Orchestral Instrument emulations are a versatile tool within your arsenal as a music producer. Whether you're creating contemporary classical, or just adding some subtle strings or brass to a tune, there's a place for orchestral instruments in a wide variety of genres.
Over the years, orchestral emulation in electronic music has been somewhat divisive.
In the early years, there were the fake analog emulations that sounded nothing like the real thing, but nevertheless found widespread success in an era when synthesisers were the new toy all the musicians wanted.
Since then, we've seen more capable digital emulations, and moved on to sample libraries.
Across the spectrum, there are a wide range of orchestral options out there for your library, and for a long time these often came with a hefty premium pricetag.
But now, you'd be surprised at how many orchestral options are out there for free.
So, in this guide we are going to cover some of the best options for orchestral instrumentation available for free.
Let's dive right in.
Spitfire Audio - BBC Symphony Orchestra Discover
I've written about Spitfire Audio before. They're a gret company with an incredible free collection of synth and sample libraries called LABS.
But with this iteration, you have the sounds of the world famous BBC orchestra in your DAW.
Available on both Mac and PC, this is a versatile and powerful collection of 33 instruments including strings, woodwind and brass, as well as the bass and percussion sections of the orchestra.
What's cool about this one is that it is under 300mb in size, so won't take up a huge chunk of your hard drive.
This is a great and hard-drive friendly option for adding orchestral and cinematic sounds to your music.
There are some nice options to shape the sounds, so be sure to mess around with it to see what it's capable of.
Orchestral Tools - Layers
This one is another which works on both macOS and PC, and is slightly different in its approach than Spitfire Audio's offering.
Layers is a full orchestral sound collection, with options for studio-sized string, woodwind and brass sections.
What's cool about Layers is that - as the name suggests - you can create layered and dynamic expressions all focused around chords using layers of different instrument sections. You can choose chord shapes and articulations, and build your tracks around them.
All of the audio, which comes in at a massive 17GB, is real recordings of a real orchestra. Each section was recorded separately, using different mic placements and techniques, so you can really make the most out of this really powerful instrument.
Layers provides a novel way to go about making music, building your arrangement around the chords is a nice touch, and there are so many options to sink your teeth into.
Head over to Orchestral Tools' website to check out Layers and see what you think.
Orchestral Tools - SINEfactory
Layers mentioned above runs in Orchestral Tools' SINE player, which is an independent player in which you run its instruments.
In addition to their wide range of paid premium orchestral instruments, Orchestral Tools offers a free instrument subscription service called SINEfactory.
Just sign up for free, and then you will receive email notifications when a new instrument is added to the library. At present, there are 10 instruments available, including a church organ, two types of pianos and a string ensemble.
The SINE player allows you to download libraries, edit parameters and layer sounds. Each instrument comes with its own set of articulations with keyswitches.
These two offering from Orchestral Tools are great options for adding some orchestral flair to your productions.
ProjectSAM - The Free Orchestra
ProjectSAM is a huge name in the digital orchestra library world, offering various collections symphonic effects and collections, ranging from horror and sci-fi movie focused packs and even Swing and big-band ones.
But with The Free Orchestra you're getting (you guessed it) a free orchestral plugin featuring 1.5gb of sounds from across their catalog.
It even includes some content from their acclaimed Symphobia series.
Running in a single Kontakt patch, you get access to a 16 instrument catalog with some nice editing and parameter options. There are layered combinations of sounds across the keyboard, so you can really get some versatile results from this plugin.
Check out the video above to see a neat rundown of how it works, and what's included.
Hidden Path Audio - Orchestral Rise Builder
This is a more focused plugin, in that you're getting a unit dedicated to creating symphonic ang huge crescendos. It requires the full version of Kontakt 5.5.1 or higher.
Using 33 samples which are separated into risers of different lengths; short, medium and long, you can create huge impactful sounds. The sounds are also divided into strings, brass, woodwinds and full orchestra, meaning you can mix and match the sections to create a layered rise exactly to your needs. You can see how this is split up in the image below.
It's simple and succinct, and great at doing what it is intended for, which is creating huge and epic sounding impacts and rises. A nice addition to your collection of cinematic sounds, for sure.
Vienna Symphonic Library - Free Big Band Orchestra
This free package is a huge sounding orchestral plugin, featuring the iconic Synchron Stage orchestra recorded through multiple mics, giving an absolutely massive sound.
The Vienna Symphonic Library is a huge name in the business, and their orchestra and stage have been used to record the scores for some huge blockbuster movies, and now that orchestra is living right inside your DAW, for free.
Featuring a reall nice visual UI and including staccatos, sustains, marcatos, swells & runs, this is a really hands on orchestral experience. You can use the plugins built in mixer to change the levels of the various mics, as well as adjusting the ambience of the room.
It also comes with a range of handy presets, allowing to inject some already configured orchestral goodness into your music.
So, that's a rundown of 6 of the best free orchestral VSTs available right now. You can download these and get making some really epic orchestral music, or just add some subtle instrumentation to some of your arrangements.
Let us know down in the comments if you've used any of these before, and be sure to tell us if there are any prchestral plugins you love that we missed!
Until next time, take it easy, and keep making good music!