In a world where “epic” music reigns supreme, and having more players-per-section is supposedly superior, what can you do to add an unique sound? Sure, you can layer more and more large libraries up with each other, but sometimes that just ends up blurring all of the detail and just leaves you with a big blob of mushiness. And what if you want to write something NOT epic? Something smaller, more intimate; a string quartet, but recorded at the same studio as bigger libraries to preserve that room sound? What if there was a library that could both enhance those big, intense pieces with more detail, AND be perfect for when you just need a handful of players? Not to worry: Orchestral Tools’ “Berlin Strings Expansion D: First Chairs” has got you covered.
Berlin Strings Expansion D: First Chairs – or as I like to simply call it, “First Chairs” – is a first chair string library, and an expansion off of Orchestral Tools’ “Berlin Strings”. First Chairs works just fine with or without the main Berlin Strings library; however, unlike BST, it requires the full version of Kontakt. Like everything else in the Berlin Series, First Chairs is recorded in-position at the Teldex Studios in Berlin, so there is no extra tweaking needed to fit right in with the rest of the series. Something of note is that while this library contains solo string instruments, it is not meant specifically for virtuosic passages, but instead smaller solos – usually performed by the principle player, also know as the first chair due to seating position – within the orchestra. First Chairs can still do solo passages well (in fact, my demo is for solo strings!), but for more complex work, Orchestral Tools has their Soloist Series for that exact purpose.
Demo by Lawson Madlener Using First Chairs Only – Aucine Idee
Here’s a basic walkthrough video and overview of First Chairs multi patches. For in-depth reviews of each and every articulation in the library, see the individual video reviews below, including a full walkthrough of the amazing CAPSULE engine. Please note: unfortunately, the sound quality of the strings are a bit compressed from uploading to YouTube, and don’t sound as full as they do normally.
-Solo string library recorded in-position at Teldex Studios
-Basic articulations; all with 3 dynamic layers and round robins on shorts
-5 mic positions
-True legato on any articulation
-Custom CAPSULE engine allowing for total sample control
-67GB of samples (33.2 GB compressed) at 24bit/48kHz
-€299 (~$330) from Orchestral Tools
-Sounds great right out-of-the-box but with a wealth of customization under the hood
-Recorded in-position at Teldex Studios so no need for extra mixing
-Running on the CAPSULE engine
-Works great by itself as a solo library or layered with others to add more detail
-Con sordino emulator button gives every articulation the option to add a mute
-No extended articulations such as playable runs, Bartok pizz, harmonics, sul tasto, or sul ponticello
-Some of the dynamic balancing seems a little off to my ears, especially in the 1st Violin
Here are video walkthroughs of each instrument: Violin 1, Violin 2, Viola, and Cello. Each contain the same articulations and mic positions, which is very handy for maintaining consistency. All of the articulations are very straight forward, except for a couple of things that I want to explain here (though they get mentioned in the videos as well): sustains and trills. There are three different types of recorded Sustains: “Imm,” “Acc,” and “Soft.” “Imm” stands for “Immediate,” and the sustain starts right when you press the key (or trigger it in your DAW). “Acc” stands for “Accent”, and while this sustain starts immediately as well, it also includes a big accent on the note. “Soft” is simply “Soft,” and the sustain fades softly in. The trills can also be a bit tricky at first, as instead of the usual selecting-of-interval (usually through keyswitch or patch selection) and playing the starting note of the trill, you simply playing the two notes you want trilled (though only up to a whole step). I think it’s a lot simpler, but after so many other libraries doing it the other way, it can be confusing.
Two final tidbits before the videos: You can click the center dynamic sphere to change how you switch between dynamics; either velocity or CC crossfading, or even go into the settings menu on the side (the wrench icon) to individually select which dynamic layers you want to be used. And yes, Violin 1 is a different player with a different instrument than Violin 2, so you can play them together with zero phase issues – it’s more realistic, too!
Violin 1 in Depth
Violin 2 in Depth
Viola in Depth
Cello in Depth
One of the most unique features in the Berlin Series of libraries is “CAPSULE.” It stands for “Control And Performance Symphonic Utility Engine,” but is basically the “Tools” in “Orchestral Tools.” The idea behind this incredibly-custom scripting for Kontakt is for these impeccably sampled instruments to come to life in a way most other libraries do not allow. For example, you can add True Legato to any articulation, as well as blending up to four articulations at once, and switching through up to eleven articulations via CC control or keyswitches. You can see CAPSULE showing off it’s prowess in the videos below:
Official Capsule Video
For my demo, I decided to put this library to the real test: can it play a piece I wrote specifically for live players without catering towards samples’ strengths and weaknesses and still sound good? Yes, for the most part. Some of the repeated notes and runs don’t sound stunning at times, but that is to be expected: nothing can really beat some good musicians! Overall, though, Orchestral Tools does not disappoint with their latest Berlin Strings expansion. As we’ve come to expect, the sound quality is top-notch, the playability is great, and the customization is fantastic.