Today, we’re taking a look at Spitfire Audio’s new orchestral string library Chamber Strings. Instead of a standard symphony-sized string band (somewhere between 50 and 70 players), with Chamber Strings, we’re dealing with a much smaller ensemble of 16 players in total. Now to avoid any misconceptions right from the beginning, let me tell you that Chamber Strings is an evolution of Spitfire Audio’s highly praised Sable chamber strings range and therefore contains no new samples or recordings. Instead, all of the five individual volumes of Sable were condensed into a big and complete new library. The “old” samples got a thorough renovation job, including fresh programming and scripting, lots of tweaks as well as a brand new interface that is geared both towards ease of use and flexibility alike.
With the recent release of Chamber Strings, Spitfire Audio consequently puts their Sable range to its well-earned rest. For those of you, who don’t know the Sable range, let me quickly go over what it was made of (and therefore, what is now included with Chamber Strings sample-wise):
With a chamber ensemble consisting of 4 1st Violins, 3 2nd Violins, 3 Violas, 3 Celli and 3 Basses, a terrific total of 244 articulations was recorded (See the full list of articulations here). The sampling, including various dynamic layers and round-robins, took place in Spitfire Audio’s favorite recording location – The Hall at AIR Studios, London. Recorded “in situ“, meaning at their position in an orchestral setup, you get control over 16 of London’s top string players, both playing as individual sections and as an ensemble.
Initially, Sable came with 7(!!) different mic setups plus 3 stereo mixes. The mic setups included three main mics – Close, Tree and Ambient – as well as four alternative mics: Outrigger, Close Ribbon, Gallery and Stereo. Added to that, there was a Broad, Medium and Fine stereo mix, composed from different blends of the aforementioned mics. Now with Chamber Strings, Spitfire Audio decided to go with only the three main mics (C, T & A) after gathering much feedback from their customers. As Spitfire Audio stated on their press release: “We’ve listened to many of you and it is simply the case that not all of you want, use or have space and a download capability for all these additional mics and mixes.”
However, if you do want to use the additional mic setups and mixes, Spitfire Audio got you covered by releasing an expansion pack for Chamber Strings including all of the extra mics later in 2016.
If you already own one or more of the Sable volumes, there is a minutely detailed crossgrade table for you to see how much of an discount you’ll get if you decide to crossgrade. Owners of all five Sable volumes will get Chamber Strings as well as the expansion pack for free.
Here’s a small excerpt from the crossgrade table:
Chamber Strings comes as a downloadable product and can be downloaded via Spitfire Audio’s own library manager after the purchase. Chamber Strings is a Kontakt instrument, meaning that installation and authorization take place via Native Instruments’ Service Center. Chamber Strings is now licensed for Kontakt, which means you can install and use it with a free version of Kontakt 5, too. Additionally, the library is equipped with NKS (Native Kontrol Standard), so it intuitively maps to the controls of NI Hardware (e.g. Komplete Kontrol keyboards and Maschine).
When loading up your first instrument, Chamber Strings welcomes you with a shiny new interface. The front-end was redesigned from the ground up to provide the user with a much more intuitive access to the controls. Also, when loading up for the first time, a help box pops up, giving you valuable info on the main controls to get you started. The same thing happens, when you click on different controls for the first time. These little hint boxes present a great bite-sized alternative to the manual, since they don’t put you out of the flow as much as searching and going through multi-page PDFs. You can turn off single hints after reading or just switch them off altogether, if you’ve become accustomed to the new functions.
Beginning with the mics, instead of Sable’s various mic sliders, you’ll now find just one precisely labelled slider that lets you blend seamlessly between the close and far microphones. Keeping it in the middle provides you with a nice mix of tightness and ambience.
When you choose to load up one of the combined articulation patches, you’ll find up to 9 boxes with little notation symbols at the bottom, each representing a different articulation accessible via keyswitches.
At first, I was wondering why no red keys representing keyswitches showed up on my Kontakt keyboard and I thought that I might have to assign them to the articulations myself. However, clicking and dragging the little keyboard icon in the lower left corner of the interface to the right, reveals, that all the keyswitches where there and already assigned. They just lay on such a low range, that the keyboard didn’t even display them. Now, I’m using an 88-key MIDI keyboard where you’d usually find an instrument’s keyswitches in the A-1 to B0 range. Assigning them even below this really makes no sense for me since people with smaller keyboards would have to constantly switch octaves to play different articulations.
Although you can assign the keyswitch range yourself by using the method stated above, it’s kind of inconvenient, having to do this every time you load up an instrument.
Alright then, on to the remaining controls on the interface’s front page. What’s left are some sliders that control different features depending on the instrument loaded. For most instruments, these include Dynamics, Vibrato, Expression and Speed. While the labeling of the first three should be pretty self-explanatory, Speed controls how fast a transition between notes played legato occurs. Turning it to the right yields a almost instant note change while turning it to the left results in a more audible transition phase.
Taking a look into the extended techniques patches for example, shows that there are some more control sliders to deal with including Release and Tightness. Release controls, how long the release phase of long notes is – meaning how long a note rings out, after you let go of the key. This is a great way to control the smoothness between held chords. The Tightness slider comes in particularly useful, when dealing with short articulations, since it defines how tight the start point of a note will be. Tightening up results in very precise shorts while loosening leads to a more human, sloppy attack phase.
Clicking on the wrench icon in the upper left and therefore switching to the Advanced tab, opens up some more neat features and controls. In fact, this is the interface you should already be familiar with, if you own Sable or any other library from Spitfire Audio, really.
Besides the controls, that are already accessible from the front-end, there are just a few additional options. The most notable probably are the various microphone sliders you know from previous releases, which allow you to create your very own, precise mic blend. Next are some switches concerning mapping, transposition and round-robin control. The new Sync to Tempo feature comes in very handy, when you’re playing one of the measured articulations (e.g. measured tremolo). These are recorded at a predefined tempo (in this case at 150 and 180 BPM), but enabling the Sync button, synchronizes them to your DAW’s host tempo. This allows for very realistic repetitions and tremolos.
SOUND OF THE SECTIONS
The sheer amount of available articulations is enough to fill out a full string section in an orchestral template. 38 shorts, 53 longs, 45 legatos and 19 FX articulations should be enough to prepare you for any string-related musical task that could possibly come up.
I like to compare Spitfire Audio libraries with brushes and a painting. In this scenario, the Albion or Mural range would be your broad brushes to fill out big blocks in a painting, whereas Chamber Strings would be your tool to draw fine lines and details. Since the single sections consist of not more than four players each, Chamber Strings allows you hear the emotion, detail and little edges in the performance of every single player. Long notes are blooming and evolving over time and the overall feel is very organic. Opposed to big string ensemble libraries, Chamber Strings is capable of portraying the delicate portions of a composition. But please don’t confuse the small amount of players with a small sound!
All the soaring, big melodies and furious staccatos are there, too, it’s just that they’re so much more detailed in comparison to a 50-piece string band. The close mics deliver a very punchy and direct sound, while the Tree and Ambience mics will give you the shine and beautiful atmosphere of the AIR Lyndhurst Hall. Try switching to the staccato articulation, turn the mic slider towards “Far”, hit an open chord and listen to the sound resonating in the concert hall beautifully. Magic!
In addition to the different string sections, Chamber Strings also provides you with various ensemble patches, combining the same articulation types of every section into one patch. This allows you to play – say – pizzicatos or staccatos from very low to very high with one single instance. These ensemble patches are great sketching tools to quickly get your inspiration flowing, without having to load and switch to different tracks. I found myself blocking in the rough, overall idea with some of these ensemble patches and later going into detail with all the different sections and articulations. More often than not though, I’ll even stick to the ensemble patches and just move on, since their sound is very well balanced across the whole spectrum and the crossing points between sections are almost inaudible. When I’m on a tight deadline and want a bit more control over my ensemble patches, I’d just load up the same articulation twice, use one for higher lines (violins & violas) and one for the lower parts (celli & basses). Done!
This leads me to one of my favorite things of this library – the legato articulations. Spitfire Audio has refined their legato scripting and with Chamber Strings, for the first time, they offer you combined legato patches. This means, within the legato patch of any string section you’ll find in fact 5 different legato performances. These are activated and switched automatically by analyzing your performance. Say, you play a mid-tempo melody line. You’ll hear either a fingered or bowed legato depending on the velocity you hit the notes with. Playing very softly activates the portamento legato, resulting in sweeping transitions between the note. When speeding up your performance, you’ll get a faster legato with less transitions between the notes and if you play very fast runs, Chamber Strings eventually switches to its Runs legato. Like you might have heard in a “real” run, the players have to change finger positions and strings so fast, that it’s very hard to maintain a perfect pitch. These slight intonation issues are, what makes a string run sound authentic and organic.
EDIT: On Sept. 29th, Spitfire Audio released a version 1.1 update for Chamber Strings, wich, amongst minor bug fixes, adds five completely new performance legato patches. Beyond the aforementioned adaptation of legato speeds, these new performance patches add distinctive attacks, which are dependant on your playing velocity. This allows you to play very articulate lines and runs. Also new with the 1.1 update: the harder you hit your keys, the more immediate the instrument’s natural vibrato will kick in. Both additions add massively to the playability and realism of the library.
Needless to say, all of the legatos sound absolutely fabulous and fine-grained across the whole range of sections.
Of course, Spitfire Audio also provides you with each and every articulation on its own patch, including the five different legato articulations. If you know you’ll only want to use a certain articulation, the individual articulations save yourself a lot of RAM and loading time.
It’s not for nothing that Spitfire Audio’s virtual instruments are among the most sought-after, looking at their quality, playability and sheer possibilities of expression. With Chamber Strings, the guys and gals at Spitfire Audio raised the bar on deep-sampled string libraries once again, and didn’t even bother to sample any new material for this. Fair enough, since Chamber Strings predecessor Sable was and is one of the most popular and best sounding string libraries on the market.
The new scripting and programming was executed very thoughtfully and provides users with a playability that cannot be compared to the Sable legacy. The slight concern of rip-offery can be tamed with an exceptionally detailed crossgrade plan for existing Sable users up to a free crossgrade if you already own the complete Sable line. New customers get most of the renowned Sable content for a fraction of its original price and can upgrade to full glory, once the Additional Mics & Mixes Expansion Pack is out. I’m personally fine with just the three provided mic positions, since until now, I could always tailor a blend that fit the task.
All in all, for me this is Spitfire Audio’s next big thing after Albion ONE and it’s no secret that these two combined open up a whole new world of sonic rapture. You just gotta love the Brits, don’t you?
Chamber Strings weighs almost 80 GB and comes with a crazy total of about 72,000 samples. As a new user, you can currently get it from Spitfire Audio’s website for 549 £ or 718 $ at the current conversion rate.