… that can be played freely.
Updated: 2017 January 21
So much has happened since my inactivity and it is surprising to see how much more sample libraries for MIDI orchestration are now available. Some of them just appeared this year (as of writing in 2016). Many of you must have already heard of the Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra (SSO). I believe that SSO has triggered others to make more orchestral instruments accessible for all.
With free sample libraries and DAWS being accessible to anyone, there is no reason why your musical ideas should never be heard. Today, we’re very fortunate as it is now possible to make good sounding orchestral music with zero budget (except for your computer and internet connection which you might be using right now to read this website).
Hint: If you just starting to learn about sample libraries, check out my unofficial introduction.
Scope and limitation
This list will be limited to instruments found in the orchestra and only those with formats that can be played with free software (freely obtainable i.e. plug-ins, VSTs etc). This would typically be SFZ and SF2. Less used formats such as GIG and DLS may also appear. Emphasis will be given to libraries released by their original creators, or derivative works that add more functionality or usability not present in the original.
Formats that require purchasing proprietary software are excluded. If you wish to find a list of more instrument types with more formats, check bigcat1969’s big list (where some instruments listed here are shamelessly taken from). I also might avoid big “generic” GM collections that do not suggest their use for orchestras. GM soundfonts are also commonly re-combinations of what is already available elsewhere. Other acoustic instruments such as guitars and drumsets (the one found in rock bands), although occassionally used in the orchestra will not be listed simply to avoid making a very big list (for now, at least).
I will also make a few exceptions for free VST’s/plugins as they fit the “freely playable” category which is ultimately what matters. Note though that VSTi’s are platform/OS/architecture dependent.
Instead of listing their instruments individually, it is simpler to visit the websites of these generous people and see what more they offer (beyond what I can cleanly list).
- Mattias Westlund’s Sonatina Symphoni Orchestra (SFZ). A complete orchestra package.
- Versilan Studio’s VSCO (VSTi) and VSCO2 (SFZ). Chamber orchestra instruments.
- Signal Experiment’s free instruments (SFZ). Strings, brass and woodwinds ensembles.
- Bandshed’s No budget orchestra (SFZ). Individual instruments making up the orchestra.
- Paul Battersby’s Virtual Playing Orchestra (SFZ). A brilliant mix of Sonatina, No budget, Versilian CE and other freely re-distributable orchestral samples.
- Nando Florestran’s orchestral soundfonts (SF2)
- Ethan Winer’s collection (SF2). Cello, basson and orchestral percussion.
- Space Harmony’s collections (SF2). Orchestral, world music and other acoustic instruments.
- Merlin orchestral/GM soundfonts (SF2).
- S. Christian Collins collection (SFZ). Articulated orchestral strings, taiko drums and more.
- Linux Sampler instruments (GIG). Piano, Tuba & Violin
- Freepats collection (SF2). Piano, violin & other instruments
- Patcharena‘s collection (SFZ). Double bass, cello, ensemble strings, marimba, xylophone & other instruments
- Karoryfer’s samples (SFZ): Cello, doublebass & other unique instruments
- DSK Music’s VSTis (VSTi). Includes windows VSTs for orchestral collections (Overture), strings, brass, choirs, and many other instruments.
- Anthony Deaton’s New Horizon Orchestra (SFZ). Orchestral precussion and grand pianos.
- Soni Musicae: Harpiscord (SF2), House Organ (SF2) and Concert Gand (GIG)
- Keppy Studios Pianos (SFZ & SF2). Steinway Piano, an SFZ export of TASCAM’s CV Piano and more pianos!
- Bigcat Instrument’s piano collection (SFZ & VSTi)
- Don Allen’s Timbres from Heaven GM (SF2)
- The MuseScore Orchestra Soundfont (SF2)
Individual instruments not covered above
To be categorized when similar instruments get critical mass.
- Soundkey’s Cellofan Cello (VSTi).
- Sound Magic’s Neo Piano (Piano One) (VSTi, AUi)
- TASCAM’s CV Piano (via beatproduction) (VSTi). Note: this is not updated and said to be buggy. Keppy’s SFZ port might be more compatible.
- Mihai Sorohan’s muted trumpet (SF2)
- Noise Crux’s Brass Ensemble (SFZ).
- Xavier Hosxe’s flute (SF2)
- Production Voice’s Estate Grand LE Piano (SFZ)