UVI Orchestral Suite – Lightweight Essentials
Welcome to Music Nation. I have worked my way through a lot of UVI’s libraries and expansion packs and was quite excited to try out the Orchestral Suite since we’ve recently had a bunch of amazing titles come through from Spitfire Audio and Native Instruments. So I was very keen to see how UVI take on the big boys in the market.
(Review updated August 2022) Orchestral libraries are big business these days, and with the Kontakt platform providing a tidal wave of choice, UVI Orchestral Suite needs a good base library to entice some of the traditional, and lucrative, orchestral scoring industry their way.
Time to get some manuscript paper out to start scoring some demo arrangements this week.
UVI Orchestra Suite is a traditional orchestral sample library for the UVI Workstation and Falcon platform. It features over 60 string, brass, woodwind, vocal, percussive and complementary instruments weighing in at around 6GB fully unpacked. The library mostly follows a global workflow layout typical of all Falcon expansions, so learning to play the entire collection of instruments is straightforward.
All controls are fully MIDI mappable with full access to further processing and synthesis modulation if you have the full Falcon software. The vast majority of the instrument in UVI Orchestral Suite share a similar interface, with performance legato and portamento settings, velocity expression, ADSR, EQ and reverb settings. None of the instruments have true legato, but scripted emulations. There are also no controls for manipulating dynamics, vibrato or individual instrument volume from within the patch directly, so you need to control the global Workstation or Falcon volume, which in turn affects reverbs, EQ, filter, and pretty much everything else. The expression control can be either velocity or modulation wheel controlled, and steps through various sample layers.
At under 5GB installed, it’s certainly frugal in comparison to some of the competitors, often having libraries clocking well over 100GB in size.
Orchestral Suite is simple to install as per all UVI libraries, simply drag the downloaded UFS file to your sound directory and you’re done. Playing through the presets is fast due to almost instant loading thanks to the small sample file size.
Of course, I immediately made my way to the strings category. Unfortunately, the big opening patch All String Ensemble sounds quite flat and lifeless. Playing at an andante tempo the samples sound very robotic, and because there is no way to adjust dynamics everything feels emotionless. The patch also sounds weird, almost like an accordion or a poor GM synth sound module string patch. Longer-held chords are better, but with no dynamic control the note tails stop very unrealistically, resulting in Mellotron-like tape strings – when you let go of the chord the samples come to a dead stop – silence!
The trick here is to interact with the ADSR controls, in particular, the release. This will increase the sample release time, in effect giving you the impression of bow release. The best results come if you assign to a Midi controller the volume curve, which, according to the manual, is actually an expression of timbre and dynamics control. Also, if you have after-touch on your MIDI controller I found assigning that to the ADSR release control and after a little practice, much more lifelike performances could be somewhat achieved.
Legato suffers from the same lack of dynamics, and since the scripting is emulated there is no real sense of realism or expression at all. The legato works more like mono-note mode on a synthesiser. Though the individual samples are fairly nice, playing them as an instrument sounds very unrealistic unless, again, you add a little more release time to open up the bow release. The portamento also is not particularly well done. It causes quite strange and synthetic results. It could be used as a creative technique, but for traditional string scoring, you will want to avoid it at all costs.
There are up to 6 articulations to choose between, including marcato, and pizzicato though a few common sustain variations. The problem is they do not sound as though they were recorded by the same orchestra. The marcato and pizzicato are in totally different sound stages from the sustain and tremolo samples. Swapping between articulations on the fly is like playing two totally different sample libraries.
For velocity input, you have the choice of either velocity-sensitive key hits or mod wheel control. With the key hits, you need to strike the note at the exact right velocity to trigger the expression you want – like a drum machine. Of course, then you have no way to alter the volume unless you hit the note again at a different velocity. Once it is triggered you are just stuck with the amplitude level. This makes zero sense.
If it were mappable to aftertouch I could see much more use, but velocity-sensitive expression is quite possibly the most useless thing I have ever encountered in an orchestra string library.
The mod wheel option is the only way to control what the manual says is to note volume and timbre, but to me sounds like just a filter cutoff. Overall volume gain is a mess also. It results in distorted overdrive if you hold a chord in polyphonic mode and push the mod wheel too high, largely due to samples simply stacking on top of each other. Holding a chord with more than 5 notes will distort the output channels no matter how much you pull back the mod wheel.
Working my way down through the string section, the bass, cello, viola and violin sections did not improve greatly. The dissonance between articulation recordings is obvious, and in my opinion, totally unusable in traditional scoring. The FX phrases are quite neat, and a small saving grace. You can choose between various runs, glissandos and trills which work nicely, and thankfully all sound like they’ve been recorded in the same studio.
The solo violin 1 and 2 sections have the best degree of response of the bunch – in particular, release decay – when you lift a key they don’t just hit a brick wall and stop. There is a short falloff as the bow leaves the string. It is not amazing, but it is not terrible.
I had more success sequencing string passages by hand. When you take time to consider every note overlap, velocity layer and amplitude, you can come up with some passable arrangements. But boy, I spend a few hours working tirelessly on a simple 12-bar quartet piece, it was extremely tedious reworking every individual note, listening back, re-editing, adding more reverb, EQ, and re-editing.
Diving in Deeper
Happy, the library picked up significantly after the disappointing string category. The brass and woodwind ensembles and solo patches were all mostly good – not great, but good enough. The terribly scripted legato is still here, but it’s not so bad on woodwind and brass for some reason. Also, the expression controls blur the velocity layers better, almost to the point I could not tell. Great! Phew!
I particularly liked the flute and oboe instruments, They are very well recorded and quite playable instruments. My favourite French horns are here, and again, they are not going to set the world on fire, but they are pleasant enough.
The brass features quite aggressive expression controls, so you need to be careful here or customise the response curve to suit.
A real gem in the collection is the cathedral organ. This features a slightly different interface from the other instruments but is equally well laid out and easy to follow. The included presets are wonderful, each running various pipe configurations, plus an awesome chord player – just hit Tutti 7th-9th for some instant Phantom of the Opera epicness.
Likewise, I am very impressed with the choir patches. Even without the reverb, they sound very natural and lifelike. The dreaded expression controls worked very well here to modulate between vocal timbre. Unlike the strings, all the articulations are well-balanced and sound like they came from the same recording session. The children’s choir is great, but I love the mixed male and female best, very wide and powerful sounding. Great stuff.
The celesta, harpsichord and pitched percussion instruments (including glockenspiel, marimba, xylophone etc) all sound good and play well. These are handy additions to the collection and will be invaluable to most arrangements. The included percussion instruments are mostly excellent, particularly the taikos and timpani. The keyboard is split between performance hits, so it’s easy to knock up a pretty convincing arrangement.
A nicely captured classical guitar patch is included, and as it turns out, this is one of the more successful and playable instruments in the library. On its own, you will find more detailed sample libraries for this kind of thing, but as part of an orchestral arrangement, it balances surprisingly well and was the one instrument I quite enjoyed scoring for. The fret noise effect is a little over the top and should be disabled, to prevent it from sounding like the world’s sloppiest player.
And finally, the orchestra patches, which emulate a full accompaniment orchestra. Though not the most convincing I’ve heard, the patches are not overly offensive and quite usable in pop arrangements, I’m sure. The included chord player is quite neat and can produce some nice one-shot chordal ideas, though you can’t easily string them together as melodies since they’re not legato.
What has me intrigued with this patch category is how UVI managed to make the demo on their website as you only get a 2-octave range on most of the articulations, I would love to see the MIDI workings for that, there is no way I could come anywhere close to recreating the amazing demo.
In The Studio
Hoping to find some saving grace after the woeful string sections, I tried a few layering techniques. As it turns out overlaying the string sounds with synth patches as ostinato vamps, or under big percussion lines works really well. Morphing with delay and chorus effects sound totally outside the realms of anything traditional, but definitely could be used for sound design and very contemporary scoring.
Assigning MIDI controls to the ASDR envelope and just playing the strings more as a synth patch works extremely well, especially when layering in a chorus, drive and any number of other available FX available in Falcon. I found creating FX-heavy patches still retained some of the original flavours of the orchestral but allowed much more interesting experimentation adventures. As an example, hitting the viola patch with an analogue crunch distortion, heavy compression and routing into the SparkVerb fairly radical spacial effects gave me some brilliant nasty foundation beds I could build on with other synths and instruments in the library.
In fact, if your goal is to scratch-build totally new and weird instruments you will be spoilt for choice with Falcon’s flexibility, especially if you own a few of UVI’s expansion synth libraries. All the instruments in Orchestral Suite bring an organic texture layer to any synth patch I made.
Overall, actually, I found much less frustration and more inventive freedom creating synth patches using the strings category than trying to force them into more traditional orchestration roles.
UVI Orchestral Suite is a real disappointment in some regards, yet a triumph of sampling ingenuity in other areas. Overall a great selection of low-footprint DSP instruments is let down by a very lacklustre string section, which could be a deal-breaker for some folk.
Perhaps I have been unfair to Orchestral Suite’s string category in this review due to my experience with the likes of Spitfire Audio, ProjectSAM and EastWests’ excellent offerings, but I do expect the strings to sound somewhat like the product demos on the website right out of the box, but alas they don’t. The main takeaway here I think is to consider first the tiny data footprint and not expect miracles from a 5gig orchestral library.
The other huge positive with Orchestral Suite, and Falcon/UVI Workstation in general is the cohesive nature of the platform – it all works in perfect synergy with itself. Even layering the free factory synths with Orchestral Suite offers massive flexibility and tones of really contemporary and cutting-edge ideas. If you are fortunate enough to own one of the expansion packs, particularly something more epic like Cinematic Shades, you can create some absolute monster patches
If you are producing hip-hop, EDM, pop or the likes where hyper-realistic orchestrations are not important and your focus is more on the creative mashing of sounds, this will work for you perfectly and, value for money wise, it is one of the best options out there. I would strongly recommend you invest in the full UVI Falcon, as not only do you get the full synthesis and FX package, but a $100 voucher towards the purchase of Orchestral Suite or any other sound bank library makes financial sense.
For its shortcomings Orchestral Suite offers a wealth of creativity and flexibility at a frugal DSP and purchase price, and at the end of the day, what more could one ask for really?
For more information and purchasing options, check the official UVI Orchestral Suite page www.uvi.net/orchestral-suite
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