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Sequels are always tricky. For every Empire Strikes Back there’s a Jaws: The Revenge. Considering that EastWest’s Hollywood Orchestra Opus Edition is perhaps the most well-regarded and best-selling orchestral library on the planet, Hollywood Strings 2 certainly has big shoes to fill. Of course, this latest string library from producers Nick Phoenix and Doug Rogers isn’t actually trying to supplant its blockbuster predecessor – it’s trying to extend it.

Where the string component of Hollywood Orchestra had all the pomp and grandeur needed for big screen spectacle, this follow-up is a detail-oriented affair that puts instruments under a microscope. Gone are the lofty acoustics and ambient swells of colour; instead, we have a potent collection of focused, close-up samples.

Straight out of the box, this library has a punchy, physical, damn-near aggressive sound. Each scrape of bow against string feels tangible, the Détaché and Bartok Pizzicato articulations have an unmatched intensity, and the resonances coming from the bass Col Legno patches are enough to rattle your headphones.

EastWest’s goal for Hollywood Strings 2 was to get the listener as close as possible to the instruments. It’s fair to say the team has accomplished this mission. Recorded in EastWest’s Studio 2 — more commonly used for rock bands — and using microphones clipped directly to the body of each instrument, the resulting audio has a detailed dryness that is almost a shock to the ear.

What’s the point of a dry recording? Perhaps the most convincing answer is horror. Scoring projects that need palpable tension and terror have long relied on a close string sound to ramp up the anxiety — the sound of Hollywood Strings 2 is undeniably hair-raising.

Another, often overlooked, benefit of a dry recording is its potential for sound design. Instrumental samples that arrive with baked-in reverb are inherently limited when it comes to creative effects and processing. A highly detailed library like this is a goldmine of raw materials should you want to get experimental with time stretching, pitch shifting, or granulation.

Thankfully, though, EastWest hasn’t locked its users into a dry-only library.in addition to clip-on mics for each section player and the section lead, there are also overheads, mid-fields, a Decca tree and a set of surround microphones. That’s a total of six microphone components, offering plenty of versatility to design the size, proximity and tone of the string sound.

Nor is the library limited to horror or thriller genres; blending in a bit more of the Decca tree and mid-field mics quickly nudges the sound closer to a dramatic feel, while the Harmonics and Flautando articulations offer a beautifully intimate sense of romance.

Mixing microphone signals, flicking through articulations, and navigating key switches is all handled via the Opus Engine. To us, this remains an industry leader when it comes to functionality and user interface.

That all said, there is an undeniably raw edge to the sound and that intense character can make Hollywood Strings 2 harder to work with. The sound is almost too present at times and, in comparison to other EastWest offerings, we spend much more time tweaking the balance of mic signals to sand away some of that roughness.

Hollywood Strings 2 browser
Hollywood Strings 2 browser

This presents a similar challenge if you want to use these strings with other sample instruments. The company touts the ability to blend this ultra-close string sound with other libraries in the catalogue – and this is certainly possible – but you won’t be able to slot this into an orchestral mix without additional effort.

Another barrier is thrown up by EastWest’s excellent Orchestrator plugin — there is currently no integration for the new string library and this feels like a missed opportunity. Adding this functionality, and some library-specific presets, would really help these strings fit into the larger orchestral line-up.

On the flip side, Hollywood Strings 2 was never meant to be relegated to a supporting role. This library is a diva that thrives in the spotlight — treat it accordingly and you’ll be richly rewarded.

If you’re looking for alternatives, Spitfire Studio Strings Professional is an attractive option that offers a dry acoustic plus a more extensive range of articulation options, all at a similar price point. However, no library we’ve heard of achieves the intense closeness that Hollywood Strings 2 brings to the table.

Hollywood Strings 2 is bold, dramatic, and more than a little scary. More a specialist library than an all-rounder, it sacrifices simplicity in favour of versatility and specificity. While its sound might not suit every project, this is the place to go when you need to make a statement.

Hollywood Strings 2 Opus engine
Hollywood Strings 2 Opus engine

Key features

  • 140 GB library
  • 6 microphone configurations for each instrument section
  • 5 instrumental sections and a Full Strings patch
  • 116 articulations
  • Available as part of a Composer Cloud+ subscriptions

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