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Whether it’s the orchestra, R&B, soul, disco / funk, ska, or even rock, brass instruments play a special role within the context of a variety of musical settings.
Long, sustained notes make brass instruments perfect for melody and accompaniment, but their pinpoint rhythmic precision can make them an excellent choice for percussive and rhythmic stabs and shots in big band, disco/funk, and other genres.
But regardless of how you intend to use horns in your musical projects, it all begins with adding the right virtual instrument to your VST library. Here we look at the best brass VST plugins.
MOJO 2: Horn Section by Vir2 Instruments – Best Overall
There are only so many brass VSTs out there. It’s not surprising then, that at least half if not more of the available inventory focuses on composition and sound design. These are great for film and video game style applications, but they can feel a little limiting in other musical scenarios.
It’s nice to know, then, that Vir2 Instruments’ MOJO 2: Horn Section was created with pop, funk, and big band type applications in mind.
A highly versatile virtual instrument, MOJO 2: Horn Section makes it easy for you to get up and running fast. All you need to do is load up MOJO, adjust the Ensemble knob to specify the number of players you want (soloist to dectet), and begin playing on your MIDI controller. The 12 articulations are automatically loaded and are handled intelligently.
There’s even a humanizing function, smart release layers, as well as custom legato and vibrato tools running behind the scenes. Crescendos and swells also sync to host tempo automatically and can be triggered in real time.
The list of instruments includes trumpet (open, muted, piccolo), saxophones (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone), flugelhorn, trombone (open and muted), bass trombone, and clarinet. Articulations are customized to the instrument, but most have stabs, sustains, staccatos, trills, slurs, shakes, octave runs, rise to hits, falls (four lengths), doits, bends, stylistic riffs, and special effects.
Samples were recorded in 24-bit stereo with a Neve 1073, LaChapell Audio 992EG, as well as AKG, Neumann, and Coles mics.
In total, MOJO 2: Horn Section includes over 1,600 riffs, a humanize engine, character control, physically modeled vibrato, EZRoom, 12 instruments, 10 articulations, five release types, hundreds of special effects samples, and ensembles (instantly adjust between one to 10 players per instrument with adjustable stereo positioning and adjustable accuracy / sloppiness).
There are also three playing modes (polyphonic, monophonic, legato), built-in effects (three-band equalizer, compressor, saturation, distortion, chorus, reverb, delay, stereo width, limiter), remote MIDI CC control, lite patches, and individual articulation instruments.
The latest version of MOJO features a vastly improved user interface, true legato, full horn ensemble, mic positions, keynoise overlay, and an expanded FX suite.
In the video below, you get to hear multiple famous horn lines – by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Mark Ronson, and others, played through MOJO 2. This is a great way to hear what MOJO 2 is capable of!
MOJO 2 is our best overall pick, but it may be a on the pricy side for some buyers. There are other competent plugins on this list if your budget doesn’t allow for a purchase like this.
MOJO works on most Windows and Mac platforms and comes with the standalone Kontakt 5 Player application.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
FORZO Modern Brass by Heavyocity – Best Premium Option
Heavyocity’s FORZO Modern Brass aims to be your ultimate modern orchestral brass plugin, giving you access to the best cinematic John Williams and Hans Zimmer style sounds. Whether they’ve achieved and delivered on that promise is for you to decide but as our best premium pick, let’s just say it’s a strong contender for the part.
The strings were captured at Skywalker Sound along with award-winning composer Jason Graves, and Hollywood film score engineer Satoshi Mark Noguchi. To be fair, most orchestral library product descriptions read something like that.
Numerous composers have had good things to say about it though. Trevor Morris said it was the library he’s been waiting for, Garry Schyman thought it was a welcome addition to the category, and Ramin Djawadi found the sounds inspiring.
FORZO Modern Brass features 25 GB of 12 French horns, four trumpets, eight trombones (tenor, bass, contrabass), and two tubas.
With articulations like random flutters and cluster bends, you can do all kinds of things you may not have even imagined possible with other brass libraries. With the Full Ensemble NKI, you can even play the entire 26-piece brass orchestra simultaneously.
Overall, FORZO Modern Brass includes 11,475 samples, 237 snapshot presets, 57 NKAs, 107 articulations, 432 tempo-synced loops, nine NKIs, five traditional sections and full 26-piece ensemble, hybrid brass designer, brass loop designer, CYCLE page for granular and rhythmic playback, and a MACRO function for multi-parameter control.
FORZO’s user interface is decidedly artsy. It’s fun to look at, though its design does seem to sacrifice a bit of usability for design. The parameters and controls are clear enough, but the small font can make it harder to read, depending on your tolerance for such things. That said, the UI is still very navigable.
For films, TV shows, video games, and other composing and sound design needs, FORZO Modern Brass is an excellent choice.
If you’re thinking about tracking some brass for pop, rock, EDM, or other types of projects, then it’s worth thinking about how realistic you want the sound to be, because sometimes too much realism can be hard to deal with, especially when surrounded in a mix by more inorganic elements. Some of the other options on this list might be a better choice if you’re not composing for media.
But what you will discover in the video below is that FORZO is effortlessly huge, atmospheric, and even synth-like, when called upon for sound design type tasks.
FORZO Modern Brass is available for Windows and Mac and requires Kontakt Player 5.8 or later. You can find it on Plugin Boutique.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
Hyperion Brass Micro by Soundiron – Best Budget Option
Soundiron’s Hyperion Brass Micro has been positioned as a “universal” chamber orchestral bass library. With an emphasis on balance, Soundiron sought to create a virtual instrument with humanism, refinement, flexibility, utility, and realism.
As you may have guessed, Hyperion Brass Micro is the simplified version of Hyperion Brass Elements (appearing later in this guide). And just like its parent, it comes with many of the same features, and has been designed with instant gratification in mind.
Micro comes with a combo ensemble preset, as well as four master section presets for six trumpets, four tenor trombones, four French horns, and three tubas.
Overall, Micro includes five master and legato section presets, articulations (sustains, simulated legato, staccatos, triple tongue, dynamic expressions), 1.1 GB of content, 2,936 samples, 24-bit, 48 kHz stereo lossless NCW format, and multi-dynamic staccato and staccatissimo with 4x round-robin.
You also get expressions with varying lengths, timings, and dynamics (crescendos, decrescendos, swells) with time-stretching, tempo synching, and automatic release, soundstage positioning, adaptive play assist and arpeggio systems.
Hyperion Brass Elements is quite competent, and Hyperion Brass Micro is obviously in the same ballpark, so at this price point it’s a shoo-in for our best budget option.
Hyperion Brass Micro works on Windows and Mac and requires the latest version of Kontakt Player.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
ANALOG BRASS & WINDS by Output
ANALOG BRASS & WINDS is an unconventional virtual instrument for unconventional composers and producers. Blending orchestral sounds with vintage synthesizers, this virtual instrument puts innovative brass and wind sounds at your fingertips to employ as you see fit.
In creating ANALOG BRASS & WINDS, Output sampled an 18-piece brass section, 18-piece wind section, as well as soloists. All this was captured at the BMC Hall in Budapest, complete with stabs, flutters, trills, and other outside the box techniques.
But it obviously doesn’t end there. Output also selected some of the best vintage and modern synths with amazing brass and wind sounds to give you access to new textural possibilities.
All these sounds can be shaped using the advanced modulation routing, dual tape loopers, dual arpeggiators, flux sequencing, as well as four macro sliders.
All in all, ANALOG BRASS & WINDS features 500+ presets, a 28 GB sound library, tempo sync, a dual-layer engine, preset menu with smart tagging, four central macro sliders unique to each preset, dual arpeggiators and a built-in help menu.
Output has done an excellent job with the GUI. They’ve opted for the single accent color (tan / light brown) on a monochromatic grey background. But the controls and parameters are fun to look at and manipulate. It’s a little unconventional, just like the sounds found onboard, but we like it!
With all the sounds available here, in addition to orchestral and compositional applications, you could even use ANALOG BRASS & WINDS for song intros in rock projects, to replace boring EDM synths, add some background textural flavor to your metal projects, and more.
ANALOG BRASS & WINDS is available for Windows and Mac and requires the full version of Kontakt 5 or the free version of Kontakt 5.7.1 or higher.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
Vintage Horns by Big Fish Audio
For those who love R&B, soul, and funk from the 60s and 70s, there’s always Big Fish Audio’s rather unique entry, Vintage Horns.
In creating Vintage Horns, Big Fish Audio sought to recreate the authentic sound of 60s and 70s horns, with all the imperfections that ultimately made those sounds legendary.
Whether it’s the Philly Soul sound, Memphis horn section, JBs horn section, Detroit Soul, or Oakland Soul, you can easily recreate the best and most famous horn sections of the era using this virtual instrument.
Vintage Horns includes nine instrument patches all with key switches (for long notes, short notes, stabs, falls, swells). And for brass and reeds, there are sforzando samples too. 16 multis offer access to pre-made sections, so if you don’t want to start a new section from scratch, you can let the plugin do the thinking for you.
The UI is certainly era appropriate with a vintage feel. That said, it is a tad thrown together. It’s easy to use, sure, and the controls are clear and easy to understand. There isn’t a lot of clutter, and you shouldn’t encounter any issues with navigation.
We’re just wondering if maybe they could have gone in a different direction, making all the elements (foreground, background, etc.) fit nicely together. Graphic design is ultimately subjective, but we feel a visual overhaul could spice things up a bit.
Most of the onboard sounds are quite nice. We love the flutes especially, and the horns aren’t too bad. And, as noted earlier, they aren’t meant to be pristine or perfect. In a 60s or 70s vibe mix, they should fit perfectly.
But looking at it with a critical eye, we’re looking for a little more at this price point. It’s a nice specialty plugin, and its product description is accurate. There aren’t any alternatives that we’re aware of. But we’d still love to see it on sale.
Vintage Horns is compatible with Windows and Mac and requires Kotakt Player 5 to work.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
First Call Horns by Big Fish Audio
Big Fish Audio’s First Call Horns was tailor made for jazz, Latin, big band, rock, and pop horn applications.
Instruments include trumpets (open, muted), saxes (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone), trombones (including mutes), flugelhorn, and French horn. With solo and sections with chromatic samples, as well as riffs, combinations, and improvisations, First Call Horns truly is a powerful tool to add to your kit.
Altogether, First Call Horns comes with nine solo instruments, seven section instruments, 21 improvisation and riff patches, many articulations per instruments, eight combination patches (like Alto Sax + Trumpet + Trombone FPSwell), and Kontakt 5 Player.
Having listened to the samples, we find the horns are quite dynamic and full bodied. They sound great in a mix. Most of the sounds are a small step away from being fully authentic, though, which means a critical ear will certainly pick up on the fact that the horns aren’t real.
This isn’t much of a concern in certain scenarios, but it could be something to look out for if your project requires brass sounds that are as close to the real thing as possible.
Recording Magazine thought First Call Horns sounded fantastic, Keyboard Magazine loved the well-rounded selection of articulations and playing styles, and Electronic Musician highly recommended it.
First Call Horns works on Windows and Mac and comes packaged with the Kontakt 5 Player.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
Hyperion Brass Elements by Soundiron
Built for Kontakt Player, Soundiron’s Hyperion Brass Elements is an orchestral brass ensemble library recorded with precision, hand-edited with love, and meticulously balanced to offer the maximum musicality and quality possible. Or so the developer says.
Regardless of your need, and whether you’re a composer or a student, Hyperion Brass Elements is easy in operation, offering as much instant gratification as possible (without endless tweaking) out of the box.
But with a modular design, a sizable articulation list and articulation management tools, dynamic options, customizable acoustics, vibrato and non-vibrato, sustains, shorts, dynamic tempo-based expression, and more, there’s enough power and flexibility here for even the seasoned pro to get excited about.
For this occasion, Soundiron recorded brass ensemble sections in Studio A at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, CA, including 10 combo ensemble presets, six master and true-legato section presets for six trumpets, four tenor trombones, four French horns, three euphoniums, three bass trombones, and three tubas.
The developer also created an easy-lead feature which allows you to go from tight staccatos to dynamic sustains without having to keyswitch articulations. Play the notes on your MIDI keyboard as desired, and Hyperion Brass Elements will correctly interpret them for you.
Altogether, Hyperion Brass Elements comes with six master and legato section presets (trumpets, tenor trombones, horns, euphoniums, bass trombones, tubas), articulations (sustains, true legato, flutter tongue, staccatos, double and triple tongue, dynamic expressions), and 12,800 samples.
Also included are multi-dynamic sustains, multi-dynamic long and short staccatos, staccatissimo with loose / tight variants and 4x round-robin, a suite of expressions (crescendos, decrescendos, sforzandos, swells), soundstage positioning (with custom rooms, halls, chambers, and FX environments), as well as an Adaptive Play Assist and Arpeggio system.
Hyperion Brass Elements has a fantastic, ultra-polished Unreal Tournament style design. Soundiron has obviously done everything they can to create a visually stimulating interface, and they have succeeded in that. But they haven’t forgotten about the basics of balance, usability, or navigation, so we must applaud them for factoring in all the elements.
Overall, Hyperion Brass Elements sounds great, and it isn’t too expensive either. It’s a flexible and versatile virtual instrument offering plenty of dynamic possibilities. It would fit in nicely with orchestral music, film scoring, video games, and sound design, but it might be worth trying in other settings also.
Hyperion Brass Elements is available for Windows and Mac and requires the latest version of Kontakt Player.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
What Should I Look For In A Brass VST Plugin?
So, you know that you want and / or need a brass VST plugin (or possibly multiple plugins) for your next project. Naturally, if you need it for one project, you’ll probably need it for another in the future. That’s usually the way it goes.
But even with all the information available – product descriptions, video demos and reviews, audio samples, and more – it can still be challenge nailing down the right option for your music production, songwriting, compositional, and / or sound design needs.
Compared to some categories of plugins, like EQs, compressors, or reverbs, there are relative few brass VST plugins, but even then, one purchase can feel significant, as the average price for a brass VST plugin is about $200.
Well, don’t sweat it. Because we’ve identified the main things you should be thinking about when shopping for a brass VST plugin. If you’re lost, we can help.
Here are the main factors to think about:
- Sound quality
Let’s look at each of these.
How does the virtual instrument sound?
Brass VST plugins are almost universally sample libraries, which means that their overall sound quality depends a lot on production process and technique.
To be fair, all developers represented here are quite competent at what they do. They attempt to use the best players, producers, rooms, microphones, converters, compressors, mixing consoles, etc. to achieve the best possible results.
Something like Vintage Horn is designed to give you more of a 60s and 70s style imperfect sound, versus some of the other options, which will give you pristine quality brass. This is worth mentioning because it is also a matter of sound quality.
How you intend to use the virtual instrument is going to factor quite heavily into your buying decision, because more organic, realistic, and authentic sounding instruments aren’t great for every mix, and neither are more imperfect, inorganic, less realistic sounding instruments. At the end of the day, it depends on what you’re looking to create.
But rest easy because it’s unlikely that there isn’t a solution matched to your needs.
Brass VSTs, for the most part, though, fall under one of two categories. The first is the cinematic style horns, and the second is pop, big band, jazz, etc. Vintage Horns could be considered a subset of the second category, given that it’s going for more of a vintage sound within the context of popular genres.
Knowing this, the selection process gets considerably easier. There isn’t a lot of thinking that needs to go into it if you know there are two basic categories of brass virtual instruments (though, again, there is the odd exception like ANALOG BRASS & WINDS, because in addition to real brass sound material, there’s also vintage synth brass sound material included).
So, as you’re shopping for a brass virtual instrument, be sure to select one that’s most applicable to the types of projects you plan to be working on. There’s nothing wrong with breaking convention, of course, but in music it always pays to know what rules you’re breaking before you start breaking them.
In this case, features might include things like the number of instruments, articulations, round robins, dynamics, effects, and the like.
Obviously, not every plugin is created equal. Some come with more, some come with less. Cross referencing product descriptions and feature lists will give you a bit of an idea.
Depending on the library there are also more samples and presets. Some, like ANALOG BRASS & WINDS even have vintage synth sounds in addition to recorded brass sections (and the ability to combine them in fascinating ways).
Before you consider features, it would be wise to consider sound quality first. Adding sprinkles to a badly made cake doesn’t make it a better cake – it just covers up the mistakes! As much as possible, you want to start with a solid core before adding all the ornaments.
All the VST plugins mentioned here, fortunately, are competent in their own way, and some are even amazing. So, you’re not going to end up with a bad product.
But consider sound quality first and features second. Features are not unimportant, but they probably won’t factor as heavily into your buying decision given that you must be satisfied with the raw sound of a virtual instrument to want to work with it in the first place.
Also consider that while it’s nice to have effects and sound design material, you really could develop your own effects chains or layer, reverse, and tweak multiple sounds to create your own sound design material.
It obviously saves you a lot of time to have all these features, but if it’s not in the budget right now, you can make do without. Speaking of budget, it’s next up to bat…
Don’t expect to save too much when shopping for a brass VST plugin. While you can find some budget options in the $50 range, most are $200 and up, and the most expensive options are in the $550 range. If you end up buying multiple brass VSTs, you could easily end up spending a pretty penny.
This doesn’t mean you’ve got to spend a lot to get the best, but all things being equal, usually you do get more when spending more.
Either way, your budget is a great device for filtering out options that aren’t practical for you right now. If money’s not an object, then you’re free to do as you wish. Otherwise, we always recommend spending responsibly.
Most importantly, don’t go into debt for music related purchases. We want you to enjoy a long, productive, and prosperous music career without mounting financial pressures taking away from your creativity and passion.
Top Brass VST Plugins, Final Thoughts
Were you able to find your ideal brass VST plugin? Armed with everything you now know; it shouldn’t prove too difficult.
Ultimately, there aren’t too many options out there, but the ones that are available are quite competent, and some are even great. So long as you take the time necessary to do your own homework – watch some video demos and reviews, listen to samples, read the product descriptions – you generally can’t go wrong with these!
Once you’ve found the right fit, download it, install it, and start messing around with it. Knowing how to use your gear is well over half the battle. A good chunk of music production work, in fact, comes down to experience and knowhow.