Review: Spitfire Sacconi String Quartet by Spitfire Audio
A very playable and excellent sounding string quartet.
Multiple mic positions to tailor the sound to your liking.
Plenty of user-assignable controls.
Reasonably priced for the capabilities.
A level problem with the highest velocity layer in Violin 1 Spiccatos.
Limited velocity layers.
Requires a very fast SSD to stream multiple mic positions at once.
Spitfire’s Sacconi Quartet is billed as a “four-year-long project to create a definitive set of writing-for-quartet tools.” I would have to say they have succeeded. Sacconi not only sounds excellent but has the playability and flexibility we need as working composers to write quickly and deliver convincing results.
Jump to the Videos of Spitfire Sacconi String Quartet by Spitfire Audio
Jump to the Demos of Spitfire Sacconi String Quartet by Spitfire Audio
Review: Spitfire Sacconi String Quartet by Spitfire Audio
Spitfire Audio has an extensive catalog and reputation for high-quality libraries from full orchestral and solo instruments, to hybrid and synthetic instruments. Sacconi Quartet is billed as a “purpose-built tool for writing for string quartets” recorded in Wigmore Hall in London. Spitfire describes the idea for this project was to have a flexible quartet recorded in a single hall to make it easier to write for quartet, eliminating the work typically required to combine solo instruments into a cohesive group.
Sacconi String Quartet sells for $499 from Spitfire Audio.
Sacconi Quartet is, of course, a string quartet composed of Violin 1, Violin 2, a Viola, and a Cello.
I have found Sacconi to be a very valuable library in my own writing. The key reasons are playability, ease of use, great sounding mic positions (for flexible mixing options), and a reasonable complement of the most commonly used articulations.
Sacconi runs in the full version of Kontakt 5. As with many libraries, it will only run in demo mode with the free Kontakt 5 Player. I am using currently using Kontakt 5.8 for Sacconi. Each instrument includes 14 articulations and 6 mic positions – close, close ribbon, main stereo, decca tree, ambients and outriggers. You can balance these to taste, use an existing mix, or just use a single mic or two to save RAM, which is a good idea, especially if you load up each individual articulation as separate instruments. Each instrument also comes with a “close mix” and a “full mix” preset if you would like a recommendation from Spitfire on how to build a mix.
The “Individual” presets include all articulations via key switch. The articulations are: short spiccato, short staccato, long, col legno, flautando, short harmonics, long harmonics, marcato attack, major 2nd trills, minor 2nd trill, pizzicato, Bartok pizz, unmeasured tremolos, and measured (150bpm) tremolos. Each articulation is made up of two velocity layers (three for some of the individual articulation presets). This is a common and necessary tradeoff with multiple mic positions and a reasonable complement of articulations. I think the choice is reasonable for this library’s intent, though personally, I rarely use multiple mic positions, opting to build my own reverb/ambient stage as needed.
So, how does Sacconi sound? In a word, excellent. Being solo instruments, the edge of the string and resonance of the wood comes through with a sense of life, and musicality. Sacconi was designed to be a writing tool, so it may not have the extensive articulations and velocity layering some would want for ultimate mockup realism, but for writing for quartet, or inclusion in mockups, it works very well. Performances of each articulation are consistent across each instrument – a firm indication of the stellar musicianship presented.
The mic positions offer quite a few options for getting the sound you may want. The inclusion of two different close mics – main Close mics, and Close ribbon mics. Ribbon mics are often used in recording strings, especially solo violins, as they capture a warmer, softer tone, reducing some of the bite of the instrument when close-miked. The main close mics are brighter, so some blending of these two can be helpful. I find the ribbons to be a bit midrangy for the viola and cello, but take the edge off of violin 1 and 2 quite nicely. The main Stereo mics provide a wider stage recording, with the Trees being a bit wider and farther back. Ambient and Outriggers bring in a good bit of the hall for creating a wetter mix. All of the mic positions sound very good, so you have a lot of flexibility to create the sound you want.
My personal preference has been the Stereo mics. They sound very good and the room presence is just right, even for use with additional reverb. For a more specific or drier mix, I would pick the Close ribbons for Violin 1 and 2, and Close mains for viola and cello, with my own hall reverbs. This saves RAM, speeds up loading, and allows me flexibility to adapt the mix as needed, and it sounds great. I mention this because not every string library’s close mics necessarily sound good enough to use alone and create your own hall, but Sacconi’s do.
On specific articulations, the spiccatos sound closer to short staccatos in some other libraries, and Spitfire says you may find them useful in a staccatissimo role. They are performed as spiccatos, and that is audible, but they do serve well as both, and Spitfire have done well to have given them a range of playability across the round robins and velocity levels, without ever sounding static. The staccatos are longer than you will find in other libraries, at least in Violin 1 and 2, so for ostinato patterns, you will likely use the spiccatos most often. Of course, you could tweak the decays and releases within Kontakt to shorten them slightly if so desired, and they come in handy for variations and realism in short-note phrasing.
The longs can be expressive with the use of dynamics, expression, and vibrato (all assigned to continuous controllers, and user assignable). The loop points sound as if they at least emulate a bow-change, if not including bow-change samples, and are smooth enough for convincing long sustained notes.
The lighter articulations strike a nice balance between the clarity of solo strings (that could become harsh) and the airy quality we look for, without being harsh or strident, and the four instruments blend very nicely, as expected of a quartet. The flautandos are light and airy – great for ethereal writing. The short harmonics sound light and have a nice natural decay. These are an interesting addition, obviously included for a realistic tail that would otherwise be an envelope release with sustained articulations.
Measured and unmeasured tremolos, and trills perform well and sound convincing.
Overall, this is a very good quartet library. Even if it doesn’t tick all of the boxes for solo strings, it offers a strong balance between flexibility and realism that is well worth the asking price. I have used Sacconi quartet in context on several scores and have been happy with the results.
Spitfire’s interface will be readily familiar to users of their other libraries. It is built within Kontakt 5’s instrument system, utilizing three pages – Simple, Advanced, and Ostinatium.
The first, Simple, offers a basic overview of mic balance with an “Easy Mix” option, and placement with a single “close-far” slider; as well as controller options and articulations (for the “individual”/key switch based preset).
The Advanced page offers access to the multiple mic positions (levels and loading/unloading), controller assignments, round robin and various purge, transpose, sync and mapping options. Of course, with the full version of Kontakt you can also tweak the mapping and layers if so desired.
The Ostinatium page is, as the name suggests, an ostinato builder. Though somewhat basic, it can be quite useful. The Length designates each note’s duration (quarter note, 8th, etc), velocity controls the dynamic, and Key determines which midi note is used to trigger that note in the sequence – i.e. the first, second or third note played, would trigger 1, 2 or 3 in the “Key” designation. You have the option to designate whether the Ostinatium interprets Key (1, 2, 3, etc) by the order played, by ascending or descending pitch, or as a chord.
One feature that would make this even more useful would be a rest option. Currently, it simply plays one note to the next. As long as your pattern contains successive full duration note lengths, this won’t be a hinderance. There are no dotted notes, but there are triplets. The user can build up to 8 ostinato patterns, but they are all triggered, and hence, layered on playback. As of yet, I haven’t found a way to trigger them individually, and separately.
Given the number of options and programmability, the interface is rather small, especially on higher DPI monitors. This is especially notable with the Ostinatium page where setting up an ostinato pattern can be tedious enough to require using your operating system’s graphic zoom (or a magnifying glass) to see what you are doing. I would personally prefer Spitfire divide the interface among 2-3 tabs with larger graphic elements, but there are always tradeoffs, so I can’t criticize Spitfire too much for their choice here, even if my eyes tend to protest after a long day.
I have found Sacconi Quartet to be easy to use, playable and flexible. Getting the most out of it requires some digging into the interface, controllers, and various options, but its capabilities are covered in the manual, and there is quite a bit under the hood of this library, so to speak – more than can be covered in a semi-short review. If you use multiple mics, you will need a fast SSD, though this is true of most current multi-mic strings or orchestra libraries. Key switching in the “Individual” patches is responsive as I haven’t encountered any missed switches or stuck notes.
The “Playable” presets are designed to be performance presets including both legato and shorter articulations, controlled through velocity and continuous controllers (CC) for a more natural performance approach. The “Playable” presets include legato, where the “Long” articulation is less suitable for legato phrasing. I find the “Playable” presets live up to their name, handling slower and faster lines with relative ease. Spitfire have built a complex scripting system to use velocity to accent notes with short articulations (and shorter releases as well), so phrases are not limited to smooth legato lines and can be performed more musically with some liveliness where needed. Being composers themselves, Spitfire know that it is easier to perform most of an expressive phrase with a single patch than split it across multiple articulations, especially with a deadline looming.
Control options include Dynamic, Expression, Vibrato (“Playable” and Longs), and Release (shorter articulations). Dynamic crossfades between the dynamic layers and provides the most expressiveness. Expression acts as a level trim, and Vibrato fades in vibrato on the longs and legatos. There have been a few cases where I wished the vibrato would fade in a little more gradually, but overall, all three controls work well.
With the shorter articulations there is a Release control to fade between short and long releases, but the difference is often too subtle to notice. I found myself diving into Kontakt to edit ADSR release manually.
The option switches on the Advanced page should not be overlooked as they also allow further tweaking of each instrument’s performance. You have control over the number of round robins (useful for saving RAM), how round robins are reset – via your DAW’s transport (stop), or key switch. Polyphonic legato can be enabled on the Playable presets. A switch to enable/disable a “hall trigger” enables a slight hall ambient tall to be triggered on forte-piano dynamic changes. I would advise leaving this enabled as it adds a slight, but audible tail when lowering Dynamic at the end of a phrase.
There are also individual “brushes” or presets for each articulation to access without having to use key switches, though if you use multiple mic positions, this will consume far more RAM. Loading up one Individual preset and one Playable preset for each of the four instruments, each with 3 mic positions, will use around 11-12G of RAM.
Breaking from the otherwise excellent quality and consistency of this library, there is a level discrepancy with the Violin 1 Spiccatos in the main Close mic. In the highest velocity layer, the level is lower, and the sound falls back into the room more than other layers, where a middle layer sounds noticeably louder with more attack. There are a few workarounds the user could consider: limit velocity to not trigger the higher range; edit that layer for the main Close mic position in Kontakt; use the next lower layer and bump up CC 7 or expression where necessary; or use the Ribbon mics for a close sound, which really is a good choice for violin anyway. This isn’t a problem with any of the other mics, including the Close Ribbon mics.
Spitfire’s Sacconi Quartet is billed as a “four-year long project to create a definitive set of writing-for-quartet tools.” I would have to say they have succeeded. Sacconi not only sounds excellent but has the playability and flexibility we need as working composers to write quickly and deliver convincing results. The price point is reasonable given the library’s capabilities and scope. Sacconi doesn’t cover every single detail of a solo instrument, or even a quartet, but it strikes a reasonable balance between flexibility and realism. It can cover a wide range of styles, depending on the end user. If you are looking for a string quartet, or even multiple solo strings, Sacconi is well worth consideration. I would qualify it as highly recommended.
Sacconi Quartet contains 46768 samples; 106.6 GB uncompressed .wav (70.7 GB download size) 141.4 GB disk space required during install. Spitfire suggests keeping your install path names relatively short to as there are character limits to file paths. Something like “Sacconi Quartet” would be fine.
PC: Windows 7 or later recommended (latest Service Pack, 32/64 bit); Minimum – Intel Duo or AMD Athlon 64 X2, 4GB Ram (8GB recommended)
MAC: OS X 10.10 or later recommended (latest update); Minimum – Intel Core 2 Duo, 4GB RAM (8 GB recommended).
Sample Drive Recommendations: USB3, Thunderbolt, or eSata SSDs, suitable for AV use.
Host: Kontakt 5 Full is required.
Contributor Dedric Terry reviews Spitfire Sacconi String Quartet by Spitfire Audio
“Spitfire’s Sacconi Quartet is billed as a “four-year long project to create a definitive set of writing-for-quartet tools.” I would have to say they have succeeded. Sacconi not only sounds excellent but has the playability and flexibility we need as working composers to write quickly and deliver convincing results.”