What virtual instruments are you using for orchestral sounds and horns sounds?


What virtual instruments are you using for orchestral sounds and horns sounds, for playing live on your MIDI keyboard connected to a laptop with cantabile running on it?

I’m looking for virtual instruments that works well in a live keyboard performance context.

I’m expecting for one sample pack for orchestral sound, and another sample pack for horns, of course.

Best brass plugin

There is no such thing, really, imo. To have really good orchestral sounds (strings and/or brass) they about have to be pre-programmed; there’s too many polyphonic parts and multiple controllers necessary. So my answer to what I would use in a love conext is just a nice sounding Omnisphere string or brass pad.


For horns I’m using Session Horns from NI. Works fairly well with a breath controller or the volume pedal. I have also been layering in SWAM Saxophones on some songs just because it sounds SO DAMN GOOD! Wish I could afford the SampleModeling horns, as they are supposed to be similarly playable live. Wish they were all a bit less pricey, but you get what you pay for I guess.

For strings it depends. Mostly I’m using Disco Strings but occasionally I use Session Strings.

Note: you won’t get all the detailed articulations playing live, but you get enough to work with a rock or funk band. The only thing I’ve been able to get amazing articulation with live is the SWAM stuff.


The SWAM stuff is great for soloing. But you can’t really do a section live with it all being monophonic.

Well… MAYBE you could… it would take some heavy programming to split a chord between four or five instances and have them play parallel to each other. I wonder if that could be done… My post was aimed more at symphonic sounds and not pop/jazz brass but the latter is still pretty hard to pull of live as well.


I usually only layer it on single note brass lines (Play That Funky Music, Feel It Still, etc…) Otherwise Session Brass seems to work pretty well by itself.

Edit: PTFM is actually a dual line brass part, oops! Not one of the ones I layered.


Session Brass is setup to split chords automatically between instruments, right? For live playing from a keyboard controller seems like that would be about the best way to go. Comp with that and solo on a SWAM horn.

Of course that’s some $$$ :open_mouth:


I would echo Fred’s comment re orchestral VIs: you have to be realistic about how… er… realistic you can get them in a live situation. The great-sounding demos on the manufacturer sites all have extensive MIDI programming and articulation switches behind them. You can get some way towards that at a gig if you’re playing a one-handed part and have the other hand free to manipulate controllers or articulation switch keys. It may not be worth it if the band/gig context is such that the subtleties won’t be heard anyway.

In my band I have to try and emulate a lot of string arrangements from our albums. We have a real violinist, so if we mix her just a touch above the keyboard strings it can produce a reasonable combination of human performance and orchestral weight/breadth.


Yep. More musos required or a pre-programmed midi track for best results.


The auto-split feature is pretty cool when it works. There are some arrangements that beat it to hell however. Anything where you have a lot of alternating movements on different notes seems to get it a bit confused. But yeah, comping with Session Brass and soloing on top with SWAM is great. Again, I only have the saxes, but I’m sure the horns would be amazeballs.


Have you looked at Edirol Orchestral? Has all the instruments and mixing capabilities you are looking for in one package, and sounds good as well. It has been discontinued, but is available free on several reputable sites, or sold on Amazon.

There is also:

Sonivox Film Score Companion
UVI Orchestral Suite
Garritan Personal Orchestra


When you say “Session Brass” do you mean to Session Horns by NI?

I don’t have Omnisphere yet, but AFAIK, it contain great strings, but it doesn’t contain any brass, am I right?


The Roland Cloud has a recent addition: the SRX Orchestra instrument. It’s essentially the Orchestra expansion for the JV synth series. I’ve played with it for a while, and there’s a ton of good stuff in there that loads quickly and sounds definitely good enough for live use. And it’s all very playable…




Yes, sorry about the confusion.


Omnisphere defnintely has no sax type sounds, or pop/jazz horns. Brass sounds are generally analog synth sounds, or 80s type sounds. That said, they’re great for certain things. Not for covering Steely Dan or Chicago though :smiley:


Which is why I love my JV-2080


Have you checked out the Alpine Project? I’m using the trombone and tuba from their brass collection for the intro to Sweet Caroline along with with Session Horns for the trumpet parts. It’s working out pretty well, especially for the price! :wink:


Free is good! Haven’t heard of these…


They seem to be pretty good. Not a lot of dynamic control, but for some songs you don’t need that. Just found them the other day when I decided the ones that came with Kontakt weren’t cutting it.


+1 for SRX Orchestra. Just about every variant of every orchestral sound bundled into one plugin. One thing I like about my Kurzweil PC3x is its large set of different strings sounds, for every situation. SRX orchestra provides the same in convenient plugin form.



Ah, that’s kinda cool… I wonder if the old Vintage Synth expansion will pop up as a virtual instrument? I loved that thing.