It’s almost a law that modern soft samplers come bundled with a selection of rich orchestral strings with various articulations. Legato, arco, and pizzicato are almost always represented, providing bombast and drama whether they’re supporting pads or lending an air of professionalism to backing tracks of all shapes and sizes.
When full orchestras are a bit too much, the subtlety and intimacy of a smaller string section can really warm up a track without overwhelming it. What’s more, if you’re going for a classic soul or vintage pop feel, this type of string section can mean the difference between “nice try” and true authenticity.
With that in mind, Native Instruments’ Session Strings library for Kontakt 4 and Kontakt Player is a perfect compliment to the larger orchestras that ship with most samplers. Consisting of four violins, three violas, two celli, and two double basses—all beautifully recorded in a variety of useful articulations in a relatively dry studio—this library is extremely well-suited to everything from delicate soundtrack work to rock, pop, soul, and even certain types of electronica.
The keymapping of the various string types is thoughtfully executed in each of the presets, and while the array of exotic articulations isn’t quite as extensive as some of the more expensive collections, all of the essentials are in place. Legato, staccato, spiccato, pizzicato, and crescendos are represented, along with some really nice glissando articulations that help to avoid the dreaded “played on a keyboard” character that can plague even the most well thought out performances.
In addition to the ten standard performances and 14 single presets, there’s an alternate collection of “MTown” (Motown) versions for each of the above patches. These alternate takes really nail that old-school sound with a secret concoction of EQ and light saturation processing that adds warmth and body in a way that’s hard to put into words. Suffice to say, these versions sit really well in all kinds of mixes, regardless of their pop or soul pedigree.
Session Strings’ Animator function deserves special mention, thanks to its intelligent approach to chord articulations and arpeggio options. There are six sub-types of the staccato, pizzicato, and spiccato options for both chords and arpeggios, and the Groove knob provides tempo synchronization for note values ranging from quarternotes to sixteenth-note triplets. For dance music production, this feature alone can provide hours of creative bliss, since it takes the guesswork out of getting realistic articulations for rhythmic parts.
The FX Panel provides tailored versions of basic EQ and reverb for quickly nailing the ideal string sound.
Rounding out the collection is an effects panel that includes custom tailoring of the minimum and maximum MIDI velocity settings (along with the overall velocity curve), three-band EQ, and integrated reverb presets that are nicely optimized for strings. In practice, these were quite handy, despite their simplicity. For all but the most complex mixes, they may even be all you need to get these strings to sit properly in a track.
All in all, I was really impressed with the Session Strings library. The presets cover a ton of useful ground with a minimum of head-scratching, and the Animator presets make the collection practically play itself. At $119, it’s a Key Buy, and an affordable way to add a touch of class to your tracks, regardless of your preferred genre.
PROS Beautifully recorded small string section with a variety of articulation options. Motown versions really nail the old-school pop/soul vibe. Animator presets take the guesswork out of playing rhythmic chords and arpeggios with authority.
CONS Exotic articulations and solo versions of each instrument not represented.
FORMATS Mac and PC. AU, RTAS, VST, and standalone. Free Kontakt 4 Player included; requires Intel processor on Macs.
PRICE List: $119
Approx. street: $99