Review – 8Dio Agitato Legato Arpeggio
We take a look at 8Dio’s Agitato Legato Arpeggio, the latest entry in the Agitato and Adagio strings family.
by Per Lichtman, May 2016
8Dio’s Agitato Legato Arpeggio is the latest entry in the Agitato and Adagio strings family ($179 USD for download at 8dio.com) only for the full versions of Kontakt 5.4 or later. We’ve previously covered both the Adagio Bundle and the previous Agitato Grandiose Legato libraries, so this review will focus on everything that’s new in the Agitato Legato Arpeggio.
What’s the Concept?
Agitato Legato Arpeggio is comprised of two parts: hyper legato patches and violin ostinato patches. First, let’s look at the legato. Agitato Legato Arpeggio adds several versions of the fastest legato articulation in the series to date, suitable for arpeggios, runs and other ornaments. Since the intervals were sampled across a wide range, it’s much more flexible than playable runs in Hollywood Strings, for instance. There are also two dynamic layers of intervals sampled (except the single layer in the violas) with three keyswitches (sus xfade, marcato and spiccato) in each patch. There are feather attack and pointed attack patches for each section, with Patches are provided for the ensemble size violin (11 players), viola (7 players) and cello (6 players) section for a total of six patches in the folder (labeled Playable Fast Legato) in all. Unlike the Adagio libraries, Agitato Arpeggio legato does not include solo instruments or basses, nor does it feature the divisi size sections found in Agitato Grandiose Legato. Like the earlier products, a single violin section has been sampled rather than separate first and second ones.
Moving to the violin ostinato phrases, there are ten phrases offered with between four and eleven different interval variations each. There are folders for patches made using either Time Machine Pro or Time Machine. Time Machine Pro is 8Dio’s preferred algorithm, but Time Machine is offered as the fallback option if your DAW has compatibility issues Time Machine Pro.
More than Legato
Let’s really dive into the hyper legato patches for a moment. Both the feather attack and pointed attack patches use a fast sampled legato transition followed by a sustain (or marcato or spiccato) sample, so the patches are designed to played monophonically. The velocity at which you play triggers either the louder or softer of the two legato dynamics (except for the single dynamic violas) while the dynamic and expression knobs control the level of the sample that follows. By default, these are assigned to the modwheel and expression pedal, but clicking the link button in the GUI between them makes it possible to control both with the modwheel, with custom scaling 8Dio provided. Each knob can also be re-assigned to a different CC by right clicking on it and using the learn command.
Let’s start with the often overlooked violas. I compared the violas feather attack hyper legato patch to an earlier 8Dio library: Agitato Grandiose Legato (using the ensemble patches, of course). I found that Arpeggio Legato rendered my arpeggios in a more aesthetically pleasing fashion pretty much across the board. While the earlier Grandiose Legato sounded good across some intervals and tempi, the legato transitions for certain notes and intervals could at times feel a little over-pronounced. The Arpeggio Legato articulations benefitted from a much more consistent rendering across different intervals and ranges, and great flexibility in tempi. I did most of my comparison using the susxfade keyswitch in the Arpeggio Legato feather attack patch since this was more similar in sound to the Grandiose Legato than the pointed attack one.
For instance, when rendering 8th note triplet arpeggiations, Grandiose Legato did well at slower tempi, like 36 BPM, but rapidly started to sound more like a saxophone than a violin section a tempi above 72 BPM. The Arpeggio Legato patch started to sound better and better as the tempo rose, sounding really great as the tempo increased well past 120 BPM and still holding clear definition up to somewhere around 168 BPM. By comparison, the same figures at 168 BPM in Grandiose Legato sounded more like a saxophone than a violin section. Above this, the Arpeggio Legato patch was still able to render the figures as an increasingly blurred line – though the realism tapered off dramatically, of course. Even at insane tempi (like 840 or 960 BPM) a single microphone position never exceeded the default patch voice limit in Kontakt: it took a mere 51 voices for the barrage of notes flying through the sampler at 960 BPM as compared to 20 voices at 168 BPM. For comparison’s sake, it should be noted that Grandiose Legato was able to handle the insane tempi as well, using fewer voices – just sounded more like a flurry of notes, and less like the blur of sound that I was able to coax out of Arpeggio Legato.
Sticking with the eighth note triplets in the feather attack violas, the spiccato keyswitch performed slightly differently in regards to tempi. The difference was most pronounced below 96 BPM, with the results sounding more similar with the different keyswitches at higher tempi. At 48 BPM and below, spiccato sounded largely like discrete notes with some bounce between them – distinct in sound from spiccato articulations offered in Adagio Violas. Above that tempo, there was an awkward range where the legato transitions didn’t sound right for the tempo, until about 72 BPM. At 72 BPM things started to sound natural again. By 96 BPM, the articulation flowed very well.
Following that, I tried eighth note triplets in the feather attack violas with the marcato keyswitch. Once again, they did well all the way down to about 36 BPM. This time there was no awkwardness as the tempo increased: from 36 BPM up to around 168 BPM things went smoothly. By the time I hit 168 BPM, the difference between the keyswitches was much less pronounced.
After that I tested the same viola triplet figures using the pointed attack patch. When using the Sus XFade keyswitch, I got better results in the 108 to 156 BPM range than either above or below it, with the best results near the middle of that range. Below 108 BPM, I once again found it helpful to use either the marcato or spiccato keyswitches.
The Violin Ostinato Phrases
Agitato Legato Arpeggio includes ten Violin Ostinato Phrases patches, which use Kontakt time stretching to play the recordings back at your project tempo. Six of the patches were originally recorded at 90 BPM and four at 120 BPM. Using keyswitching, you can select the interval you want (e.g. unison or perfect fifth) and some phrases are recorded with both ascending and descending variations mapped to different keyboard ranges (see list below), so you’ll have to check the octave you use. Note that the mapped range G1-A#2 can be used with all patches, so if you want to compare them with the same sequence, that’s a great place to start.
The phrases range from fairly simple and straightforward (e.g. Dark Night) to a bit more elaborate (e.g. Syncopate 2) and are consistently full of energy. I particularly liked playing unison intervals in chords, and extending the note lengths after recording so that notes touched. The results are very tight: I put together an 8-bar progression of 1-bar four-note chords for a 132 BPM EDM track and tried all ten patches without any problems. It simply works as advertised.
Violin Ostinato Phrases at 90 BPM (six phrases, with interval patterns listed):
- Arpeggio: major, minor, suspended, fifth. Mapping: G1-E3 ascending, G3-E5 descending.
- Dark Night: unison, minor 2nd, major 2nd, minor 3rd, major 3rd, perfect 4th, diminished 5th, perfect 5th, minor 6th. Mapping: G1-E4.
- MIB: unison, minor 2nd, major 2nd, minor 3rd, major 3rd, perfect 4th, diminished 5th, perfect 5th, minor 6th. Mapping: G1-F#3.
- Syncopate 1: unison, minor 2nd, major 2nd, minor 3rd, major 3rd, perfect 4th, diminished 5th, perfect 5th, minor 6th. Mapping: G1-F#3.
- Syncopate 2: unison, minor 2nd, major 2nd, minor 3rd, major 3rd, perfect 4th, diminished 5th, perfect 5th, minor 6th. Mapping: G1-F#3.
- Trill: unison, minor 2nd, major 2nd, minor 3rd, major 3rd, perfect 4th, diminished 5th, perfect 5th, minor 6th. Mapping: G1-A#2 ascending, G3-A#4 descending.
Violin Ostinato Phrases at 120 BPM (four phrases, with interval patterns listed):
- CLU: minor 2nd, major 2nd, minor 3rd, major 3rd, perfect 4th, diminished 5th, perfect 5th, minor 6th. Mapping: G1-A#2 ascending, G3-A#4 descending.
- Light Cycle: unison, minor 2nd, major 2nd, minor 3rd, major 3rd, perfect 4th, diminished 5th, perfect 5th, minor 6th. Mapping: G1-A#3.
- Sci-Fi: four minor, four major, minor, major, suspended, happy, hero 1, hero 2, minor 7th, dominant 7th, dark hero. Mapping: G1-E4 ascending. G4-E7 descending.
- Triplet Arp: unison, 1 octave minor, 1 octave major, 1 octave suspended, 1 octave 5th, 2 octave minor, 2 octave major, 2 octave suspended). Mapping: G1-A#3.
Much like other entries in the Adagio and Agitato string series, the strings have a vital, up-front energy that feels very vibrant and alive and can be used in a rather dry context when desired (especially when the close mics are used in isolation). Conversely, they can be made much softer and more distant by using mixing plugs. The 3 mic positions (close, far and mix) consist of two distinct microphone sets and an additional set created by blending and processing the other two. While the library was recorded with multiple mic positions, each section was recorded centered, so you’ll have to place them left to right in your mix using either standard panning or placement tools like VirtualSoundStage 2 or MIR.
The library works very well outside classical genres thanks to presence and energy of the recordings, and I enjoyed using it in everything from pop to EDM tracks because of that. For a more classical sound, you’ll want to use more mixing plugs to tame some of that energy – but it’s great to have available when you want it.
While the market is full of string libraries, there’s a smaller selection that caters to high speed legato or playable run performance. Out of the ones I’ve personally worked with, the most notable ones are EastWest Hollywood Strings Diamond (the first library with playable runs) and Orchestral Tools Berlin Strings (though some options are also offered in Orchestral String Runs). We’ll start by comparing to Agitato Legato Arpeggio to the former.
I would say that functionality in 8Dio Agitato Legato Arpeggio offers an important and massive improvement over the playable runs patches in Hollywood Strings Diamond: wider sampled interval transitions. This makes a huge difference, both in terms of the breadth of material that can be performed, and in how easy the patches are to use. While Hollywood Strings is still quite strong was the original pioneer in this area, Arpeggio Legato has definitely evolved the idea further and has the superior implementation. The main thing Hollywood Strings offers that Arpeggio Legato doesn’t is separately recorded first and second violin sections. Since Agitato Legato Arpeggio is just one part of the larger 8Dio strings series, it is also much less expensive than Hollywood Strings Diamond.
How does 8Dio Agitato Legato Arpeggio compare to the Legato Ostinato Arp articulations in Berlin Strings? For starters, it should be noted that Legato Ostinato Arp articulations are only included for 1st violins and cellos, so Agitato Legato Arpeggio offers an advantage by supplying articulations for violas as well. In terms of the actual performance and sound, these two libraries are simply the best I ever tested in terms of fast legato articulations. Where Berlin offers both non-vibrato and romantic vibrato options and the blending of more mic positions and a more strongly colored hall, Agitato Legato Arpeggio offers great mixing flexibility due to a drier sound and (to my ear at least) seem to be able to clearly articulate even faster passage than Berlin. As I said, these libraries are quite simply the two best examples of this type of patch that I’ve encountered to date, so it’s simply a matter personal taste. Since Agitato Legato Arpeggio is just one part of the larger 8Dio strings series and Berlin Strings is the main library, you can also buy Agitato Legato Arpeggio for much less.
It should be noted that no library I reviewed combines the types of violin phrases that 8Dio Agitato Legato Arpeggio provides with the type of “hyper legato” patches on offer here, which helps make the price even more appealing. From my perspective, the “hype legato” patches in Agitato Legato Arpeggio are the main course and phrases are a tasty bonus. If you want to look for other orchestral phrase based libraries, my best experiences have been with the Sonokinetic libraries.
Is It Right For You?
For those looking for some of the fastest legato scripting to date, I would strongly recommend checking out Agitato Legato Arpeggio. The library was consistently able to keep up with me when I played quickly, it sounds great and it costs significantly less than its peers – and adds the violin ostinato phrases as a bonus. If you already own other 8Dio string libraries, then adding the faster legato/playable run capability that Agitato Legato Arpeggio offers should pretty much be an impulse buy: it’s one of the very best examples of this type of patch I’ve ever encountered, and you get several violin ostinato patches included at no extra charge.