Propellerhead Software's Strings ($89) is the company's first offering in the Reason ReFill collection. ReFill titles include instrument samples and REX2 (ReCycle format) data that are designed as add-ons to Propellerhead's popular Reason virtual-studio environment. The Strings sample library contains 288 REX2 phrases for use in Reason's Dr. Rex player and 42 multisampled instruments for Reason's NN19 sampler.
The bulk of Strings consists of musical phrases that each last for several measures. They would serve well as backing accompaniment to an existing track or as the centerpiece around which to build a new composition. The phrases are divided into four categories: Orchestral Strings, String Quartet, Upright Bass, and Harp. File names contain musical key and tempo information, such as 120-Amin-StrQrt-All.r×2 or 095-Bmin-1b-OrchPhrases.r×2.
Each string-quartet phrase is provided in an ensemble version as well as in four solo versions that are played on each instrument. Dr. Rex allows you to easily change the tempo and key of the loops, so a little creative editing can milk a lot of mileage out of the phrases.
The quality of the writing and the performances of the REX2 loops are top-notch. Recorded in one of Moscow's finest studios, each phrase possesses a natural ambience that sounds perfect for the various styles. The intonation and tone of the session players are uniformly excellent.
The two ensembles (full string orchestra and string quartet) are premixed to stereo. The balance of the strings is excellent, although the panning of the string quartet is a little wide for my taste. However, it is a simple matter to make the panning a bit narrower if you prefer, or you can play the four solo versions of the quartet and remix them to your liking. Little harp material is included — mainly just a handful of arpeggios — and there is no multisampled harp instrument.
Speaking of instruments, the individual sampled instruments are not the strongest part of this collection. You get a few really good patches; however, most of the solo instruments are looped too tightly, which gives them a mechanical feel. When used as add-ons against the backdrop of the looped REX2 phrases, the included multisampled instruments are moderately more successful. This collection doesn't stand up as a solid library of string samples, though, especially when compared with other available string-sample libraries.
My biggest criticism is reserved for the library's overall lack of content. The entire disc, including the REX2 files and individual instruments, adds up to little more than 300 MB. The collection of REX2 phrases covers a wide spectrum, and there I have no complaints. As good as the Russian musicians sound on the ensemble REX2 phrases, a more complete collection of string instruments could have been created, which would have better rounded out the library. For whatever reason, the sound designers missed an opportunity to set a higher standard for the Reason ReFill collection.
The concept of ReFill titles for Reason is a good one, and Strings is a decent start. The looped phrases are great, and many people will find them immediately useful as a tool for commercial production and as a way to learn more about good string writing. Next time I'd like to see Propellerhead fill up the disc with more of the good stuff!