When you find a product that streamlines your workflow simply and unobtrusively, you wonder, "Hey, how come nobody thought of this sooner?" Vienna Ensemble Pro is one of those products. So, what does it do? Well, imagine that you connect your laptop (or additional desktop) via ethernet to your main audio computer. Using Ensemble Pro you can run your favorite DAW on your desktop, manipulate additional virtual instruments/plug-ins from your laptop and all the audio and midi info is transferred to your main computer via one little ethernet cable. Pretty amazing, huh? But wait, there's more...this software package also includes Vienna's Epic Orchestra pack, a kind of mini orchestral library for use within Ensemble Pro.
The software comes with 3 installs, so you can run it on three slave computers. Setup is easy. I know you've heard that before, but my experience was exactly that - easy. This software was initially created to host Vienna Symphonic Instrument plug-ins, but it does support a wide variety of third party plugs - from Spectrasonic's Stylus to NI's Kontakt, depending on your operating system and hardware configuration. Check out Vienna's website to see what plug-ins are currently supported. As copy protection is provided via USB key and every machine running Ensemble will require its own key, you will need to purchase at least one Vienna Key. The keys are around $35 each.
Vienna Ensemble will run on both PC and Mac platforms (provided they're mainly Intel based) and supports both 32 & 64 bit operation. You could set up quite the virtual instrument arsenal!
The layout of Ensemble is straight forward, with each instrument having its own channel strip comprised of volume, solo, mute, pan, sends and, finally, effects for whatever effect plug-ins you add. Strips can be resized from wide to slim, depending on your needs or taste. Volume, pan and sends can be automated from your DAW.
The included Epic Orchestra library takes up about 6.2GB on your hard drive and includes a greatest hits package of Vienna's larger libraries. The basic sections of strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion are provided with limited articulations. For example, the strings are presented as one patch ensemble mapped across the keyboard from basses to violins, with sustain, staccato, sforzato, tremolo and pizzicato articulations. Most of the other included instrument sections follow a similar format. A few bonuses are included which use Vienna's famed performance scripts like the Oboe d'amore (with legato performances) and the Cornet (with legato and portamento performances). The samples are recorded relatively dry, so depending on your project, you'll have to add your own reverb to put them in the right space. It's a very usable though limited set that works well for basic orchestrations, but for more detailed work you'll want a more full-featured library.
I've been using Ensemble Pro for a little while now and I find it indispensable in working with large, virtual instrument-heavy projects. On a recent project I had my usual template set up in Logic and over ethernet had a Ensemble slave on my laptop running a few multichannel instances of Kontakt and Stylus along with my percussion and special keyboards set-up using Vienna's own instrument plug-ins. My third party plug-ins look the same; they're just contained inside Ensemble Pro's window. Visually, my workflow is exactly the same as dealing with the plug-ins within Logic. I found that tempo-based plug-ins do synch to host tempo, which is a great time saver (pun intended). It's nice when all my rhythmic stuff plays well together. In a nutshell, Vienna Ensemble Pro allows me access to a much larger virtual instrument template than I could imagine with one modern computer. Vienna Ensemble Pro has the ability to utilize additional computers for elaborate and ram hungry virtual instruments without spending more money on audio and midi hardware. Hey, I remember when I had to purchase multiple midi and audio interfaces for my multi-computer Gigastudio system, and that was just to stream samples! Comparatively, Ensemble is light years ahead and a no brainer when you consider the included bonus sample library. It becomes a steal when you consider the price tag is only $285! Check out the Vienna Symphonic Library website for Ensemble Pro specific videos, screenshots and a downloadable demo, so you can try it before you buy it. ($285 direct boxed, €195 EUR download; www.vsl.co.at)