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Sample CD Buyer's Guide

Product Roundup By Dave Stewart
Published January 2000

Sample CD Buyer's Guide

Dave Stewart concludes his investigation into the world of orchestral sampling with a roundup of over 40 orchestral sample CDs.

The provision of orchestral sounds in sampled form enables anyone who owns a sampler, a MIDI keyboard and a brain to experiment with orchestral arrangements. In the early days of sampling, such arrangements could only be built up by loading instruments one at a time and laying them to multitrack, but the huge memories and multitimbral capabilities of contemporary samplers now allow us to us hear the whole orchestra playing in real time. This exciting development has opened up a world of sound previously accessible only to a privileged elite, and may well liberate and inspire a new generation of orchestral composers.

As sampler RAM capacity has grown, orchestral sound libraries have proliferated, and this seems a good time to take stock of the samples currently on offer. Most are presented ready‑to‑play on CD‑ROM, a fact for which anyone who has spent fruitless hours trying to loop samples of a violin section will be grateful. Some are offered on audio CD, which is no great hardship if the sounds are percussive or staccato in nature and don't need looping — also, the fast access time of an audio CD beats CD‑ROM hands down if you just want to quickly audition a few samples. A few libraries are available in WAV or AIFF format for PC or Mac soundcards, though at the moment these tend to be duplicates of libraries already available on CD‑ROM. I have listened carefully to all the orchestral sounds I could get my hands on, and am relieved to report that there are no real stinkers — all have something positive to offer serious samplists, even those operating on a tight budget.

Despite the overall reasonable level of quality, deciding exactly which discs to buy is not straightforward. All of the companies are itching to supply you with catalogues containing glowingly worded descriptions of their sample CDs' contents, but checking the actual contents of a CD‑ROM before purchase is not always easy. Some companies offer audio demos on their web sites (and may even sell you the sounds over the web if you do decide to buy); but although demos can give you an idea of the overall quality, bear in mind that the mixes are often enhanced by top‑of‑the‑range professional reverb units!

I have listened carefully to all the orchestral sounds I could get my hands on, and am relieved to report that there are no real stinkers.

In the quest for greater realism, producers have taken pains to provide performance styles like grace notes, glissandi (slides), short notes, trills, crescendos, and so on. With careful programming, these can go a long way towards convincing listeners that a real orchestra is playing. For those who want more instant results, there are also libraries of pre‑composed orchestral performances, which I have scrutinised as well. In essence, these are no different from library music albums, but it is fun, at least for a minute or two, to trigger a whole orchestral performance from one note of a keyboard!

To keep the Sampleography to a manageable size, I have not reviewed pianos, organs, harpsichords, saxophones, pop brass (ie. trumpets, trombones and saxophones), other non‑orchestral instruments or choirs unless they happen to appear on disc as part of an orchestral collection. Each disc is given a rating from one to six (see box on page 98‑99).

I have tried to give a clear indication of the libraries' musical strong points, but there's no accounting for taste — if you find just one sound on a CD‑ROM which inspires you to compose a piece of music, then the purchase will probably have been justified. Remember, the sounds are only tools — use your imagination, and be creative!

Finally, thanks to all the companies who lent us discs for evaluation.

Orchestral Samples

Abbreviations & Notes



  • Db — Solo double bass.
  • Dbs — Double bass section.
  • SS — String section (ie. combined violins, violas, cellos and double basses).*
  • Va — Solo viola.
  • Vas — Viola section.
  • Vc — Solo cello.
  • Vcs — Cello section.
  • Vn — Solo violin.
  • Vns — Violin section.


  • Bhrn — Baritone horn (similar to tenor tuba).
  • BrS — Brass section (ie. combined trumpets, trombones and tuba).*
  • Btbn — Bass trombone.
  • Corn — Cornet.
  • Euph — Euphonium (tenor tuba).
  • Fhn — Solo French horn.
  • Fhns — French horns.
  • Flg — Solo Flugelhorn.
  • Flgs — Flugelhorns.
  • Tba — Solo tuba.
  • Tbas — Tubas.
  • Tbn — Solo trombone.
  • Tbns — Trombones.
  • Tpt — Solo trumpet.
  • Tpts — Trumpets.


  • Aflt — Alto flute.
  • Bcla — Bass clarinet.
  • Bflt — Bass flute.
  • Bob — Bass oboe (baritone oboe).
  • Bsn — Bassoon.
  • Cbcla — Contrabass clarinet.
  • Cbsn — Contrabassoon.
  • Cla — Clarinet.
  • Ehn — English horn (also known as Cor Anglais).
  • Flt — Flute.
  • Ob — Oboe.
  • Ob'd — Oboe d'amore.
  • Pic — Piccolo.
  • WS — Woodwind section (ie. a combination of woodwinds).*


  • Crot — Crotales (antique cymbals).
  • Cwb# — Tuned cowbells.
  • Glk — Glockenspiel (called 'orchestral bells' in some libraries).
  • Lith — Lithophone (tuned stones).
  • Mba — Marimba.
  • Tmp — Timpani.
  • Tub — Tubular bells (chimes).
  • Vib — Vibraphone.
  • Xyl — Xylophone.


  • BD — Bass drum.
  • Bgos — Bongo drums.
  • Btr — Bell tree.
  • BwC — Bowed cymbal.
  • Cast — Castanets.
  • Cgas — Conga drums.
  • Chg — Small Chinese gong.
  • Clak — Clacker.
  • Clik — Clicker.
  • Clv — Claves.
  • Cwb — Cowbells.
  • CrC — Crash cymbals (piatti).
  • Gng — Large gong (Tam‑tam).
  • Gui — Guiro.
  • Mtr — Mark tree.
  • Ratch — Ratchet.
  • SD — Snare drum.
  • Shk — Shakers.
  • Slb — Sleigh bell.
  • SSt — Slapstick.
  • Tamb — Tambourine.
  • Tbl — Temple block.
  • Tri — Triangle.
  • Wbl — Wood block.


  • Tutti — Combined strings, brass & woodwind.*
  • A similar effect can of course be achieved by layering the individual instruments, but these ensembles are noted in the Sampleography only where the instruments have actually been recorded playing together!



  • ff — very loud.
  • f — loud.
  • mf — fairly loud.
  • mp — fairly quiet.
  • p — quiet.
  • pp — very quiet.


  • acc — accented.
  • arp — arpeggio.
  • att — (short) attack with no sustain.
  • chk — choked.
  • col — col legno.
  • cr — crescendo
  • det — detaché.
  • fp — loud attack followed by quiet sustain.
  • fpcr — an fp leading into a crescendo.
  • ft — flutter tongue.
  • gl — glissando.
  • gr — grace notes.
  • harm — harmonics.
  • hrd — hard.
  • int — intermediate (passing note).
  • leg — legato.
  • marc — marcato.
  • med — medium.
  • met — metal.
  • mor — mordent (musical ornament).
  • mut — with mute or muted/damped.
  • nv — no vibrato.
  • oct — octave.
  • 3 oct — in three octaves.
  • prt — portamento (term used in Miroslav Vitous library to denote medium length legato notes).
  • piz — pizzicato.
  • rll — roll.
  • r/s — rimshot.
  • sft — soft.
  • slp — slapped (mouthpiece).
  • snpiz — 'snap' pizzicato.
  • spc — spiccato.
  • stc — staccato.
  • stp — stopped.
  • sul — sul ponticello (bowed very close to the bridge).
  • sus — sustained.
  • sw — swells.
  • trem — tremolando.
  • trll — trills.
  • trn — turn (musical ornament).
  • trip — triple tonguing (trumpet).
  • x‑st — cross‑stick (snare drum).
  • vb — plus vibrato.


(M) — mono.

(St) — stereo.

<x> (number in angled brackets) — alternative performance types or alternative takes.

[x] (number in square brackets) — different versions of same instrument.


Unless stated otherwise:

  • Samples are single notes or single hits.
  • Samples are recorded in stereo.
  • Ensemble samples are played at unison pitch.

Items in italics are 'performance'‑style samples (glissandi, chords, and so on) or musical phrases. I have not attempted to itemise percussion performance styles, as they are too numerous.

Several libraries list harp 'arpeggios', but here the term 'gls' (glissando) is used where the harp's strings are rapidly swept to produce a scale, and 'arp' when the notes of a chord are individually picked out in succession.

When it came to the difficult semantic task of distinguishing between a crescendo and a swell or an accent and a marcato, I have stuck with the library's own terminology!

Many companies present their sounds on CD‑ROM in alternative memory‑saving mono, 'short loop' or reduced sampling rate versions. To save space, we have not listed these.

The range of available formats are listed together with the pricing information at the end of the entry for each CD, and the prices listed include VAT where applicable. The 'Contact' information at the end of each entry relates to the 'Contact Details' box elsewhere in this article, which contains the full details of the UK distributors of the discs in this roundup. Not all the manufacturers whose products are featured here have UK representation: where there is no UK distributor, the manufacturer's office overseas (and price in dollars) is given.


6 Stars / ****** Excellent ‑‑ recommended. High‑quality, top professional standard.

5 Stars / ***** Very good ‑‑ much useable material, good quality.

4 Stars / **** Good — Quality OK throughout with one or two star turns.

3 Stars / ***Reasonably good — some useable material.

2 Stars / ** Marginal — not much useable material.

1 Star / *Cheap & cheerful — OK for beginners!

Titles By Instrument Category

  • EIIIX Sound Library Volume 3 — Orchestral.
  • Peter Siedlaczek: Orchestra, Orchestra Plus, Orchestral Colours.
  • Prosonus: The Orchestral Collection.
  • Roland Sample Archives Project series: Symphony Orchestra.
  • Zero‑G Creative Essentials Series: Volume 30 — Orchestral Flavours.


  • Climax Collection: Volume 5 — Violins.
  • Denny Jaeger Master Violin Library.
  • Miroslav Vitous Symphonic Orchestra samples: String Ensembles v2.0.
  • Peter Siedlaczek's Advanced Orchestra: Volume 1 — String Ensembles, Volume 2 — Solo Strings.
  • Roland Sample Archives Project Series: String Sections, Solo Strings.
  • Syntec Super Strings.
  • Synclavier Sample Library: Strings.
  • Ultimate String Collection.
  • The Virtuoso Series String Orchestra.
  • Zero‑G Creative Essentials Series: Volume 28 — String Textures.


  • Peter Siedlaczek's Advanced Orchestra: Volume 4 — Brass & Effects.
  • Roland Sample Archives Project Series: Brass Sections, Solo Brass.


  • Peter Siedlaczek's Advanced Orchestra: Volume 3 — Woodwinds.
  • Roland Sample Archives Project Series: Orchestral Winds.


  • Miroslav Vitous Symphonic Orchestra samples: Woodwind & Brass Ensembles v2.0.
  • Synclavier Sample Library: Brass & Winds.
  • Zero‑G Creative Essentials Series: Volume 29 — Woodwind & Brass.
  • Climax Collection: Volume 2 — Classic.
  • Miroslav Vitous Symphonic Orchestra samples: Solo Instruments I v2.0, Solo Instruments II v2.0.
  • Peter Siedlaczek's Advanced Orchestra: Upgrade '97.


  • Dave Samuels — Marimba & Vibes.
  • Miroslav Vitous Symphonic Orchestra samples: Classical Percussion & Harp.
  • Peter Siedlaczek's Advanced Orchestra: Volume 5 — Percussion & Harp.
  • Roland Sample Archives Project Series: Orchestral Percussion.
  • Synclavier Sample Library: Percussion Plus — World & Orchestral.


  • Advanced Media Trax.
  • Peter Siedlaczek: Orchestral Colours.
  • Scoring Tools.
  • Symphonic Adventures.

Contact Details



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