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What are the best orchestral libraries for cinematic music?


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Besides EWQL Symphonic Orchestra, another well-regarded all-in-one orchestral library is the Vienna Symphonic library, a version of which is available for ~$350 (VSL Special Edition Vol. 1). I use SE Vol. 1 with the Vol. 1 Plus expansion (added articulations) and love it (this ReMix is almost entirely VSL). SE Vol. 1 bundled with the Plus expansion is ~$750.

I haven't used it, but I think Symphobia focuses on pre-blended sections that make it really easy to get a powerful orchestra sound with minimal arrangement but prevent you from doing detailed instrument-by-instrument arranging. Whether that's a good or bad thing depends on what sort of music you intend to write. My guess is that it would work really well for orchestral heavy metal.

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I just got Orchestral Essentials by ProjectSam in the mail today actually.

I've just begun learning how to use it. So far it sounds great though.

Oh, interesting, I wasn't aware that this existed. Looks like it's selections from their other libraries including Symphobia, so it might be an option if Symphobia looks attractive aside from its price.

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Those are the same guys who made Symphobia. High fidelity is really important for soundtrack work. Is the East West one high enough? It sounds great to MY ear but sometimes I can't tell.

From a technical standpoint, there's nothing wrong with the way either EWQL SO or VSL SE sounds. They're both well-sampled and pretty broad in scope. A large part of getting a good sound with either of them, though, is knowing how to use the library properly (e.g. using crossfades, careful selection of velocity layers, non-mechanical sequencing, good reverb settings, good orchestra arrangements, etc.). I've heard a lot of really bad stuff written with EWQL SO, but it's not because it's a bad library -- it's because a lot of people just aren't good at using sampled instruments.

There are differences in the way EWQL SO and VSL SE sound out of the box, though. EWQL SO was recorded in a performance hall and has actual reverb tails included in the samples, instruments are given default panning positions to match orchestra positioning, and some versions of the library have multiple mic positions available. VSL was recorded in a studio and is extremely dry, so you have to use a high-quality reverb on it to make it sound good. EWQL SO has a large film score quality to its sound by default because of the way it was recorded. VSL SE is, I think, a bit more versatile in this respect, but it takes more tweaking to make it sound right. And I believe the base $350 version of VSL SE doesn't have as many articulations as EWQL SO.

As I said, I've never used Symphobia, but I suspect that in practice it's probably more forgiving from the perspective of proper use than either EWQL or VSL. I suspect this because the sampling focuses on entire ensembles, so there's less balancing to do, and the entire library is intended to streamline the process of orchestral writing, so I expect that it sounds pretty good without a lot of delicate adjustments.

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I see. Thanks a lot for all of your insight, Moseph. That remix was by you, wasn't it? It sounded great. After looking at all these things the one that appeals to me the most is Symphobia but I think I can get almost the same exact sounds just with a bit more work out of Orchestral Essentials and it's SIXHUNDREDDOLLARS cheaper. So, I think I've decided to go with that. I can put the $600 I save towards building the computer that can run Sonar with tons of orchestra samples.

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Symphobia is definitely more geared toward cinematic, symphonic atmosphere. You can still build great orchestral pieces with it, but it's more useful for when you need to add a layer of uneasiness in your composition, and get that Michael Giacchino sound that gives extra tension to the piece. Lots of risers and trailer ready stuff for movie-oriented and movie-friendly composition.

Since I suspect you're aiming for a more Zimmer-esque (or maybe Sakuraba-esque would be more accurate in this case) style, you're indeed better off with EWQL or VSL. :wink:

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Symphobia is definitely more geared toward cinematic, symphonic atmosphere. You can still build great orchestral pieces with it, but it's more useful for when you need to add a layer of uneasiness in your composition, and get that Michael Giacchino sound that gives extra tension to the piece. Lots of risers and trailer ready stuff for movie-oriented and movie-friendly composition.

Since I suspect you're aiming for a more Zimmer-esque (or maybe Sakuraba-esque would be more accurate in this case) style, you're indeed better off with EWQL or VSL. :wink:

Really? But I REALLY like the sound of the Orchestral Essentials. It's not the same thing as Symphobia, so I should be able to make that Sakuraba-style piece with it, right?

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Really? But I REALLY like the sound of the Orchestral Essentials. It's not the same thing as Symphobia, so I should be able to make that Sakuraba-style piece with it, right?

My comment was about Symphobia specifically. Like I said, you can build great orchestral pieces with Symphobia, but its core sound is more geared toward tension and ambiance. It's more about unsettling and atmospheric compositions rather than the usual symphonic/melodic orchestra. It's really a tool for scoring rather than for making music in the strict sense you were implying. ;)

The reason I recommended EWQL or VSL, was because they're the most affordable, widely-used, versatile and professional sounding in their price range. But if you've got the bucks to invest into Project Sam's Orchestral Essentials, have at it. While this bundle strips down the Symphobia content to its bare bones (which in this case means keeping the most usable orchestral elements), it also gives you a fantastic percussion tools in True Strike (that Symphobia was sorely missing), and also throws in Orchestral Brass for that extra Hollywood sound. It's also easily tweakable, readily operational with its various 'Multis' that put massive orchestral sound at your fingertips, and lastly the size is slightly more manageable than other similar libraries. Admittedly, you might not get every articulation on every instrument ever like with the advanced versions of VSL, but you'll get a solid sound out-of-the-box and a highly versatile orchestral library.

Hope this helps. :)

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Hope this helps. :)
That helps a TON! Thank you! I've decided now that I want to go with Orchestral Essentials. It IS going to be a squeeze on the wallet, however. I am currently and very suddenly trying to drastically improve my tools for making music and going pro. All this time I thought that I couldn't do it but after studying a lot of things, I think I'll be in quite an excellent position once I get the tools I need and some EQ/compression/effects practice in.
Word of caution if you do get Orchestral Essentials: Shut off the built in reverb. It just sucks way more CPU than it's worth.
Oh, really? I hear that one of the appeals of that library is the reverberation of the hall in which they recorded the samples. Maybe if I have EIGHTGIGSOFRAM I can do it. :)
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ProjectSAM is years out of date.

Orchestral Essentials should have been called ProjectSAM's Greatest Hits 2002-2010.

Symphobia should have been called Orchestrationphobia, as it's a library designed specifically for people who don't want to spend time with instrumentation. It's only useful for people who have to write 10-12 minutes of music a day for TV and need a lot of one-button-wonder patches. For what it offers with respect to substance, it's about 4 times overpriced.

ProjectSAM's Orchestral Brass Classic stood for years as the best orchestral brass library around, but has since been outclassed by more recent libraries.

I would not recommend any currently available ProjectSAM library as a starting point for any student looking to delve into the orchestra, who wants to learn about orchestration and how to write music better.

What is your budget, and what kind of music do you want to make?

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I want to make melodic orchestra music that could potentially be used in games and even movies. I would like to keep it under 800 dollars.

Am I wrong in thinking that any samples that are actual instruments recorded in an actual orchestra hall will sound good?

I really think it is less about the samples themselves and more about how they are used.

I've heard recordings made with "low-end" sample libraries that still sound awesome because the composer really understands how the instruments are played and so the humanization was great. Isn't that the goal of using samples to compose orchestral music? To try to make it sound as real as possible?

No matter how awesome the sample library is, it is really up to you to make the performance sound convincing and it's not going to sound like that right out of the box. Don't forget that for the pros, just ONE library isn't going to cut it. They like layering a lot of different sample libraries together AND real orchestras.

Made with Orchestral Essentials -

Made with East West Symphonic Orhcestra -

Made with Miroslav Philharmonik -

I think they all sound great.

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I really think it is less about the samples themselves and more about how they are used.

I've heard recordings made with "low-end" sample libraries that still sound awesome because the composer really understands how the instruments are played and so the humanization was great. Isn't that the goal of using samples to compose orchestral music? To try to make it sound as real as possible?

No matter how awesome the sample library is, it is really up to you to make the performance sound convincing and it's not going to sound like that right out of the box. Don't forget that for the pros, just ONE library isn't going to cut it. They like layering a lot of different sample libraries together AND real orchestras.

Made with Orchestral Essentials -

Made with East West Symphonic Orhcestra -

Made with Miroslav Philharmonik -

I think they all sound great.

I think these examples may give you a pretty good picture of what to expect from each of those libraries.

The Orchestral Essentials one sounds good, but it's a big old wash of sound. There's no substantial orchestral arranging, just giant blocks of orchestra noise. You can't write something with this library that will sound, for instance, like the EWQL SO example.

The EWQL SO example sounds decent and demonstrates a complexity of arrangement that you can't get with Orchestral Essentials, but it has the characteristically too clean, too present sound that you get in a lot of stuff done with EWQL SO. I think that's a usage issue more than a library issue, but it demonstrates how difficult it is to use an orchestral library convincingly.

I don't like Miroslav because the strings sound synthy, though admittedly I'm not as familiar with its sound as EWQL SO. I wouldn't recommend getting Miroslav when you can get EWQL SO Silver for the same price.

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Not to hijack this thread, but are there any EW choir or orchestra tutorials anywhere? I have the library and I have no idea what I'm doing.

Also to the topic creator, East West is known for having at least 6 sales a year. It's very likely you could get 2 or even 3 libraries for the price of one ($500-700). It's what I did.

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