Review – Embertone Fischer Viola
We take a closeup look at Embertone’s latest entry in its solo strings collection for Kontakt, this time the viola.
by Per Lichtman, March 2016
Embertone Fischer Viola ($125 USD download at www.embertone.com) is Embertone’s third Kontakt 5 Player solo string library. We already covered their previous solo string libraries (http://soundbytesmag.net/embertoneblakuscelloandfriedlanderviolin/) and Alex Arsov mentioned the instrument in last issue’s Essentials article (http://soundbytesmag.net/essentials-albion-one-fischer-viola-and-emotional-cello/) so this review is only going to focus on what’s new and how it compares to the previous offerings. Note that Embertone recently released a solo bass as well, which we plan to review in a future issue.
The big headliner feature of the Fischer Viola is “Phase-Aligned Dynamic Morphing” between the pp and ff legato layers. This allows you to transparently crossfade through both transitions and sustains at any time while playing, and it sound greats great throughout the roughly 16-20 dB dynamic range the expression control offers, depending on the bowing position.
The developer claims improvements to both the dynamic crossfade-able bowing position. Without knowing exactly what they handled differently, all I can judge is the result, which is very musical in both cases. The full range of bowing positions, from sul tasto to normale to sul ponticello, sound great and in direct comparisons with the Friedlander Violin, I could hear noticeably more detail in the viola that might be described as “air”, “grain” or “rosin” depending on the listener.
The developer also mentioned that the vibrato control had been tailored specifically for the new viola. In comparing the vibrato to the Friedlander, I would describe the refinement as “more transparent sounding” with a refinement noticeable at higher vibrato speeds in particular. It’s a smoother sound that doesn’t push as much – though the difference is subtle.
The majority of other refinements are geared more towards utility. Portamentos can now be engaged via key-switch, as well as the velocity and CC options previously available. The Touch OSC control template (a separate third-party app for iOS and Android) now has a to button sync up MIDI CC settings and doesn’t require a separate patch. The Lo-Ram mode no longer requires loading a new patch – it’s now a Speed Control toggle button that enables and disables Kontakt time-stretching to modify note and transition lengths. In my testing the 16-bit stereo patch was 188.09 MB without Speed Control and 0.58 GB with Speed Control enabled. A side-benefit of this is that there are fewer presets to sift through, just three per mic option: one designed for mod-wheel control, another for mod-wheel and expression pedal, and a third for full the gamut of control options.
Embertone has made a habit so far of showcasing new features in each solo string release and then bringing the features to existing instruments. Just as the Blakus Cello introduced a new approach to bowing control and improved dynamics which were later added to the Friedlander Violin. Embertone has said they plan to bring these features to other releases.
How’s it Compare to the Rest of Friedlander Strings?
I spent a lot of time using the Fischer Viola in quartets with Embertone’s Blakus Cello and Friedlander Violin and found it very easy going back and forth between them. There was never a moment where I missed a feature from an earlier library in the Fischer Viola (quite to the contrary) and all the articulations I looked for were present. In terms of the shorts sampling, it has 4x round-robin for the staccato (compared to 8 in Friedlander and Blakus) and 4x for the pizzicato (same as Friedlander but half as many as Blakus).
Is It Right for You?
The Fischer Viola represents a refinement of the existing Embertone Solo strings, and I recommend it to the same users: if you liked their previous solo strings, this one is the next step forward. It’s the best scripted, easiest to use and most efficient solo string I’ve reviewed from Embertone so far and there’s even less competition for sampled violas than for sampled violins and cellos.