Best of 2018 – Sample Library, Virtual Instruments and Plugins Year in Review

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This month we asked our contributors and some of the most respected composers in our circle what they thought were some of the best sample libraries, virtual instruments and software plugin released in 2018.   (see past months picks here)

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Sample Library Review’s Best of 2018 – Sample Libraries, Virtual Instruments and music software plugins.

 

Steven McDonald is a composer and producer working in the Television, Games, and Trailer fields. Digging into virtual instruments and sample libraries to get the absolute most out of them has been a specialty of his since the beginning of his career.

Cerberus by Audio Imperia
It seems like drum libraries are a dime a dozen nowadays, but Cerberus really delivers on its promise to provide a good solution for modern trailer percussion. Even though I always process my trailer drums additionally, nothing comes closer out of the box than Cerberus.

► SLR Review of Cerberus
► Get Cerberus at Audio Imperia

Classic Trailers Toolkit by Keepforest
The third entry in the AizerX series is exactly what I had been wanting out of a trailer sound design pack. This one goes “back to basics” so to speak, with a huge amount of simpler and less out-there samples, which makes for great building blocks or source material for custom sound design.

► SLR Review of Classic Trailers Toolkit
► Get the AizerX Trailers Toolkit Bundle at Time + Space

 

Andrea Federici graduated Cum Laude from Berklee with a Masters Degree and now composes music and sound design for Film and Video games. A former Metal guitarist, Andrea surrounds himself with computers, music software and gear.

Jaeger by Audio Imperia
Definitely my “Best Library of 2018”. A great, modern sound and ALL you need to compose cinematic/trailer/action music. It already has the best legato around, the best solo vox and an amazing sound design included, yet it will be updated with extra goodies very soon!

► SLR Review of Jaeger
► Get Jaeger at Audio Imperia

Caspian Brass by Performance Samples
My second pick for “Best Library of 2018” is Caspian Brass. Easy to use and with a great, powerful sound, it is perfect for the composer looking for fantastic results in no time!

► SLR Review of Caspian Brass
► Get Oceania at Performance Samples

 

Dirk Ehlert was kind enough to share his nest of 2018 picks with us. Dirk is a Composer at dos brains, CEO & Founder at DE-Tune and is well known through the sample community for his Youtube channel CWVI (Composing with virtual instruments).

Project Chaos by HybridTwo
Rarely you stumble upon a sample library that in itself is pure bliss and inspiration but also allows your own samples to be put through this incredibly fun to use engine 10/10

► SLR Review of Project Chaos
► Get Project Chaos at Time & Space

Emotional Violin by Best Service / Harmonic Subtones
As with its predecessor Emotional Cello, the title is very well matching – one of the most versatile and great sounding solo libraries I’ve had my hands on.

► SLR Review of Emotional Violin
► Get Emotional Violin at Best Service

 

I am a composer creating music for commercials, television, film and interactive media. I started SampleLibraryReview.com in 2015 on a laptop in my kitchen with no shirt on. My Desert Island picks are:

British Drama Toolkit by Spitfire Audio
Built to “compose, arrange, and complete a cue in one pass” the British Drama Tool Kit delivers. Quality of playback gets top marks and it is as though you are in the room with the performers, waving hands and gesturing, to get expressive variation and movement out of a few simple notes. Super quick and easy to score drama quickly with this Kontakt Player instrument.

► SLR Review of British Drama Tool Kit
► Get the British Drama Toolkit at Spitfire Audio

Virtual Bassist Bundle by UJAM
For years I have struggled with finding the right virtual bass instruments for my work. I seem to have to dig through dozens of libraries for each project just to find a realistic tone that fits the genre I am working on. All that has changed with the release of Ujam’s Virtual Bass Bundle. The three instruments included, Mellow, Rowdy and Royal, will leave me hard pressed to find anything more realistic and easy to use for all my bass guitar needs.

► SLR Review of Virtual Bassists
► Get Mellow, Rowdy or Royal Bass Instruments at Plugin Boutique
or grab the bundle from Ujam

Tomorrowland Elixir of EDM by DesignMyBeats
This was probably the biggest surprise to me to add to my Best of 2018 list. This Kontakt instrument is a huge range of very useful EDM and pop instruments that I found myself using constantly to add a little fresh and quirky flavor the commercial spots I scored this year.

► SLR Review of Tomorrowland Elixir of EDM
► Get Tomorrowland Elixir of EDM at  DeisgnMyBeats

Dronar Rolling Percussion Module by Gothic Instruments
This was another big surprise to make my Best of 2018 list. Although I have been a fan of the entire Dronar Module series, this is probably the most focused collection of samples in the hybrid engine and is perfect for creating tension and thrilling underscore.

► SLR Review Dronar Rolling Percussion Module
► Get Dronar Rolling Percussion Module from Time + Space

 

Swedish award-winning composer, Walid Feghali has composed orchestral film scores for feature films and games, trailer music placements in many Hollywood campaigns (Independence Day 2, Warcraft, Starcraft 2, Call of Duty). Walid also teaches music and design courses and is the co-founder of the online education company Evenant.

R4 by Exponential Audio 
Created to be easy to use with a minimal load on your computer, R4 is full of character and outdoes all the classics.

Cinematic Studio Brass by Cinematic Studio Series
Alex Wallbank leads a fantastic team that has been delivering powerful, simple and slick strings since cinematic strings was first released, and now it’s time for brass. Awesome release.

► Get Cinematic Studio Brass by Cinematic Studio Series

Jaeger by Audio Imperia
Another fantastic library that delivers a full orchestral template with cool articulation and powerful sounds, and I especially like the amount of work that went into the solo voice by Merethe. Stunning!

► SLR Review of Jaeger
► Get Jaeger at Audio Imperia

Editor Brian Brylow (Composer, Sound Designer, and Producer) creates music as part of the electronic duos Parallaxe and Gorgon Nebula as well as Arpegiator. Brian probably owns more VIs than anyone I know! His Staff Picks are below:

Evolution Texas Twang by Orange Tree Samples
I have waited for what seems like forever for someone to release a Fender Telecaster library with both pickups sampled. Texas Twang is a vintage beast that gives you that revered Chicken Pickin’ sound from the bridge pickup but also has the added bonus of that creamy mellow sound of the neck pickup or a blend of the two. Pile on the Orange Tree Evolution engine and you have one of the best guitars of all time in your arsenal.

► Get Evolution Texas Twang at Orange Tree Samples

Eric Whitacre Choir by Spitfire Audio
The Eric Whitacre Choir is the stuff that dreams are made of. Long-awaited and well worth that wait. This one actually weighs in as one of the largest libraries Spitfire ever did. With 22 Singers, 170 articulations and the familiar EVO functionality, there is literally nothing that you can’t accomplish with the Eric Whitacre Choir. Every bit as beautiful in your DAW as they are in their recordings!

► SLR Review of Eric Whitacre Choir
► Get Eric Whitacre Choir a Spitfire Audio

Ethera EVI 2.0 by Zero-G
Ethera EVI 2.0 is a cinematic and electronic Tour de Force. Featuring the amazing voice of Clara Sorace and an arsenal of synthesis, this library is fitting for Vocal construction, electronic, cinematic and ambient uses. Every Ethera library release has been better than the last and this one pushes the boarders of “what can they do to up the game?”

► SLR Review of Ethera EVI 2.0
► Get Ethera EVI 2.0 at Time + Space

 

 

Karél Psota was kind enough to share his nest of 2018 picks with us. Karél creates sound design for sample libraries and has credits for dozens of trailer scores including Avengers Infinity War, Justice League and many many more. Karél also is the instructor for the Evenant Online Course “Trailer Sound Design”.

Elevate Mastering Bundle by Eventide
Whether it’s sound design, trailer music or pop music, my mastering chain consists of a multiband compressor catching low peaks so that my limiter doesn’t distort. Then if I want to get really loud, I’ll use some transient design going into a clipper. The transients are so short that the ear doesn’t catch the clipping distortion.

Elevate is so great because it does all that in one, and is more transparent than my current mastering chain. Also, the 26 bands offer some ridiculous tweaking for the advanced users. For example, I can choose to emphasize transients on a selected band pre-clipping. That’s great to restore low-end punch on a compressed trailer hit.

► Get the Elevate Mastering Bundle from Plugin Boutique

 

 

Shaun is a Canadian composer for film, TV and video games who studied at University of Southern California’s Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television graduate program. He currently resides in Los Angeles with his cat Bogie.

Voices Of Wind Adey by Soundiron
I’d argue that Voices Of Wind Adey is the most realistic solo vocal library on the market.

► SLR Review of Voices of Wind Adey
► Get Voices Of Wind Adey from Soundiron

Aeterna – Eclipse expansion by Wide Blue Sound
Of all the amazing instruments and products to be released in 2018, perhaps my favourite of all has to be the Aeterna expansion for the already immensely powerful Eclipse. Though Eclipse was not released this year, Aeterna gives it new life and bite with a huge collection of new patches perfect for trailers, action, and chaos.

► Get Aeterna – Eclipse expansion at Wide Blue Sound

Emmett Cooke shares his guest picks for the best of 2018. Emmett is a Berklee College of Music grad and has composed hundreds of scores for adverts, films and corporate videos.

Sponge Piano by Sound Dust
Like all Sound Dust libraries, this has a really unique and unusual sound. It has a beautiful thumpy attack which when combined with the built in arpeggiator, creates some really fun textures

► SLR Review of Sponge Piano
► Get Sponge Piano at Plugin Boutique PLUS Earn Virtual Cash

Auras by Slate & Ash
I was looking for a reason to get a ROLI keyboard and AURAS was it. Whenever I want an expressive pad or texture, I always reach for AURAS first as it has a stunning selection of sounds that you really can’t find in other libraries

► SLR Review of Auras
► Get Auras at Plugin Boutique PLUS Earn Virtual Cash

Shimmer Shake Strike by In Session Audio
Whenever I’m writing production music, I find myself using this on at least 70% of my tracks! Shimmer Shake Strike definitely captured the human element of the performances and its the only library I use now for shakers or struck percussion.

► SLR Review of Shimmer Shake Strike
► Get Shimmer Shake Strike at Plugin Boutique PLUS Earn Virtual Cash

 

Raymond has a BFA in Music Composition and specializes in playing live improvisational “space music” heavily influenced by Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and Radio Massacre International utilizing VSTs alongside his collection of hardware synths.

Christopher Young – The Collection for Kontakt by 8DIO
Finally, a library for the truly adventurous!! The Collection includes Textural World & Orchestral Touch and, when used in combination, can produce some of the most unique sounding and avant-garde music imaginable. The ability to stretch samples and create your own Impulse Responses (IR) just enhances the sound potential of this great, esoteric library.

► SLR Review of Christopher Young – The Collection for Kontakt
► Get Christopher Young – The Collection for Kontakt at .8DIO

The Stand for VPS Avenger by Triple Spiral Audio
VPS Avenger is one of the most powerful virtual synthesizers on the market yet, hardly anyone develops expansion packs for it. Well, along comes Triple Spiral Audio with a sample library that, quite frankly, blew my mind!! This is such an incredibly versatile library, with so many interesting and unique patches, that I guarantee it will keep you immersed for days on end pushing your creative imagination into new places.

► SLR Review of VPS Avenger
► Get The Stand for VPS Avenger at Triple Spiral Audio
► Get VPS Avenger at Plugin Boutique

 

Craig Peters is the Guitarist/Composer for Destroying The Devoid and Deeds of Flesh. He is currently the Press Relations and Social Media Manager for Soundiron Sampling.

Hyperion Strings Micro by Soundiron
With it’s sharp and dry sound, this library has been a great layering tool with other libraries.

► SLR Review of Hyperion String Micro
► Get Hyperion String Micro from Soundiron

Rhythmic Odyssey: David Oliver by Soundiron
David did an amazing job with these drum performances allowing me to quickly program more tribal or ethnic style music on the fly!

► SLR Review of Rhythmic Odyssey
► Get Rhythmic Odyssey from Soundiron

Modern & Massive by Getgood Drums
This has been my go-to kit for getting huge drum sounds in my pre-production tracks.

► Get Modern & Massive by Getfood Drums

Alex Mueller is an award-winning composer and violist based in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Absynth Jura by The Unfinished
This was a limited release in March of 2018 by The Unfinished. All proceeds went to Women’s Aid. Basically it is a set of 90+ really interesting dynamic pads. There are only a few patches that work as leads, the bulk of the library being evolving sci-fi soundscapes that have a cinematic feel. The set is a little reminiscent of Bladerunner and Tangerine Dream, with a good selection of dark tension as well as shimmery splendor. It works really well alongside orchestra because of the spacial aspects to the pads and how the textures develop and change.

Vertigo Strings by Cinematique Instruments
This is a multi-timbral instrument containing 16 instruments that goes far beyond the organic string sound, probably best thought of as a synth which draws its source material from the string section. It excels at suspenseful swells and sustained brooding textures, so of course it found its way into my template straight away. I particularly enjoy the presets Vertigo and Orion (they are dissonant) and adding infinite reverb to them is pretty fun. The UI displays all 16 layers in one window where you can adjust the levels and detune each one individually, which makes it very good for tense “peeling” and clusters.

► SLR Review of Vertigo Strings
► Get Vertigo Strings at Cinematique Instruments

Raborn Johnson is a musician and film composer who has been turning in some terrific reviews.

Century Strings Bundle by 8Dio
I would be hard-pressed to think of a sample library that I like better or use more than the Century Strings Bundle by 8Dio. This library has the best tone and set of articulations of any of the string libraries I own (and that’s a relatively large number!). The shorts are crisp and clean, the longs are beautiful and well-programmed, and the arcs are simply gorgeous and unlike anything I have heard from any other string library. This is definitely my favorite library from the past 365 days.

► SLR Review of Century Strings Bundle
► Get Century Strings Bundle at 8Dio

Forzo Modern Brass by Heavyocity
There are plenty of brass libraries available right now with more being offered on a regular basis. However, I don’t know of a single brass library that offers the flexibility and sonic depth of Forzo Modern Brass by Heavyocity. In Forzo, well-recorded ensemble brass meets, what is in my opinion, the best sound design engine available. The traditional brass articulations on offer here are great, but they are merely the tip of the iceberg within Forzo. The Brass Designer and Loop Designer within Forzo make this brass library a treasure trove of sound design possibility and allow you to create everything from otherworldly pads to driving rhythmic pulses. You could literally score an entire film with this library alone. There is simply nothing else like it. Fan-freaking-tastic!

► SLR Review of Forzo Modern Brass
► Get Forzo Modern Brass at Plugin Boutique

Next are the picks from contributor T.M.K Davis. Tim has been playing keyboards and drums for 20 years and composing orchestral music for about 10 years. He has his bachelor’s degree in music production with a focus on video game scoring and commercial music.

Shreddage 3 by Impact Soundworks
This is a great sounding product and Impact Soundwork’s years of experience at crafting playable virtual guitars is evident the second this instrument loads up. This is truly a new era of Shreddage guitars.

► Get Shreddage 3 at Impact Soundworks

Herz-OG by Zero-G
Herz-OG was an absolute pleasure to review and it is an instrument that I still use in my compositions. I would highly recommend this one to anyone looking for a great sounding, affordable synth.

► SLR Review of Herz-OG
► Get Herz-OG at Time + Space

Steve Blizin is a producer, sound designer, audio engineer and composer. He has been creating loop-based music for nearly 20 years

Arcade by Output
Arcade gets my nod for “Best of 2018” which saw subscription based web-access, sample and loop products launch throughout the year. Arcade stands out as the only playable product in the bunch and frankly, it just worked for me. They call it a “loop synthesizer.” I call it a deadline keeper. Each time I opened Arcade to start a project, I ended up with a finished project – sometimes in under an hour! Other subscription based products force you to preview, buy, download and install – then use the samples. Arcade cuts to the chase as it is constantly updated with new content that just magically appears for you. Did I mention you can import your own loops, too? It’s the perfect hybrid of a playable instrument and loop library at once. Projects can be loaded by style, giving you fast access to cultivated sounds that are meant to be combined with each other. For less than the cost of a six pack of craft beer each month, you could be crafting your own tunes! But don’t take my word for it, try it out for 14 days for FREE!

► Get Arcade at  Output
► Review of  Arcade

Session Guitarist – Electric Sunburst by Native Instruments
Though Electric Sunburst was released way back in February of 2018, it’s turned out to be one of the best buys of the year as it keeps turning up in a lot of my tracks. This is the 3rd installment of the Session Guitarist series and hands down, my favorite among the three titles. While other libraries offer more detailed controls, this little package does what it does very convincingly. When I need to add a smattering of guitar to a synth-heavy composition, Electric Sunburst is often my first – and last stop.

► Get Session Guitarist – Electric Sunburst at Native Instruments

Soundly by Soundly
Soundly is a web-based Sound Effects browser. Unlike the other web-based loop and sample libraries that sprang forward in 2018, Soundly relaunched itself with the ability to preview, drag and drop and purchase sound effects directly through it’s interface and import them into your projects. Yeah, I know. It’s cool, right? Soundly may not be for everyone but for sound designers and producers looking for lightning fast way to organize sound files, Soundly can make massive SFX collections manageable again. Plus, you can access and download new sounds on the fly. Looking for a very specific sound, like say, “the cassette deck door of a 1983 Aiwa Boom Box,” Soundly will turn up audio search results faster than you can boot up your 3rd hard drive – so you can stay focused on work. You can go pro with a $14.95 per month subscription fee giving you instant access to over 10,000 professional sound effects or, you can use the service for free without all the professional SFX. Soundly will speed your work flow so you can spend time on important stuff. You know, like those funny videos of cat’s swatting things off of desktops. See? Contrary to popular belief, I am not a robot.

► Get Soundly at Soundly

MCR is a working composer/producer who pitches relentlessly and hasn’t had a vacation in longer than he can remember. He owns Melodikiln, a company specializing in media for film, TV and corporate clients and is also the founder of OffOffIndie, a small independent record label.

Doom 1.1 by Sampletraxx
Why Sampletraxx? Especially in a year where there was a flurry of releases form heavyweights like Spitfire, Sonuscore and many others. Which, don’t get me wrong, were great, especially the Spitfire stuff. But I love all of Alessandro’s libraries. They are eminently usable and very reasonable price-wise for what you get (not always the case with some of the big dogs). Doom is special. It’s figured in so many of my pieces this year, that I’ve lost count. I’ve used it either as underscore accents, as added layers to the sound design i’m building, or in buildups. It’s just one of those tools that can be used again and again.

► SLR Review of Doom
► Get Doom 1.1 at Sampletraxx

8Dio Legion Series – 66 Basses by 8Dio
I love this library. Again not one that you would automatically pick as a must have, but i can’t remember in how many places i have used it to reinforce the bottom end of my pieces. Since i work mostly in Trailers, deep, rich, sonorous bass is essential. 66 Basses provides that in spades. And because it’s made up of actual samples of 66 real basses, you get all the analog warmth and twang and grit that adds so much colour to any patch or cue. Again, not an obvious choice, but a definite part of my palette.

► SLR Review of 8Dio Legion Series – 66 Basses
► Get 8Dio Legion Series – 66 Basses at  8Dio

 

See all past Staff Picks Posts