Audiobro faces the future with an all‑new divisi strings collection.
If you search ‘best orchestral sample libraries’ on the Internet it’s a racing certainty that Audiobro’s LA Scoring Strings (LASS) will score highly in the rankings. The brainchild of composer Andrew Kerestzes, LASS has consistently been rated as a leading product since its release in 2009, a significant achievement considering the advances made by orchestral sampling in recent years. Noted for its musical quality from the outset, the library’s reputation has been sustained by a series of upgrades, each one introducing a raft of new technical features. You can read the reviews of LASS (April 2010) and LASS 2.0 (July 2012) on the SOS website.
In the chill months of 2020 Audiobro fans received heart‑warming news: instead of the long‑awaited LASS 3.0 update, the company’s next product would be a brand‑new library. Modern Scoring Strings (MSS) features a 60‑piece string orchestra comprising first and second violins, violas, cellos and double basses and three solo instruments, all recorded from multiple mic positions in a large scoring stage. Each of the ensembles was divided into two separately recorded sections, enabling users to program authentic ‘divisi’ parts in their arrangements. While there are no full‑section ‘tutti’ samples, the inclusion of a discrete second violin section should please traditionalists and composers writing for real string orchestras.
MSS (122GB installed) is accompanied by the 56GB add‑on library MSS Expanded Legato, which augments the legato performances in the main library with a set of specialised legato articulations. This can be bought as a separate product or as a bundle along with MSS. Both libraries run on Kontakt and the free Kontakt Player 6.0.4 or later. Audiobro recommend a minimum of 6GB of RAM, and advise buyers to make a safe backup of the library for future reference — worth noting, as an Amazon web server fee applies if you want to re‑download all of MSS’s sample data.
Here are some demo tracks to get a feel for the library.
Health warning: try to understand this complex library in one sitting and your head might explode. MSS is crammed with features, many of them painstakingly developed over a period of years and all worthy of study by serious users. Though the sheer number of sophisticated control options may appear intimidating at first, it’s important to remember you don’t have to understand them all at once: patches are ready to play straight out of the box, so anyone with a little experience of working with samples can immediately start making music without adjusting any settings.
As we don’t have space for a 100,000‑word review, I’ll leave the encyclopaedic detail to the 79‑page user manual and concentrate here on MSS’s main points. A good place to start is the ‘Ensemble Full Mix’ patch, which lashes the five sections together over their collective C1‑F7 playing range. This sounds brilliant: a grand, imposing, handsome‑sounding and gracious full‑strings patch, rich and emotional with transparent high‑register violins, a warm, enveloping midrange and a hint of dark menace in the cellos’ and basses’ low notes. Perfectly played and tuned, tonally cohesive and technically flawless, this is a great sketchpad tool and an invaluable asset for players who want to access the full power of orchestral strings via a single Kontakt instrument.
MSS’s sustains and short notes were sampled at p, mp, mf and ff dynamics. The sustains (which have a real‑time vibrato control) incorporate three types of attack: ‘normal’ is the standard elegant orchestral delivery, ‘accented’ is a faster, emphatic bowing which works well for rock and pop, while ‘crescendo’ adds a subtle expressive swell to note fronts. You can velocity‑switch between these styles in real time, with a control slider showing the programmable switch points. Sordino (muted), sul tasto and sul ponticello performances add timbral variety and colour. Standard artics such as tremolo, sul pont tremolo and trills are all present and correct, but it’s the harmonics that quietly steal the show: retaining the breathy, spooky quality of the style with none of its screechiness, they work beautifully in chordal pads.
The library’s short notes run the gamut from martelé (a confident, decisive bow stroke which works well for medium‑paced accents and end chords), staccato and staccatissimo (excellent, all‑purpose, tightly played and emphatic fast bowings) to the brisk and abrupt spiccatos, ideal for nervy and hectic rhythm passages. Select ‘Speed’ as the controller, and an algorithm tracks the time interval between notes and selects the appropriate style: martelé for spaced notes, staccato for faster events, etc. This enables the real‑time creation of highly realistic rhythmic passages.
I enjoyed the robust col legno bow hits, but was surprised that the slamming ‘Bartok pizzicato’ style is performed only by the basses, albeit with a manic intensity which conjured images of a giant wearing iron shoes angrily trampling driftwood in an underground cavern. Though the regular pizzicatos are pleasant enough, I found them a little lacking in punch: this, however, was quickly remedied by using MSS’s incisive channel EQ to add a brutal amount of top.
MSS continues LASS’s tradition of true‑legato sampling, combining straight legato, portamento and glissando performances within a single patch while offering users the ability to change the legato transitions’ speed and volume in real time. The legatos’ attack options mirror those of the regular sustains, offering a choice of ‘normal’, ‘bowed’ (accented attack) and ‘bloom’ (played with a small crescendo leading into the sustained note), all played at four dynamics.
Legato transitions are also available for tremolo and trills, so as mentioned in my LASS 2.0 review, you can create colourful effects such as a glissando slide up to a high trilled note. For those seeking extra legato colours, the MSS Expanded Legato companion library offers sordino, sul tasto and sul ponticello true legato deliveries, all featuring the attack and bowing variations mentioned above.
Although the first wave of interval‑specific true legato instruments were strictly monophonic, companies subsequently developed polyphonic legato modes which enabled you to lob an occasional chord or double stop into your flowing legato lead line. MSS’s legatos are polyphonic by default, but can be rendered monophonic if you prefer.
I found the ensembles’ polyphonic legatos work very well for smoothing chordal transitions and performing mid‑tempo expressive and soaring melodies, while the portamento slides do a great rendition of the classic Bollywood strings style. The same holds true for the solo violin and cello, but the solo viola (the sole instrument inherited from LASS) struggled to keep up with faster legato transitions. It was good therefore to discover an alternative, altogether more nimble legato mode lurking in the so‑called ‘Intuition Series’ folder (explained below).
The makers have put a tremendous amount of thought into this impressive collection, which looks set to leap straight into the ‘best string libraries’ lists alongside its predecessor.
Auto Rhythm & Recorded Ostinatos
The Auto Rhythm tool was another of LASS’s major selling points. Used in conjunction with short notes, it transforms simple key presses into accented, driving rhythmic note repetitions, enabling the creation of instant propulsive ostinatos. The feature lives on in MSS with significant enhancements: when you add notes to a held chord, a new ART mode ensures that everything synchronises to the same rhythm pattern regardless of the note entry points. You can also use the new ‘arp’ mode to automatically arpeggiate your chords.
A ‘short ostinato’ tool (not be confused with recorded ostinato intervals, more on which below) allows complete control of the arpeggio configuration, from simple directional movements to more complex and irregular shapes. For more advanced users, the ‘score’ mode lets you specify a different rhythmic value or rest for each note of the pattern, so you can mix up eighth notes, 16th notes and triplets within the same phrase. While this falls short of a full step sequencer, it’s a lot of fun, and can lead to unexpected and exhilarating creative results.
If incessant pounding action strings give you a headache, a more soothing alternative is available in the shape of recorded ostinatos. Performed separately by the violins and cellos, these consist of simple, repeated up and down two‑note intervals originally played at 72bpm which sync to your song tempo. These simple legato movements span most intervals from a minor second up to a perfect fifth, though for some reason the augmented fourth (C‑F#) was omitted.
The new ostinato engine’s intelligent scripting analyses your played chords and arranges their notes into parallel intervallic movements, thus creating a satisfyingly harmonious chordal pulse. The engine automatically triggers the correct diatonic intervals for the key you’ve specified, and can quantise your entries to keep everything tight. This all takes place in real time — no doubt all manner of fiendish calculations are going on under the bonnet, but you don’t have to think about it: just play, and Audiobro’s engine will sort it out.
Is this cheating? From an old‑school classical viewpoint I suppose so, but I suspect for most readers the ability to create animated and pulsating rhythm patterns with a few simple key presses is an irresistible prospect. Besides, if anyone asks you can always pretend you programmed all the notes yourself.
Scales & Octave Runs
Let’s cheat some more. If playing a few notes in quick succession leaves you tired and dispirited, why not dial up MSS’s scale runs? Played by violins, violas and cellos, these fast, scalic legato figures consist of three or four notes which culminate in a final short target note — a simple example would be C‑D‑E or C‑D‑E‑F. The run can be ascending or descending, and the target note may be accented if you wish.
Having specified the key, you select a tonality from a list of major, minor and five different modes. While some of the latter are simple variants of major or minor scales, I’m not convinced the weird Locrian mode will get a lot of use! An optional auto tempo mode chooses the speed that works best with your song tempo, after which you specify the scale direction and playback mode, which includes whole tone runs and chromatic and diatonic scales which carry on ascending or descending till you release the key.
Audiobro also recorded a comprehensive set of octave runs, a de rigueur fixture in early libraries which now appears to be creeping back into fashion. MSS’s version follows the classic format of a fast seven‑note scale run leading to a final short target note which completes the octave. Though offering fewer options than the above‑mentioned scale runs, the octave version nevertheless covers the essential musical territory with major and minor up and down variants. Once you get the knack, you can string these brilliantly executed runs together in highly realistic, fluid phrases spanning the full strings range from low cellos to high violins — a great way to add vitality and organic motion to your scores.
The Great Divide
So what’s the deal with ‘divisi’? In orchestral circles the term simply means dividing parts between the members of a section, so if you want your violins to perform a two‑note chord, you ask half the players to play one note and the remaining half to play the other. In old‑school string libraries samples are usually performed by the whole section, which creates a theoretical escalation of player numbers when you play a chord. Though layering samples in this way has a far less obvious and dramatic effect on the sound than actually increasing the number of real string players in a room, some orchestral sample users object in principle and regard the sample build‑up as fake‑sounding.
Audiobro’s LA Scoring Strings tackled the issue by presenting its ensembles in full, half and a choice of two small section sizes to facilitate the divisi part allocation used in real‑life orchestration. MSS streamlines this approach by simply offering ‘A’ and ‘B’ half‑sections of each of its ensembles — to hear the full section, you load both A and B and play them on the same MIDI channel.
MSS’s Auto Divisi feature allows you to build an ensemble of up to four divisi sections of the same instrument type — the most elaborate setup would be Violins 1A, 1B, 2A and 2B. You can’t mix and match, so adding violas, cellos and basses to the ensemble requires each section to be loaded into a separate instance of Kontakt. Once loaded, you can tailor the way the Auto Divisi engine responds to your played chords in various ingenious ways too numerous to describe here. Suffice it to say that setting up the divisi behaviour is a good deal less clunky than it was in LASS!
In practice, the Auto Divisi creates agreeably naturalistic results with a minimum of user effort, but it’s not a fully fledged Auto Arranger: when it comes to assigning notes to different instrument types you’ll have to use a little brain power, but in my book that’s no bad thing.
(See Arranging For Strings Parts 1 & 3 on the SOS website for more info on divisi string writing.)
Still There Is More
I should also mention that MSS includes a comprehensive set of effects (including a great ‘Chopper’ auto‑tremolo), an efficient real‑time keyswitching system and a great set of fright‑inducing aleatoric string effects comprising Psycho‑style atonal staccato stabs, risers, falls, screechy ponticellos, bass runs and evolving Shepard tones (but sadly, no sheep).
The makers have put a tremendous amount of thought into this impressive collection, which looks set to leap straight into the ‘best string libraries’ lists alongside its predecessor. Combining great sound and musicality, imaginative features and technical smarts, Modern Scoring Strings should secure a bright future for Audiobro.
MSS was recorded from close, stage and surround microphone positions, each with its own dedicated mixer channel. In addition, there’s a full mix of the stage and surround mics which you can use to conserve system resources while programming. While all four channels can play simultaneously with no phasing issues, I found that a blend of the close and full mix channels sounded great and gave me all the options I needed for stereo mixing.
The sound stage chosen for these recordings has a clear, tonally balanced acoustic with no obvious reverb reflections, so while moving from the close mics to the surround position increases the sense of distance, it doesn’t introduce an all‑consuming reverb of the kind one hears in London’s Air Lyndhurst hall. That said, the close mic position doesn’t sound completely dry, but has a full, warm sound containing a hint of pleasant room ambience.
MSS’s Stage feature allows you to arrange the divisi sections on a virtual stage and add ambience to taste: sections placed towards the rear sound more distant, and each one can have its own left‑right pan position. A circular ‘Mover Tool’ lets you pan all the ensembles at once while keeping their relative position. In addition, Stage Type presets use MSS’s built‑in convolution reverbs to simulate the sound of halls, churches, cathedrals, small rooms (etc), with room size and room tone controls also available to help you fine tune the ambience.
Tantalisingly described as “a dedicated collection of hybrid technologies”, Audiobro’s Intuition Engine applies modelled performance characteristics to the existing multimiked sample set, thereby gaining the flexibility of modelled instruments while retaining the convincing sound of real‑life samples. According to the makers, the resulting slight reduction of realism is more than compensated by hybrid instruments’ responsiveness and fluidity.
Consisting of the 10 divisi ensembles and three solo instruments performing straight legato, short notes, pizzicato and tremolo, the Intuition Series’ USP is its sheer lightning‑fast playability. A classic monophonic legato mode excels at rapid legato runs, flurries, trills and grace notes, simply requiring that you overlap notes to trigger the legato connections. If you like to play fast, these legato patches will keep up with you! Higher velocities produce a more pronounced note attack, adding an expressive dimension to legato performances.
Unusually, connections are implemented for short notes as well as sustains, with a slider enabling you to morph between the four short types used in the main library. You can also adjust instrument body timbre by moving the virtual bow position from the bridge to the fingerboard, thus providing a realistic simulation of sordino, sul tasto and sul ponticello timbres (NB. the main MSS library has real recorded version of these styles).
Boasting their own GUI design and dedicated manual, the Intuition instruments benefit from a spacious screen presentation which introduces some much‑needed simplicity, allowing users to enjoy the fun of playing without being distracted by a blizzard of controls and buttons.
- A large string orchestra expertly recorded and programmed by a proven industry leader.
- Half‑section sampling facilitates the creation of authentic divisi parts.
- Contains a large variety of articulations including true legato, octave runs, scale figures and aleatoric effects.
- The programmable Auto Rhythm tool creates exciting ostinato short note patterns.
- There are no full‑section ‘tutti’ performances.
- Some features may be a tad too complex for inexperienced users.
The all‑new Modern Scoring Strings builds on the legacy of Audiobro’s critically acclaimed LA Scoring Strings with a wide‑ranging sample set performed by a full symphonic contingent of 60 players. Recorded in a large scoring stage, the library offers divisi sections, highly playable ‘Intuition’ legato instruments, runs and automated rhythm and ostinato tools which create instant movement and excitement at the touch of a finger. Definitely one for the pros, while intrepid newbies can dive in and figure out the complexities later.
Modern Scoring Strings $699, MSS Expanded Legato $399, MSS + MSS Expanded Legato $1098. Prices include VAT.
Modern Scoring Strings $699, MSS Expanded Legato $399, MSS + MSS Expanded Legato $1098.