Abbey Road Orchestra: Low Percussion is the first chapter of Spitfire Audio’s highly anticipated modular Abbey Road Orchestra series. Not to be confused with the Abbey Road One ensemble range, the new Abbey Road Orchestra line will feature much more deeply sampled sections of a modern scoring orchestra recorded at Abbey Road Studios.
Aimed at professional composers, the Low Percussion extension features the expressive sound of 20 different drums from across the orchestral and world music range. All instruments were performed by master percussionist Joby Burgess (Black Panther, Mission: Impossible) in the famous Abbey Road Studio One.
The library was captured under the expertise of audio engineer-icon Simon Rhodes. By using the acoustics, the same vast collection of legendary microphones and gear that was used to record iconic film scores like The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back, and Avengers: Endgame, the Low Percussion library carries Abbey Road’s unique sonic fingerprint.
Spitfire Audio kindly provided us with a copy of the library for this review.
Abbey Road Orchestra: Low Percussion features a handpicked selection of the 20 most popular scoring drums and, as the name suggests, covers the low-frequency range of percussion instruments. In contrast to the much broader Abbey Road One ensemble library, Low Percussion represents the first part of the highly anticipated, deep-sampled Abbey Road Orchestra product range with hopefully many more modules to come over the next few years.
Abbey Road Orchestra: Low Percussion works within Spitfire’s own, free sampler plugin, which is compatible with all major DAWs.
The library ships with many different types of drums, some of which have been captured in several shell sizes:
- Gran Cassa
- Bass Drum
- Gong Bass Drum
- Giant Taiko
- Toms (10″, 12″, 13″, 14″)
- Epic Toms (16″, 18″)
- Dragon Drums (Dagu drum)
- Buffalo Drum
Abbey Road Orchestra: Low Percussion also contains 16 distinct microphone signals and 2 professionally designed microphone mixes:
- Mix 1
- Mix 2
- Section Overhead
- Close 1
- Close 2
- Close Ribbon
- Tree 1
- Tree 2
- Outriggers 1
- Outriggers 2
- Vintage 1
- Vintage 2
- Pop Close
Every drum was recorded using a variety of beater types and striking techniques. Each of these articulations was sampled pretty thoroughly, with up to 12 round robins and 10 dynamic layers!
Given the immense number of samples that have been recorded for the library, Low Percussion requires a hefty chunk of 90 GB of hard drive space after installation.
THE SOUND OF ABBEY ROAD ORCHESTRA: LOW PERCUSSION
Abbey Road Orchestra: Low Percussion sounds amazing right out of the box and feels very inspiring to play with. Spitfire Audio recorded all of the low percussion heard in the most popular film and game scores of the last decades. It is very satisfying to perform intricate and convincing drum and percussion lines that share the same magic room sound of classic soundtracks like the ones for Harry Potter and Star Wars.
The range of included low percussion instruments is very well balanced. The gran cassa, taikos, dhol, surdos, and various toms included constitute a very solid scoring set, and layering them together instantly reminded me of the sound of famous action movie scores.
In addition to the aforementioned, the bombo, dagu, djuns, gong, and buffalo drums allow for even more variety. These drums are particularly useful when layered with the more traditional orchestral drums, especially when you want to create striking accents. It seems like the developers at Spitifre Audio have stepped up their already impressive recording techniques, too, as the samples sound extremely clear and crisp, and contain a strong sense of depth. I also noticed very detailed sampled reverb tails, that never got muddy or washed out. Across the whole range of patches, the sample editing is very balanced and consistent.
In terms of the user interface, the library uses the same sleek GUI that has been featured in the recent Abbey Road ensemble releases. All of the common controls are present here as well, most notably Reverb and Tightness. Dialing in additional reverb will be a matter of taste, but the natural reverb of Studio One is actually pretty amazing by itself. The tightness control allows for a no-delay live playback, although it eats into the samples, shifts the sample start, and therefore can take away a bit of the natural feel if overdone.
In daily use, Abbey Road Orchestra: Low Percussion has 3 particular main strengths. The first is the library’s variety of sampled beaters and striking techniques. The performances were done with sticks, mallets, plastic beaters, brushes, wooden rutes, and rods along with hand strikes. This obviously translates to very distinct transients and tails as each beater material interacts differently. Articulation-wise, various performances are offered: the standard single hits and rolls are present across the board of course, but some drums also offer damped hits, flams, brush sweeps, and rim hits, among others. This gives composers plenty of different options to craft an authentic performance.
Its second strength lies in its repetition-playing capabilities. Spitfire Audio went the extra mile and recorded true left and right-hand performances, mapped accordingly as left/right on the keyboard for easier playing. In addition to the many round robins (up to 12!), this gives composers a high level of authenticity when programming rapid drum patterns and rhythmic lines.
The dynamic range is humongous and represents the third strength of the library in my eyes. Up to 10 dynamic layers are included which allow for very subtle variations in intensity, just like a real drummer would be able to perform.
The range of different drums feels very powerful although not overly loud or “epic”. While listening through them, I got the impression that there has been a slight bias toward recording more of the low dynamics compared to the top ones. This, however, is in line with modern movie scoring techniques where many top-tier composers like Hans Zimmer use lower drum dynamics and play them back at higher volume, which results in a much more full-bodied and uncompressed sound. All in all, having so many dynamic levels under your fingertips when playing the library just feels amazing.
In terms of slight nitpicks, the plugin output volume could be considered too quiet at its default setting. That is easily fixed though: just turn up the GUI’s volume slider at the top. A 200% output setting feels much better and makes it easier to blend Abbey Road Orchestra: Low Percussion with other drum libraries. The instruments with the most articulations also require a fairly long loading time, similar to Abbey Road Iconic Strings, despite the library being stored on a high-speed SSD.
As for sound-shaping options, the library includes a huge array of 16 individual signals, on top of 2 ready-to-use mixes. The amount of choice here can feel intimidating, even to seasoned composers. The good news is that the two ready-made mixes sound punchy, pristine, and balanced, so you don’t need to dabble with all the individual microphone signals if you don’t want to. The selection of microphone positions offered is nevertheless very versatile and offers truly distinct perspectives, which helps make the library relevant even for other music genres apart from traditional orchestral scoring.
The two ready-made mixes have been prepared by Simon Rhodes (Skyfall, Avatar). Mix 1 has a balanced, cinematic, wide sound, and Mix 2 gives you a narrower, more focused, more detailed sound.
In terms of individual controls, Abbey Road Orchestra: Low Percussion includes close, mid, tree, ambient, outrigger, spill, and 2 vintage mics, as seen in previous Abbey Road releases. In addition to these, the pop close mic is a bit of a highlight and is comparable to a centered close signal – fairly dry, but at the same time covering the entire frequency spectrum for a tight and punchy sound. Although this mic position can work great on its own, in hybrid orchestral tracks you could blend the pop close position with some tree/ambient mics for very convincing percussion hits that cut through the mix.
The first chapter of the Abbey Road Orchestra series is finally here and it arrives with a bang! Designed to be used in a professional scoring context, Abbey Road Orchestra: Low Percussion delivers on its promises as it excels in dynamic range, round robins, and recording depth. The many microphone perspectives give the library a surprising versatility and expand its use beyond traditional orchestral scoring.
The price point is obviously always a consideration when looking to buy into a new orchestral range. Spitfire Audio has decided to go “full-in” with this series and that obviously has a cost. Abbey Road Orchestra: Low Percussion’s price of €449 is quite high even compared to previous Spitfire releases, considering it covers „only“ about half of the orchestral percussion family. In addition, Spitfire Audio has not yet communicated the number of volumes that will be released as part of this new Abbey Road Orchestra range. Will we get 2 volumes per instrument family? Will they all be priced similarly? Only time will show.
All that aside, the tonal characteristics of the famed recording room and the playing qualities of the library are definitely the USP of this library and represent some of the best sampling work ever accomplished to date. As a result, this first installment of the new Abbey Road Orchestra Range is sure to get a prime spot in many media composer templates.
Abbey Road Orchestra: Low Percussion is available for €449 as a download via Spitfire Audio‘s online store.