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From classical and pop to rock and hip-hop. Strings complement a variety of musical styles, and are used heavily in TV, film, and video game music too.
So, for most producers and composers, having access to a competent strings VST plugin (or multiple plugins) is going to be high on the priority list.
In this guide, we’ll be looking at the best strings VST plugins to add to your VST arsenal.
ANALOG STRINGS by Output – Best Overall
Output’s ANALOG STRINGS promises to be a virtual instrument in which you can take various vintage synth string sounds, full orchestral sounds, and a variety of unique sound design elements to come up with something out of the ordinary.
SCOREcast loved the sound of ANALOG STRINGS, Dubspot found it unique and cutting-edge, and Dancing Astronaut thought it was “jaw-dropping.”
In creating ANALOG STRINGS, Output deeply sampled a 60-piece string orchestra, a 22-piece orchestra, a handful of soloists, as well as some odds and ends like scratching a violin with the wrong side of a bow at the BMC Hall in Budapest.
They also captured a variety of vintage synths which were known for their string sounds. These were sampled and processed, and turned into plucks, stabs, pads, and other sounds suited to modern production.
In terms of creative sounds, they’ve included everything from tape noise and screeching guitar resonance, all the way over to sampled feedback and plucked piano.
The sound library totals 39 GB with 500 presets.
But ANALOG STRINGS isn’t just loaded with a lot of cool sounds – Output was sure to include modulation routing, dual arpeggiators, dual tape loopers, as well as flux and macro control too.
One look at the interface might have you thinking “nothing revolutionary,” or possibly even saying, “hold on a second – this thing looks weird!” And yes, in practice it is a mix of conventional with just a little bit of unusual.
So far as the GUI is concerned…
The light blue accent on grey background is simple yet classy. A quick look beneath the surface reveals an interface with nicely and logically laid out parameters just waiting to be tweaked. Although not immediately apparent from the product description, ANALOG STRINGS also comes with effects like filter, EQ, distortion, compression, delay, and reverb too.
Take advantage of the main, edit, fx, rhythm, and arp screens to access all the parameter, and use the preset menu to find sounds (there are four central macro sliders unique to each preset).
Overall, we think ANALOG STRINGS is relatively easy to use. If it’s your first plugin, then expect it to take some time to get used to, but it shouldn’t put up too much of a fight.
As for the sounds, they are perfect for modern composing and sound design purposes, be it film, TV, video game, or otherwise. That said, there’s nothing saying you couldn’t use these for everything from laid-back singer-songwriter music all the way over to rock tunes too.
With its overall versatility and quality, it seemed like an obvious choice for our best overall pick.
ANALOG STRINGS is compatible with Windows and Mac and is available at Plugin Boutique.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
NOVO Modern Strings by Heavyocity – Best Premium Option
At the name would suggest, Heavyocity’s NOVO Modern Strings was created with the intention of “making strings new again.”
ProducerSpot thought it was great sounding and deep, AskAudio said it was “genius,” and Sound on Sound found it to be a source of creative inspiration.
In creating NOVO Modern Strings, the Heavyocity team recorded orchestral strings at the Eastwood Scoring Stage at Warner Bros. Studios. Yes, the strings were deeply sampled.
Heavyocity is quick to point out, though, that this is where its similarity with other similar string packs ends. Its built-in functionality allows you to tweak, process, layer, and sequence like no other tool available. There’s also 40 GB of ready to use and customizable sound designed string samples.
Violin, viola, cello, and bass ensembles were all captured utilizing the Cinema Scoring Group in Los Angeles, as well as film score mixer Satoshi Mark Noguchi.
NOVO Modern Strings also boasts powerful features like auto down-and-up bowing, (for staccato and spicatto string performances), as well as multiple mic positions (close, room, and hall) for added customization.
Its graphical user interface is highly stylized but attempts to keep operation as straightforward as possible. Controls are clearly marked (though the labels are often in a smaller font), and navigation is easy too.
Along with great sounds that work right out of the box, NOVO also features the CYCLE dynamic playback engine, MACRO CONTROL (for consolidating the many sound-shaping controls in one assignable knob), and a LOOP DESIGNER (with 400+ loops laid out across three separate channels).
So, altogether, NOVO Modern Strings comes with 38 GB of content (uncompressed), 21,254 samples, 308 snapshot presets, 57 NKAs, eight NKIs, six traditional sections (violin, viola, cello, bass, high ensemble, low ensemble), string designer, loop designer, sample browser, CYCLE page, and a MACRO knob.
We could go on (and on) as the developer has opted to do in the product description, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the sounds. And, as promised, we’re hearing plenty of sounds well suited to TV, film, video game music, and more. Check out the video below and hear it for yourself.
This plugin may be costly compared to the others, but it does put a ton of power at your fingertips. With quality sounds and a high degree of versatility, it’s our best premium selection no questions asked.
NOVO Modern Strings is a Kontakt instrument and requires Kontakt 5 (Player) version 5.6.6 or later to work.
NOVO Modern Strings is compatible with Mac and Windows, and you can find it at Plugin Boutique.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
Sospiro Strings by Ben Osterhouse – Best Budget Option
Another brainchild of Ben Osterhouse (several more appear in this guide), Sospiro Strings was designed for slow, emotive swells and sustains. The included instruments are violin, viola, cello, and bass.
There are two types of swells included in Sospiro Strings – vibrato swells and non-vibrato swells. Each type of swell has a single velocity layer. You can affect the length of swells using the Length in Beats slider. The Length Multiplier function is a great tool if your project has a faster tempo, and you need your swells to sound more natural.
There’s also a Smart Release feature, Sync feature, Double feature, and three types of sustains, cold sustains, warm sustains, and full sustains.
Sospiro Strings’ user interface isn’t anything out of the ordinary, but for the intents and purposes of this plugin, it should do nicely. Controls are clearly marked and easy to understand, so in that regard, you can’t ask for a whole lot more.
Overall, the strings do sound nice, and I could see them working nicely for modern composition. Again, if you don’t already have a more generic strings VST yet, this is not the one to buy, but as an addition to your virtual instrument library, Sospiro Strings could certainly come in handy.
Sospiro Strings can’t do what ANALOG STRINGS or NOVO Modern Strings can do, but it is a nice specialty virtual instrument. A solid budget pick.
Sospiro Strings is available for Windows and Mac and requires the full version of Kontakt 5.8.1 or later to work.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
Vintage Strings by Big Fish Audio
Classical strings, pop strings, “modern” strings… it’s fair to say there are a few different types of virtual string instruments out there, and your selection will largely be a matter of what you require for your projects.
Big Fish Audio’s Vintage Strings offers up 60s and 70s violin sections on a silver platter. The kinds of sounds you’ve surely heard on classic R&B, soul, and funk records of the day.
With great vintage sounds out of the box, Vintage Strings comes complete with minor imperfections and sound more fluid in pop music than in the note-perfect world of “classical” playing style.
For this creation, developer Big Fish Audio recorded a six-piece violin section, using Neumann U-87 and Royer ribbon mics (in various positions – close, room, string section positioning based on Motown and Philly Soul recording session notes, etc.) through an SSL board. They even recorded in a small, minimally reverberant room like the rooms used on classic records.
Vintage Strings comes with three types of sections – two violins (or 2VLN), six violins (or 6VLN), and 12 violin (or 12 VLN). Where two violin patches are perfect for smaller string sections, six violin patches are ideal for unison lines, and likewise 12 violin patches are great for unison string lines too.
If you don’t frequently compose for strings, you’ll love the Tonal Harmonization Patches, which allows you to write great sounding two-, three-, and four-part harmonies with just one finger on the keyboard. There are also Fixed Chord and Interval patches which have been programmed to play a specific interval or chord.
The Vintage Strings user interface evokes a bit of a vintage hardware gear vibe, especially the knobs and switches. We can’t give it full marks in terms of overall beauty, because it’s basically a bunch of parameters and a logo slapped on a generic violin background, but at least we know what they were after. And, overall, the plugin is easy to use.
Vintage Strings is Mac and Windows compatible and was made for Kontakt Player (which means you will need Kontakt to use it).
These aren’t the most authentic sounding strings ever. They live somewhere between a high-quality synth and a real orchestra. That said, they do fit perfectly with the genre and style they were designed for.
If Vintage Strings interests you, you may also want to investigate Big Fish Audio’s Vintage Horns as a supplement.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
Symphonic Elements STRIIIINGS by ujam
Developer ujam doesn’t just have a knack for creating great-looking, great-sounding virtual instruments it seems. They also have a bit of a sense of humor. One look at the video for Symphonic Elements STRIIIINGS will tell you everything you need to know.
Film and game composer Boris Salchow said STRIIIINGS is easy to play and failproof for Han Zimmer style strings.
Creating modern string ensemble textures with STRIIIINGS is a walk in the park. Even if you have no prior experience or string arrangement skills, you’ll be able to create some amazing sounding compositions with the help of this plugin, featuring 60 playing styles and sound designer presets.
The reference to Han Zimmer, by the way, is no accident. The sounds for this VST plugin were captured at his Remote Control Studios, and they were produced by the previously mentioned Boris Salchow too.
STRIIIINGS stresses ease of use over endless tweaking and therefore doesn’t contain any solo instruments. Nor does it give you control over finer details like bowing technique. This makes composing the perfect score even easier than with other string libraries.
That said, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any room for customization. For example, there’s a Highlighter knob, which is a multimode 24dB synthesizer filter tailor made for risers and intros. Turn left for low pass, turn right for high pass.
So far as the graphical user interface is concerned, we have no complaints. It is expertly designed, the color selection is perfect, and it is nicely balanced too. This contributes greatly to ease of use.
We can see from a high level that there are three sections (Lower Strings, STRIIIINGS, and High Strings), each with their own controls. The Lower and High Strings sections come with Character FX, Motion FX, Focus EQ, and Decay controls, while the central STRIIIINGS section comes with Highlighter, Finisher, Ambience, and Crossfade settings.
As for its overall sound quality, STRIIIINGS sounds great without much alteration. The strings sound like they’ve already been processed and are ready to drop into a mix as is. Whether it’s booming lows or soaring highs, these sounds are simply stunning.
STRIIIINGS is compatible with Windows and Mac and can be purchased at Plugin Boutique.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
Zilhouette Strings by Cinematique Instruments
Zilhouette Strings contains the complete collection of all the strings Cinematique Instruments has ever recorded to this point – seven violins, two violas, seven cellos, and two basses.
Cinematique Instruments captured German session and live orchestra musicians for this occasion over the course of multiple recording sessions in their own recording rooms. They took full advantage of high end and conventional microphones like the Neumann U-87, TLM 103, Schoeps MK4, Sennheiser MD421, AKG D112, and more.
The strings are available in three articulations – Shorts, Longs, and Pizzicato. Your mod-wheel can be used to scroll through all the dynamic layers.
Zilhouette Strings also features a “Players” option where you can select the number of players. There are settings for Quartet, Full Range, Chamber Ensemble, Just Lows, and Just Highs, depending on what you’re using the strings for.
The four instrument groups – violin, viola, cello, and bass – can be mixed any way you like. So, you can emphasize certain instruments while sending others to the background. You can even mute certain instruments as you see fit.
If that wasn’t enough, you can choose the “seating” for your orchestra, with options for American and German seating. You can, however, set the panning to center by taking advantage of the “off” setting.
The sounds can then be processed using the sweetness function (to add or subtract distance), as well as onboard FX (eight reverbs, including church cathedral, classic, hall reverbs, and more).
As for the GUI, well, we certainly can’t say it was “phoned in.” It looks relatively nice, with kind of a monochromatic, “flat vector” style. That said, it doesn’t look like they spent a lot of time on the design, or simply didn’t have access to a designer who could spice things up for them.
The ease of use didn’t suffer one bit, though, because the controls are few and clearly marked. We’ll happily give Cinematique Instruments extra points in this regard.
In total, Zilhouette Strings offers up over 4,000 samples, three articulations, mixable instrument groups, five true player samples or ensemble per articulation, two seating arrangements, reverbs, and more.
Overall, the strings are decent sounding. They don’t sound completely authentic to my ears, but the plugin is still highly usable, and should sound great within the context of a fuller mix. Plus, you’ve got some processing onboard the plugin, which could help with rounding out the tones.
Zilhouette Strings is available for Mac and Windows and requires the full version of Kontakt 5.6.8 or higher.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
Hyperion Strings Elements by Soundiron
Soundiron calls Hyperion String Elements a “string library for everyone,” be it composers, producers, songwriters, bands, teachers, arrangers, sound designers, students, and even hobbyists. The developer even says the library is versatile enough to work on just about any kind of genre.
They’ve loaded up the interface with spatialization, environment simulation, as well as positioning controls, so you can dial in your strings to perfection.
The plugin comes with a combined full ensemble preset, individual section master and true legato presets for eight violins, six violas, five cellos, and four double basses (chamber string orchestra).
Every section comes with fingered and gliss true legato for vibrato and non-vibrato sustains, tremolo, short note speeds and styles, and even modular dynamic expressions including crescendos, decrescendos, sforzandos, and swells.
Whether it’s articulations or dynamics, it’s safe to say Hyperion String Elements is highly versatile.
While their product description focuses very heavily on things already covered here, what they don’t really seem to touch on is all the onboard parameters and controls Soundiron has graced us with.
There are pages for Main, Ensemble, Effects, Space, Play Assist, and Arpeggio. In terms of effects, there appears to be controls for filter, compressor, and equalizer, but there might be others.
Speaking of the user interface, it’s clear that a lot of time and effort went into this ultra-realistic design, evoking thoughts of Unreal Tournament or perhaps another first-person shooter. Though there is a lot to process, the interface is nicely laid out, well balanced, and easy to navigate, so we’re fully onboard with this one.
Out of the box, the strings sound like they could use some processing, but I suppose that’s what all the pages are for. Post-processing, the strings do pop, though they don’t seem to increase in authenticity. With some layering and tweaking, though, you can get some sounds that should be perfectly workable for your next project.
Also check out the video below to hear the plugin in action.
Hyperion String Elements is compatible with Windows and Mac and requires Kontakt Player (free version).
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
Secco Strings by Ben Osterhouse
Developer Ben Osterhouse has been quite prolific in the realm of strings, and it seems his work is being recognized more and more.
Secco Strings was designed as a customizable collection of violin, viola, cello, and bass sounds. All instruments have three articulations available (pizzicato, peck, bounce), as well as three play modes (single notes, rhythm, and texture).
It comes with four user instrument slots you can use to import your own samples. All you need to do is drag and drop to start using your samples (this feature only works in Kontakt 6 or higher).
Now let’s talk about the three different modes:
First, there’s a Single Notes Mode where you can assign up to eight steps (each with its own instrument and articulation). The position of the steps on the XY pad determines their volume, panning, direction, formant, and octave. It’s like being able to move a microphone around until you’re happy with the tone.
Second, we have the Rhythm Mode where the steps play sequentially. You can use the Jitter control to add a fluctuation to the steps, and there’s also a built-in arpeggiator.
Finally, there’s the Texture Mode. This mode is perfect for creating textures, swarms, ensembles, chaos, and all kinds of effects. There’s also a Distribute button for playing the steps in parallel. Up to 15 steps can be assigned in this mode.
So, altogether, you get three play modes, four instruments, four user-definable sample slots, three articulations, global controls (attack, decay, low cut, saturation), eight convolution reverbs, preset system (with 21 for Rhythm Mode, 16 for Single Notes Mode, and 13 for Texture Mode), and 15 assignable steps for each play mode.
There’s also an automatable XY pad, dedicated tone control pad, modulated tone with proximity and velocity sensors, 5,764 samples, and more.
Secco Strings comes with plenty of fun sounds, be it arpeggios, modulations, effects, or otherwise. I could see these being perfect for composing and possibly even sound effects. Check out the video below to hear some of these otherworldly, synth-like sounds.
Secco Strings is available for Windows and Mac and requires the full version of Kontakt 5.8.1 or later.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
Oscillation Strings by Ben Osterhouse
If gentle repeated note swells are your thing, then you’ll benefit from a look at Oscillation Strings.
Make the selection between violin, viola, cello, or bass for all articulations. The instruments were recorded close, dry, and doubled. This makes it easier to achieve a chamber strings sound.
There isn’t much to the GUI, but it should suffice. Controls are clearly marked, and the interface is easy to navigate. If we were to offer some constructive criticism, though, the interface doesn’t feel completely balanced, and it would be relatively easy to correct by putting all the controls into the types of “boxes” seen in the center of the interface.
Finally, Oscillation Strings comes with four instruments, rhythms (eighth notes, quarter notes, half notes), swells, a custom compression system, custom swells, polyphonic legato, two types of legato samples, double or half time-stretching, and 11,427 samples.
Overall, the sounds are quite nice. They are obviously meant to be used in specific situations (which would naturally be the case with repeated note swells), but Osterhouse has done a great job of capturing authentic sounding, quality strings sounds.
Oscillation Strings could be great as a supplementary library, but it’s not the ideal choice for those who don’t have a basic all-purpose string library yet. User beware.
In the video below, developer Ben Osterhouse himself explains the plugin and demonstrates what it can do.
Oscillation Strings is Windows and Mac compatible and requires the full version of Kontakt 6.3.1 or later.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
Pattern Strings by Ben Osterhouse
With tempo-synced fragments, Ben Osterhouse’s Pattern Strings offers a one-of-a-kind approach to ostinatos. Pattern Strings comes with 19 rhythms with two dynamic layers featuring – you guessed it – violin, viola, cello, and bass, along with four round robins.
Rhythms can be easily arranged into sequences using the built-in drag and drop functionality.
Pattern Strings also features Legato, an automatic bow direction feature, tempo-sync switch, 8.32 GB of samples, Doubling, and a Dynamic Loading system to keep CPU load minimal.
The user interface is mostly in keeping with Ben Osterhouse style design, but overall, I think Pattern Strings is better organized than some of the other entries.
In the video below, you can see Osterhouse himself explaining the thought process behind this great sounding plugin. If you’re interested in creating rhythmic patterns using great sounding samples, this is a fun module to add to your collection.
Pattern Strings is Windows and Mac compatible and requires Kontakt 5.8.1 or later to work.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
What Should I Look For In A Strings VST Plugin?
If you’re in the process of choosing a strings VST plugin, it probably means you’re getting ready to do a lot of composing work, or you’re looking to add some dimension and depth to tracks in a variety of genres.
If you’ve used strings VSTs before, then you might have an idea what you’re looking for already. Otherwise, it’s entirely possible you’re a little lost, and that’s okay, because that’s what this section is for.
Here we’ll be looking at a few criteria that will help you arrive at a purchase decision faster. The main things to consider with strings VSTs are:
- Specialization and usage
- Sound quality
- Ease of use
Let’s get into it.
Specialization & Usage
We could also say “plugin type” if that’s easier for you to understand. The question here is what’s going to work best based on the types of projects you’re going to be taking on.
Will you be composing for TV, film, or video games (sound design)? Are you going to be using the strings in pop, hip-hop, EDM, and other electronic genres? Interested in adding some strings to your singer-songwriter tunes and epic rock numbers?
It’s worth asking these questions before even considering a purchase, because different strings VSTs were designed with different purposes in mind.
Additionally, the Ben Osterhouse VSTs are relatively unique entries in that they are very specialized and are designed to do one or two things well – they aren’t comprehensive string solutions. They would be great for very specific situations, and not so great for more general use.
Sound quality is always a factor with virtual instruments – some producers and composers may even say it stands above all else as being the most critical deciding factor. And we wouldn’t disagree.
The good news is this – products can’t hide behind fancy descriptions and manufactured hype anymore. We can all watch the video demos and reviews and check out the audio samples to know what a plugin sounds like before ever purchasing it.
As much as possible, we’ve offered our thoughts on the sound quality of each plugin and whether we think they hold up to scrutiny. Of course, we still encourage you to do your own homework rather than going on blind faith.
Now, there’s nothing saying that a less authentic sounding plugin is always bad – depending on what your production practices are, it might be exactly what you need. Likewise, there’s nothing saying that a more authentic sounding plugin is always good – sometimes, these are harder to fit into a full mix.
See earlier note about specialization. For a specific plugin to be right for you, it must be right for the types of projects you’re planning to take on. Added realism works great for some projects, not so much for others.
Aside from that, though, we always encourage readers to have a good listen of each of the plugins they’re thinking about purchasing. Listen to the sound quality of the samples, not just how authentic they sound to you, but also whether there’s any noise or artifacts that make certain sounds unusable.
This would be a rare occurrence in plugins nowadays, but it is an important aspect of sound in general and not a bad thing to look out for.
If you want to add noise later (such as with a lo-fi plugin), it’s nice to have that option, as opposed to starting with a noisy sample.
Ease Of Use
This won’t be a relevant factor for every buyer. But if you’re new to arranging and composing for strings, it’s always nice to have a bit of help.
Some of the above VST plugins have built-in functionality that make them easier to use (we’ve done our best to point out which these are), even if you haven’t mastered the deep and complex world of music theory – plugins like Vintage Strings or STRIIIINGS, as an example.
Choosing solely based on ease of use is going to severely limit your options, but if you like the idea of an easy-to-use plugin, STRIIIINGS is recommended. It sounds great, and it should work nicely for a variety of genres.
How much string can you afford? How much are you willing to spend? What is your budget?
Given that strings VSTs can cost anywhere from about $65 to $550, and you’d generally need to spend at least $140 to get a great one, it’s fair to say that this can end up being a bigger purchase, especially if you check out with multiple products.
It’s worth spending a little more if you know you’re going to be using the strings a lot, even if you end up having to save up for it. This will save you from having to go back to the drawing board later.
Finally, as we don’t recommend going into debt for any music related purchases, please spend responsibly. We want you to be enjoying yourself and making plenty of great music instead of worrying about where your next gig and payment is going to be coming from!
It’s time to get your string on!
Strings can do a lot for your music, whether it’s adding depth to your tracks, giving them a haunting quality, enhancing them with a whimsical character, or otherwise.
Even producers who generally don’t use strings on their tracks will probably end up needing to add at least one strings virtual instrument to their library, because at some point, one of their projects will require it.