Over the past number of weeks, I’ve been using a couple of different string libraries in my compositions – Hollywood Strings, LASS lite, Symphobia 1 & 2 string sections as well as some of the strings in Symphonic Sphere (for trills).
Generally the toughest part of using these string libraries is getting them to sound good “out of the box”. Strings always seems to take some decent mixing, reverb and eqing to get them to sound good, whether on their own or in a mix. Cinematic Strings doesn’t seem to fall into this category however – this week I’ve been playing around with it, and I’m actually pretty surprised at just how well it sounds out of the box (as well as when you eq and mix it!)
Installation of Cinematic Strings 2.0 was similar to most other downloadable libraries nowadays – you get an email containing confirmation of your purchase, along with the unique serial number to input into the continuata downloader. At 21.1 GB (with NI lossless compression), it took around 12 hours for me to download – totally based on your internet connection, so could be faster or slower for you.
As with all Kontakt libraries, open Kontakt, add library, select the path and you’re ready to go.
What struck me first off once I loaded up CS 2.0 in Kontakt was the amount of patches – five! Usually with string libraries, and indeed any library that’s approximately 20GB, you’ll find yourself navigating dozens of patches to find what you need. I found the small amount of patches available to actually be quite refreshing! Cinematic Strings have decided to go for keyswitches over providing single articulation patches and multis which definitely works – although I didn’t think it would.
Perhaps the only downside to having so few patches is that you’re automatically loading all instrument articulations when you load any of the instruments leading to longer loading times. However, this is easily overlooked in my opinion as once your patch is loaded, you’re setup with everything you need for it – so no need to look for more patches again later. Also, if you’re tight on RAM, you can turn off articulations you won’t need which purges those samples – in turn reducing your RAM footprint.
So, the patch list is:
- 1st Violins (12)
- 2nd Violins (8)
- Basses (6)
- Celli (7)
- Violas (7)
As discussed above, each patch has its articulations available via keyswitch (or by clicking on the interface) which are: Arco, Tremolo, Half Trill, Whole Trill, Run Mode, Staccato, Marcato, Pizzicato. Each patch also has close, stage, room or “mix” as mic placement options.
The Cinematic Strings 2.0 interface, in my opinion, is one of the best examples of how to build a simple and intuitive UI for a VI. As you can see below, from a quick initial scan, you can see everything you need immediately on the screen. For the more advanced options like sustain, release and vibrato control, you simply click on the advanced tab:
I guess its not exactly “revolutionary” as such, but if you’re in a rush (which we usually are as composers), its the little things like this that really make the difference. Also available on the UI are options for “Live Mode” (automatically drops in custom samples giving the feeling of players playing off beat or being slightly out of tune), “Legato”, “Reverb”, and “Playing Position”. The last option – “Playing Position” – is one I haven’t seen in many string libraries (it does exist, just not in a many) and is a nice inclusion to CS 2.0 as it allows you to choose where on the instrument the note will be played (ie. You can play G3 on the G string or alternatively on the D string.) The benefit of this is that you get two different tones – brighter and more intense sounding when played high, and more lush/rich when played on lower strings.
So here’s the most important part of it all – the sound! Like I said before, most string libraries really take a fair bit of twiddling to get the sound you hear in the demos. Cinematic Strings 2, does too, but definitely not as much in my opinion.
To demonstrate the out of the box sound, I created this quick track below. All I used was some compression and EW Spaces for reverb:
As you can hear, the strings have a beautiful, lush tone.
The default reverb included in CS 2 is more than sufficient for starting off, but I used QL Spaces reverb with it and found the results to be a lot better.
CS 2 is missing some useful articulations like con sordino, but for me, it’s no big deal. I think Cinematic Strings hit the nail on the head by focusing on becoming your main string library in your VI arsenal, rather than trying to become an all-in-one solution for strings. Products like Symphonic Sphere by Orchestral Tools fill the gap here if required.
One of the most annoying things I find about buying a sample library is that when you start to play with it, you find it incredibly hard to get it to sound anywhere like actual demos on the website. However, the developer has kindly bridged this long standing gap for composers by providing a “How to” video on exactly how he gets his CS2 sound for his demos. Alex goes through his EQ and reverb settings to show you how to get the exact sound you hear in the demos (very cool!)
There are a couple of things to bear in mind when comparing Cinematic Strings 2 to other string libraries currently available.
Firstly, size. Its smaller the Hollywood Strings – you almost need another hard drive to run HW Strings (even the Gold version) – and very modest in comparison to other string libraries (LASS full is almost 39GB) offering the same instruments and some of the same features.
Secondly, price. At $499 is just a little over Hollywood Strings (currently at $475), but still within the same general price range of others in its field. Its a lot lower than LASS 2.0 which currently retails at $999 and in my opinion is better value for what you’re getting than LASS or HW Strings.
The serious selling point for me is just how easy it is to use – no loading up a gazillion patches – its all just there in front of you, with no faffing about. Based on sound , price and size, Cinematic Strings 2 is a very strong competitor in the string library market and offers some seriously good bang for buck.