Spitfire Audio – Abbey Road One – Orchestral Foundations
It was around this time last year when all eyes in the industry were staring unblinkingly at the hugely anticipated release of their Spitfire Audio BBC Symphony Orchestra, which has undeniably been somewhat of a game changer, whether you consider the multiple microphone positions of the professional version, or the super lightweight Discover edition, which has put affordable orchestral composition into the hands of the masses, it is certainly true that heads were turned at both ends of the market.
Fast forward one year, and putting global pandemics aside, we once more find ourselves looking into the orchestra pit off another highly prestigious release, and this time it’s Abbey Road studios that are the subject of our scoring adulation’s, and to be more specific the revered recording space of Studio One and the power of a 90 piece symphony orchestra.
The main venue of course needs little or no introduction, having been the location for countless musical milestones, whether it be the Beatles, iconic movie film scores or every genre in-between, there is no denying it’s considered a place of homage for composers, musicians and music lovers throughout the planet, and it’s reputation has become synonymous with quality recordings since it was officially opened by Sir Edward El gar back in 1931, 100 years after it was first built in the century before.
I was fortunate enough to cut, rather than record a piece of vinyl here back in 1993, and although the result of this particular musical outing is probably best forgotten, I will nevertheless treasure the memory of soaking up the atmosphere of the venue for that one day of my life.
Abbey Road One…
So to our subject matter, of which some will surely ask the question, are we buying into the actual orchestral sound or just the recording reputation of the venue?
This is a perfectly legitimate question, and the answer is a bit of both. the recording, sampling of the library and musicianship is up to the usual polished high standard of a product release that Spitfire Audio now has down to a fine art.
There is also the distinctive sound that determines it from other similar libraries, and offers a unique audio signature which permits it to stand proudly alongside their existing Air Studio and BBC MaidaVale recorded releases.
Abbey Road One uses Spitfires own bespoke plug in as an alternative to Kontakt. The 69.6GB library will be downloaded and installed via the Spitfire Audio Manager application, but if you struggle with downloads of this size, then it can also be purchased on a Spitfire Audio hard drive for an additional cost.
When it comes to the accessibility of the Spitfire Audio app, MAC users can generally navigate the software and get things installed albeit with OCR. Windows users will unfortunately still struggle, Windows 10 OCR can be somewhat inaccurate at what it reads back to us, and frankly on either platform the need for OCR is no real substitute for a properly accessible user experience, such as the newly updated Pulse down loader.
I have however been told that gradual updates will improve things eventually, and should you get stuck their support team are certainly in my experience pretty awesome at helping you out!
The NKSF files which get the library communicating to Komplete Kontrol, are located in a folder within the main library, and after a re scan of the KK standalone application should see them appearing in the database and all ready to roll on the factory side of the browser.
Komplete Kontrol Browser & Plug-In Edit NKS Mappings
Knob 1 & 2 – Vendor & Product
Knob 3 – Bank: Brass, Orchestra, Percussion, Strings, Woodwind
Knob 4 – Unallocated
Knob 5 – Type: Brass, Sound FX, Percussion, Bowed Strings, Reed Instruments
Knob 6 – Sub Type: Ensemble, French Horn, Trumpet, Orchestra, Kit, Wind Ensemble
Knob 7 – Character: Acoustic
Knob 8 – Preset: Brass Horns, Brass Low Brass, Brass Trumpets, Orchestra, Percussion Drums, Percussion Ensembles, Percussion Metals, Percussion, Percussion Tuned, Strings High Strings, Strings Low Strings, Woodwind High Winds, Woodwind Low Woods
Plug-in Edit NKS Parameter Mappings
Page One – Parameters
Knob 1 – Expression
Knob 2 – Dynamics
Knob 3 – Reverb
Knob 4 – Release
Knob 5 – Tightness
Knob 6 to 8 – Unallocated
Page Two – Global & Stereo Mix
Knob 1 – Global Gain
Knob 2 – Pan
Knob 3 – Tune
Knob 4 – Unallocated
Knob 5 – Stereo Flip
Knob 6 – Stereo Spread
Knob 7 – Stereo Pan
Knob 8 – Simple Mix
Page Three – Microphones
Knob 1 – Mix 1
Knob 2 – Mix 2
Knob 3 – Vintage 1
Knob 4 – Vintage 2
Knob 5 – Pop Close
Knob 6 – Pop Room
Knob 7 – Close
Knob 8 – Tree 1
Page Four – Microphones 2
Knob 1 – Tree 2
Knob 2 – Ambient
Knob 3 – Outriggers
Knob 4 – Spill
Knob 5 to 8 – Unallocated
We are in safe hands when it comes to the accessibility of Spitfire Audio orchestral libraries.
The overall template remains re assuredly static with pretty much all of the parameters being available via NKS.
The trademark key switched articulations are also here and reside in their familiar home at the lower octave of the keyboard.
Although the plug-in is largely inaccessible to us outside of Komplete Kontrol, I did nevertheless load it up independently just to cross reference the parameters in a list format.
I found only two that were not also present within the KK environment, these being direction and variation, with the absence of a published manual at the time of review, I was unable to verify what these actually did, however I suspect that they are not anything too crucial too the playability, or did not perhaps lend themselves well to mapping within the NKS platform.
Entering Studio One…
So virtually by now you will have finally navigated that famous Zebra crossing and walked up the steps into Abbey Road Studios, let’s now go through into Studio One and take a tour of the orchestra sections and articulations you will discover within the library.
Abby Road One comprises of ensemble patches for the four essential sections of the symphonic orchestra, Brass, Strings, Woodwinds & Percussion.
there are also further sub section variants: High & Low Strings, Low Brass, Horns, Trumpets, High & Low Woods, General Percussion, Percussion Ensembles, Percussion Drums, Percussion Metals, Percussion Tuned and last but not least a full Orchestra preset.
The articulations for each of these sections are incorporated within each of the individual presets, and these can be accessed using the aforementioned key switches.
Long, Long Con Sordino, Tremolo, Short Spiccato, Short Pizzicato
Brass (Including Horns & Trumpets)
Long, Short Staccatissimo, Short Marcato, Short Tenuto
Long, Short Staccatissimo, Short Marcato, Short Tenuto
I will not list all of the percussion instruments and articulations here, suffice to say that there are plenty available with Timpani, Tam-Tam, Bass Drums, Toms, Snares, cymbals, Metals and the rather tasty soft booms which can really help accentuate the bottom end of a piece, perfect for that true cinematic impact.
The tuned percussion is home to Glockenspiel, Xylophone and Timpani Hits. I could not however find a Timpani rolls sample, which is probably not a real deal breaker, but the apparent lack of a Triangle seems wholly unforgivable?
In addition to those already listed, the Brass, String & Woodwind patches each have an additional set of three articulations, These are the swells, which come in short, medium and long flavours. These work especially well as builds when used to transition between different passages of a track. They are not however tempo synced or time stretched in any way, so there may be a bit of adjustment needed to make them fit to varying tempos.
Abbey Road One – The View From The Rostrum…
On then to the big question of how does Abbey Road One sound?
given the excess of 5,300 square feet of space that Studio One occupies, you might expect the ambient sound to be quite long and lively, however the reverb tail I would venture is actually somewhat less than the Spitfire Audio libraries recorded in Lyndhurst Hall at Air studios.
There is an appreciable rich and lush bloom to the sound which is apparent for example if you stab a brass or even full orchestra Short Staccatissimo hit. The tail sounds very natural as it dies away, and gives you a satisfying sense of being there, particularly when scrutinised through a set of cans.
Long articulations are similarly pleasing, and if you have several tracks with a variety of instruments and articulations playing together simultaneously, the ambience seems to blend well together coherently without the overall spatiality degenerating into a cacophony of reverberant mush!
In fact this seems to be a significant overall plus factor with the library, while trying to avoid the cliche of the term ‘mix ready’, it does seem to sound rather good without needing to do anything to it out of the box, which is a distinct bonus if you happen to be working to a deadline.
Mix Ready, Ready Mix…
If you do feel that you need to alter the overall sound of the library, then Spitfire have got you covered with an extended collection of mixes, microphones and mic positions.
Abbey Road senior engineer Simon Rhodes has put together alternate mixes that can be used on their own, or adjusted to your own taste to further extend the options.
Mix 1 & 2 are alternate versions of the ‘out of the box’ experience, whilst Vintage 1 & 2 call upon different microphones to offer a more distinctively analog vibe.
The Pop 1 & 2 controls pull yet more microphones from the virtual store cupboard to present a somewhat brighter commercial feel, with slight variations between ambiences.
We are back on more familiar territory with the inclusion of the trusty close, decca ambient, outrigger and spill mixable microphone positions, but here we actually have two versions of the wider decca tree arrays.
Some users may be considering Abbey Road One as their first larger orchestral sample library as a step up from owning the free BBC SO Discovery library, and may have some concerns on how Abbey Road One may perform on a lesser spec machine such as a laptop.
While I usually do not delve into such things for my reviews, I did a quick test to see whether engaging the various microphone mixes and positions would significantly increase both my ram and CPU usage, or rather when they were again removed or switched off, if the additional loaded samples would purge themselves automatically from RAM.
My methodology was simplistic at best and doubtless unscientific in technical terms, simply using an add-on for my NVDA screen reader called ‘resource monitor’ to grab a few values.
Loading the full Orchestra preset as a test, the RAM was at 15% of 32GB, with a CPU usage of around 3% on an i7 processor.
Both readings fluctuated slightly, rising to 19% RAM and 6% CPU with all microphones loaded.
When I turned down the volumes of all mics, and reverted to just the mix 1 level, RAM dropped to 16.5% and 3% CPU.
As I said, not really scientific, but it does appear that some unloading of samples from RAM did take place, and of course it is always recommended that prospective buyers check the required specs before investing.
As an aside, the Abbey Road One presets do appear to load faster than those in the BBC Symphony Orchestra Professional version, and I would assume that this is due to a lesser amount of sample content being involved.
The library feels very natural to play across all of the articulations, volume being mapped to the mod wheel as is the norm for Spitfire libraries, means that those expressive changes in loudness can be added in real time, or as a post recording overdub.
The tightness control will give you that extra level of bite that is sometimes required when recording those typically faster Ostinato phrases, and can always be reduced again if desired after you have completed the recording.
There are no legato articulations at present for the Abbey Road One instruments, there are plans to add further instruments to the series early next year, so without wishing to speculate unduly it may be feasible that some solo instruments could ensue.
Thoughts & Conclusions
Overall I genuinely could not find any instruments or articulations that did not sound superb, I highly suggest checking out some of the video reviews linked at the footer of this review in order to hear some detailed audio examples.
The Brasses are bright and vibrant, the Strings full and rich, Woodwinds crisp and melodic and the Percussion packed a real cinematic punch.
Established composers who perhaps already own the top tiers of the BBC Symphony Orchestra will appreciate the tonal differences between the products, and with Abbey Road One being ensemble based will mean there is less of an orchestral building block approach to writing with this library.
Conversely speculative users wishing to up their orchestral game will value the additional possibilities that this library can offer alongside it’s own current stable mate, which I would suggest is the BBC Symphony Orchestra Core edition being in a similar price range.
Whatever camp you may fall into, Abbey Road One delivers an immediacy to your compositional score writing, enabling you to rapidly create full and professional sounding music without the in depth knowledge of orchestral writing techniques typically required, yet it is still capable of producing quality results of a level worthy of this iconic venue.
I just wonder what Sir Edward El gar would make of this amazing technology almost 90 years after he cut the ribbon on the opening day of Abbey Road Studios!
Spitfire Audio Abbey Road One – Orchestral Foundations can be purchased directly from the Spitfire Audio web site at an introductory price of £299.00 (usual price £399.00)
Pre Ordering the library will entitle you to the offer of a further Abbey Road title in the series when available early in 2021
Abbey Road One – Product Page:
Abbey Road One Walk through with Paul Thomson:
Composing with Abbey Road One – Paul Thomson:
Plug-in Description with Jack from Spitfire Audio Support:
Thinkspace Education – Abbey Road One Review:
(c) Chris Ankin
November 2nd, 2020
The author accepts no responsibility for subsequent purchase decisions made as a result of this article,or Any inaccuracies found within this review. All opinions or product functions stated are based solely on information perceived as a blind user whilst using the product or gathered from official factual sources on the web or product manual.
About the Author
Chris Ankin has worked previously as a freelance review contributor with articles published in Sound On Sound, Home & Studio Recording and ST Format Magazines.