This isn’t a post about real v sampled, it’s about how real and sampled strings combine to make a great sound! You’d expect me to be a champion of real instruments but in fact what works for so much of the recorded strings we produce is a bit of both.
As we typically record with a small number of players, track-laying individual lines, the raw sound is not a load-of-guys-in-a-big-room, but a close, studio sound. So for many applications, you have to do something else to put the strings in a suitable space. Reverb and delays make an enormous difference, but sampled strings add something too.
This online mixer, separates out the 2 for comparison. It’s a 1 minute composition by Aaron Sapp, who has kindly allowed me to stream his music here. Click on the image to open the mixer and play with the levels.
And if you want to dig a bit deeper, click on this version of the mixer, which separates the parts into 6 channels – live and sampled high, mid and low strings.
Look at the waveforms; the live file is more dynamic (and at times quite random), the sampled one more consistent.
For a string arrangement, what you get back from me is not a mix of a string section, but separate stereo stems of each line (violins 1, violins 2, violas, cellos). That gives you greater control over mix and content. The stems are easy to chop up, layer and reposition, they’re dry, separate lines, so no tuning or timing problems.
It’s something of a musos’ game to try and spot real or sampled in soundtracks. In practice, a vast amount of what we listen to is probably a bit of both.