Spitfire Audio

Review - Spitfire Albion ONE. (A great starter/all-in-one orchestral library)

Hello everyone! I have so many reviews piling up that I need to get through, so expect to see a lot more in the coming weeks/months. Today let’s review one of the most used and recommended “all-in-one” orchestral libraries, Spitfire’s Albion ONE.

Albion ONE is the 10th anniversary re-release of their original Albion library.

Albion ONE is the 10th anniversary re-release of their original Albion library.

If you ever search around sampling/virtual instrument forums, this library is guaranteed to come up all over the place, constantly being recommended to beginners for it’s all inclusive approach, and for a good reason. This library has everything you need to write an orchestral track, saving time and hassle by having large sections that are easy to pick up and play instantly. Albion One combines the separate string instruments into one full-section patch, and the brass is split into Low, Mid, and High sections, while the woodwinds are split into High and Low. Each patch will load the most used articulations, including shorts (spiccato, staccato, pizzicato, etc) and longs (sustains), with additional legato patches for strings, woods, and brass. Large sections like this are fantastic for beginners and for those on tight deadlines, and helps in keeping the resource consumption to a minimum while providing big sound palletes to instantly play with.

The GUI.

The GUI.

This product really succeeds at being instantly usable right out of the box, and everything is recorded quite wet in their acclaimed Air Studios. It is great for beginners or those who aren’t full time composers and don’t want to dive to deep into orchestral writing and just need say, small string or brass sections in the background of a symphonic metal song or some other genre. The sound is overall quite good, even if the hall/reverb is baked in (which is a plus for some!). Instruments are all recorded centered, lacking the ability to properly pan instruments as they are combined into larger sections. I’ve also noticed all Spitfire libraries are VERY quiet when you load them up. I always have to turn them up +6.0 db to get them to match the rest of my orchestral samples, which isn’t a problem, just an observation worth noting.

The things I absolutely love about this library: The staccato and spicatto articulations are phenomenal! The short strings are an all time favorite and for a large ensemble have yet to be beat in my opinion. They sound absolutely impeccable and truly thunderous in the lower ranges, yet still provide a great amount of detail. Load this patch up for instant inspiration and endless hours of fun just playing on the keys. The low brass is also a favorite of mine, and provides an amazing amount of brassy bite and grit for intense action sequences (especially the “nasty” articulation). The Brunel Loops are subtle and very unique, providing wonderful textures of found percussive sounds and warped and processed to create clockwork style percussive loops, and the Darwin Percussion ensembles provided are also top notch and fill out the loud intense end of the percussion spectrum. I have yet to find such hard hitting drums in the lower register. The legato strings patches are also surprisingly good, giving off a rich, soaring Hollywood vibe. Think John William’s ET finale.

Some small quibbles keep this from being a perfect collection. Albion One advertises itself as “Epic Composer Tools” and I honestly have to somewhat disagree with this. Some of the sounds are incredible and are used in every single one of my compositions, but this library tops out fairly early in terms of dynamics, and is quite lacking in the horn section of the brass, which in my opinion is absolutely one of the most important section for epic music. I do realize you won’t get JUST the horn section as it’s combined into mid brass or high brass, but the mid brass especially is radically lacking bite and intensity in the sustains. The long strings are also overly synthetic and are rarely used for me, but they get the job done. Overall the middle ranges in this library are a bit muddy and lacking clarity to my ears, and I mostly use this for the lower end of the spectrum. I find this library has a strange dynamic range, as it’s not quite loud and bold enough for over the top epic, but also provides inconsistencies across the dynamic ranges, not providing a smooth enough transition from soft to (semi)loud.

I can absolutely see why this is such highly recommended for beginners, as it offers a very large amount of content and you get a lot of bang for your buck. The amazing and unmatched quality of some of the patches are sadly contrasted by synthetic string sustains and an overly muddy middle range. I still frequently use this as a base for writing a lot of my action oriented pieces, and then layering more detailed sections on top. It is one I will probably always keep on my system for the short strings and low brass patches alone, even if it doesn’t cover all my needs and provide enough detail for what I write these days.

The Verdict : 9.0/10

Pros

+ Unbeatable Low Brass and Short Strings.

+Large amount of content for the price (Orchestra, Synths, Percussion, and Loops)

+Hard Hitting Percussion could be the only ones you need.

+Brunel Loops and Stephenson’s Steam Band synths are wonderful and unique.

+ Perfect way to build a foundation for a more detailed piece, or for sketching.

Cons

- Not for detailed writing with the included patches, no solo instruments or sections.

- Sometimes overly muddy sound, especially in middle range (especially long brass) is lacking clarity and bite.

- Doesn’t cover enough of a dynamic range to be truly epic or for subtle/delicate passages.

- Lacking a piano of any kind which would round out the package quite well.

Review - New Spitfire Solo Strings

***UPDATE 10/11/2018 :
Spitfire has released an update for this library, which addresses one of my main disappointments with this library: the lack of an all-encompassing and expressive performance patch, ie Joshua Bell Violin by Embertone. This update has added exactly that! A Solo Violin (Virtuoso) Total Performance Patch. I must admit, I was not expecting them to add this, but it’s quite amazing and performs VERY well. I feel this now fills the gap that was missing between having a truly intuitive, deeply expressive, and instantly playable solo string instrument and having a library that does everything else well. They have also fixed the issue with the batch re-save that I mentioned earlier. Overall, I am very pleasantly surprised with this update, and I feel it’s only fair to update my final score for this library now that it has been significantly improved.

UPdated score (with Violin Virtuoso Total Performance patch)

9.25/10

Original review is as follows:

Hello all! Today we are taking a look at a new solo string library from the folks at Spitfire Audio.

The original Spitfire Solo Strings was their first sample library ever, and the release of an all new Solo String library from Spitfire has been long awaited. I owned the original Solo Strings and got a discount upon purchasing the NEW Solo Strings, and they cost me $189 instead of $399. 

This library loads up through Native Access so it has it's own panel in the Library Tab of Kontakt, which is a welcome addition.

This library loads up through Native Access so it has it's own panel in the Library Tab of Kontakt, which is a welcome addition.

This library features all new players and recordings from the original, as well as an updated GUI. I was expecting a MASSIVE step forward in terms of sound, and more importantly, instant playability. I must admit that, while delivering on the quality of the recordings and providing many useful and great sounds, in the end they did not live up to expectation in regards to playability.

The library has all inclusive patches for three separate Violins (Virtuoso, 1st Desk, and Progressive), Viola, Cello, and Bass. For more detailed info about the different types of violin patches than I could ever give in my quick review, see the official page here.

SSSGUI2.jpg

I feel in every Spitfire collection I own, the short notes always stand out as being spectacular, while the longs and legato leave quite a bit to be desired. I found this library to continue this tradition. The shorts are always crisp, tight, and highly detailed and realistic. I also thoroughly enjoy some of the new articulations, like the Long Flautando and Long and Short Harmonics. I feel this library nails the articulations that are unique and provide some very interesting textures and timbres to add to your existing orchestral palette. 

I found the standard long notes in the main NKI files to be quite lacking. It takes a lot of time and MIDI programming to get these to sound good in my opinion. With so many libraries simply sounding incredible from the first note "right out of the box", this was quite disappointing especially after so much hype and waiting so long since their original Solo String Library. The attack and release leave a lot to be desired and require a lot of tweaking to get these long articulations to sound realistic.

Legato GUI

Legato GUI

Now, when it comes to instant realism and playability for Solo String libraries, in my opinion there is NOTHING more vital than a highly expressive legato patch. I was honestly quite concerned when there was less than a month until the release of these new Spitfire Solo Strings, and there was yet to be a single demo showcasing any type of legato patch. In fact, there was no such legato demo until the library had already launched. With so many incredible and expressive libraries already on the market (such as Strezov Samplings' Macabre Strings, and Embertone's Joshua Bell Violin), I was hoping they would really deliver on this aspect and take a new step in expressive realism for solo string instruments.

The legato is definitely a step up from the original Spitfire Solo Strings from a few years ago, but still, in my opinion this again takes a lot of time and effort to get to sound realistic. It does allow for faster playing between notes, which is a plus, but it still does not have enough expressiveness and instant gratification to stand against some others currently on the market. I often have to deliver tracks for clients in a matter of days or sometimes even hours, and I (and many others) simply need something that just WORKS as soon as you open it up. This is the magic of modern sampling in my opinion, those moments when I am utterly blown away at the sound coming out of my speakers, and I am thoroughly convinced I am listening to a real musician playing this instrument in front of my as opposed to samples. Sadly this does not quite deliver that "wow factor" that so many other sample libraries have managed to achieve.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This library is more of an all-compassing solo string library and probably has every articulation you could need for solo string writing in a standard or classical arrangement, but in terms of expressiveness and true emotion it cannot deliver the “wow factor” of some others on the market. For the price you do get a lot, however I don't believe I will ever use the sustained notes in any of my compositions simply because I do not enjoy the sound. The short notes are amazing, as is to be expected from Spitfire audio, but the standard sustained notes are like night and day compared to the realism of the shorts and actually sound a bit grating. I wish they would have focused more on making this instantly gratifying and easy to play straight out of the box. For the basic articulations, it definitely delivers, but for emotional and virtuoso playing, I'd simply look elsewhere. I often use the short notes and occasionally the Flautando and Harmonics to add unique textures. I prefer solo string libraries for those fluid and emotional legato lines, which this library does improve upon from the original Spitfire Solo Strings, but doesn’t stand up to what’s available on the market from other companies. There is also too many violin player patches that don’t differ enough for me to be really impressed by one over the other, I do however know these could be very useful to some composers, I just am not one of them at this time. I must admit I used to be excited about new Spitfire Audio releases, but lately I have not been a fan of their marketing and focus as a company, as they seem to release countless string libraries and fail to truly innovate, not living up to the reputation they once had as an exciting and top of the line sampling company, instead lately I find them a bit boring and pretentious in the way they market themselves, which is strictly a personal opinion and does not mean they do not produce quality products, I just fail to get truly excited when they fail to innovate like the did with the Albion series and some of their artist specific libraries and composer toolkit’s. There is also a bug preventing a Batch Resave within Kontakt with this particular library, which makes loading very long every time I open it.
 

Spitfire Audio New Solo Strings (2018)

Verdict - 8.0/10

Pros

+ Vast amount of content and playing techniques.

+ Realistic sound, providing the superior detail and quality expected from Spitfire.

+ Unique articulations you may not find elsewhere.

Cons

- Simply can’t match the emotion and expressiveness of other libraries on the market.

- Long notes have an overall sterile and bland feel.

- Three violin player patches that fail to deliver anything significantly new or exciting to make them stand out from one another.