Essentials – Albion One, Fischer Viola and Emotional Cello
Santa brings to our Alex a virtual symphonic orchestra with two solo instruments. He had just one wish: that all presents should sound authentic, be simple to use, and not be overpriced.
by Alex Arsov, Jan. 2016
Our writer, Per Lichtman, is the SoundBytes expert in orchestral libraries, covering the full orchestral spectrum – from various solo instruments, orchestral sections, to solo classical instruments. His mission is to try and compare every piece of orchestral instrument available on market and give an objective opinion, along with offering you a full bag of details that could help you decide which library could be the right thing for you.
Being objective is nice. It’s ethical too. The only problem with objectivity is that it’s not always so very informative, so instead of digging through his articles I decided to give him a straight question: “I have a few fairly good orchestral libraries, but good is not good enough anymore – so are there any orchestral libraries covering the whole orchestral range? The ones that are not so expensive (good orchestral libraries are expensive, while cheaper one sound, let’s just say, inexpensive), but sound near enough like the real thing. And not just a good substitute, it should be well-programmed and simple to manage without needing to spend ages getting it to sound right.”
As soon as I got the short answer “Spitfire Albion One,” I decided it was time for another enquiry: “I would also need some solo instruments. I tried some violins, but most of them sounds a bit stiff, not so real, while the most advanced ones are ultra expensive, running only in the full version of Kontakt, while some others need to be heavily programmed to achieve realistic results. I’m open to all other suggestions.”
I know that there are more advanced tools with more options and with a higher price, aimed mainly at professionals, but this is not what Essentials is about. “Idiot-friendly” along with high quality is our main priority. One hour later I got an answer and soon I ended up with all three libraries. Albion One, Embertone Fischer Viola and Bestservice Emotional Cello.
Let’s start with the biggest one…
Spitfire Albion One
For $489 USD you get the whole symphonic orchestra, divided into its essential parts: strings, brass and woodwind sections with all the basic articulations where most instruments are divided into high and low part presets. The only exceptions, along with the brass section that also has a mid section, are the string presets where we can find all articulations ranked from high to low inside one preset passing discretely from violins through to viola and cello to the bass section in the low end. Usually, when strings are stretched through the whole keyboard range, the quality of the sound differs as soon as the instrument goes out of its natural range. Spitfire avoid this trap by putting all different string sections together, crossing the sound between all sections in an imperceptible way, so no matter which range you play it will sound very natural. This approach may give you a bit less freedom to go deeply into details, but on the other hand, its simplified work-flow allows you to make good arrangements in no time.
The main window for all presets brings plenty of easy-to-handle controllers, with a small mixer for four microphone positions, so finding a good sound is just a matter of a few clicks. With the mixer you also have vibrato, dynamic, tighten, round robin, expression and release controllers. There is even an arpeggiator where you can program staccato phrases. The whole interface is very handy and easy to understand making the whole production process quite easy. There is a great quantity of individual articulations divided into separate presets so you can easily compile your preferred set of articulations without overloading your RAM. Most of the presets take up around 100 MB of RAM, some more, some less. Anyway, I ended up with a gig and a half of orchestra, which is not so much really, especially considering the quality and versatility of implemented sounds. If RAM is not an issue you can also load master presets for all three main sections, getting all articulations in one window.
In Albion One you won’t find any separate instruments, or even groups of instruments, that form bigger orchestral sections, like violins, violas or cellos. Everything is brass, woodwind, strings and percussion (along with one Piano and plenty effects and loops). At first I was a bit skeptical about the concept, but after watching a few video clips and then trying to build an arrangement by myself, I found this approach has its advantages, as with these basic elements you can easily compile very complex arrangements in a very short time.
Albion One is an orchestra/cinematic collection library, so in the pack we also get a pile of orchestral effects, various string runs synced with host tempo, an orchestral percussion section collected inside the so-called Darwin Percussion Ensemble, and Brunel loops. The latter is a collection of cinematic loops, quite unusual ones. According to web info all of those loops were recorded with percussionist Paul, who whacked everything that came under his hands during the recording session. Quite original and packed with a nice set of controllers for further manipulation. There is also the Stephenson Steam Band directory with various drones, textures and effects.
It is a very user friendly library with top sounding orchestra, spiccicato and col-legno articulations sounding really fantastic, and even a less-skilled producer can get quite impressive results without any additional programming. After all, this is what Essentials is all about.
If you are after more specific details, Per intends to cover this quite soon in a more detailed, non “Essentials” way.
Embertone Fischer Viola
There is always the problem with a virtual solo violin, as with a viola: if they are not expensive they simply don’t sound good, and if they do then you’ll have broken your fingers programming it endlessly after making the basic recording. My programming violin sessions always ended up with me calling my niece to play the part on the real instrument. When Per suggested this one to me I was a bit skeptical (as always) but was pleasantly surprised after I’d tried it. Embertone also offers a virtual violin, but somehow the viola sounds more to my taste. I like it because it sounds so expressive and so real. It is also very simple to use – more or less all you need to do is to go through a few key-switches during the recording, changing from legato to staccato, pizzicato or tremolo. There are also additional key-switches for Sordino, Punticello or Tasto. Additionally you can also control vibrato and dynamic, bow position and many other things. Even without playing much with all those CC linked controllers you can make a very expressive, real human-sounding line in no time. All those controllers come in handy if you want to use this instrument in isolation where every detail counts. Actually, great results can be achieved by setting the dynamic (CC11 by default, though it can be easily linked to any other CC through the control window) to any external MIDI controller driving it in one take after you make a basic “note/articulation change” recording, and you will have your ideal performance. Dynamic and vibrato could also be controlled with “Touch OSC” software for iPad, as can be seen in the presentation video clips ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inkcek1bFJw ).
Fischer Viola comes with fantastic Staccato and Pizzicato articulation, so if you don’t need legato and want to use only one of the two, you can de-select the True Legato option in the Configuration window (you can find the menu on the note sheet picture at the bottom right), decreasing RAM usage by over 500 MB to barely 52 MB. Also Fischer Viola (and it’s the same for Embertone Violin) is one of the best programmed instruments, offering a really impressive level of expressibility, which comes to the fore when you control staccato with dynamic, changing the length of a note from staccato to spiccato. Very impressive, and this is only one of the cross-fades that can be done with dynamic.
For just $125 USD you can get your real-life viola player, very skilled and very expressive. If you are a skilled keyboard player, you can easily become a virtual viola virtuoso (I’m not so skilled on the keyboard, but I become a viola virtuoso with my beloved YRG Gen 2 MIDI guitar controller). Replace your synth lead melody with Viola and you will be surprised what such an instrument can bring to your music. It sounds good in electro, rock or any other genre.
Emotional Cello by Bestservice
There are a quite few virtual cello instruments on the market but this one is an absolute winner. It is not just about sounding authentic, sounding like a real cello player, the thing about this library is that it sounds absolutely beautiful, or – as the name suggests – emotional. As with Embertone Viola, you just need to press few key-switches to change from Legato to Spiccato or Pizzicato and that’s more or less all. All patches come in mono or stereo versions. Three main master patches – Emotional, Sunpanticello and Harmonic Cello – bring plenty of articulations. In the main one, Emotional Cello, we have a great number of legato articulations covering most of the playing techniques. The whole instrument is very well programmed, so you can even survive most of the time by just using the default articulation, changing it just for extreme note length changes, spicci and pizzicato. Emotional Cello comes with one of the most adorable sounding portamentos, which is triggered with the velocity threshold level. Another thing controlled by velocity threshold is the “Bow change” causing a more expressive, stronger sound at higher velocities. From the main window you can set portamento and legato speed, choosing between polyphonic or monophonic playing, setting the portamento volume, adding the round robin function, and that’s even more than you will actually need. Dynamic is controlled with modulation and if you are an obsessive tweaker then you have an additional FX window where you can turn everything upside down, being the master of all details. Truth be told, I opened that window just for reviewing purposes. If you are tight on RAM then you can use other non master presets, mainly containing non-legato articulations and a few legato ones. Out of all the instruments I got last year Emotional Cello is absolutely the most beautiful sounding one.
It is not just an instrument that you should use when you need a cello line. Lately I developed a habit of loading this instrument every time when I’m not happy with my synth lead line. Even the most boring and overused phrases become fresh with Emotional Cello, adding special spice by use of some non typical instruments for that genre. Truth be told, Emotional Cello saved a bunch of my songs.
All emotions that money can buy, for €259 EUR.
Check the audio and video clips at:
Every time I hear a good sounding virtual instrument/library demo I ask myself if this is again one of those videos played by some skilled virtuoso giving you a false feeling of how simple it is to recreate similar results. Not this time, Albion One, Fischer Viola and Emotional Cello are WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) applications. Funny, I didn’t know it also worked for VST, not just for HTML.
All three libraries work with Kontakt Player and will be (or already were) covered in every detail by our Per Lichtman.
Essentials is not about the details, it is about “set it and forget it” – tools that should give you a professional results with no effort. It should sound good, be fairly priced and simple to use. After all, we are musicians, not magicians. 😉