8Dio Productions Anthology by PassionFlower
Product: Anthology Strings
Format: NI Kontakt 5.5 or later (full version required)
Price: $699 MSRP
A double marcato to go!
I am not a orchestrator nor a film score composer, and to be honest my Italian jargon consists more of words like ristretto and macchiato rather than marcato and pizzicato. But I do use strings a lot in my music even though it is more oriented towards rock, pop and folk rather than epic timpani driven soundscapes populated by heroes and villains.
However, as my primary focus is not on writing orchestral pieces I have a somewhat limited patience when it comes to programming articulations. Yet I desire a certain level of expression and realism. A combination that isn’t always easy to pull off.
I’ve been through quite a few sampled string libraries by now. And several of them has either left me with a lukewarm emotional impact or made me run away screaming in frustration due to their overcomplicated approach to electronic conducting.
So I was excited to hear that 8Dio had released a new library which promised the tastiest bits from their sonic candy bags Adagio and Agitato coupled with a more streamlined and playable approach.
Could this be string library that would provide a solution to my tangled string theory? We’ll see!
On the surface
Anthology Strings is as I mentioned a collection of what 8Dio consider the best pieces of their larger strings collections Adagio and Agitato.
But it’s not by any means a small library. There are no less than 66.634 samples compressed into 43GB and you’ll get three different section types (Ensemble, Chamber & Solo) all with separately recorded violins, violas, cellos and basses.
It is all pulled together into a very simple and straightforward interface that is made possible thanks to some extensive scripting behind the scenes.
Each section type has its own patch and once loaded it’s very easy to select which articulations and string sections you want to include. That way it loads and unloads dynamically and you don’t run the risk of it eating up valuable RAM for features you’re not using.
There is a row of knobs for controlling dynamics, speed and vibrato and they do change their functionality a bit depending on the selected articulation.
At the very bottom you will find controls for the convolution reverb, microphone selection (close, far and mixed) as well as a basic equalizer.
8Dio has also decided to include an additional effects section, but as far as I’m concerned they could just as well have left that one out.
Pulling the heartstrings
Impressive tech specs are all well and good, but it doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t deliver sonically. So with the ensemble patch loaded I put my fingers to the keys, pressed them down and was greeted with the warm embrace of the most gorgeous sound. As I laid down a few more chords I swear I must have tangled up my fingers in my heartstrings because I have never before felt that kind of emotional delivery from a virtual string section without pulling off some CC-automation ninja moves. Just some gentle sweeping with the modulation wheel to add some dynamic motion.
Not a bad first impression I have to say. But it was about to get even better!
Browsing through the many articulations of the ensemble patch I came down to the sordino (muted) articulations and selected “Muted Arc Control”.
My, oh my. Those gentle warm swelling strings could soften the hardest of hearts, like the spring sun melting the winter away. And I’m not even touching the mod wheel! It’s like having a cruise control button for your orchestra.
The dynamics are simply controlled by the velocity of your keystrokes and the length of the arc is controlled by the speed knob.
The arc control is one of the most highlighted features of this library. It all works really well and it’s nice to be able to just focus on just the keys for a change. I could have wished for a broader selection of arc lengths however as it does feel somewhat limited at times. But all in all it’s a very nice feature.
While this library contains a wide variety of articulations that will allow you to do fast pizzicato arpeggios and gut-wrenching trills it is clearly the big soaring string pads that makes it stand out above the rest.
Here’s a short unedited improvisation which showcase how playable the Arc Control and Legato articulations are. The dynamics controls are all static, only the keys are used.
With a sprinkle of divisi on top
The two other patches divisi and solo are just what the names suggests; divided sections and all the instruments in solo.
Sadly, these two only contain a fraction of the articulations found in the ensemble patch. I am assuming that they are meant to be more of an addition on top of the full ensemble rather than being able to stand on their own. And that is a bit of a shame, because the divisi patch sounds remarkably good and I would love to be able to do more expressive arrangements with it.
One can only hope that they release an expansion with more articulations for the divisi because it truly deserves it.
The solo patch is the weakest of the three. It’s by no means bad, but it doesn’t grab me like the others do and it’s not something that should be used for prominent solos but rather for the finer details of the larger picture.
Modern and borderline synthetic
If you hadn’t guessed it by now I am in love with the sound of Anthology Strings. It is a modern and warm yet articulate collection of samples. And I can’t help but feel that it sounds somewhat synthetic at times. But not in a bad way, because it still retains an organic and natural feel to it.
And even though that makes it a less suitable candidate for classical arrangements it makes it fit perfect for everything from film scores and game music to pop, electronica or even metal.
Something that does strike me with all three patches is how clear and articulate the basses are. They are just not some oversized cello rumbling in the low end, they really stand out with a strong clear voice and allows for some creative runs in the sonic cellar.
Cracks beneath the surface
In a library with over 60 000 samples there has bound to be flaws, and Anthology Strings is not without them.
Most noticeably are the issues with the legato articulations. I often find the attacks to be unproportionally loud and they are also separately placed from the main bowing in the stereo field creating a strange sensation of not being able to place the instruments in the room. The issues with the stereo field is also apparent with some of the notes of the individual sections as they sometimes jump around a bit.
I find it a bit strange how it could have passed the beta testing phase like that.
There are also a few samples that are a bit off and some noises here and there. And while it could be written off as making the library more realistic, it could also create some minor issues as it’s not something the user has control over.
The bottom line
The main take-away here is the gorgeous sound and emotional delivery. It can’t be said enough how beautiful this library sounds and it can really bring another dimension to a composition rather than being a filler pad in the background.
Couple that with a simple straightforward interface and some serious background scripting that makes this a very playable and enjoyable instrument right out of the box.
It is a bread and butter library, but not just any bread. There’s a lot of passion kneaded into this dough. But all that goodness comes at a fairly steep price of $699.
I can’t help but feel that 8Dio are missing the mark a bit with this one due to the pricing. This is a library that is easy to use, sounds gorgeous and is perfectly suited for wide variety of genres.
It could be a great addition for the rock, pop or even electronic musician as well as the perfect starting point for the aspiring game music or movie score composer. But the fact that the price is already set fairly high and that it requires you to have the full version of Kontakt will severely limit the target audience.
It will be hard to recommend this to someone who just wants to add some nice sounding articulate strings to their music, or someone who wants to get started with orchestral composition. Because if they don’t have the full version of Kontakt already they are looking at sinking quite a lot of their hard earned money into it.
Had they priced it at $399 and made it available for the free Kontakt Player it would have been a much more attractive option and I think it would lure a lot of people into the 8Dio universe.
For those who already are deep into the game of orchestral composing and are looking for a new base library with a very sweet and unique tone to it, I highly recommend this library!
It will not leave you untouched!
- Gorgeous sound
- Surprising emotional delivery
- Easy to use interface
- Highly playable out of the box
- Steep price
- Requires full version of Kontakt
- Limited articulations for divisi and solo patches
- Issues with the stereo field