I am a big fan of the companies that have made it possible for us to record really realistic orchestras, drums, guitars, and even voices.
However, I am not the guy who goes nuts and buys tons of sounds. No, I think that you will only need a certain few – a few selected ones that will let you create everything you need.
Some of these VSTs are free – some are not. I have tried to put together a complete package of sounds for every wallet.
I’ve spent a considerable amount of time with these 10 VSTs, and I honestly think they should be more than enough for a well-rounded setup for most people.
As this list will show, I am a huge fan of Native Instruments and Spitfire Audio. Those are the companies I know and love and I have no problem recommending their products to you. Some of these are affiliates – some are not.
(My favorites are not ranked in any specific way, they are just numbered for reference)
10. The Grandeur
For the classic piano sound
Let’s start with the piano. You need a realistic sounding piano that has the noises like the breathing or squeaking of the chair made by the pianist, or the sound of the keys getting pushed down and so on.
You see, a great piano VST captures all the human aspects of the sound, and The Grandeur has definitely got your back here.
I fell in love with Native Instruments products early on, as this list will show you. The first time I loaded up a piano sample from the Grandeur I was floored by its realistic sound.
I have a friend that insists he can hear the difference between a real piano and a VST Piano. And oftentimes, he has been spot on. With The Grandeur, however, he guessed wrong. He was positive that The Grandeur was the REAL one.
Better praise is hard to find. You can check out the price and read more about the Grandeur on the Native Instruments website.
9. Una Corda
The unique one
If you want something totally unique, with a beautiful, haunting sound, you are going to love Una Corda. I remember the day I bought it: I was down with the flu and stumbled my way to the computer to start it up.
And when I started playing it, I actually forgot I was really sick for the next hours.
That’s how riveting and powerful this instrument is. It lets you immerse yourself in the sound and improvise something great basically every time you load it into your DAW. From time to time I do miss having more first-time experiences like this.
I used Una Corda extensively on the short film The Camera Hack, as its sound was a perfect way to enhance the mystery. You should definitely check out Una Corda on the Native Instruments website.
8. Emotional Cello
The realistic sounding cello.
If you have tried out a couple of cello samples before, you’ve probably thought that it sounds alright in the lower register, but not realistic at all in the upper register.
It is hard to sample certain notes, and especially the high ones. Emotional cello has managed to sample some absolutely stunning sounds and combined with a lot of awesome features like portamento settings (the sliding, haunting sound basically everyone likes) it really adds to the realism in the sound.
Have a closer look at it at the Best Service web page.
I used the Emotional Cello in a film made by one of the world’s leading time-lapse photographers, Morten Rustad. Have a listen below.
7. Cinestrings Core
For the one who wants Game of Thrones style-strings.
Speaking of realistic-sounding string instruments. Next up is Cinestrings Core, and I struggle to find the words other than “wow“.
If you want more than just a realistic cello, and you want the dramatic, organic sound as you’ve heard on Game of Thrones, this is your choice. There are so many great orchestra libraries out there, but Spitfire Audio is in my eyes the leading developer, by far.
You can listen to brilliant music demos from Cinestrings here, (just scroll down a bit to find it) and hear for yourself why this VST library is a must-have.
6. Voices of Gaia
If you want to create Gladiator-style music or epic music in general, this is a must-have.
One thing that every free VST library can’t get quite right is the human voice. It is really tricky to sample, and the lack of options in free versions has disappointed me way too often.
And if you want a Lisa Williams/Gladiator sound, you have quite the task ahead if you only work with limited free libraries.
On the other side, the company Soundiron has mastered vocal sampling with Voices of Gaia.
I was really lucky to get the whole Soundiron library for an affordable price a year ago. My favorite sample library from this collection is by far Voices of Gaia, which you can buy separately on the Native Instruments website.
5. Session Horns
For the versatile musician.
The one type of instrument that is really, really hard to sample would be the brass instruments. Most libraries I have tried out have often sound kinda synthy, and if you want it that way, you will be fine with most libraries that exist out there.
However, if you are looking for the authentic, highly realistic brass sound like you hear in film music, big band music, hip-hop or classical pieces, you will be extremely happy with Session Horns.
Sure, there are more solid options as well, like Cinebrass, or basically all Spitfire Audio products, but my choice would actually be Session Horns due to its extremely fair price and versatile use.
So, if you want affordable, hyperrealistic brass that you could use for basically every music genre, be sure to check out Session Horns on the Native Instruments website.
The “I can’t believe it’s free” one.
LABS is absolutely fantastic for everyone that has limited budget. The team of Spitfire Audio does not only make brilliant, expensive libraries – they also seem to understand the fact that a lot of musicians out there has yet to make good money on their work.
Even though I’ve spent a considerable amount of money on high-end istrument libraries, I also use LABS.
If you want to find more free VST instruments, I recommend you take a look at this article that I wrote.
You can download LABS for free at the Spitfire Audio web page.
3. Komplete 13
The Everything you’ll ever need” collection.
If you want things to be as simple as possible, and if you don’t really want to customize everything yourself, there are good options for you too. For example, you might as well check out one of the largest and instrument-heavy library collections out there – the Komplete 13.
This is, of course, one of the most expensive options in this list, but the one-time payment for this would save you a great deal of money in the long run, since it is a package deal. In addition, it provides you with everything you need to make great music right away, such as wonderful classic and modern synths, Guitar Rig Pro, and the awesome full version of Kontakt, which by itself costs almost the same as this collection. (Kontakt allows you to both sample your own sounds and use and record a lot more of free VSTs created by other companies).
For the DIY person.
RAUM is a very neat VST effect that I got my hands on the minute it was released. It is basically a reverb/atmos maker that I have created a lot of awesome soundscapes with.
I would say, if you work with film music, I especially recommend you have RAUM in your arsenal. It lets you experiment with sounds
If you need a great reverb plugin which also lets you experiment a lot by letting you create your own soundscapes, you should check out RAUM at the Native Instruments web page.
1. Stradivari Violin
The realistic-sounding violin.
Besides the human voice, the violin is probably one of the hardest instruments to sample. Most violin libraries I’ve tried have been quite disappointing. Luckily there are a few exceptions, and Stradivari is one of them.
The things I like the most about Stradivari Violin is:
- Its realistic sound makes it very able to create real emotional violin passages
- The great dynamics and vibrato controls
- The great range of truthful expressions and articulations
- The value you get for your money
So, if you want a beautiful violin sound in your line-up, check out the very affordable, hyper-realistic violin at the Native Instruments website.
And check the video below to hear for yourself what an amazing instrument library this is!