Review – 8Dio Adagio Strings Bundle
We look at the 8Dio Adagio String Bundle, a huge string library offering much warmth and nuance, in this review.
by Per Lichtman, Sept. 2014
The 8Dio Adagio String Bundle is a huge string library (currently $1099 USD and available only directly from www.8dio.com) for owners of a full version of Kontakt 4 or Kontakt 5 (tested here with Kontakt 5) that is comprised of Adagietto as well as the first (and thus far only) Adagio volume for each of the instrument sections (violin, viola, cello, bass). It should be noted that shortly before publication, 8Dio released “Agitato Grandiose Legato for Violins” as a compliment Adagio Strings Bundle, which is not covered in this review (but will hopefully be addressed in a future issue). Adagio takes a different approach from other string libraries by specifically targeting emotive performances (often with many variations) and tailoring its legato program to an adagio tempo range (though sustains and shorts obviously function well at the full range of tempos). For each instrument, there is a full ensemble size, divisi ensemble size and solo instrument, but no second violin section was recorded. Two stereo mic positions were used during recording and are provided (close and far) and for the Adagio sections (but not Adagietto) there’s a mix position available as well.
It’s worth noting that 8Dio has started augmenting the Adagio series with the aforementioned Agitato series, with the first entries representing ensemble and divisi violins released in the weeks leading up to publication. As the name suggests, the Agitato series so far appears to cover quicker legato transitions and dynamic bowings outside the scope of the original Adagio series – so it should be thought of as a supplement to Adagio, rather than a replacement for existing volumes. There should be little (if any) overlap with previous releases.
Adagio works off the premise that dynamics are best captured in the original performance and the crossfading between dynamic layers does not tend to yield good results. This means that has an abundance of patches that change dynamics within the recorded performances themselves (often very beautifully and effectively). Every section in every size (ensemble, divisi and solo) offer “Dynamic Bowing(s)” patches that fully exploit this: crescendos and decrescendos starting and stopping at various dynamics, often both with and without sordino. The violas, cellos and basses (but not the violins) all have Dynamic Bowings patches that take advantage of the new Time Machine capabilities in Kontakt 5, but all of sections (including the violins) offer versions designed for Kontakt 4.
The flipside of 8Dio’s Adagio approach is that crossfading dynamic layers is not emphasized to the same degree as in competing libraries – though the first place to look for that is the Sustain or SusXFade options. If you are using the legato patches the “SusXFade” key-switch often has three dynamic layers – which is about middle of the road for libraries of this kind with some having more or less. Using the solo violin as an example, the crossfading tends to be somewhat more noticeable than I’ve grown accustomed to. A good example is would be moving the modwheel (MIDI CC1) through the values 85 to 95 and back in the General Articulations for the Divisi violins. Here you can hear the top dynamic layer coming in and out, while certain competing products make the transition from one layer to the next more transparent. You’d mainly notice it an a more exposed context, but often I would say that setting the dynamics at the start of a line and then using expression control to vary the volume can yield better results. Considering that, it might almost make more sense to map the dynamics to the velocity, which is an unusual recommendation for me.
With that said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t emphasize that the recommended way to use the library is to use the modwheel (Dynamics) and expression control (Expression) together to shape the line. In fact, sometimes I would right click on the “Expression” knob for a given patch and map it to the modwheel (CC1) which also controlled the dynamics. If you’re used to working with the Niente patches in Hollywood Strings, for instance, this will give you the wider dynamic range you’re used to.
Vibrato is a huge deal. As a novice violinist, I would be loath to subject another human being to the sound of the vibrato while I play on my own violin but the vibrato throughout the Adagio line is something entirely different. Here, there’s a sense of ebb and flow that’s very organic, making it somewhat more difficult to place up-front in a mix than some of the other libraries I reviewed, but very easy to blend (and very difficult to sound artificial) – a desirable thing indeed. In fact, it’s about as far away as you can get from the synthetic sound of the looped vibrato in many early sampler libraries. The character of the vibrato ranges from Romantic-era to 20th century to more ethnic or folk, but it is consistently on the more expressive side of things. This is not the vibrato you’d turn to when attempting to render a piece from the high classical period in the currently accepted precise and drier style.
In fact, the library has almost all been performed with vibrato (with obvious exceptions, such as many of the shorts, etc.), differentiating it from libraries such as the Embertone and SampleModeling offerings that give users more direct control of the vibrato through modeling. While some patches feature a vibrato control, the spectrum is “vibrato” to “more emphasized vibrato”, so those wanting to manually vary the onset of vibrato should look elsewhere. Adagio often provides several variations of vibrato through different recordings, however, so it is definitely worth the user’s time to explore all the variations to find the one best suited to the line.
Short Notes – Adagio’s Most Overlooked Strength
For a library called Adagio, could be forgiven for thinking that you wouldn’t find much that would work well in faster orchestrations. Of course, the only way to actually believe that if you have the library is in your hands is to completely ignore all of the short notes. As a group, the short notes have lots of body, work well in a wide range of material and (to my ears) benefit greatly from the approach to the “close” mics that the library has employed. You can bring these notes up pretty close to the listener without sounding edgy or at all thin or you can add additional reverb and have them fill the space, but with clear definition. They also often have several round-robins and they sound great. In fact, when I rendered mock-ups that only used shorts with multiple libraries, my clients often preferred the ones in this bundle.
I found the labeling and organization of the short notes a little odd – especially with regards to the way it’s handled in Adagio vs Adagietto. You can read more about that later in the “Documentation and Organization” section of the article but I’ve done my best to simplify it below. I divide the shorts into five groups: spiccato, staccato, marcato, pizzicato and col legno (battuto), using the ones from the full ensemble sizes. The divisi and solo sections feature fewer short articulations.
The spiccatos make up the bulk of the short articulations in the library. The exact ones on offer vary greatly from section to section, but violas and cellos include both normal ones and con sordino options. The only spiccato for the basses is feathered spiccato but the remaining three sections feature feathered, bouncing and arp spiccati while the violins and violas also feature tapped spiccato.
Feathered spiccati feature a less pronounced attack than the other articulations, making them useful for more delicate, receded or subdued parts. Spiccati on bow have the most robust attacks and can get louder than the other spiccati. Tapped spiccati are lighter than than spiccati on bow but have the most distinctive releases capturing an eccentric sound very vaguely reminiscent of col legno battuto, though on a more subtle level. As a side note, tapped spiccati are perfect for a “ticking clock” type of effect, should you desire it. The arp spiccati play the note twice: once when you press the note and once when you release it. The bouncing spiccati play a short series of repeated notes, not entirely unlike a tremolo – which brings up a unique consideration when playing them, not shared by the other shorts (except the marcatos). If you sustain a bouncing spiccati note longer than the length of the phrase, it will still trigger a release sample on release – which can be distracting. So my suggestion is to trim the length of these notes in your DAW after the fact to avoid the effect or learn the duration carefully and not hold the note longer than sampled performance (which takes a little practice). Regarding additional spiccati, sometimes further descriptors are used “such as fast” or “up down” and sometimes not, but there are certainly a lot of articulations in this category.
The staccato category is a bit different. There’s a single staccato for the violins, violas and basses and none for the cellos. The articulation is performed similarly across the different sections and is longer with more pronounced pitch than the spiccati, as well as greater volume (as one would expect).
The marcatos sound nice and are included in each section. The violas also feature a con sordino variation, while all sections (except the violins) include an articulation that layers marcato with a spiccato. The marcatos here are of a specified short duration, as opposed to marcato sustains which could be held down for much longer. As mentioned with the bouncing spiccati, if you hold a note down past the end of the marcato note, it will still trigger a release sample when you let go so you’ll have to pay more attention to the note releases.
All sections include both pizzicato and Bartók pizzicato (also called “snap pizzicato”). The range for the Bartók pizzicati is often narrower than for the normal pizzicati. The normal pizzicati are very round without sacrificing detail. The Bartók pizzicati ring out and are among the very loudest shorts.
Only the violins and cellos include a col legno battuto – the col legno articulation most commonly meant when someone simply says “col legno” but in contrast to “col legno tratto” which is bowed rather than struck. The col legno patches here have a roundness and heft to them, not entirely unlike the normal pizzicatos. It’s a shame that the violas and basses do not include them and I hope 8Dio adds them in a future update or library.
Legato: A Brief Note
Before we get into the individual legato programs, I should mention that Adagio takes a slightly different approach to key-switching with legatos. In essence, the line always starts with a sustain sample, but whatever key-switch you’ve currently selected plays at the end of each interval. So if you start on middle C and keep holding it as you transition to D, then the interval sample will play (and which one depends on the legato patch you’d loaded) and then the sustain you’ve selected with your key-switch plays. It takes a little getting used to, and this means there’s really pretty much just one way to start a line in a given patch (something 8Dio appears to have remedied in their forthcoming Agitato legato patches). The flip side is that you have several choices for the shape of the line after that. Some patches have just for our five key-switches but some have twelve or more, ranging from subtle dynamics arcs, to dramatic crescendos and decrescendo, as well as short bows and loures. This is one of the biggest differences in using Adagio as compared to other libraries.
It’s worth mentioning is a handful of sustains do not have loop points (though most do). For instance, the low E and F on the solo bass did not loop in the version I reviewed while many other notes in the same articulation did. Such issues are uncommon in the library and can often be worked around, but this is nonetheless an area where some other libraries, like the VSL products I’ve worked with, currently offer greater consistency.
Legato: Large Ensembles
Adagio (Ensembles): The bass section has two interval legato variations: one normal and one portamento. All other sections contain four normal interval legato variations, at least one interval legato con sordino (two for the violas) and two types of portamento. The naming and style of these variations vary greatly but I’ve divided to talk about each in terms of those three groups (“normal”, portamento and con sordino) except the basses. I’ll use the term “portamento” instead of slur to describe a prolonged pitch transition in order to minimize confusion when comparing other libraries – not in order to advocate the use of one term over the other.
Legato: Large Ensembles – Violins
For the violins, the first group includes Dolce, ET, Instinct and Village. These cover a wide range of different colors. Village is the sweet, quietest, roundest and mellowest of the group. Instinct is the “bread and butter” of the group, with the fastest and most forward transitions (with three round-robin variations) a noticeably louder dynamic than Village and a pleasant timbre. Dolce has the longest transitions of the group and is great for the times you have a slow line you really want to make the most of, feeling almost like it “hovers” or “floats” for a moment between notes. ET is closest in sound to Dolce but moves along a bit more quickly and to my ear sounds just a little bit sweeter and less dramatic. In my own use, I found that I often used ET and Dolce for the highlights of slow lines, Instinct as my general use legato and Village for the quietest passages.
The second violin group contains Emo Slur and Soft Emo Slur. I’ll start with the Soft Emo Slur because there’s something special about it that best captures the feel of the lush, romantic film scores of some earlier eras out of the non-muted legato types offered for the violin. It seemed appropriate to some of the slower passages in Francis Lai’s “Theme from Love Story”, for instance. For Soft Emo Slur, the portamento was noticeable but for smaller intervals didn’t seem overdone, especially when descending. At larger intervals, the effect became more pronounced as one would expect but I think that “soft” remains a fair descriptor. The Emo Slur patch on the other hand is louder, more driving and better suited to more dramatic parts where the portamento is meant to be featured more prominently – and works surprisingly well in a late-Romantic and post-Romantic context. As with any portamento patch, be careful of overusing the patches just because they sound good, especially in repeated lines, as it can easily fatigue the listener’s ear – but these patches sound great when called for.
In the final violin group we find Perdition Sordino. Both the transitions and the overall con-sordino timbre lend themselves beautifully, and this is one of my two favorites for lush romantic (but quiet) passages, alongside Soft Emo Slur. I’m not sure what else to say about it other than out of the con sordino violin sections I’ve been provided with for review so far, this is my favorite timbre.
Additionally, the Legato Master patch crossfades between Instinct and Village using the modwheel but triggers Emo Slur at lower velocities – not unlike the portamento triggering approach used in some other libraries.
Legato: Large Ensembles – Violas
For the first group in the violas we find Cantabile, Colin’s Favorite, Instinct and Village. I’ll just cover Cantabile and Colin’s Favorite here since my comments about Instinct and Village from the violins apply here as well. Colin’s Favorite has a bit more portamento in it and is perhaps a bit rounder. Cantabile is lyrical, robust and full – it’s got more heft and color to it than Instinct. Going back and forth between Cantabile and Instinct was helpful technique in writing my lines.
In the second violas group we find Emo Slur and Sweet Slur. The violas’ Sweet Slur sounds a little less lush and yet a little smoother and clearer than the Soft Emo Slur for the violins. My comments about Emo Slur generally translate from the violins.
Unlike the other sections, the violas feature two con sordino articulations: Perdition and Perdition Soft. Perdition Soft has an even rounder, warmer transition than Perdition (which sounds a little more pointed and specific by comparison). I really like the sound.
The violas do not include a Legato Master patch.
Legato: Large Ensembles – Cellos
For the cellos I think of the legatos in three groups. In the first we find Cantabile, Dolce, Instinct and Village. My notes on the types from earlier sections still apply here, especially about the potential for alternating between Cantabile and Instinct legato types to help shape the cello part. In this case I would add that for the cellos it becomes especially apparent how well-suited Cantabile is to parts that may be a little too brisk for some of the other legato types.
The cellos offer Emo Slur and Soft Slur on the portamento front. I would note that despite the somewhat similar name, Soft Slur is very different from Soft Emo Slur and Sweet Slur. Soft Slur takes considerable time to reach the target note and has the most obvious portamento. However, even Emo Slur comes across as taking a bit longer on the cellos than on the violas and violins.
As far as the con sordino articulation, Perdition, I offer the same praise as for the previous sections. I think part of what I like about the way the recording render the con sordino articulation for all the Perdition patches is that they come across as capturing a lot of the air and lift without overemphasizing the buzz (which would be a very easy pitfall to fall into).
The cellos are the only section besides the violins to include a Legato Master patch and it is used in exactly the same way.
Legato: Large Ensembles – Basses
For the basses we have Cantabile and Soft Slur. The portamento in Soft Slur is rather subtle (especially compared to the similarly named patch in the violins) and I tended to use the patch more when I wanted a softer feel overall, where the transitions took a little longer to land, as opposed to for a featured portamento or gliss. The Cantabile patch is more straightforward but very much on the lyrical and melodic side of things. In fact, to my ear these are some of the most pleasing melodic bass patches I’ve heard recorded to date in any library.
Divisi performances are contained only the Adagio Vol. 1 sections, not in Adagietto. Each section has two interval legato variations that vary widely in style and labeling.
The legato patches for the violins are Lost 1 and Lost 2: Lost 1 has more pronounced vibrato and is a bit more energetic, direct and up-front. Lost 2 is more delicate, subtle, soft and sweet with less pronounced vibrato. Each color is clearly differentiated from the other and both tend toward the sweeter end of the spectrum (never sounding pinched or nasal), and between the two of them cover piano through mezzo forte (or a less aggressive forte) well. They are better suited to slower tempos (as one might expect), sounding unnatural when played too quickly (an area where other collections have an easier time) but they add greatly to the expressiveness of slower lines, even without any CC or key-switching.
The legato patches for the violas are Instinct and Sweet Slur. Instinct has the more straightforward and traditional sound (less dramatic than Lost 1 in the violins), while Sweet Slur adds portamento and emphasis to the transitions.
The legato patches for the cellos are Allegretto and Anima. Anima has the more intense and up-front performance while Allegretto is warmer and rounder in timbre – thus I found that Allegretto was better when I wanted a line to recede or support while Anima helped it come forward and stand out.
The legato patches for the basses are Cantabile and Soft Slur. Cantabile a straightforward performance with a bit of heft and bounce and tended to keep up with the speeds I use most frequently in the basses while Soft Slur is a smoother portamento patch that needs to be played more slowly and keeps the transitions a bit more receded in the mix. I feel I should emphasize that both Cantabile and Soft Slur sound great all the way from the (sounding pitches) of extended low C all the way to the C# a half-step above middle C. These are some of the most beautiful and melodic bass intervals I’ve heard in a library to date, which is especially surprising considering that they were performed by two players (which is commonly held to expose tuning difficulties more readily than three).
The violin only has Schindler legato and it is a very useful and unusual legato type with a lot of passion, but I wish there were more – especially since only one violin was recorded and you need two for a quartet. Every other solo instrument gets two legato patches.
The solo viola gets Instinct and Sweet slur, just like the divisis and my thoughts are largely the same.
The solo cello also has Instinct but the second legato type is Geisha, a lusher, more flowing type that is one of my personal favorites from the library. This also means that unlike solo viola and solo bass, no slur type is included.
The Geisha type is also included for the solo double bass and works just as well here. It’s full of body and speaks more quickly than the Cantabile type included in the ensemble and is a very expressive patch overall. The second type is Emo Slur but my notes from the divisi section largely apply here as well.
Reverb and Tails
Adagietto’s legato articulations pretty much call for the use of a reverb plug-in, despite the pleasant acoustics of the space used for recording. That’s because for the legato programs, if you stop playing a note, the release is so short that you do not hear the space ring out, even in the far mic position. The ring out is shorter than every other section library I tested for this issue, including both Hollywood Strings and CineStrings Core – both of which were recorded in less reverberant spaces with shorter RT60 times
The claim that the church is “acoustically similar to AIR” is not showcased in the samples of Adagietto or Adagio. Even in articulations where one might be able to hear longer tails (such as using the Far position on staccatos on the bass) do not have the long, grand, hall sound of AIR Lyndhurst.
However, 8Dio Adagio’s samples are surprisingly good at intimacy, even when used with larger sections, at the same time as they can sound very epic: an impressive and unusual combination. One listener that I was playing comparison tracks for referred to a cue using shorts from the 8Dio Adagio series with external reverb (same settings as all the other libraries) as being like the other tracks “on steroids”, even when compared to libraries using larger sections. The potential power and scope of the recordings should not be underestimated – they have an unusual sweetness and color.
Documentation and Organization
The documentation contains very helpful descriptions of the different legato types and gives a lot of technical information (as well as helpful notes on performance). It contains several important omissions, however. As of the time of writing, there was no master patch list for each section, let alone a master list after all. In many cases, the manual left out helpful information posted on the product page of the 8Dio site. So here are the verified ensemble sizes, to help address one uncertainty.
For the ensemble size in Adagio (the only Size in Adagietto) there are 11 violins (single section recorded), 7 violas, 6 cellos and 4 double basses. The divisi sizes are 3 violins, 3 violas, 3 cellos and 2 double basses. For the solos, there’s 1 violin, 1 viola, 1 cello and 1 double bass.
One of the biggest areas I had an issue with was in regards to the short notes in the Adagio volumes (though not in Adagietto). I’ve worked with string samples for around a decade-and-a-half and I play violin – I don’t play well, but enough to know how most of the articulations and effects I desire in my compositions are executed on the instrument. So I was really surprised that I had to put effort into discerning the spiccato articulation descriptors in a way I rarely had with any other library before. That in itself took some time to get used to but then there were other oddities in terms of omissions for given sections. All sections except the cellos have an articulation labeled “staccato” but the cellos do not… except that there’s a staccato articulation drawn from the cellos in Adagietto.
However, once I made it through dealing with these types of issues, I found personally found that it was completely worth it. The Adagio Bundle has one of my favorite sounds in sampled strings today.
Adagietto: A Different Approach
Adagietto uses samples from the full ensemble section sizes in the Adagio series but organizes them very differently. First of all, there’s an “Ensemble” folder that includes all the sections mapped across the keyboard together for both shorts (five types) and longs (including several dynamic bowings and FX as well as sustains). Legatos are not included in this folder. They are quick, easy to use and sound great making it a viable option for rapid mock-ups, both in terms of workflow and sonic results. Just keep in mind that a reverb plug-in is still more important here than with libraries recorded with more obvious tails (such as Berlin Strings, Cinematic Strings 2.1 and Spitfire Audio’s offerings) but that it’s also similarly a little more clearly defined for up-front use.
There’s also the “Legatos” folder, which is much simpler to learn than legatos in other Adagio volumes. Here there are just four patches: one each for the violins, violas, cellos and basses. These are all “Legato Master” patches using the same approach as Legato Master patches for the violins and violas volumes in the Adagio series: modwheel crossfades between Instinct and Village legato types and low velocities trigger Emo Slur instead. The exception here is that the basses omit any portamento so that the patch does not switch to Emo Slur at the lower velocities, unlike the other sections.
The third folder is labeled “Individual Sections” and this is where you find twelve patches (or eleven in the case of the basses), each of which contains a single articulation. The organization is very consistent and simple. Instead of keys-witching it uses a one-MIDI-channel-per-articulation approach that is a little less well suited to live performance but make it much easier to swap in to replace older libraries in your templates. Here are the articulations offered.
- Bartók Pizzicato (snap Pizzicato)
- Dynamic Bowing 1 (except for the basses)
- Dynamic Bowing Sord 1
- Sustains Sordino
- Trills Major Second
- Trills Minor Second
Adagietto features two microphone positions (close and far) but omits the Mix position included in other volumes. Personally, I basically didn’t use the Mix position so that doesn’t make much of a difference in my workflow. However, the violin section doesn’t include the “2nd Violins” button that Adagio Violins Vol. 1 does, which means you’ll have to spend a little longer setting up one of your own using the normal Kontakt bag of tricks, should you require it.
Adagietto doesn’t offer everything that the other Adagio volumes do (no divisi, no solo, fewer articulations, fewer legato types, etc.) but it offers the same sound quality and most of the main patches you’d want to use for the full ensembles. The organization is also clearer and the learning curve is a lot shorter. If you’re just getting started with Adagio series and don’t need solo or divisi, I would definitely start with Adagietto.
The Adagio bundle covers a lot of ground and I think the section sizes are a huge boon. I spent more time working with the solo and divisi strings than the ensemble ones, despite the wider array of articulations available in the full ensembles. It’s really great for cluster writing, though if there had been a second violin section it would have been even better. The library has a nice warm sound, the legatos are full of color and life and work very well at slower tempos (not so well at faster ones but the early indications are that the Agitato release will address that issue). The shorts are both warm and focused – while at times being capable of more bite (especially in the ensembles). The loures are great and I wish every library had them. Dynamic patches are useful but more so for refining a line than playing it live.
I found I used the close mics almost exclusively (ignoring the far mics for the most part since they didn’t add much tail) and often added external reverb. The library requires you to do some mixing, even though it has multiple mics, since everything is recorded in center, but this also makes flexible mixing easy to accomplish.
The library had one of my favorite timbres and some of my favorite legato programs, so I definitely recommend it. Just be prepared to spend more time setting up templates, and often a bit more time overall than with some competing products. That said, if you are doing divisi writing using legato patches, the whole things moves along very quickly. Personally, I find that the time is worth it for the results and the fact that it can get some good legato results with key-switching alone is a unique asset.