Overall Comments: One might say to die for, but perhaps it would be more advisable to stick around and enjoy these first‑rate sounds, created by the ex‑bassist of Weather Report and an unnamed European orchestra. Digitally recorded in stereo throughout, the ensembles retain just the right amount of 'hall' in the sound. Expensive, but very good.
The first version of this library had no loops, to the bemusement of keyboard players everywhere, but version 2.0 (reviewed here) contains looped sounds. However, Miroslav Vitous himself considers the unlooped samples superior in quality and strongly urge‑using them for mastering, which is fine as long as your composition doesn't employ any very long notes!
The samples are recorded 'in place', with the different instrument families positioned as they would be on stage for a concert performance. This makes some sounds appear left‑ or right‑heavy in isolation, but when combined, a realistic orchestral stereo picture appears.
The term 'portamento' is used (idiosyncratically) to describe medium‑length notes, rather than its usual connotation of a slide from pitch to pitch. Switching between the sustained, 'portamento' and staccato/detaché samples can produce a very realistic performance, but is memory‑intensive.
String Ensembles (v2.0)
23 Vns: sus f <3>, sus nv, det <3>, stc, piz, trem
11 Vns: sus f <4>, sus p <2>, sus nv, sus sul <2>, sus mut, det <2>, stc <2>, piz <2>, trem, sul trem.
4 Vas: sus <3>, sus nv, det, stc <2>, piz, trem.
10 Vcs: sus <3>, sus nv <2>, det <2>, stc, piz, trem.
9 Dbs: sus <2>, det <2>, stc, piz, trem.
Disc Comments: Slavic string players, overflowing with impassioned vibrato, bring some soul to the rather sterile world of sampling. Feelings will also run high over the price of this individual disc!
Standouts: There are stirring violin, viola, and cello sections, and the 9‑strong (!) double bass section deserves a special mention. Strong vibrato is one of the volume's defining qualities, but I also enjoyed the subtle attack of the 'no vibrato' viola and cello sections. If there was any justice in the world, these sounds would clinch you your first Hollywood commission, or at the very least, the score to Earthworm Jim — The Movie.
Woodwind & Brass Ensembles (v2.0)
3 Tbns: sus (ff & f), sus mut, prt, stc, stc mut.
3 Tpts: sus mf, prt <3>, stc <2>, stc mut.
4 Fhns: sus (ff & f), sus mut, prt, stc, stc mut.
3 Flts: sus, prt, stc.
3 Clas: sus <2>, prt, stc <2>.
3 Obs: sus, prt, stc.
3 Bsns: sus, prt, stc.
Disc Comments: Unison trios (and one quartet) of those who blow, superbly recorded and now offering looped versions. These samples are an invaluable aid to learning orchestral textures, and one lesson is that three is not always better than one — the three clarinets have a synth‑like quality which makes them hard to blend with other sounds. (Not Miroslav's fault, that's just how three loud unison clarinets sound!) The other unison instruments, however, sound great and provide eminently useable textures.
Standouts: The three bassoons have an incredibly poignant and unusual effect. Double forte trombones and French horns are definitely in the wide‑screen category, and remind one of the real power of orchestral brass. The brass staccatos may be layered with the sustained double forte programs to add a powerful attack.
Quibbles: I spent so long improvising with the three bassoons that the pubs were shut when I emerged. The emphasis here is on different note lengths, but from the point of view of expression, it would have been nice to have more dynamic variation — loud and soft flutes, for example.
Solo Instruments 1 (v2.0)
Va: sus <3>, sus sul, det <2>, stc, piz, trem.
Vc: sus, det <3>, stc, piz, trem.
Tpt: sus, sus mut, prt <2>, stc <3>.
Tbn: sus, sus mut, prt, stc, stc mut
Btbn: sus <2>, pt, stc <2>.
Cla: sus, prt, stc.
Bcla: sus, prt, stc.
Bsn: sus, prt <2>, stc.
Cbsn: sus, stc.
Solo Instruments 2 (v2.0)
Vn: sus, det <3>, stc <2>, spc, piz, piz mut, trem, trem sul, trll, gls <2>.
Db: sus, det, stc, piz, trem.
Fhn: sus <2>, prt, stc, stc mut, ft.
Tba: sus, sus mut, prt, stc, stc mut.
Pic: sus, sus nv, prt <2>, stc.
Flt: sus, sus nv, prt <2>, stc, ft.
Aflt: sus, sus nv, prt, stc, ft.
Ob: sus, sus sw <2>, stc.
Ehn: sus, sus sw, stc.
Solo Instruments Discs Comments: Excellent studio recordings of the orchestra's individual instruments, most played with a controlled, expressive vibrato (though the detaché solo violin overdoes it a bit). Each instrument family (strings/brass/woodwind) is split across the two discs — see quibble below! The use of shorter detaché and 'portamento' samples is especially telling in these two volumes, adding realism to string and brass solo melody lines.
Standouts: Nice flute, piccolo, oboe, and contrabassoon. Passionate‑sounding solo strings, suitable for fiery Bartok string quartets or Romany folk melodies.
Quibbles: The alternative oboe and English horn samples described as 'expressive' start quietly, then swell in volume, producing a 'backwards' effect which falls short of a real crescendo. In my experience, such playing techniques are of little practical use to the samplist. Also, the arrangement of the two solo instrument discs is such that you can't organise a string, brass or woodwind quartet without buying both — at these prices, that's punitive
Classical Percussion & Harp
PERCUSSION — TUNED
Bells, Crot, Cwb#, Glk, Lith, Metal plates, Plate bells, Mba, Tmp, Tub , Vib.
PERCUSSION — UNPITCHED
BD, Bgos, Btr, SD, Cast, Cgas, CrC, Gng, Gui, Misc drums, Shk, Tamb, Tri, Wbl, Whip.
Single notes, harmonics, gls & arp (up).
Disc Comments: A belated, but very welcome addition to the Miroslav Vitous library, featuring both concert hall and studio recordings of orchestral percussion, plus a very nice harp with a slight edge to its sound.
Standouts: A very classy piece of work throughout, but the hall recordings are knockout — timps, bass and snare drum and cymbals sound clean, powerful and suitably expensive, with many useful performance styles — the timp 'glide' notes, for example, are a lot of fun. The giant tam‑tam is terrific, and multisampled harp harmonics make a delicious, subtle keyboard patch. Finally, vibraphones are like pebbles on the beach — but where else are you gonna find a lithophone?
Quibbles: A small point, but would it have been too much trouble to name the CD‑ROM volumes rather than simply numbering them? This lack of information means we have to constantly refer to the booklet while searching for a sound.
Contact: Time & Space.
£ Akai/Emu IV/Kurzweil/Roland/Samplecell CD‑ROMs: String Ensembles £1399; Woodwind & Brass Ensembles £525; all other discs £580; 5‑disc set £3095; mini library £525.