The “orchestra”. When this word is mentioned, images of grandeur, stained wood paneling and that deep burgundy on theater carpet. Aurally, it invokes a lush chorus of strings, reeds, bows, and mallets, working in unison to recreate a classical composition that has survived the ages, or crashing like a behemoth out of your speakers to incite excitement for this years summer blockbuster.
But as computer-based music composers, affording to hire a full orchestra to play out that new piece we just created at 2am in the morning would be quite expensive.
For anyone who has spent five minutes online looking at virtual orchestral plugins, there is one initial big factor that always seems to stand in the way: the price.
Sonivox, with their “Film Score Companion” orchestral plugins bundle, aims to smash this boundary, offering professional sounding production package at an extremely affordable price (see the special promotion below).
In all honesty, I was skeptical at the start of this review as compared to other bundles in the same category, this is easily one tenth of the price, if not less, than a lot of their competitors. But, as I put each segment through its paces, I have noticed that this bundle stands shoulder to shoulder with the other bundles that have an extra zero on the end of their price tag.
Let me show you what wonders I found in this orchestral plugin bundle:
Orchestral Companion Strings
First off is the Orchestral Companion Strings, a 9 GB library comprising string ensembles for 1st violins, 2nd violins, violas, cellos and basses. Articulations include sustains, espressivo, staccato, pizzicato, tremolos and more.
From the first press of the keyboard key I knew a lot of thought and knowledge in the field has gone into the creation of this VST.
The solo string parts are automatically panned to their correct position in the stereo field in relation to the listener sitting in the perfect (and most expensive) seats of an auditorium.
This attention to detail is what is making me see that this is an essential product for both the beginner and the maestro. In a professional setting, detail like this could be the make or break factor to landing that triple a game or film placement.
The sound of the strings themselves are like a well-aged whiskey: full bodied with a great color.
The sum of the parts: Violins, Violas, Cellos, Contra Basses, and the ensemble strings themselves all contain both key change options in the -1 octave, as well as up and down bow playing and tremolo options I have never heard of before.
There are the usual internal effects: reverb, chorus, delay, EQ, a surprisingly large amount of low, high and band-pass filter options, Envelope control for the Amp and Filter and a LFO for Amp, Filter, and Pitch for the more avant-garde of the composition.
For 69$ stand alone, this is criminally cheap for how good it sounds, but for this to be in a bundle, that is discounted yet again, should have you reaching for your wallet.
Orchestral Companion Woodwinds
Secondly, we have the Orchestral Companion Woodwinds, a 9 GB library comprising Piccolo, Flute, Oboe, English Horn, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Bassoon. Solo and ensembles versions of each as well as full woodwind ensemble patches.
The instrument layout, like all the orchestral companion instruments in this bundle, are identical. Included are 72 different patches for solo instruments, woodwind sections and ensembles.
Like the previous string section, I am in awe at what is contained in these bundles in relation to both the price and the size of vsts.
Bundles of similar quality, very often than not, are shipped on their own hard drives. For example, the Eastwest woodwinds alone is 140gigs, yet it was hard for me to tell the difference in quality between this or Sonivox’s instrument that is 1/20th of the size and that is saying something.
Orchestral Companion Brass
And now for the final part of the orchestral companion series, the Orchestral Companion Brass, a 5 GB library comprising Solo and Ensemble Trumpets, Solo and Ensemble Trombones, Solo and Ensemble French Horns and Tuba. Articulations include sustains, staccato, marcatto, mutes, and more.
With strings, they are the most well known (and in my opinion overly done) sounds of the orchestra, but my personal favorite sound of the ensemble is the brass. The brass’s ability to almost have a speech-like quality in tone and feel when played is akin to having a musical narrator of a scene.
This brass companion has the warmth, depth, and soul we have come to expect from the bombardment of modern day blockbuster titles, as well as plenty of different play styles that are recognizable to the ear. I am no orchestral expert, but everything I hear within the companion bundle fits perfectly in the mental schema I have created for score composition.
Eighty Eight Ensemble
Moving away from the traditional orchestral composition, we have the grand piano.
That slick ebony luster on the curved body, the purity of tone of the hammer and keys. Many a great composer has written many a classical composition on those ivory keys.
With piano instruments and libraries, because it is such an iconic sound, it can muster up a powerful emotional response, or depending on quality, images of an infant mashing the plastic keys of his new toy piano.
There is no room for the second best sampling of a piano, as a composer’s ear is innately tuned to the subtleties of tone and timbre that make the virtual replication potent, or in some libraries and VSTs’ case, impotent.
The Eighty-Eight Ensemble most definitely does not suffer from VST impotence! It is an 11 GB collection featuring a Steinway 9-foot CD337 Concert Grand, recorded in the same hall as the orchestral instruments for a perfect mix.
As I go through the unique patch browser (where you choose patches based on musical qualities) the sonic richness of the Steinway shines oh so clearly.
With the addition of the built-in reverb, which I must add, (because I am not a fan of built-in effects), sounds surprisingly natural and realistic, and four band eq, the ambiance and tonal quality of this reached far beyond my expectations.
Yes, it may have sampled only one piano, the “Steinway 9-foot CD 327 grand piano”, but they have done an astounding job.
The extra layers added in the combination patches, as well as the split instruments bring a strong foundation of sounds at the touch of a button to the musical motif at hand.
Big Bang Cinematic Percussion
Finally in this “Davidly priced and Goliathly sounding” package is the Big Bang Cinematic Percussion, a 15 GB library of 200 different percussion instruments ranging from classical to ethnic to pure raw power hits.
The patches in this are organized akin to that of the eighty-eight; musically and thematically.
The presets are finely crafted to suit the genre and scenes that they are listed under.
I will admit “Dexter”, “Desperate Housewives” and a few other TV shows that show my age came to mind when I pressed a single note on some patches.
Included is a filter and EQ (both of which sound very natural when I attempted to “mute” the high end of the sounds), a built-in delay and an Amp envelope which really allows you to create distance at the touch of a button.
The intelligent rhythm control adjusts incoming MIDI note data so that your percussive force never miss a beat (even if you do).
Almost 50 GB of orchestral virtual instruments inside your computer!
Unless Sonivox arrives at your door with the Royal Philharmonic, I don’t see a better deal that can progress your aspirations of composition for visual media.
Yes, some other products on the market have sample libraries nearly ten times the size, but they also have five to ten times the price tag too for a product that is on par with this one.
When you are scoring your first Hollywood film or a video game, you may not need this program as you will have a live orchestra at your disposal, but until then, this is pretty much as close as it gets to the real thing.
For those of us with Zimmer or Elfman dreams, but don’t have the wallets to match, this is hands down a necessity for orchestral composition.
Download Link: Film Score Companion