Top 5 Strings Plugins 2021 (And 4 Best Free String Ensemble Instruments)

Top 5 Strings Plugins (And 4 Best Free String Ensemble Instruments) | Integraudio.com

Whether you are a classical musician or a modern songwriter, find our pick of the best strings plugins of 2021 in this article. 

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. 

Hence, in this article, I’ll cover the best ensembles strings plugins that you can find in 2021. 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 5 Best Strings Plugins 2021

1. VSL – Synchron Strings Pro Review

More Info & Price

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. 

VSL Synchron Strings Pro Review - Top 5 Strings Plugins (And 4 Best Free Strings Instruments) | Integraudio.com

Key Features:

  • Natural Articulations
    The instrument features an extensive collection of articulations and expressions, including standard ones like legatostaccatospiccatotremolo, etc., and special ones like harmonics, col legnoflautando, 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). 
  • Immersive
    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). 
  • Presets
    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.
VSL Synchron Strings Pro vs other flagship libraries

Compatibility:

This library is available for Windows 8.1 or higher and macOS 10.10.5 or higherboth 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.

Summary:

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 – Hans Zimmer Strings

More Info & Price (Trial Available)

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. 

Spitfire Audio Hans Zimmer Strings - Top 5 Strings Plugins (And 4 Best Free Strings Instruments) | Integraudio.com

Key Features:

  • Intuitive
    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. 
  • Articulations
    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. 
  • Soundscape
    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.
Walkthrough: Hans Zimmer Strings

Compatibility:

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.

Summary:

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 underscoringThat 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.

3. Orchestral Tools – Berlin Symphonic Strings Review

More Info & Price

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. 

Orchestral Tools Berlin Symphonic Strings Review - Top 5 Strings Plugins (And 4 Best Free Strings Instruments) | Integraudio.com

Key Features:

  • Legato Modes
    The library features three kinds of legato: melodic, pattern, and rapidMelodic 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 layersppmpfff. However, the trills, pizzicato, and bass tremolos only feature ppmf, 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. 
  • Expression
    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. 
Berlin Symphonic Strings: Walkthrough

Compatibility:

The library is available for Windows 10 or higher and macOS 10.13 or higherboth 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3 and AU formats.

Summary:

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.

4. UJAM – Symphonic Elements STRIIIING

More Info & Price (Trial Available)

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. 

UJAM Symphonic Elements STRIIIING - Top 5 Strings Plugins (And 4 Best Free Strings Instruments) | Integraudio.com

Key Features:

  • 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.
    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. 
  • 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 stringsThe 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. 
Symphonic Elements STRIIIINGS by UJAM | Presets and Styles Walkthrough.

Compatibility:

The plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.12 or higherboth 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3AU, and AAX formats.

Summary:

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. 

5. Spitfire Audio – Abbey Road One Legendary Low Strings Review

More Info & Price (Trial Available)

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 on 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. 

Spitfire Audio Abbey Road One Legendary Low Strings Review - Top 5 Strings Plugins (And 4 Best Free Strings Instruments) | Integraudio.com

Key Features:

  • Mixing
    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. 
  • Performance
    There aren’t many articulations available in this plugin. It features staccatospiccato, 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. 
Walkthrough — Legendary Low Strings | Abbey Road One

Compatibility:

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 2/3AU, and AAX formats.

Summary:

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.

The 4 Best Free Strings Plugins 2021

1. Orchestral Tools – Layers Review

More Info & Download

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. 

Orchestral Tools Layers Review - The 4 Best Free String Instrument Plugins | Integraudio.com

Key Features:

  • Pre-Orchestrated
    The library features two articulationssustain 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. 
  • Mixing
    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. 
  • Legato
    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. 
Layers: Free Orchestral Instrument - Walkthrough

Compatibility:

The library is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.12 or higherboth 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3 and AU formats.

Summary:

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 smoothThe staccato patches are also quite useful but obviously not very flexible.

2. Orchestral Tools – SINEfactory: Helix Review

More Info & Download

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. 

Orchestral Tools SINEfactory: Helix Review - The 4 Best Free String Instrument Plugins | Integraudio.com

Key Features:

  • Articulations
    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 instrumentsThe 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.
SINEfactory: Helix—free string ensemble (audio demo)

Compatibility:

The library is available for Windows 10 or higher and macOS 10.13 or higherboth 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3 and AU formats.

Summary:

I like Helix because it doesn’t impose any limitation on the orchestration as it is a genuinely playable ensemble instrumentThe 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 Review

More Info & Download

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.

Spitfire Audio Strings Review - The 4 Best Free String Instrument Plugins | Integraudio.com

Key Features:

  • 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.
  • Expression
    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.

Compatibility:

The library is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.10 or higherboth 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.

Summary:

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 Review

More Info & Download

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. 

DSK Strings Review - The 4 Best Free String Instrument Plugins | Integraudio.com

Key Features:

  • Envelope
    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.”
  • Mixing
    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.
  • Perform
    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.
DSK Strings - Free VST

Compatibility:

The plugin is available for Windows XP or higher 32-bit only. It comes in VST 2 format.

Summary:

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.

Bonus: On Budget Plugin

SONiVOX Orchestral Companion Strings Review

More Info & Price (Trial Available)

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 is 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 inMusic hasn’t resulted in any support. A workaround is to use reverb to fake a release for pad-like layering.

SONiVOX Orchestral Companion Strings Review - Top 5 Strings Plugins (And 4 Best Free Strings Instruments) | Integraudio.com

Key Features:

  • Performance
    Orchestral Companion Strings features five articulationssustainstaccatospiccatopizzicato, and tremoloYou 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. 
  • Modulators
    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 pitchAutomating the built-in filter along with the volume lets you quickly fake crescendos and decrescendos.
SONiVOX Orchestral Companion Strings Overview

Compatibility:

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 2AU, and AAX formats.

Summary:

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.

Conclusion

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.

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.

Scroll to Top