Review – CineStrings CORE
Cinestrings CORE from Cinesamples is a Kontakt library which our reviewer found noteworthy (no pun intended) for its up-front sounds and consistent articulations from section to section.
by Per Lichtman, July 2014
CineStrings CORE ($499 USD from CineSamples.com) is a Kontakt Player/Kontakt library from CineSamples and the first string section library in their “Cine” range, which already includes CineWinds, CineBrass and CinePerc. It has one of the most up-front sounds of the libraries reviewed this month, both first and second violins and completely consistent articulations from section to section, including harmonics (a mixture of artificial and natural harmonics) for every section. The GUI allows for easy controller re-mapping for several parameters and the library is very quick and easy to use.
Each section has four patches in the main folder: Articulations, True Legato (already contained in Articulations), Col Legno and Pizzicato (which uses col legno battuto, not tratto), and Harmonics. So basically, you would load three patches (all the above except True Legato) to get access to all the articulations. Harmonics is a mixture of artificial and natural harmonics starting two octaves above the lowest note, except for the basses, where the lowest note has been stretched downward to allow the timbre of the harmonics to be used at a lower pitch than can be performed on the real instrument. I would like to make special note of the inclusion of the harmonics as they are not normally included in a “core library”, let alone so consistently across all five sections. While they are mixed and not sampled chromatically, the harmonics provide an extremely important texture that I wish more libraries would include. The creative possibilities of the articulation may surprise you if you delve in. Starting two octaves above the low-E of the basses, you’ll find the harmonics take on a beautiful, muted and round quality, not unlike the quieter dynamics of a French horn section – yielding some interesting opportunities for doubling the horns or for playing extended sustained notes that would be difficult to emulate on a French horn.
Returning to the patches in general, the articulations that are not already isolated in the four patches (such as harmonics already are) have been presented in separated patches, which are useful if you prefer a track or channel based method for organizing your articulations over a MIDI controller one. I found the split patches especially useful when working alongside Hollywood Strings, a library that (for all its strengths) does not offer the customization options that CineStrings CORE provides.
The True Legato patches crossfade between 3 dynamics (with and without vibrato). In the cellos I found the loudest of these had real grit to the timbre, more so than I tended to find in libraries of this kind, making a very aggressive sound possible without leaving the legato patches (and causing me to adjust my CC data to be more deliberate about approaching the higher values). I was pleased to find that they handled legato transitions at low CC values just as well as at high ones, an area that had given me trouble in some other libraries I tested recently.
CineStrings CORE has staccato, spiccato, marcato, pizzicato (regular switched to Bartok/snap at high dynamic layer) and col legno. The staccato is on the longer side (noticeably longer than the staccato in Cinematic String 2 or Hollywood Strings, for instance) lending itself well to some slower passages that might feel “choked” with a shorter articulation. On the flip side, you’ll probably want to use the spiccato articulation for any more rapid passages since there’s no staccatissimo on offer.
Space, Recording and Performance Style
CineStrings CORE was recorded at the Sony Studios on the Barbara Streisand Soundstage in Culver City. The RT60 of the space’s reverb is documented in Alexander Publishing’s Visual Orchestration 3 video series as being roughly 0.95 seconds, making the tails longer than VSL’s “Silent Soundstage” or the studio formerly known as Cello Studio 1 (now EastWest Studios) on Sunset in Hollywood where EastWest’s Hollywood series was recorded, but shorter than CinematicStrings 1 and 2, EWQLSO, OrchestralTools Berlin series or Spitfire Audio’s many recordings at AIR Lyndhurst. Thus far, CineSamples remains the only sample library developer I’ve been made aware of that has recorded in the space.
The many mics (spot, close, ETC) offer flexibility, but much like Hollywood Strings, they err on the side of a more intimate and less reverberant sound. This allows the library to be used with great definition in up-front material when called for. When a more massive sound was called for (or when I wanted to smooth decrescendos or tails), I found the library worked well with convolution reverb libraries.
Honestly, I most often used the Full Mix exclusively, since it seemed to me that Dennis Sands (an engineer whose pedigree includes The Shawshank Redemption) did a good job of getting the most out of the available mics. The main times where I preferred to custom balance the mics were when I wanted to either rely more heavily on the spot or close mics, either for a more intimate/up-front sound or to place the library in a different acoustic space for the purpose of blending with other libraries.
If you load the library and start playing with the default panning and Full Mix, the library sounds balanced and detailed from the get-go. The Neve style GUI on the right lets you further customize the EQ to taste without leaving the interface.
True Legato – Dynamics and Vibrato Comparison
The CineStrings CORE True Legato sound is capable of great grit in the louder dynamics. As is common with many legato programs, I found I preferred controlling dynamics and expression together (a method I’m already used to with Hollywood Strings) rather than separately. And speaking of Hollywood Strings, the CineStrings CORE True Legato programs invite direct comparison with Hollywood Strings Legato Powerful System patches. Here’s a breakdown of what that looks like on a technical level.
For the violins, violas and cellos, CineStrings CORE and Hollywood Strings both provide five dynamic layers each for non-vibrato and vibrato sustains. But while CineStrings CORE provides five dynamic layers of espressivo, Hollywood Strings provides three layers of molto vibrato.
For the basses, CineStrings CORE provides the same fifteen sustain layers (five non-vibrato, five vibrato, five espressivo) as the other sections. Hollywood Strings provides eight sustain layers (four non-vibrato and four vibrato) and omits molto vibrato completely.
When it comes to the interval sampling, CineStrings CORE provides speed and level controls – and using MIDI learn, they can be dynamically tweaked via CC. While some other libraries (including some from Spitfire Audio) provide this sort of tweaking, Hollywood Strings provides level tweaking only, with no speed control. Instead Hollywood Strings often provides two variations (one of which has an SM abbreviation for “smooth”) that preset the length.
So the CineStrings CORE True Legato patches offer more layers of espressivo for the violins, violas and cellos than Hollywood Strings does for molto vibrato and for the basses more layers overall (and more vibrato control variations), than Hollywood Strings.
But of course, that doesn’t address the number of dynamic layers for the interval transitions. For CineStrings CORE, they have been sampled at four dynamic layers (used with every type of vibrato) while the official specification for Hollywood Strings is three layers “per-vibrato-type” for a given legato style (more on that below). So CineStrings CORE offers more dynamic layers of detail to the interval transitions, while Hollywood Strings offers more variety.
True Legato – Interval Sampling and Re-Bow/Bow-Change Comparison
Both Hollywood Strings and CineStrings CORE offer the interval samples often called either “slur” or “legato” in various other sample libraries (labeling that can be contentious depending on the audience). CineStrings CORE offers dedicated re-bow samples for re-triggering the same note, while Hollywood Strings omits round-robin for the same note in legato programs (though it offers round-robin programs for the dedicated sustain programs). However, Hollywood Strings also offers bow-change legato interval samples and portamento interval legato samples. Hollywood Strings also offers key switching between having the samples played in the first four positions (obviously including open strings) for the violins, violas and cellos – but the basses are sampled in one position only.
True Legato – Additional Thoughts
The CineStrings CORE True Legato is very well programmed. I found it completely consistent in its response throughout the Dynamics CC range and vibrato CC range. There was no value where the interval samples drew more attention than others and the flexibility of the True Legato programs in terms of speed and dynamics was true of all the intervals out to the octave. It seems like the four dynamic layers of intervals really matched up well with the five layers of sustains. Part of the reason I keep comparing it so much to Hollywood Strings is because the other ensemble libraries currently being reviewed (Spitfire Audio’s Mural Vol. 2, Cinematic Strings 2.11 and 8Dio Adagio Strings Bundle) don’t have 3-4 layers of legato interval samples in their legato programs and if you like to ride your CCs a lot, you’ll hear the difference. CineStrings CORE and Hollywood Strings are simply on a different level for that kind of performance, and my hat goes off to them both for accomplishing comparable levels of quality in their differing performance and recording styles. Like any legato patch, there’s a learning curve but I simply was not expecting to like the True Legato patches this much.
In the Mix
The fact that CineStrings CORE has so much body and up-front detail is very helpful when mixing it outside a straight orchestral context. For instance, I found it worked very well in an EDM/electronica track, handling large amounts of processing very well (EQs, console emulation, tape emulation, etc.) and giving a good balance of close-miking and filling in the space. If the tails had been longer, it would have made it difficult to mix in the rather tight, drum machine driven track. I followed the advice in the manual and used a 150ms offset for the short notes as a starting point (though I ended up going with 140ms for the double basses) and played the legato lines live. I’ve done similar tracks in the past with Hollywood Strings and EWQLSO but the process was faster and more flexible here since the timbre of CineStrings CORE is more straightforward and this track didn’t lend itself to the sort of texture and grain that Hollywood Strings could provide (which would have meant additional processing beyond what I was doing already).
I don’t fully understand the miking/levels in regards to the close and spot microphones on the double-bass. They seem to be much quieter by default than one might expect, so I often found myself compensating with the faders if I was relying more on those mics in a mix. Nonetheless, the sound quality of those mics works very well and the difference between the close and spot mics on the bass is both noticeable and useful.
CineStrings CORE (I’ll call it CSC for this last bit) is a capable string library, competitively priced with several competing products but differentiated by the inclusion of both a more aggressive legato layer. The True Legato is the most deeply sampled legato program I’ve used on the Kontakt platform, rivaled only by Hollywood Strings on the PLAY platform, and it’s got more easily tailored speed control than HS and the ability to do more pronounced accents in a legato context. The comprehensive mixed harmonics across all sections are also something I have not seen in a bread-and-butter strings library at this price-point before. The library is very quick to learn and easy to use and had one of the shortest learning curves of the libraries reviewed this month – second only to Cinematic Strings 2.11, but also quicker to setup different control methods for articulation switching with a great script.
The ensemble size competes with LASS, Hollywood Strings and Mural with a space that manages to be larger than the first two but much less reverberant than the last (and less reverberant than Cinematic Strings, for that matter). The tails are still short enough that you may want to add your own reverb but long enough that you can get away with not doing so in a way that Hollywood Strings cannot. I haven’t used LASS but CSC’s molto espressivo is certainly a little less dramatic and warm than Mural 2 or Hollywood Strings, but it can get more aggressive than the competing libraries in its sustains, too. It doesn’t have the variety of shorts that Hollywood Strings does but what it has sounds quite good. It’s also recorded to work well with the other “Cine” products from CineSamples (CineWinds, CinePerc, CineBrass) so if you already use those, it may be an easy choice.
But to sum it up a bit more succinctly, who should by this library? Anyone that wants a library with tons of control over dynamics, an up-front sound dry sound that still has tail, a fast workflow that almost doesn’t even require creating a template (almost), easy organization and much less vibrato than some competing libraries. It’s a library for those that want a rather direct expression of their musical ideas and a lot of control, not for those that want warm performances that will add emotion to it. It’s a library helps people work quickly and has the sound quality to make the approach work well.