Buyer's Guides

The Best Orchestral VSTs: Professional Symphonic Sounds

Hopefully, this doesn’t ruin movie magic for you forever, but we have to break it to you that a lot of the orchestral music you hear in films isn’t being performed by real musicians. Because, while it may seem like the film industry is happily setting fire to money at every opportunity, there are budgeting concerns involved. These days, the orchestras used on scores are either commonly one of the top ensembles in Eastern Europe, a hybrid that expertly blends a few musicians with a VST orchestra (virtual studio technology), or sometimes a score is 100% samples.

It’s not simply down to budgeting – the orchestral VSTs are just that damn good now. Thanks to the likes of Spitfire Audio, Native Instruments and Vienna, many people sitting in cinemas are completely oblivious to the fact the oboe they’re hearing was played on a keyboard.

Whether you want to use this technology for demoing orchestral parts, to score a film or media project you’re working on, to blend with real instruments or just to write some orchestral music for the joy of it, Headliner is here to conduct you through the best orchestral VSTs currently available. So, timpani roll please, and start that metronome, as we head out into the virtual concert hall.

Spitfire BBC Symphony Orchestra Discover

Almost unbelievably, our first entry on the best orchestral VSTs list is completely free, unless you go for the Professional version, and then the price jumps quite a bit to about £/$899. On the Free Discover version, there is no compromise whatsoever, with all the amazing sound we’ve come to expect from industry leaders Spitfire Audio. There are 33 orchestral instruments on offer, with 47 techniques across them. It will only take up 200MB of your disk space, so should fit nicely onto your laptop setup. If you’ve ever thought the BBC Symphony Orchestra sounds stunning at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall, now’s your chance to put them to use.


IK Multimedia Miroslav Philharmonik 2 CE

The next three entries of this best orchestral VSTs compendium are all currently at the same £/$150 price point, and the first of these supremely affordable sample libraries is from IK Multimedia. This one is named after the Czech jazz bassist Miroslav Vitous, who placed himself in sampling history in 1993 when he went about sampling the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. As to be expected from a library lovingly created by a musician, these are very human-sounding samples, unlike some of the flat and cold ones you will have undoubtedly heard. Philharmonik 2 brings you 2,7000 instruments in a 58GB package, so it’s brilliantly compact.


Garritan Personal Orchestra

Another solid and affordable option, Garritan is an option to explore if your budget for the best VST orchestra can’t quite extend to the Spitfire and Native Instruments name tags just yet. Garritan boasts 500 instrument sounds, and a fun feature is building your orchestra instrument-by-instrument if you’re after something really particular, and there are quite a few curated combinations to make this process quicker.


UVI Orchestral Suite

Quite simply, it sounds far too good for the price; that is UVI Orchestral Suite’s own claim to being the best VST orchestra. It’s also very easy to use — you’ll be up and running with the 60 instruments, covering brass, strings, woodwinds and percussion in no time. Also on show is a full choir, classical guitar, harp, and key instruments like celesta and harpsichord. You can tweak individual instruments with playing styles and other controls. A lovely bonus is its own built-in convolution reverb.


Vienna Symphonic Library Vienna Smart Orchestra

The first heavyweight name wandering out like a titan into this best VST orchestra list is Vienna, a very fitting name considering the Austrian capital used to pull in the likes of Mozart and Beethoven as their base of compositional operations. And with a truly stunning sound, the fact you can get it for under £/$200 is a wonderful thing. It’s known for the fact you can play the entire 140-piece orchestra all at once with a keyboard controller. There are lots of great bundled effects also. Brilliant for fast, ease of use when you need to deliver an orchestral sketch on the fly.


EastWest Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra

Another very weighty name in this world of the best orchestra VSTs, EastWest is multi-award-winning for its extensive work with orchestra sampling. You’ll struggle to find many more authentic digital orchestras on the market, and there’s a good reason you’ll hear these very instruments on many a Hollywood film score. All the articulation details of each instrument are so pleasingly real. The Complete Edition puts a 117GB library at your disposal, with pianos, percussion, brass, strings, woodwinds and more ready to go. If you’re working on a film, video game or anything requiring professional sound, EastWest will deliver.


ProjectSam Symphobia

Did ProjectSam deliberately give themselves such a lowkey-sounding name to differentiate themselves from the big boys like EastWest and Vienna? Either way, it deserves to pay off as Symphobia can absolutely claim to be among the best orchestra VSTs. Symphobia captures its orchestral sounds with stunning realism and character. It will set you back about £/$300, but that pricing is still a fair way shy of some of Spitfire’s most premium offerings. ProjectSam’s prerogative was to record varying ensembles and deliver the power of an orchestral group, so Symphobia is one of the best orchestra VSTs for pressing a key and getting an instant hit of symphonic goodness.


Spitfire Albion One

Spitfire Audio making a second entry in this list was fairly inevitable, and little surprise that it’s their flagship library, Albion One, that sees them soaring back in. Recording took place at London’s famed Air Studios, with a 109-piece orchestra, featuring some of the very best musicians the UK capital could muster. What sets it apart from other libraries is the use of four microphone positions: tree, close, ambient and outriggers, and you can use different combinations of each to experiment with your sound. There are some excellent extra features like Ostinatum, which is essentially an orchestral arpeggiator, and Stephenson’s Steam Band brings orchestral sounds through some crazy processing to help keep you creative.


Best Service Ethno World 6 Complete

You’ll know all too well those moments in a movie where the plot suddenly sweeps you off to a location like India, Africa or Latin America, and suddenly the music swells with instrumentation associated with that geography. So a slightly different best orchestral VST offering is nonetheless very important for the needs of the modern-day film composer. This staggeringly diverse set of sounds from across the globe was assembled by composer Marcel Barsotti, and the demo songs on the product website give you an idea of how every conceivable basis is covered: Bali Gamelan, Polka Bavaria, German Marsch, and Mongolian Voices to name a few.


Sonuscore The Orchestra Complete 3

Sonuscore comfortably ranks itself in the battle for best VST orchestra thanks to its stunning level of detail. For example, it’s rare to hear digital clarinets sounding as if it’s a real recording from professionals with all their years of perfecting their embouchure and technique. The Orchestra Complete 3 lets you play in rapid woodwind notes, which are often the most tell-tale sign of a sample. You are placed in command of an 80-piece orchestra, and contained within are Sonuscore’s much-loved sample packs like HORNS OF HELL, STRINGS OF WINTER, and WOODS OF THE WILD. The ‘complete’ in the title is very apt, as Sonuscore have you very well covered with this dynamic product.


Native Instruments Symphony Series Collection

We’ve left the ‘affordable’ territory firmly behind now — Native Instruments are so well established amongst the best orchestral VSTs that they can comfortably command pricing as seen on their Symphony Series Collection. The reason this has become such a go-to orchestral VST for many is the fact that it excels at both orchestral group voicings, but also stunning-sounding solo instrument sounds. As to be expected from Native Instruments, the interface is beautiful and quick to get to grips with, and the included effects are so good that you may not need to turn to many other plugins.



We’re at the top tier of pricing now, but SWAM All In justifies its price tag for several reasons. Firstly, if you do go for the full ‘All In’ bundle, you are getting a lot of orchestra for your buck. Secondly, while most of the best orchestral VSTs use sampling technology, SWAM sets itself apart by physically modelling all the brass, woodwinds and strings you hear. Thanks to this, you are provided a crazy amount of control over articulation, dynamics, expressive playing, portamento and more. The results are almost unnervingly close to the real thing.


How to achieve professional composer-level results

If you’re reading this, it’s probably a safe assumption you don’t have the budget to record a full orchestra for your project. So perhaps you’re wondering how the pros do it. On the many occasions where a film or television scene didn’t use a full orchestra — perhaps the music had to be written last-minute for an edit, or perhaps the budget had completely dried up — there are ways to get amazing results nonetheless.

First of all, make sure you have the best VST orchestra from above, whichever one you think sounds best and will suit your individual needs the most. And then employ the top trick that professional composers utilise — create a hybrid score. Even if you have the best orchestral VST out there, hopefully, it goes without saying that it can’t quite replace the real thing.

What many composers will do is create a bed of sound with their VST, and then record one or a handful of solo orchestral players. This combination of digital and organic can create some really pleasing results. For example, record a VST string section, and then bring in a professional violinist and cellist to play at the top of a mix, so that you still have the warmth of a real instrument and human expression that can’t quite be replicated.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this orchestral journey, and are a good few steps closer to choosing the best orchestral VST for your tastes and needs. Once you do choose, things are about to get very epic for you.