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Synth and Software Review: Kirk Hunter’s Latest String Quintet Library

Jay Asher

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Lyric Series String Quintet, Kirk Hunter’s latest string library, is designed to do one thing very well – play musical melody lines. But it also covers the basics too.

Lyric Series String Quintet consists of seven instruments and five multis: 3 violins, 1 viola, 2 Celli, 4 string quartets, and 1 string quintet.

Each instrument has seven basic articulations: long, tremolo, half step trill, whole step trill, spiccato, pizzicato, and harmonics. You can switch between them either with keyswitches or UACC (Universal Articulation Controller Channel, a standard that uses MIDI CC#32 numbers to switch articulations).

Lyric Series String Quintet requires an Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD Athlon 64XS or later, and at least Mac OS X 10.9 or Windows 7. 4GB RAM is the minimum, but 6 or more is recommended. The library requires a full version of Native Instruments Kontakt 5 or 6, i.e. it doesn’t come with a player version.

Its footprint is really small, taking up only 1.68 GB on your drive – because it’s recorded from only one mic position, my only real complaint about the library. While a stereo positioning feature does help *simulate* multiple mic positions, most libraries nowadays offer actual ones, and the single position can make integrating this with other libraries a challenge.

Loading the library into Kontakt brings up the Guarnerius Violin by default. This is one of the most iconic violins in history, and you can bring up information about it on the screen.

The interface’s main page is nice and clean. It shows the default keyswitch notes (which you can easily reassign) for the seven basic articulations, plus a momentary keyswitch for engaging portamento, as well as controls for vibrato, dynamics, and ambience.

Then you get to the advanced settings, where you can see there are two types of legato: a slurred one and a separate bowing one. Both are really well executed, and you can move between them with either keyswitches or the UACC MIDI CC of your choice.

You can also switch between normal and sul ponticello (near the bridge) tremolo. Doing this with each articulation opens access to further options to tweak.

The spiccato articulation has an interesting “Rapid Fire” feature for triggering repetitions, either manually with a MIDI controller or automatically following your DAW tempo.

By default the vibrato is pretty lush, especially in the Romantic instruments (which I like). But you have lots of control over the amount, the speed, how the vibrato fades in, even an “instant” vibrato.

The mod wheel is assigned to control the level. I love that B-1 is a momentary keyswitch note for sans vibrato until you release it. Additionally, it will fade in when released and bypass again when pressed, fading in and out naturally. (These assignments are defaults that can be changed.)

Lyric Series’ dynamics are controlled both by velocity and Expression (MIDI CC11). You can adjust the sensitivity of either as to how much it affects the dynamics, so there’s lots of flexibility.

There’s a large number of ambience types, in addition to the Large Concert Hall default. Usually the first thing I do to test a library is turn th reverb off and replace it with my own favorites, but these sound good and are very CPU-efficient. Turning the ambience off, you hear that this is a very dry library, making it easier to combine it with other libraries by adding similar ambience.

I like the Random Delay and the ability to adjust the time between bow changes, especially with the separate bowing legato. 

Lyric Series has a separate page for positioning instruments in the stereo field. You have control over panning for the instrument and its position, which adjusts the distance from the mic, which is the library’s substitute that simulates multiple mic positions. A cool thing about the panning is that it does not pan the reverb, only the instruments’ samples. 

In case you were wondering why the Longs are not named legato, the answer is apparent when you go to the Performance page. A button to turn legato off lets you play double stops without legato, which can be critical for creating a believable performances.

By default it is assigned to a toggle keyswitch note, but it turns out that with this setting on, it turns the legato off automatically when you play more than one note, then turns it back on again when you play single notes! (I personally will just leave this on.)

Lyric Series’ accents respond to velocity, but they can also be assigned to a controller, and you can adjust the maximum range. There are also settings for staccatosul tasto, and con sordino. The mutes are lovely, really nice sounding.

Left Hand Shift is an interesting and unique feature. Real string players shift their left hand when playing, especially with larger intervals and at slower tempos. It does seem to make the performance more believable, so whatever it is doing under the hood is working for me.

Instrument Noise allows you to adjust the amount of overtones and sounds the body of the instrument produces.

Human Pitch has long been a feature of Kirk Hunter string libraries, randomizing the entrance into notes to sound more like a real player. The amount of this effect can be set. If you don’t like it and would prefer a more exact pitch, you turn it off.

People used to writing for real strings tend to think of them as individual instruments – violin, viola, cello, bass – rather than a 4-voice keyboard instrument (not counting double stop). But I plan to use the multis in this library just because they sound great.

There are four different combinations of quartet instruments and a quintet. They adhere to the real ranges of the instruments and are really playable. Articulation changes are global to the multi, although ambiance settings are not.

My initial favorites are the String Quartet 1 Romantic and the Quintet.

Success? This library does what it says it sets out to do – create great-sounding melodic lines – and it does it beautifully. It also has all the other bread and butter things you need in a solo strings library.

Lyric Series is highly playable while giving you tremendous control, both in real time and after the fact, using keyswitches or UACC (see above). That applies to both real time and after-the-fact editing. The interface is well designed, clean and uncluttered, easy to read, and everything is easy to find once you are familiar with the three main pages.

Finally, the sound is great to my ears – although all my years on the Internet forums have demonstrated that this is a highly subjective assessment, and Kirk Hunter Studios has never run with the herd. It is a specific sound, and time will tell if others like it as much as I do.

Lyric Series is an excellent choice for creating musical, melodic lines with solo strings and is very worthy of your serious consideration, especially at the introductory price.

Price: $399.99 US, introductory price (time limited) $179.99

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