Best Ethnic Instrument Libraries 2020

Ethnic instruments are a mandatory tool in the arsenal of every composer out there working on fantasy or period-based soundtracks. There weren’t a lot of releases this year so we had an idea to scout for some of the best ones that are available at the moment. These libraries will surely fit the need for any historical, epic fantasy or world music production challenge you are dealing with.

1. Orchestral Tools – Phoenix Orchestra

Let’s start with the youngest one. Phoenix Orchestra came out during September this year and it is a collaboration between Orchestral Tools, Richard Harvey and Harry Gregson-Williams. Orchestral Tools are best-known for their top-notch orchestral libraries and they really went out of their “comfort zone” with this one.

Phoenix Orchestra is a collection of ethnic instruments from China and this library was specifically created for Harry Gregson-Williams’ score for Disney’s Mulan.

It features an ethnic orchestra recorded in Situ position (with players in traditional seating arrangement), and comes with a plethora of various plucked instruments, woodwinds, bowed instruments and percussion at your fingertips. Gu Zheng, Dizi, Xiao, Erhu and Zhonghu are only a few of the instruments available.

Aside from having twenty-one individual instruments sampled, this collection also offers seven instrument ensembles as well as four ethnic orchestral sections.

The results are simply astonishing as this library captures the exceptional playing mastery of Ding Yi Music Company recorded in Thailand at Karma Studios. All of the instruments are recorded with up to 4 mic positions and each one of them features traditional playing techniques, dynamic articulations, swells and ornaments that are characteristic of these types of instruments. There are no pre-recorded phrases, as everything is completely playable.

This library comes at a price of $499.

2. UVI – World Suite 2

Another one that came out this year and only a month prior to Phoenix Orchestra is UVI’s update to the highly popular World Suite. This is an all-inclusive collection of instruments from all over the world. Far East, Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, The Americas, Australia and Oceania, literally everything you need to cater to your world music demands. It’s also great if you are a beginner because it covers a lot of ground if you are not that well-versed in regards to ethnic instruments and world music.

This library includes well over 65,000 samples combined from World Suite and with new additions that come with World Suite 2. If you already own World Suite you will be happy to know that World Suite 2 introduces an additional 48 instruments and over 2000 loops.

Some of the newer additions include: Kalimba, Erhu, GuQin, Duduk, Panduri, Salamuri, Dhol, Shahi Baaja, Saz, Kemence, Oriental Ensemble, Alphorn, Dulcimer, Viola Da Gamba, Didgeridoo, Ukulele, Garrahand, and a lot more!

Each of the instruments have been carefully recorded to preserve and capture the natural sound qualities and traditional playing styles. There are custom-made controls in GUI which enable you to control various aspects of instruments such as fret noise on stringed instruments. You can use keyswitches to change articulations during your performance.

Traveler is a very interesting approach to building multi-tracked ensembles. This feature enables you to mix, transpose and perform up to 6 loops simultaneously and everything is tempo-locked to your DAW. World Suite 2 features 12 different traveler instruments representing ethnic ensembles.

The GUI is very pleasing to the eye and easy to use and this 40GB library can be yours for $299.

3. Best Service (Eduardo Tarilonte) – Celtic Era

The fact that Celtic Era has Eduardo Tarilonte’s signature on it is a statement of power that this library presents. Era Medieval Legends was an amazing success of a library that many composers are utilizing today and Celtic Era takes you on a journey to visit the roots of Celtic culture.

Let us first discuss this wonderful eye-candy of the GUI that’s front and center inside Best Service’s ENGINE 2 sampler. It simply calls for an inspiration and the sound is there to support the visual look.

This library comes with 18GB of sample content that features traditional instruments from the green fields of Ireland and Britain’s north. Some of the bronze age instruments, such as Cornu and Cranyx aren’t available anywhere else and those War Horns are just calling for a barbaric charge. Aside from those, Celtic Era features woodwinds such as Irish Flute, Irish Whistle, Low Whistle in D, Highland and Uilleann Pipes. When it comes to stringed instruments there are two Celtic harps, Irish fiddle, acoustic guitar (fingered and picked), Irish bouzouki and tenor Banjo. Percussion features various Bodhrans and there are two concertinas as keyed instruments. One thing that struck me are the soundscapes that are simply sublime and perfect for meditative music and underscores. You can play these for hours and never get bored.

All of the instruments feature true legato that Eduardo’s libraries are well-known for and there are other playing techniques on keyswitches. Everything is recorded with close mic positions in order to capture the essence of each instrument and if you already own any of Eduardo Tarilonte’s libraries, Celtic Era will fit right in when it comes to mixing and blending.

If you are in need of a great playable library of Celtic instruments you won’t regret owning this one and it comes at a price of $259.

4. Strezov Sampling – Balkan Ethnic Orchestra

There aren’t many traditional Balkan instrument libraries out there, maybe not even one aside from this. Knowing the quality of Rhodope 2 (the traditional Slavic Dodola choir) it was only a matter of time until the team from Strezov Sampling (based in Bulgaria) created something like this.

And it’s an astonishing library that fits right into the soundtracks of films such as Wolfhound (Volkodav in Russian) and series like The Witcher. Some of these are never-before sampled instruments of inspirational sounds coming from Balkan folklore.

Those of you who own Wotan or Rhodope will feel right at home when it comes to the GUI, but newcomers will find their way around pretty fast due to a simplistic design. If we haven’t mentioned, this library runs in Native Instrument’s Kontakt sampler as other Strezov libraries do.

Aside from deeply sampled instruments such as Gadulka, Macedonian Kemenche and Kaval, this library features a very infamous Balkan brass section as well as ethnic choir and percussion so you can create your very own virtual Balkan orchestra.

A unique feature of Strezov Sampling instruments is the polyphonic legato that was first introduced with their choir libraries and it is a very nifty feature for laying down choral performances together with Syllabuilder.

Aside from the deeply sampled ethnic instruments and choirs, Balkan Ethnic Orchestra features organic pads suitable for any futuristic or fantasy scores, as well as a special percussion section with the X3M percussion engine that Strezov Sampling is known for.

Balkan Ethnic Orchestra comes at a price of 339 EUR.

5. Danheim Music – Asgard Sampler

Danheim is a well-known Norse and ambient music artist from Denmark.

Asgard Sampler is a virtual VST instrument of his own that he decided to create for himself by sampling a personal collection of traditional Nordic instruments and pagan ritual objects. It’s a rudimentary instrument with basic controls (we say this not in a bad way whatsoever) that sounds very unique.

Just by browsing through sounds you can feel that dark and gloomy ambiance of Nordic music artists such as Wardruna, Heilung, and Danheim of course. It just screams VIKINGS in the best possible way. This virtual instrument features some rather unique sampled sounds from deer antlers, rattles, Viking ritual beads (from 1050 AD), Viking shield studs, pouch knife, cow horns and even actual human and raven bones!

Aside from those there are traditional Nordic drums, flutes, plucked and bowed instruments and various organic dark drones and pads created from instruments and nature field recordings. At a 1GB size you simply have to hear it in order to believe it!

If you are into the aforementioned Norse artists and soundtracks from Vikings TV series and Hellblade game, this virtual instrument feels right at home and it comes at an amazing price of $149. We highly recommend this library and we are looking forward to more Danheim creations such as this.

6. EastWest/Quantum Leap – RA

It’s an oldie, but a goldie and we just had to include it! RA is probably the first commercially successful ethnic sample library that still holds up today. It’s probably the first ever ethnic library for many composers who started their career back then when EastWest was alpha and omega for media composers.

This library is sampled specifically for the “controversial” PLAY Engine. Love it or hate it, it’s here to stay and many composers use it even today.

RA provides composers with access to a large variety of rare and unique instruments from Africa, Asia, Europe, India, the Americas, Far and Middle East and Australia. The quality of sound of RA can still hold up to today’s standards. All of the instruments and ensembles featured in the collection were sampled extensively as a means of preserving the true character and expression of each instrument.

Aside from sounding amazing, the GUI is simply beautiful to look at and PLAY Engine’s browser is easy to navigate when choosing your instruments. One thing that many people like about RA and other ethnic instruments by EastWest is the ability to load performance patches that automatically trigger various articulations and dynamics based on your playing and velocity.

RA comes packed with 14GB of samples at a price of $399.

7. Strezov Sampling – Jade Ethnic Orchestra

Another library that came out this year is Strezov Sampling’s Jade Ethnic Orchestra, that beautifully represents the folklore of The Far East, specifically China and Mongolia. This library takes us even further compared to Balkan Ethnic Orchestra and comes at a whopping 100GB + size compressed!

Compared to Phoenix Orchestra, which was created with Disney Mulan film in mind and has that classic Hollywood sound aspect to it, Jade Orchestra comes with a different flavor with classic Chinese film classics in mind.

There are over 50 instruments sampled and all of the content is recorded with multiple Round-Robins and dynamic layers at three mic positions.

As with Balkan Ethnic Orchestra, Jade Orchestra features polyphonic legato for all the instruments and choirs with Syllabuilder with connect and morph modes for Mongolia Hoomai singers and the Longsong Quartet. The X3M engine gives maximum flexibility to the included percussion instruments.

Aside from the traditional Chinese instruments like Guzheng, Xiao, Erhu and others, Jade Orchestra includes Mongolian throat singers and Moorin-Khuur ensembles, as well as the Japanese Shakuhachi, all of which are recorded in collaboration with composer and multi-instrumentalist Seth Tsui on location in Beijing.

At a price of 480 EUR you get a lot of sounds.

8. Best Service (Eduardo Tarilonte) – Dark Era

Another gem that comes from Eduardo Tarilonte is Dark Era, a collection of instruments straight out of the dark ages when legends were born and the old gods ruled mankind. At least that’s what the descriptions says.

This library comes packed with sounds and instruments that the old cultures and tribes were using to celebrate their gods and perform rituals. There are bowed and plucked strings, woodwinds and percussion. Front and center of this library is the Tagelharpa, the ancient stringed Nordic instrument. You can hear it all over Wardruna’s performances and Einar Selvik himself endorses this library.

Aside from tagelharpa there is the overtone flute called Fujara followed by Nordic bone flutes and gut-stringed Lyre. War Horns are sure to bring chills down your spine. Percussion-wise, this library features a full ensemble of frame drums as well as various dark Nordic percussion ready for battle.

Aside from these instruments, Dark Era (as the tradition of Era instruments is) features a large collection of organic pads and drones that can evolve for longer periods of time. These are perfectly suitable for dark ambient and underscores, and this library will surely find its home with composers walking on the darker side of game and film scoring.

Another specialty of Dark are the vocal patches. Various throat-chants are perfect for invoking dark ritual performances in your music and vocal rhythms inspired by the Inuit can be constructed and re-arranged from single notes.

The GUIs of all the Era libraries are simply a joy to look at and so is the GUI of Dark Era. When you take a look at that interface you can really feel the dark side of these instruments and sounds. It was only natural to name this library Dark Era.

All of the Era libraries are recorded dry and mixed in such a way to be compatible with one another, so if you own any of the previous iterations, Dark Era will fit right in.

I don’t want to sound like a fan boy but just for the sake of Era libraries, you really need to give a chance to Best Service Engine 2 sample player, because I can’t imagine these libraries being programed and scripted for anything else.

Dark Era comes at a price of $259.