A Guide To Orchestral Sample Libraries
A Beginning Composer's Guide To Orchestral Libraries
The orchestral sample library world is a big one. There are tons of libraries out there, sampled and scripted differently for different samplers like Kontakt and Play.
There are hundreds of libraries for brass, but which one should you get? And why? And what about strings? Let's find out how to sort through this!
This is an excerpt from the online course The Basics Of Modern Music Production where I guide you through everything you need from setting up a home studio to composing a soundtrack on your own.
Let's get into some juicy sample library talk, shall we?
I'd like to share with you a list of orchestral sample libraries that I personally recommend. As there are tons of libraries out there, these are only a few of the biggest and best ones that I personally find very good.
Most of them are quite standard in the industry, and most composers know and use them in their everyday work. They are perfect for both beginning and professional composers.
I won't go too in-depth in each and every one of these libraries – I just want to let you know some of the main features and properties of them. Let me know if you like something particular that I haven't brought up here – would be great to try out new sample libraries! Keep in mind that I am mainly aiming this towards beginning and intermediate composers looking for some new samples for their music creation.
The absolute perfect starting point for any composer is to go with all-in-one libraries. These contain all the standard sections of the orchestra, and have the most basic and fundamental articulations that you need:
Marcato (longer shorts)
Pizzicato (plucked strings)
With the occasional, but frequent:
Legato (connected notes)
Col legno (hitting the strings with the wood of the bow, percussive sound)
Con sordino (muted, both brass and strings)
Trills (Maj and minor 2nds mostly)
This is what you mostly use as an orchestral composer anyways, so these all-in-one libraries are highly useful. Some of the full orchestral libraries have more articulations, and some less. Once you buy the section-specific libraries, you'll get more bespoke articulations for those sections, because the sample developers have spent a lot more time on that specific section.
Apart from the orchestral sections, in several ones of these you also get extra content like organs, synths, ethnic percussion, and more.
Here are some of my favorite all-in-one libraries:
The Albion Series (Spitfire Audio, Kontakt)
Different pricings, but a lot for the money. These libraries have great articulations for strings, brass, woodwinds, percussion and sound design. Fantastic libraries for beginners, but also for professionals. Big and awesome sound. My favorite ones of these are Albion 3: Iceni which is specifically for that low end and dark orchestral sound, and Albion One for big and bold full orchestra. Definitely would recommend buying something like Albion One as your first big orchestral sample library. The albions also contain synths, extra percussion, loops, and more.
Symphobia (ProjectSAM, Kontakt)
$600 per version. Another great choice for a library. Contains tons of patches for all the sections of the orchestra, SFX, ethnic flutes, and more. Very useful and easy to use. Great and big sound!
Symphonic Orchestra (EWQL, Play Engine).
from $199. An old-timer that still is great. Clear and punchy sounds. Cheap for what you get. I don't like the Play engine all too much, but it's definitely a good library – check out the demos! You can buy individual libraries too (such as Hollywood Strings, Brass, etc.).
Metropolis Ark 1 (Orchestral Tools, Kontakt)
$580. A massive library which sounds big and bold and very powerful. Includes choirs (men and female) as well (most of the other all-in-one's don't). Absolutely in love with the choirs and brass of this one. Lovely library that I recommend to anyone wanting that big and classic powerful orchestral sound. There's a cool drum patch, guitars and bass in here too.
Cinematic Studio Strings (Alex Wallbank, Kontakt)
$400. Great sound, good amount of very useful articulations, fantastic legato, good bang for the buck. Sordino emulation available. No solos.
Cinematic Strings 2 (Alex Wallbank, Kontakt)
$400. Warm and rich sound, useful articulations, easy to use. Somewhat of a predecessor to Cinematic Studio Strings. I really like the staccato and ensemble sustain patch of this, not too big fan of the legatos.
LA Scoring Strings (Audiobro, Kontakt)
$800 (full version), $400 (lite version). Detailed and great sound. Full sections, divisi (full), solo strings (full), powerful and punchy spiccatos. Quite a dry library, and requires some more mixing knowledge to manage properly for a great Hollywood sound. The full LASS bundle has solo instruments, divisi sections, and more.
Berlin Strings (Orchestral Tools, Kontakt)
about $900 for main library. Very detailed and great sounding library. Great amount of articulations and samples. A bit pricy for beginning composers, but very nice library. Well scripted legato.
- Hollywood Strings (EWQL, Play)
$250 (Silver), $500 (Gold), $800 (Diamond). Often at great discounted prices ($99 for Silver, for example). Lovely sound. My go-to library for string legato patches in my everyday work. The Diamond version has many great mic positions while the Silver and Gold only have 1 main stage mic. Tons of articulations. Cons: Takes up a lot of RAM, a few bugs, would recommend having an SSD for this. Silver version is good for beginners. No solo strings.
- Mural Symphonic Strings (Spitfire Audio, Kontakt)
$600 (Mural SS). Warm, authentic and gorgeous sound. Easy to use libraries, perfect for beginner and professional composers, a lot of useful articulations. 3 different modules for more articulations.
Cinebrass (Cinesamples, Kontakt)
$600. Very big and powerful Hollywood sound. One of my favorite brass libraries for that big sound. Easy to use and great interface with a lot of mixing potential. However, to have all the articulations and sections, you'd need to buy both Cinebrass Pro and Cinebrass Core. Cinebrass Core has most of what you need.
Hollywood Brass (EWQL, Play)
$99 (Silver), $129 (Gold), $199 (Diamond). Often at discounted prices, for example 99 bucks for Silver version. Big, clear, and powerful sound. Really like this library. Absolutely in love with the 6 horns patch, which is a staple in all my projects.
Berlin Brass (Orchestral Tools, Kontakt)
$850. A huge library. As with all of Orchestral Tools libraries, this one has that fantastic Berlin Hall sound that is quite unique to their libraries. Tons of articulations as well.
Spitfire Symphonic Brass (Spitfire Audio, Kontakt)
$689 (incl. VAT, $550 excl.). Love this library. Very detailed, expansive and beautiful sound – true Spitfire Audio sound with the famous Air hall. Has a ton of articulations and patches. A highly recommended brass library!
Berlin Woodwinds (Orchestral Tools, Kontakt)
$500. My absolute favorite library for detailed and beautiful woodwinds. Lots of articulations, great sound - just a great library. The expansions have different instruments in them, such as contrabassoon, bass clarinet, and so on, that don't exist in the main library.
- BML woodwind libraries (Spitfire Audio, Kontakt)
Quite expensive. Great and detailed sound, lots of articulations, lovely libraries but pricy. Worth it if you are a more seasoned composer. Beautiful libraries.
Hollywood Orchestral Woodwinds (EWQL, Play)
$99 (Silver), $129 (Gold), $199 (Diamond). Nice woodwinds for Play engine. Clean, playable, enjoyable woodwinds. Has that EWQL Hollywood sound. Worth it! Works super well in combination with the Hollywood Strings and Brass libraries.
Spitfire Percussion (Spitfire Audio, Kontakt)
$540. One of the best orchestral percussion libraries out there. Has a very wide range of instruments and patches for pretty much all your orchestral percussion needs. Melodic (celeste, xylophone, glockenspiel, tubular bells, etc) and atonal percussions. A great library for orchestral percussion.
Berlin Percussion (Orchestral Tools, Kontakt)
$550. A great sounding library from OT. Tons of articulations, tons of instruments and a very detailed collection of sounds.
True Strike (ProjectSAM, Kontakt).
$259. Powerful and clean samples. Love these!
8Dio's Epic Ensemble Percussion Range (8Dio, Kontakt)
Different pricings ranging around $99. These are very full, big and Hollywood like. Most composers know about these and use them. You know the music for the Game Of Thrones intro? I am 98% sure that Ramin Djawadi used 8Dio's Epic Dhol for the low drums in that one! Highly recommended.
The Power of All-In-Ones
The all-in-one libraries are the ones I recommend the most for beginners who need a hefty amount of samples and patches to write music with. The newer ones are even great for the seasoned professionals in the industry.
To give you an example of how powerful these all-in-one libraries are, I wrote one of the official demos for Albion ONE, and I composed it in under one hour using only Albion ONE!
Here's Midnight Parade.
So which one should I get as a beginning composer?
As a starting composer who just wants to create some great cinematic music, it can be daunting to know which samples to buy. Most of the big libraries sound great, and they all have their pros and cons, and different price ranges.
I have made it simple by giving you straight up recommendations and points to think about for your next ones.
The very best libraries to get first are the all-in-ones. If you get something like Albion ONE by Spitfire Audio, which is one of my personal favorites, you will have everything you need to compose big orchestral music, right out of the box. And if you have bought Kontakt, you will have the Kontakt Factory Library, which contains some great patches as well that you could incorporate in your music together with the samples from Albion ONE.
But which one is best for me?
Here are three points to think about when it comes to buying new libraries:
- Listen to demos! This is incredibly important. You need to get a feel for how it all sounds, and if it appeals to you. The sound is the most important aspect, right? And the recommendations I've given all have great sound.
- Advice from other composers. Listening to your idols, peers and friends on what good sample libraries they recommend is great too. If you like the sound that the music they do has, then chances are you will like the libraries as well if they recommend them.
- Budget. Self-explanatory. You need to watch your wallet!
After you have a big all-in-one library according to your budget, you would want to buy section-specific libraries. The previous points apply to those as well. But once you have an all-in-one library, you can get very far using only that together with a few of the libraries you might find for free, or cheaper specific ones!
In The End...
While I haven't included a lot of great libraries out there, I am mainly focusing on some of the big commercial libraries that I have used and keep on using. Having these will let you have an incredible amount of orchestral samples with tons of patches ready to be composed with.
Hopefully this has been helpful to you. Let me know if you feel I've left out any vital sample libraries that you simply can't live without, and I'll inspect!
This has been an excerpt from the online course The Basics Of Modern Music Production which is an online course aimed towards beginning composers wanting to create professional soundtrack music and learning all the basics and fundamentals of setting up a studio, composing, mixing and mastering music.
The Basics Of Modern Music Production
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Co-founder of Evenant, Walid is a composer, mechanical engineer,
concept artist and entrepreneur from Sweden. Travelling and exploring new opportunities, always looking for new things to learn and create.