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Spitfire Audio – Abbey Road Two: Iconic Strings (Review)

Today we will be reviewing Abbey Road Two: Iconic Strings. This brand new release from Spitfire Audio features a string quintet recorded in Studio Two at Abbey Road Studios, London. Same as with several other recent Spitfire products, Abbey Road Two comes in two editions with varying scopes of content: Core and Professional. 

Spitfire Audio heavily emphasizes the sound signature of the historical venue that is Abbey Road Studio Two. This goes hand in hand with the signal path that was used for the sample recordings, which is carefully modeled on the recording chains of world-famous tracks from The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Adele, and many other pop/rock icons.

So, how does the new Abbey Road Two fit into the color palette of a modern media composer? What is the library’s intended scope of use? We have kindly been given a review copy of the Core edition of Abbey Road Two: Iconic Strings to find out.

Abbey Road Two: Iconic Strings – Release trailer

OVERVIEW

Abbey Road Two: Iconic Strings Core edition features 5 solo string players: violin 1, violin 2, viola, cello, and (contra)bass. The library comes with a variety of articulations including:

  • Slurred Legato
  • Performance Legato (including runs and alternative attacks)
  • Long sustain
  • Flautando
  • Sul Tasto and Sul Pont
  • Harmonics
  • Tremolo and Trill
  • Spiccato and Spiccatissimo
  • Staccato
  • Marcato
  • Brushed
  • Pizzicato

The Core edition we had access to for this review includes two distinct microphone signals: 

  • Mix 1, which is a blend of a close and a tree mic position
  • Vintage Mix 1 – a processed signal path designed to emulate the sound of some of the most popular Abbey Road Two recordings

The Core edition is powered by Spitfire Audio’s custom, proprietary player plugin and takes about 46 GB of hard drive space.

The Professional edition includes 10 more mic signals, more articulations, and an additional portamento legato option.

Abbey Road Two recording session (photo by Spitfire Audio)

INTERFACE

As with their recent releases, Abbey Road Two: Iconic Strings uses the dedicated Spitfire player plugin. The interface is clear and adjustable in size to fit different display resolutions. The top part is dedicated to controls of expression, dynamics, and various parameters such as vibrato, reverb amount, release, compression, etc.

Abbey Road Two user interface

The bottom part contains the loaded articulations. This articulation list is editable, which is a great touch when building up templates or trying to save resources.

This part can also show microphone faders and various effect controls, like key switches, round robins, and bowing patterns.

Overall the interface is clean and easy to understand without relying on manuals. We did find it quite resource-intensive though: the RAM footprint and the loading times are significant: it takes between 90 to 120 seconds to fully load the default “Ensemble All-in-One” patch on a fast machine with an SSD drive. Fortunately, the instrument is playable well before it’s fully loaded. Optimizing the library’s file structure through the Spitfire Audio library manager seems to speed things up slightly.

Abbey Road Two articulations

ARTICULATIONS & SOUND

As usual with Spitfire Audio releases, the quality of the recordings is excellent. The samples are full of bite and have a raw, “gritty” quality. One thing that is immediately noticeable while playing around with Abbey Road Two: Iconic Strings is how upfront and dry the sound is. Significantly more so than previous orchestra-focused Spitfire Audio releases. This also contributes to giving the library a lot of character.

While this dry and upfront nature can fit well in a pop/rock song context, media composers will be happy to learn that the library also reacts well to artificial reverb. As a matter of fact, Spitfire Audio integrated several reverb options into the interface, the amount of which is controllable using the main knob on the interface. Even a “Large Hall” impulse response is included in order to blend the sounds with Spitfire’s Abbey Road One range of sample libraries.

Abbey Road Two reverb settings

As outlined in the previous chapter, Abbey Road Two: Iconic Strings includes a broad selection of patches and articulations. Among these, users will find a very useful ensemble patch that, for the first time, is malleable even on lower-spec’d systems. Spitfire Audio included a smart Arranger engine, which makes it possible to modify the range at which individual instruments will be heard. It is a great idea and a welcome addition which we hope will make it into their future products as well.

Abbey Road Two Ensemble Arranger

The long sustain articulations feature several dynamic layers. They have been recorded with and without vibrato and feature three vibrato intensity layers – senza (without), poco (a little), and molto vibrato (a lot of vibrato) . The samples are expressive, without being overly romantic, which could make a good match for contemporary scoring. This is especially noticeable in Violin 1, which has a somewhat restrained type of vibrato.

The tone is superb, particularly the mid to low strings. Violin 1 sounds great in its low to mid playing range but has a bit of a harsh quality in its very high register. Fortunately, equalization can be used to tame this to a certain extend. Violin 2 also has its own distinct tone and could be used as an alternative to the first violin as well if required.

As Spitfire chose to preserve the tone and room sound and chose not to phase-align the samples, a little bit of phasing (a slight chorus-like effect which gives the impression that two players are playing instead of one) is noticeable when slowly passing through the dynamic layers. This is manageable in practice though: most long articulations have 3 dynamic layers, therefore 2 small phasing zones. Recognizing these by ear, users can steer their modwheel/CC1 away from these 2 zones when playing long and exposed sustaining lines.

The top dynamic layer also has a noticeable re-bow sound in its loop, but it fits well with the “gritty” nature of the library and is in line with the style that Spitfire Audio was going for.

What other sustained playing techniques are included? We get sul pont, sul tasto, harmonics, and flautando articulations. The quality of these are top-notch and as such, they give us many possibilities of creating interesting textures. Trills and tremolos round off the long articulations selection. These are well-captured and -programmed and are a welcome addition for a more expressionistic scoring.

Legato articulations – the crown-jewels of any serious orchestral library – certainly shouldn’t be missing – and Spitfire Audio surely delivered in this regard. Two interval types have been sampled for the Core edition: Slurred and Fast Runs, which are triggered by velocity.

In practice, the legato seems more expressive and agile than previous Spitfire releases, especially when compared to another dryly recorded library such as Spitfire Studio Strings for example. The length of transitions is controllable, which is also a welcome touch. The vibrato however is tied to the general dynamics and is not an independent control, but this restriction makes sense given the way the library has been sampled.

Abbey Road Two: Iconic Strings also features a solid selection of short articulations. Spiccato and Spiccatissimo, Staccato, Marcato, Brushed, Pizzicato can all be found among the short articulations patches. They all have their unique character with different attacks and lengths, and we are glad to see that Spitfire sampled them all individually instead of relying on a technical time-stretching shortcut.

The short articulations have a lot of bite and are very easy to play “on the grid” thanks to good sample editing. It is also possible to choose from different up & down bowing patterns via the interface, which results in even more tonal variety on top of the usual round robins.

Finally, a “live” patch is available for all instruments. This patch includes the main long and short articulations and is programmed in a way that responds to playing style and speed. We found it particularly useful for quickly sketching out compositions.

MICROPHONE POSITIONS

The Core edition of Abbey Road Two: Iconic Strings features two microphone positions: Mix 1 and Vintage Mix 1.

In practice, Vintage mix 1 adds some analog warmth to the strings thanks to its tube and tape saturated processing chain. The standard Mix 1 on the other side sounds more modern and pristine, while still retaining the unique room qualities of Abbey Road’s Studio Two.

Abbey Road Two microphone positions (Core edition)

Here is a quick comparison of the two microphone mixes:

I also rendered another version of this audio demo where I applied Eventide’s SP2016 reverb. I used the “String Chamber” setting on the mix in an attempt to push the quintet further back into the (virtual) room:

CONCLUSION

Abbey Road Two: Iconic Strings is a library full of character, with a great, overall tone and bitey short articulations. In a way, this library feels bolder than previous Spitfire Audio libraries. With its upfront sound, it may not be seen as versatile as other orchestra-centered libraries. However, composers who are looking for a raw, gritty, and detailed sound, in line with the works of Jonny Greenwood or Nicholas Britell, will get a lot out of this release.

The library also feels particularly well suited for pop/rock arrangements, and many of the more agile and gritty articulations seem to have been included with pop music producers in mind.

The Core edition in particular has a great value for its price and the included mixes and playing styles are very representative of the general style the library is going for.

Abbey Road Two – Iconic Strings is available through Spitfire Audio’s online store for $299 (Core edition) or $499 (Pro edition).

Pros

  • Beautiful tone
  • Highly sought-after room tone and recording chain
  • Gritty sound, full of bite
  • Great selection of shorts
  • Solid selection of beautiful soft textures

Cons

  • Fixed vibrato
  • Slight but noticeable phasing in long articulations when passing through dynamic layers
  • Fairly resource-intensive, long loading times compared to other Spitfire player libraries

RECOMMENDED: 8/10

ABBEY ROAD TWO – VIDEO WALKTHROUGH

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