Review – Berlin Woodwinds Revive by Orchestral Tools
Orchestral Tools: take one of the best woodwind libraries on the market, add a boatload of new recordings and mic positions, and bundle all the old content, too!
by Per Lichtman, Jan. 2018
Berlin Woodwinds Revive (c. $780 USD for download from OrchestralTools.com or via SSD) is the big new woodwinds collection from Orchestral Tools. Last issue I reviewed the Berlin Woodwinds range (back when the main library was labeled version 2.1) only to find as I was finishing the review that Orchestral Tools had a new release, Berlin Woodwinds Revive. Luckily, the price of the new release includes both Berlin Woodwinds 2.1 (now known as Berlin Woodwinds Legacy) in the form I already reviewed as well as the new approach to the library (known a Berlin Woodwinds Revive.) In the process, the majority of my original criticisms were addressed in one fell swoop and then some! So read on to find out what’s old, what’s new and how it all works.
Let’s Get Terms Out of the Way!
First a clarification. When you buy Berlin Woodwinds Revive, what you really get is the “Complete” version of the Main Library. On Orchestral Tools website they refer to 67 GB losslessly compressed original library as BWW Legacy and the new 90 GB losslessly compressed original library as BWW Revive. It is then stated that what you’re buying is BWW Complete, the full 157 GB of losslessly compressed content (67 GB + 90 GB) that you get when you purchase the library. Revive includes a total of twelve woodwinds (eight entirely new and four from the original sessions using different sample material than Legacy). Confused yet? It’s about to get a lot clearer.
A New Sound
Legacy included four mic positions (Noise, Close, Room and Mix), where Mix was loaded by default and used in place of manually blending between other mics. It was the first major orchestral section in the Berlin Series and Orchestral Tools went on to provide a very different mic setup in future releases. In subsequent releases recorded in the hall, a minimum of four mic choices (Close, Tree, AB and Surround) were provided, sometimes with specific additional mics (like a “leader” mic) for certain ensemble patches, etc. Legacy was an outlier from the rest of the series, both in terms of having fewer mics and having wildly different dynamics from the other sections. In fact, I normally had to decrease the volume by 6-12 dB to get it in the same ballpark as other sections. With that in mind, let’s take a look at Revive!
All the instruments in Berlin Woodwinds Revive feature a full six microphone positions: Close I, Close II, ORTF, AB, Tree and Surround. The dynamics have also been re-analyzed and setup to fully match the other sections. The mic balance loaded by default is much wetter than Legacy, but Revive is actually more versatile – making it possible to get a sound from very wet to rather dry or anywhere in-between. With the additional microphone positions, the library can actually be used effectively without reverb in a concert hall setting in a way that wasn’t possible with the original.
The Revive balances much better with Berlin Strings by default. Here’s an example where all microphones are enabled in both Revive and Berlin Strings. The idea here was to get a very wet sound and avoid using external reverb. The faders have been left at default, no additional FX have been added. The output has been normalized to c. -1 dBFS.
If you’ll excuse the piece itself (it was rushed together with a single pass per part) you’ll notice how the strings surrounded the Revive woodwinds in the stereo field and the dynamics balanced well between the two libraries. Again, the only adjustment was that the combined mix between the libraries was made louder in the MP3.
Now let’s contrast that with Legacy, using exactly the same MIDI data. Here I couldn’t get a very wet sound, so I went for the wettest (room mic only). I left the faders at their default. The output has again been normalized to c. -1 dBFS.
Notice how the balance was completely off? The woodwinds are so loud relative to the strings that it’s difficult to notice anything else. Here’s what happens when we do the same thing, except we globally bring the Legacy woodwinds down by -7.3 dB.
That’s a little better. Now we can notice other differences instead. Note that even though we chose the wettest microphone position, the woodwinds seem to be very up-front and to span outside the strings in the stereo field at times. The dynamic range is narrower, the legato is less connected to start with (which is even more noticeable given the drier sound) and there are a lot of ways in which Revive fits a lot better with Berlin Strings. On the other hand, Legacy has a more energetic, drier and wider sound that can work well in other contexts – especially when being used on its own or whether libraries outside the Berlin family. The star here is Flute 1, which (while not well balanced with the strings) is vivacious and engaging.
Note that the balancing is quite different between Legacy and Revive, not only globally, but also between the different instrument families in the woodwinds and within each family as well.
As mentioned, all twelve of the instruments in Revive include the same microphone positions in Revive, but several of them are created using unused sample material from the original sessions for Legacy. Those four instruments from the original sessions are Flute 1, Clarinet 2, Bassoon 1 and Bassoon 2. The majority of the instruments are from completely new recording sessions: brand new players with their own instruments. These eight new instruments are Piccolo, Flute 2, Flute 3, Alto Flute, Oboe 1, Oboe 2, English Horn and Clarinet 1.
If you’re familiar with the Legacy list, you’ll notice that there are neither clarinet or flute ensemble patches anymore (which is fine as far as I’m concerned because I hardly ever used either). You’ll also notice that thankfully an alto flute (recorded in its place in the hall instead of a booth like in the earlier expansion) has finally been added for the first time in the library. Personally, this made me very happy.
One of the big differences between Revive and Legacy is the legato. Legacy featured a legato that varied rather significantly from instrument to instrument. In the best cases, like flute 1, Legacy’s legato came off as an accented note with a certain vibrancy. It wasn’t “smooth” but it had some vitality. In other cases, like the bassoons, the transitions didn’t feel sufficiently connected or flowing and the timing of the vibrato onset (in romantic vibrato patches) wasn’t ideal either. The biggest offenders were the oboe family – everything felt just a little bit “honky” or “nasal” to start with, so the legato being seemingly the least effective of all made things worse.
Enter Revive! Revive places the emphasis on smooth, connected lines in the legato. Every instrument that wasn’t re-recorded (like the bassoons and Clarinet 2) nonetheless handles a little differently with the new scripting. In almost every case, I would say it’s a noticeable improvement, but in the case of Flute 1, I would say it’s mainly a different color. Flute 1 stands out as the instrument that manages to show different but equally appealing sides in both Revive and Legacy. Flute 1 in Revive is smoother and more consistent, while Flute 1 in Legacy has an organic quality that shines through with greater individuality.
The instruments that benefit the most from the new approach in Revive are the re-recorded ones. The oboe family has been completely transformed and is so much more melodic and appealing that changes the whole feel of the library. If the oboe family were the only difference, I would have suggested people look at upgrading because of that alone.
Orchestral Tools has been very transparent in their goals and thinking for Revive. The idea was to make Berlin Woodwinds more consistent with the other sections, preserve their favorite instruments and do it with a budget that wouldn’t require raising the price too much. So what compromises had to be made to make that happen? In some cases the number of dynamic layers was reduced from three to two (preserving the loudest and quietest dynamic but omitting the middle one). In addition, there are now some differences in articulations between new and old instruments.
Are There Still Reasons to Use Legacy?
Since Orchestral Tools includes both Legacy and Revive, you may be wondering whether there’s any reason to use Legacy, other than for compatibility with older projects. The short answer is yes, which is part of the reason why I’m glad that both are included.
While the new recordings are smoother, wetter, more blended and better balanced with the rest of the Berlin Series orchestra, there are times where that’s not what a user is looking for. Those wanting a drier sound or wanting for the instruments to sound closer to listener for a given project can use the Legacy samples instead. And there may be situations where certain articulations have more dynamic layers or a different nuance in legacy (most notably, the more vibrant but less consistent legato for Flute 1 in Legacy).
Let’s look at one competitor in particular for a moment: EastWest Hollywood Orchestral Woodwinds (HOW). The two libraries differ massively in their approaches. From their choices in instrumentation, to their venue and sound, to the approach to articulation selection, these libraries couldn’t be much more different.
The newest part of Berlin Woodwinds Revive offers multiple woodwinds for every core woodwind (three concert flutes, two Bb oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons) and a few auxiliaries (piccolo flute, alto flute, English horn). By contrast mostly one of each core woodwind (two concert flutes, one Bb oboe, one clarinet, one bassoon) but many auxiliaries (piccolo flute, alto flute, bass flute, English horn, Eb clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, contrabassoon). In other words, BWW Revive has nine core woodwinds and three auxiliaries while HOW has five core woodwinds, with eight auxiliaries. Keep in mind, that’s not even counting the additional woodwinds also included with BWW Revive, from Berlin Woodwinds 2.1 – nor the additional three auxiliaries (Eb clarinet, bass clarinet and contrabassoon) that can be purchased separately.
Berlin Woodwinds Revive spans a much greater range in the microphone positions while Legacy offers a quite different sound. HOW has one sound – drier than both BWW versions – but possibly a better fit for those that really don’t want much hall reverb. I give the edge to BWW because it’s more versatile in terms of the different out of the box sounds. To use HOW in a classical context, you’ll typically want to use reverb FX (either in PLAY itself or externally). BWW (at least Revive) can be made sufficiently wet without additional reverb to really give a strong hall sound.
BWW Revive and Legacy both make excellent, easy-to-reconfigure use of articulation switching with extremely flexible multi-articulation patches or single articulation patches. Getting the most of the multi-articulation patches does require a little bit of initial setup, but each patch can be saved once configured to your preferences. HOW has only rudimentary keyswitching for some of the patches (pre-configured and less flexible) and predominantly relies on the user loading different single articulation patches.
The pricing is also quite different, and I would have to say that for those that use woodwinds infrequently (or can’t afford to buy a woodwind library immediately) that EastWest’s Composer Cloud rental option is helpful and offers access to a lot of other libraries at the same time.
Personally, whenever I’m on a project where the instrumentation makes either library an option, I prefer to use Berlin Woodwinds Revive. I like the greater variety in the primary winds and I find the library more fun to work with overall. At times, however, the wider variety of auxiliary winds in HOW makes it possible to write for orchestral forces outside the scope of Berlin Woodwind Revive.
I haven’t reviewed Spitfire Audio’s woodwind offerings, but if you’re looking for alternatives to Berlin Woodwinds, it’s also worth a look.
Room for Improvement?
The main niggle in Revive is that it’s somewhat less consistent (due to the combination of old and new instruments) than Legacy in regards to dynamic layers or the articulations offered. Most of the time, this really didn’t get in my head much but the new soft sustain articulations in many of the new instruments are such a treat that it’s a shame that the old instruments can’t have them. Still, it’s not an exaggeration to say that Revive really addressed my most important issues with Legacy – which was already one of the best woodwind libraries on the market. There’s not much else for me to mention here.
Is It Right for You?
If you don’t have any version of Berlin Woodwinds yet, I strongly recommend checking out Berlin Woodwinds Revive. It’s flexible, offers a great sound and is my favorite woodwind library that I’ve worked with to date. If you already own a prior version of Berlin Woodwinds (i.e. the Legacy portion) then I would say give it a listen. The value of upgrading to Revive depends in part on your aesthetic and application. The more you work with other Berlin libraries, the more you’ll notice the difference. Even if you don’t feel limited by the microphone positions in Legacy, the oboe family really sounds much better in Revive. At the same time, the aesthetic in Legacy and Revive is noticeably different and some old users may prefer the aesthetic of Legacy. For anyone other than old users, Revive also includes Legacy, so it’s hard to go wrong.
If you can’t afford Berlin Woodwinds Revive, there are some less expensive competitors that offer good value for the money. There are some similarly priced offerings that have a different aesthetic. Yet for me Berlin Woodwinds Revive improves upon its predecessor to offer something unique, making it the library against which other woodwind samples are judged.