EMBERTONE INTIMATE STRINGS – REVIEW

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Embertone Stringsby PJG

In the last few years, Embertone has specialized in detailed, affordable virtual instruments: from the classic sound of the clarinet to the exoticism of the erhu and the insanity of the mouth trumpet – their products are always deeply sampled and beautiful scripted. And during all this time their solo strings have been Embertone’s flagship, starting with Friedlander Violin in 2013 and finishing with Leonid Bass early this year. Completing the series, Blakus Cello and Fischer Viola: it is always nice when libraries give their performers proper due.

Articulations are the highlight here: every instrument has true legato programming, true portamento, sordino, sul ponticello, sul tasto, staccato, pizzicato and tremolo. However, these are not instruments that will sound spectacular straight out of the box. Being no-vibrato performances recorded in a dry environment, the samples may not have the typical Hollywood sound per se, and that is actually one of the biggest advantages of these libraries. Embertone solo strings are incredibly playable precisely because of how malleable their sound is. Thanks to their clever scripting and clear (always important) graphical interface, the user has total control over the vibrato, dynamics and tone colors. If you have the ‘Touch OSC’ MIDI controller app, controlling the expression will be incredibly easy – as for the rest of us, the modwheel will do just fine.

If you want to dig even deeper, additional options cover the legato transition speed, vibrato amplitude, bow noise reduction and even an ensemble mode: you can choose the number of players, intonation, panning and other factors that will come in handy for (admittedly not very realistic) chordal accompaniment. Keep in mind that, although all four libraries share most functionalities, each new installment has set the bar higher in terms of realism, options and playability (besides some particularities of each instrument).

This is the reason why, if Friedlander had the violin that started it all, Blakus had the cello that put Embertone on the map. The first version of Friedlander had that intimate, flexible sound that has become a staple of the solo series, but it missed some great functionalities that would be featured in future products (bow position color morphing and better dynamics and vibrato, for example). After the success of Blakus (a composer who had already published in the past a free, bare-bones version of his cello), Embertone was quick to release a free 1.5 update with enhancements and extra functionalities. And it is unavoidable that this catch-up game will continue after the latest improvements seen in Leonid Bass: older products would benefit from a more efficient memory/CPU usage and the NKS support (think of KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series and MASCHINE systems).

In short, the solo series are big (between 3-5GB each) and Kontakt 5 Player compatible, which is always nice. The samples are 44.1 Khz / 16 or 24 bit stereo, although even Embertone admits that the 24 bit recordings do not make a big difference. And the price, although absolutely fair, is not particularly cheap compared to other libraries (125 dollars each, 375 dollars as a bundle). That being said, comparisons are probably pointless because the sound and possibilities of Embertone Intimate Strings are truly unique.

The bonus: Everybody loves freebies and Embertone may have the most paradoxical of them all: Intimate Strings LITE, released before their solo series were even a sparkle in Embertone’s eye. This free, small quartet (around 500MB) is not really lite at all because it does not correspond to any specific big brother in the current Embertone store – unless we count all four solo strings and mix them together, reduce their samples and articulations and send them in a time machine to 2012. But hey! Do not try to understand it, simply download this beautifully-sounding instrument and enjoy. With its legato-polyphonic options and three patches, it does not reflect the careful design and details of the solo series (mainly because most of them did not exist back then) but it does show how good Embertone products sound. Being free and all, this is a nice little instrument in its own right that can be extremely useful for backing soloist instruments and enhancing your productions. Check it now on the Embertone website: www.embertone.com

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