We all know how cool it is to have orchestral instruments in our songs, regardless of the genre. They can work incredibly well, even with metal, rock or hip-hop beats.
The problem is that hiring and recording an entire orchestra (and getting them to learn and play your music) is generally out of reach for most independent musicians and producers.
So, what do you do in those times when you still want orchestral instruments on your track? You use free VSTs, of course!
Now, free VSTs aren’t going to sound as good as paid VSTs, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find some quality sounds without having to spend a dollar.
So, let’s look at the best free orchestral VST plugins with breathtaking sounds.
The VSCO2 Rompler VST plugin is available as a 32- or 64-bit VST for Windows, and as a VST or AU for Mac OSX.
This plugin comes with over 2,000 samples for 25 instruments, recorded by Versilian Studios/Sam Gossner. You also get an array of articulation and round-robin samples, though what you get depends on the instrument.
You get standard envelope controls – attack, decay, sustain and release along with mixer and effects controls for volume, pan and reverb.
To me, the instruments all sound good. I would give most of them a seven to eight rating on a ten-point scale, although instruments like the harp, double bass and trombone would get a lower rating from me. So, it depends a lot on the instrument.
Within the context of a thicker mix (with drums, bass, guitar and vocals, for instance), you might be able to fool some ears into believing you’re playing with a real orchestra.
Overall, the VSCO2 Rompler offers a solid starting point for experimentation, and the sounds aren’t half bad. The rest is up to you and your skills as an engineer.
DSK Music’s DSK Overture, with its many features, is a tweaker’s delight.
This plugin gives you four customizable layers to work with. That might be a little limiting for some, especially for those who want to mix and match more orchestral instruments, but it is a good starting point.
With these four layers, you can choose from 40 instruments, one drum kit and 10 internal combos. Your selection includes Acoustic Piano, Harpsichord, Church Organ, Celesta, Glockenspiel, Vibes, Harp, Flute, Piccolo, English Horns, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, French Horn, Trumpet, Trombone, Tuba, Violin, Viola, Cello, ContraBass, Orchestra Drum Kit, Full Sections and more.
For each layer, you are given controls for Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release, Level and Panorama. You can also access advanced options and tweak effects, filters and more.
I find the sounds are decent enough. They don’t sound fully authentic, but they are a lot of fun to play with. And, for basic compositions, or even old school style video games, it might be more than enough.
As with most, within in a fuller mix or with the right combination of effects, you could hide the lack of authenticity.
Again, four layers is a little limiting, but I could see myself having a lot of fun with this plugin.
The DSK Virtuoso could probably be considered the big brother of DSK Overture. Sadly, it’s only available as a 32-bit PC VST.
DSK Virtuoso gives you six instrument layers to play with, along with 40 instruments in six categories.
Each layer features controls for Level, Pan, ADSR and Effects.
Independent of the instrument layers, you will also find controls for Send FX (Chorus and Decay with relevant controls), Reverb (with Mode, Gate, Size, Width, Damp and Mix faders) as well as Master Level.
The key benefit of the plugin, of course, is the ability to mix and match six layers of instruments and have control over each. So, using those six layers effectively is the key to getting the most out of this VST.
And, once you’ve got those six layers dialed in, this one can sound great. Again, not with the utmost realism but it’s not bad either.
Sonatina Orchestra Module
Here’s a look at another complete orchestral instruments rompler. For those looking for an all-in-one solution, this is certainly the direction to go in.
The Sonatina Orchestra Module is available for Windows only, as a 32-bit or 64-bit VST.
So, what do you get when you install this plugin?
It comes with 20 instruments with 50+ articulations. So, you get access to a full spectrum of instruments played in different manners. You also get a soloist mode for all instruments except for Viola and Double Bass.
When it comes to articulations, you get access to Pizzicato for the string sections and Staccato for strings, brass and flute.
You also get percussion, piano, harp and choir for additional flexibility and compelling sounds.
The interface gives you easy access to ADSR controls as well as Vol and Pan, which is good enough as a starting point. Of course, you can always add your own effects too.
This plugin is mostly on par with others already introduced, though I do think it’s just a tad less realistic than the ones already introduced. That doesn’t mean it sounds bad at all. I honestly think it sounds good.
The Total Composure Orchestra V 1.0
Featuring a full orchestral sample library, The Total Composure Orchestra utilizes public domain samples. The plugin was designed specifically for Kontakt and will not work with other software.
But the coolest thing about it is that it comes with 1,500+ samples. So, if you liked to sit and tweak until you get that “perfect” sound, you may have found your match made in heaven.
With that in mind, some samples are better than others. So, with so many to choose from, you will be required to sift your way through a rather extensive list of options, with many of them being somewhat unusable (unless you want a less realistic sound).
The user interface is simple, but it puts additional customization right at your fingertips. For instance, if you choose a Grand Piano, you can tweak the Pedal, Lid Position, Reverb and even Round Robin.
I’ve listened to a bunch of sounds, and I found most of them to be more than adequate. Again, some aren’t all that great, but since you can get plenty of leverage out of constantly tuning and tweaking, if you’ve got Kontakt, this free plugin is worth a look.
One Track Orchestra
The One Track Orchestra plugin is available as a 32-bit or 64-bit PC VST.
It has been designed with sketching orchestral arrangements in mind, and I’m sure it could handle that side of things just fine. So, if you’re a composer or arranger trying to figure out your piece, you could have plenty of fun with this.
This plugin gives you full control over orchestral sounds right at your fingertips. The user interface, however, is minimal and doesn’t feature many tweakable parameters.
It uses reasonably high-quality samples, and to that extent, it sounds not half bad. I think some instruments could be a lot better though.
I wouldn’t think of this is a go-to solution, but it could be great for practice, arranging, composing or experimental use.
For those times when you need a choir, but can’t afford to bring one into the studio, there’s DSK ChoirZ.
This plugin comes with three layers, 32 choir and pad sounds, along with plenty of tweakable parameters – ADSR, Fine, Pan and Level. Each layer also comes with controls for filter and LFO. Additionally, you get master controls for Chorus, Reverb and Master.
Of course, you’re not going to get a fully authentic sound with this plugin. But I feel the developers made a valiant effort, and this is still a usable plugin.
When it comes to orchestras, the first thing that probably comes to mind is violin, and as you can probably guess, it’s important to have a high-quality violin plugin.
Virharmonic’s Violin Freebie is a micro library VST, AU, AAX featuring 1,080 samples, four round robins, as well as Pizzicato and Spiccato rhythms.
In a word, a lot of the sounds you can get with this plugin are awesome.
Orchestral Strings One
Sounds for Orchestral Strings One were recorded at Berliner Hall, which is said to have amazing acoustics. I’ve never been, so I can’t confirm or deny.
This plugin comes loaded with 14 violins, 10 violas, eight cellos and six double basses. So, as the name suggests, this is a solid option for getting your string sounds.
It features controls for Floor, Ceiling, Harmonic, 2nd Harmonic, Variations, Vibrato Depth, Attack Time, Release Time, Min Volume, Max Volume, Attack Volume, CC Tone Color Mode, Multi, Legato Time, Legato Mode, Beat Ratio, Auto Rhythm Tool and more.
With this degree of customizability, you’re sure to be able to get some of the sounds you’re trying to get.
To my ears, this is a nice sounding and dynamic plugin overall, and it offers a high degree of realism. It may not fool ears in isolation, but with a fuller mix around it, who knows?
Orchestral Strings One has been designed as a 64-bit Windows VST.
I don’t know how Spitfire Audio is able to offer so many amazing plugins for free, but I’ve only got three words for them: “keep it up.”
LABS Strings features some of London’s best string players captured with a variety of microphones.
For a free plugin, the strings sound nothing short of stellar.
Another entry from Virharmonic, the Cello Freebie works much like the Violin Freebie.
With this micro library VST, AU, AAX, you get 1,372 samples with four round robins, and of course, Pizzicato and Spiccato rhythms.
I’ll be honest and share that the Pizzicato doesn’t sound quite right to me, but Spiccato is great.
Bigcat Cello is a free instrument library.
The interface features Tune, Equalizer, Reverb and Modulation sections to help you dial in the perfect tone.
The sounds are okay, but to me it sounds like halfway between a cello and a wind instrument. Of course, you can play around with different settings to see what you can come up with.
Bells are sometimes forgotten in the grand scheme of orchestral sounds, but that certainly doesn’t make them any less important.
And, while you can find plugins that are basically all-in-one solutions, it can also be helpful to take advantage of specialty plugins, like this one.
BellsEbuth is a modern glockenspiel available as a Windows VST (32- or 64-bit), as well as a Mac OSX VST and AU.
It features 40 24-bit stereo samples from the public domain library at the University of Iowa Electronic Music Studios.
The interface gives you access to some basic controls – Volume, Dynamic, Sustain Level and Release Time. And, the sounds are more than decent. I’m sure you could have a lot of fun with this VST.
As you can probably guess, the VibroMaster is a sampled vibraphone, available as a 32- and 64-bit Windows VST and Mac OSX VST or AU.
Its appearance is not unlike BellsEbuth, and that’s because it’s basically the same, except that it samples vibraphone rather than glockenspiel.
The 24-bit 42 stereo samples, of course, were collected from the public domain library at the University of Iowa Electronic Music Studios.
The interface offers access to Volume, Dynamic, Short and Full Sustain level and Short release time controls.
The vibraphone sounds nice. It’s got a rich, chime like tone you’d expect. It’s missing vibrato, but I suppose that’s a minor gripe. This is a highly usable virtual instrument.
Keyzone Classic 1.0
While there are a lot of VST plugins that emulate or sample orchestral instruments to different levels of realness, one instrument that’s bound to be of especial interest to producers (and their clients) is a solid piano plugin.
Not every orchestra has a pianist, but when they do, it often forms the foundation of the musical pieces being performed.
Keyzone Classic 1.0 is a free plugin available as a PC and Mac 32- or 64-bit VST. And, it features several presets, including Piano from Keyzone 1, Yamaha Grand Piano, Steinway Grand Piano, Basic Electric Piano and Rhodes Piano.
The Electric Piano and Rhodes may not be of especial interest for anyone looking for a solid piano sound, but it’s not bad to have for those times when you’re laying down a jazz, R&B or pop track.
First off, I love the sound of the Yamaha grand piano. It’s quite realistic and full sounding.
The Keyzone piano has got quite a bit of treble, so for those times when you need the piano to cut through a mix, it could come in handy.
The Steinway grand is also beautiful if a tad inauthentic. But it’s still highly usable.
Again, while the Electric piano and Rhodes may not be of interest to you, wow, they sure sound good.
You can control all tones using the standard Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release controls as well as Reverb, Detune, Volume, Velocity Curve, LFO Type, LFO Rate, LFO Depth and Pan.
Here’s another option for those looking for the perfect piano sound. The 4Front Piano has been around for a long time, and it’s available for Windows and Mac.
This simple plugin reproduces the sound of an upright piano. Of course, upright pianos aren’t generally used in orchestral settings, so if that’s a consideration, seek out other options.
Its greatest strength is perhaps its greatest weakness. This is a lightweight plugin, so it comes with no settings whatsoever.
Of course, basic settings like volume and pan should be included with your DAW, and you should be able to add effects too (assuming you have effects plugins).
Sound wise, I don’t have anything bad to say about this plugin. It emulates an upright piano to near perfection. If you listened particularly attentively, you might notice that it’s not a real piano, but otherwise you’re sure to fool some ears.
For those times when you need a different piano sound, there’s 4Front Piano.
Harp is another instrument often found in the orchestra, and if you’re looking for a plugin that just does harp well, this one could prove useful.
The Etherealwinds Harp samples a diatonic folk harp recorded by Newgrounds musician Etherealwinds.
The term “folk” may have hit you square between your eyes, so that deserves a bit of an explanation. Basically, it’s smaller than an orchestral harp and it has a reduced range. So, naturally, it has a bit of a different sound, too.
It doesn’t make much of a difference if you like the sound and find it usable for your production, but it’s certainly worth pointing out.
On the user interface, you will find controls for Volume, Pan, Reverb, Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release. Pretty standard.
The sound is decent. To me it doesn’t sound entirely like a harp, though it certainly resembles a stringed instrument. It could just be my ears though.
You can get this plugin as a Windows 32-bit or 64-bit VST, as well as a Mac AU.
When it comes to orchestral instruments, we certainly can’t forget about brass, and you might be interested in a dedicated brass plugin.
DSK Brass is not bad. It only gives you access to two layers, but you do get 23 instruments as well, including Sax Soprano, Sax Tenor, Sax Alto, Trumpet, Trumpet Cup Mute, Trumpet Staccato, Trumpet Swell, Piccolo Trumpet, Trombone, Trombone Cup Mute, Trombone Wah Mute, Tuba, Tuba Staccato, Flugel Horn, French Horn, French Horn Mute, Harmon Mute and Brass Ensemble.
So, yeah, you could say the plugin’s got your bases covered. The only downside, like I said, is that it only has two instrument layers built in.
Each layer, of course, comes with independent controls – ADSR, Spread, Level, Octave (with Fine), Flanger (with Frequency, Feedback and Mix) and Delay (with Modulation, FeedBack and Mix).
Also included are master controls for Master Level, DSK, Portamento Time, Bend Range, Mono Mode and Retrigger.
I don’t think the samples are great by any means, and in general, I think brass is kind of difficult (though not impossible) to emulate.
DSK Brass could still be worth having in your plugin mix, however, especially if you don’t have any nicer sounding alternatives.
Aerophone is kind of the “odd man out” when it comes to brass instrument plugins. It was designed to model lip valve instruments with cylindrical bores. That basically means instruments like trumpet and trombone.
Only available as a Windows 32-bit VST, the lip valve was modeled using oversampled third order mass -spring.
Now, to be fair, the sounds coming from the plugin are closer to synths. But if you dial in your tones with precision, you can certainly get close to brass instruments.
The user interface comes with an overwhelming number of controls, but if you’re comfortable with synths, you shouldn’t find it overly intimidating.
It’s unlikely that you’re just looking for a saxophone plugin, and far more likely that you’d be interested in a woodwind and/or brass section plugin, especially since the saxophone is considered the “bridge” between the two.
Still, depending on what you’re working on, you might enjoy taking advantage of DVS Saxophone.
This is a relatively lightweight plugin and it only gives you access to a few tweakable parameters – Auto Express, Auto Vibrato, Reverb (Size and Depth) and Volume (Level).
The virtual instrument, however, sounds quite good. I notice it’s a little artificial in the decay but find it has close to an authentic sound at the attack stage.
As far as I can tell, DSK Saxophones is a slightly more customizable version of DVS Saxophone. You can get it for Windows and Mac, as a 32-bit or 64-bit download.
As you might be able to tell from the plurality in the name, this virtual instrument will give you access to Soprano and Tenor Saxes.
Within the interface, you are given access to Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release, Reverb, Level and Velocity curve settings.
The sax sounds are decent, but they certainly aren’t authentic. They would still work in a pinch.
Here we find another simple, lightweight VST plugin designed for 32-bit Windows.
Saxi Player gives you access to three sax sounds – soprano, alto and tenor.
The controls are sparse, but you get access to gain, vibrato depth, vibrato rate and vibrato start.
Some users couldn’t get it to work properly on their DAW, but most agree you can get some great sounds with this virtual instrument.
Iowa Tenor Trombone
The Iowa Tenor Trombone, of course, is a sampled trombone. It’s available as a 32-bit and 64-bit PC VST as well as a mac OSX VST and AU.
Sampled from the Iowa Electronic Music Studios, it comes with your basic parameters for tweaking – Vol, Pan, Attack, Decay, Sus, Rel.
While it makes a valiant effort to emulate trombone, it doesn’t come close enough to be considered great. But if you’re looking for something to experiment with, you might give this one a try.
Looking for a sampled tuba? Then look no further. The Iowa Tuba comes to the rescue and is available as a Windows 32- and 64-bit VST as well as a Mac OS VST and Mac AU.
The interface comes with your standard set of controls – Vol, Pan, Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release.
It sounds more like a MIDI instrument to be sure, but with some tweaking, you can get it sounding close to authentic, which is the case with a lot of the plugins mentioned here.
We certainly can’t forget about percussion when it comes to orchestral sounds. Kettle Drum emulates the timpani specifically and is available as a Windows 32-bit VST.
How does it sound? To my ears, it sounds amazing. I can tell it’s a tad artificial in the decay, but other than that, it should prove highly usable.
It comes with controls for Pitch, Vibrato, Shape, Output and EQ, making it highly customizable.
Top Free Orchestral VST Plugins, Final Thoughts
Don’t forget. When using VSTs, sometimes you’ve got to tame and coax your tracks into place. Panning, adding effects and even using automation can go a long way towards achieving desired results.
Some MIDI controllers allow for quite a bit of expression, and if that’s what you’re using, then you can sometimes get exactly what you need.
But if you’re drawing in the notes/chords or even composing in another program and importing MIDI, expect there to be some teasing before you get the sounds you’re looking for.
With that, have fun messing around with your orchestral VST plugins.