When the first sampler was invented way back in the 1970s, the creators could scarcely have imagined how far sampling would come. It’s now possible to house an entire symphony orchestra within a laptop. Of course, recording entire orchestras is an expensive and time consuming process, and often orchestral sample libraries are expensive. However, some generous developers have made their samples available for free. From solo instruments to full orchestral sections, there are a wealth of useful free instruments available online – and we’ve got five of the best right here.
Some of the links below require a sign up to the developer’s newsletter but many others can be downloaded without any kind of commitment. Most run in the full version of KONTAKT, but one – the Free Orchestra from ProjectSAM – will even work with the free KONTAKT PLAYER.
The Free Orchestra
Originally released as a series of separate patches, ProjectSAM has recently amalgamated the instruments of their epic orchestra into one product which runs in the free Kontakt player 6.2.1 and above. The samples here have been pulled from ProjectSAM’s orchestral Symphobia series and their percussion library True Strike 1. You’ll have heard these sounds featured as part of thousands of triple-A orchestral scores and they’re regularly used by top composers. From epic tutti hits to ghostly string clusters and crazy cartoon woodwinds, each of the 14 patches covers a specific theme or genre so they’re useful for sprinkling amongst your own standard orchestral instruments to add authentic textures. Don’t miss the included multis which combine patches to create inspiring instrument combinations
The Alpine Project
Inspired by the wealth of public domain orchestral samples online, but frustrated by their poor categorisation and accessibility, Kontakt enthusiast Noah Horowitz created The Alpine Project. This site gathers and converts public domain and donated samples to create string, brass and woodwind patches. The tone of most of the instruments is quite raw so you’ll need to dial in some reverb to place them in an orchestral space, but they’re often well recorded and very playable. Use the key switches to change articulations and make sure you digest each instrument’s README file to uncover hidden features. The brass is a particular highlight with a number of realistic solo instruments on offer. If you’re feeling generous you can even donate your own samples to be included in future updates.
Sketching Chamber Orchestra
This range of orchestral patches covers most of the standard instruments and articulations of a smaller, more intimate sounding orchestra. Designed for students and hobbyists, the original samples are part of the VSCO2 Community edition but have now been scripted for the full version of Kontakt to include legato, round robins and dynamics via the modwheel. Weighing in at just over a gigabyte in size, the samples cover strings, brass, woodwinds, percussion and even two pianos and a church organ. These are all available as separate patches but there are also clever multis which group the instruments into ensembles for easy chord, arpeggio and tutti playing. The bonus harp instrument is a heavenly addition to this fully-featured orchestral package.
HD Orchestra & Sustained String Chords
Subscribe to the Sonuscore mailing list and they’ll send you a twin-pack of lush sounding full orchestral recordings. Evoking a huge blockbuster feel, these tutti performances from the Brandenburg State Orchestra can easily be used for underscore as part of your own cues. For the HD Orchestra, both major and minor chords have been captured from the full orchestra, with low and high strings split out into separate playable ranges. The Sustained String Chords patch features just the string ensemble, separated into low, mid and high sections with the tremolo articulation fading in as you push up your keyboard’s mod wheel.
Let’s finish up with a library that’s a bit more unusual, but equally as useful. Jerry’s Pianos samples two Steinway grand pianos on the famous Sony Scoring Stage. The instruments were placed deep into the scoring stage, some distance apart and played in unison, a technique that both John Williams and Don Davis have used in their own film scores. This results in a wide and aggressive sound, perfect for scoring chase scenes or accompanying powerful orchestral pieces. There are interface options for mixing two different mic perspectives, ensemble size and note length via the mod wheel. The Cinesamples site also contains a generous number of other freebies, including several percussion instruments and the “room tone” from the MGM Scoring Stage.