Ho-hum, another string library, did we really need another? After playing this library, your answer may well be, “Yes, we did!”
What is it?
Cinematic Studio Strings is a Kontakt 5 Player library, so a full version of Kontakt 5 is not required. It is brought to us by the same developers that gave us Cinematic Strings 2, a very popular and fine library. But this one sounds quite different. It was recorded on a scoring stage in Sydney, and even without reverb, the sound is lovely. It is not as big sounding but is more detailed than some of its competition, including Cinematic Strings 2, but more lush than many others. In other words, for many uses, it may be the sweet spot between chamber and symphonic strings.
The Main Window
You have the five basic string section instruments: 1st violins, 2nd violins, violas, cellos, and basses, as well as two ensemble patches, full and light, for sketching or composing with if you like that approach. Each has an ample amount of articulations to keyswitch through, if not as complete as some competitive products, that probably you could compose with exclusively if you had to or chose to. There are three mic positions and it defaults to a mix of the three. Selecting any of the three mic positions turns off the mix. You can then enable and mix the mic positions in the amounts you like and even route them to separate outputs in Kontakt. I have fooled with different combinations but mostly I would stick with the mix. There is also built-in reverb that you can enable. See Pic 1.
Playing the Instruments
The sustain instruments with the Advanced legato sound great. They take some getting used to and compensating for, though, as they have a fair amount of latency. The advanced legato includes lots of subtleties with three speeds triggered by velocity: slow, medium, and fast, which does introduce more latency that you will need to compensate for by settings in your DAW or simply moving afterwards. You can switch to “Standard” however, which eliminates the slow and therefore less latency, You also have available “Classic Legato” patches, which have less latency.
Sustains were sampled with four dynamic layers modulated via a modwheel crossfade and switching between them sounds like the real thing. It is controlled by CC1 therefore. I will discuss that more in the Pros and Cons section of the review. Disabling the legato switch allows you to play chords and enables an attack and release control panel. CC2 turned down to zero enables vibrato less sustains, but since CC2 also has other uses you might want to save this as a separate instrument. Also at the time I write this there is some bugginess with the non-vibrato patches that may well be fixed by the time you read this.
Speaking of vibrato, one issue for me is that unless the modwheel is set at a low level, there can be more vibrato than personally I wish to have at times so I miss the independent control. Using the CC2 Breath does give you control over this, but even with it set all the way to the bottom, it feels like moving the modwheel up for greater volume sometimes still triggers more vibrato. My workaround in Logic Pro X is to add a gain plug-in. This way I can have more volume with less the modwheel at a lower level when I choose.
The portamento is very well executed and the triggering is controlled on legato patches by velocity, and you can configure the setting to your taste. It feels very natural. Repeated notes with three round robins can be retriggered with use of a sustain pedal.
The “con sordino” muting, achieved by impulse recordings rather than actually recorded with players using mutes, nonetheless is among the best I have heard. If nothing else, I might have the library if only for the mutes.
There are four kinds of short notes, as you see in Pic 2. : staccato, scattissimo, spiccato and sforzando (Sfz), controlled again by cc1. I LOVE the Sfz. It is very unique and eminently useful. See Pic 2.
The Marcato patch that you see in Pic 3 has the option of a “Spiccato overlay”. This is a killer feature for me, kind of a best of both worlds articulation.
There are tremolos and measured tremolos. The measured tremolos consist of two quick notes that you can either sync to your host’s project tempo or adjust with a slider. There are also lovely harmonics, but very soft with only piano and mezzo piano layers.
Similarly, the pizzicato articulation contains pizzicato, Bartok snaps, and col legno. This one drives me a little nuts as the col legno is way softer than the other two. Sure, with real players they actually are, but nonetheless it makes it a little harder to work with.
The trills implementation is kind of unique in that with that articulation, for a half-step trill you play two notes a half step apart and similarly for a whole step trill, two notes a whole step apart.
A word about velocity sensitive keyswitches: Many of these are velocity sensitive so that if e.g. you hit a sustain keyswitch at a velocity of -64 you get the Standard Legato, while 65 or higher gives you the Advanced legato. I have to say that this is perhaps the only thing I dislike in the workflow. It is just too difficult to accurately control in my opinion.
The Config Screen
Clicking on the gear icon opens the Config Screen that you see in Pic 4.
Here is where you can change the default settings for MIDI Control Change assignments as well as the velocity at which the portamento kicks in between notes on legato articulations as well as a MIDI CC to control the portamento’s volume. Any function that is controlled by keyswitch can alternatively be controlled by a single CC, changing the default CC from 58 activates this. In Pic 5, you can see a chart with the various CC assignments.
Pros: Beautifully recorded with a great level of control, does not necessarily even need reverb yet still is not as “washy” as some competitors’ offerings. Very playable, although the Advanced legato takes some practice. Works with the Kontakt 5 player so a full version of Kontakt 5 is not required. Not that CPU demanding. Terrific demos and video walkthroughs.
Cons: The velocity sensitive keyswitch feature is hard to control. Not as much independent control over vibrato as I would like.
Summary: If you only were to own one string library, this could well be the one to have.
Price: $399 US.