Best Orchestral VST Plugins of 2020 – Ultimate Picks

Symphonic orchestras were always linked with luxury and glamour. Their performance was considered as the biggest thing in the music world and everyone wanted to be a part of such an event and Orchestral VSTs maintained such a reputation. We can’t imagine a blockbuster movie that doesn’t include a couple of orchestral tracks.

Comparison Chart of the Best Orchestral VST Plugins

IMAGEPRODUCT
  • Award winning collection of 680GB orchestral sounds
  • Every orchestral instrument and percussion included
  • Solo mode for harp, violin and cello
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  • Pioneer of orchestra VST
  • Built-in FX and mastering tools
  • Grand piano and synth engines included
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  • Top-notch quality of real symphonic orchestra
  • Samples recorded in 3 microphone positions
  • Create your favourite articluations preset
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  • Beginners-friendly orchestra VST
  • Well organized presets for a quick start
  • Low-CPU software - ideal for live
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  • Unprecedent brass playing realism
  • Available in solo and ensemble mode
  • Samples of rare brass instruments included
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  • Hundreds of percussion sounds
  • Very useful Note Repeat feature
  • Intelligent Patch Browser system
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  • Detailed sample library of alternative flutes and horns
  • Dozen of articulations per instrument
  • Expressive low range
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  • Realistic articulation choices
  • Different type of finger plucks and harmonics
  • 194 natural glisses recorded by professional player
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  • Biggest strings sample library on the market
  • Two ensemble size selection
  • Various convolution reverb impulses
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  • Basic set of four most used woodwinds
  • Fast note repetitions recorded in different tempos
  • Available in solo and ensemble version
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What Makes a Great Orchestral VST

Orchestral VSTs are very popular software. They come in many solutions, so let’s see what key features make a difference between them:

Sampling Varieties

Every sound you’re about to play is recorded in the same way you would record a real orchestral instrument. And that’s not all - every note has been recorded several times not just in different dynamics, but multiple outtakes, too. The reason for this approach is because when you play a real instrument, the same note sounds different every time. Applying a round-robin feature allows us to reach an advanced stage of realism as it significantly reduces the chance to play the same sample twice in a row.

Interface

Orchestral VST can be really complex in terms of editing and navigating. It’s not so easy to design an intuitive menu that will capture all the settings and make it comprehensive for both beginners and professional users. That’s why you should always favor orchestral software with a good user interface.

Presets

Let’s be completely honest - the vast majority of Orchestral VST users aren’t professional conductors. That’s why providing useful and numerous patches as a starting point is crucial for this software. Well-designed presets can save you a lot of time so you can focus on scoring instead.

Aspects to Consider Before Buying 

Before you buy, here are some of the things you should consider first as it can help you a lot with buying the right VST for your needs:

Genre

What’s your purpose of buying such a VST? Some orchestral libraries are more oriented toward classical music scoring, while others excel for cinematic soundtracks thanks to carefully designed presets and dynamic ranges with well applied DSP effects.

Computer Requirements

You should be aware of your computer specifications because these VSTs ask a lot of resources in terms of storage space, processor power, and RAM memory. As these VSTs are actually huge sample-based libraries, solid-state drive installation is recommended for faster loading time.

However, just in case your computer isn’t so up-to-date some light (compact) versions or special CPU-friendly Orchestral VSTs designed for live performance might work just fine for your needs.

Budget

Purchasing a premium version of Orchestral VST can cost a lot. Unless you have a Hollywood movie waiting for your audio tracks, the truth is that you probably don’t need it and that you’re going to do just fine with standard packs. Also, most Orchestral VST developers left you with an option to upgrade so you may invest in it later.

Review of the Best Orchestral VST Plugins

We will present you some of the best orchestral plugins out there, but in case you would like to get the best from each orchestral section, we will provide you with the individual section choices as well:

PROS

  • Recorded at 5 different microphone positions
  • Bundled from EastWest Hollywood instrument series
  • Powerful effects engine with convolution reverb included
  • Solo instrument expansion available as an add-on purchase
  • Award-winning symphonic orchestra with unprecedented realistic sound

CONS

  • Incredibly large - requires 680 gigabytes of storage space

Features and Specifications

This software is made from different Hollywood series instruments - strings, brass, woodwinds, and percussions. It comes at an incredible size of 680 gigabytes recorded in a professional environment with 5 different microphone positions that can be further balanced to your taste.

This VST works under PLAY software that’s capable of creating a wide dynamic range and expressiveness of natural articulations. To make a step closer to reality, a convolution reverb is applied throughout the whole bundle so all the instruments will have the same type of effect.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This is one of the most CPU-demanding VSTs on the market. It was designed for demanding and uncompromised scoring and that’s why all the features and edit options that you can think of are probably available here. They even went a step further and created an expansion pack with solo instruments only which may come handy if you need a harp, cello, or violin.

It’s also wonderful that EastWest decided to apply a cloud subscription model, so you can pay a low monthly fee and use this and many other software on ComposerCloud for just a fragment of what you would pay in total.

PROS

  • Powerful FX and mastering section
  • Advanced mixing and edit interface
  • Complete symphonic orchestra solution
  • Grand piano and synth engines included
  • Various articulations with assignable key switching

CONS

  • Might be complicated for newbies
  • Presets could be organized more intuitively

Features and Specifications

This symphonic orchestra library comes in almost 60 gigabytes of high-definition samples with more than 2.700 stereo instruments recorded in many different articulations (legatos, pizzicatos among others) and all the dynamics from ppp to fff.

Mixing interface has some advanced routing so you can use up to sixteen different channels and up to four insert effects per channel. This section also includes four stereo effect return channels and a dedicated master channel with up to five insert effects and all instruments can be panned in the stereo image.   

Why it Stands Out to Us

This VST is capable of sounding like a true symphonic orchestra recording thanks to the powerful effects section accompanied by the great T-Racks mastering tool and sampling engine taken from the IK Multimedia award-winning SampleTank 3.

While you will definitely use solo instruments at some point, there are also a couple of other instruments that usually go with symphonic orchestra such as grand piano, harpsichord, marimba, vibraphone or glockenspiel and on top of that, there are even some synth engines so that you can flavor your overall orchestral sound with additional background layers.

PROS

  • Smooth filters and excellent convolution reverb
  • Ability to make a favorite articulations and instruments
  • Intelligent implementation of round-robin performance
  • Top-notch sampling quality of the real symphonic orchestra
  • Recorded in 3 microphone positions at a 24-bit sound resolution

CONS

  • Too many options for new users
  • No option to change the seating order

Features and Specifications

The symphonic orchestra was recorded at 3 microphone positions - close, stage, and hall, and output can be balanced with different levels of these sources. You could also swap left and right channels completely and apply conversion from stereo to mono.

Speaking of sound, Eastwest applied an intelligent release trail engine so that all the notes stop at the same time. Articulations are placed on key switches and can be turned on by simply pressing the key. They can be organized in a way that seems most appealing to you.

Why it Stands Out to Us

For a long period, this was the EastWest finest symphonic orchestra. It was used in soundtracks of many movies and series and while Hollywood Strings went a step ahead there is nothing wrong we can say about this VST. It sounds great, it’s just that EastWest went a step ahead to bring even more realism to the software instruments.

This version is a little bit cheaper and while it can be used in cinematic scoring, it has a slightly more mellow character compared to the new Eastwest software which may be just ideal for your projects or classical composing.

Best Compact Orchestral VST:
Garritan Instant Orchestra

PROS

  • Minimal hardware requirements
  • Intuitive and fast-working user interface
  • Well organized ensemble presets for a quick start
  • Orchestral VST made with beginner-friendly approach
  • Atonal and dissonant special orchestra effects included

CONS

  • Doesn’t provide a 32-bit version
  • Orchestral runs would come handy

Features and Specifications

Garritan Instant Orchestra comes with an approach so that anyone could use orchestra sounds. Presets are well-organized and you can even pick the preset based on the mood you would like to achieve.

Unlike other Orchestral VSTs, its system requirements are very user-friendly - 3GB of HDD space and 4GB of RAM memory.

This VST comes with additional sounds such as piano, pipe organ, or choirs and there are special patches that excel in the atonal and dissonant atmosphere which may be ideal for some dramatic cinematic scoring.

Why it Stands Out to Us

While there are more advanced VSTs out there, this one excels in simplicity without compromising the sound quality too much.

The truth is that there are some genres such as hard rock or heavy metal where you would prefer to do something fast as the sound focus won’t be that much oriented towards orchestral sounds and all those small details won’t be so audible.

This library is also very affordable and it won’t take up all your RAM and HDD memory so that your computer upgrade might wait a little bit more. It might be a perfect solution for your live performance, too.

PROS

  • Very realistic solution for the brass section
  • Available both as solo instruments and ensembles
  • 12 different attack variation and 5 simulated mutes
  • Approx. 8.000 samples recorded for every instrument
  • French Tuba, Sousaphone, and Euphonium samples included

CONS

  • No effects panel
  • Dedicated arpeggiator would come handy

Features and Specifications

Each section of Trumpets, Trombones, French Horn is recorded individually in three different acoustic rooms. Approximately every instrument used around 8.000 samples and dozen of articulations recorded in eight different dynamic layers.

And while the regular sound is sampled, the muted sound is modeled. This saves a lot of storage space because it uses existing samples while sounding virtually the same as the real mute sound.

Repetitions are recorded individually in 16th and 8th note resolution and there are six short articulations along with hundreds of one-shot samples.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This is a very expressive sound library that sounds Hollywood-ready if not even better than brasses available in all-in-one solutions.

You should be also aware that in case you don’t need the sound of French Tuba, Sousaphone, and Euphonium, you can find on the market a non-extended version that will offer you the same sound quality without those instruments and save you some money. But, based on our opinion, these low brass instruments are worthy companions as they were recorded with more articulations and samples than original instruments and can be considered as a highlight of the complete software.

PROS

  • Intelligent Patch Browser system
  • Note Repeat feature assignable by tempo and beat
  • 8 User-assignable stereo outputs and effects busses
  • Orchestral percussions additionally flavored for cinematic scoring
  • Hundreds of different presets and over 200 percussion instruments

CONS

  • No built-in reverb effect
  • Pre-made MIDI patterns missing

Features and Specifications​

This virtual instrument library comes with many orchestral percussion sounds in a very adaptive software layout. It allows you to route sound to eight different outputs and applies different delay, EQ, and filter amount. All samples come with round-robin and multi-velocity variations all categorized in a very intelligent preset browser.

Thanks to different parameter settings, Intelligent Rhythm Control adds a professional feel to your track and helps you with the MIDI quantization while you record along with Note Repeat that you can utilize for creating some basic percussion patterns.

Why it Stands Out to Us

These ready-to-go samples can make an instant epic vibe to your track. We love how the presets are organized not just by the movie genre and instrument class, but also on the type of scene you’re about to score.

MIDI learn feature works instantly so you can match it instantly with any part of your MIDI controller you want - pad, keyboard, mixer. Also, the IRC Gate feature is a nice addition to make your playing sound more organic, and, for that purpose, we find it essential that both filter and amp page provides you with the five-stage envelope editing.

PROS

  • Ideal companion for VSL Woodwind I software
  • Very expressive and authentic low range sounds
  • Excellent additional tool for large orchestral scores
  • High-definition pack of solo woodwind instruments
  • Up to 12 different articulations captured per instrument

CONS

  • Flute 2 could be provided with an ensemble version
  • No bundle price for Woodwind I & Woodwind II available

Features and Specifications

Another VSL woodwind library pack provides you with more wind instruments that are part of every symphonic orchestra such as piccolo and alto flute and another timbre of the regular flute. 

Clarinet collection is also completed thanks to soprano and bass clarinet provided and to complete the offer you are getting Viennese oboe and horn, contrabassoon, all captured in numerous articulations and velocities. 

Why it Stands Out to Us

Combining this product with VSL Woodwinds I will satisfy all your woodwind needs for many years to come. It’s amazing how realistic it may sound, especially regarding the low range of bass clarinet and contrabassoon, while both flutes from this pack may find a place in your cinematic scoring due to its specific sound traits.

It’s also worth mentioning that you may purchase every instrument from this pack individually and that there is also a special pack of additional woodwinds not usually found in other Orchestral libraries such as Bass Flute, Contrabass Clarinet and Basset Horn among others.

PROS

  • Advanced arpeggiator features
  • Sampled many harp playing techniques
  • Sample library over 30GB of wav content
  • Dozens of synth layers, various effects, and synth layers
  • Round-robin sampling for each string and dynamic range

CONS

  • Not so many different pre-made presets
  • Slightly expensive for harp-only virtual instrument

Features and Specifications

This 47-string grand concert pedal harp virtual instrument library was sampled in more than ten thousand files and it took more than 30 gigabytes to capture all the details using state-of-art microphones. It was captured from three microphone positions (front, rear, and overhead) and you can mix it further to your needs, including different effects routing as well.

Most playing techniques were recorded such as various plucks (xylophonic, finger pad, fingernail, soft or hard harmonic) and almost two hundred natural glisses in nineteen different scales by a professional harp player.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Soundiron provided even 8 round-robin variations for every dynamic layer to make it sound as natural as possible. The interface is so simple to use thanks to the many assist features provided.

We especially approve the included arpeggiator as it’s somewhat essential to get most from this type of instrument. It is specially designed for this software, so, if you want something different from hundreds of pre-recorded glisses, this arpeggiator seems to be very inspiring and you can get great results easily. And since it uses the same convolution reverb IR samples so you can match the sound with other Soundiron products instantly.

PROS

  • Two ensemble sizes selection
  • Straight-forward key switching interface
  • One of the biggest string orchestral library on the market
  • No less than 32 articulations and 8 dynamic layers available
  • Powerful DSP-Effects and 2 convolution reverb with 63 impulse responses

CONS

  • No solo string instruments available
  • User interface could be more intuitive

Features and Specifications

This string ensemble library was created from a pool of more than 120.000 samples and then carefully mixed and panned to create an ensemble sound.

Every instrument has at least 32 different articulations and even includes loose and tight pizzicato techniques and the Effects panel is capable of some amazing sound design thanks to dozens of IR samples of convolution reverb.

However, if you would need the same expression of these instruments in solo variation, you should check out Chris Hein Solo Strings Complete product.

Why it Stands Out to Us

It’s not that often that we see an option to pick a different ensemble size for a string orchestral. It’s useful because both sizes have their fortes. Full size will achieve that instant epic dramatic sound from the first bow stroke, while small size will create more melodic lines, suitable for intimate atmosphere necessary for scores that require passion and delicacy.

In case you would want to create an even fuller sound, the Ensemble Maker feature allows you to maintain the original sound character by simply doubling the number of players and spreading them across the stereo image.

PROS

  • Fits perfectly with VSL Woodwind II library
  • Fast note repetitions recorded in several tempos
  • Orchestral library of four main woodwind instruments
  • Samples available in both solo and ensemble variations
  • Up to 12 different articulations captured per instrument

CONS

  • Complex edit interface
  • No bundle offer for Woodwind I & II

Features and Specifications

This orchestral library captured the finest samples of four main woodwind instruments - flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon recorded in both individual and three-player ensemble takes.

13 different articulations were recorded with all the dynamic transitions and velocities. Fast repetitions were recorded in different tempos from the scratch including triplet variations, while scale runs were recorded at two speeds and in both chromatic and all major and minor keys from C to B.

8GB of RAM and SSD drive are highly recommended and it requires some USB eLicenser protection.

Why it Stands Out to Us

It’s one of those softwares where the quality justifies the price range. VSL invested a lot of time and resources to capture the expressiveness of the woodwind instruments and hired some of the world’s best players for this purpose. This is especially audible in either slower legato repetitions or faster and expressive arpeggios run.

And, in case you like what you’re getting, check out Woodwinds II for more woodwind instruments such as piccolo, bass clarinet or alto flute. Woodwind I can cover basic woodwind arrangements but some additional instruments might be necessary for advanced orchestral scoring.

Pros and Cons of Orchestral VST Plugins 

Here’s a recap of the biggest traits and flaws for this software:

Pros

The following are some pros of this kind of orchestral VST plugins:

Advanced Realism

These days, sampling engines use a lot of horsepower so it became quite impossible to tell a difference between the same track recorded by a real symphonic orchestra and professional composer using an Orchestral VST.

Epic and Cinematic

If used properly, this type of VST can make any song sound like an epic soundtrack. If that’s what you want - (ab)use it! This is one of the first tools you will use in creating any type of cinematic soundscape.

Cons

However, it comes with some drawbacks, including:

Com​plex 

Prepare yourself for a very steep learning curve. While it can be quite easy to write down notes that sound great it can be a hell of a job to express it in a way that’s world-class starting from legato to choosing exact length or type of sustain or vibrato.

Gigantic

Unfortunately, in order to sound so huge and rich, the best Orchestral VSTs ask for almost a terabyte of storage space and at least 16GB RAM memory, so you'd better equip your computer with the best parts before accepting some demanding and detailed orchestral work.

Conclusion 

Having a sound of the real symphonic orchestra at your home studio anytime is a huge achievement we’re probably not completely even aware of. And the most fun part is that these days you can’t go really wrong with the software choice - it’s only up to your ideas, capabilities, and demands.