Sonuscore and Best Service pair an orchestral library with electronic textures and patterns to deliver the best of both worlds.
When it comes to sample libraries of cinematic sounds, European developer Sonuscore is quite the prolific powerhouse. They’re the creative force behind Native Instruments’ Action Strikes, Action Strings, Emotive Strings, and Symphony Series: Percussion. They have an impressive and growing catalog for other developers, as well. Two recent additions—The Orchestra Complete and Elysion, created for and exclusively distributed by Best Service—are the focus here. Both libraries require Kontakt 6.2.1 or higher, but they also run in the free Kontakt Player—good news if you haven’t made the leap from Kontakt 5.
The Orchestra Complete (TOC hereafter) is an update to the original The Orchestra library. It’s intended as an all-in-one orchestral collection, whereas Elysion is billed as a synth- and hybrid-oriented “twin” to TOC. To be clear, these are separate titles, but they certainly complement each other nicely.
TOC and Elysion offer a compelling set of compositional tools that stand apart from anything else on the market, thanks largely to the cleverly designed Ensemble Engine. This is a MIDI processor built using Kontakt’s KSP scripting engine. It allows you to create convincing, fully orchestrated phrases in TOC or complete hybrid soundtrack textures in Elysion, simply by holding down a key or two on your MIDI controller. Cheating? Magic? No, but you will undoubtedly be surprised by how easily and intuitively TOC and Elysion can render ultra-professional results, either on their own or when combined—truly brilliant.
In a crowded field of orchestral libraries, TOC takes a decidedly different approach that helps it stand out from the competition in several key ways. For starters, TOC forgoes multiple microphone perspectives in favor of a simplified, single stereo perspective that has a decent amount of room character “baked in” to the sound. Although critics may cite the lack of ambience control, by not providing multiple sample sets of the same material, TOC is able to maintain a relatively small file footprint weighing in at just under 11GB—especially handy for mobile rigs.
Each of the orchestral sections was sampled in position, giving them an appropriately “wide-screen” spatial relationship in terms of width and depth. TOC tends to have a forward and present sound, helping the instruments cut through in a dense mix. It can be reigned in if necessary, though.
For additional room character, convolution reverb is onboard. It features ten impulse responses that have been sampled from “different legendary effects processors.” I was impressed by all of the reverbs, particularly with Concert Hall 1 and Medium Halls 1–3. That said, I do wish the impulse responses were available as separate audio files so I could use them in other convolution reverb plug-ins. This would make it easier to place other sample libraries in the same space as TOC. (Perhaps in a future update? Fingers crossed.)
Another point of differentiation is TOC’s scope of instruments and articulations. Best Service’s original The Orchestra featured a basic-yet-respectable set of articulations, but it lacked certain string techniques that composers have come to expect from contemporary orchestral collections, such as sul ponticello, col legno, trills, and harmonics. All of these and more are included, courtesy of the addition of Strings of Winter (SOW), which is also available separately. TOC combines the original instruments from The Orchestra and adds everything from SOW to give you the appropriately named The Orchestra Complete. Note that while the articulation choice is significantly expanded, there are no con sordino muted options, which is something of a miss but not a deal-breaker.
Linked below is a list of every instrument and articulation in The Orchestra Complete compared with the original The Orchestra and Strings of Winter. As you can see, you get lots of musical material to work with.
SOW also adds high and low Morin Khuur string ensembles performing sustain, marcato, and staccato articulations. The Morin Khuur is a traditional Mongolian instrument also known as the horsehead fiddle. In TOC, it offers an edgier, lively timbre that complements the conventional string sections quite well. It also serves as an effective “layering agent,” used to good effect in the aptly titled Colossus Hits multi and many of the SOW Basics multis within the Orchestral Rhythms category.
Beyond what SOW brings to the table, TOC also includes a Yamaha acoustic grand piano with lid open and closed, harp, male and female choir, and a very nice set of String FX, which include crescendi, falls, hits, and rises—perfect fodder for tension, horror, and action cues. While the phrases don’t offer auto sync to tempo the way some dedicated effects libraries do (e.g., Native Instruments Rise & Hit), these orchestral effects greatly enhance TOC’s versatility and represent another way in which it goes well beyond the basics.
Start Your Engine
TOC’s tour de force is undoubtedly the Ensemble Engine, which allows you to load as many as five instruments into a single patch and animate each instrument with one of five modulation sources. Specifically, you can assign arpeggiators 1–3 to short articulations (e.g., staccato, pizzicato, etc.) and assign envelopes 1–2 to sustained articulations to give them dynamic shapes (e.g., crescendo, diminuendo, etc.).
Each instrument has its own mixer channel with pan, solo/mute, reverb send, and stereo output assignment, which allows you to route instruments to different reverbs, EQ, or spatializing plug-ins for more control over the soundstage. Master effects include a compressor and a simple, non-programmable EQ that has two fixed presets you can choose from. While it would be nice to have more control over the EQ, it’s reasonable to expect users to apply their own EQ downstream from the virtual instrument.
The feature list above may seem unremarkable on the page, but in practice, through applying the arpeggioss and envelopes to the various orchestral sections, you can render full-sounding orchestral patterns and phrases by playing little more than one or two notes on the keyboard. The results are truly inspiring and afford a level of realism that’s sure to kick-start creativity. What’s more, TOC comes loaded with multis organized into three categories: Orchestral Colors, Orchestral Rhythms, and Animated Orchestra.
Orchestral Colors presets are practical combinations covering a range of textures and articulations that you can play dynamically with no additional Engine animation. In contrast, Orchestral Rhythms presses the Engine into high gear to create basic ostinato pulses in separate or mixed orchestral sections, while Animated Orchestra shows off the Engine’s full potential to produce colorful arrangements and interlocking patterns, which are presented as smartly titled presets that suggest their musical potential. For example, Men of War immediately conjures the thrill and excitement you would expect at the beginning of a battle scene, and Forest Queen captures the charm and lightness you might hear accompanying a scene of the English countryside.
In particular, I found these presets to be a fantastic starting point for ideas I could later flesh out using the MIDI export feature to extract the Engine’s MIDI performance data. I would then assign these parts to individual instruments and articulations based on the source patch, and then further edit and embellish to create longer passages. This approach did involve a bit of work to re-create a combination patch using separate instruments, but the rewards were worth it.
However, I did experience a few cases in which the round-robin samples didn’t trigger correctly, causing repeated notes to create the machine gun effect. Fortunately, Best Service is aware of this bug and plans a fix in a future update. Ultimately, TOC’s musical and creative possibilities outweigh this minor shortcoming, and I suspect composers of many stripes will find plenty to love with this collection.
Elysion is built on a sample set derived from acoustic and synthesized sources that have been highly processed and stylized for use in hybrid soundtrack work. Notably, Best Service sampled each source multiple times to create round-robin multisamples at multiple velocity layers (as many as five). Their intent was to create a more organic instrument compared to many other sampled-synth virtual instruments.
According to the user manual, Elysion “breaches the gap between orchestra and synthesizer.” Indeed, it has a quality that sits somewhere between purely synthesized and strictly acoustic sounds. The result is a musically satisfying and inspiring instrument that spurs creativity and invites exploration.
Adding to the thrill factor, patches are categorized into planetary themes as follows:
|Mercury “the nimble racer”||Animated, lively, diverse|
|Venus “the soulful”||Inspired, tranquil, emotional|
|Terra “source of live”||Earthly, familiar, intimate|
|Mars “the warmonger”||Aggressive, powerful, violent|
|Jupiter “illusionary giant”||Contentful, pleasant, funny|
|Saturn “the guardian”||Wise, stable, melancholic|
|Uranus “the magician”||Enchanted, shining, wonderful|
|Neptune “the planet of ice”||Mysterious, sinister, obscure|
This is a fun albeit abstract naming convention that may divide opinion, but it is useful to give you some idea of what to expect from each theme. I would prefer a more conventional approach, such as a tagging system with specific criteria, but others may find the celestial system refreshing.
The term hybrid is often used to describe sample libraries. It has come to mean many things, including epic percussion, braams, downers, risers, and impacts. Sonically, Elysion is none of these; the focus is on mostly harmonic, pitched material that’s meant to be played polyphonically, though you can wring out a wide range of animated and interesting textures from a single key. This type of instant gratification is by design.
Elysion is meant to help you make quick work of composing hybrid cues, complete with percolating arps, pulsing drones, and cutting-edge sound design. Even for experienced synthesists, creating these types of sounds can take a fair amount of work. If you have the interest and luxury of time, find the nearest rabbit hole and jump in. But if you need fresh, evocative sounds fast, this library has you covered.
Have a listen to these audio examples to get a flavor of each theme—I swept the mod wheel from low to high so you can hear the full dynamics of each patch.
As I played through Elysion’s 230+ themes, I was consistently impressed, intrigued, and excited to incorporate its sonic treasures into future tracks. The sound design and programming is absolutely first class.
As I referenced earlier, TOC and Elysion both employ Sonuscore’s clever Ensemble Engine, which has been reworked and upgraded to version 2 for Elysion. V2 allows you to use an envelope or arpeggiator for each of the five instrument slots and adds the ability to morph between two layers for each slot via mod wheel, letting you control as many as ten interleaved rhythms within one patch. There’s also a step modulator for pan and a stutter mode for the envelope, with which you can introduce rhythmic changes to the sound. A master FX section includes a multitap delay with 21 presets that offer a variety of colors, from Modern Shimmer and Analogue PingPong to Vintage Grunge and Tape Bend. Do yourself a favor and dig into these options; creative gems are here to be mined.
What’s more, each instrument slot can have up to four effects: 3-band EQ, modulation (chorus, flanger or phaser), saturation, and multimode resonant filter. The added programmability enables further tweaking beyond the factory presets, allowing you to customize the sounds to your liking. Nice!
Room to Improve
I love a lot about Elysion, but it’s not without its weak points. While it has a simple Attack/Decay envelope, it affects only amplitude, so you can’t use it to control other parameters. More critical, none of the individual sound sources are broken out into their own patches the way TOC presents instruments and articulations as separate patches. That allows you to load, say, a staccato violin patch that you can use to play back parts generated by the MIDI export feature. With Elysion, you can’t re-create the multitimbral performance as you can with TOC, which is unfortunate.
Also, the instrument doesn’t respond to sustain pedal, which I found to be problematic, because it’s common to use the pedal to aid with transitions from one chord to the next. As it is, you’ll need to perform passages without any break between notes or edit the performance afterward by extending the notes. Fortunately, Best Service is aware of this sustain behavior and plans to fix it in a forthcoming update.
Lastly, only the Hit instruments are velocity sensitive, which means the sustained instruments can be rather static if you simply want to play them polyphonically. If I could influence the next version, it would be to make it more like TOC by providing the individual sampled layers as separate patches with a typical array of synthesis parameters. This would extend Elysion into rompler territory, which may not fit with the developer’s vision, but would definitely make the instrument more musically useful.
To be fair, Best Service has demonstrated that they listen to their users. Case in point, the sustain pedal issue is fixed in TOC, and they added a truckload of new presets in a 1.1 update as I was working on this review—so I’m hopeful they will consider Elysion 1.0 a starting point for further development. It’s a wonderful virtual instrument as it is. Its expertly crafted sounds, superb programming, and premium musical aesthetic make it easy to overlook any imperfections.
The Complete Package
Both The Orchestra Complete and Elysion score high marks on many fronts and are worth serious consideration. In many ways, TOC is a great choice as a starter library or an excellent add-on to an existing collection. With its breadth of instruments and articulations, skillfully orchestrated combinations, and masterfully programmed patches, TOC is an incredible value and highly capable of creating convincing orchestral parts.
Equally formidable, Elysion is a dynamic and innovative hybrid virtual instrument that’s chock-full of inspiring pads and rhythmic pulses that would fit neatly into many genres, but especially soundtrack work. I highly recommend both, though I do wish Elysion’s instruments were available in breakout fashion.
Supported platforms: Native Instruments Kontakt, Kontakt Player (v 6.2.1 or higher)
Price: $399 (The Orchestra Complete), $229 (Elysion)