Best String VST Libraries: Free & Paid (2020)

Last Updated on September 9, 2020 by Facundo

Whether you need to create a soundtrack for a film, a video game, or music in general, string VSTs usually play a huge part.

New sample libraries are released all the time and it’s hard to keep track of which ones are worth getting.

In this article I will list a total of 14 strings libraries; 7 free ones and another 7 paid ones that sound fantastic.

So, without further ado, let’s get started.

Here are some quick navigation links:

The best Strings VSTs are:

NameAvailable FormatOSPrice
Cinematic Studio StringsKontaktWindows & Mac$399
Analog StringsKontaktWindows & Mac$199
Strings EnsembleKontaktWindows & Mac$199 – $499
Spitfire Strings LibrariesKontaktWindows & Mac$249 – $799
CineStrings CoreKontaktWindows & Mac$399
Hans Zimmer StringsVST, AU, AAXWindows & Mac$799
Hollywood StringsPLAY 6 SoftwareWindows & Mac$106 – $156.60

Best Free Strings VSTs

Layers (Windows, Mac)

Layers is an orchestral sample library that features Brass-, Woodwinds- and Strings sections, as well as a Full Orchestra, and it’s designed to run on the SINE Player for free.

It gives you the option to choose between different microphone placements and it also features different articulations.

In total, the whole orchestral pack is about 17GB and runs on both Windows and Mac OS.

You can download Layers here.

Orchestral Strings One (Windows)

The instruments included in this library are; 14 Violins, 10 Violas, 8 Cellos and 6 Double Basses.

To be honest, they sound absolutely fantastic, considering it’s free and a bit dated.

Getting good sampled strings to sound real is actually hard, and even though these ones don’t sound EXACTLY like the real deal, they come really close.

All the samples were recorded utilizing the legendary acoustics in the famous Berliner Hall, home of the Berliner Philharmoniker.

These are not static samples, thanks to the modelling technology of this plugin, which means that they will sound much more real.

Orchestral Strings One focuses on the continuous flow of melody, not just on a single note.

For example, you can progressively transform a sustained note by first adding slow vibrato, then medium vibrato and finally fast vibrato.

Orchestral Strings One is fairly simple to use and it can be controlled via a MIDI keyboard.

You can download Orchestral Strings One here.

Spitfire Audio: Free Strings (Windows, Mac)

I mentioned Spitfire’s LABS plugins in quite a lot of posts already since they are absolutely fantastic and FREE.

As far as strings go, they offer six different alternatives for you to choose from; Strings, Strings 2, Scary Strings, Frozen Strings, Amplified Cello Quartet and Monochord.

I’m a big fan of the Scary Strings library since it gives out that scary abandoned mansion vibe, but all of them sound very realistic!

Every single one of these libraries come with included presets, are available in VST2, VST3, AAX and AU formats and work on both Windows and Mac.

You can download the LABS Strings here.

DSK Strings (Windows)

DSK has one of the widest selections of free plugins I’ve ever seen; from guitars to drums, synthesizers, and more, and of course, strings.

It offers controls for attack, decay, sustain and release, as well as some other useful effects such as stereo spread, a delay, flanger, reverb, and octave control.

It has two strings sections that play simultaneously, and considering it’s 100% free, it does sound quite nice.

You can download DSK Strings here.

Etherealwinds Harp (Windows, Mac)

Etherealwinds Harp is a sampling of a diatonic folk harp recorded by the Newgrounds musician Etherealwinds.

This is a folk harp, which means that when compared to the traditional harp, it has a smaller range.

The sound quality is actually quite good and it’s very easy to use.

Features:

  • Diatonically sampled, 2x RR, 3 velocity layers.
  • Celtic Lever/Folk Harp with a delicate, warm tone.
  • Full Decays Sampled.
  • Samples are mono (Kontakt version includes faux stereo width option).
  • NKI version included.

You can download Etherealwinds Harp here.

Sonatina Harp (Windows, Mac)

The Sonatina Harp, contrary to the previous harp on this list, is a sampled classical Harp.

These samples were edited from the Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra sample library.

You can download Sonatina Harp here.

Ample Guitar M Lite (Windows, Mac)

This is an acoustic guitar plugin that sounds absolutely fantastic while also giving you the option to add some effects which are directly built-in.

You can even double the guitar with the simple press of a button, which will add width and body to the sound.

As far as realism goes, I haven’t been able to find any other free guitar plugin that sounds this great, so definitely give it a shot.

By the way, you can also download a free bass emulator plugin which sounds terrific, make sure to try it out as well.

You can download Ample Guitar m Lite here.

As far as paid orchestral & strings VST libraries go, there are definitely a lot to choose from.

I will list the ones I think are the best here, but just know that most of the paid libraries available actually do sound extremely good.

Cinematic Studio Strings ($399)

Recorded by Australia’s finest musicians, the Cinematic Studio Strings VST library offers a gorgeous sound with realistic dynamics and a wide variety of articulations.

The articulations range from Legato, Spiccato and Staccato, Tremolo, Trills, Marcato, and more.

Here’s a video showcasing all of them;

CSS also runs on KONTAKT and KONTAKT Player, which is the free version, and sells for $399.

Find out more about the Cinematic Studio Strings library here.

Analog Strings by Output ($199)

This library features two strings orchestras, vintage synths, and unconventional elements for sound design, which means that it differs from the traditional orchestral string libraries quite a lot.

It is important to note that Analog Strings is a KONTAKT Instrument that features a two-layer playback engine; however, you don’t need the full version of KONTAKT since it will run on the Free KONTAKT Player.

Some of the unconventional sounds it has to offer are a plucked piano, tape echoes and guitar resonance, and all of the available presets, which are 500, can be accessed through the menu and searched by category.

In addition to the presets, Analog Strings comes with a set of tools, such as step sequencers, effects like reverb and delay, modulations, a dual arpeggiator, and more, to help you shape the sound to your needs.

Lastly, you also have the ability to use soloist patches of recordings of contrabass, cellos, viola and violin.

Find out more about Analog Strings here.

Strings Ensemble by Native Instruments ($199 – $499)

Of course, since this is a Native Instruments library, it runs on both Kontakt and the free version of it, Kontakt Player.

The String Ensemble is a 60-piece string section, featuring close to 75.000 samples, and recorded at Studio 22, Budapest.

Its interface is super clean and intuitive to use, plus the sound is simply extraordinary, as with all NI libraries.

String Ensemble offers advanced performance control for clarity and realism, such as:

Auto Divisi; All instruments were recorded as separate A and B divisi sections, which offers a way of arranging accurate and realistic performances for all articulations.

True Polyphonic Legato and Portamento: All sections feature true polyphonic legato and portamento, with up to eight-voice automatic voice-leading in real time.

If you’re looking for a realistic-sounding strings section, you can’t go wrong with this one.

It is available in two versions; The Symphony Essentials, which is a smaller stripped-down version, and the Symphony Series.

Find out more about the Strings Ensemble here.

Different Strings Libraries by Spitfire ($249 – $799)

While two of these libraries may be more expensive than almost any other one on this entire list, they are also considered by many to be the best strings libraries to have ever been released.

I will be including three strings libraries in this section; the Studio Strings library, the Symphonic Strings library, and the Chamber Strings library.

Let’s have a quick look at each of them:

Studio Strings

Recorded by London’s best session players and by engineer Simon Rhodes, this is a great-sounding yet simple and small strings library, with violins, violas, cellos and double basses.

It is available in two formats; Studio Strings and Studio Strings professional, which is more extensive.

It features 148 articulations across the full 30-piece string section, from legato and super-flautando, right down to spiccato, hairpins, grace notes, and FX.

Symphonic Strings

Recorded at AIR Studios and featuring 60 players performing 175 articulations, including legatos, and presented in three different microphone positions, this is one of the largest libraries ever created.

If you need a big sound, this is definitely it.

Note: Also check the Hans Zimmer library if you need something big… I will describe that one in a bit.

Chamber Strings

Recorded by 16 of the best session players at the AIR Studios, this library is smaller than the Symphonic strings one, but it also features three different microphone positions and 244 articulations, as well as individual sections and ensembles.

Now, all of these libraries give you in-depth control over the instruments, plus they are extremely easy to use thanks to the streamlined interface.

It is important to note that these libraries are now only available for KONTAKT, and they even come with the free version included.

Find out more about the Spitfire Strings Libraries here.

CineStrings Core by CineSamples ($399)

Cinestrings CORE has a very intuitive and easy to use graphical interface with quickly selectable presets that can help you write, program and mix to your specific needs, and it also contains the basic set of articulations needed to do most of the traditional writing and programing for the string section.

One important thing to note is that CineStrings works on the KONTAKT Player (Free version), specifically 5.8.1 or above.

On the mapping page you can quickly manipulate the velocity, key-switching or even midi continuous controller articulation switching.

On the mixer page you will have access to the full mix or the four other microphone positions.

The settings page allows for advanced control over each of the patches for sound design, programming and other useful features.

One key feature that sets CineStrings Core apart from other strings libraries is the “Hairpin Creator”, which is a setting that allows for automatic “Swells” control without having to program a series of controller changes in, automating the volume changes yourself later on, etc.

Find out more about CineStrings here.

Hans Zimmer strings by Spitfire Audio ($799)

You probably already know who Hans Zimmer is; he’s the guy who created the soundtracks for The Dark Knight, Interstellar, and other high-budget movies.

Spitfire Audio teamed up with him to create the biggest orchestral library ever created; 344 players, 26 microphone positions, and over 250GB of samples.

The interface is extremely clean and clutter-free, which makes this software quite easy to use, despite its huge size, plus navigating through the 246 presets has been done in such a way that makes the whole process very intuitive.

Now, this library wasn’t designed to be used with KONTAKT, like some of the other Spitfire Libraries, in fact, it’s available in VST, AU and AAX formats and it loads directly into any DAW.

Find out more about the Hans Zimmer Strings here.

EastWest Hollywood Strings ($106 – $156.60)

Of all the paid libraries on this list, the EastWest Hollywood Strings library is definitely the most affordable one, with the Gold edition selling for $106 and the Platinum one for $156.60.

However, don’t let the price fool you; it’s absolutely astonishing.

Hollywood Strings offers great control over the sound and performance; from different articulations to 5 different mixable microphone positions.

Have a listen here:

In the Diamond Series you will have access to “Divisi”; In orchestration there are sometimes players that share the same stand playing different notes, and in the close mics when you use Divisi, it separates the two, sending one left and the other right to let you hear them independently.

In addition to this, the Hollywood Strings library comes with a convolution reverb that has a lot of different spaces to put your strings into, as well as a stereo double control to further control the stereo image of the orchestra.

Lastly, not only can you straight up buy the Hollywood Strings library, but you can also sign up to a $20 monthly subscription and get it that way, if you feel like trying it out first.

Find out more about Hollywood Strings here.

As far as the paid libraries go and considering the differences in price, I would have to say that my number one recommendation is Hollywood Strings.

The reason for that is that at just a fraction of the price of all the other libraries out there, and that it’s definitely on par with all of them, it’s easy to recommend.

If you’re looking at the higher end libraries, then anything from Spitfire-, be it the Hans Zimmer one, or any of the other three libraries I mentioned earlier, should do the trick.

Just remember, those are quite more expensive.

Lastly, for those who want a good-sounding freeware solution, go with Spitfire’s Free Strings, no questions asked.

Conclusion

I often try to find free plugins/libraries to add to my collection, mostly because they tend to be better than one would expect, and in some cases, they are even as good as the paid ones.

However, as far as orchestration goes, there’s definitely a big difference between a premium library and a free one.

This is why I’d highly recommend investing into one, and as I mentioned earlier, it’s not necessary to spend close to $1000…

You can go with Hollywood Strings for $106 and get astounding results, and for anyone who is just getting started with orchestration, that would be my recommendation.

I hope this information was useful.

Have a wonderful day!

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