What's the best alternative to Halion Sonic se?

I’ve been running into the same excessive vibrato problem described here . . .

and yesterday I posted a problem with un-filterable bow-contact noise on the Halion Sonic se cellos. So clearly I need to junk Halion Sonic se for something better. I need a wide range of high-quality instruments, both synthy and acoustic, but especially acoustic orchestra instruments. and lots of control over their sound. I do not intend to record or build my own sample sets, so a player, as long as it gives me lots of control, is good enough. So . . . should I get the professional version of Halion, or Kontakt, or what?

I know a lot of DAW users load up on lots of different instrument plug-ins but I’d rather invest my money and learning-curve time in just one really good one, and get really good at using it.

Thanks in advance for opinions on this.

Try this. It’s excellent and free if you can wait two weeks, otherwise $49. It can be upgraded to the Core version, if you want, or go full on for the Professional. Spitfire makes some of the best sampled orchestral instruments around.



For a freebie, BBC Discover is excellent. One thing to keep in mind though @art1, the sounds are a3. This means 3 flutes, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets etc playing in unison. If you need solo instruments, I’m not sure if it will fit the bill. That said, it’s free, and it’s good sound for ensembles. Spitfire does top notch instruments, but they don’t come cheap.

I also have Halion Symphony Orchestra, which is good enough(ish) for my needs. This I had bought sometime ago during a sale for 50 euros, and it also has solo instruments too, not just ensembles. I also have London Strings of Big Fish audio which is around 100$, and is not bad at all for expressive solo strings. That’s a kontakt instrument.

Another option which has impressed me very much is Noteperformer. Noteperformer is outside the realm of Cubase, but it works with Finale, Sibelius (which I own) and Dorico. It really offers GREAT realism for the effort required, which is… none. You just write your score and noteperformer performs it. So that’s another one. If you don’t use any of these notation programs, just disregard this whole paragraph.

There are many VSTis that focus on the orchestra, exhaustingly so. The real question is what the use case is. Because while the level of control and quality (and price!) are undoubtedly high with Spitfire, VSL and the likes, so is the level of effort required. (that is, managing complex expression maps, micromanaging CCs, articulations, and mixing those together to achieve a realistic performance).

That said, I do not know if those instruments allow for the level of control you envision. A marcato sample of the first desk of the 2nd violins is just that, I don’t think you get a “synth-like” control over the attack or such. I might be wrong though, as I said I don’t own any of the “big guns”.


We would all like to do that, but unfortunately with orchestral instruments, most are sample-based, and although the technology gets continually better, there are limitations, and the difference in cost is easily explained by the amount of effort that goes into sampling and processing acoustic instruments to the level of detail that can pass as realistic.

You have several suggestions above but there is no objective best choice. The closest you will come to an “industry standard” platform is Native Instruments Kontakt (which is finally, and recently, available as VST3), but at additional cost, additional learning curve, and even then you would have to audition the plethora of orchestral libraries available for Kontakt, each of which bring their own nuances and accompanying learning curves.

If I have correctly interpreted what you are asking here, I would suggest, in order of cost and least (but not without!) learning curve having a listen the HSO demos first. After that, you are just going to have to decide how much you are willing to spend to achieve the ease of use and level of control you require – and demo everything!

Vibrato is actually in the samples of most bowed string instruments I’ve come across.

Only library I’ve come across as yet that has some straight/non-vibrato bowed string sounds is the newer East West Symphonic Orchestra stuff.

They offer an XCloud deal where one can try out every sound they offer on a month by month basis. Get an idea if it’s to your tastes. That does include at least one mic position to pretty much every instrument they’ve ever done…including the choirs with word-builder.

I’d imagine that Vienna Ensemble has some clean-straight string sounds, but I’ve not tried those yet.

Take a look at Friktion by Reason Studios. It’s a physical modelling string synth rather than sample based so you get total control on the sound shaping.