Whether you're channelling your inner Mozart or getting your Zimmer on, everyone needs an orchestra - and real orchestras ain't cheap! Here is the next best thing - ten of the finest orchestration tools for your digital audio workstation - in alphabetical order:

 CASE Bundle

8Dio Productions CASE Bundle

We kick off our list with something slightly different, but something that goes hand in hand with basically all the other entries on this list: the CASE bundle from 8DIO, a rather unique collection of sounds that gathers strings, brass and wind instruments - but with a focus on the 'wild side' instead of 'regular' playing styles. CASE stands for Custom Aleatoric Solo Effects, and this bundle brings together three of 8DIO's best-selling products for what is arguably the most comprehensive 'orchestral effects' sound library right now. A perfect companion for the other instruments on this list and a must-have for anyone looking to add risers, glissandos, sweeps and other unusual and lesser-used elements. Requires the full version of Native Instruments Kontakt 5 or newer.

 LASS - LA Scoring Strings 2

Audiobro LASS - LA Scoring Strings 2

The love for Audio Bro LA Scoring Strings (or simply LASS) is almost unanimous amongst DAW-based composers. As a product devoted to a specific set of instruments it comes with a plethora of articulations and many other features to enhance realism such as true legato samples, round robins, stage positioning with reverb simulation, advanced tuning and much more. The latest LASS version 2.5 also reduces the storage footprint by using NCW encoding, providing the free Native Instruments Kontakt Player to only take up 24GB of space uncompressed, which by today’s standards is quite slim for such a high-quality orchestral library.


Audio Imperia Nucleus

A new face in the orchestral instruments scene is Audio Imperia, a company that has released very interesting libraries over the past few years and amongst them Nucleus stands out as a very attractive offering. This is the company’s latest effort and it delivers a well-rounded package with soloists, instrument sections and ensembles that encompass the entire orchestral palette, from strings and brass to woodwinds and percussion. Nucleus runs with the free Kontakt Player so there are no extra costs attached, and there's also a less expensive "Lite" version which should be a great alternative for getting those arrangements done without severely compromising your wallet.

 Symphonic Choirs

EastWest Quantum Leap Symphonic Choirs

East West is a pioneer in this field with a pivotal role in the virtual orchestra world since the early days - when computers barely had enough RAM or storage to cope with this category of complex software. Despite all the changes in the world of fast-paced software development, EW is still going strong and continues to deliver some of the finest virtual instruments out there. Their all-encompassing back catalog is currently immense and offers a plethora of options - for this list we have chosen their legendary Symphonic Choirs, which adds a crucial element to the palette of the DAW-based symphonic composer and will quite literally sing along with other entries in this list.

 Personal Orchestra 5

Garritan Personal Orchestra 5

Another precursor is Garritan, who has been a strong presence since the early days of virtual orchestras and continues to this day. Their Personal Orchestra is quite literally that - as clichéd as it may sound - but in this case that's exactly what we want, an orchestra at our fingertips. Currently on its fifth iteration, the Personal Orchestra comes with over 500 instruments covering the entire range, with solo and ensemble strings, brass, keyboards, choirs, woodwinds, percussion and much more - all at a very affordable price.

 SampleTank 4 MAX

IK Multimedia SampleTank 4 MAX

IK's SampleTank 4 Max brings a whopping 260 GB of content to your hard disk, and more than a great share of that massive library is dedicated to orchestral instruments, so it rightfully earns a spot on our list. As expected we have basically everything covered with SampleTank Max, from solo brass and strings with plenty of articulations to percussive elements, ensembles and also a number of different acoustic pianos. If you're looking for a one-stop solution for orchestrations and almost everything else beyond the orchestra pit, this is it.

 Symphony Series - Brass

Native Instruments Symphony Series - Brass

Native Instruments is almost a synonym for fine software instruments and their Symphony Series is widely regarded as one of the best options right now for exciting virtual orchestrations with no compromises to realism. From their all-encompassing collection we have opted to highlight their Brass entry, which offers both solo instruments and ensembles with the utmost quality and realism. Unsurprisingly, the Symphony Series runs on the brand's Kontakt player platform, which can save you a few bucks for those other libraries in the series. A Symphony Series Collection is also offered at a discounted price with Brass, Strings, Woodwinds and Percussions, as well as a simple "Essentials" version available at an even a lower cost if money's too tight to mention.

 Metropolis Ark1

Orchestral Tools Metropolis Ark1

Orchestral Tools presents their Kontakt-player/NKS compatible Metropolis Ark 1, a library that is aimed on delivering the strongest dynamics through the loudest possible articulations one can have, so if you need subtle and delicate then you should look elsewhere! According to Orchestral Tools, Ark 1 was specifically designed for "powerful" and "epic" compositions, and brings not only a complete orchestra divided by instruments groups but also choirs, a great piano, plus electric guitars & percussion sections on a whopping 75 GB of raw, unprocessed material to ensure maximum freedom when mixing. The Ark library is comprised of four entries that are all worth a try if modern and edgy orchestration is what you're after.

 Albion One

Spitfire Audio Albion One

Spitfire Audio is second to none when it comes to computer-based orchestrations. Offered as five distinct products, the Albion series are oriented towards modern composition and offers not only a plethora of orchestral tools but also percussive loops, synth drones, special effects and much more. We have chosen to highlight Albion One, which is arguably the most versatile in the series and covers an entire orchestra and focus on instruments groups rather than solo instruments, all recorded with top-drawer talent and gear at the famed AIR Studios hall. Spitfire's catalog is as deep as it gets and all the other Albion libraries are certainly worth a try too, so make sure to add them to your short list. Also runs on the free Kontakt Player.

 Ensemble Pro 7

Vienna Symphonic Library Ensemble Pro 7

Last - but certainly not least - comes the mighty VSL - Vienna Symphonic Library, which is far more than just a library - it’s actually an enormous collection of libraries, offering a whole ecosystem of products dedicated to simulating orchestral instruments to perfection, boasting over six million samples to seamlessly encompass almost every detail possible in an orchestra, save for the moody conductor. Over the years VSL became almost a de-facto standard from which all other virtual orchestras are measured, and we must say that they have set the bar pretty high. Featured here is the Vienna Ensemble Pro 7, which serves as a great entry point for the VSL universe, delivering high quality on a small budget and also offering their LAN-based solution for those times when a single computer won’t cut it. Yes, you read that right: LAN for multi-computer orchestrations - how big can you imagine it?

A few observations:

Pianos are an essential part of an orchestra, but we have opted to leave them out this time since we covered those in our selection of ten of the best virtual piano - click here to check that out.

If money is no object Spitfire has something special for you: The Everything Bundle, a luxury item that comes in a reassuringly heavy marble box with two external HDs containing over two terabytes of content, encompassing the brand's entire catalog with over seventy products - for slightly over fourteen thousand bucks (no, that is not a typo)! On the other side of the price spectrum, they also offer a few isolated orchestral instruments and other quirky sample sets via their 100% free Labs series, so there’s something for quite literally everyone. One should also take note that some DAWs such as Apple Logic Pro and MOTU Digital Performer are bundled with included orchestral tools, so make sure to check those out too if your budget is slim.

We are well-aware that there are many other excellent products out there, and names such as Heavyocity, Kirk Hunter Studios, Sonuscore, Output and UVI frequently come up in forum discussions as purveyors of fine virtual orchestral instruments, but for the purposes of this list we had to make some tough calls in order to narrow it down to just ten so please share your favourite instruments below!

For more on virtual orchestral instruments, visit our Music Computers section.