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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Orchestral Libraries 3.5 : Vienna Buyer's Guide, Vienna Instruments Standard Collections, and Other Purchasing Tips

Yes, my last post was very long, but hopefully, it had some useful information about how Vienna works and what the Special Edition is. I have finally lost access to my school’s demo and had to do some purchasing in order to keep using Vienna products for class. However, I did not go with the Special Edition, and if you are thinking about doing so to save money, you may want to think again. Here’s why:

Vienna SE comes in six parts. Volumes one and two, along with their “plus” counterparts are basically essential if you want to have any versatility at all in your composing... and it will still run you over $1,200 USD. The full SE collection, except for when there are sales like there are right now (buy 2 SE get 1 free for the month of August, 2014), is about $1,800. If you are going to spend that much money on Vienna products, there are a number of better methods you can use to get more of what you want.

SE is basically everything Vienna has to offer in an extremely limited way. You get a large number of instruments you most likely will never need or use, and even if you are a bit adventurous, you will probably only use some of them once or twice. So, you are paying for wasted access to many instruments that, even if you did have recurring need for all of them, still only have four different articulations (sustain, legato, staccato, and sforzato). Such instruments include the bass flute, bass trumpet, euphonium, basset horn, and many more “uncommon” orchestral instruments. Aside from that, your regular and semi-common instruments (oboe vs English horn, clarinet vs bass clarinet, trombone vs bass trombone, etc.) only have a few more articulations that you may use on a regular basis.

However, buying Vienna Standard Collections can get you immensely more from each instrument for the same price, and you can still have a very complete orchestra (though at this price point, some small sacrifices will need to be made). What I mean when I say you get immensely more is that each instrument comes with about twice as many useful articulations or variations of similar articulations and those instruments have more detailed sample layering. It is particularly noticeable in the brass, which comes with vibrato and non-vibrato versions for many different articulations, but as brass is still the hardest instrument family to sample, it takes really great mixing work to apply some of the fortissimo patches properly.

Here is what I did, what I got, and what I had to sacrifice:

As I mentioned before, the woodwinds by Vienna are immaculate. Plus, I use 7-8 different types of woodwinds—the traditional four and their semi-common counterparts—in most of my compositions. So, it made the most sense for me to get Woodwinds I and II, which is around $800 together. The complete Woodwinds Bundle, which includes Special Woodwinds ($370 alone), is $1056, but I didn't want to spend the extra money for instruments I don't use. The only special woodwind I did use, frequently I might add, was the oboe d’amore, and if you remember from the previous article, all instruments except strings can be purchased on an individual basis as well. That was one of the sacrifices I decided I could live with.

I had absolutely no need for the cornet, alto trombone, fanfare trumpets, or euphonium of the Special Brass collection, and the only thing in Brass II that I used regularly was the bass trombone. I sometimes used the piccolo trumpet as well for variation amongst individual trumpets. So, because I do have an EastWest trombone that plays in the bass register or could replace bass trombone parts with a second tuba, I just got the Brass I section, which consists of the main four instruments as solos and multiples sections for the trumpets, horns, and trombones. Again, if I really want to upgrade or get one or two more brass instruments, I can still purchase any one instrument at a time to add onto what I already have.

The strings was a bit of a sacrifice at first… or so I thought. In SE, you get basic versions of all solo, chamber, orchestral, and appasionata strings sections. Purchasing the standard collections outright costs $500-600 per section size if you get all four instruments as a bundle, which is quite a bit less than buying parts I (violins, viole) and II (celli, bassi) separately. So, I thought, I already have multiple EastWest solo and chamber and orchestral strings sections, I rare use my SE solo strings, and I have never used my SE appasionata or chamber sections, so why not just get the orchestral (standard) package, which I use in every piece? And that is exactly what I did. Solo strings would be nice to have too, but it really isn't that necessary, especially since I have so many EastWest options.

Finally, Vienna doesn't specialize in world or Hollywood-style percussion, so you won't find a lot of the instruments you may need if you are looking to use non-traditional percussion in your scores. Again, I already have everything I need percussion-wise in EastWest, but I'm not too fond of my old glockenspiel, and Vienna does a great job with their pitched percussion. Also, their timpani and harps are wildly different from those of EastWest, so I thought it would be good to have two different options. Although you only get one or two articulations per instrument, I went with the Special Edition percussion for only $63 because you get a plethora of percussion for a very small price… and I don't really need many articulations for percussive instruments that I can't create on my own with good MIDI usage.

So, I hope that helps any confused buyers out there to rest a little easier when deciding which library sets they want. When added up, I still got all of the instruments I use regularly (including a Flute II, oboe II, and other secondary instruments) minus my preferred second oboe d'amore and bass trombone. What's better is that the final price was about the same as that of the full Vienna SE (much cheaper though with my special discount applied), and I now have double the articulations and sample layers for each instrument.

Perhaps, you only need a few things and can purchase one individual instrument at a time. That works too, but in the long run, it will cost you more than bundles do, so try to reserve purchases for when your needs align with the best packaging options. The final reason that standard instruments and packages work best with Vienna is because if you ever want to upgrade to an insane amount of articulations by adding on the extended libraries, you have to own the standard versions of all of the instruments in your desired package before they will sell it to you.

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