When searching for a virtual string library, today’s musicians are given a multitude of choices. Some libraries provide an entire orchestral string section, some only provide individual section instruments (such as only violins), some focus on solo instruments, and still others focus on specific groups of articulations. To my knowledge, however, there is only one library that provides all four string sections with a wide variety of articulations and a level of sophistication not found elsewhere. Supplementing their already successful Dimension Brass library (which we hope to review for you sometime in the future), Vienna Symphonic Library (VSL) has released Vienna Dimension Strings.
The Vienna Dimension Strings Orchestral Sample Library
With development beginning in 2008, VSL has created a library consisting of 24 string players (8 violins, 6 violas, 6 cellos, and 4 double basses) with a wide variety of articulations for a size of over 830,000 samples. What makes Dimension Strings truly special, however, is the way in which it was recorded. Although, the library was recorded as an ensemble, VSL used individual microphones for each player. In addition, the full range (around one octave plus a fifth) of each string on every instrument was recorded. This level of detail gives you an extreme amount of control and flexibility.
With access to each instrument, you can record each part separately so that the final ensemble resembles that of many different players performing together. You can simulate the sound of some players being slightly off tempo, you can perform different dynamic level changes for each player, and you can even throw in a few notes that are out of tune for more realism. Plus, with access to each string, you can have players use all strings or force them to play on a certain string, or even have them play with no open strings.
Dimension Strings Realism through Articulations
As with most professional string libraries, Dimension Strings provides a wide variety of articulations. Here you’ll find sustain, legato, portato, staccato, spiccato, pizzicato, snap pizzicato, col legno, portamento, and more. But Dimension Strings has gone much further by providing additional varieties of the various articulations. With sustains, you get vibrato, non-vibrato, and expressivo/progressive vibrato. Tremelo variations include normal, with fast attack, and “slow-motion.” There are “harsh” articulations, which are brutally forced fortissimo performances. And for more realism, Dimension Strings even includes separately recorded finger noises so you can simulate the sound of shifting positions on the fingerboard. Plus, there are ambient noises for each player (breathing, positioning the instrument, chair noises, and page turning, etc).
There are also Repetition Performances (which include legato, portato, staccato, spiccato, and crescendos), as well as Trill Performances (including legato and marcato). However, the one thing that some users have found lacking is the inclusion of recorded trills. But to be honest, I myself find the Trill Performances to be better and far more flexible. One situation in which recorded trills are useful is when composing via notation software. You can simply add a trill sign in the notation, and the software will trigger a recorded trill performance. You can’t do that with Dimension Strings, however, you can work around this problem by using the Sequencer feature in Vienna Instruments PRO, which I’ll talk about later.
Dimension Strings Realism through Mixing
Because Dimension Strings gives you access to each individual instrument in the library, it allows you the freedom and flexibility to configure a variety of string ensembles, as well as various divisi performances. Now you may be thinking that because there are only eight violins, you are limited to smaller ensembles. Technically, that’s true, but by using what is known as the “transposition trick,” you can create a second violin section. This would give you two violin sections with eight players each (for divisi performances) or one large violin section with sixteen players. You could even double that large section and of course, you could do this for the other sections as well, giving you access to a 16, 16, 12, 12, 8 string orchestra.
But Dimension Strings isn’t limited to orchestral performances. This library is equally useful for just about any kind of small custom string ensemble and can even be used to augment Pop, Rock, and other genres. Again, because you have access to individual instruments, you can place each player anywhere in the stereo (or surround) field. And if you really want to get creative, you can process each instrument with different effects.
Additional Perks with Vienna Instruments PRO and Ensemble PRO
As with all their libraries, VSL provides free player software called Vienna Instruments and Vienna Ensemble. They also have PRO versions available for purchase. Vienna Instruments PRO gives you access to some more advanced features, which definitely augment the standard features of Dimension Strings. As I mentioned earlier, Vienna Instruments PRO provides a Sequencer feature that allows you to create runs, trills, arpeggios, and all kinds of performance phrases. You can rely on the large library of patches that include sequences for a wide variety of performances, or you can create your own using the Sequencer’s piano roll display. You can even import MIDI files in the event you want to use a recorded performance as a sequence. And for added realism, you can use phrasing randomization for each instrument.
Speaking of realism, Vienna Instruments PRO includes humanization features that allow you to adjust the timing and intonation of each instrument. This means that each note played by each individual instrument in the library can be slightly randomized in timing and pitch, just like what would happen in a live performance. You also get access to the Sequence Map and Interval Map controllers. Sequence Map allows you to automatically switch articulations whenever you play a note. In one instance where this can be useful (and can create more realistic lines) is when playing passages of short notes and having them switch between staccato and detache in various configurations of your choice. Interval Map allows you to automatically switch articulations depending on which notes you play. Intervals higher or lower than the current note can trigger different articulations or you can even set things up so that the same articulation is triggered but with different humanizing features.
In regards to Ensemble PRO, it provides a number of additional hosting and mixing options for Dimension Strings (as well as all your other sample libraries). You can load up multiple instances of Dimension Strings and configure your entire string section. You can then save this configuration and have it ready to easily load up into any project inside your DAW. You can also use it with 3rd-party sample libraries (such as Native Instruments KONTAKT) and it supports full plug-in parameter automation. And if you want to create an extremely powerful setup, you can use multiple computers to host your libraries and use the MIDI and audio over LAN features of Ensemble PRO.
Suffice it to say, if you’re serious about your music and you want to get the most out of Dimension Strings, I definitely recommend making the additional investment in both Vienna Instruments PRO and Ensemble PRO.
Dimension Strings vs Solo Strings
Now because Dimension Strings gives us access to each individual instrument, does that mean it can do double-duty as a solo string library as well? Personally, I would say the answer to this question is yes and no. It all depends on the type of music you’re trying to produce. For solo violin mixed in with other instruments, it may sound fine. For a strictly solo violin performance, it probably won’t work.
Since VSL also sells a Solo Strings library, they are not marketing Dimension Strings as a replacement and there’s one main reason for that… Herb Tucmandl from VSL explains… “As you know, the Dimension Strings are not recorded as individual solo violins, they are recorded as a section, performing all violins together, but each instrument microphoned individually. Therefore there is a kind of bleeding between the instruments, which is most obvious with samples that are not static on one pitch like the portamenti. Performing at least two players at the same time, this kind of bleeding effect will disappear even if the two players perform a portamento on different keys. That's the most important difference to our dedicated solo string library, and therefore Dimension Strings are simply not promoted or recommended as a replacement of our solo string product.”
A String Library Like No Other
Because we all have different needs and because there are so many different string libraries available, it would be difficult to say which one is the absolute best. However, I would venture to say that Dimension Strings is the most versatile library available on the market at the moment. Since it gives you access to the full play range of each individual string on each individual instrument in the entire library, Dimension Strings provides you with a staggering amount of string ensemble possibilities. Add to this the wonderfully beautiful sound that it produces and I can safely say that Dimension Strings is a library that all modern composers should have in their studio.
For more information, visit https://vsl.co.at/en/Strings_Complete/Vienna_Dimension_Strings_I.