This second review reports my first impressions after installing and playing with Hollywood Strings Gold for several hours.

To Whom This Review Is Written
This review is first directed to those of us who sequence and who already have lots of string libraries (as both wives and wallets will attest to). Therefore, the purchasing question is, “Since I already have several string libraries, why do I need Hollywood Strings Gold?”

My System
I’m using HS Gold on a Mac Pro 12-Core, 2.66GHz, 26GB RAM, and ALL 7200RPM drives. In doing this review, I did nothing to make it easy on EW as I used the HS Gold version on their Terapack drive, the Western Digital Caviar Blue drive. I listened to it using an RME Fireface 800 and KRK VXT 8 monitors.

Hollywood Strings pushes the range for each instrument up to what is usually considered to be the virtuoso ranges. For example, most works in the classical repertoire (at least up to 1890) are performable within the first seven positions of the violin! Hollywood Strings is well beyond that as you’ll see below.

Violins – Where C3 is middle C, Violins go up to F6 which is the 12th position.

Violas – Where C3 is middle C, Violas go up to G5, the 12th position.

Cellos – Where C3 is middle C, Cellos go up to G4. This is above the 7th position and these upper pitches can only be played in the Thumb position.

Basses – Basses are positioned on the keyboard where they sound. Where C3 is middle C, the highest pitch for the Double Bass is B2. Thus, the Thumb 8th Position is required to perform live.

Load Times
I tested HS Gold first after installation, then a second time after downloading and installing the most current update. I tested a sampling of the Violins not all of them. Times cited below are based on using Replace after the first program was loaded. For ease of convenience, programs were loaded directly into Logic 9.1.4 and not into the Vienna Ensemble Pro.

Quick Start Folder
1st Violins Leg Slur LT 3 Ni, 140 MB, approximately 12 Seconds
1st Violins Sus 2 VB Vb, 25Mb, approximately 2 Seconds

Violins 1 Long Powerful System
1st Violins Sus 13 DB 4th Pos Ni, 82MB, approximately 9 Seconds

Violins 1 Legato Slur + Port Powerful System
1st Violins Leg Port Fast Ni, 649MB, approximately 40 Seconds

Observation: Smaller sized programs loaded as quick on a 7200RPM drive as similar sized programs from competing libraries. However, as one would suspect, the larger program sizes took longer to load. For HS Gold, I don’t think you need an SSD drive as I thought the load times listed above for Gold were reasonable given the size of some of the programs. Other programs I tested from the Violas, Cellos and Basses often loaded within 5 to 20 seconds, again, depending on size.

Creating an All Hollywood Strings Template
While much has been said about the big patches with Diamond, with Gold, depending on your system, even with PLAY 2.1.2 at 32bit for the moment, there’s no reason you can’t put together a very solid string template by judiciously beginning with programs in the Quick Start folder and cherry picking across the other folders. I do believe that for better management, especially if your sequencing program is 32bit that the use of the Vienna Ensemble PRO is advisable.

For me, a key criteria is knowing how much of a single string library I can use before I have to start adding from other libraries to fill in what I need. That said, depending on the kind of projects you’re doing, you might find that you can do most of your work with Hollywood Strings Gold and fill in as needed.

IRs and Blendability
Based on some of the demos I’ve heard so far, I wasn’t really sure how well Hollywood Strings was going to blend with the other major libraries. Most of the Hollywood Strings programs I loaded were dry right out of the box (e.g., the reverb was turned OFF).

I was pleasantly surprised at how great Hollywood Strings sounds “as is” with no reverb.

I applied IRs from Quantum Leap Spaces, the Vienna Suite Convolution Reverb, and Ernest Cholakis’ FORTI/SERTI. Writing as a non-engineer, in each case, the IRs merely added the sizzle.

Here’s what I mean by that.

There are two sounds to a string ensemble on a scoring stage. The first is heard when you’re sitting next to the music editor behind the conductor where you’re maybe 12 – 15 feet away from the concertmaster.

The second sound is when you walk the 15-20 feet to the control room and hear what you just heard “live” played back through the processing and Lexicon reverbs. That’s the sizzle. The substance is there, the reverb just enhances it.

That for me was the experience of listening to Hollywood Strings dry, then applying reverb from a convolution program.

Again, observing as a non-engineer, IRs must be selected carefully to enhance Hollywood Strings. Some rooms really brought out the sound while others significantly changed it. As a side comment here, I was sent FORTI/SERTI to review. Like Hollywood Strings, they also have a deep learning curve. What I can say as a non-engineer, is that while the IRs that come with the VS Convolution Reverb are excellent, what Ernest Cholakis accomplished with FORTI/SERTI is amazing, and from early testing it appears that Hollywood Strings and FORTI/SERTI could be an excellent team.

I briefly tested several of the Hollywood Strings Violins 1 with both LASS and Symphobia 1, and they can complement the other depending on the programs selected.

Answering My Own Question
My opening question was, “Since many composers already have several string libraries, why Hollywood Strings Gold?” So here’s my answer after six hours of working with Hollywood Strings Gold.

I didn’t really know what to expect based on all the comments I had read on the various forums, but what I heard is that Hollywood Strings Gold has a compelling sound, especially after you hear it in an ABC comparison as I did, naked, no reverb.

The best compliment I can give Hollywood Strings is to report that working composers can make money with this library.

For those who write for a living, Hollywood Strings is really a long awaited tool. The sound is rich and warm. It “plays” well with the other major string libraries while giving an added depth we haven’t really had before now. It has the extended virtuoso ranges. String bowings available are beyond what you often find in other libraries. It’s a Mahler-sized string section enabling you to produce a big sound. There are First and Second Violins each of which were independently recorded.

That is a crucial difference since some string libraries only have Violins, but not 1st and 2nd Violins. And, most of the string departments to date are the largest that have been recorded as individual sections.

Despite its name, I’m reluctant to say that Hollywood Strings has that big Hollywood filmic sound (though it does), because non-media composers who want to write in other musical genre can do so. This is a fully recorded Mahler-sized string section capable of balancing with woodwinds and brass in 4s. Whether film score or concert work, that’s a big sound and one that can go really loud.

The ability to control vibrato with the Mod Wheel is an amazing feature.

However, no book or manual can explain how to work the mod wheel to give you an authentic string vibrato. You have to learn that from the players. So, I recommend Michael Tilson Thomas’ new Keeping Score DVD set on Mahler. There are sufficient close ups on the string players to show you how they create vibrato. And it will give you a great idea of just how big an orchestral sound is achievable with a Mahler-sized string section.

The other reason I recommend this video is because you’ll see most of the bowings in action that are part of Hollywood Strings. To really learn and understand bowings and how they’re put together on a melodic line, you best learn them by seeing them in action, then, seeing them in action with score in hand. The word “knowledge” in the ancient Hebrew means learning by what you see so that you gain perception and skill. That is best accomplished with a video of this caliber.

My first critique is about the training. Hollywood Strings Gold is a deep library, which I mean as a compliment. With a few additional short PDFs, Hollywood Strings would be very fast to learn which means a composer could be productive an hour or so after installing.

Second, not a critique as much as a suggestion for a future update is to have a few more programs in Quick Start so that a fairly robust template could be loaded right away. I say this because so much forum talk, mostly about the Diamond version, has been generated about the size of the programs, how many can be loaded, etc., that one could be left with the impression that a Cray super computer is required to load a template’s worth of programs.

Well, you don’t need a Cray!

With Gold, running quick estimates while I was working, you can do a lot with 12GB RAM, but depending on your system, I’d shoot for 24GB RAM. As a side note, I was very surprised to see the value pricing for the Hewlett-Packard HPE h8se i7-970 six-core 3.2GHz systems starting at $1499 with 9GB RAM. You can get a maximum of three hard drives in this system including one SSD. As add-ons, of course! Note:: I only mention this as a side note. I have not tested this HP unit at all.

One tutorial I’d definitely like to see is how to move the folders so that they’re spread across multiple drives, thus giving you more polyphony to work with.

There’s a lot to be appreciated in this library, and the more you know about string bowings and their execution, the more you’ll appreciate the scoring potential it gives you, regardless of the musical genre you want to write for.

It’s a library to be learned and practiced with to get the most out of it, but you don’t have to learn it all at once. You can take it in stages.

At the current price point, now that it’s part of the EastWest Buy 1/Get 1 Free bundle, the effective price for Hollywood Strings Gold is about $300US. That is extraordinarily competitive.

What’s Next
My next step is testing Hollywood Strings using the string combinations found inProfessional Orchestration Volume 2A since this is the starting coloristic vocabulary for string writing that you find in film/TV/game and concert scores.