Instrument playback out of balance?

I apologise if this has been extensively discussed elsewhere (if so, couldn’t find it!), but the sound libraries as implemented in Dorico appear to be quite out of balance.

I’ve made a short file with each of the main orchestral instruments playing one note of one second length, in approximately the middle of their respective range, at mezzo-forte. The mixer is set to default (about 60%?). See attached.

Both for the HSSE-Essentials (bottom) and HSSE+HSO-Pro (top) sound libraries, the tenor trombone (10-11s) is noticeably too loud, which in fact prompted me to do this little experiment. Note that for the pro version, the strings also seem out of balance, with the violins (16-17s) louder than the e.g. violas (17-18s). Also for the pro-version, the piccolo clearly sticks out (0-1s), and the bassoon (7-8s) also appears noticeably louder than its peers.

Of course you can just adjust the mixer to counter this (I intend to now make a “default mixer setting”), but - unless I missed something - Dorico resets the mixer everytime you switch play-back template, which I do rather a lot, so that’s not very convenient. And I don’t think you can save a mixer setting (or can you?). Note that I don’t use expression maps, etc, as I’m not after the perfect rendition. But I do use my ears a lot for QCin my input, and hearing the trombone only makes this difficult.

Comments or suggestions welcome!

(instruments in order: piccolo, flute, oboe, cor anglais, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, contrabassoon, french horn, trumpet, tenor trombone, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, harp, piano, violin, viola, cello, double bass. Strings as sections, rest solo).

One alternative option to approach this would be to make some changes to the expression maps for the various instruments in HSO to set different minimum and maximum values for the dynamics, in which case you should be able to produce results that you find more balanced. (I haven’t listend to your project and I don’t doubt your conclusions, but practically speaking there is no chance of anybody at Steinberg doing any further sound design work on the HSO samples, which are the better part of 15 years old now.)

Thanks Daniel, understood. I’ll have a look at your suggestion, which I’ll need to spend some time on.

Maybe the option of exporting mixer settings and/or saving it as part of a Dorico project file (in a playback template dependent way) is something worth of consideration?

Easy advice would be to use a better library! But the truth is, there isn’t a single one out there I’ve come across without some some significant dynamic balancing issues. If your issues are the instruments in general rather than the more common problem of inconsistencies between articulations, then by all means just use Dorico’s or Halion’s mixer. Otherwise, you can just change the dynamics as you go along with the dynamic lane controller or the very useful new automation lane for the main dynamic controller which is particularly useful where you don’t have marked dynamics in the score and the problem is restricted to a few notes for instance. You don’t need to actively programme the Expression Maps yourself but you are certainly using them anyway as soon as the default playback configuration loads!

I don’t know much about HSSE – others can chip in here --but normally you can save mixer templates within the VST which is what I do when I really want to be independent of particular projects.

The General MIDI sound specification said (in effect) that every instrument should have the same dynamic range and the same response curve, but real instruments don’t sound like that.

Some of the imbalances you mentioned may not be “wrong.” For example if a solo piccolo can’t be heard over a full orchestra tutti, you need a new piccolo player. That’s why piccolos exist! You don’t need to mark the piccolo part ffffff just because a hundred other people are all playing ff.

indeed, Rob – there’s a lot more to this innocent-seeming question than meets the eye.

Sure. But equally nobody can ever hear a bassoon, and yet it’s the third loudest instrument acccording the sound library.

Balancing in real life is an art, for which there are certain tricks (i.e. 2 horns to a trumpet, 2 trumpets to a trombone) etc. If a sound library were to mimick real life consisently, I could probably live with that. Failing that, I’d prefer them to be all the same dynamic, and let my orchestration skills deal with it. But now I just have bits louder than other bits for no apparent reason, making life difficult.

I’m not really after the perfect balanced sound or a genuine imitation of a real orchestra (which is why I’m not too keen to import other sound libraries and or much around with expression maps and dynamcis lanes), just something that is balanced-ish, so that I can listen to playback and spot my mistakes.

It looks as though you’d need NotePerformer :wink: Try it out !

As lot of classical composers over the last 250 years would disagree with that. And not just the obvious solos like the start of Rite of Spring.

Listen to some Wagner. He knew how to make bassoons, bass clarinets and low brass sound seriously evil.

But I agree that in the average wind band arrangement, the double reeds might as well not bother to play at all!

Actually I’d meant to suggest just that in my first post here but somehow it slipped my mind. NotePerformer is great for bringing out textural clarity in an orchestral score and is at its best for dynamic, rhythmical scores. It’s not a huge investment and requires astonishingly little work. The balances are good though there are a few bugs. And of course the devs. know it’s better than Halion… :slight_smile:

Ditto on NotePerformer.

The samples are understandably not quite the match of more expensive libraries, but for ease of use (Expression Maps and Playback Template already made for you) and good general overall balance it can’t be beat. For what you get the price is a great value. I’m a very satisfied user who realizes the value of what I got when I invested in this product.

Before Dorico I used to use Notion. It’s included playback samples had real problems with balance and the sound quality was uneven. Noteperformer in Dorico is the best library around if your interests combine ease of use, reasonable sound quality, and pretty good out-of-the-box balance.

Yeah, I’m getting more and more resigned to buying Noteperformer. Certainly helps to know it works out-of-the-box, because messing around with sound libraries it not one of my hobbies. But it’s a bit disappointing that if you want something simple that works at a basic level, you need to buy another product. Anyway, it is what it is.

And I’m not getting drawn into a debate on whether I know how loud bassoons are or can be, I’m quite comfortable with my knowledge of the orchestra…

I would also highly recommend NotePerformer, and it isn’t that expensive. I first bought it for Sibelius since it did a much better job than the built in Sibelius sounds for playback. I generally find that it does a pretty decent job of replicating orchestral balance accurately. When I write an orchestral piece and use it for playback, it is pretty much dead on regarding how it will sound with the actual ensemble. The balance isn’t always correct with small ensembles but is still not bad.

If you don’t want to mess with sample libraries, NotePerformer is a no-brainer. There is a subscribe-to-own option for it.