Multi-Timbral Instrument vs. Multiple Instances—Which is Better?

Let’s find out whether it’s more efficient to have one virtual instrument in multiple instances, or multiple virtual instruments in one instance

Suppose you have a multi-timbral instrument, like IK SampleTank or NI Kontakt. You want to play back four instruments. Is it more efficient for your computer to run one instance and load it up with four instruments, or run four instances, each with its own instrument?


Testing time…I opened up Cakewalk by BandLab on a four-core, i7 machine, because the program has a performance meter that shows what’s going on with the individual cores. Each core runs at 3.10 GHz.

For the first test, I loaded up SampleTank 3 with four fairly processor-intensive instruments—two different pianos, and two different guitars, each driven by an insane drum ‘n’ bass MIDI groove to make sure each instrument got a lot of exercise.

The second test used the same instruments and the same MIDI files, but each instrument was loaded into its own instance of SampleTank 3.

The featured image above displays the results. The image on the left shows that with a single multi-timbral instance, the first core is doing all the work. The image on the right shows that with multiple, single-instrument instances, the load is distributed more evenly over the four cores. However, note that running more instances uses up more RAM.


if your priority is conserving RAM, then use a single instance and load your instruments into it.

If your priority is CPU efficiency, then use multiple instances, each with its own instrument.

You can also choose to split the difference, like have two instances, each with two instruments. There may not be a “universal answer”…but at least we have an answer!