Whether you are a classical musician or a modern songwriter, strings can be the very life of your music.
In a nutshell, here are the best orchestral strings plugins to get in 2023:
Strings are one of the most important sets of instruments in classical music, and they can provide an extensive range of mood and emotion to modern music.
While solo strings are beautiful, ensemble strings excel at creating rich and colorful textures in which other instruments can thrive.
We will go from rich, orchestral libraries to budget all-rounders and modern contenders laser-focused on music production. And at the end of the list, you’ll find four free strings plugins that sound very usable and possibly all you need for commercial music.
Note: The strings plugins we have enlisted have their own dedicated plugins, which can be both good and bad. Often, they provide better stability and easier workflow, but you miss out on some functionalities that samplers like Kontakt 6, Halion 6, or UVI Falcon 2 provide. Hence, we will be writing another list review focusing on Kontakt libraries.
Now, let’s dive right in!
The 6 Best Strings Plugins 2023
1. VSL – Synchron Strings Pro
Vienna Symphonic Library is responsible for some of the best sampled orchestral instruments, and Synchron is certainly one of them.
Synchron Strings Pro is a string library recorded in Synchron Stage, Vienna, and it features a massive arsenal of articulations with unparalleled sampling and programming. The result is a highly natural-sounding string library, capable of simple pad-like long notes or energetic runs alike.
I must note that due to the sheer size of the library (over 122 GB for the smaller version), it might be overkill if you are looking for a backing section for pop music or so.
However, if you enjoy composing classical music, Synchron Strings Pro stands as one of the best strings plugins that money can buy.
- Natural Articulations
The instrument features an extensive collection of articulations and expressions, including standard ones like legato, staccato, spiccato, tremolo, etc., and special ones like harmonics, col legno, flautando, and legato agile, which is ideal for fast, bouncing runs. Similarly, each articulation has multiple types, expressions, and release options. So, for example, you could have a legato with vibrato played in pianissimo with a soft release.
- Multiple Mic Positions
The Synchron Strings Pro was recorded using 8 microphones. And the library has a Standard and a Full version, where the latter has all the 8 microphones available for adjustments. The standard version has a close mic, mid mic (front row), room mic (L/R), and room mic (center).
Let’s continue from the previous feature. The Full version employs four more mics, including a back mic (second row), main surround mic, high stereo mic, and a high surround mic. They are primarily for creating immersive surround sound, including 2.0.2 (stereo with height audio) and 5.1.4 (Aura 3D or Dolby Atmos setup).
The library features many presets that include per-ensemble preset, mapped tutti, and octave combinations employing two ensembles for a fast workflow. Most presets feature multiple articulations that you can switch on the fly and polyphonic legato.
This library is available for Windows 8.1 or higher and macOS 10.10.5 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
Synchron Strings Pro is an inspiring wealth of sound with natural note transitions and expression. It does require a moderately powerful computer to perform smoothly, but it’s to be expected for instruments of this detail. I would highly recommend it if you work on classical music.
The only downside is that you will require an eLicenser USB protection device, even for the demo. You can purchase one from Vienna or use an existing eLicenser key, such as from Steinberg or Arturia. Finally, the installation process can be tedious for someone, but it’s worth it in the end.
2. Spitfire Audio – Abbey Road: Iconic Strings 2
Discover the sound of strings at a legendary studio with this detailed sample library by Spitfire Audio.
Abbey Road has represented the epitome of fame a music studio could have throughout modern music history. And since its opening back in 1932, the Abbey Road Studio Two has remained the most renowned studio space ever, thanks to notable recordings by The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Oasis, Adele, Ed Sheeran, etc.
Spitfire Audio’s Iconic Strings 2 virtual instrument allows you to bring the same acoustic space to your music studio with in-depth sample recordings. There are two editions of his sample library: Core and Professional. The Core is the smaller library with only 46 GB of sample content, whereas the Professional sizes at a whopping 292 GB.
I’ll be describing the Professional edition for this review. However, I’d recommend you check out the Core edition if budget and disk space are issues.
- The Instruments
The plugin features five of London’s top string players playing the following instruments: violin 1, violin 2, viola, cello, and contrabass. Each includes many articulations, playing styles, multiple dynamic layers, round robins, etc., that help create authentic string parts. These include everything from traditional legato, pizzicato, spiccato, spiccatissimo, staccato, etc., to sul pont, sul tasto, flautendo, brushed, etc. In total, there are 112 articulations.
Similarly, each solo instrument features three legato modes: performance legato, slurred legato, and portamento legato. The performance legato mode includes slurred, alternating attacks and fast runs, allowing you to play a variety of styles without switching articulations.
- Technique Triggers
Iconic Strings offers five ways to trigger articulations or techniques. These include key switches, CC, velocity, MIDI channel, and playing speed. Key switches allow you to change the articulation by pressing a configurable note on your keyboard, usually on your keyboard’s lowest and highest octaves. You can easily adjust a key switch by dragging it across the virtual keyboard. Similarly, CC mode lets you assign a CC number (like modulation wheel’s CC1) and choose a range or a specific value to trigger a technique.
Furthermore, the velocity mode allows you to trigger articulations based on how hard you play. Likewise, the MIDI channel mode is excellent for making rapid switches without writing key switches or CC data. And finally, speed mode lets you specify the time interval between notes to switch to a specific articulation. It’s useful when you want faster notes to be spiccato, whereas the slower ones play legato.
Iconic Strings comes with various options and features that may help you get the most out of your performance. First, Neighbor Zone RR doubles the round-robin count using transposed adjacent samples. Similarly, Layer x2 modes play two round-robin samples together to thicken the sound. And Layer +2 or -2 layers the round-robin notes two semitones above or below the note you’re playing.
Similarly, the plugin provides six bowing patterns for all spiccatissimo, spiccato, and staccato articulations. These patterns change how the players bow the instrument. These are the bowing patterns available, where D means downbow and U means upbow: Dx1 Ux1, Dx2 Ux2, Dx4 Ux4, Ux1 Dx1, Ux2 Dx2, and Ux4 Dx4.
Furthermore, the main interface allows you to control the Tightness (sample start offset), legato speed, etc. Additionally, long techniques (like legato) will enable you to adjust the string release sound and feature three layers of vibrato.
The Arranger section is only available for ensemble patches, which spread all five of the instruments in the plugin across your keyboard. You can change the playable range of each instrument and allow polyphony per instrument or stick to monophony. You can also overlap two or more instruments.
There are eight microphone positions in Iconic Strings. These include the Decca Tree-inspired LCR 1 with three Neumann M50s and LCR 2 with three REDD 47 mics. Similarly, the Close Condenser configuration uses a condenser mic on each instrument: Neumann KM86 for violins, KM140 for the viola, and UT FET47 on the cello and bass. Further, the Close Ribbon uses Coles 4038 mics on each instrument, whereas Close Vintage uses Neumann KM54 on the violins & viola and U47 on cello & bass. There are two Stereo positions and an Ambient configuration with two omnidirectional mics.
In addition, there are four mic mixes. These include Mix 1 (close condensers + LCR 1), Mix 2 (close ribbons, LCR 2, Stereo Mid, and Ambient), Vintage Mix 1, and Vintage Mix 2. The Vintage Mix 1 features the classic REDD desk passed through a J37 tape machine. And the Vintage Mix 2 adds automatic double-tracking.
The Iconic Strings plugin has the acoustic space of Abbey Road Studio Two. So, you’ll find a small amount of built-in reverb, although it’s rather raw, dry, and up close. However, it also features a Reverb knob that lets you add additional reverb to your sound. Furthermore, you’ll find a Compress knob that adds a fixed 2:1 compression.
Iconic Strings is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.10 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
Iconic Strings is an excellent solo strings instrument plugin that sounds high quality and natural. Add a little reverb, and it’s the perfect companion to the Abbey Road One cinematic instrument plugin. Of course, it’s ideal for adding backing strings on pop or rock songs.
The various mic positions and mixes effortlessly help you emulate vintage vibes and contemporary styles.
Furthermore, the plugin has a clean and intuitive user interface, which gets you started without referring to a manual. So, it’s excellent for intermediate and advanced users.
3. SWAM Solo Strings Bundle V3
Stefano Lucato and the rest of the Audio Modeling team created the SWAM Solo Strings library to serve as a resource for musicians who perform on solo string instruments.
These tools don’t require samples because they’re built on Physical Modeling technology. You can use a bow or finger pizzicato to simulate playing any SWAM Solo Strings product. Finally, several extra parameters to govern the instrument behavior are available and are not found in the normal SWAM controls.
- Four Instruments
SWAM Solo Strings Bundle includes Violin, Viola, Cello and Double Bass.
- Controller Mapping
You can map an external MIDI controller to the instrument’s controls in the corresponding section. In this perspective or setting, the parameters set for a controller are shown in purple, surrounded by dashed lines, whereas the parameters that have not been set for a controller are shown in green.
You can use none of the unselected parameters in the mapping. In this setting, you’ll have access to the whole UI and can pick and change any mapping parameter you like.
There is also a weedy col legno option for the solo strings that lacks real force, in addition to the more powerful straight arco bowing and the modest-sounding pizzicato. There is also a sordino button, which darkens and softens the sound, as well as good harmonics and variable tremolo speed.
These instruments, like the SWAM woodwinds, are mostly monophonic, but they also feature a polyphonic mode with a wonderful ‘hold’ option for playing double-stopped country licks. There is a universe of complex, key-switchable playing options beyond these basic ones, showcasing the obsessive attention to detail that proves no element was overlooked in the pursuit of authenticity.
Their method of microtuning allows for a great deal of customization, with scales that the player creates, and the degree of detuning (in the range of +100/-100 cents) controlled individually for each note via a set of sliders. Presets for the instrument can be saved along with these adjustments. You can detune notes on demand by clicking or switching between them using the mouse or keyboard.
This is the quickest approach, but it’s only useful for static configurations that won’t change frequently. You can detune a note by clicking on the microtuning bar on the instrument’s primary user interface. If you click this, You will detune the selected note according to the microtuning settings you made in the Options menu.
The library is available for Kontakt 5.7 or higher (NOT the free Kontakt Player). Kontakt 5.7 is available for Windows 7 or higher 32-bit and 64-bit and macOS 10.10 or higher 64-bit. It comes in VST 2, AU, and AAX formats.
Due to the extensive customization options, the SWAM solo strings bundle may require some practice to master. However, once you’ve gotten the hang of playing these instruments, you’ll be able to create and execute string parts in your music.
4. Arturia Augmented STRINGS
More Info & Price (Trial Available)
Experience acoustic string sets in a refreshed way like you’ve never heard before.
Similarly to the aforementioned Augmented Voices, Arturia brings a refreshed and modern approach to string sets with Augmented Strings. The perfect blending between the samples of string sets with bold synthesized sounds is the recipe for inspiring new sound layers and eccentric ambient sounds with extremely intuitive controls.
- Morph control
The big knob in the center is the soul behind this plugin’s functions. By tweaking it around, you can blend synthesized layers “A” and “B,” with further addition of setting the nearby parameters to better adjust this union. You can alter both layers or one of the two at a time if desired.
- Fresh design
The Augmented plugin series shares a common trait: all effects bear a very fresh-looking user interface. Most people are not familiar with this particular effect, so Arturia thought of displaying every parameter and preset selection in the most fluid, intuitive way possible. It won’t be hard to get big sounds from this collection.
Containing a big collection of factory presets, Augmented Strings is fully packed with inspiring configurations for the most diverse situations. You can choose between types like “Bowed Strings,” “String Ensembles,” and “Arpeggio,” for instance, from multiple sound designers and even by the best-suited music style to fit your track.
- Color knob
One of the many macro effects included the “Color” knob is ideal for adding some color to your frequency spectrum. You can easily enhance certain harmonics to your signal, affecting the sound engine behind both layers “A” and “B” simultaneously, with up to six destinations for your sound’s texture.
Going further in the “Advanced Panel,” you’ll see that Augmented Strings has some cool features that are worthy of a good synthesizer unit. The “Arpeggiator” section includes a sequencer that deals with up to 16 steps for creating the best rhythmic pattern for your song.
- Morph control
This plugin is available for macOS 10.13 or higher (64-bit only) and Windows 8.1 or higher (64-bit only). It runs in standalone mode and VST, NKS, AAX, and AU plugin formats.
Arturia plugins always seem too good to be true. Augmented Strings follow this example by uniting two very different instruments – string sets and a synthesizer – into one beautiful, revamped effect.
Sound designers will be delighted with every plugin from this series, mainly to the infinite capabilities of creating new textures and soundscapes, and to have this going on with real string ensemble samples is marvelous.
5. Orchestral Tools – Berlin Symphonic Strings
Find realism and soaring expression with the Berlin Symphonic Strings.
The library features 68 string players recorded in the Teldex Scoring Stage, employing multiple microphone positions in a traditional seating arrangement. What I like about the Berlin Symphonic series is how cohesive it sounds when used with the rest of their products.
The library boasts well-programmed legato modes, multiple dynamic ranges, and articulations. Furthermore, you can turn off the unwanted dynamic ranges for any articulation in the proprietary SINE Player plugin, which helps you save RAM.
- Legato Modes
The library features three kinds of legato: melodic, pattern, and rapid. Melodic legato lets you play graceful melodies with transitions between notes and vibrato, pattern legato allows you to play ostinato parts with three round-robin samples, and rapid legato is for string runs. And best of all, you can combine any legato type with any sound patch.
- Dynamic Ranges
Almost every articulation features four dynamic layers: pp, mp, f, ff. However, the trills, pizzicato, and bass tremolos only feature pp, mf, and ff dynamics. You can cross-fade between the layers using expression to create smooth changes.
- Seven Positions
The library features seven microphone positions for each instrument section, and you can control the level of each one for mixing. The positions include Spot 1, Spot 2, Decca Tree, A-B, Leader, Outrigger, and Surround. The two Spot mic positions are almost alternatives for each other as the main mic, the Leader is a single spot mic in front of the section leader, and the rest are mostly for adding width and space to your mix. If you are after the classical sound, use a blend of Spot 1 and the standard Decca Tree positions.
The library comprises 12 articulations per instrument section, except for the basses. The contrabasses do not come with trills and only have a melodic legato. Overall, the articulations cover everything you could need, with the only noticeable missing articulations being harmonics and sul pont, which are handy for textural beddings, and portamento.
The library is available for Windows 10 or higher and macOS 10.13 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3 and AU formats.
Berlin Symphonic Strings is a glorious string library with incredible attention to detail, capable of everything you need for composition. My favorite feature from this library is the advanced legato scripts that allow you to write fluent melodic lines, ostinato patterns, and energetic runs all the same.
Furthermore, the interface is fluid and user-friendly, and it lets you build your own multis patches as well.
6. UJAM – Symphonic Elements STRIIIING
One of the unique strings plugins on our list, STRIIIINGS, is where modern music production meets classical music.
STRIIIINGS was recorded at award-winning composer Hans Zimmer’s Control Studios. And as with any Ujam instrument, the plugin focuses on being intuitive and easy. It doesn’t provide you control over every section and mic placements. Instead, it gives you a broad sense of control and inspiring phrases.
The plugin also features several built-in sound design effects, which allow you to create atmospheres and textures right from the interface. Furthermore, you can use the filters and saturations to create risers and drones for cinematic projects.
- The Interface
Apart from having 200 presets, the plugin also offers a wide range of settings. For instance, you can make global adjustments to the audio using 25 presets and a unique Finisher knob. You can fade between the low and high strings using the highlighter knob, resulting in thrilling risers. The ambiance knob adds reverb to the master signal.
- Low and High
There are two ranges of strings in the plugin: low and high. Cellos and double basses with a variety of effects and two buses are found in the lower strings. The high strings include violas and violins, as well as effects and two more busses. Both strings feature a Decay and Link control, allowing you to mix and match them. Each string type has a power button, allowing you to activate each one independently.
- Phrase Timing
The plugin features a smooth timing control internally. For example, STRIIIINGS continues to play even you assign the instruments to perform in half or double time using the Micro Timing option. Similarly, the Swing Control is useful for delaying off-beats to get groovy rhythms.
Furthermore, each of the two string sections allows you to assign one character FX and one motion FX on a more intimate level. The former is oriented towards compression and saturation, while the latter leans towards delays and chorus.
The plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.12 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
Despite a straightforward interface, STRIIIINGS can provide an orchestral texture for any music. The plugin has onboard effects that are excellent for sound design, making it a modern tool when it comes to string ensembles. I wouldn’t recommend this plugin for classical musicians, but it’s a great tool to have in your arsenal if you are a film score composer.
The 4 Best Free Strings Plugins 2023
1. Orchestral Tools – Layers
Layers is an excellent choice as a backing string ensemble or even underscoring.
Orchestral Tools is well known for its fabulous orchestral libraries, and Layers is their free, highly usable instrument plugin that features an entire orchestra along with individual instrument categories. You will find a symphony, woodwinds, brass, and a strings section, where the latter is what we’ll be focusing on.
In essence, Layers is designed to let you play backing ensembles as chord beds and also play melodies using the legato patches. So, I would recommend it if you make pop, rock, hip-hop, or any other commercial music, where you need string ensembles as backing tracks.
The library features two articulations: sustain and staccato. Each articulation features three pre-orchestrated chord types: major, minor, and sus4. And each articulation also features a Low Unison variety, which is the bass. Furthermore, the sound is full and excellent for use as pads.
Each section of the library features four microphone positions: A-B, Close, Surround, and Decca Tree. The second and latter are the main mics, whereas the rest add space and width. You can use them to adjust how intimate or massive your strings are.
Orchestral Tools have some of the finest legato scriptings around, and Layers also features a sustained legato path. You can use it to play leading melodies across the entire ensemble or play harmonies for backing.
The library is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.12 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3 and AU formats.
Orchestral Tools requires you to provide your email before you can download this 10GB library. And other than that, there is nothing you need to note. For backing strings, it sounds charming and smooth. The staccato patches are also quite useful but obviously not very flexible.
2. Orchestral Tools – SINEfactory: Helix
Helix is a simple string ensemble with a surprisingly rich, expressive sound.
The library’s ensemble features solo violins with violas, celli, and double basses. These strings come straight from the Berlin Series collection, so the recording is undeniably excellent and usable despite being free. The entire ensemble is laid out across the keyboard for quick performance.
The library features sustain and spiccato articulations. However, despite the limitations, the highly dynamic sound makes the library worthwhile. You can create convincing string ensemble parts that are fitting for scoring or general music production alike.
- Excellent Sound
As we’ve mentioned, Helix is taken from the Berlin series of orchestral instruments. The sound is deep and expressive, and I’d even call it “expensive.” Furthermore, after you subscribe to SINEfactory, you will gain access to several other libraries that sound just as good.
The library is available for Windows 10 or higher and macOS 10.13 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3 and AU formats.
I like Helix because it doesn’t impose any limitation on the orchestration as it is a genuinely playable ensemble instrument. The sound is excellent and perfectly capable of providing backing strings and ostinato parts in general music production, if not conventional classical compositions.
3. Spitfire Audio – LABS Strings
LABS Strings is a free ensemble string library with an outstanding sound.
Unlike the other LABS instruments recorded with peculiar playing styles, Strings is relatively standard and usable alone or for layering with other string libraries. It sounds like the library was recorded using close mics, but the large knob in the interface allows you to add reverb or tightness.
The reverb gives some much-needed space to the mix if you intend to use the library alone.
- Long and Short
The library features three articulations: Long, Ensemble, and Short. The long and ensemble are both sustains, but I preferred the ensemble one for writing melodies. And as you might have guessed, the short articulation is staccato that you could use to create ostinato patterns or add some embellishment to an arrangement.
The library features multiple dynamic layers, and you can control it using your modulation wheel. Velocity does nothing, so you might as well set your keyboard to fixed velocity, and it’s a good thing – you can use the modulation to create dynamic legato pieces.
- The Big Knob
The knob lets you control reverb and tightness. Here, the reverb implies the rest of the mics, including a vintage special BBC AXB1, used to record the instruments. And tightness is a transient controller that makes the staccato even more biting. I would use it only for layering.
The library is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.10 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
We are all aware of the top-notch quality control Spitfire Audio maintains, and their free instruments aren’t lacking in that regard either. If you are looking for ensemble strings that you can use as backing instruments or even for classical composition akin to Barber’s Adagio, you could certainly use these strings.
It may not have the most natural-sounding staccato, but it works for layering.
4. DSK – Strings
When you need something simple and almost retro, DSK will have you covered.
DSK is one of those developers you have most likely run into while getting started with music production. Their free plugins are famous for being decent, and DSK Strings is no exception. It features two layers, where you can load one of the four instruments: violin, viola, cello, and contrabass.
Furthermore, it also comes with multiple varieties (dynamics, solo vs. ensemble) per instrument and onboard mixing effects. Similarly, it features an octave feature that lets you create a richer sound quickly.
Each of the two layers features a volume envelope section. Since this strings plugin is dedicated as more of a backing ensemble, having an amp envelope makes sense. You can use it to make the strings sound more “pad-like.”
The plugin features three effects per layer: flanger, delay, and reverb. They are all dedicated to creating spaces in your mix, and the flanger is also useful to create synth-like sounds out of the box. Other than that, you can adjust the volume of each layer.
DSK Strings features some buttons on the bottom right section of the interface to control the plugin’s performance. You can activate an envelope retrigger, mono mode, adjust the bend range and portamento time.
The plugin is available for Windows XP or higher 32-bit only. It comes in VST 2 format.
If you make commercial music and require a simple backing string ensemble, have a look at this plugin. It isn’t very feature-packed, but it’s not really meant to. In fact, if you produce hip-hop, combining one of the best Lo-Fi plugins with DSK Strings results in a super nostalgic sound.
Other Great Strings Plugins
1. Spitfire Audio – Hans Zimmer Strings
Sampling in collaboration with the film score composer Hans Zimmer, Spitfire Audio presents a new standard for cinematic strings libraries.
What sets Hans Zimmer Strings apart from regular strings plugins is its insane number of players and a massive range of articulations and expressions. 344 string players were recorded performing in the Lyndhurst Hall at London’s AIR Studios, where most of Spitfire Audio’s libraries are recorded.
The players were arranged in various sections of the hall and its galleries and recorded with multiple mics, giving you up to 26 mic positions to adjust while mixing. The result is a sound that you can only classify as epic and massive.
Despite the huge amount of sound in the library, the plugin remains unbelievably intuitive, smooth, and easy to use, thanks to the design by UsTwo, a user experience agency. The interface features several faders and a large, customizable knob that allows you to assign reverb, vibrato, etc.
As promised, Spitfire Audio covers a large number of articulations per instrument section and mic position. You will find every standard articulation you’d expect and oddities like long col legno tratto, timed marcato, and the aggressive Bartok pizzicato. Note that several of these will require you to open a separate instance of the plugin.
- Multiple Mics
Depending on the ensemble section you have loaded in your plugin, you will find numerous microphone positions. They include your standard close mic and Decca Tree, up to 23 more, and an odd “Bottle” mic, which is a mic placed inside a water bottle. I must say it does sound interesting for the sake of sound design.
Thanks to the unusual recording positions, you will find a deep sense of space in this library. While the close mics are relatively dry, once you add in other mic positions like the gallery one, you will soon find yourself washed in waves of wide reverb. And it really helps add to the epicness and scale of the library.
The library is available for Windows 7 or higher 32-bit and 64-bit and macOS 10.10 or higher 64-bit. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
While every orchestral library requires you to learn and use it before you can understand it, I would say that the Hans Zimmer Strings library sounds ideal as backing strings while underscoring. That isn’t to say it cannot play lead legato pieces, but you might find it sounds different from what you’d expect.
Further, make sure you have a powerful computer for this one as the plugin is not multi-timbral. So, you’ll have to load many instances of this library at once, and it’s possible that a template-based workflow won’t work out well.
2. Spitfire Audio – Abbey Road One Legendary Low Strings
Impending doom, fearsome battlefields, deep suspense — nail each of them using the classic sound of Abbey Road Studio One.
Spitfire Audio Low Strings is precisely what it sounds like: a cello and bass section recorded in Studio One (not to be confused with the DAW software). The sound is imposing and undeniably epic. I would recommend its use in dark fantasy and horror music, or even in modern hip-hop if you are after a dark sound.
The plugin features a handful of articulations and plenty of mic positions to play with. Furthermore, its legato programming is excellent and sounds natural, and feels catered towards film scoring.
The plugin provides 10 microphone positions for you to mix and blend. Add more of the close mics, and you will find the low end getting aggressive, while a little bit of the room mic adds tasteful space. Furthermore, having this level of control ensures ease in mixing the sound of this instrument with your other libraries.
There aren’t many articulations available in this plugin. It features staccato, spiccato, long, and epic legato. As you have probably guessed, the long notes are better suited for pad-like textures, whereas the epic legato presents a natural and graceful performance for melodic writing.
The library is available for Windows 7 or higher 32-bit and 64-bit and macOS 10.10 or higher 64-bit. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
Spitfire Audio mentions that this plugin came to be after getting inspired by classic fantasy films like the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, and it shows. As soon as you start playing the instrument, you will notice the telltale cinematic sound, and if you are scoring a film, it could be exactly what you need.
It covers everything from brooding low notes and thundering staccatos to dark yet amused spiccato bounces.
3. SONiVOX Orchestral Companion Strings
The strings plugin from the Orchestral Companion set is ideal for low-budget classical composition and even film scoring.
Orchestral Companion Strings features two violins, a viola, a cello, and a contrabass section with multiple articulations. There are no multiple microphone positions, but the sound is rather impressive. There are many presets for each section, and you can do some basic sound editing to better fit your strings to your project.
However, it’s not all praise for this one. I noticed that if you perform notes extremely fast, the plugin starts skipping notes. Similarly, the amp envelope release simply doesn’t work in the sustain patch, and contacting Sonivox or in music hasn’t resulted in any support. A workaround is to use reverb to fake a release for pad-like layering.
Orchestral Companion Strings features five articulations: sustain, staccato, spiccato, pizzicato, and tremolo. You will find each articulation separately in the presets, along with one that features all of the articulations with key switches. Furthermore, it features up and down-bowing patches for most of the articulations. However, you cannot load multiple articulations and assign key switches yourself.
- Onboard Effects
The instrument features four built-in effects: reverb, chorus, delay, and EQ. While I wouldn’t say the reverb is highly usable, it comes in handy when you need some basic space for backing strings. The rest of the effects are moderately helpful, but you can turn each of them off if you want to.
The plugin features two envelope sections and three LFOs. You can control the volume and an assignable filter using the envelopes, whereas the LFOs let you control the volume, filter, and pitch. Automating the built-in filter along with the volume lets you quickly fake crescendos and decrescendos.
The plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher 32-bit and 64-bit and macOS 10 or higher 64-bit. It comes in VST 2, AU, and AAX formats.
Overall, Orchestral Companion Strings is an impressive string ensemble instrument that features a wide array of sounds. Even if the programming isn’t top-notch, the low price (especially during sales) makes it the best low-budget string plugin you could find.
It has well-recorded sound, all the basic articulations, and multiple velocity layering. If you are looking for a backing string instrument or learning classical music, make sure you give this plugin a try.
When selecting a strings plugin, make sure you choose the one that fits your workflow and music genre. For instance, a hip-hop producer wouldn’t need extreme detail, whereas a classical composer would. So, if you are a classical composer, I suggest checking out VSL Synchron and Berlin Symphonic Strings.
However, if you already own some libraries and are looking for samples that sound ideal for layering, check out Spitfire Hans Zimmer Strings (Lower section of the article).
If you make pop, hip-hop, rock, or other mainstream genres, check out Ujam STRIIIINGS for a super quick workflow, and the free instruments Orchestral Tools SINEfactory Helix and Spitfire LABS Strings are brilliant as backing ensembles.
And finally, if you are on a budget, I would highly recommend Sonivox Orchestral Companion Strings.
There are a few bugs like the sustain articulation release and skipping notes when playing extremely fast. Still, if you replace the problematic parts with free libraries on our list, you will find yourself equipped with a rather powerful tool.