Halion String Edition
Ages ago I bought my first synthesizer that could produce strings: the
MT32 by Roland. Even longer time before that I owned a keyboard that
had tapes in it, producing a sound that can be best described as a group
of badly tuned violins playing in a sand storm. Hiss, hiss, hiss....
The tapes always broke on crucial moments. So after a lot of repairs,
it was not only hissss, but "tick tick" as well.
I sold the thing when digitized violins came on the market. The first
one I bought was as said the MT32. I remember when the violins of this
little synthesizer came through the boxes in my studio for the first
time, I almost fell of my chair. It was for that time a great miracle
how they were able to put such a quality into such a small box. I used
the MT32 a lot, enriching it's of course -to nowadays standards- very
poor string violins sound with effects, reverbs and what have you to
make it as acceptable as possible.
Newer synths came in, the violins got somewhat better. I bought a D110,
which made great improvements compared to the MT32. And I bought the
U110 later, with even better, broader and more realistic violin sounds.
Then came the JV880 into my audio life, with new improvements in the
strings corner. But whatever they tried at Roland (and other suppliers
for that matter), the violin sounds were still too "plastic",
too artificial. But nevertheless usable when mixed "into the horizon"
with care and a right feeling for proportions. By the way: all synths
are still in my studio, except for the MT32. Not used daily anymore,
but sometimes the good old sounds are needed, so I'm glad I never sold
Today, our quality standard is much higher than the MT32 was able to
meet, but to my opinion even most expensive synthesizers are not able
to produce a 100% live sounding string section. You still always can
tell: it's synthesized, no matter the sometimes very good quality.
Well: finally a satisfying solution is here. We had to wait for it for
a long, long time, but the satisfaction is total as far as I am concerned
and was worthwhile the waiting. Let me tell you something about: the
Halion String Edition, by Steinberg.
* The Halion String Player. Click for enlarged image.
String Edition: 9 CD's and a book.
Halion String Edition contains a huge pile of samples of strings in
all variations thinkable. Be prepared with enough hard disk space when
you decide to buy Halion String Edition. You get 1 CD with the player
program (for both Mac and Windows), a very well written en detailed
manual, and 8 CD's filled from side to whole with samples. When all
the musical bits and bytes are finally installed on your hard disk,
about 5,4 GigaByte is occupied by these samples. Wow, this calls for
a quick rush to your hard disk dealer to get a bigger one, or maybe
even better an extra one.
* The full Halion CD collection displayed in front of our test Mac,
where the Halion player is visible and running under the Cubase SX environment.
Be sure to use a 7200 rpm disk, though slower disks will work too. The
hard disk speed is important: the Halion player does not load the whole
sample in memory, but only a first portion. The faster the disk, the
shorter the pro loaded portion can be, and the more samples you can
use at the same time. The screen shot below shows the popup menu, where
you can determine your streaming model.
* Right clicking in the "wood" of the player pops up the
options menu. Here you choose the sample playback quality, the quality
of resampling, and the speed of the hard disk stream.
High disk streaming means that Halion loads only a very short portion
of the sample into RAM (about 0.5 seconds). The rest is streamed from
your hard disk. The lower streaming speed you choose, the larger the
pre loaded portion will be. This makes the use of Halion on slower hard
disk and systems possible, but puts extra demands on the RAM logically.
The Low stream option, chosen in the screen shot, is a good average,
or compromise if you like.
The resampling option in the pop up menu determines your quality, mostly
when retuning or pitch bending. The Best setting is recommended, unless
your computer gets hick ups.
The quality option speaks for itself. Set in to High for best audio,
the Low option produces less good results.
In average, your Mac or PC should be equipped with at least 512 MB of
RAM and a separate 7200 rpm hard disk where the samples and programs
can be stored. The rule of thumb for hard disk recording (use a dedicated
disk for audio storage, otherwise you will get glitches) applies to
the Halion String Edition as well. The amount of RAM should be up to
1 GB if you want to play several best quality programs (XXL, see below).
Furthermore, you'd better have an ASIO 2.o compliant audio card, otherwise
you will most definitely run into latency problems. Latency problems
are not only for the Halion, but apply to all VST instruments, of course.
Two versions of the Player.
There are two versions of the player, both installed automatically.
The XXL player, which should be used on well equipped machines, and
which will bring you the best quality. And the ECO player, which needs
significantly less RAM, but at the cost of realism and dynamic response.
Steinberg advices you to use the ECO version only when the XXL player
runs into trouble on your Mac. On our G4/500, equipped with two 7200
rpm hard disks and 512 MB of RAM, the XXL version ran smoothly with
8 different complex violin tracks, and no inserted effects. But that
was more or less to the limits of our G4/500. Sometimes at the first
run of a track, the VST performance ran into the red zone. The next
run however, and all runs after that, no problems.
When producing complex stuff with Halion String Edition, you constantly
will have to take a close look at the VST performance. Of course a good
old workaround will do even the most complex jobs for you. Meaning:
if your Mac or PC is getting in trouble, and you still need the best
quality and high disk streaming: compose the tracks in dry mode (no
inserts), then do an audio mix down to your hard disk, and after that
start post production with effects etc. This will put less strain on
your processor during composing, and much less stress upon yourself,
I can assure you. We used this procedure and managed to pile up more
than enough simultaneous violin tracks into a complex arrangement without
flying into the red VST performance zone.
Though the player itself is simple and has a good user interface, it
most definitely will take time until you are able to use String Edition
at its full power. Just playing the sample is simple, but getting the
life into your production using the right expression, attack and response
is a totally different matter. Above that, the use of programs, disk
streaming settings and quality need some exploring to find the best
suitable settings for your machine. It needs some testing and practice
to get the right balance. You need to this only initially: when the
correct settings for your machine are found, you can save them as the
start up program, so that you do not need to find it out all over again.
There are four ways to modulate the crescendo of the samples: modulation
wheel, breath controller, foot controller and expression. This is a
handy feature. Put four keyboard players in a room and ask them which
is the most favorite way to bring expression into what they play. The
answers will be a nice variation between the four controller types,
built in this Halion player, that's for sure.
Maybe I am wrong, but from what I have experienced the last week or
so, testing Halion String Edition, it will take a while before you have
this wonderful string package under full control. Well, to be honest:
I don't mind. In the end I will be able to produce truly live sounding
string arrangements, which I -until now- only could dream of. The step
from the MT32, I started with a long time ago, to this Halion package
is huge. So what the hack the extra effort: I will fight my way to the
The manual that comes with Halion String Edition will help you a lot.
I know most musicians are not much of a manual reader, but in this case
I advice you to do your home work and learn about all the features one
by one, before you start serious producing. The efforts will pay itself
off with great music and quality joy!
As we discovered it would take us time to learn Halion String Edition
to it's full power, we decided not to use the String Edition in a real
time production, something we normally do when testing software. See:
To give you an idea of the complex quality possibilities of Halion String
Edition, we give some attention to the program types of this package.
There are four main program types, each with its specific way of controlling
volume and layer cross fading/switching: Xfade, Xswitch, Velocity and
Velocity plus Pitchbend.
can best be described as the most heavy dude of the club. In the XFade
programs, the crescendo controller blends through the different layers
(for example from pianissimo to fortissimo) by cross fading between
the layers. The gives the most authentic sounds, but also asks most
of the processor and hard disk since all layers are played at the same
is more economic when it comes to system load, since the expression
controller switches from layer to layer, rather than blending them into
controls expression by choosing e.g. the fortissimo layer when a high
velocity value is issued by the keyboard. This method is used when playing
synthesized violins in a normal synthesizers, and many of you will know
how to bring some life into synthesized violins using velocity.
plus Pitchbend acts the same as Velocity, but includes a pitch bend
controller that additionally controls expression. At the cost of no
pitch bend being available. In other words: Velocity controls the initial
expression, while the pitch bend controller adds the possibility of
controlling volume while notes are held.
Wow, that was some technical stuff as far as I am concerned. I did not
do deep research to find these facts: they are on page 28 and 29 of
the english manual. After having read the text three times I more or
less understood what is explained on those pages, and I started experimenting
to find out what is exactly meant here. After some hours of learning
and trying I felt I got grip upon the possibilities of these four programs.
But I also understood rather quickly it will take time until you can
use them at their full power. As stated before: Halion String Edition
as a somewhat heavy learning curve which is however absolutely worth
Halion String Edition is divided into instrument sections. The Violins
section is divided into A and B, that give -when played in two tracks-
the violin sounds the vivid character that is so characterizing for
this product. Also, the Violins section contains stuff like Spiccato
and some other specials. The Violas section contains the alto range
in the string section of the orchestra. The Violas have an A and B section
too. Then the Cellos to fill in the tenors and baritones of the string
orchestra, also divided in A and B. Then the Double basses, that speak
for themselves. The 4-in1 program contains a combination of the four
sections mentioned, and provides an easy way to play string layers that
sound warm, broad en -to my opinion- very complete. This combi has some
limitations compared to the use of the four separate section programs,
of course, but it will do in a lot of situations.
There is a lot more technical stuff I could describe here, but I will
not do so. Hearing is believing, so quickly read my conclusion and rating,
and then check the example below to find out if I am talking nonsense,
or that Halion String Edition indeed is the big dream coming through.
In the Halion String Edition player, the maximum number of voices per
channel (of which you have 16 in total) is 64. If you experience cut
offs of notes, the number of voices can be brought to a lower level;
using the Voice limit settings. In case a channel reaches it maximum
of voices that can be handled by your computer, the Voice limit function
look for the "oldest" played voice and fades it out. You can
imagine this can cause unwanted effects and early cut offs of parts
of your composition. If this occurs, the Voice limit settings will help
you out. A handy, but also a needed function, as overloading your system
can occur rather quickly using this VST instrument.
* With Voices (right) you determine the number of voices assigned
to a chanel. The chanel (1 to 16) is set with the left option. The middle
option let's you choose between 1 of 4 stereo outputs.
Just plain simple: to me Halion String Edition is a long term dream
becoming reality. Ever since I bought the MT32, I was longing for
the quality and live sounding strings I found in this Steinberg product.
Halion String Edition brings you the strings with the quality of a
top orchestra right under your keyboard. The sound quality is more
than superb at the best quality levels and transparency, enabling
you to produce the best in orchestral string arrangements. Provided
you have a well equipped Mac or PC, 500 Mhz or higher, at least 512
MB RAM or higher. If you meet these hard ware requirements, and would
like to own your own superb orchestra strings section, the Halion
String Edition is for you.
I can type a lot more words to express my audio joy here. I won't:
this product deserves a rating of 9.5+
for it's really super quality and great care of detail it was produced
with. One of the makers behind this product is Claudius Bruese, who
in the past was involved with the The Grand VST instrument (piano
samples) and worked on the Waldorf Wave synthesizer. Those of you
who know the name Bruese and what it stands for will immediately understand
that Halion String Edition stands for high quality. The only reason
Halion String Edition does not get a 10 is that it contains violins
only. My dream of good violins came through, as stated before, but
another dream is not fulfilled yet: a complete symphonic orchestra.
The strings are a very important section of an orchestra, but all
the other instruments make it complete. I guess (and hope) we can
expect more from Claudius Bruese and Steinberg. In that case, I dare
to write here that -if quality is as good as in Halion String Edition-
I will rate a 10 in advance ;-).
Since Halion String Edition needs some time to learn, we decided not
to bore you with a beginners production. We even would not dare to
do so: it most probably would not give birth to a production that
shows the full power of the String Edition. And such would not be
fair towards the producers, who took so much effort to get this product
in such a perfect shape to you.
So we changed strategy. At the Steinberg website you can find several
files demonstrating the power of Halion String Edition perfectly.
We downloaded these files, glued them together, and re-arranged them
somewhat in Cubase SX. Now, you can listen to the power of Halion
without downloading several files. Please note that the file
is in mp3 format. Although we use the best mp3 compression techniques
available (Fraunhofer), the quality of the audio is less than the
original samples of course, due to compression.
By the way, for Halion users. The string player only will play the
String Edition. The standard format for Halion is not recognized.
Compared to the full Halion, this player has some limitations, but
also some additions. The player is limited to the Macro page which
has been redesigned and enhanced to meet the requirements of the string
samples. The mono outs have been dropped. Controls for filter, envelopes
and LFO's are not in the string player: you do not need them since
the samples are very well designed and accurate. The Halion string
programs have been extended with a lot of features to meet the requirements
of playing string programs as well.
More info at www.steinberg.net
or the Halion
All reviews in AudioMac.net are written by Peter J. Bloemendaal. All rights reserved.
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