Review: Chris Hein Orchestra Compact
Strings, brass, and woodwinds in a single package derived from their larger, individual library counterparts.
I’ve owned a few Chris Hein libraries over the years, and three things always come to mind when I think of them: detailed—almost nerdy—control of editing parameters; ensembles built up by sampling individual players and recombining them into mixed, stereo samples; and a fairly up-close and direct sound as a result of combining individual players into ensembles rather than sampling a group of players simultaneously.
Chris Hein Orchestra Compact consists of three main orchestra groups: strings, brass, and woodwinds. The 49GB collection contains 61 instruments and approximately 140,000 samples for Native Instruments Kontakt and Kontakt Player. The more important articulations were culled from the larger selection of individual Chris Hein Orchestra libraries, available in a single collection called Chris Hein Orchestra Complete ($1,299). For consistency and ease-of-use, the same articulations are available for all instruments within each library. The instruments in Orchestra Compact also have the same dynamic range (3–8 dynamic layers) as in their larger, complete library counterpart.
The Hein Maneuver
Chris Hein’s approach to all of his orchestral libraries is similar. Without devolving into a full-on developer review beyond the scope of this article, I’ll touch on the highlights of the editing basics within each library.
All the instruments can be played legato or polyphonically. You can even play legato chords—a nice touch. Dynamics are controlled by either MIDI velocity, crossfade with an assignable MIDI CC, a combination of velocity and crossfade, and a mode called Auto X-fade with five preset curves that determine how an instrument reacts to the MIDI CC value.
You switch articulations using keyswitches. Vibrato has two modes, LFO and Auto. You can control vibrato amount and speed via assignable MIDI controllers. A transient shaper is available to increase or decrease both attack and sustain.
Two of Orchestra Compact’s most powerful features are the Ensemble settings and tonal impulse responses. Ensemble is a very simple and very effective effect. The Voices slider gives you five settings, with each incremental number doubling the number of perceived voices. The Spread slider moves these voices away from each other in the soundstage and Detune spreads out the pitch. In practice, these parameters provide a different way to create ensembles from solo instruments (or small ensembles) that sound really good.
The Body and Room IRs (impulse responses) enable a tremendous amount of tonal flexibility by providing 23 instrument variations and 40 room spaces. The Body IRs are blended in parallel on top of the raw samples and can drastically change the color and even the perceived space and distance of an instrument. The Room IRs are consistent between strings, brass, and woodwinds and cover a lot of typical spaces like studios, halls, plates, and rooms. Both Body and Room can be turned off to conserve CPU, especially in cases when an external reverb is being used.
Strings-Compact contains 14 ensemble and 14 solo patches derived from the larger Ensemble Strings and Solo Strings libraries. On the ensemble side, you get large section and small section patches for each string instrument: violins, violas, cellos, and basses. On the solo side, each section gets three or four stylistically different instruments such as Italian Violin, Romantic Cello, and German Bass.
The articulation patches for ensemble and solo instruments are exactly the same: Sustain Vibrato, Dynamic Expressive Long, Pizzicato Loose, Short 1, Short 3, Trill 1 Minor, Tremolo, Spiccato 5, and Spiccato 6. The patches that are available only in the larger libraries are also visible but grayed out. I assume this is to keep the interface consistent; however, it teases exactly what is missing in the Compact version.
The patches unavailable in Compact of note are basic Sustain, Flautando, Ponticello, Pizzicato Tight, Col Legno, Trill 2 Major, runs, and a number of others. I find the missing major trills an odd oversight. The Sustains are not looped, although they hold out for a dozen seconds or so. The key ranges extend both upward and downward beyond the playable range of the actual instruments.
The patches that are provided for both ensembles and solo strings use exactly the same samples and number of dynamic layers as in the larger libraries. So, what is included here sounds very good. You’ll find short and long options for the legato transitions, each with speed controls, and the user can easily switch between the two with keyswitches. You can also blend Tremolo and Trill with an assignable MIDI CC message.
Thanks to Chris Hein’s sampling approach, the strings are clear and up front in their presentation. Some might consider the sound edgy, but plenty of soft, distant string libraries are out there for those who want that sound. Sonically, the weakest spot with the strings is the simulated sordino, which is simply a lowpass filter that fails to convince me.
Using the smaller sections and with judicious application of the Ensemble and Detune parameters, you can create some really good variations on ensemble sounds. Blending the solos and ensemble patches together—also employing variations of Ensemble and Detune—you can create a huge variety of ensemble sizes and looseness.
The brass instruments are straightforward: three French Horns, three Trombones, three Trumpets, and ensemble patches for each. Articulations are limited to Sustain, Dynamic Expressive, Short 1, Short 2, and Short 3. You won’t find any over-the-top trailer blasts, but the soft and moderate tones are really nice.
The interface fits on a single page and does not tease the additional articulations of the Complete version. As with the strings, some flexible ensembles can be created by combining patches with different Ensemble and Detune settings.
There are no controls for the legato transitions, but using either of the velocity modes to control dynamics gives you some variation to the way notes transition. In general, I preferred Auto mode for the vibrato, especially in the trumpets.
Woodwind in Your Sails
A nice selection of woodwind instruments comprises all solo instruments: Flute Piccolo (an instrument that evidently blends the two into one), C-Flute 1 and 2, Alto Flute, Eb and Bb Clarinets, two Oboes, English Horn, two Bassoons, and a Contra-Bassoon.
Available articulations are the same as with the brass: Sustain, Dynamic Expressive, Short 1, Short 2, and Short 3. In fact, the interface is nearly identical to the brass’s interface.
In general, I find the woodwind instruments cold and not very expressive.
The tones are decent, but the flutes, in particular, are dark. The Body and Room IRs help quite a bit. Building up simple woodwind ensemble passages and the occasional solo line work in context, but creating intricate and detailed performances is largely beyond the capabilities of the woodwinds.
All Together Now
Across the board, I find Chris Hein Orchestra Compact very capable in some ways and frustrating in others. The Body and Room IRs provide a huge variety of tonal variety to all the libraries, and the Ensemble function is a winner. Thanks to so many tweaky editing capabilities, you really need to know how to get around the interface, especially for the strings. This is a library that requires you to get your hands dirty to get the best results. If you have that level of programming skill, you’ll probably bump you head on the minimal articulations provided for each instrument and will be more interested in the larger library offerings. You can get a lot done, but the Compact edition has inherent limitations to consider.
Orchestra Compact’s price is competitive, and the up-front immediacy of the Chris Hein sound is useful for composers wanting to expand their sonic palettes.
Supported platform: Native Instruments Kontakt, Kontakt Player