There are hundreds of sample instrument and plugin companies vying for your attention. Many are good, but only a handful are great among the sea of saturation. Here’s my top list for any music composer on a budget seeking to assemble a balanced arsenal ready to compose any orchestral/electronic film or video game soundtrack!
Omnisphere is the industry standard for sampled synths. I’ve never seen a studio without it. I use Omnisphere in almost every track I write.
Native Instruments Komplete 11 Ultimate contains 87 instruments including Kontakt, the most important plugin in any studio (it allows composers to create their own samples from scratch and load 100% of the other libraries listed on this page)! Komplete also includes several great piano libraries & Damage, the $300 percussion library listed below! I can’t stress these two purchases enough (hence the top of the list)! I love Komplete so much that I’ve been an affiliate partner with them — if you purchase the Amazon Komplete bundle through this link, you help support the ongoing growth of my business and help me continue to add more value to you! You can read my full review of Komplete 11 here.
U-he Zebra ($199) is my favorite synthesizer, used by Hans Zimmer’s team in almost all of his film scores.
Best brass library on the market. CineSamples splits all of its orchestral articulations into two packs (Core and Pro). The Core versions contain all basic short & long articulations and the Pro features all of the more interesting play styles and European orchestral instruments. I think both are essential for a balanced orchestral library palette.
CineWinds Core & Pro are the industry standard for woodwinds. Pro features a ton of great non-orchestral woodwinds. Berlin Woodwinds Orchestral Tools was the leading library for woodwinds for many years before CineWinds. Some composers still prefer it. Compare both!
Spitfire has the best string samples on the market, but they are also the most expensive by far. They are based in the U.K., so all of their recordings have a British film sound. Albion II Loegria is their collection of soft strings & brass with extended techniques. 8Dio Adagietto Strings is the most price sensitive string collection on the market — it’s extremely simple, but has the best legato, staccato/spiccato, & pizz. strings by sections (Violins, Violas, Cellos, Basses). These two combined are a fantastic resource that serves almost every film/TV/game score need.
Rhapsody Orchestral Percussion is all you need for basic orchestral scores, but for more electronic hybrid music, Heavyocity Damage offers epic drums, distorted metals, and a host of other useful tools. CineSamples CinePerc would be my next recommendation.
CHOIR: 8Dio Requiem ($329)
There are a ton of choir libraries on the market, but this one is very inexpensive comparatively and can fit great in almost any scoring situation. It’s important to have choir for epic, fantasy, & sci-fi writing.
Small sample instrument teams are popping up all over the world and these three (among many others) are producing extremely unique content at an impressively low cost! Some of my personal favorites include the Embertone Chapman Trumpet, Spitfire Labs Felt Piano, and Bolder Sounds Harmonica. Don’t overlook the little guys!
These are all incredible companies with fantastic plugins. My top recommendations are Pro-Q & Pro-C from FabFilter, the Gold or Silver bundle from Waves, 2CAether reverb from 2CAudio, and Ozone 7 from iZotope.
BONUS: If you’re interested in all 4 CineSamples libraries (CineBrass Core, CineBrass Pro, CineWinds Core, CineWinds Pro), it may be in your best interest the look at the CineSymphony Complete Bundle ($2,929) that contains all 12 of the CineSamples libraries — an incredible deal that may suit all of your orchestral needs in one purchase.
Keep in mind that some of these companies offer educational discounts (30% or so), so look at each to find out the criteria. Also know that most companies give serious discounts (up to 70% off!) on Cyber Monday each year! Sometimes patience goes a long way!