The next chapter in Spitfire Audio’s Abbey Road Orchestra lineup, Abbey Road Orchestra: 1st Violins, was just launched and it took everyone by surprise. While many expected a continuation of the percussion range (also comprehensively reviewed by us), we were instead presented with the release of the long-awaited first violins section!
Once again recorded in Abbey Road Studio One under the supervision of master engineer Simon Rhodes, this brand-new entry focuses on expression, control, and musicality.
Abbey Road Orchestra: 1st Violins features a 1st violins section made up of 16 players, all recorded in situ. For the first time, the library ships in 2 separate editions: Core and Professional. For this review, we were provided with the Professional version of the sample library, but many features discussed here apply to the Core version as well. Here are some of the Pro version’s key features:
- Extended patches with alternative attacks
- 8 legato techniques with adjustable legato offset
- Controllable vibrato
- 16 microphone signals
Given the depth of sampling and number of techniques captured, Abbey Road Orchestra: 1st Violins Professional requires a hefty 84 GB of space once installed.
THE SOUND OF ABBEY ROAD ORCHESTRA: 1ST VIOLINS PROFESSIONAL
As soon I started playing with Abbey Road Orchestra: 1st Violins, I was struck by the familiar tone of these strings, one that I have heard in many of my most beloved movie scores of the last decades: Avatar, Harry Potter, Spider-Man – just to name a few.
The amount of articulations and techniques present in this library is remarkable. Among them, we find normal sustains, flautandos, tremolos, and harmonics as well as trills and measured tremolos. The normal sustains have 5 dynamic layers. The other long techniques have 3, with the exception of the flautando which has 2 due to its quiet tone. The quality of the sounds and the tone of the recording room do not disappoint and are exactly what you would expect from Spitfire Audio. Here is an example of a chord progression using the flautando patch:
It didn’t take me long to recognize that this library goes well beyond what the previous Symphony Orchestra range had established. The transitions between the various dynamic layers are incredibly smooth and gradual. The vibrato control is also a real standout: whereas in previous libraries, this control was often acting as an on/off switch, here vibrato can be dialed in gradually, making it an invaluable tool for crafting expressive and intense string arrangements.
The short articulations consist of spiccatissimo, spiccato, staccato, marcato, pizzicato, and col legno. This generous selection offers users a very diverse set of note attacks and lengths. The shorts are consistent in sound and very well-edited. They are snappy and easy to play live but you can just as well program lines in using the piano roll.
A tightness control is available and allows for adjusting the sample start point from 40 to 80 ms (all these values are documented in the user manual). Spitfire Audio implemented a very smart release system as well: the short articulations respond differently depending on how long you hold a key. This leads to shorter release sounds when playing fast and longer ones when you play slower. This system is a great help to avoid muddy buildups when playing fast ostinatos typically. With 4 to 6 layers per articulation, the dynamic range that was captured is really good as well. Here is a quick example:
Abbey Road Orchestra: 1st Violins Professional also includes legato articulations, which should come as a great relief for users of previous Abbey Road libraries. For this library, Spitfire Audio has developed a brand-new legato scripting, which excels in creating smooth, flowing lines.
The Professional edition has a grand total of 9 legato techniques, each useful in different contexts. The classic slurred and détaché legato (similar to bow change techniques) represent the main legato transitions in Abbey Road Orchestra: 1st Violins. Next is a portamento legato, which is useful for over-the-top, sweeping melodies. To complement those, a dedicated runs legato was added. This runs legato is surely effective but for me, it feels almost too “clean”. I would have loved to see some sort of a blur setting added to it, to increase the randomness and small human inconsistencies that usually happen when performing fast lines. A novelty for Spitfire Audio sample libraries is the addition of an “allegro” legato, which uses more lively, slurred transitions, perfectly suited for faster melody lines.
All of these legato types are either available as separate techniques, or combined into so-called “Performance Legatos”. These specific combo patches allow users to trigger various transitions depending on the speed and velocity of playing. The extended version of those performance legato patches features alternative note attacks for even more variety.
Spitfire Audio added another smart functionality to these extended patches: the different legato transitions can be mixed with one another so users can add even more nuance to their performances. This function works by using specific velocity values to trigger the different legato types:
As you see, this library offers many blends of transitions on top of the legato types described above. Another good thing about this functionality is that it applies to both live playing and manual note input, as users can subtly adjust note velocities depending on the desired outcome.
To illustrate the possibilities of this Extended Performance Legato patch, I made a short mockup of the track “The President’s Speech” from Independence Day, where you can listen to the various legato types in use:
For this mockup, Abbey Road 1st Violins was complemented by sounds from Abbey Road One. Brass, woodwinds, and the viola are from third-party sample libraries.
As with the other more recent Spitfire Audio libraries, Abbey Road Orchestra: 1st Violins is powered by Spitfire’s own, free sampler engine, which is compatible with all major DAWs. It loads in the same plugin as the first three Abbey Road Orchestra volumes and therefore shares the exact same interface and controls.
Expression/volume and dynamics/modulation are assigned to two sliders, located right next to the library’s title. They can be controlled by MIDI CC11 and CC1 (by default, CC1 is assigned to the modwheel).
The bottom half of the interface is occupied by the articulation switcher, a microphone signal mixer, and the FX page. On the first page, users have the possibility to edit which articulations are loaded at any time using the technique editor (small pen icon). As of note, a new option within the interface settings called “Eco load” prevents the plugin from loading techniques that are not selected, a useful setting to save memory in templates!
The rest of the settings can be changed by using the freely assignable main knob or the FX page as seen here.
The reverb amount control adds an algorithmic reverb which is useful if you want to add an additional reverb tail to the amazingly natural room response of Abbey Road’s Studio One.
The Tightness control allows you to cut into the sample starts. When set at 100%, the sample start point cuts right into the first transient of the sample. This will allow for an instant, snappy playback, while a 0% setting restores the full bowing attack of the original recordings. It’s advised to apply a negative delay of 80ms to tracks with a 0% sample start setting, as this will ensure that the notes don’t fall behind the grid during playback.
Abbey Road Orchestra: 1st Violins includes the same microphone signals as its three predecessors. A massive array of 16 individual microphone positions as well as two pre-designed mixes. The mixer UI is clear and features individual solo/mute buttons, pan, and stereo-width controls for each channel. The only drawback is that it spreads across three pages which can make it a bit cumbersome to manage and mix microphone signals.
Simon Rhodes, who mixed famous movie scores such as Avatar: The Way of the Water, James Bond: Spectre, and Harry Potter, created the two ready-to-use mixes.
The first one, Mix 1, provides a beautifully wide image and a versatile sound. Mix 2 focuses on a more intimate, narrow, and detailed sound. Individual mic controls include the usual set of close, mid, tree, ambient, outriggers, spill, and vintage ribbon mics.
Abbey Road Orchestra: 1st Violins Professional is a superb addition to the Abbey Road Orchestra lineup. With an impeccable recording quality, it goes to the same depth and detail as the previous Abbey Road Orchestra chapters and nicely blends in with them.
With so many legato types, articulations, and exhaustive controls available, this new chapter truly stands out as the best Spitfire Audio string library to date. Thanks to its intricate detail, its ability to cover different playing styles, and very consistent sample editing, it has all the tools to become a staple in scoring templates worldwide.
Simon Rhodes once again did an excellent job at capturing the amazing sonic signature of Abbey Road Studio One. As usual, the extensive mic signal choice allows for full flexibility when it comes to mixing.
At $399 for a single string section, the library can surely be considered pricey and definitely belongs to the professional market. To compensate for this, Spitfire Audio has released a Core version priced at $229. While this Core version lacks a bit of its bigger sibling’s legato capability, it still keeps all the sonic qualities of the players and the room. Therefore could represent a great alternative to aspiring composers who are looking for a world-class violin sound for their productions.
Abbey Road Orchestra: 1st Violins Professional is available for €399 via the Spitfire Audio online shop. The Core edition of Abbey Road Orchestra: 1st Violins Professional can be purchased for €229.