Review – Light and Sound Chamber Strings 1.6

 

A string library with great sound that is arguably the easiest chamber strings library to learn and quickest to use.  So if you’re looking for a chamber string library, read this.

 

by Per Lichtman, Nov. 2016

 

Light and Sound Chamber Strings 1.6 ($299 USD excl. VAT from LightAndSoundSamples.com) is multi-mic sample library for the full version of Kontakt 5.5.2 or later. With one multi-articulation patch per section, LSCS features six first violins, five second violins, three violas, two cellos and one bass (6,5,3,2,1), each recorded in position at Windmill Lane, Dublin by Debbie Smith with seven mic positions (Decca, Sides, Rears, XY, Close Ribbon, Bleeds, Close Leader). Each section has ten articulations available through an octave of keyswitching: interval legato sampling for two articulations, two types of sustains without legato, tremolo, bowed shorts, pizzicato, col legno and doubles. The first and second violins also feature an FX articulation key switch as well, and there’s a separate patch dedicated to generating room tone. It’s arguably the easiest chamber strings library to learn and quickest to use and has a great sound, so if you’re looking for a chamber string library, read on.

 

Legato, Dynamic Layers and Round-Robins and More

The “legato longs” and “legato dynamic longs” articulations both use interval legato sampling, rather than an emulated script by default, but the “true legato” feature can be turned on and off. Each articulation has between one and three dynamic layers, with most featuring the full three. A complete list of the dynamic layers per articulation can be found in the LSCS patch list at LightAndSoundSamples.com. The bowed shorts and pizzicato articulations have 5x round-robin while the col legno and doubles articulations have 3x round-robin.


Individual articulations can be purged by selecting the articulation name next to its keyswitch in the GUI and choosing “****” instead. Note that sometimes multiple longs articulations reference some of the same samples, so you may have to purge multiple articulations to free up memory.

 

Articulations

The primary interval legato articulation (“legato longs”) is easy to use in every section – organic, versatile, very robust and on some intervals sounds (to my ear) even superior to more well-established libraries. The two violin sections have clearly differentiated sounds and can be very lush, vibrant or energetic and are easily a highlight of the library, perfect for soaring melodic lines or quiet intimate moments. Out of all the sample libraries I’ve reviewed, these are some of the best interval legato violin patches I’ve tried. The loudest dynamic layers have an unrestrained quality across the board while the softest dynamic is smooth and tranquil.

The “legato dynamic longs” patch sounds great on sustains and is quite dramatic and musical but is less consistently implemented between sections (some sound/work better than others). In addition, because of the built-in dynamics has a longer learning curve to be used effectively in terms of timing the interval legato transitions so that they sound natural as opposed to sticking out. For those reasons, I found that I used the basic “dynamic longs” sustain more often than the “legato dynamic longs” one.

The “longs” and “dynamic longs” patches without interval legato both sound great and have musical attacks. As mentioned before, the “dynamic longs” patch without legato got a lot of use during my review.

The tremolo sounds suitably energetic and organic, but I’m usually at a loss to say too much about the articulation to differentiate one library from another (and I use it sparingly in my own work) so I’ll leave it at that.

For the first violins, the tremolo articulation is somewhat overshadowed more exotic FX patch. It is a multi-sampled looped tremolo crescendo/decrescendo that varies the bowing position into sul ponticello at times for a glassy timbre. It’s a very musical texture with a lot of air. The second violins, on the other hand, eschew both vibrato and tremolo for a haunting hollow texture, using an alternate bowing position (but not varying it over time). Honestly, I think Light and Sound is doing themselves a disservice by labeling these as generic “FX” patches when the alternate bowing positions (like sul ponticello) are often a selling point for more exotic libraries. Long story short, I was pleasantly surprised by the musical applications of the “FX” patches since I’d basically been expecting aleatoric clusters and the like.

The bowed shorts benefit greatly from a keyswitching improvement in version 1.6 (a free update for existing users) and have a sound of their own. The performances often have an immediate and energetic quality – you can really feel the players go for it on the louder dynamics, for instance. The shorts are on the “shorter” side and have a lot of pop, so think more in the realm of spiccato than marcato or tenuto. They are well suited to energetic rhythmic passages and less well suited as accents in more melodic passages (though the quieter dynamic layers are much better suited to melodic use than the loud ones). I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that bowed shorts in some other libraries (like VSL or Berlin Strings) tend to be more consistent. There’s the occasional bum note, and unlike the COG system in Spitfire Audio, there’s no easy way to skip the offending round-robin, meaning you end up having to trigger a different dynamic layer as a workaround. Still, this infrequent enough that I doubt it will be a deal breaker, but if you really need every note to be “perfect”, you’ll want to find your shorts elsewhere.

The pizzicato articulations are well-defined and are of the bread and butter variety (no Bartók/snap pizzicato). The louder dynamics are less aggressive here than in the shorts – they stay in a very controlled timbre throughout their range. Unlike the bowed shorts, these can work quite well as accents in softer or more melodic passages.

The col legno articulation is a great bonus. It’s great to see them provided for all five sections and they sound musical and effective. The performances, much like the pizzicato articulation, are on the less aggressive side when compared to the bowed shorts, but they still benefit greatly from the multiple dynamic layers and round robins.

On the more specialized end of things, you’ll find the doubles. The doubles are tempo synced to your host tempo, so the mileage you’ll get out of them depends somewhat on the tempo you used: the double hit is triggered on attack, not release, so there’s not much of a learning curve.


 

A Note on Keyswitching and Split

I’m not the biggest fan of the default keyswitch ranges, but handily they can be dragged up and down in range using the KS Offset slider. It’s a little fiddly to maneuver the switch, but you only have to do it once for each patch (then you can save it) and I appreciate being able to do the whole octave of switches at once. My personal preference is to map that keyswitches to start on the low C of an 88-octave keyboard (C0 in regards to the library’s documentation) for the violins through cellos. Then for the basses I transpose my input down an octave, so I move the keyswitches to start at C-1 (allowing me to play the same keys on my keyboard)

The split slider lets you set the crossover point into the louder dynamics, for both velocity and modwheel CC at the same time. This is a great bit of customization and makes it very easy to extend the range mapped to the quieter samples or to the louder ones.

 

Note Ranges

Many articulations feature relatively wide pitch ranges. Here are the ranges for each of the families for the articulations with the full range, where C3 is middle C.

  • First Violins: G2-C6
  • Second Violins: G2-C6
  • Violas: C2-C#5
  • Cellos: C1-F4
  • Bass: C0-F3

 

Note that there are range limitations at the top for some of the articulations. For the first violins, pizzicato, col legno and doubles end eleven semitones earlier. For the second violins, pizzicato, col legno, doubles, legato dynamic longs and dynamic longs all end eleven semitones earlier. For the violas, the pizzicatos end twelve semitones earlier, while the col legno and doubles stretch higher, ending just eight semitones earlier. For both the cellos and basses, the pizzicato and doubles end thirteen semitones earlier.

 

The Sound

LSCS honestly sound different from every other sample library I’ve reviewed. It has one of the driest sounds of any multi-mic string library I’ve ever tested, and yet it’s very organic sounding and not sterile. It found it easy to mix in a variety of genres, from orchestral classical or film score, to rock, EDM, pop or new age. I normally find myself using additional reverb but thanks to being recorded in situ with multiple mic positions I don’t usually have to pan or place the strings and the out of the box balance between the sections is very musical. The dynamic range is highly configurable using a “range” slider, not unlike the dynamics slider in the Orchestral Tools Berlin series (which is definitely a compliment).

Note that you’ll especially want to add reverb if you’re planning on using the shorts. Like so many drier libraries, short notes can sound a little abrupt without additional ambience. That said, I strongly recommend using all seven mic positions at all times, as it doesn’t take up that much RAM (2.09 to 2.5 GB of RAM per section with default settings vs circa 1GB with the default mics) and the shorts sound much more natural than with just the default mics on. The space may be on the drier side but the additional mics really contribute a lot in this library.

The legato longs are the star of the show, without question, and they sound really great. The violin FX articulations are really full of character and offer two highly distinct textures. The tremolo sounds solid as well – but I find it difficult to quantify tremolos. The short articulations range in quality from “good” to “great” depending on your intended application and specific note choice, but it’s great to see bowed shorts, pizzicato and col legno for all sections in a package at this price. It’s great to hear just how musical the pizzicato and col legno sound, in particular.

It’s easy to mix the microphone positions, as each has a volume fader, panning knob, identifying letter (which can be clicked to purge the articulation) and a button at the top to trigger and output drop down menu. Noticeably absent are mute and solo buttons, which would honestly bother me more if I didn’t find that I used all seven microphone positions the overwhelming majority of the time (something that is simply less practical when trying to use all the articulations in libraries with a wider set of articulations).

The room tone patch (a single playable key mapped to all individual microphones except “close”) lets you add some of the hiss and hum from the recording chain and space into the mix. It’s pretty subtle (even after adding 24 dB of gain it only peaked -37.5 to -35.6 dBFS) but it’s a nice bonus.

 

The Competition

While there are many solid string libraries, Light and Sound Chamber Strings offers something a bit unique. For starters, there’s the number of players recorded: 6,5,3,3,1. To the best of my knowledge, it is the only sample library with both first and second violin sections to use that size. Second, it is the only sample library I’m aware of that was recorded at Windmill Lane in Dublin. For these reasons, LSCS has a sound all of its own right off the bat, but let’s compare it to some other libraries with “half-size”, “chamber” or “divisi” string sizes to get a sense of how that plays out.

Spitfire Audio Chamber Strings (or Spitfire Audio Sable) uses 4,3,3,3,3  in situ and is recorded multi-mic position at AIR Lyndhurst, a much more reverberant hall, both of which give it a different balance and sound with the smaller violin sections and larger cello and bass sections. Despite the very noticeable differences in ensemble sizes (LSCS has a different number of players for every section while Spitfire Audio Chamber Strings uses the same section size for all sections except the first violin) and in the recording venue, this is probably the library will get the most comparison to LSCS. Having spent extensive time with both, I can say that they are both excellent libraries but very different in sound and application, something amplified by the difference in the performances. LSCS has a more vibrant, up-front sound that makes it especially well-suited for mixing in a variety of genres and would most often be used with additional reverb, while Spitfire Audio Chamber Strings is colored by the majestic sound of AIR Lyndhurst, making it easier to use without additional reverb and also has a darker sound. In other words, even if you already have Spitfire Audio Chamber Strings, LSCS can add a new sound to your palette and neither replaces the other. Spitfire Audio Chamber Strings has a larger range of articulations and requires loading multiple patches to access them all, while LSCS loads all ten or eleven articulations per section in a single patch, trading a shorter learning curve for a more limited set of articulations. The feature I most found myself missing from LSCS Spitfire Audio Chamber Strings was the dynamic range control – this meant I had to do CC tweaking whenever I wanted to double an LSCS part with SACS.

AudioBro LASS 2.5 is a single mic position library with various section sizes and first and second violin patches. You could create either 8,8,3,3,1 (for a more violin dominant sound) or 4,4,3,3,1 (for a smaller violin sound) but notice that either way you end up with an extra cello player and you can’t get the same ensemble size balances as LSCS. I haven’t had a chance to work hands-on with LASS 2.5 but as a mixing engineer I’ve mixed dry stems with it and LSCS offers a more pleasing sound in terms of the base recordings, a fact that’s only amplified when the multiple mic positions are taken into account. Based on the sound (rather than any hands-on experience with the library) I would definitely choose LSCS over LASS 2.5.

The 8Dio Adagio Strings collection offers flexibility terms of the players used, thanks to its three ensemble sizes (ensemble, divisi and solo) and is recorded with two mic positions (and a mix position as well) in a San Francisco church (with more reverberation in the far mics than LSCS), with each section placed in the center. It uses just one violin section, with your choice of 11 players in ensemble (nearly twice as many as Light and Sound Chamber Strings), 3 players in the divisi patch (half as many as LSCS) or a single player. In other words, we can’t really get the same ensemble size as either the first or second violin sections in LSCS and there’s only one violin section. On the other hand, we can get the same number of players for the violas (using the divisi patch), cellos (using the divisi patch) and bass (using the solo patch). So in the end, we end up with different section sizes, no extra second violin section, fewer mic positions, more reverberation and having to place each section in the hall. Once again, LSCS offers something different.

VSL Chamber Strings is a single mic position library, recorded at the VSL Silent Stage, centered rather than in-situ, with a single violin section. If you use that violin section twice, you end up 6,6,4,3,2. While we can get the same first violin size as LSCS, we end up re-using the first violins for the second violin sound (that’s one player large than the LSCS one), an extra viola player and an extra bass player (though if you have VSL Solo Strings, you can use the double bass to get a single player). Again, I haven’t spent time with VSL Chamber Strings (though I’ve used other VSL libraries extensively) so my perception of the differences this makes on the sound are based on working with dry stems. Still, it’s one of the closest libraries in terms of section size, even there are differences. Out of the libraries other than LSCS discussed here, this has the driest hall sound, making it one of the most flexible to mix, but since it’s a single mic position library not recorded in situ, LSCS still offers a more organic out-of-the-box sound and is easier to use without additional mixing work. If you need more articulations, go VSL, but otherwise I’d definitely take a look at LSCS first.

Strezov Sampling Cornucopia Strings 2 was recorded in situ and multi-mic position at at Sofia Hall with a close ensemble size to LSCS (6,5,4,3,2) but differs in several ways: the viola and basses both have an extra player, the library is not divided up by sections (there are legato patches for high and low strings, as well as “tutti” patches featuring every section except the basses and patches with the basses alone). In addition, Sofia Hall has a more reverberant sound than Windmill Lane. Other than fairly similar ensemble sizes, the two libraries couldn’t be much more different.

Orchestral Tools Berlin Strings is recorded in situ and multi-mic position at Teldex Hall (which is less reverberant than AIR Lyndhurst but still more reverberant than Windmill Lane) with 8,6,5,5,4, giving it a much bigger sound. It dwarfs LSCS in terms of the number of articulations (and has a longer learning curve as a result), but gives a similar dynamic range control slider. Berlin Strings doesn’t offer the intimacy of sound that the smaller ensemble size in LSCS provides, so LSCS is a good addition even if you already have Berlin Strings.

Similarly, the older Sonic Implants Symphonic String Collections (more recently providing the basis for Sonivox Orchestral Companion – Strings) was recorded in situ (though single mic position) at Sonic Temple Studio (which while intimate still sound more reverberant than Windmill Lane) but again use very similar section sizes to Berlin Strings (here 8,6,6,5,4). On top of that, it’s the only library listed here that doesn’t feature interval legato sampling.

 

Is It Right For You?

Light and Sound Chamber Strings is one of my favorite libraries to use. If you’ve got a full version of Kontakt 5.5.2 or later, it is one the first chamber string libraries you should look at From the easy organization, consistent keyswitch options, dynamic range control, short learning curve, great legato sampling and unique ensemble sizes and recording venue, it offers something different, making it a great addition to any other string libraries you might have, either for a more intimate ensemble or for doubling. For those looking to buy their first string library, it can make a great bread and butter library and has a short learning curve, too – just be ready to add some external reverb to the sound to blend it into your track. If you need a library with a reverberant sound, or you’re mainly looking for an extremely large range of articulations, look elsewhere. For everyone else, it’s a great value at the price, extremely expressive and well suited to the advanced composer and beginner alike.

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