Review – Trio Broz Solo Strings from Fluffy Audio
Drawing its name from the performers recorded, Trio Broz Solo Strings is a trio of highly expressive solo string Kontakt Libraries examined in great detail here.
by Per Lichtman, May 2016
SoundBytes get’s the exclusive on the recently radically updated Fluffy Audio’s Trio Broz: Solo Strings Bundle is a trio of highly expressive solo string Kontakt libraries for the full version of Kontakt 4.2.4 or newer, available for direct download at FluffyAudio.com. The bundle draws its name from the performers recorded. The Trio Broz, three siblings (Barbara Broz, Giada Broz and Klaus Broz) that have been performing for over two decades together and are currently on the Sony Classical label. More information about the performers can be found at TrioBroz.com (though the English language version is under construction at the time of writing). The library comprises three individual string libraries (violin, viola and cello) each of which can be purchased separately. The MSRP for the bundle is $319 USD but at the time of writing promotional pricing brings the price tag down to $249 USD. This library has a lot to offer, especially for the violin (reviewed free update coming at the end of the month), so if you’re looking for a library that’s big on expressive legato while offering more, read on.
What’s in the Bundle?
The current version Fluffy Audio’s Trio Broz Solo Strings takes up roughly 19.5 GB on my hard drive: violin 10.2 GB, cello 5.2 GB and viola 4.1 GB. As you would expect from looking at that, viola has the fewest articulations, the cello is in the middle and the violin has the most. Fluffy Audio first released the solo violin about a year ago as 6.4 GB library but they’ve more than double the number of articulations with the new free update making it the most powerful instrument in the bundle by far. FluffyAudio provided the update ahead of release as SoundBytes exclusive and has stated that the update will not increase the price of the bundle or solo library: future and old users alike will receive the update for free.
The viola comes with two patches: the basic patch and one that uses the newer Kontakt 5 filters. This review was conducted with the Kontakt 5 filters version. The playable range of the patch is C2 to D#5 (the same range as the viola in VSL Solo Strings, over three octaves), where C3 is middle C. The highest note sampled was D5 and the lowest C2 and most samples are mapped to a two-semitone range. This works fine, except for the times where the C#2 doesn’t have vibrato where you’d want it to. The basic articulations are vibrato, non-vibrato (more on this later), spiccato (4x round-robin), staccato (4x RR) and pizzicato (4x RR), all accessed via keyswitching (along with additional keyswitches for “back to sustain” and “pitchwheel down”). There’s one set of legato intervals (fingered legato) sampled at a single dynamic, used when playing both vibrato and non-vibrato. The sound is allotted into six stages (more on that in the behavior section) so you’ll also find two additional articulations (accented attack, crescendo attack and decrescendo release) can be accessed via MIDI CC. Note that (like the VSL libraries) if you play a legato articulation by holding down both the first note and the second note you are transitioning to, you can transition back to the original note at any time by releasing the second note. VSL’s influence in this area is felt here as well as in the Embertone series, and it’s to the user’s benefit.
The spiccato, staccato and pizzicato keyswitches all feature three dynamic layers (pp, mf, ff) that can be controlled via modwheel or velocity. The vibrato and non-vibrato keyswitches start off with a similar three dynamic layer sustain, that crossfades into a single dynamic layer legato interval (that also includes a rather long sustain portion) before crossfading back into either another legato pitch or a three dynamic layer sustain on the same pitch again. The vibrato and non-vibrato articulations can only be played with monophonic legato scripting, so playing multiple stops at once (like the fairly common double-stop) is not possible when using these keyswitches. Spiccato, staccato and pizzicato can all be played polyphonically.
The stars of the show are the vibrato based articulations. If you are buying Trio Broz: Viola on its own, I would suggest that you make your decision primarily based on the sound of the accented attack, crescendo attack, decrescendo release, fingered legato and vibrato sustain. These are all well scripted and help show off the individual performer and the vibrato is very natural. You’ll hear the vibrato enter naturally over the course of the note, rather than hit hard right off the bat, and intensity of the vibrato is falls into a happy middle ground: not too strong and not too light. When I compared it to the viola vibrato options in VSL Solo Strings (the long time industry standard), I found it more natural and musical. To be fair: VSL Solo Strings appears to be aiming for a more traditional and conservative performance approach, while Trio Broz appears to be aiming for maximum expression, but with such configurable interfaces, there’s also the de facto that the defaults legato transition options in Trio Broz seem to be lot better suited to my style of performance than those in VSL. The flip side is that those wanting fast, precise legato transitions will be better served with VSL Solo Strings as they are difficult (if not impossible) to fully replicate for the viola here.
If you’re especially sensitive to phasing from crossfading, the transitions from the legato stage back to the sustain may tweak your ear. This is especially true if the dynamic layer you are emphasizing in the sustain is very different from the single dynamic of the legato you are using. For the most part, however, I found they sounded like rather natural bow-changes to me and was easily able to use the instrument in a solo capacity.
There’s also a slight learning curve regarding sustain length: if you start a vibrato or non-vibrato line, it will initially play sustains with bow changes for about 12-13 seconds (depending on your behavior settings), then end. If you keep holding the note beyond this, there will still be an audible string release sample when you let go of the key. If on the other hand, you transition to second note before the recording ends (triggering the fingered legato) the note will play with bow changes for roughly 20-22 seconds (depending on behavior settings) on the same note. This gives you ample time in most cases, but if you happen to be composing pieces with especially slow movement, it’s worth noting that there are no infinite sustains on offer, so you will have to periodically re-trigger the note every 12-22 seconds depending on the context.
While I very much enjoyed the vibrato, I was less enthused by the non-vibrato. Using the non-vibrato legato keyswitch doesn’t work so well because the fingered legato samples used to transition between the initial sustain and the later sustain (as well as the decrescendo release samples option) have vibrato, making it difficult to perform a truly non-vibrato line (or to effectively use synth vibrato). It’s a respectable, middle of the road, number of articulations: much more than a product like CineSamples Tina Guo’s Acoustic Cello Legato or Strezov’s Macabre Solo Strings; somewhat fewer than Embertone’s Intimate Solo Strings but still a lot fewer than products like XSample Chamber Ensemble (albeit that has no legato intervals) and especially VSL Solo Strings.
The cello is mapped from the range C1-A4 where C3 is middle C. Once again, the instrument has the same range as VSL Solo Strings, and here that means over three-and-a-half octaves with the lowest sample being C1 and the highest G#4.
The cello offers all the same articulations as the viola and most of my earlier observations apply, but the cello adds the “slurred” legato/glissando interval transition samples to the vibrato and non-vibrato keyswitches. Note that the sustain portion of the legato samples is different for the fingered legato than the slurred legato: the fingered legato features a longer sustain in the same recording, while the slurred legato will have to transition back to the multi-dynamic sustain sample more quickly. The legato samples seem to be closest in dynamics to the mf sustain, so if you want the most transparent crossfade, I’d keep the modwheel in that range during the transition. The combination of the relaxed vibrato and the (by default) smooth and long fingered legato interval transitions give the vibrato articulation a much more “effortless” and “blended” sound than VSL Solo Strings or Embertone Intimate Solo Strings have out of the box (albeit with fewer articulations than either and without the advanced the vibrato control of the latter). This may very well mean that many users can get “musical” results out of it more quickly, but with the caveat that those wanting more rapid legato transitions will have an easier time with VSL Solo Strings or Embertone Intimate Solo Strings.
The violin library has the most articulations out of the three, by a large margin. Starting at G2, the mapped range extends up to D#6 when used with concert mapping or C#6 when used with intimate mapping. The lowest note sampled is G2 and the highest is D#6, so you won’t find any artificial sounding extended range at the top. As a reference point, the mapped range in the VSL Solo Strings violin legato articulations usually extend to either C#6 or D6, giving Trio Broz violin an extra semitone or two at the top when used in concert mapping. On the other hand VSL Solo Strings extends their basic sustain further, up to A#6.
Whereas the viola and cello mapped every articulation at their disposal into a smaller number of keyswitches, with two patches a piece to cater to Kontakt 5 users (with the filters) as well as Kontakt 4 users, the new violin is a whole different ballgame. The viola and cello had seven attacks: accented sustain, vibrato sustain, non-vibrato sustain, crescendo sustain, spiccato, staccato and pizzicato. The violin adds the following: an additional spiccato attack (4x RR, one dynamic), fast detache (4x RR, one dynamic), bow down 1 (three dynamics), bow up (three dynamics), tremolo (one dynamic), tremolo sul pont (one dynamic), harmonics (one dynamic) violin FX (one dynamic), tremolo dynamics (two dynamics), lyrical attack (one dynamic) and bow up/ down 1 (three dynamics). That’s an additional eleven types in addition to the seven it shares with other libraries: a total of eighteen attack articulations.
The violin library also builds upon the fingered legato that both the other instruments offer, and the slurred legato found in the cello by adding four additional legato types: detache legato, espressivo legato, fast detache legato and spiccato legato. All four of these types are very musical, useful and well recorded might serve as bread and butter articulations for many users. For starters, the fast detache legato and spiccato legato give you two choices for rapid note transitions that neither the viola nor cello libraries in the bundle offer (and that make the library much more competitive for these types of figurations). The fingered legato provided here was the first recorded – it feels like it performed at a quieter dynamic and there’s a tad more room tone in the recordings. Switching between the fingered legato for quieter passages and one of the detache or espressivo legatos for louder ones gives you another way to add dynamic variation.
Note that the emphasis here remains on musical, usable performances and that the players don’t quite go to the more aggressive extremes that a library like VSL Solo Strings can offer. But we haven’t gotten to the ace in the Trio Broz sleeve yet.
Viola and Cello GUI: Overview
Even though the viola and cello libraries have fewer articulations than the violin, you can quickly tell that they have a lot to offer power users. The GUI is divided into six tabs: overview, sound, behavior, dynamics, compensator and preferences. Overview is where you find your bread and butter settings (from articulation to mic position selection) and it displays the active sample set being played (including the round-robin used, when appropriate) as well as the dynamic layers (pp, mf and ff) being emphasized in the crossfading for articulations with multiple layers. It also offers reverb amount control, humanizing tuning randomization (with live display), bow noise control and the ability to store and load presets for the settings as a whole. One quirk was that while there as a legato crossfade time display with a slider, I couldn’t seem to modify it in this tab.
Violin GUI: Overview
When you open the Violin 2.0 GUI, there are many things that are the same (like the mic positions and dynamic layers displays) but you’ll notice some differences in the overview pane right away. For starters, there are now twelve articulations to choose from on the left, and the instrument presets menu (located on the overview pane for the violin and cello) has been removed and replaced with similar menus on the sound and behavior panes. In addition, there is a “pacing” switch near the top at the center that switches between “Concert” and “Intimate”. “Concert” is the default mapping (as you’ve heard in the viola and cello), where a given sample extends upward to the next sample (meaning the vibrato plays as recorded or slightly faster). When “Intimate” is chosen, a higher pitched sample is instead slowed down to play the chosen pitch, resulting in a darker timbre and slightly slower vibrato. It’s a simple but effective way of creating a variation in sound that works well as long as you don’t need to play the highest D or D# (which becomes unavailable when intimate pacing is chosen). Other differences include bowing noise control (which have been removed), the humanize tuning controls (which have been moved to the preferences pane) and a change in the way the currently played articulation is displayed.
Now there’s a box at the center displaying the phase of playback (for instance “phrase begun”, “legato/short” or “back to sustain”) and the articulation currently active or most recently played. This box will make a lot more sense once you’ve read up on the behavior tab for the violin, but the part worth noting now is that it displays the number of dynamic layers for the articulations in parentheses and that current round-robin (out of four) is also displayed when a round-robin articulation is played.
All GUIs: The Sound and FX
Next is the sound tab. All three libraries share a trio of mic positions (close, mid and far) recorded at the Teatro delle Voci in Treviso. The bundle was recorded using Schoeps and Audio Technica microphones with Neve and Millenia Media preamps. As such, the recordings tend to be on the brighter side (especially the close position) than most other libraries with more ambience than VSL’s Silent Soundstage. If you’re coming from VSL Solo Strings you’ll especially notice this in the release samples. However, the intimate hall means that there’s much less reverb (even in the far position) than AIR Lyndhurst (home to most Spitfire Audio libraries) or even the less ambient Streissand Soundstage (where CineSamples records their libraries).
All three mic positions have individual level, high-pass and low-pass controls and the library offers option use of four Kontakt effects. Each of the three positions can be enabled or disabled individually, but there are no mute or solo buttons. The bundle caters to the fact that most users will likely want additional reverb by providing convolution reverb, but it also offers a silkener (that smooths out the frequencies a bit for a warmer sound), saturation (for adding harmonics and heft) and a limiter (to keep the level from overloading or to reduce the dynamic range). As usual, my preference was to keep the library pretty much bone dry in Kontakt and rely on my own collection of effects, but the built-in effects do make it possible to quickly and easily tailor the sound to a variety of sonic preferences.
Viola and Cello GUI: Behavior
The behavior tab for the viola and cello is where you start to get some more hints about the power lurking beneath the surface of this library. The display in the middle shows four sections from left to right: xfade (which controls the crossfade between an initial sustain and the transition into the legato, or the transition to that legato from another note), legato (which controls the duration of the legato interval and the sustain that follows in the recording), xfade (which controls the fade back to the multi-dynamic sustain sample) and “back to sustain”. I alluded to all this earlier but there’s a bit more to cover here (though the violin in particular adds a lot more to this tab later on). The first three sections all have dialog boxes beneath them showing the number of milliseconds or seconds that max duration for that stage can be. For the xfade into the legato sample, the range is 10 ms to 464 ms. For the vibrato legato stage, the range is 5 ms to 5 seconds. For the xfade out of the legato stage, the range is 35 ms to 4 seconds. You can right click on any of these three boxes to use MIDI learn to control the range using a MIDI CC of your choosing, making it possible to tailor the sound of the articulation
The non-vibrato controls are largely the same, but there’s a new section of controls in the lower right for “synth vibrato settings” to use a Kontakt LFO to add vibrato to the non-vibrato samples. As mentioned earlier, these controls are amount (as in the intensity of the vibrato applied), speed (the rate of the LFO used) and fade in time (which specifies the fade before the onset of the vibrato).
Violin GUI: Behavior
This tab, more than any other tab, is where the bulk of the Trio Broz violin’s power lies. Since the violin library is a 2.0 release, the scripting power on offer here far exceeds what the current versions of the Trio Broz viola and cello provide. For starters, it’s much more configurable and now has arrows to open two panes for additional controls (as well as the ability to save a given collection of settings to one of the twelve keyswitch slots and name it). You have the articulation name (which you can change by opening a dialog box, typing and hitting enter) and keyswitch (which opens a dialog box prompting you to play any key outside the playable range of the violin) and kind (which opens a three option drop-down menu). The kind box bears further discussion, as there are three types of articulations: legato, short and instant. This where the power user’s dream starts.
Let’s start with the instant articulations, which allow you to use any of the eighteen “attack” articulations I mentioned earlier. I immediately thought Best Service Harmonic Subtones’ Emotional Cello when I saw this functionality, which I say as a compliment since it’s one of the only other libraries I’ve seen offer this. The way that instant articulations work is that as you are playing a note, you hold down the keyswitch to transition a new articulation on that same note. The new articulation crossfades in (taking between 5 ms and 5 seconds depending on the behavior setting for the instant articulation) and then fades back to the original articulation (crossfading based on the crossfade setting in the original articulation) when you release the keyswitch. The instant articulation has the fewest controls: a drop-down menu for the 18 articulations and a dialog box for the crossfade time into the articulation.
Next let’s look at the simple but very useful short type. Whereas the instant articulation had two dialog boxes or menus, the short articulation has seven. First, on the left you’ve got your choice two round-robin modes: cycle RRs (which moves from one round-robin to the next in order) and random RRs (which picks one of the four round-robin slots at random each time you play a note). On the right there’s a dialog box that lets you choose whether you want the dynamics of the short notes to be controlled by modwheel or velocity. Below that, there’s a “stop analysis after x seconds” dialog that lets you tweak the point at which the DCE engine stops analyzing/affecting a short note sample. The basic idea being to keep it long enough to handle the main body of the sound while keep it short enough that it doesn’t keep trying to control the tail for too long after the sound has gotten very quiet. Then in the center we find the main controls: four drop down menus that let you choose one of twelve samples for each of the four round-robin slots. The twelve samples on offer are staccato RR1-4, spiccato RR1-4 and pizzicato 1-4. You can mix and match them, should you want to create a more complex sequence of sounds as you play, or you can use a more traditional 1-4 RR arrangement for a give articulation. Alternately, you can exclude any RR you dislike from the sequence by replacing it with a repetition of one of the ones you like better.
For power users it goes much farther than that once we get to the legato articulation. Trio Broz Solo Violin 2.0 is the only solo string library I have ever encountered that offers this particular form of modular control for articulations: the sound is broken up into six stages (including two crossfades you control) and the ability to select different sounds for four of the stages. I completely overlooked just how powerful this was at first so I want to make sure nobody else does the same thing.
To elaborate further, I’ll use the default MIDI CC mapping (where articulation switching is accomplished with keyswitching and the pitchbend wheel) but remember that the preferences GUI allows you to remap the pitchbend wheel controls to any CC of your choosing. For starters, you have three states of the pitchbend wheel (one at minimum, one at center, another at max) that correspond to three “attack” sustain slots. Each of these three slots can hold any of the eigtheen “attack” sustain articulations mentioned earlier, from a basic sustain to a sul pont tremolo, and you choose which of the three slots you want to activate by changing the pitchbend wheel to the desired position before playing the note and holding it there. You then have control over how long it takes to fade to the “legato” stage, where you choose between the six interval legato types (detache, espressivo, fast detache, spiccato legato, fingered legato and slurred legato). The legato stage also has three states you can choose between, depending on your pitchbend wheel position, so you can map up to three legato types to the same articulation.
Then you choose the last sustain stage, which can be set to any of the 18 “attack” articulations, any of the six legato articulations, or to none at all (in which case the sound ends when the legato articulation finishes). This sustain stage is the only one where there you choose just one option instead of three slots corresponding to pitchbend wheel position.
While dialog boxes let you specify both the duration of the legato stage and the crossfade time between the legato and final sustain stage, additional control is also provided by the “back to sustain rule” dialog box. When the “after legato duration” rule is selected, the legato sample plays, followed by the “back to sustain” choice afterwards based on the other dialog boxes. When the “on legato” rule is selected, it plays pretty much on top of the legato interval for more of a stacked sound.
The last stage gives you a choice of five release options: none, decresendo (three dynamics), staccato (three dynamics, 4 RRs), spiccato (three dynamics, 4 RRs) and pizzicato (three dynamics, 4 RRs).
The level of modular control offered in this type is both unusual and powerful. You can create some extremely personalized articulation evolutions. For instance you can map the attack stage to a sul pont tremolo, set it to transition to the next note using a spiccato legato, then transition to espressivo legato and finally end on a decrescendo when you release the note. That’s four different articulations you just used without worrying about velocity, keyswitches or a MIDI CC. But there’s a second sub-pane to the behavior tab that offers even more control, accessible by clicking the arrow on the right side of the GUI.
I’ll start with the simplest parts of the second sub-pane, both found at the bottom of the GUI. In the lower right there is a checkbox that lets you enable and disable whether the release tails should cycle round-robin style when available or not. On the left are the synth vibrato controls, which are identical to those found in the viola and cello libraries but placed differently in the GUI. But the most important part of the interface is the middle section.
In the middle section of this second sub-pane, you can use a pretty easy to learn logic menu to specify ways to activate two more articulations. It’s about as easy as setting up searching a custom date range in a search engine. Each of the two articulations has its own logic that goes from left to right. First, you switch the drop-down menu to the right of “IF” from “none” to velocity, speed or modwheel. Then you click the menu to the right of “IS” to choose whether you want the articulation to activate when the value is lower or higher than the value specified in the menu to the right of THAN. For instance you could set the first three boxes to “IF velocity IS lower THAN 64”. The next menu lets you choose between “START” articulations (the eighteen articulations I called attack articulations) and “LEGATO” (which lets you choose any of the six legato articulations). So a final example might look like “IF velocity IS lower THAN 64 LEGATO is Espressivo Legato”. This would trigger an espressivo legato whenever I played at a velocity below 64. Or you could set a slurred legato to play whenever you transitioned from a note you’d held for more than a couple seconds.
While I’ve encountered some parts of the legato type behavior control in other products, some are brand new to me and I’ve never experienced any other string library that let me create modular articulation combinations this way before, in a way more like advanced wavesequencing modified by MIDI controllers. Honestly, it has more in common with the Prophet VS and Korg Wavestation than other sample libraries in some ways, but is arguably much more powerful when paired with the additional controls and these realistic samples. It is a very, very powerful step forward for scripting samples that I honestly wouldn’t have expected from a smaller, independant developer. Major kudos.
Viola and Cello GUI: Dynamics
Hey power users, are you still reading? Good because this tab has definitely got your name on it. For starters, there’s a slider that goes between “natural” and “auto-gain” for the dynamics to let you specify the degree to which you want to preserve the dynamic variation in the source recordings. Beneath that, you can specify the number of dB you want in the dynamic range. Then there’s a checkbox beneath that which allows you give part of that volume range to Expression CC 11 (and leaving the box unchecked assigns the whole dynamic range to the modwheel). Next, you have a slider that controls the degree to which the velocity you play at affects the dynamic used for the attack sample: all the way to the right means you control the dynamic with your velocity, all the way to the left means you rely entirely on the modwheel instead. Then there’s a similar checkbox underneath it that switches dynamics control for the short articulations (spiccato, staccato and pizzicato) from the modwheel to velocity when checked.
There’s still more, though. In the upper right there’s a mod wheel display with the three dynamic layers and two crossover points between them. The crossover points are show in two numerical dialog boxes that be changed to other MIDI CC values to make a given dynamic layer cover a different modwheel range. I found this especially useful for getting finer control of the dynamic layer that was most useful to me in a given passage. This is especially true since MIDI learn can be used for the dialog boxes here, just like those on the behavior page, making it possible to dynamically control the scaling with another MIDI CC.
Then there’s the “dynamics smooth time”, which bears a little explanation. I struggled to figure this one out on my own and finally had to reach for the manual and do a little trial and error. It controls the crossfading rate between waveforms as you sweep between different dynamic layers using the modwheel on multi-dynamic articulations (usually the basic sustain). Higher values lead to smoother transitions, shorter values lead to faster transitions that may sound more abrupt but precise. Another way to think of it is “crossfade lag”. It is worth noting that the volume level always follows the modwheel quickly and independently of this value: you’ll still be able to quickly change the volume, even with a long dynamic smooth time, it will just take longer for the timbre to fade from one sample to another.
Violin GUI: Dynamics
This is one of the few places where the violin has a smaller number of options than the viola and cello. The two options that have been removed are the slider to have velocity affect attack, and the checkbox to toggle whether velocity or the modwheel control the dynamics of short articulations. This is because the short articulation dynamics controls have been moved to the behavior tab for individual short articulations. There you can set it up differently for each short articulation keyswitch at your discretion.
All GUIs: Compensator
Remember how that last tab was catering to power users? Well the compensator tab is where us power users may want to seriously consider just calling ourselves nerds, because just about everyone else starts to roll their eyes when one of us talks about this part. Still, it can be quite useful when you know what you’re doing. For starters, it’s worth noting that you can see the DCE in action at any time by looking in the lower left corner of the GUI and seeing the two bars playing during a sustain or legato. The top bar is the sample playback volume and the bottom is the compensator affecting the level. Watching this display as you adjust settings can help you gauge your settings better.
For starters, the DCE range has two dialog boxes: min volume and max volume, each specified in decibels. These values show how much the DCE engine can boost or reduce the volume of a given sample. The min volume has a range from -6 dB to -24 dB and the max goes from +6 dB to +24 dB. In other words, you can specify anything from a 12 dB to a 48 dB range. This section interacts with the DCE settings in the Dynamics tab to help you tailor the dynamic range, so I tended to mainly leave this section with a min of -24 dB and a max of + 24 dB, then use the dynamics tab to specify the range I wanted. Some power users may prefer a different approach.
The last section is the DCE Note Compensator tab. You’ll notice these settings a lot more if the slider in the dynamics tab has been set all the way to natural, so I’d suggest doing so before experimenting. Checking and unchecking the DCE Note Compensator box will enable and disable the effect. Depending on the modwheel values you are using, this will either be an extremely subtle or very dramatic effect: try unchecking the box and playing legato transitions with different modwheel values until you start to hear some transitions that really “jump out at you”. At this point you can enable the DCE Note Compensator, and start varying the “compensator amount” slider to get as little or as much of the effect as you want. Then you can modify the “inherits from previous” slider to control how much the compensator holds onto the value it was using during the last note when you transitioned: in other words, the amount of lag from the old notes as it readjusts to a new note – not unlike the release setting on a compressor. Compensator time, on the other hand, is more like the attack envelope on a compressor – it controls how long it takes the DCE to reign in dynamics after there’s a change. The velocity to compensator slider allows you to let more or less of the natural dynamics in based on velocity, in order to add accents. Like I said, we are squarely in power-user territory here: I would bet that a lot of users will rarely touch this tab.
The violin has all the same controls as the violin and cello do in this tab, but adds some more explanation in the text of how the controls work.
Viola and Cello GUI: Preferences
This is an extremely important tab, whether you’re a casual user, a power user or a self-proclaimed nerd. Everybody should visit this tab at least once. For starters, there’s the remapping tab. This lets you reassign the default MIDI CCs used by the library to those of your choosing. By default, you have modwheel (CC1), pitch wheel (PB), expression (CC11) and the optional synth vibrato. This is extremely important since many users may not be used to the default mapping. For starters, vibrato and non-vibrato keyswitches make extensive use of the pitch wheel, but not for pitch: the pitch wheel is used to control the attack sustain used (crescendo, sustain, accented sustain) and the release sample (either a normal release or a decrescendo). For the violin and cello you’ll later see it controls even more things. So what if you don’t have a pitch wheel on your controller?
Since my primary MIDI controller does not have a pitchbend wheel, I just re-assigned the articulation switching that the pitch wheel normally controlled to another MIDI CC fader on my Behringer BCF-2000 control surface. Easy. Users without modwheel or expression pedal can do the same things for those parameters. Also, the synth vibrato is not mapped to any CC by default that I could find, so if you want to control it with a MIDI CC, you’ll have to map it here in order to get started.
Next up, there’s the engine accuracy. To quote the manual, “ higher settings consume more CPU but will give a better sound and create less lag”. I did a tiny bit of testing, but I pretty much just left this at “perfect” the whole time since I had the CPU to spare.
Those two settings are very widely applicable, so now let’s get into some that are a little less commonly used. GUI refresh lets you change the interval between GUI screen updates: lower numbers equal more frames per second but with higher CPU usage, while higher numbers equal fewer frames per second but with lower CPU usage. Tuning lets you switch between A=440 Hz and A=442 Hz, which I’ve heard people want to do for both practical and philosophical reasons from time to time. “Keyswitch position” gives you three possible locations for the keyswitches to be placed on the keyboard: lower (starting on C-1), default (starting on C-0) and upper (starting on C5). I’m guessing these three choices are generic and designed to accommodate different instruments, because the “upper” choice overlaps with the playable range of the viola, so there’s no point to using it on the viola under normal circumstances.
Violin GUI: Preferences
The preferences tab for the violin is almost the same as for the violin and cello, with two differences. First, there is an additional synth vibrato control that can be mapped to a MIDI CC. The synth vibrato mapping in the violin and cello offered vibrato amount control only. Here there are distinct MIDI CC slots assignable to both synth vibrato amount and rate. The second difference, as mentioned earlier, is that the humanize tuning display and control previously on the overview tab are now here in the preferences tab instead.
Solo string sampling has become one of the most competitive areas of orchestral sampling, second (in my view) only to orchestral strings in terms of the number of offerings currently available. However, Fluffy Audio Trio Broz: Solo Strings Bundle is one of the best I’ve encountered so the question isn’t so much “is it better than other libraries” as “why would you pick it versus its competitors”?
Each library primarily differentiates itself in terms of the articulations offered, the performances, the way it was recorded, the way the scripting and GUI are laid out (though factors like storage space, platform compatibility and price are factors as well). While many developers offer a solo violin or solo cello, a smaller number supplement these with violas. Out of the libraries I have reviewed to date, I feel the most direct alternatives to the bundle are VSL Solo Strings (which similarly emphasizes recorded vibrato as opposed to vibrato control) and Embertone’s Intimate Solo Strings (which provides vibrato entirely through scripting as opposed to recorded vibrato). Each of these three libraries has an advantage in at least one area.
First of all, in the case of the Embertone or VSL bundles you get a double bass in the collection, which the Trio Broz does not provide (which is as one might expect given the names). If you need a double bass, I would look to one of those developers. On the other hand, Trio Broz is the only bundle out of the three that offers multiple microphone positions (three versus one in the others). If you need or want more mic positions, go with Trio Broz.
In regards to round-robins and dynamic layers, the three bundles are rather competitive with each other. VSL normally has the lead in dynamic layers for both sustains (four layers versus three for most Embertone and Trio Broz articulations) and some of the legato transitions (two versus one for the other libraries in most circumstances, though the newer Embertone libraries offer two). In regards to round-robins, four is the most common number between all three libraries: in some cases Embertone offers more (8 pizzicato RRs for their cello, 8 staccato RRs for their violin and cello) while VSL offer performance repetitions for spiccato and staccato (though these are three layer as opposed to four, like the other VSL shorts). On the other hand, Trio Broz and VSL offer distinct spiccato and staccato short note sets, while Embertone offers staccato only. It’s really a matter of personal choice.
When it comes to bow position control, the only variation that Trio Broz explicitly offers is between standard bowing position tremolo and sul pont tremolo. By contrast, the full VSL Solo Strings offers several distinct sul ponticello and tasto articulations – though none with interval legato transitions. Most of the Embertone series offers dynamic bowing position control, so you can control how far towards the bridge or towards the fingerboard you move the bow away from normal position dynamically – and they offer this with legato intervals. If you need non-standard bowing position for anything other than sul pont tremolo, you’ll probably want to go with VSL or Embertone.
In terms of vibrato, Embertone provides more control over the scripted vibrato, but to my ear the out of the box recorded vibrato is more pleasing in Trio Broz than either of the other two. While it’s a matter of personal preference, I would say go with Trio Broz if you want the vibrato to sound natural and unobtrusive without having to use a lot of MIDI controller data but go with Embertone if you are the type that wants to dynamically tailor the vibrato as much as possible. In either case, I would say that the vibrato offered in VSL Solo Strings is generally outdone by both Trio Broz and Embertone (a rare weakness in the industry standard).
If you really like playing soaring passages in the high register of the violin, note that Trio Broz stands out from the three by being the only one that offers a combination of very natural sounding vibrato coupled with comparatively quiet bow noise. Embertone offers equal vibrato control throughout the instrument’s range and bow noise control, but even when set to the maximum attenuation, it still can’t get as transparent as the Trio Broz sound. And the VSL Solo Strings Violin has a really fast vibrato in the high registers that I often find extremely distracting in my compositions.
All three developers provide great legato scripting, so it’s partially down to personal taste on that: VSL legato intervals have the most precise sound and a lot of variety, Embertone has the most robust support for bow-change legato and Trio Broz has a smooth, gentle sound to the viola and cello transitions and a wide variety of sounds for the violin. Trio Broz also has the most pleasing slurred legato/glissando/portamento out of the group, for the cello and especially for the violin (though it’s the only one lacking it for the viola). They are all good options – you just need to know what you want.
If you need the most articulations, go with VSL Solo Strings. It still has the most articulations of any solo strings library I’ve used by far. That said, Trio Broz and Embertone both have a very respectable number of articulations, with Trio Broz having a big edge for the violin and Embertone having a smaller edge on the other strings.
If price is a big factor, the advantage goes to Fluffy Audio, especially while the promotional pricing applies.
Is It Right For You?
If you made it this far and still don’t know whether Fluffy Audio Trio Broz is a good fit for you, I’m not entirely sure what to add. On the other hand, if you skipped ahead I can simplify things really quickly. Trio Broz offers great natural vibrato recordings, an extremely powerful set of articulations and scripting for the violin, bread and butter articulations and scripting for the violin and cello and some very competitive pricing. It’s one of the best solo string bundles I’ve ever had the pleasure of trying and should be one of the first ones you look at.