When it was released several years ago, Dan Dean's Solo Strings library was widely sought after due to the high quality of the sample recordings. Solo Strings Advanced ($199) is an overhaul of the original sample collection and includes an even better-sounding software instrument with additional samples, more-advanced performance and sound-sculpting features, and a few other goodies.
ALL TOGETHER NOW
Native Instruments Kontakt Player now hosts the library as a software instrument, which enables performance capabilities not as easily realized in the original library. Specifically, there is a new patch for each instrument called All-In-One that uses keyswitching to select from the six provided articulations: arco vibrato, spiccato, pizzicato, tremolo, half-step trill, and whole-step trill. Once you memorize the keys that call up the various articulations, it doesn't take long to play very musical lines utilizing various articulations on the fly.
Dan Dean Solo Strings Advanced includes new and improved versions of the samples from the original Solo Strings collection and now runs as a soft instrument under Kontakt Player.
The library also employs a new Legato mode, activated by the sustain pedal. In Legato mode, the attack and decay of the notes are shortened in a way that lets you play more-realistic-sounding fast passages without the overlapped “smearing” of notes. The Auto-Alternation feature automatically switches between different takes of the same pitch for spiccato and pizzicato articulations to avoid an unnatural stuttering effect. A drop-down menu allows you to choose MIDI CC 11 (Expression), CC 01 (Modulation), or CC 02 (Breath) to control the level for dynamic shaping. MIDI CC 20 is hardwired to shape the envelope release, in case you want to further tighten up fast passages. A Cloaking feature is also on hand to further alter the tone of repeated notes throughout the library, which creates added variety.
The original samples have been cleaned up a bit to enhance their pristine quality, and I have no complaint about the sound of the samples. Additional samples from the original sessions have also been added, and there is now a completely new 2nd Violin instrument, as the original library provided only a single violin, viola, and cello (still no contrabass included). Unfortunately, the initial attack of the 2nd Violin does not have quite as gentle a swell as the other three instruments, making it stick out a bit in ensemble settings.
One of Solo Strings Advanced's unique features is the inclusion of both reverb and timbral impulses designed by Dean and Ernest Chokalis (creator of DNA Groove Templates) of Numerical Sound. You can use any of 26 reverb impulses to place your instruments in virtual rooms, studios, recital halls, and concert houses of various sizes and characters. Numerical Sound is known for its high-quality impulse responses, and the models included here are excellent. Wet/dry mix, predelay, and bypass are all controlled from the front panel.
The timbre impulses are something new altogether. Utilizing Kontakt Player's powerful convolution engine, “fingerprints” of famous string recordings, sessions, and other source materials were used to model the recordings' overall tonal characteristics. There are 25 timbre impulses with which you can completely transform the character of an instrument. Several models are too drastic for my taste, but most are quite useful to quickly get the instruments to sit in a mix by completely transforming the EQ and timbre in a complex manner. A bypass button eliminates the timbral modeling altogether.
FROM ONE TO MANY
The bank of Voice Control divisi instruments is among my favorite features of this collection. Keyswitches or Mod Wheel can automatically select between 1, 3, or 6 (and even 12 in the Violins) players for adjusting the size of your ensemble on the fly. This makes it possible to accurately change the number of players when writing in divisi to reflect the number of players per note that results. I'm not sure what voodoo is being employed, but I hear no phasing or other negative artifacts one would expect using the same limited sample pool for multiple voices. Solo Strings Advanced is worth its price just for these incredible ensemble sounds.
Unlike with many larger libraries, you won't find different samples for dynamic levels — the only way to shape the dynamic curve is with Volume. Although a filter is tied to Volume in some of the patches, the timbre changes only ever so slightly. Obviously, the difference in timbre between notes played softly and loudly is quite varied in the real world; those tonal differences are largely absent. That said, Solo Strings Advanced is still very musical and quite capable. It will definitely find a home in my working environment.
An additional bank of Legacy Programming is provided that gives you one articulation per patch and uses keyboard Velocity to change dynamics. This bank should also work well with older sequences that employed the original Solo Strings library. All in all, Solo Strings Advanced is a great value that employs some advanced and innovative programming features to breathe new life into the original excellent collection of solo strings.
Value (1 through 5): 4
Dan Dean Productions