Spitfire Audio Symphonic Strings Review – A Glorious String Library

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Symphonic Strings is a new library released just before Christmas last year, from Spitfire Audio. Symphonic Strings is essentially a compilation of the 4 separate MURAL volumes from over the last few years, with updated GUI and improved architecture.

The GUI has been updated by being simplified while not losing any flexibility or depth. I much prefer this setup to any of the other libraries that I have, both for speed of setup. Although having said that, a powerful computer is definitely needed for smooth sounding strings.

The Sound

The strings were recorded with several mic positions, in the renowned Air Studios in London. The core library is 3 different mic positions – Close, Tree, and Ambient. These are by far the most useful and varied positions for most of your writing/mixing needs. The Close setting provides the most articulation, and Ambience gives you the massive space and weight of the full orchestra.

The file is massive, weighing in at almost 150GB uncompressed. You can now download it with their manager, but you’re going to need to run it overnight to avoid sitting there staring at the download progress bar, twitching at its slowness. You can of course just buy it boxed, to save the stress.

The orchestra recorded were 60 strings. That’s a full weighted string orchestra there. There are over 175 articulations of which a useful list below:

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And ohmygosh do they sound lovely. The sound is cinematic!! The strings are at times sweeping, elegant, articulate, thunderous, sweet, weighty, floaty, and so on. They sound absolutely lovely. There are some articulations that I hadn’t come across in other libraries. I particularly liked the legato patches sul G (or C) which means legato on one string only. The programming is superb, and as you slide around the notes, the patch slides effortlessly, and lyrically between intervals. It’s a very expressive and emotive patch.

Updated GUI and Architecture

This is where Symphonic Strings really comes to the fore. There are several excellent libraries out there, containing a folder of articulations and sounds similar to the collection in this library. I have several of them, and have used them in many different scenarios. The one overwhelming issue with many string libraries this size is the unwieldy way to change between articulations, or get stuck into setting dynamics. I found that this new GUI in Kontakt absolutely crushes all the other libraries I have used for ease of use, speed and efficiency.

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Firstly, the architecture of the sounds has changed slightly, in that if you are in a hurry, you can now load up full ensembles as one patch. In the default view, as you load the patch, you can see a bird’s eye view of the important elements of the patch. The listening position to the orchestra (near to far) the position of all the dynamic controls, and a row of buttons clearly showing all the available articulations. Very tidy. Once the ensemble is loaded, You can quickly adjust the mic position with a single slider from near to far – this loads (and unloads) different mic positions automatically for you. You can also flick between different articulations for that patch, or shift click to play several articulations at once! There are 9 articulations for the basic ensemble patch, covering broad strokes, from long and short notes to trills. If you want to dive a little deeper patch-wise, then you can load up the separate string sections, each with the 9 standard articulations. If you want more options, you load up the extended techniques patches in the advanced folder. This then gives you 2 patches per section with up to 36 articulations there at your fingertips.

It really is well thought-through architecture; providing instant accessibility if you’re in a hurry, but very quick access to more flexibility in terms of articulations just a couple of clicks further. It’s a lovely middle ground between libraries that offer the full ensemble samples (like Symphobia) and the behemoth libraries that contain every articulation known to man but it’ll take you a good few days to set the DAW up with all the patches you need. I think Symphonic Strings has got the perfect balance. If that’s not enough, Symphonic Strings is NKS setup, so if you’re rocking a keyboard from NI, you’re set.

Sidebar

The sidebar is where you can take tweaking to a deeper level. There are 3 tabs – the first, default tab is the simplest view. The next tab is expert view, which explodes out all the parameters shown in default mode to give more tweakage. Instead of a simple near to far slider for mic position, you now have 3 separate sliders for close, tree and ambient, and you can mix them to your taste. You can change the stereo width of the articulation, and change the position of the section in the stereo field; then save it all as a preset for loading next time.

You can now choose how to trigger each articulation, from a wide variety of options – such as Keyswitching (default), Midi Channel, by the speed you play at(!!!!!) by velocity, or by CC range. This is a very innovative and useful way of enabling you to set up the articulations exactly to your needs.
There’s a cog in the bottom left corner of the window that enables you to finely tune parameters of the sound such as release time, sample start, tuning and volume.

Ostinatum

The third tab of three in the GUI opens up the ostinato window. Here you can create up to 8 ostinato patterns for your patch that you can then assign to keyswitch. You can select which notes are played in which order, or if you want a chordal ostinato. You select the rhythm of the pattern by clicking note lengths, and you can accent with a velocity bar for each note. You can offset it to create some more realism/less machinegun-esque sounds. It’s a really brilliant little tool.

Performance Legato

I don’t know if this was available in the Mural libraries or not, but this is a fantastic set of patches for separate sections. They’re designed with some very very clever programming that interprets how you’re playing, and automatically switches between articulations for you. This is the way forward with these libraries – removing more and more of the extra pieces that you need to remember, until you get to the point where you just play, and what you hear in your head comes out of the single line you’re playing. Although we’re obviously not there yet, this is the closest it’s got. Here’s a video explaining it more.

Conclusion

Spitfire has really stepped up the Mural libraries by combining them into one library and really mastering the GUI within the limits of Kontakt. The sound, it goes without saying is truly excellent, but the leap forward with this library is the fantastic tool Spitfire has created to enable the player to choose the depth of access to the sounds. You can adopt a bird’s eye view, load the ensemble patch and be perfectly happy, or you can dive in and edit and tweak to sculpt a library that really comes alive at your fingertips. Bravo Spitfire. Excellent product.

Spitfire Audio has the Symphonic Strings library for sale at a very respectable £699, for the core library. If you already own Mural libraries, there’s a cross-grade price for you: log into your account. The expansion packs are coming this spring.

To find out more, visit the official website.

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