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Spitfire Audio – Eric Whitacre Choir (Review)

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Eric Whitacre Choir is Spitfire Audio’s latest addition to their roster of premium sample libraries and their very first symphonic choir product. Created in tight collaboration with Grammy Award-winning composer and conductor Eric Whitacre, this new choir instrument seeks to go beyond the beaten paths of angelic, sacred and apocalyptic vocal sounds.

While offering many of the mandatory choir techniques like sustained notes, short articulations and legato patches, Eric Whitacre Choir has a lot more experimental colors up its sleeve including a brand-new choir edition of Spitfire Audio’s renowned Evo Grid engine.

We’ve had a go at this giant 279 GB large instrument and checked out for you, what makes it so special and if the product lives up to its expectations.

OVERVIEW

Eric Whitacre Choir features a male and female ensemble of 22 singers spread across the four choral ranges: six sopranos, five altos, five tenors and six basses. The choir was captured at the iconic Air Lyndhurst Hall in London, with Eric Whitacre himself leading and conducting the recordings. These recordings were transferred into 170 singing techniques for the core library and 111 so-called Evolutions for the Evo Grid engine.

Eric Whitacre conducting the 22-piece choir in Air Lyndhurst Hall

This is a quick overview of the library’s most important features:

  • 22 male & female singers recorded at Air Lyndhurst Hall
  • 6 available microphone positions
  • Conducted by Grammy Award-winning Eric Whitacre
  • All four choral ranges (soprano, alto, tenor, bass)
  • Two discrete sample libraries in one (Core library & Evo Grid engine)
  • 279 GB of samples (164.6 GB download size)
  • 170 core articulations
  • 111 Evo Grid Evolutions

THE NEW CHOIR PLUGIN

For the Eric Whitacre Choir, Spitfire Audio again teamed up with ustwo (Monument Valley, DICE) and decided to go for a custom, self-contained sample engine in VST plugin form, just as they did with their cinematic strings library Hans Zimmer Strings. In terms of design and function, the new choir instrument plugin heavily follows the concept of HZ Strings, so you’ll find your way around quickly if you own mentioned library.

The GUI is separated horizontally into two sections: The upper one holds all the available modulation controls for dynamics, expression and reverb while the lower section features the articulations, microphone positions and FX on three individual control tabs. Depending on the articulation that is active, different controls on the FX tab become available. Besides the reverb control that is available all the time, these include the amount of release tail, vibrato and tightness. Each one of these FX parameters can be assigned to the big knob control on the GUI. The lower right part of the library’s interface gives access to a few more advanced functions like keyswitch assignment, round robin control and transposition.

One unique feature of Spitfire Audio’s custom interface is the instrument and articulation browser, accessible by clicking on the top-most field of the interface. Not only does it give you a tidy overview of all the patches available, but you can also filter these patches by vocal range (tutti, sopranos, basses, etc.) and articulation type (long, short, dynamic, etc.), to quickly find just the one(s) you need. Same as with their KONTAKT libraries, for the Eric Whitacre Choir, Spitfire Audio came up with a good amount of preconfigured multi-articulation patches which let you choose between playing techniques on the fly just by triggering the assigned keyswitches.

In terms of loading times, I feel like the patches take a bit longer to load all the samples into the RAM compared to Native Instruments’ KONTAKT engine. Especially the large multi-articulation patches require some patience, but once they are completely loaded, it all runs very smoothly.

EVO GRID

In addition to the core library which features choir articulations best suited to create melodies and choral accompaniments, Spitfire Audio’s renowned Evo Grid engine takes you to the experimental side of choral sampling. Designed in a similar fashion as the core library, the Evo Grid engine holds over 100 choir samples – or Evolutions – that keep on changing in timbre, pitch and dynamics over time. These Evolutions are categorized into 8 styles that define their timbral qualities. While samples from the “Simple” category only change ever so slightly, “Clashes” drift in and out of very close harmonies. “Episodic” samples change their color in a circular fashion and “Rhythmic” evolutions all have a distinctive, pulsating feature.

Spitfire Audio co-founder Paul Thomson showcases the Eric Whitacre Choir Evo Grid engine.

What makes the Evo Grid plugin truly unique, is the engine’s fully assignable sample pegboard and the opportunity to pick a category of Evolutions for each of the 9 available pitch ranges on your keyboard. You can randomize the samples used in a particular pitch range, either within a specific category or across all the available categories. This allows you to create your very own beautifully evolving soundscapes from a literally endless spectrum of tonal combinations.

THE SOUND OF ERIC WHITACRE CHOIR

As one could already tell from the audio demos for the library, the sound of Eric Whitacre Choir is just stunning. You can hear and feel the voices of those amazing 22 singers beautifully bloom in Air Lyndhurst’s lush scoring hall. The crisp and realistic sound of the choir is neither too dull nor too harsh, which makes it a great all-round option for a multitude of possible applications. Both the core library and the Evo Grid patches are exceptionally well-crafted and sound consistent across the range.

One thing that the choir definitely is not designed for, is over-the-top, epic / trailer-ish kind of music. This is not the library for vigorous marcatos or snappy staccato passages. Partly due to the more intimate amount of singers and the choice of articulations, this choir instrument is much better suited to emotional drama, Scandi-style crime series, even subtle horror. These genres are where I see the library’s biggest qualities, its richness of detail and the many different expressive options.

The multitude of lively dynamic patches can add a whole new world of realism to orchestral MIDI arrangements and the soaring legatos just make you want to play on and on. There are so many interesting colors to be found that you can spend days browsing through the beautifully captured samples. The sound and singing techniques of the choir are able to convey a sense of emotion that you rarely hear in sampled choirs so far.

CONCLUSION

Spitfire Audio reaches new sonic heights in choir sampling with the creation of Eric Whitacre Choir. This beautifully crafted, emotional sounding choir can be a priceless tool in any composer’s arsenal. The tonal quality of the library and the wide range of expressive options is perfectly suited to drama and conveys a Nordic Noir kind of touch that reminds of successful series like Broadchurch, The Killing or Top Of The Lake. The instrument’s engine has a sleek design, is foolproof in use and easy on the eye, and with a bit of work on loading times it could very well be a hot contender for the established software samplers out there. The Evo Grid part of Eric Whitacre Choir opens the door to interesting vocal experiments and really sets the product apart from other cinematic choir libraries on the market. With its thought-through sample pegboard, you can create unique and evolving choral soundscapes in no time.

With a price tag of $599, Eric Whitacre Choir definitely resides in the high-class area of choir libraries and therefore makes it a tool that is mostly directed at professional composers. However the price seems to be justified if you think of the large amount of possibilities and the tonal quality this product holds. The instrument certainly is a bit more specialized, but without any doubt, its matchless in the things it can do.

Eric Whitacre Choir is available for $599 through Spitfire Audio’s online store.

Check out our reviews of other Spitfire Audio products, too!

INTERVIEW WITH ERIC WHITACRE

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