After having tried 23 sample collections including the free ones from Orchestral Tools, I am impressed and can wholeheartedly advise the company’s SINE Player plug-in and collections. The quality of sound, the articulations (or techniques), styles, modes, and customisability are all unsurpassed.
Orchestral Tools’s flagship collection bundle is The Berlin Series Main Collection, which I got a chance to review a few weeks ago. I can tell you now that with 40 years of “experience” listening to live concertos and recordings on CD and SuperDisc of mediaeval, baroque, classical and romantic music, even I can’t hear a difference between a string concerto played from a recording and that same piece created using SINE Player, except for the performance itself (in case you’re interested and can’t wait to hear it , below is a small thing I created and uploaded to SoundCloud — it’s close to ambient but done with the Berlin Series instead of a synth).
The reason that Orchestral Tools’s sample collections are true to life is related to its unlimited access to the acoustically ideal Teldex Studio in Berlin. This is the largest independent recording facility in Germany, with a 455 m2 live room that has almost the same size and proportions as Abbey Road’s Studio One. The Teldex Studio, however, has something special that makes it stand out — it has one of the — if not the — biggest collection of vintage Neumann microphones in the world.
Among others, I reviewed specialist collections over the past year, including the sample set of original Andean instruments from the collection of Richard Harvey, the Miroire sample collection of baroque instruments with choir syllables from Bach’s Passions, and the Time Macro and Micro collections that contain samples of temporal textures performed by a symphonic orchestra.
A few weeks ago, though, the company allowed me to take on their flagship bundles. These consist of the Berlin Strings Bundle which includes special bows, first chair strings and playable FX, and the latest Berlin Con Sordino Strings collection, as well as the Berlin Series Main Collection holding a full Philharmonic Orchestra with strings, woodwind section, brass section and percussion.
These series offer a complete range of playing styles and section sizes, as well as detailed solo instruments and unique playable effects. The level of detail is unbelievable, with more than 550 articulations. It’s a composer’s dream. You can transpose the soundscapes and music themes that are in your head to the DAW with every detail and playing technique you can imagine.
No matter your style, these Series collections are a perfect fit for any type of music — from avant-garde to neo-classical and experimental. Even if you’re a synthesiser enthusiast, you can mix the Berlin Orchestra’s articulations with synthesised sounds for something genuinely unique. However, the Berlin Series Main Collection should appeal the most to composers of film and game music.
For both types of composer, it’s important that all these strings were recorded on the same scoring stage with the exact same setup, which means you can’t get closer than this to conducting a real-world orchestra. Even more important is that I found that everything works together, including those special series like Time Macro and the Berlin Con Sordino Strings. That allows you to create blends in endless combinations, and they all have a consistent sound and mic setup.
For example, you can enhance a film scene with an element of temporality by using Time Macro or, on a smaller scale with a smaller orchestral setup, Time Micro. Film scenes that call up the larger emotions like romance, frustration and anger benefit of the use of the Berlin Symphonic Strings — a part of the Berlin Strings Bundle — which is an orchestral library that’s tailored to the needs of grand film scenes.
Scenes of break-ups or other dramatic events that are close to a burst of emotion will benefit from the Berlin Con Sordino collection, where the orchestra plays with mutes on the strings. The Con Sordino collection is the latest offering and playing with the mute ensures a feeling of emotions held back, with a lot of precision and appealing structures.
Talking of which: in all collections that have staccato and pizzicato, or other articulations that could end up sounding machine-gun-like when played rapidly in succession, the SINE Player plug-in uses Round Robins that very slightly change the notes being played so that you end up with just the amount of variation to avoid that surefire token of an orchestra made into a digital joke.
Orchestral Tools manages and develops sample collections of instruments and orchestras. The Berlin Series Main Collection retails for €1899 and is available from the online store.