When Vienna Symphonic Library (VSL) landed on the orchestral sample library scene, it ushered in an innovative approach to producing sampled instruments. Recorded in a specially designed studio, VSL’s instruments were virtually devoid of any reverberant characteristics, which allowed the developers to build in an unparalleled degree of performance flexibility. Fast-forward to VSL’s new Synchron Series, and they’ve gone 180° in the other sonic direction.
These collections—Strings I and Percussion I on review, here—were recorded with multiple microphone perspectives at the Synchron Stage Vienna, VSL’s own recording facility, which was formerly a scoring stage that the developer renovated for soundtrack and sampling work. The result is a set of instruments presented in multiple formats ranging from simple mono and stereo configurations up to 5.1 surround and Auro 3D 9.1.
PLAYERS IN THE ROOM
As with previous VSL collections, Synchron Strings I, and Synchron Percussion I come in Standard and Full editions. With their earlier libraries, the Full editions offered additional articulations, but with the Synchron titles, the Full editions simply offer more microphone perspectives beyond the Standard libraries. The articulations are the same in both Standard and Full.
The microphone perspectives are consistent among the collections, with Close, Mid Layer, Main/Room (Decca Tree Stereo L/R), Main/ Room (Decca Tree Mono Center), Main Surround (Stereo L/R), High Stereo (3D), and High Surround (3D). You’ll find corresponding Patches, Matrices and Presets for each of these perspectives that you can combine to create custom multichannel mixes. Additionally, Strings I features Room Mix Presets, and Percussion I features Stereo Mix Presets—these comprise the Standard library’s four mic perspectives, allowing you to dial in the amount of direct and room sound from a single instance of the Vienna Instruments or Instruments Pro plugin (see Figure 1).
Speaking of which, these sample player plugins have been updated to address aspects of the Synchron series. There are now options for managing CPU resources when loading multiple mic patches and for controlling the delay of room microphones with the Room Mix Presets. In addition, a new Synchronize Control Map command lets you quickly and easily apply MIDI controller mappings to all instances in your session.
For example, say you’re fine-tuning your workflow by assigning and adjusting MIDI controllers to affect multiple articulations and performance characteristics. When you’re happy with your setup, you can instantly apply the controller assignments to all other loaded instances. This can be a real timesaver.
Reverb-wise, Synchron Stage has a decay time of 1.8 seconds. The acoustic room characteristic strikes a nice balance between tight and ambient; not so wet that it would sound too big for small screen work, and not so dry that you’d need to add some other reverb to fill out the sound. Timbrally speaking, the room has a pure, pleasing, and slightly rounded tone. I found the recorded ambience to mix nicely with other convolution and algorithmic reverbs, and I was able to create a more “Hollywood” cinematic sound by judicious use of my favorite verbs.
VSL’s Instrument player plug-in was designed for samples that were not recorded with multiple microphone perspectives, so there was never a need for the kind of features we’ve come to expect from other libraries that offer multichannel samples. In the Age of Synchron, however, this has all changed, and in the near future VSL will be releasing its Synchron Player software, which will make loading, playing, and mixing multiple mic perspective samples easier.
Until then, there’s a level of complexity in the way these instruments are programmed within Vienna Instruments that may be difficult for some users to come to grips with. For example, while VSL has done an admirable job creating Presets and Matrices that comprise a full range of articulations for a given instrument or section, there’s no easy or intuitive solution for managing and mixing multiple microphone variations using the discrete mic perspective choices. There are some included templates for Vienna Ensemble Pro that will load different mic samples into separate instances of the Instrument player, complete with busses for each string section, for example. This is certainly a good starting point that you can use to build your own mix configurations. But it’s hardly an elegant solution.
Fortunately, there’s good news on the horizon. When I attended this year’s NAMM show, I was treated to a demo of the upcoming Synchron player (in beta as I write this) that looks to be much more user friendly (see Figure 2).
Strings I is based on a 46-piece string section divided into 14 1st violins, 10 2nd violins, 8 violas, 8 cellos, and 6 double basses. This ensemble size is slightly smaller compared to similarly oriented libraries, but it’s exactly the same makeup and number of players used in VSL’s “mid sized” Orchestral Strings collection.
You’ll find Patches, Presets, and Matrices for each section (no solo strings), plus “all strings” ensemble patches for sketches or simple projects that don’t require multitrack writing. Essentially, there’s just one master Preset and Matrix setup for each section, making it possible to load all of the articulations for a given section in one fell swoop.
If you’re familiar with the naming convention from VSL’s previous string collections, Synchron will be a bit of a departure. For example, terms used to describe short notes, such as staccato, spiccato and détaché, are not part of Synchron’s vernacular. Instead, such articulations are simply referred to as “short” and “very short” notes, of which there are several varieties that are selected by mod wheel position.
The recording quality, variety of articulations, and musicality of Strings I (and Percussion I) is what I’ve come to expect from VSL. Beautiful, detailed, and wide ranging, with a level of precision in the performances and programming that results in a very high degree of playability. Note, however, that articulations such as con sordino and col legno are not included; these will be in the forthcoming Strings II.
New in Strings I are four types of legato (Slow, Regular, Fast, Slurred) that collectively make it possible to cover a lot more musical territory compared to VSL’s other string collections. I was especially impressed with the new Blur Legato function, which lets you vary the amount of “slop” between notes. If you’re going for ultra-realistic MIDI mockups, Strings I is up for the challenge.
Percussion I includes 16 types of instruments: Timpani (x5), Bass Drum, Snare Drum, Concert Toms (x8), Xylophone, Glockenspiel, Celesta, Suspended Cymbals (x2), Piatti (x2), Tam-Tams (x2), Tubular Bells, Tambourines (x2), Triangles (x7), Woodblocks (x5), Castanets (x2), and Shakers (x2). Patch, Preset, and Matrices are programmed in similar fashion to Strings I.
The source percussion instruments were expertly performed and meticulously captured, with special attention paid to low velocities, resulting in a collection of highly playable and dynamic sampled instruments that can go from delicate and nuanced to brash and bombastic. There is a fair amount of “distance” in the sound that you’ll probably want to compensate for (depending on your production style) by increasing the close mics in the mix, but on the whole, these are some exquisite exemplars of orchestral percussion that pair nicely with their bowed counterparts (see Figure 3).
SERIOUS SYNCHRON SOUNDS
VSL’s Synchron Series sets a new bar for multichannel sampled instruments and further showcases the developer’s expertise in marrying musicality with technology. Strings I and Percussion I are wonderful collections that can be made to realize a tremendous range of compositional ideas, provided you have the requisite MIDI skills.
Bottom line: Synchron Strings 1 and Synchron Percussion 1 are serious tools for media composers who expect the best and won’t settle for less.
Rich, reverberant character. Highly flexible and dynamic instruments. Multichannel sampling allows for a variety of mix formats.
Instruments Pro plug-in player can be unwieldy when trying to work with many mic perspectives/articulations. Full libraries are expensive.
Strings I: $655 Standard, $1,200 Full, $545 Upgrade to Full
Percussion I: $875 Standard, $1,640 Full, $765 Upgrade to Full
John Krogh is an award-winning ASCAP composer and producer with more than 1,000 music placements in media.