GARRITAN Personal Orchestra (Mac/Win)

An affordable symphonic sample library.
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The Garritan Personal Orchestra is a 2 GB library of orchestral samples that uses Native Instrument''s Kontakt player as its host. A variety of historic and modern instruments are included in the set.

The Garritan Personal Orchestra (GPO) packs nearly every instrument of a symphony orchestra into a highly efficient sample library. It uses the Native Instruments Kontakt player, which runs under Mac OS X and Windows as a standalone application or as a VST, DXi, RTAS, and AU plug-in (see Fig. 1). Through innovative sound design, up to 64 detailed instruments can run simultaneously on today's average computer, bringing full-orchestra realization to the masses at an extremely affordable price.


Most brass sample libraries provide you with a sample of a three-trumpet ensemble playing the same note, as well as a single “solo” trumpet. Neither of these is satisfactory for reproducing authentic ensemble orchestration. Playing a three-note chord with the ensemble sample results in the timbre of nine players. Using three instances of the same solo-trumpet patch to form a chord sounds unnatural because all three notes have the same character, which makes triads sound like an organ or a kazoo. Playing three notes in unison with the solo patch results in terrible phasing and sounds even worse. This basic principle applies to all of the brass and woodwind instruments in the orchestra: trombones, clarinets, flutes, and so on.

The solution, in that example, is to have three separate trumpet “performers,” each a unique set of samples based on different players and instruments, just like in the real world. This method requires more samples, but it allows complete flexibility for orchestrating authentic-sounding chords, doublings, and unisons without the nasty artifacts. The subtle variations of the players cause chords to sound richer and more realistic.

Garritan has created a complete symphonic sample library based on this very principle. Moving in the opposite direction of the huge Garritan Orchestral Strings library, the entire GPO library fits into 2 GB and runs completely in RAM (1 GB is recommended).

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FIG 1: You load and play instruments in the Native Instruments Kontakt player, and using the included GPO Studio application, you can run up to eight instances of Kontakt at once.


GPO is designed primarily for orchestrators creating detailed mockups and for students learning proper orchestration. When used with the bundled GPO Studio, it's ideal for use with notation programs such as Finale, Sibelius, and Overture because the individual instruments (or players) can be assigned to individual staves or instrument layers within the notation program. This results in much better playback quality than using a computer's built-in sound set. It's also easier to use and much less expensive than creating a huge sample library in your favorite soft sampler.

Each instance of the Kontakt player hosts as many as eight individual instruments. GPO Studio is a standalone application that hosts up to eight instances of Kontakt for a total of 64 simultaneous instruments. (In addition, you can load the GPO Kontakt Player into your favorite digital audio workstation as a virtual-instrument plug-in.) The GPO bundle includes GenieSoft's Overture SE notation program, Steinberg Cubasis VST (Win only), and Magnus Jonsson's Ambience Reverb Plug-in.


GPO provides simple tools that you can apply throughout the library for controlling articulations. Though some new superlibraries use sophisticated, yet often complex, MIDI applications for creating true legato lines (to avoid the problems of slow attacks on every note), GPO uses a simple and obvious controller — the sustain pedal. Each instance of the Kontakt player can be set to use the sustain pedal for normal sustain or to engage Legato mode, which creates smooth connections from note to note. And unlike some libraries, GPO's Legato mode is polyphonic.

The mod wheel controls dynamics and expression, so you use it to cross-fade between samples of varied dynamics. Many of the patches have key switching, and you can use notes outside an instrument's range on the keyboard to switch on the fly between effects such as tremolo, trills, and pizzicato strings.


If this library were 10 GB, it's size would be reasonable. But the fact that it covers as many instruments as it does and is merely 2 GB is incredible(check out for a complete list of the instruments). The number of articulations that each instrument has is very thorough — practically all of the common articulations found in most orchestrations are included.

Ensembles can be built up by using a number of individual “players.” To represent the large number of players in a typical string section, there are ensemble string samples. As in the larger Garritan Orchestral Strings library, however, First and Second Violins are given separately. By using the ensemble programs layered with the individual players — nine violins, three violas, nine cellos, and three basses — you can create some very realistic string passages. All of the ensemble and many of the individual solo instruments contain the basic articulations: bowed, legato, sordino, tremolo, trills (half step and whole step), and pizzicato.

The brass contain ensemble patches called “overlays” that can be used in full tutti passages to add more weight and sizzle to the sound. These are very effective for giving brass sounds more bite, and the clarity and depth of individual players can still be discerned from the solo sounds. The French horns contain eight individual players and several ensemble patches for layering in extra weight, for example.

A large assortment of percussion is included that covers the basics of symphonic music. Three full piano patches are on hand. In addition, there are two harps, three harpsichord stops, and a concert pipe organ. Any one of those instruments could fill a 2 GB library of its own, and the fact that such a wide range of timbres appears in this collection is a testament to Garritan's sound-design chops.

There is a limit, however, to how much you can squeeze into 2 GB. Not surprisingly, there is some looping in the long, sustained samples, though the loops are implemented quite well. I suspect a lot of downsampling was also used to further reduce the size of the samples, and the entire library is 16-bit. Though the sonics aren't as good as some 200 GB, 24-bit libraries, the result is nonetheless impressive. And being able to run a large number of instruments without tanking your computer is a perfectly acceptable trade-off.


I received GPO a few weeks before being hired to orchestrate a spot for a jewelry store. As in previous work for that client, the job entailed creating several versions, each with a mockup. The final spot would then be rerecorded at a later date using a live orchestra.

After sorting out a little conflict between competing audio drivers, I was able to get GPO Studio installed and running with my notation program on my PC. (I normally use Giga Studio, and there are some known conflicts between GSIF and ASIO drivers when used simultaneously. The Garritan tech people were very helpful with this issue.) My Mac was running my DAW program as well as an additional instance of GPO for the piano part. I used six instances of GPO through GPO Studio on the PC for around 45 parts total, and the piano part from the single instance of GPO on the Mac.

After writing and sequencing the entire spot, I recorded separate stereo stems of violins, violas, cellos/basses, brass, woodwinds, timpani, and percussion, and I replaced the piano with a different sound from one of my large Giga piano libraries. Other than the piano, the entire spot was realized in GPO for the mockup.

Overall, I got the job done in about half the time and with less hassle than it would have taken me had I been using an “über-library.” And I was definitely pleased with the process. The agency commented that my demo didn't sound as good as some of my past demos, in which I had used Giga Studio and huge libraries such as Garritan Orchestral Strings, Sonic Implants Symphonic String Collection, and Vienna Symphonic Library Orchestral Cube. Although GPO may not be on par with libraries many times larger and eight times as expensive, it's darn close. (There are a number of MP3 examples on the Garritan Web site from users around the world that showcase just how good GPO can sound.)


Garritan Personal Orchestra sets a new standard for power, affordability, and efficiency for orchestral sample libraries. The sounds are great, and the implementation of individual players to create ensembles is innovative and, hopefully, trendsetting among sample developers.

As a tool for quickly creating great-sounding orchestral mockups, GPO is a true winner. It runs completely in RAM, allowing the owner of a modest laptop to have a full orchestra at his or her fingertips. Until now, it took powerful computers, huge amounts of RAM, and an excess of hard-drive space to store the large libraries needed to create a decent symphonic mockup. And even then, it can be difficult to fully realize a complete orchestration. GPO has broken all of those barriers and is extremely affordable as well.

Numerous TV and film composers are using GPO for their orchestration mockups, and in many cases, the mockup tracks make it to the final version even after the live players are recorded on top. For students learning the art and craft of orchestration, GPO is also a clear winner. Within an educational environment, nothing touches it for sound quality, efficiency, design, and affordability. (Several universities and colleges, including Berklee College of Music, are using GPO for advanced coursework.)

A huge support community has sprung up around GPO, which means that GPO is here to stay. In addition, Garritan, a master of the art of sampling, will be providing updates and additional content free of charge in the future. This is one small investment that pays great dividends.

Producer/composerRob Shrockrecently worked on new releases for Aretha Franklin, Ronnie Isley, and American Idol II. Rob served as one of the music directors for the 72nd Academy Awards and has recorded or performed with Burt Bacharach, Elvis Costello, Dionne Warwick, David Foster, and a host of other world-class artists.


Garritan Orchestral Libraries

Garritan Personal Orchestra
sample library



PROS: Comprehensive orchestral library. Proper orchestrations can be realized by using individual “players” to create ensembles. Runs numerous instruments simultaneously. Simple to use with excellent real-time control. Uniform sound quality throughout. Runs completely in RAM on modest computers. Bundled with a lot of extras. Affordable.

CONS: Sound quality not quite as good as large, high-end, expensive libraries.


Garritan Orchestral Libraries
tel.: (360) 376-5766