EastWest and Quantum Leap have a celebrated history of producingnot only some of the finest sample libraries on the market, but ones that redefine what we can expect from sampled instruments. Their Symphonic Orchestra was the first of its kind to offer multiple mic perspectives, letting you mix close-miked and reverberant sounds.
The developers made no bones about the fact that the demands of SO rode the bleeding edge of technology, and mere mortals would have to wait for computers to catch up. Fortunately they’ve advanced considerably, so EW has upped the ante again with Hollywood Strings, which aims to capture the definitive film score string sound. While this collection is even more power-hungry than any other library to date, you can do quite a lot with these sounds and a single high-end computer.
Review continues after these web extras:
- Video tutorials on EastWest’s YouTube page.
- NOTE: The print reviews of this product and Audiobro L.A. Scoring Strings originally promised audio examples. After we went to press, author John Krogh decided to go one better and make a video explaining Divisi string arranging, and using both the EastWest and Audiobro products to illustrate it. CLICK HERE.
Hollywood Strings runs inside of EastWest’s own sample engine, called Play. The sample data and software installer come pre-loaded on a 500GB SATA hard drive; the samples use 335GB, so you’ll have room left for other instruments if you use the drive for streaming, as I did. You can copy the content to another drive and you’re free to install it on as many drives as you like. Since a number of single instruments comprise thousands of samples each, all at 24-bit resolution, you’ll need a lot of RAM in addition to a blazing-fast hard drive (EW recommends solid-state drives) for optimum performance. You’re given two iLok licenses (dongles not included) to facilitate spreading the library across two machines, which is the best solution for composers who create full orchestral mockups. Additional licenses beyond two are $50 each.
Appropriately, the producers recorded in a legendary Hollywood facility: EastWest’s own Studio 1, formerly Cello Studios, where decades of hits were recorded. Shawn Murphy did the sampling sessions—his film score engineering credits read like a list of blockbusters from the past 15 years. So yes, the sound quality is superb.
Five mic perspectives were recorded, but unlike Symphonic Orchestra, HS is a much drier, immediate-sounding library that takes to reverb quite well. Close-miked samples let you pull a section to the front of a mix, while other perspectives give you a broader sense of relative positions (e.g., violins on the left, basses on the right). The idea is to use at least one convolution reverb to dial in the right blend of direct and reverberant sound. There are a number of very nice impulse responses (reverb samples) in Play’s built-in reverb, which really brings these sounds to life, although the signal routing isn’t as flexible as it could be. For example, there are no busses or send controls in Play, so for more complex routing, you’ll need a third-party plug-in and your DAW’s mixer.
In addition to sampling each of the five string sections (violins 1 and 2, viola, celli, and bass), smaller numbers of players from each section were sampled, making it possible to play chords without the sound becoming too thick. In a real orchestra, notes in a chord are divided among the players in each section (this is called divisi), but with virtual orchestras, the sound stacks up in an unnatural way. Hollywood Strings addresses this problem with its smaller section sizes, so you can create more convincing chordal passages. In practice, the divisi patches work well—I created a much more realistic sound using the smaller sections. Note, however, that there are no solo player patches in HS.
HS employs scripts, which process incoming MIDI data to produce desired effects and playing styles. These scripts run in the background and can be enabled from the Play interface. With the legato script, for example, playing connected lines with any of the sustain patches produces very convincing legato—check out the online audio with first violins playing a simple line with legato enabled. Other scripts include a repetition tool that avoids the dreaded “machine gun” effect, portamento for creating short glissandi between two notes, and a con sordino script that approximates adding a mute.
The scripting is fantastic and helps cut down on the micro-editing that’s typically necessary to achieve an expressive, believable performance from a virtual orchestra. Also, there are “real” legato patches with sampled intervals, and separate round-robin patches with alternate samples that cycle with each repetition, so you have the choice of audio- or MIDI-based realism. Nice.
This is a massive library with an exhaustive complement of articulations and playing techniques. As a result, some of the naming conventions can seem daunting at first, but the documentation (PDF only) clearly explains the organization of sounds, which is consistent from section to section.
Hollywood Strings is a no-holds-barred sample library that can indeed faithfully reproduce the “film score” string sound. The scripting is quite useful, and the range of articulations and playing styles make it tremendously flexible. Yes, it’s also a behemoth that can bring even a powerful Mac or PC to its knees, but we’ve been here before. Also, by the time you read this, a lighter “Gold” version—with 16-bit samples, one mic placement, no divisi, and all articulations but no bow change legato—will be available for $795.
Ultimately, Hollywood Strings is one of the most musical and playable orchestral string libraries to date, and though it pushes the limits of current computing power, that’s a small price to pay.
PROS Expertly recorded and programmed. Extremely flexible and musical. Impressive range of articulations and playing styles. Divisi sections allow realistic chordal performances. Price includes two licenses.
CONS Expertly recorded and programmed. Extremely flexible and musical. Impressive range of articulations and playing styles. Divisi sections allow realistic chordal performances. Price includes two licenses.
CONCEPT Orchestral string library designed to reproduce the “Hollywood film score” sound.
FORMATS Mac or PC. AU, RTAS, VST, and standalone.
MINIMUM SYSTEM REQUIREMENTSMac: OS 10.5 or later. PC: Windows XP SP2, Vista, or Windows 7. Both: Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD processor, 2.1GHz or faster, 4GB RAM, 335GB free hard drive storage space. Separate audio drive, preferably solid-state, highly recommended.
PRICE $1,495 (no list/street difference)
Gold Version: $795