Whether you’re scoring for the screen or looking to spice up your tracks, orchestral VSTs are a powerful addition to your production toolkit. By sampling acoustic sounds and packaging them as playable software instruments, orchestral VSTs place an ensemble at your fingertips. The best ones can be almost indistinguishable from the real thing—or conjure bold new sounds that an acoustic ensemble could never produce.
There are countless orchestral VSTs out there, available for sampling platforms such as Native Instruments’ Kontakt. So what is the best VST for orchestra? And which tool will best suit your project? In this article, we’ll run down 12 of the best, ranging from full ensembles to virtuoso soloists, from classic sounds to wild new textures, and from lavish pro instruments to fun freebies.
Jump to these sections:
- What is the best VST for orchestra?
- 12 best orchestral VST to use in your music
Follow along with this tutorial using Kontakt, the do-it-all instrument platform.
What is the best VST for orchestra?
There are many fantastic orchestral VSTs out there. Which one is best for you depends on the project you have in mind. Need a lavish orchestra for a scoring project? Try the Symphony Essentials collection. How about an inspiring creative tool for making unusual sounds? Give Arkhis a go. Or if it’s a free beginner’s tool you’re after, you could check out The Free Orchestra from ProjectSAM.
Those are just some starting points. Every musical project is different, and each orchestral VST has its own unique strengths. In this article, we’ll demonstrate 12 of the best orchestral VSTs, explaining their key features and ideal use cases. We’ll also provide audio examples so you can hear the VSTs in action.
All of these orchestral VSTs are available for Kontakt, the sampling platform for Native Instruments that has powered two decades of musical creation.
12 best orchestral VST to use in your music
1. Symphony Essentials collection
If you want a great-sounding orchestra in a single package, you can’t get much better than Symphony Essentials. This compact collection features six libraries of samples taken from Native Instruments’ flagship Symphony Series, covering a 60 piece string section, brass and woodwind, and a versatile set of 18 percussion instruments.
Each section can be used as individual instruments (one Kontakt instrument for trumpets, one for trombones etc.) or as a full ensemble. The instruments sound world-class and the expressive control is extremely deep, covering hundreds of articulations and smart editing features like drum resonance simulation. For those in search of a general purpose orchestral VST, Symphony Essentials should be your go-to.
2. Palette Primary Colors (free)
You don’t need to spend big to get orchestral flavor in your tracks. If you want to experiment with orchestral sounds on a budget, Palette Primary Colors is a great place to start.
This free taster of Red Room Audio’s Palette Orchestral Series offers string, woodwind, and brass ensembles in a single accessible interface. Each ensemble features staccato (short) and sustained modes, plus vibrato and flutter. You won’t get the depth and versatility found in a full orchestral suite, but Primary Colors is great for spinning up ideas fast, or for getting familiar with the basics of orchestral VSTs before you dive in deeper.
3. Session Strings Pro 2
Session String Pro 2 is great for adding lush backing to a pop or electronic project. Whether it’s a vocal-led ballad, a disco epic, or a euphoric club breakdown, this 22-piece string ensemble will give you the sheen you need.
The instruments themselves sound highly realistic and offer plenty of control. You can use the whole ensemble in a single plug-in or work with basses, celli, violas and violins separately, with a range of articulations for expressive options. The detailed mix interface allows you to emulate famous string sounds, from Motown to the modern day.
4. Action Strings 2
Action Strings 2 is designed for a specific task: creating a driving backdrop to Hollywood-style action. It does this by offering over 31GB of pre-recorded rhythmic phrases, or “Live Modules,” for string orchestra. These phrases have been recorded at different pitches and intensities, and can be tweaked and combined in limitless combinations to get the sequence you need.
The result is a more lifelike sound than a single-note library could provide, but with plenty of room for customization. The pre-recorded “themes” cover a range of moods and rhythms, and a simple interface makes it quick to build and refine your high-tension cues. Of course, the instrument isn’t just for film scoring. Any time you want to heighten the intensity, Action Strings 2 might have something to offer.
5. Cremona Quartet
Many orchestral VSTs feature large, impressive ensembles. But sometimes you need something on a smaller scale. The Cremona Quartet captures four solo instruments in incredible detail. The source instruments—a classic string quartet line-up of two violins, a viola and a cello—were made in 1600s Italy and are considered among the best sounding string instruments ever heard.
Each instrument comes as a single VST, featuring a rich, full-bodied sound and extensive chromatic sampling of 20 articulations, recorded in Cremona’s Auditorium Giovanni Arvedi. Whether you need a full string quartet to bolster your ballad or a soloist to take the limelight, Cremona Quartet has you covered.
6. The Free Orchestra (free)
High quality acoustic sounds needn’t be expensive. Featuring instruments from ProjectSAM’s Symphobia series, The Free Orchestra offers a range of orchestral effects and engrossing textures—at no cost.
A simple interface allows you to choose your instrument fast, and a few editing options offer surprising expressive range. You can layer multiple instruments in a single patch, allowing you to quickly build the ensemble of your choice. We particularly like The Free Orchestra’s more far-out sounds, including extended woodwind techniques, foreboding drones, and dreamy sordino strings—all featured in this spooky cue.
Valves is a brilliantly lifelike brass ensemble. It captures five mellow instruments (french horn, flugelhorn, euphonium, trombone, and tuba) in detail, packaging them in a single VST instrument. Over 100 preset phrases give you a near-endless choice of crescendos, swells, and evolving sustains, while the Moments Slider allows you to switch between variations of these phrases on the fly.
But Valves is more than just a lifelike imitation. Its impressively deep editor lets you tweak the behavior of each note per-instrument, while a fully-featured FX section is great for dreamy delays and reverbs. Get acquainted with these settings and Valves could be your new favorite pad generator.
Bonus: The new Valves Pro is also a powerful contemporary brass library not to be missed.
Music for the screen shouldn’t draw too much attention to itself. You don’t want to distract from the action, particularly when important events or dialogue are taking place. At the same time, you don’t want your underscoring to be bland; it should add to the viewing experience.
This is where Arkhis comes in. Designed for creative underscoring, this innovative VST features 90 ear-catching sound sources that can be layered to create intriguing atmospheres. Its broad library can do dreamy ambience just as well as eerie discomfort. And its unconventional samples are also great for adding a twist to experimental productions.
Like Arkhis, Lores was made by Native Instruments in collaboration with scoring tool innovators Orchestral Tools. And like Arkhis, Lores balances function and inspiration, offering a trove of unusual sounds in a simple, stylish interface.
This time, the focus is on unusual organic sound sources. Alongside old favorites like strings and winds, the likes of the nickelharpa, hurdy-gurdy and shakuhachi add an offbeat rustic charm to your cues. Their unusual timbres are great fun to explore, and equally at home in experimental and ambient productions.
10. Minima (free)
Minima is another great choice for exploring orchestral sounds on a budget. This free VST from Xperimenta offers a small but well-formed collection of sampled instruments and a clean, accessible interface. The plug-in features some 20 instruments including piano, guitar, and custom-built pads, with a new instrument added each month.
Editing options are limited, but a lot of the instruments set a strong mood from the get-go. We particularly like the carillon, vibraphone, and e-bowed and plucked pianos—as featured in this wistful cue.
Many of the tools in this list work great for static underscoring: think drones, pads, and scene-setting textures. Sometimes you need something with a bit more movement. Sequis excels here. This “acoustic sequencer” from Native Instruments and Orchestral Tools features a library of repeating rhythmic patterns recorded on acoustic instruments, from percussion and bass through to voices, woodwinds, and more.
The plug-in’s clever interface and high quality sounds make it incredibly easy to begin selecting loops and layering them up into complex compositions. Documentaries and dynamic movie sequences will benefit from a bit of Sequis. It could also provide a subtle pulsing backbone to your pop or dance productions.
12. Diamond Jazz Trio (free)
Finally, something a bit different. Diamond Jazz Trio offers a contrast to the serious classical sounds found in the rest of this list. It’s a bitesize taster of Strezov Sampling’s swing band jazz instrument, Diamond Jazz Orchestra—and it’s completely free.
You get piano, double bass, and two different alto sax instruments, with limited versatility but plenty of character. In this example, we’ve bolstered the ensemble with a little percussion from Native Instruments’ Abbey Road Drummer collection. Coming to a cocktail bar near you.
Start using orchestral VSTs to bring life to your music
In this article we’ve looked at 12 of the best orchestral VSTs. We’ve explored the range of instruments out there, from fun freebies to pro composition tools. And we’ve shown how these powerful sampled instruments can bring life and character to your music, whether you’re writing for the screen or making your own tracks.
Now it’s time to start using orchestral VSTs in your own music. When it comes to sampled instruments, Kontakt is the place to start. For two decades, this do-it-all instrument platform has been at the forefront of modern composition.