Last updated on April 14th, 2016 at 07:22 pm
IK Multimedia’s Miroslav Philharmonik 2 is a much bigger (with over 55 GB of content) successor to the classic Miroslav Philharmonik sampler soundset and plugin. It is available for Mac and PC as a 64-bit plugin, as well as a standalone application.
Miroslav Philharmonik 2 is a complete virtual symphony orchestra with some less traditional instruments added in. The sample content is spread across more than 2,700 instruments, though the word “instrument” as used here does not mean a physical instrument, such as one violin. For example, fourteen violins playing sustained notes with a certain dynamic setting and looping is one instrument, and the same fourteen violins playing very short staccato is another instrument.
Breaking this down, the content is split into strings, brass, woodwinds, chromatic percussion, a grand piano, and the original Miroslav Philharmonik 1 content. The strings get the biggest part of the HDD space “budget”, which makes sense as they are the focus of a lot of orchestral music. The 14-violin ensemble takes up 4.32 GB of hard drive space and the solo violin uses 2.86 GB. Breaking down the ensemble violins as an example, there are sustain, detache, staccato, spiccato and pizzicato articulations, plus legato, intervals and glisses. The sustains get the largest number of variations in dynamics and some of the softer dynamics also have non-vibrato versions. There’s also a keyswitchable “master” instrument for the ensemble violins which has a set of commonly used articulation/dynamics combinations.
Miroslav Vitous himself is (like me) a double bassist, though a jazz one. This is why the solo bass includes a Miroslav Vitous pizzicato instrument which is indeed more jazzy – brighter and noisier than the other more classical pizzicato bass instruments. Other than that, the bass doesn’t really get any special treatment. The other orchestra sections vary in size and in the number of included instrument variations, but all are organized along similar lines. As an example of a smaller instrument, the contrabassoon takes up 539 MB, less than 20% the size of the solo violin. The chromatic percussion contains a few surprises such as a concert marimba, which is an occasional modern addition to the orchestra, and a harpsichord which even includes a variation layered with synth pads.
Miroslav Philharmonik was originally a soundset for Akai samplers, later also made available for other samplers and workstations, as well as a plugin for digital audio workstations. The original Miroslav sounds are included here. They are generally simpler, smaller, less realistic and a little less bright. Some are different enough from the new instruments that they can be significantly better in some situations – for example, the solo English horn has more vibrato and a more natural sounding feel to it. There are also quite a few instruments which are only present in old versions. This covers some percussion instruments, including not only tympani and orchestral drums, but also numerous varieties of bells and some non-orchestral percussion such as bongos. Also included are choirs, less common instruments such as flugelhorn and alto flute, classical guitars. There are also two more harpsichords – Miroslav Vitous seems to really like the harpsichord!
In general, the instruments sound very archetypal and many of them have quite a lot of expression “baked into” every note. The spiccato cellos sound exactly like I’d expect spiccato cellos to sound, the solo flute sounds like a good flute player playing a typical part etc. The vibrato, crescendos etc. are all also very typical. It’s very easy to create a realistic-sounding orchestral performance, even an expressively emotional one. The emotions you can express are not fully controllable, they are selectable from the available emotions in the recorded performances, with the louder dynamics generally having more intense vibrato etc. The solo violin and solo cello are especially heavy on the vibrato, without any non-vibrato sustained notes available, but generally the menu of emotions is quite broad.
So, a typical symphony sound is easy to get, and loading one of the bigger convolution reverbs and stacking multiple instruments in quantities bigger than found in a typical orchestra easily gets huge and epic. On the other hand, disabling or turning down the reverb makes some of the instruments very usable for other genres where a drier sound is needed. For example, pop horn stabs made using the louder trumpet ensemble and trombone ensemble instruments sound nice, whereas brighter/brasher trumpets could work even better, as well as some saxophones. So, while this is not a pop horns library, it’s versatile enough to do a credible job of filling in for one.
All the new content was recorded in the same acoustic space, so it all sounds quite coherent. The sounds are also perfectly in tune and the dynamics are very consistent, so there are no bum notes or sudden volume changes when moving across the keyboard. A few of the sounds are a little on the noisy side, for example some of the spiccato round robins on the solo instruments, but it’s not sloppy amateur noise – it’s within the range of noisiness that makes things sound human and soulful.
Miroslav Philharmonik’s heritage stretching back to a sampler soundset back in the 90s shows in some ways – by default, all instruments load with polyphony enabled, including instruments which are monophonic in reality, such as oboe. Even the legato patches load as polyphonic. They are samples cut from legato performances, but do not behave as legato by default. For users of the original Miroslav Philharmonik, hardware romplers or Nexus orchestral expansions, this will be instantly familiar, and it’s also very easy to play without much knowledge of orchestral music or the instruments involved. On the other hand, people more used to other orchestral libraries which are more strict about making the virtual orchestra behave in realistic ways with monophonic instruments, modwheel-crossfaded velocity layers, divisi and legato patches with complex scripting are probably not going to like the playability very much.
It would be great to have a library with the best of both worlds, with two different versions of some of the instruments, one behaving as it does currently and the other enforcing realistic behavior as strictly as possible. This is especially true for the instruments (such as solo violin) which do include recorded interval samples, however these samples are not used for transitions between legato notes. Samples which could be used to make a very realistic legato violin are present, but they are included as separate instruments and can’t be fluidly incorporated into a legato performance. To me, that is the biggest minus of this orchestra. The orchestra we have here is very easy to use, but not everyone is going to be content with that.
Each instrument has eight macro knobs assigned to useful parameters – for example attack, EQ or chorus. These are generally the same across similar instruments – all strings have the same macros, chromatic percussion have another set of macros etc. Most of these macros are set up to sound natural and realistic across their entire range, though extreme settings with some of them can push the sound into artificial territory.
It’s possible to load up to sixteen instruments in one instance of Philharmonik 2, assign them to different MIDI channels or have multiple instruments on one channel (including, for example, multiple ensemble French horn instruments, so that one MIDI note will give you a massive dozen horns), mix them internally and apply effects to them. In standalone mode, this makes Miroslav Philharmonik 2 a great instrument for live performance – there are even songs and set list features which can be used for planning the loading of instruments live, as well as some multi-instrument templates.
The labeling and organization of the instruments is very clear, and a really nice touch is that a lot of the instruments have consistent note lengths and this is included in the name – for example 5,5. If you know classical articulation and dynamics marking nomenclature, then it’s very easy to find what you need in spite of the massive number of instruments. Even if you don’t understand all the terminology, the manual explains the articulations and everything is labeled very clearly. The only minus is that it’s not obvious what the range of the currently selected instrument is – the keyswitches are clearly shown, but the range of notes is not. It would be good to see it, as different trumpet ensemble instruments have different ranges, for example, so you can keyswitch from sustained notes to ff portato and suddenly not have any sound in the low part of the range.
The performance is great. Other than the biggest keyswitchable instruments and biggest pianos, everything loads quickly. I was able to put trumpets, trombones, piccolos and spiccato violins into a busy drum and bass track without any problems or a big rise in CPU usage. Another nice touch is that the huge download is split into sixteen parts which are installed separately – so you can already install the brass instruments and play with them while waiting for the other parts to download, and also you don’t need 110 GB of free disk space to download and extract everything at once.
Miroslav Philharmonik 2 uses the IK Multimedia’s SampleTank 3 engine and this allows the use of some features which would not normally be found in a virtual orchestra. The Edit page allows direct manipulation of the sampler parameters. It can be used for slight tweaks of envelopes, or velocity sensitivity setting variations which would stay well within the realm of realism. This is also where the instruments can be set to be monophonic or legato, with monosynth-style scripted portamento. It can also be used to completely transform the sounds into synth-like, yet organic sounds. I wish it included a unison mode with adjustable detune for making Supersaws out of everything, although loading the same instrument multiple times and assigning it to the same MIDI channel with more or less subtle tune variations is actually quite a handy way to get that result within a single instance of Miroslav Philharmonik 2.
In addition, filtering in the style of a subtractive synthesizer, along with four assignable LFOs and and granular processing are all available, providing plenty of sound transforming power. You can do a lot of weird stuff, especially when using the instruments which have looping for infinite sustain. I’ve made a 303 style acid bass patch from a tuba and even got the orchestra chimes to turn into swishy noises reminiscent of vinyl scratching.
The included effects cover emulations of various classic analog studio gear and some more unusual effects, such as a piano lid closure simulation and a vinyl effect that can get very crackly. Many of the effects are not normally used in classical orchestral music, but are very useful when using these sounds in rock or hip-hop tracks. Some effects are enabled for some instruments by default – for example EQ for the strings. These effects are also very handy for live performance use in standalone mode.
Miroslav Philharmonik 2 is a great sounding and very easy to use virtual orchestra. It can do just about anything orchestral well, excels at human and emotional sounds, and can even be put to some non-orchestral uses. It’s not for everyone, however, and whether it appeals to you depends largely on how much you value the scripting of realistic instrument and ensemble behavior versus the freedom to do the things a real life orchestra could not.
More info: Miroslav Philharmonik 2 (€499 regular price, €299 upgrade, €399 crossgrade, all plus VAT)
Miroslav Philharmonik 2 Review
Miroslav Philharmonik 2 is a great sounding and very easy to use virtual orchestra. It can do just about anything orchestral well, excels at human and emotional sounds, and can even be put to some non-orchestral uses. It's not for everyone, however, and whether it appeals to you depends largely on how much you value the scripting of realistic instrument and ensemble behavior versus the freedom to do the things a real life orchestra could not.