With the power that’s available in the music-making machines of today, many sound designers have boldly created instruments designed to replicate organic instruments and classic synthesizers.
Some are capable of making the most complex sounds you will ever hear. But, which of these virtual instruments does it best? Here are our nominees…
1Native Instruments Komplete 12
Some things are so vast that we struggle to get our tiny minds around them, like the universe and NI’s Komplete collection. Komplete’s core plug-ins are all industry-leading examples in their particular fields, and the instruments and effects built on them rank among the finest and most innovative music-making tools you’ll find. On top of this, the included sound libraries are unceasingly impressive in their range, versatility, authenticity and quality.
With the addition of Massive X this year, Native Instrument’s collection is a clear contender for Best Software Instrument of the Year. We awarded it a 10/10, with no cons to the software. But this isn’t up to us, this is your call. Read on for Native Instruments’ competitors.
2Spitfire Audio LCO Textures
If there’s one area of sampling where Spitfire has become the champion, it’s with collections of stunning samples formed from acoustic instrumentation. Spitfire has accumulated an impressive history of collaborative projects with the likes of Samuel Sim, Ólafur Arnalds and more recently the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The collaboration that won our hearts this year was with London Contemporary Orchestra, delivering a stunningly beautiful palette of sounds, recorded in an aircraft hangar. The space offered huge natural reverb tails, which help create magnificent textures and backdrops.
The individual textures are split into four sections; Ethereal, Mercurial, Quantum and Astral, with a plentiful selection of patches within each of the four texture menus. Within the individual patches, three faders offer the natural hangar-based environment, being close, room and main mic array – a combination of tree and outrigger mics.
3UVI Drum Designer
With a smart collection of drum sounds and huge potential for programming, UVI’s package puts the design back in your drum machine. Drum Designer packs 5,736 samples, 2,040 presets and 316 kits, and has serious versatility in its programming and editing functions. The main thing that hits you with this package is how beautiful it is sonically. The presence that you hear in each chosen timbre, even before you start editing, is outstanding.
UVI Drum Designer takes on a much more drum-machine style approach than acoustic drum designing, largely nodding in the direction of the great and classic drum machines of the past. But that’s not to underestimate its flexibility across genres. If you think UVI released a Virtual Instrument champion, vote for it!
4Slate + Ash Auras
This is an undeniably classy product focused on pads. Sonically, it rewards hugely, which is a testimony to both the quality of the source audio and the plentiful but reasonably simple control available at edited and real-time levels. Contained within the overall Auras package are two instruments, Auras and Colours, which offer a degree of crossover and similarity.
It’s fair to say that we all need pads and textures from time to time, particularly as they can be so useful. However, it’s a much more musical prospect to have access to both an original palette of sounds, and one that can be controlled in realtime – and it’s these areas where Auras scores highly. We gave Auras a 10/10 for its bespoke and organic feel and simplistic control. Where will you rank it?
5Orchestral Tools Metropolis Ark 4
The Metropolis Ark series from Orchestral Tools has never been one to disappoint. Recorded at the Teldex Studio scoring stage in Berlin, Ark 4 is organised into Districts, conforming to the company’s usual conceptual vision of a dystopian future. The library has a blend of 10 unique woodwind and brass instruments, with a male and female chorus. Some of the instrumental combinations are really different and inspire immediately as you start to use them – and that’s always a useful element in a package.
The Metropolis Ark series is a favourite with many soundtrack composers, offering some really effective instrumental colours which often form part of a bigger package-wide picture. Ark 4 is yet another great offering from Orchestral Tools, with plenty to offer composers and producers alike, plus some new and exciting sampled colours.
6Arturia V Collection 7
Arturia’s soft-synth extravaganza boasts emulations of some of the world’s most iconic synthesisers – the Jupiter-8V, Oberheim SEM, Minimoog, and even the Solina String machine. The list isn’t purely about synthesizers, thanks to the presence of both Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric pianos, as well as the Piano V2, which includes 12 different piano models. The accuracy of sound is largely down to Arturia’s True Analog Emulation (TAE) modelling technology.
This version introduced the Mellotron V, often regarded as the first true sampler. Also new was the CMI V, bringing us the green stylings of the Fairlight CMI, transporting us back to the 80s. Further new additions to this included the Synthi V, based on the EMS Synthi AKS, and the Arturia CZ V, based on the Casio CZ-101. As soft synths go, Arturia’s instruments offer some of the best solutions out there, with this collection bringing them all into one big package. Will Arturia win your vote?
Sonokinetic’s latest addition to its collection of sample libraries makes full use of advanced sampler features. The instruments are comprised of vast banks of samples, capturing every conceivable note and nuance of an acoustic source and providing scripting engines that can select, switch and control these samples. In keeping with a number of Sonokinetic’s other products, such as Largo and Noir, Indie is a phrase-based library rather than a set of directly-playable note-by-note samples.
The impressively large collection of phrases was composed for and performed by a string quartet, a thirteen-part string ensemble, a seven-part woodwind section, a brass quintet, and a variety of melodic percussion instruments (marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel, vibraphone, crotales, upright piano, celesta, concert harp and concert cimbalom). If you make music for TV, film or games then Indie has probably come up on your radar this year, as it fills a niche in orchestral sample libraries that isn’t well catered for.
8EastWest Voices of Opera
Although the biggest clue to its use is given by the name of the product, Voices Of Opera could move well beyond classical music. It’s possible to build up some really interesting and beguiling operatic pads and sections, which could be ripe for use in a number of settings.
Sample capture was undertaken with the usual meticulous attention to detail which EastWest has become known for, through the booking of two world-class performers. Larisa Martinez is an established operatic soprano, with an impressive roster of roles from productions such as La Bohéme and Rigoletto. Voices of Opera won us over with its sophistication, the comprehensive library, selections of sustains and legato and options to add effects and change mic placements to add colour to the sound.
9Best Service Dark Era
Scoring top marks in our review, Best Service Dark Era takes us back to, not surprisingly, the dark ages, where the worlds of history and fantasy overlap – we’re talking Norse mythology, Vikings, pagan music and “forgotten cultures and tribes celebrating and singing their myths”. Boasting a library of over 15GB of sample instruments, including percussion, string, wind plus sound design tools and soundscapes, Dark Era provides ultimate authenticity.
Developed by Eduardo Tarilonte, Dark Era’s instruments, recordings, research and the attention to detail will have you scratching your head in wonder, but the loops, the atmospheres and that Soundscapes folder will have you reaching for your keyboard with many an inspired thought. This is the final entry for our Best Virtual Instrument of the Year 2019, so vote below to crown your victor.
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Check out all the Gear Of The Year 2019 categories here.