Review – Indiginus Solid State Symphony for Kontakt
If you have a need for synthesized orchestral sounds and are looking for the cream of the crop, then Solid State Symphony should definitely be on your short list.
by David Baer, Nov. 2013
Today we’re going to look at a Kontakt library from Indiginus, one that is near the top of my favorites list, Solid State Symphony. There are actually two instruments included: Solid State Symphony and Solid State Strings. Both deliver synthesized orchestral sounds. While this is not a need for many musicians, if you can use something of this nature, I don’t think you’re going to find anything better in the marketplace. SSS hits the target brilliantly. As with most libraries we’ll look at in this column, the full version of Kontakt is required.
Indiginus is actually Tracy Collins and his wife Brenda who are located in central Florida. They are primarily known for their guitar sample libraries (both acoustic and electric). SSS is an outlier, but according to Tracy, his personal favorite. Let’s first look at the two instruments, and then explore why they sound as good as they do.
Solid State Strings (pictured below) is the easier to describe. It just what it says, a synthesized orchestral string section. Controls are present to control the envelope attack and release times. Vibrato amount can be set and controlled in real time with mod wheel or expression control and/or an ADHSR envelope. Ensemble tuning can be set to tight, medium or loose. Optional filtering can be added and a single reverb “hall” is available with only the amount being user settable.
The controls are completed with several more options. One of them is a switch to add a one-octave-higher string ensemble. An adagio switch softens the attack. Finally there is a “Slides” button that introduces a slight upward slide to each note. This is the only feature I find to be of little use. But if you need real portamento, a Kontakt factory script is available. I showed how to include it in my last installment which can be seen here:
There’s nothing more to be said about how this instrument is used. It’s completely obvious how to tweak it to your needs. Simply stated, Solid State Strings is the best synthesized string ensemble I’ve ever heard, with one exception, and that would be the synthesized string options in Solid State Symphony.
Although a bit more complicated to configure than Solid State Strings, Solid State Symphony offers better strings because it has two rather different string ensemble sounds, one of them being what you get in Solid State Strings. So why ever use Solid State Strings? Probably you might opt for it because it’s just easier to arrive at the sound you’re looking for.
In addition to strings, Solid State Symphony (pictured above) offers a woodwinds ensemble and several brass options, all of which are simply gorgeous. It also offers a few extra bells and whistles, none of which I find particularly useful, but some users might. I’ll get to those in a moment. But for me the extraordinary value in this instrument is the orchestral ensembles. I would not love this instrument any less if that was all that was there.
Unlike Strings, which has only one preset, Symphony has a number and begs you to set up your own to fit what type of sound you’re looking for. Controls are available for each “voice” that allow you to specify a minimum velocity for the voice to be active. Thus, you can build an orchestra that is responsive to velocity. For example, you could have strings audible at all velocities, with woodwinds kicking in at medium velocities and brass kicking in at only highest velocities. You may also define key ranges within which the voices are limited.
Alternately, you can choose to display a depiction of orchestra sections that light up when the section is active (due to velocity settings). Those who use velocity settings (or just use the Vel Orchestra factory preset) may find this option … ahem … illuminating. But I suspect many Symphony users will opt to set up multiple instruments with the respective sections responsive to different MIDI tracks.
Let’s take a quick tour of the orchestra. The first section is Strings, which has two options, Strings 1 and 2, the former being the same strings found in Solid State Strings. The two options have distinctive sounds. Sometimes you’ll want one, sometimes the other, and (probably often) you’ll want to layer both. Staccato and Marcato are mutually exclusive options (you can have neither enabled or just one but not both). Finally an add-octave option is available.
The other significant section is Winds. Here we find: Trumpet/Trombones, Trumpet/Trombones FF, Trumpet/Trombones Attack (to be added to either of the preceding two), French Horns, French Horns Attack, French Horn Solo and Woodwinds. You can use just one ensemble type or layer them as needs dictate.
Then we two additional sections which are of limited value in my estimation (compared to Strings and Winds). These are Percussion (tympani, cymbal and xylophone) and Synth. The later has sub-instruments: a pad selection, two synth options that work with a pitch sequencer and a bass. As I said, some users may welcome these additions, but for me they are not where the value lies. If SSS had only Strings and Winds, it would still be worth every penny in my estimation.
I’ll say it again, the strings, horns and woodwind ensemble sounds are the best I’ve ever heard … anywhere. So, what’s the magic? Tracy Collins will not reveal the analog instruments he programmed and sampled to build SSS. He will only admit to using mid-80s poly-synths that are “not rare, highly sought-after or sexy!”
He programmed all the sounds from scratch, but did far more than just create a Strings patch and sample it. What he did do is the reason the results are so remarkable. To quote him on the string methodology:
One of the limitations of orchestral string libraries is control over vibrato. Typically, you use a mod wheel to cross-fade from a sample layer with little or no vibrato to a layer with heavier vibrato. But couldn’t you use Kontakt as an 8-osc synth with independent vibrato for each oscillator? I figured it was worth a try, and so I started the process of creating 8 slightly different sounding “solo” voices. I adjusted the synth every 1/4 octave to try to sound as authentic as possible. The individual “string” samples are not much to listen to in themselves, but seem to work well together. Each voice also has a unique pitch envelope, which is slightly randomized, as well as the unique vibrato. So with Solid State Strings you can use an envelope or the mod wheel to add vibrato smoothly.
The brass and woodwind sample sets received equal attention to detail:
I used a couple of techniques in the process that may not be common. A typical synth patch, say a “brass” patch, sounds more convincing in some ranges than others. For SSS, I adjusted the synth every 1/4 octave or so before making each recording. Sometimes it was just a filter cutoff or resonance adjustment, and sometimes it was deeper tweaking of osc sync or envelopes. The main brass ensemble sounds were sampled this way. Most of the time I would load them into the sampler across the keyboard, duplicate the whole key map, transpose the copy and pan them hard left and right.
So there you have it. If you’re looking for synthesized symphonic ensemble sounds, Sold State Symphony represents the gold standard. At $40, it is a great value. I give it my highest possible recommendation.
I reviewed the marvelous Orbitone Collection from Hideaway Studios several months ago. See that review here:
Well, Orbitone has gotten even better with the release of a supplementary collection of sounds to add to the wonderful collection already present in the original. The “expansion pack” can be had for about $12 USD. This is a must-buy for fans of the original. It does require the original, however. Or, the entire package can be purchased for around $27 USD. You will find details here: