Miroslav Vitous gave us the first really famous sample library. The samples date back to 1993, recorded on state of the art digital systems at 20 and 24 bit resolution. It came out on various hardware sampling platforms and was very costly. When IK Multimedia Miroslav Philharmonic came out in 2006 as a VST plugin, the price was more affordable, it generated a huge buzz, and quickly became a must-have for any DAW composer. Version 2 builds on that legacy with a completely new set of samples, but also includes all the samples from the original.
The installation process takes quite a while. First you sign into IK Multimedia’s authorisation manager, through which all your IK Multimedia licenses are managed. After entering your serial, you can download and install. The installation contains standalone versions, as well as VST, VST3 and AAX format plugins. Next comes the sound library – all 42Gb of it, and that’s compressed. Here lies my only beef with the software. The installer is split into 16 zips. You need to download each, extract it, and run each individual installer. It’s a bit of a kerfuffle, if I’m honest. In my opinion, IK Multimedia should also provide a complete installer package for the majority of its customers who will want all sounds. The installation was further complicated by the first installer of 16 failing, however on further inspection the installer seemed to have done its job. The other 15 parts installed without incident.
On launching the plugin you’ll be met with an interface inspired both by the original Miroslav, and by the SampleTank 3 interface. Indeed, the entire GUI will be very familiar to anyone who already own SampleTank3.
The first instrument I checked out was the Grand Piano. I’m a sucker for a concert grand, and my attempts at Fur Elise provoked strong emotional reactions in my partner (initially – hilarity, but swiftly followed by distress). I revised my strategy and loaded up a midi file of a short classical piano piece. It sounded really lush. The macro area of the GUI gives you quick access to the most appropriate parameters for tweaking a given sound. In this case, EQ and reverb wet/dry levels were the sensible options provided. Subtly tweaking the lows and mids allowed me to alter the tone of the instrument, while keeping it natural. More extreme tweaks could be used in the context of a mix. I added a little more wet to the reverb, as the initial preset level is quite conservative. I then swapped it out for the convolution reverb, selected the concert hall preset and modified to taste. Now my midi piece really came to life – – perhaps the best concert piano I’ve heard. It occurs to me that the GUI is pretty intuitive – no need to resort to the manual for anything but the most esoteric functions.
Moving on, I decided to max out the plugin, with 16 different parts going at once – which can be done with one instance of the plugin. I know that multitimbral synth routing is a source of confusion to many, but it’s really down to how easy your DAW makes it. In Reaper, on loading the plugin, you’re asked if you want to make 16 stereo outs. It’s then just a one-step operation to add 16 channels of midi routing. You’ve then got the Miroslav master channel on track 1, with midi tracks on 2-17, feeding to audio tracks 18-33 respectively. Each track has access to the Sampletank synthesis engine (more on this later), a number of high quality effects, and volume/pan. In essence you can mix your entire orchestra from within the plugin, but you also have the flexibility to add further effects to each track in the DAW.
I loaded up a number of instruments, from the various classifications – Strings, Brass, Woodwinds, Chromatic, Piano. There are a number of predefined multis which will map out a typical orchestra for you (or a complete brass, strings or woodwinds section). These can be configured to run to be played simultaneously, with different instruments coming in and out as you navigate through the octaves
The patches themselves are pretty large, especially the ones that employ keyswitching – on my i7 laptop it took just under 3 minutes to load the samples for 14 parts into memory, by which time Reaper was using just under 7Gb of RAM.
The keyswitching process maps the low ocatave of the keyboard to a number of distinct sample sets that you can swap between as you play, for expressiveness. Any instrument that makes use of key switching is helpfully labelled as such, and the switching keys are shown on the internal plugin keyboard as black. Clicking on any of them brings up a popup, with each key labelled with a function. Some presets (e.g. 14 Violins Multi) have up to 20 keyswitches providing sustain, detaché, stacato, pizzicato, etc. An experienced player can coax extremely believable performances using these keyswitches. The more hamfisted of us will probably need to program the midi track for best effect. Personally, I would love to see keymorphing, with the keyswitches assigned to a fader or rotary knob, so I could segue from one style to another gradually, as opposed to the on-off nature of the keyswitching implementation. However, I understand that this approach would be computationally expensive, and you can’t necessarily transparently morph between certain distinct styles of playing.
The aforementioned synth engine allows us to tweak instruments to make them more expressive, or to do daft/creative things to them. Filters, ADSR envelopes, LFOs, etc. can be used for good or evil, and you have the option of changing a piano to monophonic (for that fast solo run) or making a flute polyphonic (for an impromptu flute section) or employing legato where it wouldn’t normally be possible (e.g something from the chromatic section).
Each instrument has an info button providing an image, RAM usage, description and information on the Macro settings (or quick tweak buttons). If you’re not sure where to find an instrument, there is a search feature. Patterns are short midi parts, which you can use to quickly audition an instrument with a well played riff. Some of these patterns may even find their way into finished productions. Live mode is intended give you a series of song presets, which you can navigate between, I didn’t spend much time with this feature, but suspect that if it was employed at a gig, the singer would need to be proficient at monologues, while the keyboard player waited for that 8Gb ensemble to load. There’s no issue or bug here – these instruments are so detailed because of their size. The cost of this versatility is the few seconds it takes to reap the benefits of what took the Moroslav Orchestra years to record. I’m sure performance would be an order of magnitude better on a gigging machine which would be equipped with an SSD hard drive.
In summary, Miroslav Philharmonik 2 is immense, both in sound and in size, with 2700+ instruments. It brings a professional, usable, emotive library within the reach of the amateur composer. Every patch sounds great, and keyswitching makes every performance believeable. At €399, it’s not cheap, but is certainly great value. Upgrades and crossgrades are also available, and it’s not uncommon to see deals on IK Multimedia software throughout the year, on their own site and through retail partners. I’ve had great fun exploring the product, and it’s a huge step up from the original Moroslav Philharmonik, of which I’ve been a proud owner for some years. Look out Philip Glass – I’m coming for you!