German developer Orchestral Tools of Berlin Woodwinds and Orchestral String Runs fame went ahead and recorded another sample library in the renowned Teldex Studio in Berlin. This time they did a medium-sized string section consisting of:
- 1st Violins (8 players)
- 2nd Violins (6 players)
- Violas (5 players)
- Celli (5 players)
- Basses (4 players)
This size, according to their website, enables them to keep a more detailed and defined sound instead of a large, homogenous string sound. In my opinion they hit a sweet spot as the strings still work great for that lush string sound so very popular today.
It is easy to see how popular string libraries are as they continue to get closer and closer the the real deal.
So in this day and age we are completely spoiled for choice when we are looking for string libraries which makes it challenging finding the one that is right for you. I am often in a hurry, so what I am looking for in a string library is great sound and ease of use. So let’s see how Berlin Strings holds up.
The install process for Berlin Strings is very simple and easy. You receive an e-mail with your serial code which you enter into the free and widely used Continuata downloader (a link for this application is included in the mail). Depending on your download speed this could take a bit of time as the download is about 130GB.
I have a reasonable connection (15Mbps) and it did take me a good three days or so of downloading so patience is required. After this you only need to register Berlin Strings in Native Instruments Service Center and then, finally, you are ready to play.
Before opening up Berlin Strings I was secretly hoping that they would continue with the trend of having few patches but I was slightly dissapointed as there is a whole slew of them. I must admit I am a keyswitches man instead of loading separate articulations. Of course there are other ways of achieving this but it would have been nice and easy.
The patches makes up for this though, as there are some really great sounding patches in there, such as the prerecorded Dynamics patches, the Trills Orchestrator and the Legato patches.
When you start playing around with the different patches, the first thing I noticed was how nice, simple and easy to maneuver the layout is. There is just the right amount of information, it is very self-explanatory and neatly arranged.
I must say, those Legato patches are easily my favourite patches in this library as they basically include all that is necessary for doing legato and even runs so it is kind of an all-in-one patch for melodic writing, even though of course a playable runs patch is included if that is all you need.
Something Orchestral Tools are proud of, and rightly so, is their Adaptive Legato Engine which translates your legato performance and chooses between slurred, agile, fast runs and portamento on the fly. I think it works really well and if you want to use a specific transition type, there is a keyswitch to handle that. With velocity you also control the attack of the first note. All these things combined make up a really powerful patch and it sounds great right out of the box.
You have three kinds of vibrato:
There is no crossfading between them in this library but that often leads to very unnatural results so it may be a blessing in disguise. The vibratos on offer here work really well and you can easily switch between them with Midi CC.
If you do not want to use the legato patches, which take up 0.78GB of ram per instance, you also have a multitude of different sustain patches such as accented, immediate, soft and espressivo.
There are a quite a lot of different kinds of shorts, especially for the 1st violins, the most usual being staccato, staccato bold (which has a real nice harsh sound, although missing in the celli, which is sad), spiccato and spiccatissimo (which are REALLY short and only in the 1st violins).
Besides sounding great, what is great about the short patches is that you can switch between velocity and modwheel mode to control dynamics. Something which can be sorely missed if not there and you are used to working the other way.
One of the things I have spent ages agonising over previously when looking for new string libraries is finding some sort of controllable glissando. Here there are three glissando patches, for 1st violins, viola and celli. And they are somewhat controllable although I would not use them for very slow glissandi as the transitions are a bit too fast but otherwise they are nothing less than amazing.
By playing adjacent notes, up or down, the glissando follows and works a treat. If only there was a way to slow down the transitions to do slow glissandi then it would have been simply awesome. But still a definite highlight.
Another important feature in any decent string library in my opinion is the ability to create runs. String runs are used often in any kind of orchestral music but it has never the less been a challenge for sample library developers almost since the beginning of time to create something that sounded just in the vicinity of real.
Now, Orchestral Tools are not strangers to string runs, they did put out Orchestral String Runs a few years back with great success and the playable runs in Berlin Strings build on that. Let me just say, I think we are getting very close now without having to layer insane amounts of articulations. On top of that there are prerecorded octave runs which can adapt to your host’s tempo or any other tempo you would like.
Another small but important feature that I feel deserves a mention; the option to turn on the concertmaster mic in the 1st violins. This is an important one as it really creates a very defined tone, it even has its own pan and volume controls, and combined with experimenting with the other mic settings and the release samples knob you can get a really dry and close sound if you do not want the sound of the recording hall.
Looking at all the patches and articulations can be an overwhelming experience as there are so many of them. However, when you get to know the library it all starts to make sense and you are left with a very powerful tool. What is normally the problem for me when starting out with a new string library is to figure out how to make the legato work. Well, the legato here works really, really well and all the other patches are equally easy to work with.
The one thing in my opinion which would have made it even easier was to have keyswitching in the short articulations. This however is a small issue to have. Another thing which really impressed me was the flexibility of the library in terms of reverb. Even though it is naturally wet it can be relatively easy reigned in and used in a more intimate way.