The Art of Solo Violin Sampling

Solo violins are near and dear to my heart.  My mother was a violinist (first chair as she was proud to say) and she would sometimes let me take out her violin, encased in velvet, and play a few notes.  I am not a violinist, I took up the piano at an early age, but some part of me has always wanted to be able to play a violin.  Well, now I can. In fact, the wonderfully sampled violins that will be reviewed in this series are light years ahead of other sampled solo violins I have ever played.

Bohemian Violin by VirHarmonic is like having just bought a new violin that plays itself.  It is that easy to use.  Right out of the box you can play convincing solos with a minimum of fuss.  There is a good deal of customization that you can do by simply holding down other keys to force certain articulations and bowings, but it is possible to just sit down and play to get very realistic results.  I then find that taking a second pass and adding in those specialized articulations, such as decrescendos (which do not happen automatically yet) can make the resulting sound even more believable.  Compared to most other violin libraries which require a great deal of Midi CC and keyswitching to achieve a realistic result, Bohemian Violin does an outstanding job of keeping it simple. This is why the instrument is deserves its title of Virtual Performer.

For anyone who has not purchased a new sample library recently, they would be amazed at the advancement in the past few years. Continuing the trend that started around 2010, modern sample libraries are becoming more and more natural to play.  As we have interviewed several sample library makers, it is clear that the amount to time, energy and craftsmanship that goes into creating this illusion.  Not only do you have to start with great musicians and great instruments, you have to have state of the art mics and recording gear. On top of that, you have to be both a monk and a wizard.  You have to have incredible patience and attention to detail, and you need to have magical powers over scripting to get the most out of your sampler.

Violins are used in so many different genres of video game music and are a critical when creating memorable themes.  All of these violins are capable of creating a finished product.  Even if you are only using them to create a mockup, having a convincing mockup is important when you submit your samples to the audio director.  Solo violins are often used to create the themes and motifs of main characters, or to shape the emotional content of a heavy scene.  You need to have a great sample library in order to pull this off!

In this series, we will review and compare at least three solo violin libraries, VirHarmonics Bohemian Violin, Embertone’s Friedlander Violin, and Fluffy Audio’s Trio Broz Solo Violin.  We hope to review others as well, such as Strezov Sampling’s Macabre Solo Strings. Each has vastly different design goals, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses.  We start off comparing the violins side by side, and then go into more detail about each one individually.

Each of these is very reasonably priced, between $125 and $179 at current exchange rates.  Each was lovingly crafted, and we even got a chance to sit down and talk with Onrej of VirHarmonic for our Podcast Episode 14, included in this review.  Check that out if you want to see how much work goes into these libraries and you will gain a new appreciation for them, as we did!

Demos

Let’s take a listen to Bohemian Violin in action:

 

 

 

Bohemian Violin Specs

Pros: One of the easiest virtual instruments to play and make sound realistic. Natural playing styles with beautiful articulations that took hundreds of hours to sample and script – the result has to be heard to be believed!


Cons: It is missing several articulations in its current version, but FREE updates are coming out soon.  Also it uses the free UVI Workstation rather than Kontakt.  I had no problem getting UVI up and running, and it worked perfectly well in Pro Tools 12 (AAX) and also in Reaper (VST.)


MINIMUM SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

Core Duo or faster 4 Gb of RAM ( 8 Gb recommended)

Windows 7 or higher iLok account ( free, dongle not required)

Mac OSX 10.8 or higher


3.4Gb Installed, 13+Gb Original uncompressed content.

10,894+ Samples recorded @96khz 24bit sample rate in pristine mid-side stereo.

Arcs, Mid Arcs, Sustains, Diminuendos, Spiccatos and Pizzicatos.

3 Deep Sampled Dynamics for Sustains with 2+ Round Robins per bow pianissimo, mezzo-forte & fortissimo. (pp-mf-ff).

2 transition (crescendo) dynamic layers with 2 round robin repetitions per bow on each arc type

3 Dynamic Layers of Diminuendos at 6+ seconds length for Beautiful end notes.

True Bowed Legato with real Up bow and Down Bow transitions and True intervals.

Performance Engine Enabling incredibly easy live play, Auto selecting the bow types and bow positions based on your play style.


Cost:: 149 Euros


Website: VirHarmonic


Features and Design Goals

 The VirHarmonic Soul Series has high aspirations. The first in the series, Bohemian Violins delivers beautifully on its design goals to be simple to play and easy to use right out of the box.  VirHarmonic is best know for its choral libraries such as “Voices of Prague,”  “Czech Boys Choir,” and “Soloists of Prague.”  They also have a free violin you can check out on their website.

To get an idea of how much work goes into making these great sounding instruments, check out our interview with Virharmonic founder Ondrej, which is our Designing Music NOW’s Podcast Episode 14.  Lawson Madlener and I sit down with him and discuss how he not only played the violin for this library, he also directed the production of it.  He talks about why he went with the UVI Workstation rather than Kontakt for this instrument, and how he spent over 200 hours in the recording of it.

At first, I was skeptical of the non-Kontakt sampler, but it was actually very easy to install and get up and running. It took me a while to find the manual, which does not download with the software, but you can get it from their website here.

Overall, Bohemian Violin was by far the easiest virtual instrument I have ever played.  I just pulled it up and started playing, and it sounded INCREDIBLE!  After a while, I learned the nuances of the instrument, and it became a real joy to play.  As a pianist, I can feel what it must be like to actually play the violin!

They sampled a variety of bowings and bow styles. The current version offers 2 types of Arcs each with 2 dynamic layers and 2 unique round robin repetitions per bow type making it a stunning 16 possible bow movements per note on Arcs and Mid Arcs alone. They have 3 true dynamics on Sustains with 2 to 3 round robins per bow on each sustain adding further 14 variations on each note with real dynamics to choose from. There are also 3 dynamics of Diminuendos going from p- ppp with 2 round robins and their spiccato’s each have 4 repetitions per bow for each one of the 3 dynamic layers. It also has a wonderful pizzicato (which you can check out in the violin freebie if you like.)

Instant Solo Violin – Just Add Midi

Not only is BV a great performance engine that makes playing melodies live a breeze, it also works well with MIDI. I was working on a project this week and needed a solo violin to play a melody that I had written for another instrument.  I just used the same melody line that I had written in MIDI, loaded up BV, and played it back.  It was a fairly slow melody line with lots of whole notes in a 60 BPM song…but it sounded great with a minimum of fuss.

Bohemian Sonatina – Rescoring Final Fantasy X

Enough talking about it, let’s take it for a spin. One of the best ways to get to know a library, of course, is to use it.  So in this video I use Bohemian Violin to re-score a scene from Final Fantasy X.  I also show the score itself alongside Bohemian Violin so you can see the articulations changing.  Finally, I show the same song alongside the midi roll so that you can see exactly where and when the forced articulations are applied.

 

 Bohemian Violin Overview

 

Video Interview with Ondrej of VirHarmonic

Music Credits for the video and podcast:

130 tears – Adrien Binet – 1:27
Bohemian Concerto- Freddie Hangoler 5:27
In Nocturne with Piano – Ondrej Pochyly – 17:16
Bohemian Sonatina – Dale Crowley  -24:46
Change Of Seasons – Freddie Hangoler – 31:40
Blink of an eye – Daniel Beijbom – 43:08

Streaming Podcast on Mixcloud

 

Download the Podcast Here

Download Link for Designing Music NOW Podcast - Episode 14 - Interview with Ondrej of VirHarmonic

Comparisons

Comparison with Dan Dean Solo Strings

Even though Dan Dean’s Solo Strings is not part of this review, I wanted to do a side by side comparison phrase by phrase to hear the difference between these two libraries.

 

Brief Comparison of Three of the Solo Violins to be Reviewed in this Series

It is notoriously difficult to compare different virtual instruments, even if they are the same type of instrument.  This is especially true of these three violins as they all have different design goals and accomplish their individual visions differently.  However, I will attempt the impossible here.  Not to show one’s superiority over another, but to show some of the basic features of each so that you can get an idea of what each one is all about. So, in this video, I compare the three solo violin libraries by doing a quick side by side comparison.

Bohemian Violin Details

What follows are some in depth details about the instrument. The images were produced by VirHarmonic and reused here with permission.

Performance Page (Main Page)

Performance Page

 

Settings Page

Setting Page

Forced Behaviors

Forced Behaviors

 Official Overview by VirHarmonic

Here is the official overview created by VirHarmonic for Bohemian Violins.

 

 

The Future

Here is a look at the future from the VirHarmonic website:

When we began this journey to the performer’s soul we have realized that it can not be done all at once, so we have decided to do things in parts. You can already pre-order the Bohemian Violin now with all the articulations necessary to write emotionally rich melodies or fast bow changed spiccato runs, but we want to go beyond that and sample so much more of the performer. We will be doing expansions for each of our Soul Capture libraries until we are satisfied that 99% of the performer and his sound has been sampled and made available to you in a controllable and intuitive manner, in the same spirit as the current version. To make sure that early adopters benefit from this setup all future expansions for each individual instrument in the Soul Capture Series are free.

Here is a sample of what they have planned – more bow types, positions (colours of notes), trills, half trills, on bow runs, slurs and portamento as well as the possibility of glissandi and much more. To avoid too many updates they will be launching these expansions quarterly and as already mentioned they will be free to all owners of the current and future versions.

Upgrade Pricing

pricing_expansion_schedule_dec15

Conclusion

There is not enough good things to say about this meticulously and lovingly crafted instrument.  VirHarmonic is a boutique shop in the Czech Republic, but they put so much time and love into their libraries that they sound like they are coming from a much larger operation.  Customer service is outstanding, and their dedication to the craft of creating advanced virtual instruments that not only sound great but also are easy to play and perform is remarkable. Though the choice of using Uvi Workstation over Kontakt seems a bit unconventional, according to Ondrej, they would not have been able to accomplish this level of scripting customization without it.  I have come to see it as a plus – very easy to work with and it is free.  Maybe more developers will begin to use it in the future too.

Our conclusion: This is one solo violin that you will definitely want in your library!

 

 

 

 

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