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Need great violin sounds in a pinch?
Here are the best violin VST plugins and Kontakt instruments!
Choosing the Best Violin VSTs Can Be Tough
Violins are an essential part of many a producer’s toolkit. While they feature prominently as solos in orchestral music, in pop they can add an achingly romantic counterpoint to vocal melodies—or even extra piquancy, as in Ariana Grande’s Positions.
But emulating the violin has always proven difficult.
The tone of a violin is a complex interaction between parameters including bow speed, bow angle, bow position, vibrato speed, and vibrato depth, to name a few.
Like the others in the string family, it provides a continuous length of pitches (unlike the piano, for instance) and does so on polyphonic lines (unlike the voice). Realistic performances almost never land or stay exactly on pitch.
For these reasons, legato realism is especially difficult, and good violin VSTs are rare.
But despite all this, we’ve still managed to find the best violin VSTs for you! They are:
First thing’s first, it’s worth noting the violinist from which this VST is sampled and named.
Joshua Bell is the world-famous, Grammy Award winning violinist. And he’s also the guy who performed incognito at the D.C. metro stop for tips (or lack of tips) in that viral YouTube video.
With any luck (and better marketing), your tracks will garner more tips if they sound as good as he does.
Also noteworthy is his Stradivarius Violin, which is over 300 years old and is valued at over one million dollars for its brilliant tone.
Together, they are a formidable sound, which Embertone captures with clarity. Three violin timbres (Sordino, Sul Pont, Sul Tasto) are further subdivided into a multitude of articulations, and your music will pay dividends if you master the keyswitches.
This complexity is belied by a minimalist interface, the imagery hearkening back to the violin’s Italian history: born of the Baroque period, with Bach and Vivaldi writing technically demanding passages like those from the Four Seasons.
This violin VST is meant specifically for people writing violin solos with varying rhythms, quick runs and arpeggios, and a strong dynamic range. Buying this VST for anything less would be a waste of its abilities and your money. For most pop producers, this violin would be overkill.
With 12 different legato types, this VST promises to capture the artistry of Bell’s performance. While this certainly seems possible, a truly Bell-level performance will require a great deal of practice first.
The most interesting feature of the VST is the Intuition page. It provides auto humanization along with several continuous inputs including bow variance, attack pitch instability, speed pitch instability, and interval pitch instability. Turning down the humanization provides a tighter, more quantized performance.
While many VSTs attempt auto humanization, few do so for so many parameters, and this is what accounts for the VST’s artistry. Other VSTs may achieve similar effects by mapping LFOs separately, but this method wouldn’t compare to the speed and resultant sound of the Joshua Bell VST.
The most interesting control, not seen on other violin VSTs to date, is the multi-stop attack selection. This is a way to realistically emulate double, triple, and quadruple stops.
“Stops” are essentially chords, but because the violin has a curved bowing area, the four chord notes can only be played one or two at a time. The multi-stop selection allows you to choose to hit at either one or two, and it also changes the speed from which they hop between these “stops.”
Together, all of these controls easily prevent that unwanted fake MIDI sound, which is the golden standard for these instruments.
The Joshua Bell Violin lives up to the virtuoso violinist’s name, and it will be useful for those who need a dynamic solo performance.
The Adagio Violin from 8Dio effectively captures the violin with detail and depth. All the recordings are crisply presented, with little unwanted reverberation.
The recording quality and the sheer amount of samples are impressive. For instance, Troels Folmann (composer and producer of this VST) forced violinists to play the same trill for 45 minutes instead of playing a shorter trill and looping it.
Each articulation has been captured in all of its variations, like the bowing variation that can occur between two successive spiccatos. The samples are smartly launched according to velocity, so the instrument adjusts to your playing.
The patches help to sort through this ocean of samples. The Ensemble Sordino Long patch would be great for an emotional farewell between characters or perhaps the romanticism behind a show tunes track, while the Bartok Pizzicato (a technique that calls on the violinist to snap the string against the fingerboard) provides a heightened bouncy feel.
There are solos, chamber ensembles, and full ensembles, covering all the essential violin sizes.
This instrument is meant to cover your bases, especially if you’re a producer who consistently uses the violin as a lead instrument.
The articulation grid takes up a large amount of the GUI; it’s comprised of 10 articulation slots that can be mapped to different keyswitches. Effectively, you can build your own custom instrument for a specific genre. This saves time when you need to recreate a specific mood from your repertoire.
Each articulation type, in turn, has its own varying set of controllers, which means that practiced users will achieve even more individualized sounds. Time spent developing your style will result in more unique compositions, the same way a violinist would have his own performance flairs.
Creative producers can also take a preset from the instrument and then put their own spin in it.
8Dio has created a workhorse violin. It captures the instrument accurately and effectively (which is no small feat) and it does so at a decent price.
Captures all the essential articulations and ensemble sizes
While the first few in the series mostly covered brash, heavy sounds in the style of Hans Zimmer, Tundra was designed to create ethereal textures, in the style of Scandinavian TV scoring or Arvo Part.
You’ll probably recognize this Arvo Part piece Spiegel im Spiegel from a few film soundtracks.
But what does that actually mean in terms of recordings? It means extremely low-level recordings—advertised as “the edge of silence.”
The instruments are so soft that they often reach the noise floor of the recordings. The noise floor is the inherent noise in a recording, which depends on the interference of the recording circuitry as well as the room ambiance. So you can only imagine how quietly each individual must be playing.
Toying with the edge of the noise floor gives the library a wispy feel, making it perfect for an ambient track or for cerebral thrills.
The orchestra is mixed down into four mic dials: close, deca tree, ambient, and outriggers. Outriggers is a wider version of the deca tree, and this helps to broaden the stereo field. So despite having an airy texture, it manages to fill up the sound space nicely.
Besides the noise floor, the experimental articulations really make this library stand out.
VST Highlight: Experimental Articulations
Spitfire asked its performers to try experimental techniques—and as a violinist, I can testify that I have rarely used any of them.
The techniques include things like harmonic tremolos, which lighten the sound even more. In a film score, this could underly the main character in a self-reflective mood.
The Col Legno articulation sounds like… well it sounds almost like nothing because it’s so quiet, but it feels like when your hair stands on end because there’s someone dangerous around the corner.
Another interesting technique is the use of no rosin in some of the patches. Rosin is the material that gives bow hairs their friction. A lack of rosin therefore means that you’ll hear a lot more of the hairs scratching the strings instead of the strings themselves vibrating.
All of these experimental techniques come with apt names like “Silken Con Sordino” and “Frozen Shorts,” which tells you a lot: it’s icy and ghostly.
Albion Tundra is great for producers looking to expand their violin range for more “airy” sound.
Output built Analog Strings to “mangle and mess up” string samples. The result is a wild range of textures, with everything from syncopated pizzicatos to brooding pads.
Each patch is composed of two samples. Each sample, in turn, can be separately modulated by an array of inputs including pitch, arpeggiators, and LFOs. The dual-layered design precludes any patch from having a simple, bland texture. Instead, each patch generates unique blends and morphing sounds.
The patches are sorted into one-shots, pads, and tape. Tape is especially worth noting, as it makes heavy use of the multiple arpeggiators to create interesting phrasings—even with single note hits.
The patches include entries like Smokey Sticks, which is a cool plucky noise that could be the top layer of an EDM track; and Utopian Swells, which sounds like a violin pizzicato version of Trent Reznor’s whimsical tracks in Disney’s Soul. But I could see Output Analog Strings going into any and every genre, given its wide range.
The best part is the ease at which this range will come to you.
VST Highlight: Macro Controls
Within the main page of the UI are four macro controls, which are long sliders that look like futuristic reconstructions of organic life (perhaps a visual metaphor for the sound design philosophy). The visual primacy of these macros forces users to explore the breadth of each patch.
Assigning them to MIDI controllers will help you to control the texture, whether that comes from increasing the rhythm of the LFOs or rising timbres of the filter sweeps. The musicality of these macro assignments will be greatly inspiring for producers who like to experiment while they compose.
For instance, the patch Pluckhairs shifts from invigorating spiccatos to pulsing synth sounds with one macro slider, and it sounds like the shift from anticipation into action and adventure.
While many VSTs make use of macros, it’s rare to see so many inputs mapped so intricately, and to four neat controllers no less. The macros in Analog Strings simply beg to be used!
Analog Strings would be a great expansion to any producer’s range of timbres and, ironically, the least useful for traditional orchestral composition.
Also coming from 8Dio is Agitato Grandiose Violin Ensemble, a VST cousin of the Adagio series.
8Dio created Adagio in 2011, but they found that they didn’t quite capture the exact legato that they wanted—that “Bright Williams legato”—even after 30 days of recording (“Williams” is a call out to John Williams of Jurassic Park and Star Wars fame).
They later embarked on the Agitato series to capture this specific legato, and that is the one included in Agitato Grandiose (Adagio has also been updated to include this as well).
While the VST is missing quite a few short articulations like pizzicato, it should be perfect for those who just want the classic “soaring sound”.
VST Highlight: Simplified Control
One of 8Dio’s improvements comes from the careful interplay between bow intensity and vibrato, which is what makes the signature sound.
Within the settings page, there’s an option to chain both the dynamics (a stand-in for bow intensity) and the vibrato to one MIDI controller. This means supreme ease of use while maintaining the range of emotions expected from a violin.
Other notable ease-of-use settings are Auto Speed and Auto Chord. The first detects your playing speed and adapts the legatos accordingly. The second detects chords and switches off the monophonic playing.
Combined, these settings will give you the sound you want with the least amount of effort.
Agitato Grandiose captures the sugary legatos of the violin ensemble, and it does so cheaply and easily.
The LABS Strings 1 & 2 are another quality addition, altogether including six patches: long, short, ensemble, ensemble swells, pizz, and Bartok Pizz.
The inclusion of Bartok Pizzicato is especially unexpected for a free VST, as that’s a more advanced technique. It’s certainly a welcome one, given its spicy timbre.
Along with the rest of the LABS series, the instrument comes packed in a minimalist white interface, with just a few controls.
While this VST might struggle to provide fluid legato realism, it is still a useful, lightweight addition to your library.
I would not advise you to use this instrument in isolation, but it would be certainly useful when layered atop itself with different contrapuntal lines. Try combining this with the entire LABS collection, and you’ll find yourself with a decent orchestral palette.
VST Highlight: MIDI Controls
I’ve praised the LABS series before for their inclusion of Dynamics and Expression controls, and this VST is no different. Together they provide a musical articulation unavailable with simple volume controls.
In addition, the inclusion of a Tightness dial helps with realism, especially with the shorter articulations. Instead of having to adjust attack and release and sustain separately, the tightness does it all in one.
These types of nuanced controls are usually reserved for paid VSTs—and their inclusion in LABS makes them stand out from other free options.
LABS Strings 1 & 2 are more realistic and expressive than one could hope for from a free instrument.
Bartok Pizz patch
Nuanced MIDI controls (as compared to other free VSTs)