big, brash, and bold–which is exactly what you want in a drum and percussion library. Although a bit lacking in more exotic percussion instruments, Big Bang Cinematic Percussion is a solid library that should cover the bulk of your percussive needs.

Price and Demos @ Plugin Boutique

Vienna Symphonic Library Synchron Orchestral Percussion I

Vienna Symphonic Library Synchron Orchestral Percussion I

Vienna Symphonic Library’s Orchestral Percussion I boasts of all the quality and expression as the other collections in the company’s hugely successful Synchron line. A carefully-curated set of percussive instruments, it includes thousands of samples covering a diverse range of sounds. Better suited for accents and orchestral punctuation than rhythmic accompaniment, Orchestral Percussion is nevertheless an essential addition to your growing library of samples.

Basic specs and useful features

Most of the content in Orchestral Percussion comes from VSL’s own Synchron Percussion I collection. For the price, you get wood blocks, castanets, triangles, and a couple of shakers. Performances were captured in different speeds and meters, with a wide variety of articulations thrown in for good measure. With all these options, Orchestral Percussion I allows you to create some very convincing percussion parts.

User impressions

For most composers, the best aspect of Orchestral Percussion I is the noticeably high quality of the samples. The natural reverberation baked into many of the patches was also surprisingly useful, allowing composers to lay down parts quickly without spending too much time on post-processing.

Bottom-line

Orchestral Percussion I is a decent set of percussion elements that you will find useful for most productions. If you don’t need a lot of exotic instruments, Orchestral Percussion will do nicely as your main percussion library.

Price and Demos @ Sweetwater

EastWest Hollywood Orchestral Percussion

EastWest Hollywood Orchestral Percussion

EastWest’s Hollywood Orchestral Percussion – Diamond Edition is just the thing to add punch to your biggest and most bodacious film scoring projects. An extremely detailed and comprehensive percussion library, the Diamond Edition provides a wide range of percussive elements, all delivered with EastWest’s trademark quality and attention to detail.

Basic specs and useful features

Hollywood Orchestral Percussion comes with almost every percussion instrument you could think of, along with a few others that you may not have heard of yet. Timpani, bass drums, cymbals, chimes…they’re all here in exquisite clarity and detail. You even get a handful of vintage field drums that add some much-needed character to historically-accurate orchestrations.

Experienced composers know enough to avoid repetitive drum and percussion parts like the plague. Hollywood Orchestral Percussion your rhythms sound natural with innovative sampling techniques and performance features such as eight-way round robin playback. These features result in drum performances that sound as if an actual percussion section dropped in for a recording session in your studio.

User impressions

The comprehensive range of samples available with Hollywood Orchestral Percussion is what most producers enjoy the most. The topnotch sampling and performance options also garnered praise, with most users appreciating the sheer realism made possible by the unique repetition sampling and round-robin techniques.

Bottom-line

EastWest’s Hollywood Orchestral Percussion – Diamond Edition could be the only percussion library you will ever need. Covering everything from standard orchestral instruments to characterful field drums, this library should find its way into most of your projects.

Price and Demos @ Sweetwater

Heavyocity Master Sessions: Ensemble Drums Collection

Heavyocity Master Sessions Ensemble Drums Collection

Heavyocity’s Master Sessions: Ensemble Drums Collection is a veritable grab-bag of high-quality drum and percussion instruments and loops. Versatile and expressive, these instruments already sound pretty good right out of the box. Even so, Heavyocity provides a wide range of options for tweaking and processing the sounds to perfection, so you could easily come up with your own custom kits and percussion parts.

Basic specs and useful features

Ensemble Drums is perfectly suited for film scoring applications, although you could just as easily use it in any modern studio production. The collection comes with no less than seven multi-sampled drum ensembles, along with more than 300 tempo-synced loops. Each ensemble could contain up to ten individual drums, spanning the range from concert and standard bass drums and field snares to floor and roto toms. You even get a nice selection of taikos and big containers–perfect for accentuating those action sequences.

Also worth mentioning is the collection of loops, which comes in straight and triplet flavors. Heavyocity has seen fit to include a Loop Mutator, so you aren’t locked into the loops’ original grooves.

User impressions

The seven ensembles that come with Ensemble Drums give users a wide scope for creative orchestration. The tempo-synced loops are also surprisingly useful, with many composers using the Loop Mutator to slice and dice them to craft unique rhythms.

Bottom-line

Heavyocity Master Sessions: Ensemble Drums Collection is a fairly comprehensive percussion library with a modern, aggressive edge. If you like your orchestral drum parts big and punchy, this collection should give you the flavors you need.

Price and Demos @ Sweetwater

Keys

SONiVOX Harpsichord

SONiVOX Harpsichord

Few orchestral instruments evoke the feel and character of the Baroque and early Classical periods like the harpsichord. And few plug-ins come close to providing you the distinctive tones of a well-recorded harpsichord than SONiVOX Harpsichord. A carefully designed instrument that reproduces the characteristic tonal and performance qualities of a harpsichord, this could be just what you need for your next Handel-inspired composition.

Basic specs and useful features

A lot of care and attention clearly went into the creation of Harpsichord, resulting in a remarkably realistic approximation of the instrument. You even get that woody ‘thunk’ when you release a key! Small details like these really add to the authenticity and expression of the instrument, making it an absolute joy to play.

SONiVOX Harpsichord utilizes Tascam’s GVI sample playback engine, giving you a flexible interface for controlling the sounds. The plug-in is designed for simplicity and ease of use, with a playback engine that lets compose and arrange realistic harpsichord parts without having to do a lot of tweaking.

User impressions

The simplicity and ease of use have undoubtedly won SONiVOX Harpsichord some fans. But the realism of the sounds is what sealed the deal for many. The plug-in has even been used on some high-profile projects (we’re talking Disney-level), blending in well with acoustic instruments.

Bottom-line

SONiVOX Harpsichord provides an excellent set of high-quality harpsichord instruments with unbeatable realism. If you need your harpsichord parts to sound as close as possible to the real thing, this is the plug-in for you.

Price and Demos @ Plugin Boutique

SONiVOX Eighty Eight Ensemble

SONiVOX Eighty Eight Ensemble

Eighty Eight Ensemble is a gorgeous-sounding instrument that is the flagship of SONiVOX’s piano line. Breathtaking in its quality and depth of expression, it brings all the majesty and grandeur of a Steinway grand piano to your studio. A world-class instrument in more ways than one, Eighty Eight Ensemble is ideally suited for musicians and composers of all styles.

Basic specs and useful features

Eighty Eight Ensemble is a meticulously-crafted instrument, with sounds sampled from a magnificent Steinway CD 327 grand piano. The 9-foot beast represents the pinnacle of piano perfection in many classical music circles, so you can be sure of getting the finest piano sounds possible. And with 16 dynamic levels for every key, Eighty Eight Ensemble gives you a depth of expression that is the next best thing to playing a quality grand piano.

Eighty Eight Ensemble gives you more than just piano sounds. You also get combination patches that layer string or synth pads to the piano sounds or split the keyboard between two or three instruments. These options give you a greater tonal range than you would get from a typical piano library.

User impressions

Many producers find the split and layering options useful for quick orchestrations, but the sheer sound quality of the piano sounds is what wins most users over. Composers who need a big, bold, and dynamic piano are especially impressed with Eighty Eight Ensemble’s base character.

Bottom-line

Eighty Eight Ensemble is a truly magnificent sampled instrument in every way. The combination patches expand the instrument’s range considerably, making it a useful tool for orchestral mockups. Even without the combination patches, the sheer quality of the piano sounds makes Eighty Eight Ensemble worth picking up.

Price and Demos @ Plugin Boutique

Vienna Symphonic Library Harpsichord – Standard Library

Vienna Symphonic Library Harpsichord - Standard Library

Vienna Symphonic Library’s reputation for high-quality sound libraries is well known. With Harpsichord – Standard Library, VSL shows that it is equally capable of producing expressive and fully nuanced harpsichord sounds. Whether you are composing a Baroque or Renaissance piece, you will find this library an essential add-on to your sound palette.

Basic specs and useful features

Like all of VSL’s libraries, Harpsichord boasts of a meticulously sampled collection of sounds captured from high-quality instruments. Recorded in VSL’s own Silent Stage, these patches are dripping with the rich overtones and unique sonorities that characterize a two-manual harpsichord. Several single-note and repetition performances are included: an 8’ solo and an 8’ double performance, along with a tutti performance that combines a single 4’ and two 8’ registers. These options give you a good range of sonic material to craft your own realistic harpsichord parts.

User impressions

The sheer playability of Harpsichord makes it a good choice for composers and producers that need authentic sampled harpsichords for their Baroque and Renaissance compositions. Many producers especially like having a good selection of single notes and repetitions available.

Bottom-line

Vienna Symphonic Library Harpsichord – Standard Library offers a superb harpsichord set that stands out for its quality and authenticity. Most composers rarely have a need for such a comprehensive harpsichord plug-in. But if you do, VSL’s Harpsichord has you covered.

Price and Demos @ Sweetwater

Vienna Symphonic Library Synchron Concert D-274 – Standard Library

Vienna Symphonic Library Synchron Concert D-274

Vienna Symphonic Library’s take on a concert grand piano is unsurprisingly impressive. Capturing a state-of-the-art Steinway D-274 in all its glory, the Synchron Concert D-274 – Standard Library is everything you have ever wanted in a sampled piano library. Offering a carefully-curated selection of sounds and performances from the industry standard in concert grands, Concert D-274 will satisfy even the most discriminating producers.

Basic specs and useful features

Creating Synchron Concert D-274 was a pretty impressive undertaking, with more than 20,000 samples captured per microphone. Each key has as many as 4,000 samples, so you could just imagine how detailed and nuanced the sound of this library is.

To perfectly capture the grandiosity of the Steinway D-274, VSL’s recording engineers set up several microphone arrays in a great-sounding acoustic environment. The result is a breathtaking collection of sounds that are unrivaled in their depth and realism.

User impressions

As expected, Synchron Concert D-274 won many users over with the sheer quality of its sounds. The sonic character of the instrument is particularly impressive when combined with full orchestras, with most producers having no trouble getting their piano parts to stand out in the mix.

Bottom-line

Synchron Concert D-274 is every bit as powerful and authoritative as you could want. It is gorgeous enough to stand on its own but also big and bold enough to stand out in a dense mix. Even if you already have a piano library that you like using in your orchestral projects, the Synchron Concert D-274 might just be a worthy alternative.

Price and Demos @ Sweetwater

Choir/Voice

EastWest Hollywood Choirs

EastWest Hollywood Choirs

EastWest’s Hollywood Choirs offers producers a wide array of cinematic vocals perfectly suited for orchestral and choral arrangements. Powerful, dynamic, and realistic, these vocals unlock a wealth of creative possibilities for adventurous composers and film scorers.

Basic specs and useful features

Hollywood Choirs comes in Gold and Diamond Editions, each with plenty of high-quality vocal bits and phrases. The Gold Edition consists of 8GB of 16-bit, 44.1 kHz samples, while the Diamond Edition contains 59GB of 24-bit, 44.1 kHz samples.

With the Gold Edition, you get female alto and soprano voices and male bass and tenor voices routed through a stereo mic array. The Diamond Edition gives you the same voice options, with a more sonically-impressive and flexible 13-mic setup.

Both editions include the WordBuilder plug-in that lets you create vocal parts by typing in words in any language. If you haven’t used this feature before, you will be pleasantly surprised at how realistic and expressive your choir arrangements can get. Hollywood Choirs also comes with a good selection of common Latin phrases that you can use in your productions immediately.

User impressions

Composers and film scorers are absolutely blown away by the convincing performances made possible by the WordBuilder plug-in. Those working on a deadline also like having a fairly sizable range of Latin phrases on board.

Bottom-line

Hollywood Choirs is a quick way to get realistic and expressive choir parts. Although the Gold Edition should be sufficient for mockups and simple projects, we recommend going for the Diamond Edition for more sample content.

Price and Demos @ Sweetwater

EastWest Quantum Leap Symphonic Choirs

EastWest Quantum Leap Symphonic Choirs

EastWest Quantum Leap Symphonic Choirs – Gold Edition is a superb selection of choir instruments that enable you to craft impressive vocal arrangements quickly. Powered by EastWest’s innovation Play engine, Symphonic Choirs comes with no less than five choirs plus solo voices. This gives you a good range of material to fill out your own compositions.

Basic specs and useful features

Like all EastWest vocal libraries, Symphonic Choirs has a wide range of perfectly recorded sampled instruments, any of which you can use in your productions quickly. The five choirs and solo voices cover alto, soprano, bass, and tenor ranges, so you practically have an entire choir right at your fingertips.

But Symphonic Choirs is more than just a collection of cool samples. It also comes with a WordBuilder tool that lets you compose custom vocal phrases, so you aren’t limited to canned phrases. You even get a selection of common Latin phrases that you can incorporate into your compositions without having to spend a lot of time crafting vocal parts.

User impressions

Producers and composers that have previously had to make do with canned phrases love being able to craft custom vocal lines with the WordBuilder plug-in. Although there is a learning curve involved in getting convincing results, most users get the hang of it after a while.

Bottom-line

EastWest Quantum Leap Symphonic Choirs is a great sounding collection of vocals that is made even better by the option to create custom phrases. It will take a bit of tweaking to get realistic vocal parts, but the time and effort you put in will definitely pay off.

Price and Demos @ Sweetwater

Vir2 Aeris Hybrid Choir Designer

Vir2 Aeris Hybrid Choir Designer

Lush, dynamic vocals dripping with emotion–that’s what Vir2 Aeris Hybrid Choir Designer provides. Load up an instance in your DAW, and you will appreciate how much weight and emotional impact it will add to your productions. Consisting of male and female choirs, it offers a range of vowel sounds mapped across the keyboard. This setup lets you compose complex harmony parts or brooding solo lines intuitively, even if you’ve never arranged a choir before.

Basic specs and useful features

Hybrid Choir Designer includes four vowel samples, sung individually by male and female vocalists. Performances were captured at piano and mezzo forte levels, with and without vibrato. When arranging your parts, you can add as much–or as little–vibrato as you like via the modulation wheel on your keyboard.

You can add even more expression to your vocal parts via the “Movement” tab, which lets you control the plug-in’s more advanced features. Here you have access to four LFOs and two sequencers, along with volume, pan, pitch, and filter controls.

User impressions

Hybrid Choir Designer especially appeals to film scorers and pop music producers. Many users were pleasantly surprised to find out how easy it is to come up with realistic choir arrangements with a few simple tools. The availability of bass, tenor, alto, and soprano voices also makes this plug-in a popular choice for producers that need full vocal arrangements on a budget.

Bottom-line

Vir2 Instruments Aeris Hybrid Choir Designer is a surprisingly deep plug-in with a deceptively simple interface. Ideally suited for crafting emotional choir parts, it should find plenty of use in your pop productions and film scoring projects.

Price and Demos @ Plugin Boutique

Cinesamples VOXOS: Epic Virtual Choirs

Cinesamples VOXOS Epic Virtual Choirs

At the core of Cinesamples’ VOXOS: Epic Virtual Choirs is a stunning collection of vocals performed by some of the most accomplished choirs and soloists in the world. The performances were recorded in stunning 24-bit, 48 kHz quality, in 5.1 surround sound. Multiple mics were used in the recording process, which took place in the superb acoustic environment of Bastyr Chapel. The result is 35,000 magnificent samples in a whopping 35GB collection.

Basic specs and useful features

Unsurprisingly, Epic Virtual Choirs sounds amazing right out of the box. You only have to call up an instance in your DAW, start playing, and you will be immediately awash in gorgeous choirs and solos voices of outstanding quality.

Of course, Cinesamples provides a variety of tools to help make your vocal arrangements even more impressive. The Phrase Builder is your ticket to unique custom vocal performances, while the Legato Sections enable you to craft soaring and swirling choir parts. The plug-in also has a good selection of Choir FX that you can use for subtle sweetening or more aggressive tonal coloration.

User impressions

Most users are immediately blown away by Epic Virtual Choirs, which has a bold and dynamic quality perfectly suited for action film scores. Offering a quick way to craft majestic choirs and solo vocals, the plug-in attracts producers and composers that need the highest quality choir sounds.

Bottom-line

Epic Virtual Choirs is possibly the next best thing to having a full choir in your studio. The depth and range of vocal performances possible make this a great choice for dramatic film scores as well as epic symphonic metal compositions.

Price and Demos @ Sweetwater

Vienna Symphonic Library Vienna Choir – Standard Library

Vienna Symphonic Library Vienna Choir - Standard Library

Don’t let the “standard” in the name fool you. Vienna Choir – Standard Library is every bit a world-class choir library, with the quality that you would expect from VSL. Rich, detailed, and expansive, this collection of meticulously sampled instruments will breathe life into any orchestral composition, film score, or pop music production.

Basic specs and useful features

Vienna Choir brings together performances from some of the most accomplished choirs in Austria. The sample set includes soprano, alto, tenor, and bass ensembles, giving you all the elements you need to put together full choral arrangements.

Par for the course with VSL, multiple articulations are included. You get everything from staccato and legato performances to sforzatos, crescendos, diminuendos, and more. There are even trills in semitone and whole-tone flavors, giving you a wealth of expressive possibilities. With so many articulations and performance options available, Vienna Choir is almost as expressive as an actual human choir.

User impressions

For users of Vienna Choir, the sheer range of voices available is a big part of the plug-in’s appeal. Equally at home in bigger-than-life pop ballads and epic orchestral compositions, Vienna Choir serves as the sole choir library in most users’ collections.

Bottom-line

Vienna Choir includes such a wealth of voices and articulations that you would be hard-pressed to find something that it doesn’t include. No matter what type of voice range or articulation you are looking for, this plug-in ticks all the boxes.

Price and Demos @ Sweetwater

Heavyocity Vocalise

Heavyocity Vocalise

Heavyocity’s Vocalise isn’t quite as expansive as some of the other vocal libraries on the market, but it certainly isn’t lacking in terms of range and quality. Weighing in at about 3GB, you might think that the collection leaves out quite a few essentials. But surprisingly, Vocalise covers most bases, giving you a comprehensive–if relatively modest–range of vocal pads and phrases.

Basic specs and useful features

In addition to the gorgeous-sounding pads and phrases, Vocalise also includes a good selection of tempo-sync’d loops and rhythms. With more than 700 samples onboard, you have sufficient material to compose deep, expressive pads and even edgy stutters and rhythmic effects. More than just a collection of standard choir voicings, Vocalise provides a wide array of cutting-edge tools that will liven up any modern production.

User impressions

Vocalise is a popular choice among hybrid orchestral composers who need choir sounds that range from the traditional to the cutting-edge. Although some did wish for a more expansive pool of sounds, most producers and composers had no trouble finessing the content to fit into a wide variety of musical applications.

Bottom-line

If you are expecting Heavyocity Vocalise to carry the bulk of your choir performances, the plug-in will likely fall a bit short of your expectations. Compared to the humongous choir libraries that dominate the market, Vocalise’s 3GB seems a bit sparse. Even so, the somewhat modest collection of samples cover a surprisingly wide sonic ground, and the tempo-sync’d loops are quite useful for more modern rhythmic parts.

Price and Demos @ Sweetwater

Orchestral Plugins Buying Guide

As you may know, orchestras are musical ensembles that have a variety of string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments, all of which are organized into distinct sections.

Depending on its size, an orchestra would normally have string sections comprising violins, violas, cellos, and bass violins, brass sections with trumpets, flugelhorns, trombones, and tubas, and woodwind sections with flutes, piccolos, clarinets, and bassoons. There may also be a full drum and percussion section, as well as any number of solo and ensemble instruments.

Full Orchestra VS Sections

The step to figuring out which of these products to get is to know whether you need a full orchestra,  orchestra section, or both.

Well, as the name suggests, full orchestra plug-ins (should) cover every part of a standard orchestra. With most of these kinds of plug-ins, the instruments are presented in sections such as “strings”, “brass”, and “woodwinds” rather than individually.

You’d probably find strings may be divided into “low” (cellos and basses) and “high” (violins and violas) sections. Similarly, brass sections may be split into “low” (tubas and trombones) and “high” (horns and trumpets) sections. The most comprehensive plug-ins and libraries also include drum and percussion sections, choirs, harps, and full string ensembles.

Why you’d need a full orchestra plugin…

Many full orchestra plug-ins allow you to put together the ‘bones’ of an orchestral piece very quickly, making them indispensable for composition. They are also commonly used to create quick sketches and mockups, with some of the instrumentation augmented or replaced later in the production process. But they are pretty much essential when crafting orchestrations that require the full gamut of a symphonic piece.

Why you’d need orchestra sections…

Plug-ins that focus on specific orchestral sections like strings or brass generally have less instrumental variety than full orchestra plug-ins….

However, the sounds are usually of noticeably higher quality. Many professional composers and producers create their mockups with full orchestra plug-ins, replacing some or all the parts with the higher quality sounds in section-focused plug-ins.

In addition, orchestra section plug-ins usually break up the individual sections into more specific parts, as mentioned above.

A dedicated string section plug-in may have first and second violin sections, for example, which you can control individually.  Section orchestra plug-ins also usually come with more extensive articulations, which greatly adds to the realism of the sounds you can produce.

Plugin vs Library

As you go through the guide, and click on some of the links, you may notice something – which should also factor into your buying decision.

Some of these products run as stand-alone plugins. Whereas others are libraries that require a sample player, such as Native Instruments’ Kontakt Player (free) to be installed in your DAW.

I terms of functionality, orchestra plugins and orchestral libraries are pretty similar, and they share many of the same features and functions, and perform the same tasks.

However, orchestra plug-ins typically have fixed architectures, with articulations and sound-shaping features pre-defined by the developer. They also are updated the least often.

In contrast, orchestral libraries usually provide more flexibility in the signal path and sound design capabilities, which are often dependent on the host plug-in. Libraries developed for Kontakt, in particular, provide many opportunities for detailed sculpting by way of scripting and the plug-in’s more flexible architecture.

So, in simpler terms, if you would rather make your own customizations, get the Kontakt Player linked above, and get yourself one of the libraries mentioned.

Otherwise, if you prefer something that is well packaged and gets the job done, get the orchestral plugins mentioned.

System Requirements

This, obviously, cannot be ignored.

In terms of system requirements, orchestra plug-ins and orchestral libraries can be equally demanding on disk space and RAM. Libraries are samples of live recordings, providing you the best recording you can get.

We recommend you use an external hard drive or solid-state drive to save you libraries. For more about these options check out our guided at the link.

 

2 Comments on “40 Best Orchestral VST Plugins & Sample Libraries for 2020”

  1. Thank you for this comprehensive list of sample libraries.

    I have one disagreement. I have used Garritan GPO5 for several years, and it is far inferior to Note Performer 3, which is not even on your list.

    I urge you to include Arnie Wallander’s NP3 in the future. It may not match the quality of VSL, but it is damn good, at only $129 USD it is an incredible bargain. And it beats GPO5 by a mile.

  2. Hi Jerry,

    Thank you for your feedback and suggestion. Will definitely take into consideration Note Performer 3 for this list. There were many more plugins than these 40 that I had to sort through, but will try it out and see.

    I appreciate the comment, all the best!

    Cheers

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