Authentic-sounding solo and small ensemble strings

I’m fairly new to Dorico and please forgive me if the following is a naive question. I like to write for solo strings and string quartet. I have HSO and Noteperformer VSTs and their audio rendering is just about good enough during the writing process. Nevertheless, I wanted some better sounds, so I bought various Spitfire Audio solo and ensemble string libraries. However, despite much messing around with playback templates, expression maps, UACC, and dynamics and expression editing in Play mode, I really don’t get audio that sounds much like the real instruments. Is this because (a) I’m expecting too much of Dorico - I should export my finished MIDI to a DAW and work there because that’s really what libraries like Spitfire’s are designed for, (b) solo strings are very difficult to emulate, so I shouldn’t have high expectations anyway, (c) I need to spend more time messing with settings because it is possible to get some good sounds out, or (d) some or all of the above?

I confess that I’d rather be banging notes onto staves than spending time on technical aspects of playback, but I’m happy to do so if it will yield better sound results.

Many thanks to anyone to has thoughts or advice. Tony.

Welcome to the forum, Tony. Here’s one thread: Recommended solo strings VST - Dorico - Steinberg Forums

I’d say it’s mostly a combination of B and C. ;-))

Dorico is pretty good at controlling sample libraries: it’s all about getting the right messages: phrasing, articulations, etc. If you know what you’d do in a DAW to make it decent, then chances are you can do that in Dorico.

But yes, I think solo strings are probably a lot harder than Sections.

For what it’s worth I have gotten used to NotePerformer solo strings senza vibrato.

There are some different capabilities sure, but there isn’t something in the DAW that will make the technical aspects go away. Quite the opposite I think.

I feel like there were some some nuggets in the discussions of the Spitfire Abbey Road One “Legendary Low Strings” on their site, Specifically about how Cellos and Basses will resonate not only with the room, but with each other within the room whenever they are played in octaves together. Which is why that library was recorded the way that it is, and why it is so effective and useful for those passages - even if you also own the much bigger Spitfire Orchestra libraries.

What I’m saying is that it doesn’t happen just because you decide to put two separately recorded instrument samples in the same room - even very good ones - which it seems like is what we are doing a lot of the time with the generally drier solo instrument libraries.

So far in my limited experience, its tough to get those not to sound like photos cut out of a magazine and pasted together on a big piece of paper - however great the photos might have been to start with.

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Any chance we can hear what your strings are sounding like? I use Spitfire’s solo and ensemble strings all the time, and while I do have a few complaints, I’m overall very happy with the results that I’ve gotten from them. Maybe you’re just harder to please than I am, though. :slight_smile:


I’ve been asking myself the very same question. My conclusion so far is that it could quickly become a very expensive question to answer, as specialist libraries do not come cheap!

Add to that the 3 underlying problems that: 1) no two VSTs ever appear to behave the same; 2) the language used to make them work is incomprehensible to the average mortal; 3) the documentation accompanying most libraries is woeful… So it feels like, whatever choice you make, you’re buying a pig in a poke.

That said, if I had the courage, I’d certainly consider the Cremona quartet (Cinematic : Cremona Quartet | Komplete)

Thanks for your reply and link. I took a look at CSS, and I note that their website says that their libraries aren’t designed for notation programs, I believe because of the amount of control they offer via keyswitches etc. for live players.

I note that all producers of sample libraries in their demos show a live player sat in front of a DAW, presumably to illustrate the degree of control that’s possible. That suggests to me that it may be unfair to expect such interpretation by a notation program. And presumably that’s what prompted the development of Noteperformer - using AI to bridge that interpretive gap. NP does that quite well, but perhaps what I’m asking for is an NP++ that is able to do sophisticated interpretation, but also comes with a sound library in the league of Spitfire, CSS and others. I think I’d pay quite a bit for that.

Thanks for the tip, Stephen. I’ll try that.

I have said exactly the same thing, and I’ve heard others say it as well. At present, note performer really is your best option in many cases, especially if you don’t want to sit and fiddle all day long with CC values.

@DanKreider Thanks Dan - makes sense. Hopefully an NP++ is in the works.

@MiloDC Hi Milo. I’m new to the forum, but let me figure out how to attach some audio and I’ll do so. Thanks for offering to give your thoughts. (My wife says I’m hard to please, but she’s had to put up with me for a long time.) I’m not expecting the audio to sound like the Alban Berg Quartett is playing, but perhaps a notch or two up on NP.

@Janus Yes, I think I’ve done my bit to keep various countries’ economies afloat by buying these libraries. Actually, that’s what prompted my original question. I’m happy to buy a spiffy library if it will sound good out-of-the-box-ish. But my interest is in writing the music, not so much the DAW-oriented production process. I shouldn’t keep buying libraries if my underlying premise about how they should be used is wrong. I play some cello and a bit of violin. I’m probably better off recording myself and buying myself a beer. Would be cheaper.

LOL, I feel the same way with saxophones. I think you’ll find quite a few different libraries are regularly used by users on the forum here. If you wanted to post a Dorico file, many of us would be happy to swap a Playback Template and post the audio for you to compare. It seems like most of the forum has NotePerformer and it certainly is the easiest way to some moderately decent results, but @benwiggy made some good GPO expression maps, and of course there are supported maps for Spitfire BBC SO and Vienna SYNCHRON-ized Special Edition VSTs. I’d be happy to post any of those to compare if you had a file in mind.

Be sure to investigate range when looking into a string VST purchase. I’ve found a few, even well regarded ones, end up quite short on the top end.

I’m not comparing its playback features to a major orchestra or anything, but I will compare it playing MIDI into DAW… Honestly? I’m betting on a driven, dedicated, motivated Dorico user being able to do a significantly better job.

You can still play MIDI into Dorico the same as any DAW, so sort of unfair to say that.

But in the end I think its down to the way a keyboardist plays chords and such. What I mean is that they aren’t playing the sort of individual lines that a violinist (or saxophonist) does. The end of their road is the beginning of ours in way - that the way for them to get that last few percent, is that they have turn it into something really orchestrated, voicing each line separately, understand what the instruments can do, etc.

And I think that the work model, the automation that notation linked to playback PT’s represents - complicated imperfect or incomplete as they may sometimes be now - are the better way forward to do that…

I’m not saying that I expect Dorico to solve all of that magically or that there is only one way to compose, I’m saying that I think it will ultimately prove a superior tool than current DAW’s for a crazily dedicated user who also dives fearlessly into all the tech and such.

Yeah, I took a chance on the Cinematic Studio stuff, and purchased their ensemble brass and string sets. They sound very good, but not quite as good as Spitfire’s libraries (CSB’s muted brass are faked, for example), and there are two or three basic techniques of their libraries that simply aren’t playable in Dorico using regular notation. (Trills are perhaps the most obvious example. CS’s way of producing trills is to play two notes simultaneously, which is then translated into the desired effect.)

Since I switched to Spitfire’s libraries, my CS libraries have collected dust.

There’s a setting in Dorico’s Playing Options for whether to use sample libraries’ own trills, or have Dorico produce them, and with a bit of tweaking, Dorico’s trills are often better. I change the settings so the trill is on the upper note first and bring down the number of turns per second for Slow and Normal.
You can further adjust individual trills in the Properties panel.

Don’t want to buck the trend here but I can’t think the precision of playback from notation software can match the humanised imprecision one can get from a daw/midi editor. Although it’s proved lethal when creating an xml for Dorico, I don’t usually snap notes to the daw grid. (It means doing a copy to get the grid dead-on for the xml - more work but still).

I use VSL’s solo strings. Like all libraries they don’t have everything but they seem among the best for “usual” articulations and with the VI pro player which incorporates “humanising” features, can produce some pretty realistic results. The player also has its slot-rack crossfade which means I can move from one articulation to another seamlessly (or nearly so). I don’t know if Dorico or other notation software has that feature.

But I haven’t yet tried to get playback from Dorico so I could be entirely wrong.

I don’t use NotePerformer, but humanizing playback is one of its main features.
Additionally, Dorico has its own settings for humanizing playback. That’s on top of technologies present in many sample libraries themselves, with stuff like round robins, performance scripts (as you mention), controls for adjusting when and where samples attack and release, etc.

I’m sure that nothing beats a DAW for playback production, but on-the-fly, real-time humanization of playback has gotten pretty advanced. You might be pleasantly surprised.

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Decades ago I visited my cousin who married a Swedish composer. I don’t know if they still do it, but back then the government sponsored all Swedish composers to have their music performed and recorded. My cousin played his piano concerto and string quartet for me.
Now that’s some human playback!

If all countries took that national pride to encourage their music, we might be satisfied with the most basic electronic emulations since it would only be needed during composing.

Once I’m more confident finding my way around Dorico “Write” and “Engrave” I’ll have a go. I have a string quartet being edited to make an xml feasible - at least, one movement of it - so I’ll make that a first try at playback.
Thank you for the comment.

Huh, some hope in woke Britain what with politicians wanting to make the proms more “inclusive” (hints of Caribbean and Bollywood music). I don’t mind that at all as long as Caribbean / Bollywood festivals are obliged to play a little “classical” music. I suppose we could do a version of Beethoven’s 9th on steel pans.
But in that context I have yet to get the BBC to perform even a 4 minute score of mine.

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