Review & First Look: BBC Symphony Orchestra by Spitfire Audio

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One of the most talked-about virtual instrument of 2019 and for good reason! Spitfire Audio has tackled its largest undertaking to date sampling one of the most well-renowned orchestras in the world.

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Review: BBC Symphony Orchestra by Spitfire Audio

 

BBCSO Main Interface

Spitfire Audio’s BBC Symphony Orchestra has been the most talked-about virtual instrument of 2019 and for good reason. With 55 instruments, 418 techniques, and more microphones than you could fit into your studio, there is plenty to love about the BBCSO. The BBCSO has a beautiful, cohesive tone that can only be achieved by recording an entire orchestra in a single space with the right equipment. It might not be perfect, but it is an unprecedented and landmark achievement for Spitfire Audio that represents the most comprehensive all-in-one sample orchestral library to date.

BBC Symphony Orchestra sells for $999.00 from Spitfire Audio

Thoughts

Spitfire Audio’s BBC Symphony Orchestra takes users from the comfort of their studio into Maida Vale Studios, home of the legendary BBC Symphony Orchestra, without ever leaving the comfort of their favorite chair. Sampling an entire orchestra is a vast undertaking and isn’t something for the faint of heart. At over 1,000,000 (that’s 1 MILLION!) samples, the BBCSO comprises over 200 hours of recordings to put you in the driver’s seat of one of the most well-known orchestras in the world.

The most crucial components of a sample library are the samples themselves and the user interface or engine that powers them. Again, with over 1 million samples included in the library, there’s a lot of content to cover. However, as the unique user interface is going to be top of mind for most composers opening the BBCSO, let’s start here.

The User Interface (Engine)
One of the first things you will of course notice when opening BBCSO is the shiny black proprietary Spitfire Audio engine. Spitfire first introduced their own custom engine with Hans Zimmer Strings and have since went in this direction with their free LABS line of instruments. With BBCSO, Spitfire has once again taken this same approach. I’m sure moving away from Kontakt seems like a logical move for arguably the largest player in the sample library space but doing so is not without risk. There’s a reason the Kontakt engine has dominated the virtual instrument landscape for years now – it is a stable and highly customizable piece of software that both developers and composers have come to know and to trust. It has taken Native Instruments many years of development to bring us the Kontakt 6 engine we have now, so moving away from Kontakt could have been a risky move.Unfortunately the inherent limitations of programming in the current Kontakt platform are leading some developers down the Plugin road. Thankfully, Spitfire have largely done a great job of creating a solid engine to house the BBCSO. The patches are laid out well, the articulations are easy to navigate, and working with the engine is overall a user-friendly experience.

BBCSO_Instruments

 

One thing I like about the instrument browser is the inclusion of a small play button that allows you to hear a brief preview (a single played note) of each instrument. For those not thoroughly schooled in orchestral instrumentation, this is an invaluable feature that will help avoid loading up instrument after instrument only to realize you accidentally selected something other than what you were looking for.

BBCSO_Microphones

The Microphone page is also well-designed. The plethora of microphone options are presented with a simple on/off switch and a volume fader. It’s easy to unload the various microphones to save RAM, and just as simple to turn them back on. I really like the shiny black layout of the engine and think it is really sleek looking. However, at first glance, there does appear to be a fair bit of wasted real estate.

The good news is that the engine is resizable, allowing you to make the engine small or allow it to take over your screen. I do wish some of the fonts had been bigger to avoid eye strain and squinting. While I think the new engine is largely a great success, there are some definite things I miss from what I have come to expect from Kontakt. While Spitfire have thankfully given users the ability to unload articulations to preserve precious RAM, there is no true “purge” feature like you find in Kontakt. This means that even though you might only need 6 spiccato bass notes from a single patch, BBCSO will keep every note and sample from the spiccato articulation loaded into RAM, thus potentially wasting a small amount of RAM. This will likely not be an issue for those with plenty of RAM to spare, but for users with either less RAM or huge track counts, this could introduce a stumbling block.

Of course, there is also a learning curve that comes with the new engine, but that is to be expected. While some users may have heartburn about having to start fresh with a new interface, keep in mind that many Kontakt instruments come housed in a new engine designed specifically by the developer for the instrument in use. So, don’t let this shiny new interface scare you away. Overall, the engine is well-done and easy to navigate. There are several smart features like full keyswitch control – a feature that allows you to both set the range of keyswitches and whether the keyswitch will act in the normal manner (press the keyswitch once for a new articulation) or implement keyswitch latching (the articulation only plays while you hold the note down). I know a number of Windows users were experiencing pretty significant issues (including the engine hogging all of the system RAM) upon its initial release, but Spitfire have already released multiple updates since the initial release, and after spending hours with version 1.0.7 on my Windows machine, I can report that I haven’t had a single problem.

BBCSO_FX

The Samples & Instruments
The full orchestra is on offer here with a whopping 55 instruments, including both ensembles and solo/first-chair players. You will find fully featured ensembles for strings, brass, woodwinds, and percussion sections, as well as solo instruments for strings, brass, and woodwinds. The normal range of articulations are covered here, but there are also some nice additions (especially in the strings sections). Articulations such as Long Flautando, Long Con Sordino, both Short and Long Harmonics, Long Sul Tasto, and a second kind of spiccato – Con Sordino Spiccato – are not necessarily something you would expect to find within an all-in-one orchestral library. I will point out that there is some inconsistency in volume between some of the articulations which can prove somewhat annoying, but overall, the samples sound great. I would encourage those interested in the BBCSO to review the full list of articulations for each instrument on the Spitfire Audio website.

Simply stated, the samples are beautiful and rich and what you would expect from Spitfire Audio. I personally even prefer the sound of this library to many other Spitfire Audio offerings. As many users are fully aware, Spitfire Audio consider Air Studios in London to be a kind of “spiritual home” for the Spitfire sound and ethos. This means that most Spitfire libraries have the beautiful, huge, and spacious tone of Air Studios. This is an awesome feature that sets many of the Spitfire Audio libraries apart from other developers. However, this can be a double-edged sword and, by definition, means that these libraries are dripping wet with natural reverb. While this can provide a beautiful and spacious tone, it can also greatly limit the flexibility of a library. If you want a bone-dry tone or if you want to tailor the sound of these libraries with your own reverb, you’re often out of luck.

That’s not the case with the BBCSO. This library was recorded in a much drier environment (Maida Vale Studios) and, coupled with the plethora of microphone and mix options, this library can be both dry and, in your face, or distant and ambient. The two included Jake Jackson mixes (one more traditional and another more aggressive) do a great job of satisfying the mix requirements of most users, but with so many microphones on offer here, you can tailor the sound to fit your own needs and even save your own custom mixes as presets to be loaded for later use. Again, the samples themselves are great.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra represents a monumental achievement for Spitfire Audio. The interface is stable, clean, and easily navigable, while the samples are pristine, warm, and beautiful. There are some definite weaknesses to this library (inconsistent volume between some articulations, large RAM use, and slow load times even from an SSD), but overall, the BBCSO is a great addition to any composer’s toolkit. Beginning composers will find everything needed to create full orchestral scores and orchestral tracks, while seasoned composers will find both a complete, cohesive orchestral library to be used on its own or to be blended with other orchestral libraries. I encourage you to check out the BBCSO for yourself and see if this library is right for you.

Facts

The BBC Symphony Orchestra comes housed in Spitfire Audio’s custom standalone plugin (VST2, VST3, AU, AAX, and NKS ready). Over 200 hours of recordings have been presented in 1,000,000+ samples covering all parts of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. There are 55 ensemble and solo instruments with 418 techniques and 11 microphone positions, 5 spill signals, and 2 stereo mixes by Jake Jackson. The BBC Symphony Orchestra can also be purchased as a download or on a dedicated external SSD drive for an additional $249.

BBC Symphony Orchestra sells for $999.00 from Spitfire Audio

 

Demos of BBC Symphony Orchestra by Spitfire Audio

Videos of BBC Symphony Orchestra by Spitfire Audio

Contributor Raborn Johnson reviews BBC Symphony Orchestra by Spitfire Audio
“One of the most talked-about library of the year & for good reason! Spitfire Audio tackles its largest undertaking yet sampling one of the most well-renowned orchestras in the world.”