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EastWest Hollywood Strings 2

Sample Library By John Walden
Published July 2024

Hollywood Strings 2 delivers a close‑up and intimate sound thanks, in part, to the additional close mic options that can be seen in the Microphones mixer panel.Hollywood Strings 2 delivers a close‑up and intimate sound thanks, in part, to the additional close mic options that can be seen in the Microphones mixer panel.

EastWest get intimate with their latest orchestral string section library: Hollywood Strings 2.

EastWest’s Hollywood Orchestra Opus Edition — reviewed by Dave Stewart in the SOS  July 2021 issue — is undeniably epic. With approximately 1TB of sample data, it’s epic in size. Thanks to the super‑slick Opus front end, it has a pretty epic user interface. And, developed in collaboration with expertise from Sonuscore, its Orchestrator performance engine can generate epic orchestral arrangements from even simple MIDI chord sequences. Oh, and don’t forget the sound; yup, that’s definitely epic also. This is a premium orchestral sample library product capable of seriously good results.

All of which begs an obvious question; what can you do to better ‘epic’? Well, when it comes to the orchestral string section at least, we are about to discover, as EastWest have just released Hollywood Strings 2. So, let’s raise the baton and see what they have done to raise the bar.

Size Matters

As befits the ‘Hollywood’ title, the original Hollywood Strings library had a very cinematic sound. Indeed, it’s apt for the whole Hollywood Orchestra; if you want that blockbuster film score sound from your virtual orchestra, EastWest’s flagship library can deliver it.

With that box already ticked, rather interestingly, EastWest decided to take a somewhat different direction with Hollywood Strings 2. The product’s tagline — ‘close‑up and intimate’ — reflects this and the library is based upon a fairly compact 21‑piece chamber strings ensemble consisting of six first violins, four second violins, four violas, four celli and three basses. The instruments were recorded in EastWest’s own Studio 2 which, while used for soundtrack work, is also used for bands (Green Day, Metallica and the Red Hot Chili Peppers have all recorded there, for example) and provides a more intimate sound than a larger recording space would.

The ’intimate’ isn’t just about the space, though. While three arrays of mics provide a room sound — main, midfield and surround — every instrument was also close‑miked, including mics attached directly to the instrument. Within the Opus mixing controls, these provide close main, close secondary and close overhead options alongside the room/surround mics. If you want a tighter, drier, more intimate sound, Hollywood Strings 2 should therefore have the underlying sample base to provide that while still letting you ‘go big’ with the room mics and suitable reverb when required.

And, talking of size, Hollywood Strings comes in at just over 160GB so, from a technical perspective at least, perhaps not quite so small and intimate. That said, realism and detail in your virtual instruments generally increases with a larger sample base, all other things being equal.

Ensemble Options

As with the original HS1, the bulk of the presets for Hollywood Strings 2 are divided into instrument‑specific ensembles. Within the Opus browser, for each of these instrument ensembles — first violins, second violins, violas, celli and basses — their respective presets are subdivided into five performance style groupings; long, short, effects, legato and keyswitch. In turn, each of these preset groups then provide individual articulation presets, while the keyswitch groups offer a single preset with multiple keyswitchable articulations. Composers often have their own preference for working with either single articulation or multi‑articulation presets, so it’s good to have that choice straight out the box.

Full section presets stack individual instruments within Opus’ Instrument Rack.Full section presets stack individual instruments within Opus’ Instrument Rack.

For those occasions when a full string ensemble patch is required, a further group of Full Strings presets are provided and divided into long, short and effects groupings. Each of these offers a range of individual articulation presets and, when loaded, open as multiple instruments within the Opus’ Instrument Rack providing violins, violas, celli and basses. Each is configured to use the same MIDI channel and, as you play, notes are allocated to each sub‑ensemble based on pitch. While most of these are single‑articulation presets, there is a very useful Full STR Stac Sus preset that offers both staccato (with three dynamic layers) and sustain (with four dynamic layers) articulations with automatic switching based upon how you play. Either velocity (for staccato) or CC11 (for sustains) are used to control dynamics, and for the sustained notes, you can add vibrato via the mod wheel. It’s a very playable preset and great for sketching out initial ideas. For the ultimate convenience on that front, there is also the Live 21 Piece Ensemble preset, which loads as a single instrument. It’s built on just sustains but, with a pretty rapid attack, you can easily fake shorter notes, whether that’s for actual live performance or for sketching ideas.

As with HS1, once you load an HS2 instrument into Opus, you can switch that preset between Soft, Classic and Epic moods. This adjusts the combination of microphone mix and reverb (and some other settings under the hood) to quickly change the character of the sound. In HS2, the Soft mood favours the close and mid mic positions, Classic combines close and main, while Epic utilises the mid and surround mics, giving a progressively more ambient sound. These three moods provide some very contrasting options, and you can make your own manual adjustments if you need to refine things further.

The Art Of Articulations

As befits a premium string library, HS2 doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the array of performance articulations offered. EastWest’s website and the HS2 PDF manual provide a great summary of what’s included for each of the ensembles, so I’ll just provide an example here — the first violins — to give a flavour of the coverage.

The first violins are offered with six different Long articulation options. These includes detache, a stac/sus combo, an expressive sustain, and a preset that uses the mod wheel to move between non‑vibrato, vibrato and a molto (wider) vibrato. The Short category offers 10 instruments, with col legno (played with the wooden part of the bow), a selection of marcato, staccato, spiccato (that offer progressively shorter notes) and pizzicato presets. You also get up/down staccato run options to provide super‑realistic note transitions in those faster passages.

Eight presets within the Legato category provide different legato variants with bow change, slur (with expressive, molto and repetition options) portamento and trill available. The scripting options allowing your playing style, velocity, CC1 and CC11 to control details of the performance, blending the legato lines with sustained samples and controlling dynamics. There is also an ‘All VS’ preset that lets you switch between the different legato behaviours based upon MIDI note velocities, while CC11 controls dynamics.

Full keyswitchable presets are also included.Full keyswitchable presets are also included.

The Effects category provides three presets — tremolo, harmonics and flautando — the latter offering a soft, delicate sound based upon a light bowing technique near to the fingerboard. Finally, within the Keyswitch category, you get a full keyswitchable preset that offers 13 different performance articulations.

In broad terms, the articulation sets across the other ensembles are similar but just some minor differences. For example, the second violins miss the harmonics from the Effects category, while the basses don’t offer a trill or portamento legato presets. However, all these other instrument ensembles do offer an additional Bartok pizzicato (a stronger pizzicato where the string often snaps back onto the fingerboard; it’s a somewhat more percussive sound) in their respective Shorts category. In summary, HS2 provides an impressive array of playing techniques that ought to satisfy almost any orchestral composer.

Deep (and, when required) powerful basses, emotive celli, beautifully balanced violas and violins that can go from delicate to soaring; it’s all here for you to exploit in your compositions.

String Theory In Practice

Of course, what really matters is just how this combination of interesting design choices and technical details combine to create HS2’s sound palette. Well, let’s start with the obvious; the individual instrument ensembles within Hollywood Strings 2 sound fabulous. The dynamic layers and the preset mood options ensure that every instrument has a real depth to its sound. This enables you to move from the gentlest of musical moods right up to the most epic and bombastic action/drama styles. Deep (and, when required) powerful basses, emotive celli, beautifully balanced violas and violins that can go from delicate to soaring; it’s all here for you to exploit in your compositions.

You could (indeed, Dave Stewart in his review did) say the same about HS1, but those close‑miking options, the smaller recording space and the more compact 21‑instrument ensemble undoubtedly deliver a unique and distinct character in HS2. That’s particularly evident in the short articulations that use any of the close‑mic options. The note attacks are clearer, seem faster, and offer greater emphasis. Used with a minimum of ambience (from the mics or reverb) and the sound can be very raw and intimate (you get a very clear sensation of the compact size of the ensembles). However, when you blend in the room/surround mics and reverb, providing you keep those close mics within the mix, you can get this very compelling combination of size and immediacy. Comparing a number of the HS1 and HS2 stacatto and spicatto articulations, the faster note attacks in HS2 are very obvious. Faster note runs can often be difficult to pull off in a truly convincing fashion with some virtual string instruments. In these styles, HS2 enables a tighter, more dramatic result; it’s very impressive stuff.

Those close‑mic note attacks don’t just benefit the short articulations though as, when required, they can also add a touch of bite to the start of sustained notes. There are also plenty of cinematic applications for these drier, more immediate, sounds. They simply allow you to create a very different set of styles/moods that perhaps don’t fall so easily from the sounds available in HS1. Equally, they open up other creative possibilities such as a drier sound required for use in some more intimate pop contexts, or a more controlled sound if used in a rock/metal mix where you need to place the strings more precisely in what might already be a full arrangement. You might also use just the close mics — which can sound pretty unusual to the ear without any of the room/reverb element we are so used to with orchestral strings — as a DI‑style signal into some creative effects chains (maybe an amp sim?) for sound design. For me, this close mic element is an absolute highlight of the HS2 sound.

For users of the Orchestrator element within Hollywood Orchestra, it’s worth noting that, at present at least, HS2 is not currently integrated into that system. EastWest have not yet revealed their plans on this front but, given just how well received the Orchestrator technology has been, I find it difficult to imagine that support for HS2 will not come. Fingers crossed...

HS2 Conclusions

EastWest have made some very astute design choices for Hollywood Strings 2. Yes, it matches (and perhaps exceeds) the high sonic standards set by HS1. However, it’s not just a case of ‘more of the same, but better’; HS2 brings a distinct sound palette all of its own and, while they have territory in which they overlap, they both have their respective strengths. Users should, therefore, see HS2 as complementary to, rather than a replacement for, HS1.

As a one‑off perpetual licence, Hollywood Strings 2 is a pretty significant investment, even if you manage to purchase it at the discounted launch pricing. It is, however, a professional product and priced accordingly. Fortunately, if you are an EastWest ComposerCloud+ subscriber, you will automatically see Hollywood Strings 2 added to your Installation Center library list. I know subscription‑based services are not to everyone’s taste but, if you are a working composer, the annual subscription to ComposerCloud+ is one heck of a way to manage your budgeting. Given the huge range of top‑quality sounds it provides access to, I really do think it has become one of the best deals available.

...if you are a working composer, the annual subscription to ComposerCloud+ is one heck of a way to manage your budgeting. Given the huge range of top‑quality sounds it provides access to, I really do think it has become one of the best deals available.

Hollywood Strings 2 brings something new and unique to EastWest’s orchestral instrument line‑up and adds a distinct — and very usable — sonic palette to their existing string section options. I appreciate these major libraries are a very significant development undertaking but, having experienced HS2, I’m now eagerly awaiting what might come next for the other orchestral sections; EastWest, bring it on. A worthy addition to the Hollywood Orchestra stable, Hollywood Strings 2 is a bit of a triumph.


  • Distinct sound palette compared to HS1.
  • Close miking delivers great attack to the shorter articulations.
  • High‑quality sounds throughout.


  • Only that it represents a considerable investment as a one‑off purchase.


EastWest’s interesting design choices have paid off with Hollywood Strings 2. The more intimate sound, and the excellent close‑miking options, deliver something distinct from, but complementary to, HS1. It sounds fantastic.


$499 including VAT, or with ComposerCloud+ subscription.

$499 or with ComposerCloud+ subscription.