Question about VSTs

Hello, I’m hoping someone can give me the benefit of their expertise about VSTs.

I came to Dorico from Sibelius 6, in which I pretty much just used the GM sounds to make a cheerful noise. I would love to be able to make better use of, for example, the Halion Symphonic Orchestra but I am struggling a bit.

The biggest issue I have is that the sounds have such low attack - especially in solo brass instruments - that unless you pump everything up to double forte you can’t hear any passages properly faster than crotchets. This just about works for the strings but I have ended up reverting back to the GM sounds for clarinet and trumpet, trombone and tuba.

What I think is happening is that it is consistently playing at very low levels of expression but high volume which makes it sound like a Moog synthesized played underwater.

Unfortunately, I know nothing at all about audio synthesis and everywhere I look I see really unfamiliar vocabulary like romplers and CC1 and twiddling the attack button seems to make it worse.

Is there any way to force the samples to play with a degree of attack? I have tried other VSTs but they are a real mixed bag - or at least the free ones are

I have taught myself about expression maps and key switches but am properly clueless about what CC means or how I could or should use it, or what velocity is (I had assumed dynamics but it seems not)

Basically, help! This all seems more complicated than my old Yamaha Portatone!

Hi Charlie, this is quite a big subject and probably takes years to fully master. Have you watched Guy Michelmore’s channel on YouTube? Although he’s a big fan of Dorico, he has a lot of stuff on using VSTs (sample libraries) with Cubase, so you’ll be able to see how he crafts instruments (brass, strings etc) to sound more authentic. Here’s a typical link My New Approach to Sampled Orchestral Templates - YouTube

An out of the box solution to get very realistic sounds in Dorico is to use NotePerformer, which probably every member of this forum has installed. It has a 30 day free trial and is well worth a look. Written by a genius called Arnie, it’s a very quick way to get polished results, and compared to many sample libraries it’s incredibly cheap.

On the hardware side of things, it’ll help if you have a decent MIDI keyboard which has twiddly knobs and expression wheels. With these you can craft your sounds as you play them in (again, Guy Michelmore shows how), or you can record your knobs/expression wheels after the fact in Play mode. This is handy if you haven’t recorded your playing in real time (step input as it’s called).

Turning a great tune into an even greater sounding piece is a big challenge, but it’s a well trodden path in which members of this forum must constitute the deepest source of knowledge anywhere on earth, so you’re in the right place!

Good luck and have fun.


And to explain a little bit from the MIDI world:
MIDI is keyboard oriented and so a MIDI note message carries two values, the key number of the note to be played and the velocity, i.e. the speed by which the key was pressed down by the player.
CC stands for Control Change and is a different kind of MIDI message. There are 127 different CC message types, of which some are fixed assigned to certain functionality and others that can be freely used for any purpose. MIDI CC1 e.g. is the modulation wheel and CC2 the breath controller. So whenever you turn the modulation wheel on your MIDI keyboard it sends out CC1 messages. It is then up to the receiving synthesizer or VSTinstrument to interpret these messages.

If you generally find that everything is a bit quiet for the dynamics you’ve written, then you could also consider bumping up the various levels in the Mixer a bit. We set the default fader positions for each of the plug-in outputs and the master output to -6dB to try to avoid clipping if you have lots of instruments in your ensemble. However, it’s often safe to bump these levels up a bit if you don’t have huge tutti sections all the time.

Ok thank you everyone for your replies.

So, if I understand this correctly:

If you want it to make a cheerful noise with zero effort and 1980s realism, use the default expression maps and the GM sounds in Halion

If you want it to sound like a real orchestra, buy a midi controller with a shed load of controllers, a really expensive sound library, do a lot of research and learning, and be prepared to to an awful lot of tweaking, either in Cubase or in the play mode.

If you want a zero effort route to fairly realistic sounds, buy Note Performer, and more or less forget about it.

Is that a fair precis?

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It’s certainly a précis. As to fair, well, I’d argue that HALion’s more “early naughties” (or aughties depending on where you are), and that expensive sound libraries don’t quite sound like a real orchestra.

But basically yes.

I vote for early naughty(s)!


Pretty good summary, so I can request a tweak?

If you want to meet broadcast standards (vague term, but fairly consistently recognized acceptable level realism) buy a robust machine that can effectively host a carefully curated list of effective libraries for your purpose (part of that research, expense is a given but cost does not always guarantee best) Controllers to taste…

it’s not entirely a fair precis though it has some truth in it. First of all, anything you can control with a MIDI controller, you are likely to be able to programme in Dorico as well using CC’s. A fancy controller helps you perform live, that’s all. It’s quicker to programme to the CC overdubbing in Cubase than Dorico at present because Dorico doesn’t yet allow for overdubbing just controller data and you can’t record this data to more than one track at a time. But everything I need at any rate, can be done in Dorico.

I know at least two people who have just started with NotePerformer and were initially delighted until they began to realise the sonic limitations. How much they come into play depends very much on the kind of music. NP excels at a clear orchestral balance and strong rhythmical articulation. It is rather less effective in the main with lyrical music and above all chamber works where the lack of in-depth sampling makes itself felt. But you can easily test all this yourself.

You don’t need to spend huge amounts of money to get a sound library in a totally different class from Halion or even NP. All-in-one starter versions like BBC Core, VSL Prime or Special Edition work for many. And the most popular libraries already have Expression Maps written for them by users including myself or even the vendors. The amount of tweaking required for a reasonably musical rather than a perfect rendering is not as much as you might think.