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VSL Vienna Instruments

VST/AU Orchestral Plug-ins [PC/Mac] By Matt Bell
Published February 2006

The new VI front end, with cells for different articulations at the top left, and the matrix below them. The eye-like display in the centre is a meter — the green ring displays MIDI activity, while the blue 'LEDs' represent audio.The new VI front end, with cells for different articulations at the top left, and the matrix below them. The eye-like display in the centre is a meter — the green ring displays MIDI activity, while the blue 'LEDs' represent audio.

VSL, makers of the world's largest orchestral library, have unveiled their next phase of development. SOS were at the launch...

No orchestral library has dedicated itself to the cause of recreating a complete orchestra from samples in quite the same detail as the Vienna Symphonic Library. Their original release, the VSL First Edition, was over 90GB in size, while the subsequent Pro Edition was a hard-drive-munching 240GB. Their newest offering, the Symphonic Cube, continues the trend — it's planned to consist of over 550GB of 24-bit samples, comprising all those in the Pro Edition and the more affordable Horizon series, plus many new instruments and performance articulations.

However, VSL have also been beavering away on enhancements to ensure that theirs remains the last word in virtual orchestras. They recently unveiled the first fruits of this work at an impressive presentation in Munich organised by their aptly named local distributors Best Service. Once again, VSL didn't disappoint; what they announced was effectively the overhaul of their entire library. When it was first planned, the Symphonic Cube was going to ship on its own hard drive array, but it will now be available as 10 themed libraries (strings, woodwind, brass, and so on), the so-called Vienna Instruments or VI s, which are accessed via a new custom-built virtual-instrument front end.

Designing this has allowed VSL to improve some of the less well-integrated parts of their library, and put everything under the control of one neat VST- or AU-format plug-in. For example, functions that used to be handled by the stand-alone Performance Tool (which Gigastudio users had to run separately), such as interpreting performance data and calling up appropriate legato and note-run samples from the library, are now integrated into the VI interface. This allows you to combine many different articulations in an editable, recallable preset, triggerable on one MIDI channel.

Different performance articulations are loaded into the top cell on the left of the window by dragging and dropping from an articulation browser that can be accessed on the right. Each of the articulations is represented by a cell in the 12 x 12 matrix below, and you can then define the keys you use to step vertically and horizontally through the articulations in the matrix by means of a simple controller assignment page on the right, or by using a hardware controller and the built-in MIDI Learn function.

Up to 12 custom switching matrices can be saved and recalled by more keyswitches, but if you don't want to work at this detailed level, there are plenty of pre-assigned Presets and a so-called Universal mode in which the most suitable articulations for a given instrument are pre-mapped to one controller. There's even a built-in Performance detection algorithm, which can analyse what you're playing and seek to call up appropriate performance samples to match. If you 'trill' on a flute sample between two notes, for example, the VI will detect this and pull up one of the new sampled trill performances instead of playing back discrete sampled notes. You might object that all these performance samples could eat up your sequencer host's available RAM, but VSL have created a Learn mode that analyses passages you record and detects precisely which samples you've used. The rest can then be jettisoned from your computer's memory using the built-in RAM Optimiser. You can restore samples at any time, permitting you to change the phrase later if you wish.

We think the VI s are a big step forward for expressive digital orchestral production. Of course, the full Symphonic Cube isn't cheap, but you can buy the VI s one at a time, and if you already own parts of the VSL First Edition, Pro Edition, or Horizon-series libraries, upgrading to the VI s is much more affordable than buying them from scratch. VSL have thoughtfully made an on-line Discount Calculator available at their web-based shop, so that you can work out what discounts apply to you, based on what you already own.

The first five VIs are scheduled to ship in early 2006, with the other five to follow later in the year. Look out for our reviews then! 


Complete Symphonic Cube, £6137 including VAT. For existing user discounts and pricing on individual libraries, contact Time + Space.

Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200.