Project Sam: Orchestral Essentials
Usually, adding the word ‘Essentials’ to the tail of a product title means you’re getting a lite or stripped-down cheap version of the original. Think of Project Sam’s Orchestral Essentials as a simplified version of their flagship products.
You won’t find thousands of presets, hundreds of alternative mic setups or much in the way of controls at all here. What Project Sam hopes to provide I Think is a full-sounding but simple-to-use string ensemble library, so let’s see how they get on.
What’s in the box?
Orchestral Essentials comes from Dutch software company Project Sam, well known for its impressive Lumina and Symbphobia sample libraries. While this could be considered a budget ‘best of’ collection, it still packs a whopping $480 price tag, so we expect some of the Lumina/Symphobia shine to rub off on their lesser stablemate.
This is a collection of instruments taken from the full Monte Symphobia, Orchestral Brass Classic and True Strike range and features over 12gig of content. There’s a good collection of basic orchestral instruments like piano, harp and organ, though only a handful of solo instruments. What you’re mainly getting is full-range multi-instrument presets designed to be largely load-and-go patches.
The stripped-down interface is supposed to inspire more creativity, I’m guessing due to the very limited number of controls at your disposal. Effort has been spent creating interesting presets, and with the recent 1.2 update you’re getting plenty of unique features to this product line.
In the Studio
I found this simplified approach quite refreshing actually. It drives me bonkers messing with sliders and dials when most of the time all I want is a decent-sounding string patch. All of the patches contain stand global controls for FX, attack and release plus limiting – many presets only include a single or couple of custom control, like enhance, octaver and mod wheel. I like how familiar the plugin becomes after a while, it’s consistent sounding with little need to get lost in the technology.
The library is for big, heavy symphonic walls of sound, so while there are some subtle solo string and brass parts, on the whole, everything is big and in-your-face ensembles. Unfortunately, the subtle solo instruments tend to get swallowed up in any music mix other than pure orchestral. There’s not enough punch there to shine through a hip-hop or metal mix.
On the other hand, some excellent multis are included, with a few real gems like ‘Alien in the Airlock’ and ‘Behind Jupiter’. There is a definite ‘Project Sam sound’ going on in most of the multi presets, if you’re familiar with Lumina or Symphobia, you’ll know what I mean the second you hear it. On more than a few occasions, I was wide-eyed and wowed by some of the included presets, there’s definitely plenty of ear candy here.
The string ensembles sound very realistic, and depending on how hard you push the velocity anything from soft and airy through to monstrous bass and cello section power. The brass section is not quite as raucous as I was expecting, you can certainly get plenty of volume if you push it, but nothing too over the top.
The woodwind section again is very safe sounding, which is a good description of the entire sound collection really – safe. This is not a bad thing, you get nice, dependable and usable orchestral sounds which is what you need 99% of the time.
Unfortunately, not all is good. The FX section is mostly poor, with the compressor, in particular, being terrible on pretty much everything. The Pro Filter, delay and stereo mod are all best avoided – in fact, just avoid all the FX and use external processing if you need.
The sample looping is very evident on some multi-layered multis like ‘God Speed’ which is a shame. You can get away with this on pop productions, but if you’re intending to produce orchestral scores this is problematic. Mostly the samples don’t evolve much after a few seconds, this means in some rare cases the looping audio tails seem to cause a slight modulation effect between other instruments in the multi.
I’m not sure what the devs were smoking when they created the Bonus Instruments patches, most of which are simply stupid. I mean, there’s a patch called Kitteh, which sounds like a cat being squashed. ‘Free Jazz’ is a piano that plays random notes on each key. Really?
The Sound Design category has more successful patches included, some of which I found quite useful. I also enjoyed everything in the percussion category, some really useful and unusual instruments to choose from.
To play through the presets, mostly they are all excellent and in some cases quite amazing, though in use I found the larger ensemble patches to be expressive enough for the rock style tracks we were using, but ever so slightly lacking in interest for film scoring. I like the mod wheel control assigned to velocity swells on most patches. You can turn this off and use simple keyboard velocity, but the hands-on dynamics are way more controllable and a nice feature. Also, the octaver is a neat effect to effectively double the epicness.
Other than a woeful effects section and sample tails on some multi combinations, Orchestral Essentials provides enough high-end quality samples to make easily the best of the budget collections out there. Better even than some premium collections I can name, but not threatening the likes of Spitfire Audio or even ProjectSams own Lumina series.
So there’s not a huge variety of sounds here, but you get what it says on the box. It’s pretty serious money and about as far as I would go as a novice producer. If you’re creating more focused material or on a better budget, it’s not a huge stretch to buy the Symphobia and Lumina series, which I would probably recommend. But as a solid collection of basic orchestral ensemble sound, this really is one of the best available. Though you’re paying a premium for the Project Sam name, it’s a step in the right direction and puts you squarely in the pro market.
Test Machine Specs
Core i5 920 12gig RAM. Library installed on secondary 7200 drive.
Tascam DM4800 interface (ASIO drivers).
Yamaha MOTIF and Akai MPD218 controllers.
Alesis M1 Active Mk2
Shure SRH940 monitors