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VSL Vienna Special Edition

Vienna Symphonic Library's Special Edition series aims to bring the most useful contents of the extensive Symphonic Cube library into the reach of mere mortals. By including the most-commonly used articulations of the most-commonly-used instruments, VSL have created a compact and affordable library which fills the need for 90% of orchestral writing.
 
Since their first releases in 2003, the VSL name has been synonymous with high-quality, realistic and playable orchestral samples. Recorded in their purpose-built Silent Stage studio outside Vienna, the samples are edited in-house and coupled with custom-developed virtual instrument software. VSL focus on individual instruments and single-instrument ensembles in their libraries, giving the greatest flexibility for orchestration - you won't find any instant arrangement patches (with the sole exception of section strings) amongst their patch lists.
 
The Special Edition series is divided into the following collections:
 
  • Special Edition Volume 1 - Essential Orchestra
    • Woodwinds (standard orchestral instruments) - Staccato, Sustained, Sforzato, Legato
    • Brass (standard orchestral instruments and ensembles) - Staccato, Sustained, Sforzato, Legato
    • Harp (Normal and Harmonics) - Single Notes
    • Keyboards and Tuned Percussion (standard orchestral instruments) - Single Notes
    • Percussion - Various
    • Solo Strings - Staccato, Détaché, Sustained, Sforzato, Tremolo, Pizzicato, Legato, Portamento
    • Orchestral Strings - Staccato, Détaché, Sustained, Sforzato, Tremolo, Pizzicato, Legato, Portamento
  • Special Edition Volume 1 PLUS - Articulation Expansion to Volume 1
    • Woodwinds (standard orchestral instruments) - Portato, Fortepiano, Semitone Trills, Whole Tone Trills, Legato Repetitions, Staccato Repetitions, Fast Repetitions
    • Brass (standard orchestral instruments and ensembles) - Portato, Fortepiano, Semitone Trills, Whole Tone Trills, Legato Repetitions, Staccato Repetitions, Fast Repetitions
    • Solo Strings - Short Détaché, Fortepiano, Bartok Pizzicato, Col Legno, Semitone Trills, Whole Tone Trills, Legato Repetitions, Spiccato Repetitions, Fast Repetitions, Staccato Artificial Harmonics, Sustained Artificial Harmonics, Staccato Ponticello, Sustained Ponticello, Tremolo Ponticello
    • Orchestral Strings - Short Détaché, Fortepiano, Bartok Pizzicato, Col Legno, Semitone Trills, Whole Tone Trills, Legato Repetitions, Spiccato Repetitions, Fast Repetitions, Staccato Artificial Harmonics, Sustained Artificial Harmonics, Staccato Ponticello, Sustained Ponticello, Tremolo Ponticello, Staccato Con Sordino, Sustained Con Sordino, Tremolo Con Sordino (not Double Basses)
  • Special Edition Volume 2 - Extended Orchestra
    • Woodwinds (orchestral ensembles, saxophones, less-common orchestral instruments) - Staccato, Sustained, Sforzato, Legato
    • Brass (muted orchestral instruments and ensembles, less-common orchestral instruments) - Staccato, Sustained, Sforzato, Legato
    • Organ, Harpsichord - Single Notes
    • Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar - Staccato, Sustained With Vibrato, Sustained Without Vibrato, Legato
    • Chamber String Ensembles - Staccato, Détaché, Sustained, Sforzato, Tremolo, Pizzicato, Legato, Portamento
    • Large Symphonic (Appassionata) String Ensembles - Staccato, Sustained
  • Special Edition Volume 2 PLUS - Articulation Expansion to Volume 2
    • Woodwinds (orchestral ensembles, saxophones, less-common orchestral instruments) - Portato, Fortepiano, Semitone Trills, Whole Tone Trills, Legato Repetitions, Staccato Repetitions, Fast Repetitions
    • Brass (muted orchestral instruments and ensembles, less-common orchestral instruments) - Portato, Fortepiano, Semitone Trills, Whole Tone Trills, Legato Repetitions, Staccato Repetitions, Fast Repetitions
    • Chamber String Ensembles - Short Détaché, Fortepiano, Bartok Pizzicato, Semitone Trills, Whole Tone Trills, Legato Repetitions, Spiccato Repetitions, Fast Repetitions, Staccato Artificial Harmonics, Sustained Artificial Harmonics
    • Large Symphonic (Appassionata) String Ensembles - Staccato Con Sordino, Sustained Con Sordino
  • Special Edition Volume 3 - Appassionata and Muted Strings
    • Large Symphonic (Appassionata) String Ensembles (Normal and Muted) -  Staccato, Détaché, Sustained, Sforzato, Tremolo, Pizzicato, Legato, Portamento (not Double Basses)
    • Solo Strings (Muted)-  Staccato, Détaché, Sustained, Sforzato, Tremolo, Pizzicato, Legato, Portamento
    • Chamber String Ensembles (Muted) -  Staccato, Détaché, Sustained, Sforzato, Tremolo, Pizzicato, Legato, Portamento
    • Harp 2 (Normal and Harmonics) - Single Notes
  • Special Edition Volume 4 - Special Winds and Choir
    • Woodwinds (even less-common orchestral instruments, soprano and bass saxophones) - Staccato, Sustained, Sforzato, Legato
    • Brass (even less-common orchestral instruments) - Staccato, Sustained, Sforzato, Legato
    • Choir ("AA") - Staccato, Sustained, Sforzato, Legato

Libraries are loaded into VSL's proprietary Vienna Instruments software, presenting a comprehensive, flexible and easy-to-control view into the patch. Central to the user interface is the view of the Matrix, a collection of instrument patches arranged in a consistent manner allowing the selection of different articulations with keyswitches, MIDI controllers, pitch-bend, playing speed or velocity. With appropriate patches, the software responds to legato playing and repeated notes, avoiding the lumpy performances or machine-gun effects often heard with other libraries. VSL have carefully programmed their libraries to provide instantly-playable instruments, requiring a minimum of re-programming to achieve satisfactory results - but allowing the facility if desired.
 
 
The Vienna Instruments software runs stand-alone, or as Audio Units (32 and 64-bit) / VST (32 and 64-bit) / RTAS and AAX (32-bit). It is now a mature platform with good stability and rapid loading times. Also included in the installation is the Vienna Ensemble software, which allows the loading and mixing of multiple Vienna Instruments instances in a single application / plug-in instance. The software is protected using the eLicenser dongle, which has undergone significant stability improvements in recent years.
 
 
Overall, the Vienna Special Edition libraries offer excellent value for money. They contain the majority of individual orchestral instruments that a composer would require, without overwhelming them with unending choices; the libraries are programmed with a consistent approach across the whole range, allowing for rapidity in arranging across multiple instruments. The realism of performances from the instruments is unequalled amongst software libraries, and VSL continue to improve the platform year upon year. The sound of the instruments is very good - in particular, the woodwinds and percussion are outstanding. The only criticisms we could level on sound are:
 
  1. As the instruments are all recorded dry, it can take some time and expertise to set up a realistic-sounding mix. The brass and section strings will benefit from this particularly - definitely don't audition them without an appropriate reverb in place!
  2. The orchestral strings are not the most fulfilling on the market. Whilst they are reasonably competent, they don't have the richness and depth traditionally associated with symphonic - and particularly, cinematic - ensembles.
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