This month, I finally got a chance to sit down and play with Symphonic Sphere by Orchestral Tools – a sample library developer know for Orchestral String Runs 2, and the soon to be released Berlin Woodwinds.
As described on their website, Symphonic Sphere is “an orchestral sample library, focused on symphonic flickers and shimmering articulations like fingered tremolos, trills in many different styles (sul ponticello, harmonics, sfz,…), harp beds and glisses”. It contains 43 GB of samples (29GB compressed) and is $399.
I downloaded the Symphonic Sphere library using the continuata installer (used by a number of other sample libraries like Project Sam, Soundiron, Spitfire Audio etc.) and found the initial steps pretty simple – you receive an email after your purchase advising you of your serial number and a link to the installer. You download the installer, paste in the serial number, select the download directory, and it starts downloading – pretty simple!
Once all the files are downloaded, the installer will automatically unzip the files for you in the directory they were installed in. However, with the library being so large, a number of my downloaded files must have been corrupt as the installer kept failing to unzip the files. Luckily it was easily remedied by re-downloading the files again and trying to unzip them once more – this was a problem more with the continuata downloader than anything to do with Orchestral Tools as I’ve had this happen to me with other sample libraries also.
A very minor problem in my opinion and like I said, its nobodies fault really as its dependent on a number of external factors. The last time I had any problems with the continuata downloader, I emailed Continuata and received a reply and had it fixed within a hour – either way its better than having to wait for the DVD to arrive in the post for a couple of days! The library took around 12 hours for me to download and as its coming from the Amazon S3 servers, the speed it came down at was directly related to my own internet speeds (amazon s3 storage has huge download speeds if your line can handle it).
Anyway, I digress – lets look at the patches.
Symphonic Sphere comes with 7 instrument sections and a whole host of articulations per section:
- 16 Violins
- 10 Viola
- 8 Celli
- 6 Double basses
- Woodwind ensemble
- Orchestral percussion
A Trills Orchestrator patch is also included, which automatically orchestrates your trills for you when you play a chord – the first of its kind to ever be included in a sample library apparently!
Another pretty cool patch is the harp patch – built exactly like a concert harp (see picture here) – ie. you need to press the pedals to choose the sharp/flat of the scale.
Each patch is pretty light on resources – the heaviest one I think that I found was the trills orchestrator at around 140mb, which is very reasonable considering.
As discussed above, the harp patch is an unusual one when compared to most others currently available. As you can see from the screenshot below, you need to press the pedals for the corresponding sharps/flats you would like as with a normal concert harp. You can then save these sets of pedals in the slots you can see in the interface at the bottom left – each slot is assigned to a keyswitch, which you can quickly change between while playing. A normal harp patch without this is also available, but I personally prefer this patch as it allows you to have a lot more fun with glissandi without any mistakes – you just set your pedals and fly along the white notes of the keyboard without worrying about the scale.
Another cool addition is the trill orchestrator as discussed earlier. It doesn’t use key switches, so you can roll the notes on the keyboard and it will automatically orchestrate the trills, helping reduce the complexity of the interface with keyswitches.
The trills orchestrator interface shows on screen the notes you are playing that are being made into trills, which is a nice little addition. As you can see below, I played E + F together and the notation in the center of the patch shows both notes are trilled.
As you can see from the above screenshot, each patch also provides a choice of 3 microphone placements to choose from for the sound; Tree, ORTF and Close and can mix and match the levels of each. Common with most libraries nowadays – its still nice to have the option and not be limited to only one mic placement (East West for example provide Gold versions with only one mic).
The library is recorded at the same scoring stage as Orchestral String Runs 2, and you can really hear from the samples that a lot of passion has gone into this library. The sound is crystal clear and merges well with other libraries – a problem I find that other sample libraries can sometimes run into.
The harp has been sampled by numerous other contenders in the sample library field, and I think the one included here is just as good as the others.
Symphonic Sphere really shines as an “add-on” library for composers who already have the normal string/percussion/orchestral libraries, but need more articulations. If you don’t own any decent orchestral libraries already, this won’t be able to cover what you need – but that’s its strength. Symphonic Sphere gives you access to lots of unique patches that just don’t come in other libraries – its a big library that works great as an expansion to most other orchestral sample libraries currently out there. It covers pretty much every base you could require and can help bring your orchestrations alive.
Its not cheap at $399, but look at it this way: the Spitfire Audio harp is currently approximately $200 and is just one instrument – Symphonic Sphere includes an awesome harp PLUS a lot of articulations in other instruments for another $199!