Monday, October 8, 2012

Orchestral Libraries: Hollywood Strings, Albion, LA Scoring Strings, Cinesamples, Vienna, and Complete Composers Collection

Yes, if you are planning upgrade to a higher-grade orchestral library, you will see that you have to decide between several options. I am about to do this and have researched intensely, but I never saw much from people going through the same thing. So, I figured I would do a pre-review for those that may find themselves in my shoes: WHICH ONE DO I GET AND WHY? Then, we can all review my before and after as well.

Before I start, here are the classes I typically give stuff and the definitions of those rankings:

Elite: The best of the best without being real
High: Extremely good. In fact, the average listener couldn't tell the difference between this and elite
Mid: Very good. However, you have limited samples and editing capabilities
0: Factory libraries... You will never find one that is good enough to take seriously
Negative: Things that sound like they came from a keyboard.

I will be moving from mid to a higher library, so lower examples will not be talked about.

EastWest/Quantum Leap:

This is the only company I review whose sample libraries are powered by the PLAY engine instead of Kontakt. That is also probably its biggest downfall. I have contacts that work in the music production for visual media field that love Hollywood Strings and the rest of the Hollywood series, and rightfully so. This is an elite-class library, and it is reflected in the price. To get the full diamond version, you will drop about a grand for each library. The series is still a work in progress, so we can expect to see more from them, such as percussion and hopefully pianos and world instruments.

If you have no experience with high or elite level libraries, you do not need this. Getting a better library will not make you a better composer, so make sure you use what you have to the max. Now, there is a gold-level version of the library for about half the price, but it falls under that high-level range and many do not prefer it because of its limited editing abilities. For example, you cannot change the mic positions in the gold version, thus forcing you to rely on artificial reverbs to achieve a certain sound. The downside about this library as a whole (either version) is that is was made to be big, or Hollywood-like. So, if you like to make smaller, chamber-like compositions, it may be difficult to achieve a realistic sound.

The Complete Composer's Collection consists of 7-11 $400-ish libraries that are discounted when bought in this package. It is probably the most diverse package out there, and it is extremely high quality. Again, because it has the PLAY engine, it may not work well with your computer, especially if you have a mac that isn't extremely powerful, but it is probably the highest quality set of libraries out there before you get into the elite category. If you upgrade the strings to platinum, you actually get mic positions that I believe can be layered with other libraries if they don't have good positions/reverbs. This is what makes it desirable over the Hollywood series. Other libraries can include pianos, choirs that allow you to create your own syllables, ethnic female vocals, eastern and african instruments, heavy rock instruments, Beatles-era sounds, beautiful Gypsy instruments, lots of percussion, and more. If you have a computer that can handle it or if you can handle waiting and bouncing, this is a great segway into high-class libraries. Normally, I see it for 67% off in the package; however, until Oct. 15th, 2012, it is further discounted to 75% with a free library. This is what I will be getting.


Albion is increasingly becoming the library of choice among hobbyists and is sold for £350. It is most recommended by people that are not satisfied with the PLAY engine and want to use Kontakt without spending a fortune for a good library. Albion comes with a lot of good stuff (strings, brass, perc, etc.) and 3 mic positions, but it has a distinct, English sound. For me, the inclusion of ethnic samples would be nice, but the good thing about Kontakt is that pretty much everyone but EastWest makes their libraries for it, so you can combine Spitfire products with those from later on in the list. In addition to Albion, they have a great solo strings library for about £150, a second version of Albion, percussion, and a few more items to offer.

LA Scoring Strings:

Lass is made by a guy who only focuses on strings, and he is generous to those who own his product. There is a lite and full version, and going full will run you over $1000. However, this is the elite strings library of choice among many. It usually beats out the Hollywood series because it's divisi strings, separate mics, seating positions, and scripting allows you to scale down to an incredibly small ensemble. I didn't check to see if the lite version includes that feature, but I doubt it. You can use this library with Kontakt. 


They are great at everything, perhaps, except strings. The CineBrass collection is a favorite among many and runs you $350 for the core version and another $400 for the expanded version. Their CineWinds is also a great library to get if you are using Kontakt. Both are elite class and similarly priced. They also have great pianos and mallet instruments. However, my absolute favorite thing about them is the Drums of War collection. DOW and DOW 2 are each only $100, and I prefer this orchestral percussion over any other.

Vienna Instruments:

Finally, there is Vienna. I saved them for last because, although they are elite, you will see how they are not really worth it when compared to the other libraries. One of Vienna's orchestral strings definitely contends with LASS and HS, but the problem is I never know which one. They have like 12, many of which are around 800. To get the whole of what they offer just for strings as a package, you are looking at $5000+. Then they offer other stuff. What really gets me, though, is their lack of care for people researching them. They know they are good and have been a favorite in the industry forever, but at that price, you think they could have updated their website at least once in the past 30 years. It is way too confusing, and I don't recall hearing any demos. I'm not even sure if they run on Kontakt. All in all, there is great stuff out there that has no hassle.

So, I know that PLAY cannot compete with Kontakt, but hopefully they will continue to upgrade it to make them more equal. I would go the Kontakt route, but you have to buy Kontakt at $400 plus all of the libraries you want. That extra $400 puts me well out of my budget, since getting LASS and Cinesamples would already push it beyond its max range. I'd like to spend no more than $1200, and even the CCC can't be fully taken advantage of at that price. It can for $1500 for the next week or so, then will go up a few hundred until the next sale. They are releasing PLAY 4, but it most likely will still pale in comparison to Kontakt. So this is my pre-review. Get what you can afford and learn, and upgrade when you know your gear is no longer good enough for your skill. 

If you haven't already, check out my site at www.natecombsmedia.com for music demos and more. You can even hear what the EW libraries sound like.

Also, a bit of shameless advertising. If you love to read, especially about fantasy, fight-clubs, dragons, mystery, action, adventure, vampires, werewolves, sirens, and more, check out my wife, Teshelle Combs, and her newest novel, "Core." It continues to rise on Amazon's best sellers lists, especially in the category of Sci-Fi/Fantasy in print, where it maintains a top 10 status, along with books like "Harry Potter" and "The Hunger Games." Visit her site at www.teshellecombs.com or the book directly on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Core-Teshelle-Combs/dp/1484115570.


  1. great man thanx alot for me im using la

  2. You're welcome. LA is definitely on my list of things to get.

  3. Replies
    1. Hey, thanks for asking. I would rate the Miroslav Philharmonik library as the "mid" category, so I did not give them a review. I do, however, own a basic version of it, which I used a few years back. You can hear sound demos on my YouTube page in pieces posted from Pirate Battle Sonata Part 1 until Flight of the Cascades.

      With the highest version and great mixing skills, you can probably pull a half-way decent mockup out of it, but, as its price reflects, you are not getting much in the ways of versatility. However, as they increase their library options and continue to develop, they may become a big player. For now though, they should remain under the category of "budget" instruments, much like Garritan.