Let’s leave the obvious VST choices for your next beat aside and go for that big sound. To get that anthem sound, let’s look at some of our favourite best freeware orchestral plugins:
AmpleSound Percussion Cloudrum. Download.
While the rest of the titles in this round-up mostly concentrate on full orchestras – bar the Versilian piano – this is more of an out-there Steel Tongue percussion plug-in, but it has such a lovely, delicate and acoustic sound, we just had to fit it in this round-up. It’s a 700MB download – but well worth your time – and AmpleSound also makes fantastic guitar plug-ins, including a couple of great free acoustics that we have included in previous roundups. More info here.
DSK Music Overture. Download.
DSK is a fantastic developer of freeware and paid-for apps, with a mountain of titles to try and this is perhaps its largest in scope. It features more than 50 instruments and combinations, four layer sounds at any one time and a very decent set of envelope controls for extra nuance. You can get very decent results from it – considering it’s free – but it’s a shame it’s PC only.
Spitfire Audio Labs. Download.
Spitfire Audio is one of the most respected producers of orchestral instruments in the world and has an amazing set of freebies via its Labs platform. Here, you simply download the Spitfire Audio app and can choose from all sorts of packs – some 17 at the time of writing – that include many an orchestral tool, synth pads and atmospheres. You’ll need to download several of the packs for a fuller orchestral effect, but it’s a great, pro experience.
Versilian Studios/Bigcat Chamber Orchestra 2 Community Edition. Download.
This is a cut-down version of two full instruments, but still offers 3GB of sounds and 19 instruments covering brass, woodwinds, keys, strings and percussion. Community Edition really does offer a complete orchestral experience and is one of the best freebies for the task, although there is some confusion over its available formats. Because it’s effectively open-source content, other developers such as Bigcat have created VST and AU versions (pictured), plus a .sfz version (so you’ll need a player as described below) and even a SampleTank one. What this means is simply that there is a version for everyone!
Versilian Upright Piano. Download.
We have also included pianos in this section and some come in the orchestral options with several other titles here (in Spitfire’s case, you can download two piano packs). Upright Piano, though, is worth a download on its own, as it is possibly the finest free piano out there as it features samples from a Yamaha at Berklee College of Music. You get over 250MB of sounds, a very decent manual, envelope and basic reverb options.
Virtual Playing Orchestra. Download.
One of the most recent full orchestral instruments, Virtual Playing Orchestra uses the best open-source samples from a variety of older titles and repackages them into .sfz files, so you’ll need to run an sfz player – VPO recommends Sforzando – to play them in your DAW. There are multiple downloads totalling just over 600MB and it might seem like a bit of a faff, but there are very good tutorials on the website – and the resulting instrument is up there with the best.