Review: Chamber Strings Essentials by Spitfire Audio

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Chamber Strings Essentials cuts the fat from one of Spitfire Audio’s flagship products to give us the same beautiful sound, but at a more attractive price. It provides everything you need to craft intimate string section compositions, with a very straight forward interface.

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Review: Chamber Strings Essentials by Spitfire Audio

Celli Main Page

Spitfire Chamber Strings might be a few years old now, but remains a universally praised string library. There was an upgrade to it previously, which expanded it to be more detailed and labelled the Professional version. Now there is the Essentials version and it basically takes the core library the opposite way and strips away certain elements, resulting in a more steam-lined and wallet friendly package. A far cry from Spitfire’s symphonic products, we are presented with a much less epic sound and instead something more nuanced, in this 4,3,3,3,3 ensemble recorded at London’s famous AIR Studios.

Chamber Strings Essentials normally sells for £199 from Spitfire Audio

Thoughts

This is a really concise affair with a single nki each for Violins 1, Violins 2, Violas, Celli and Basses. There is also an Ensemble patch, which blends the entire section, ideal for quick sketching across the whole range. Each patch includes legato, longs, spiccato, staccato, pizzicato, long harmonics, tremolo, and major 2nd and minor 2nd trills. It is bare bones compared to the more expansive articulation options we sometimes find, but is actually what gets used most of the time for normal scoring duties. I was very happy to discover no compromise on the legato compared to the bigger sister libraries. There is an automatable speed control, which makes it easy to play everything from quick arpeggios to long flowing romantic lines with confidence and smoothness. The legato also has a variable attack; aggressive at higher velocities and a gentler approach otherwise, making it very expressive at the start of a phrase. The vibrato is also very flexible going from non-vib to a full on molto vib. Unfortunately though, I could not get the polyphonic legato to work properly.

The rest of the longs on all the instruments are equally as impressive as the legato. The tremolos especially revealed just how intimate the sound is and as you ride the dynamics up the bow biting on the strings is raw and visceral. It is partly this huge dynamic control that makes the library so emotive, going from whisper quiet to forte, arguably double forte, at the very extreme. The shorts continue these wide dynamics and employ 8 round robins for plenty of realism. I found them tight, sprightly and very playable, especially if using the tightness fader to cut into the sample more when recording MIDI (which I would then roll back to catch the entire attack portion). Slightly frustratingly, there are no precise millisecond offset delays given for this, nor for the legato interval speed, so it is a bit of trial and error shunting the MIDI around in your DAW to get the timing to sit just so. You can of course use the Ostinatum Engine for the shorts too, but I’ve always found it a bit fiddly in practice and just hard to actually see clearly with such tiny symbols and text. The trills are very consistent and have a neat feature whereby a lower velocity means a slightly longer note at the start of the trill and higher velocities result in a more instant trill.

Violins 1 Detailed Page

As chamber writing often lends itself to five part composition, I was very impressed by the attention given to the sometimes forgotten second violins. They lack the more forward, strident tone of the first violins and have less high frequency content; this slightly more subdued and darker tone reflecting their typical use as a support or contrast to the first violins. However, the spiccato and staccato are noticeably more abrupt and aggressive compared to the first violins, maybe by design for more effective octave doubling, I am not totally sure. There is a clear soundstage distinction between them too, with the firsts further left and the seconds more towards the centre, as in traditional orchestral seating. Whilst on a shout out for particular instruments, the double bass should be noted for its lush bottom end that gets surprisingly powerful and works brilliantly in octaves with the celli.

The mics are limited to Close and Tree, but we still get the lovely acoustic of AIR, so familiar from many a film score. The close mic gives plenty of focus both in the sound and panning, whilst still retaining a nice release tail. By contrast the decca tree spreads out the soundstage hugely and the full resonance of the hall is revealed. Thanks to superb engineering and using one of a kind valve and ribbon mics through Neve preamps to Studer 2” tape, the quality of the recordings is peerless and the epitome of all that Spitfire do so well. The result is a string section that blends excellently together and can totally stand up on it’s on with no embellishments, bar a little EQ and extra reverb to taste.

Ensembles Ostinatum Engine

There was clearly some sampling magic going on during the recording sessions as these chamber strings are a true sample library classic. The individual instruments are all superbly balanced and consistent, with a clean and detailed tone coupled with just the right amount of cinematic ambience. However, they have never been cheap and maybe an expense too far for many. This is where the Essentials version really comes in at a great price for something that could be your bread and butter string library. According to Spitfire Audio’s Paul Thompson it showcases “the stuff that you use 95% of time” and he’s absolutely right. The key triumph of this library is that there is no compromise on the sound quality compared to the larger versions; it shares the same number of instruments, the same number of round robins, the same dynamic layers, and the same legato programming. It is the less important articulations and mics that are cut, which is precisely the best method of shrinking such a library down.

In use, it remains a very versatile product; the smaller string section size lends itself well to pop and indie music, where a larger symphonic sound would be over the top, and of course it really shines for traditional chamber scoring and alternative string writing styles. Although it lacks the ambient and outrigger mics, by increasing the release sample level and given a quality reverb it can still get nicely cinematic for a more epic sound. It also works well as a more detailed layer under your main symphonic strings.

The original Chamber Strings is as good as sampled strings get at this point and to have that quality of sound for under £200 is superb. Be warned though, if there is any fault with Chamber Strings Essentials it is acting as a ‘gateway drug’ to the far more pricey Standard and Professional versions! Should Essentials users later seek that kind of extra detail, there are good upgrade options on offer. That said, for many users this pared back version might well be all you need and currently there is little else on the market that can beat it in terms of both the wonderful, emotive sound and the versatility it provides.

Facts

Chamber Strings Essential is a 28GB download via the Spitfire App. It runs in Kontakt Player 5.6.8 or higher. There are 6 string instruments (including Ensemble) playing 9 articulations, using 2 mics. The size of each string section is 3 players apart from Violins 1 (4 players). It features multiple dynamics and round robins.

Chamber Strings Essentials normally sells for £199 from Spitfire Audio

 

Demos of Chamber Strings Essentials by Spitfire Audio

 

Videos of Chamber Strings Essentials by Spitfire Audio

Contributor Sam Burt reviews Chamber Strings Essentials by Spitfire Audio
“Chamber Strings Essentials cuts the fat from one of Spitfire Audio’s flagship products to give us the same beautiful sound, but at a more attractive price. It provides everything you need to craft intimate string section compositions, with a very straight forward interface.”