The Buyer’s Guide To Virtual Instruments

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There are so many virtual instruments out there that it would be impossible to list them all on these pages, so we’ve grouped the best ones that MusicTech has reviewed into various categories. Make sure you check out our complete guide to virtual instruments here.




Synths

GForce Oddity 2



virtual instruments


Company GForce
Price £139.99
Format AU, VST, RTAS

One of the finest emulations of a classic synth around, but it goes beyond that now and has developed into a classic (virtual) instrument in its own right.

We say: “Oddity 2 is a triumph. We love the extra mod options and using it as an effect, but best of all is Polyphonic Mode – a feature that takes Oddity to new heights. If ARP had carried on as a company, this is the synth it would have made now.”
Web www.gforcesoftware.com

Synthmaster






Company KV331
Price $129 to $379
Format VST, AU, AAX

Simply one of the best soft synths out there and it’s not only just us that says this, but the readers of MusicTech, who voted this Best Synth Of The Year last year. Who the heck are we to argue?

We say: “It really does an incredible amount in a no-nonsense, almost calm way. So sit back, don’t panic and enjoy the ride. It does what it says. It truly is a master of synths.”
Web www.synthmaster.com

BT Phobos






Company Spitfire Audio
Price £269
Format VST, AU, AAX, standalone

Phobos is one of the newest kids on the virtual synth block and the first one from Spitfire, a company well regarded for its orchestral collections. Phobos is a collaboration with the producer
BT (hence the name!)

We say: “The big atmospheres definitely have a space in space, but the little nuances and experimental aspects of the software mean it could – and should – be applied everywhere and anywhere. If you want something different, then BT Phobos is right out there and will have you exploring new worlds and realities. Excellent!”
Web www.spitfireaudio.com

Blue II






Company Rob Papen
Price €149
Format VST, AU, AAX

Blue is one of the oldest synths around having been developed in 2005, but its latest version, II, is a complete update of what was already a monster engine – and it’s capable of pretty much any sound you can dream up.

We say: “The synth moves from the late 80s through the 90s, noughties and very much more up-to-date, with some absolutely huge presets that would easily carry a tune from any era. Blue II is any synth you want it to be and a lot more.”
Web www.timespace.com

Softube Modular






Company Softube/MSL Pro
Price £69/$99
Format VST, AU, AAX

Modular synths are all the rage these days in hardware. If you’ve ever wanted to dabble, but have been put off by the price, here’s a way to do it in software for a fraction of the cost.

We say: “Modular is a great investment if you want an inexpensive version of modular on the move. The overarching fact is, it sounds huge and certainly to our ears, there’s some very realistic modelling of third-party modules. The overall sound of this soft synth will excite many, but you’ll need to put in some time to realise its full potential.”
Web www.softube.com

Omnisphere 2






Company Spectrasonics
Price £285
Format VST, RTAS, AAX

To many, this is quite simply the greatest soft synth ever made. The original version blew many people away with its sheer sonic force and this update might have been years coming, but has certainly proved to be worth the wait (and the price).

We say: “While some have got close to Spectrasonics’ greatness, for us, there’s little doubt that Omnisphere 2 will set a new gold standard for the next few years. It oozes class and sophistication and is an essential purchase for all.”
Web www.spectrasonics.net

Reaktor






Company Native Instruments
Price £169
Format VST, AU, AAX

This isn’t just one synth, but a complete instrument-development library and platform, where you can use the NI library or a huge user library of plug-ins – or even, if you know your onions, develop your own. There’s also a complete virtual-modular setup now available called Blocks.

We say: “The daddy of all synths, because it can be any synth, Reaktor has been around for years. At a new lower price, it’s a must for synth experts.”
Web www.native-instruments.com

Falcon






Company UVI
Price $349 $499
Format VST, AU, AAX

If you like your synths to have layers of possibilities and to sound stunning, then Falcon could be what you are after. It’s a complex synth and allows you to sample your own sounds in, too. It’s hugely flexible, but often a tad complex.

We say: “If you feel like really getting your hands dirty with some real sonic creation, this is something you should consider. There’s no doubt that the Falcon is a sonic powerhouse, but to become a power user, you’ll need to really learn how it works – but you’ll be rewarded with sonic gold.”
Web www.uvi.net

Real-instrument emulations

Vintage Collection






Company Big Fish Audio
Price £280
Format Runs in free Kontakt player

This combines three of Big Fish Audio’s virtual instruments – Vintage Horns, Strings and Rhythms – which, when bought together, represents a saving of over £130.

We say: “A very impressive collection of instruments for anyone wanting to add a more authentic, old-school flavour to their productions.”
Web www.timespace.com

Session Keys Grand






Company E-Instruments
Price €99 each
Format Runs in free Kontakt player

Session Keys Grand S and Y are two acoustic grands recorded in great detail that aim to put concert-ready sounds at your fingertips. They weigh in at just under 5GB apiece and you can buy the two for a bundle offer of €159.

We say: “Great-sounding and playable piano with excellent sound-shaping controls and innovative generators that open up the possibility of complex musical figures, even to those without advanced keyboard skills.”
Web www.e-instruments.com

CFX Concert Grand






Company Garritan
Price £199
Format Runs in free Kontakt player

This is an emulation of the Abbey Road Studios CFX Concert Grand, a nine-foot, hand-built Yamaha grand piano. It’s big – at 122GB – but there is a cut-down version weighing in
at 25GB.

We say: “It’s one of the finest virtual pianos available – simply beautiful. A fine virtual grand piano with a beautifully rich tone, a no-nonsense GUI and essential controls. It is up there with the best.”
Web www.timespace.com

Una Corda






Company Native Instruments
Price £129
Format Runs in free Kontakt player

Una Corda is a little different to many other piano simulations, offering up a deeply sampled version of a unique piano instrument, which was hand-built by David Klavins in collaboration with composer Nils Frahm.

We say: “It’s been created with love and attention, and the results are often breathtaking. It’s an inspiring instrument that oozes class. An effortlessly atmospheric and beautifully prepared piano instrument.”
Web www.native-instruments.com

The Flutes






Company Sample Modeling
Price £225
Format Runs in free Kontakt player

Want flutes? You’ve come to the right place. This uses Synchronous Wavelength Acoustic Modeling (SWAM), combining samples and physical modelling for an ultra-realistic result.

We say: “It provides a highly malleable playing experience and a great alternative to the traditional sample-library flutes, which can be difficult to play in real time. Only slightly let down by a less-than-vibrant tone for classical styles, but great for jazz!”
Web www.samplemodeling.com

The Gamelan






Company Sample Logic
Price $399
Format Runs in free Kontakt player

Sample Logic has combined sampling and synthesis with some of the most advanced Kontakt instrument design around to produce a real monster of a sound-design tool, and one based around one of the most evocative instruments there is.

We say: “Don’t be fooled by the name, there’s much more to Gamelan than meets the eye. A versatile and powerful cinematic and sound design instrument with plenty of controls.”
Web www.samplelogic.com

EZ Keys Pipe Organ

Company Toontrack
Price £95
Format Runs in free Kontakt player





This is the result of a meticulous recording of the organ installed in the Täby Kyrka, a historic Swedish church dating back to the 13th century. Thankfully, after such a painstaking task, the results are quite brilliant.

We say: “One of the best pipe organs that we have come across, especially at this price point. It’s extremely gratifying to play, mainly because of the extremely clear sound. A majestic-sounding instrument, with a beautifully clear sound and suitable for many types of music.”
Web www.timespace.com

Epica Bass






Company Sam Spacey
Price £89 $499
Format Runs in free Kontakt player

Okay, so it’s not emulating one instrument, but many. If you like bass sounds, this pretty much does them all – and it’s also really great value, considering the incredible amount you get.

We say: “The tweakability and programming options onboard allow you to create anything you want and the presets are so good, you’ll find it difficult not to use them just the way they are. This is a fantastic library of bass sounds.”
Web www.timespace.com

Orchestral

Personal Orchestra 5






Company Garritan
Price $149
Format AU, VST and AAX via ARIA player

Garritan Personal Orchestra gives you a complete orchestra – strings, brass, woodwinds, percussion and keyboards – now including over 500 instrument choices, along with the techniques and control you need to hear your music.

We say: “Garritan’s Personal Orchestra has always been a highly efficient and great value-for-money orchestral library with a fast workflow and respectable sampled instruments. Version 5 is even better, with improved sounds and a helluva lot more of them.”
Web www.timespace.com

Sotto






Company Sonokinetic
Price $302
Format Runs in free Kontakt player

This is a phrase-based orchestral library/instrument from a range including Grosso and Capriccio, both of which focus on a grandiose cinematic sound – whereas Sotto concentrates on the lighter side of orchestral composition.

We say: “Writing delicate orchestral music isn’t easy, especially for those without formal orchestral knowledge, and for composers facing a tight deadline, this is a marvellously inspirational tool and a real timesaver. Bravo Sotto.”
Web www.sonokinetic.net

Metropolis Ark






Company Orchestral Tools
Price €549 +VAT
Format Runs in free Kontakt player

Ark is a complete orchestral library from MusicTech favourite Orchestral Tools. Where it differs from other libraries is that it’s designed with bombastic or dramatic trailer music in mind, the kind of over-the-top music that grabs your attention and doesn’t let go.

We say: “Obviously, it’s not suitable for gentle orchestrations, but for powerhouse productions, we don’t think there’s anything to match it at the moment. This should be the library to buy for any composers producing epic soundtracks.”
Web www.orchestraltools.com

Metropolis Ark 2






Company Orchestral Tools
Price €599 +VAT
Format Runs in free Kontakt player

And where Ark 1 is big and bombastic, Ark 2 is more thoughtful and composed. Yes, this is the opposite of its brasher brother, an orchestral collection designed with low-key and more refined scores in mind.

We say: “An exceptional collection of orchestral and non-orchestral instruments, with many highlights that could easily make a real difference to your sonic palette. It oozes quality and variation in equal amounts and it might just change the way you score.”
Web www.orchestraltools.com

Miroslav Philharmonik 2 CE






Company IK Multimedia
Price €180
Format Based on SampleTank 3 plug-in

The original Miroslav Philharmonik Orchestra product came out over 20 years ago now. The full, newly enhanced version features a range of extra content and there’s also this slimmed-down CE version, designed for those who want orchestral sounds on a budget.

We say: “Miroslav Philharmonik 2 CE contains a very decent set of instruments and, if you’ll pardon the pun, this is where IK Multimedia’s offering scores very highly indeed – it’s fantastic value for money.”
Web www.ikmultimedia.com

String Ensemble






Company Native Instruments
Price £429
Format Runs in free Kontakt player

String Ensemble is part of Native Instruments’ Symphony Series, a set of libraries focusing on specific parts of the orchestra. Four Kontakt instruments form the basis of String Ensemble – violins, violas, cellos and basses.

We say: “An excellent full-size string orchestra with a great sound, which is easy to use and is suited for both quick sketching and end-production use.”
Web www.native-instruments.com

Albion One






Company Spitfire Audio
Price £399
Format Runs in free Kontakt player

Albion One provides a broad-brush approach to composing with a sampled orchestra. Instead of breaking sounds up into individual sections, they’re combined – high strings, low strings, high brass,
low brass and so on.

We say: “When it comes to all-round cinematic orchestral-sample libraries, few can match Spitfire Audio’s Albion One, which provides lush strings, powerful brass and thunderous percussion, along with a huge variety of organically derived loops and synth pads.”
Web www.spitfireaudio.com

Symphonic Brass






Company Spitfire Audio
Price £599
Format Runs in free Kontakt player

Another of our offerings that is more sample library than instrument – as it weighs in at over 100GB – but this does give you more playable orchestral brass – trumpets, trombones, tuba and horns – than you could ever wish for.

We say: “Expensive, so we have to say that we had high hopes of this library, and were not disappointed. This is an very fine and usable library, with a very extensive collection of everything brass, from instrumentation to articulation.”
Web www.spitfireaudio.com

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