In addition to the mini film score reviews, you will find some of my technical reviews of products for film composers and sound designers. In the pipeline is a series on using Apple Logic for film music and sound design and interviews with some of today's top film composers. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

Film Music Mini-Reviews

The Descendents
The Lovely Bones
The Host
New World
Teen Wolf

Music Product Reviews

ProjectSAM True Strike 1 & 2
Vienna Symphonic Library - Appassionata Strings
Quantum Leap Storm Drum 2
Flying Hand Percussion
Vienna Instruments - Special Edition
Eastwest/Quantum Leap Symphonic Choirs
HALion Symphonic Orchestra

Saturday, March 24, 2012

ProjectSAM Orchestral Essentials

Orchestral Essentials
Review by Carlos Garza (

Originally known for their straight ahead symphonic products, ProjectSAM found success in recent years with the Symphobia series -- two high-end collections of symphonic effects and sound design samples.  Their newest collection, Orchestral Essentials, combines highlights of Orchestral Brass, True Strike and Symphobia products with some new samples to create film and game composer’s dream package. 

Their percussion libraries, True Strike 1 and 2 were the subject of my 2008 article written for Pro Audio Review.  Here’s a deep dive into their brand new and very affordable symphonic instrument library. 


Orchestral Essentials (OE) includes strings, brass and woodwind ensembles, select solo instruments, concert and ethnic percussion.  The ensembles include staccato, long notes, legato, and for the strings, pizzicato and tremolo. 

There are cinematic effects in each family, including string and brass rips, clusters, falls, drum phrases, scraped and bowed metal instruments and more.  The legato combination instruments include horns with trombone, strings with flute and flutes with clarinet.  There is also a Dystopia Sound Design collection, including drones, risers, reverse effects, alien and ghostly sounds and a collection of things that go bump in the night. 

The percussion includes concert bass, timpani, snares, toms, cymbals, gongs, a djembe ensemble and a Japanese set.  Rounding out the collection are Piano Mystique, a concert harp, harpsichord and a church organ. 

Among the highlights of the OE collection are the “multis” and full orchestra patches.  Many of the strings, brass and woodwind sets include percussion in the lowest range on the keyboard.  An excellent combination for live performance or working out ideas. 

OE instruments are loaded into the free Kontakt Player 5 (included).  The custom tabbed interface exposes controls for simple EQ, effects, attack and note release.  The built-in effects include a simple, but nice sounding, reverb, a compressor, delay, filter and stereo control.  Specific controls and effects vary by instrument. 

Some of the sustain instruments have a velocity switch, allowing you to play with regular key velocity or use the mod wheel to fade in the higher intensity samples.  You can create strings and brass swells using the mod wheel to drive the tonal intensity while your expression pedal controls volume independently. 

In Use

My primary composing rig is a MacBook Pro with 6GB of RAM, OS 10.5.8 and Logic 9 as host for Kontakt 5.  I was excited at the possibility of using OE to sketch out ideas for my current project, Within the Darkness.  This paranormal ghost story is screaming for orchestral effects and sound design from hell. 

I was amazed at the fullness and overall blend of my arrangements with OE.  Remember that it’s an “essentials” set so we’re not going to see great variety in articulations and very few solo instruments.  That said, this package sounds great!  I had no trouble getting realistic symphonic arrangements very quickly.  Check out the following sound clip, which includes three short builds.  This track was created entirely with OE. 

It sounded so good that sometimes I found myself layering too many parts.  I was thankful for the Enhance control, which let me quickly try larger or smaller ensembles with some of the instruments.  See the Enhance and Modwheel switches on the left side of the player window below.  

Orchestral Essentials Main UI

The brass instruments in OE are top tier -- no surprise, since they are from one of ProjectSAM’s flagship collections.  As with the other sets, the brass ensembles mix low, mid and high instruments in one keyboard mapping for staccato and one for sustained notes.  It’s nice to have the option for normal keyboard velocity or using the mod wheel to shape the tone during performance. 

The Brass Cinematic effects patch has a nice assortment of clusters, blasts and falls (think “LOST”).  The solo horn and trumpet are excellent.  The solo trombone was fine but in mod wheel mode I was not able to hear the loudest samples two octaves below middle C and lower.  I think this is simply a bug in the Kontakt instrument patch -- I’m sure it will be fixed in an update.  All the samples are there in normal velocity mode. 

The woodwinds are very lively.  Once I learned where the flutes, clarinets and bassoons transition on the keyboard, I found these sets very inspiring.  The settings tab in the Kontakt interface allows you to turn on the release tails and kick in the “octaver,” which is very handy for punching up a melody quickly. 

I explored the woodwinds and some of the darker cinematic effects for a score to the silent short, "Monkey Cookie Jar." 

You can get more from OE by tweaking the patch settings but I didn’t find much need.  I adjusted the attack, decay and sustain to create a diminuendo patch with the sustained woodwinds.  All of this is very quick and easy and that means you are spending more time writing and playing your music and less time tinkering with the patch settings. 

The Woodwinds Cinematic Effects patch is one of my favorites.  The modest sampling of flute rips worked well in climactic sections.  I combined this with staccato winds and brass and some reverse effects to score a trailer for a short film project.  Below is the trailer for the upcoming Anthony Faust film, "Make Her Smile" -- scored entirely with Orchestral Essentials. 

Watch the make-up removal time lapse above or watch it on Vimeo.

The low-end woodwind effects clusters are very creepy and one of these is already in my score for Within the Darkness.  There are some wonderfully unsettling symphonic effects. 
The arco strings with mod wheel dynamics are simply gorgeous.  These sounds are ready for prime time!  The short notes were perfect for action sequences and the cinematic effects are right out of a Bernard Herrmann score. 

The power of Orchestral Essentials is most apparent in the Full Orchestra and multi sets.  The Full Orchestra sets combine layered sections with multiple controls for dynamic live playing.  For example, the Epic set has strings and trumpet in the right hand and mostly brass in the left whereas the Suspense set features tremolo strings in the right and mixes brass with drums in the left. 

Among the multis that I found very useful are, Darko, with the mysterious reverb piano and The Gathering, which mixes strings brass and woodwinds into a taut thriller palette -- just begging for diminished harmonies. 

Another handy feature is the Seating Tab (see below), which shows where the orchestra sections are located on stage.  You can see which instruments are present in a basic patch and which are added by hitting the Enhance button.
Orchestral Essentials - Seating Chart

I really appreciated having round robin samples in most of the set.  More round robin would be helpful, especially the short brass samples. 

OE includes 8 Sound Design layouts.  Names like “Ghostly Winds” and “They arrived” give only a hit at the sonic mayhem.  Reverse Engineering has several long builds and sweeps from symphonic instrument glissandi and atonal clusters -- just the thing for a paranormal, “Fringy” film or TV show. 

The percussive sound design set is loaded with multi-hit and layered booms and clangs to make your audience jump out of their seats.  The drones and risers are richly complex and well suited to professional film, TV and game productions. 


Orchestral Essentials is a great sounding package.  With little effort, you can create high quality, believable symphonic realizations for film, TV, electronic games and pop productions. 

The symphonic effects and Dystopia sound design elements are powerful and dramatic and rare in a symphonic library product in this price range.  As you can hear from my demos, Orchestral Essentials inspired me in a number of ways from romantic scores to dark drama and intense action.  The multi-patches are impressive and I’m looking forward to using them in live settings (for example, live silent film score accompaniment). 

The quality of the recordings and the selection of straight-ahead instruments would make OE worth the price alone.  The inclusion of so many symphonic effects and dramatic sound design elements make Orchestral Essentials a rare and unique offering.  OE is strongly recommended for aspiring film and game composers and anyone wanting to explore the darker and more dramatic edges of symphonic realization. 

  •     Beautiful 24-bit samples
  •     Natural hall reverberation
  •     Instrument groups recorded together
  •     Dystopian sound design elements
  •     More round robin samples needed
  •     Mod wheel control not available on every instrument
Applications: TV, film and game scoring, concert work mock-ups, pop arrangements
Installation: Direct Download or DVD boxed
Company site:

ProjectSAM libraries are sold internationally through ProjectSAM's web site and through world-wide affiliates in the US, Europe, Japan and India. 

The Bottom line: This is a very satisfying and inspiring collection of virtual instruments at a great price.  Highly recommended. 

€299 / $399 USD

(c) 2012 Carlos Garza,

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