Today we have the pleasure of reviewing Spitfire Symphony Orchestra Professional, the latest version of the popular Spitfire sample library range. Originally released as the British Modular Library (BML) in multiple volumes, the product line was then consolidated over the years into three main libraries and three respective microphone expansions, along with a new free and exclusive add-on: Spitfire Masse.
After a recent set of fixes and improvements, the product range has been streamlined into two editions, a standard one (based on the main ‘CTA’ microphone set), and a professional edition including all of the existing microphones expansions. We were kindly given a copy of this new Professional edition to test and review it.
Spitfire Symphony Orchestra Professional (SSO Professional, for short) consists of three main libraries: Spitfire Symphonic Strings, Spitfire Symphonic Brass, and Spitfire Symphonic Woodwinds. Owners of the collection also get access to Spitfire Audio’s Masse for free, an exclusive set of ready-built orchestrated patches curated from these main libraries.
All sections have been recorded at the famous AIR Lyndhurst Hall, one of the world’s largest recording facilities. Built from a converted church, and featuring peculiar acoustics controlled by a huge moving ceiling panel, it has been – and still is – used to record many famous scores over the last decades, including Gladiator, Harry Potter, How to Train Your Dragon, and many more.
Spitfire Audio’s goal in recording at Air studios – hiring the exact same players used in these blockbuster productions – is to give composers a sample library capable of rendering convincing orchestral works for use in movies, TV, and video games.
Spitfire Symphonic Strings features 60 players, including 16 first violins, 14 second violins, 12 violas, 10 celli, and 8 double basses. The library includes over 175 articulations comprising of 94 longs, 59 shorts, and 5 legato types. The installation of Spitfire Symphonic Strings requires 254 GB of disk space.
Spitfire Symphonic Brass includes French Horns, Trombones (Tenor & Bass Trombones), Trumpets, Tuba, Cimbasso, and even a Contrabass Trombone and a Contrabass Tuba. The sections were recorded with flexibility in mind, done both solo and a2 (two players in unison) for the majority of the instruments. Spitfire Symphonic Brass even features a6 patches for the Horns, Trombones, and Trumpets. The full library includes 169 articulations and requires 240 GB of disk space.
Similarly, Spitfire Symphonic Woodwinds features a comprehensive collection of the orchestral woodwind family, covering flutes (along with Piccolo, Alto & Bass Flute) and clarinets (along with Bass & Contrabass Clarinets), complemented by the oboe, cor anglais, bassoon, and contrabassoon. Here again, the players were recorded as solo and a2 sections for most of the included instruments, which can then be combined to create an a3 section for example. The library requires 238 GB of disk space.
Finally, Spitfire Masse contains layered ensembles from the three libraries, covering strings, brass, and woodwinds sections, along with a tutti. Each ensemble features several distinct “themes”, which correspond to various playing techniques assembled together for a massive and cinematic sound.
All sections of the libraries have been recorded in situ (at their standard position in an orchestral seating). This is particularly important when you want to combine sections recorded in a nice reverberant room such as the Lyndhurst Hall, in order not to disrupt the spectral integrity.
As soon as you open Spitfire Symphony Orchestra in the Kontakt sampler, you can immediately see the impressive number of articulations and playing techniques included. It is important to note that the Professional edition does not add any new articulations, only new microphone signals. Nevertheless, here is a quick recap of the overall content in case you’re new to any of the libraries.
All three instrument families use a common interface designed for Native Instruments’ full version of Kontakt and the free Kontakt Player. By default, this interface boots with an “Easy Mode” layout, featuring only basic settings and a simplified “Close/Far” mix slider. Users can switch to an advanced layout that offers finer performance controls and multiple microphone options. For the short notes, a third layout of the interface contains the so-called Ostinatum, which works as a programmed assistant that can help you create various ostinatos and repeating patterns. The Ostinatum becomes particularly efficient when combining several instruments across different patterns for a syncopated rhythm.
Looking deeper into the content, we can see that Spitfire Symphonic Strings has the largest amount of patches of all three main libraries. The string section’s long articulation patches are beautifully recorded and show Spitfire’s dedication to offering a truly cinematic-oriented sound. From Normale, Flautando, to Con Sordino, the sampled articulations represent an excellent palette of different techniques and textures to choose from.
A lot of these textures are, in fact, very relevant in today’s music for media. Our favorites among these textural patches include the Con Sordino Blend, Flautando, Harmonics, and Super Sul Tasto. Most of these patches offer several dynamic layers, as to be expected. Where appropriate, you have access to two to three vibrato layers, ranging from non-vib to molto vib. Half-note and whole-note Trills as well as Tremolos are also sampled all across the string sections.
There are five dedicated string legato techniques included: Bowed, Fingered, Portamento, Runs, and Sul G/C. If desired, the control over the choice of these techniques can be left to a clever automated script that is being used by the “Performance Legato” patches. These Performance Legato patches automatically adapt to your playing speed and choose between the different legato techniques accordingly. This is perfect for live playing and expressive performances that quickly change between short notes and slow lyrical lines.
On the other hand, composers relying less on recording their lines manually might prefer using the legacy “Legato Performance” patches instead, which allow for refinement of the transition speed and intensity. Note that these legacy patches also cover a third (intermediate) vibrato layer that is not covered by the newer Performance Legato patches.
The string section’s short articulations are numerous and include Spiccatos, Short Brushed, Pizzicato, Short CS, and more. They are distributed coherently across all the sections. The different Brushed Shorts and Pizzicati are particularly beautiful and really show the quality of the hall in their lush release tails.
Instead of sampling Marcato and Staccato techniques, Spitfire Audio preferred to opt for so-called Short 0’5 and Short 1’0 articulations that vary in length. The number refers to the length of the recorded sample. These two articulations were captured in p/m/f, and their attack is controllable with a Tightness slider. We would have preferred to see proper staccato and marcato articulations though, as we feel the end result sounds more like a compromise between the two, even with the Tightness slider set fully to one side.
Overall, the same comments apply to Spitfire Symphonic Woodwinds. In our tests, the woodwinds made a particularly good match for the strings and the sound of the AIR Lyndhurst Hall yielded beautiful results. The fact that the library is offering solo and a2 patches adds a lot to its flexibility. The woodwind recordings are indeed very expressive and suit emotional statements as well as orchestral accompaniments.
We encountered a few articulation inconsistencies between sections though, for example between the Clarinet solo and a2. A consistent mirroring of techniques would have been a better choice in our opinion. An alternative re-tongued Legato technique for the high woodwinds would have been a welcome addition, too. On the other hand, it is nice to see that long techniques allow for a certain amount of vibrato control, scaling from non-vib to vib. The woodwind runs presented in Spitfire Symphonic Woodwinds are sounding particularly good, too.
Moving on to Spitfire Symphonic Brass: Here again, Spitfire Audio offers patches both in solo and a2, and even includes a6 ensembles for Trumpets, Horns, and Trombones. This provides the brass section with a great deal of tonal flexibility. The sampled dynamic range sounds to be around piano (p) to fortissimo (ff), which nicely represents the traditional orchestral dynamic range. On the other side, Spitfire Symphonic Brass’s a6 ensemble patches are truly powerful though and the low brass, in particular, resonates well in the recording hall.
The lower dynamics and mellow registers are sampled exceptionally well. If there is anything to criticize for us, it would clearly be the absence of legato articulations for the solo Trombone (a feature that was announced for a future update a few years ago), and the very discernable loop points of the Contrabass Tuba’s long articulations that would benefit from a rework. Anyway, to keep a sense of proportions, these minor flaws would not necessarily be obvious in the context of a full musical piece.
Finally, the free Spitfire Masse contains pre-orchestrated and pre-mixed sections, that allow for great ease of use and maximum impact. The available patches cover the strings, brass, and woodwind sections as well as all sections playing together as Tutti. They are programmed using several dynamics and vibrato intensities. Among those patches, some of our favorite ones include the Cool Strings, the Ligeti Strings, the Woodwind Chorus Long, and Orchestrator Longs, with an honorable mention to the Brass Beast Shorts.
Overall Spitfire Masse is a really useful tool to quickly sketch ideas with convincing, cinematic colors, or as an additional layer to give the main three libraries even more gravitas.
The main attraction of SSO Professional compared to the standard edition is the library’s sheer amount of microphone signals included. This edition features a very versatile array of 10 microphone signals: 7 microphone positions and 3 mixes by Jake Jackson.
In order to review these different signals in detail, we transcribed a part of the main title of The Queen’s Gambit, composed by Carlos Rafael Rivera. All the examples below were created using out-of-the-box patches that feature just one microphone signal at a time. No panning and no additional reverb were applied, just a limiter was added to the mix bus for some quick gain staging.
The Close (C) mic is useful to add definition to musical lines while offering a rather narrow stereo image. Since the hall the samples were captured in is very reverberant, the Close mic still retains a healthy amount of roominess. The resulting sound is focused on the players and adds a lot of detail and presence to the mix.
The Tree (T) is a signal taken from a so-called Decca Tree microphone array, placed above the conductor of the orchestra. This results in a balanced representation of both the definition of the instruments and the recording hall’s sound. Compared to the Close mics, you can hear a clear and wider stereo image.
The Ambient (A) mics, placed further away from the orchestra, are more about the ambience and acoustics of the hall. The stereo imaging is a bit less focused as the reverberance of the room becomes far more prominent. While it isn’t a mic position we would use on its own, it is very useful in combination with other more defined mics, in order to make the orchestra sound bigger and wider.
The Outriggers (O) having significantly more distance between each other than the Tree, offer a very wide, almost separated, stereo image at the expense of a bit of definition. They are a great fit for strings and brass in cinematic music, as they leave a sonic space in the middle for dialog.
CLOSE RIBBON MICS
The Close Ribbon (Cr) mics are ribbon mics placed right next to the previously heard Close mics. As such, they have a similar definition and stereo image. However, the ribbon mics offer a rounder, warmer, and slightly darker sound (particularly noticeable on some of the high spiccato notes in this example).
The Stereo Pair (St) mics can be used as a wider, more open version of the Tree, at the expense of focus and definition. The hall is also more prominent in these microphones.
The Gallery (G) mics, placed up high on the side of the hall, focus on the acoustics and reverberance of the hall, even more so than the Ambient mics. In certain contexts, blending this signal in the mix instead of using a reverb can yield great and convincing results.
Spitfire Symphonic Strings exclusively adds an additional 11th mic signal: the Leader mic. It captures the performance of each section leader and is a great way to add definition, bite, and expression. Out of the microphone mix collection, it is the signal with the least amount of hall ambience.
When it comes to using these mic signals, the Tree or Stereo Pair makes for good starting points. If you then add one or two other signals between -6 and -3 dB in volume you will usually be able to create an excellent overall sound. Depending on the desired sound of the music, you can also add Close/Leader mics to emphasize the intimate details and liveliness or go with a bit of Outriggers/Ambient/Gallery to enhance the stereo image and depth. Note that it is possible to save and assign a different mic balance per articulation within a single Kontakt instance.
Another solution that offers more simplicity and is low on resources, is to use one of the three mixes created by Jake Jackson: Fine, Medium, Broad. These mixes are really meticulously balanced and each of them spotlights a different aspect of the recordings. The Fine mix brings a lot of focus on the instruments and a narrower image, Medium has a great balance of definition and stereo width, and Broad gives you a massive sound and the widest stereo image. We were able to achieve great results with each of the three and we suspect that the Medium mix will probably suit most composers. Checking out the Jake Jackson mixes is definitely worth it as they can save you precious mixing time and will get you closer to a polished sound very quickly.
JAKE JACKSON MIX – FINE
JAKE JACKSON MIX – MEDIUM
JAKE JACKSON MIX – BROAD
As of note, all these signals are divided into three Kontakt instances, one for the CTAO combo, one covering the Alternatives mics (Cr, St, G, L), and one for the three Jake Jackson mixes.
With the Spitfire Symphony Orchestra, Spitfire Audio finally delivers the long-awaited professional edition of their symphonic orchestral product range. All three libraries share a great tone and a wonderful hall ambience, as many existing users will already know. They also have an excellent array of articulations – in particular the long ones which allow composers to build a wide range of intricate orchestral textures. For newcomers, all three libraries make for a very solid orchestral palette, particularly if the quality and color of the hall ambience is a point of consideration.
The fact that this Professional edition was released for Kontakt surprised us and a part of the composer community, as Symphonic Motions was previously released on the Spitfire player. Nevertheless, it is far more convenient for composers wanting to upgrade their templates this way. We also appreciate being able to take advantage of the flexibility and tweakability of Kontakt when it comes to working with an entire sampled orchestra and its numerous patches.
In our opinion, the additional microphone signals provided with SSO Professional are particularly useful for composers who work for film, TV, and games. The Leader mics, Outriggers, and Jake Jackson mixes being the clear highlight of the lot. We suspect a lot of composers will want to upgrade for these mixes alone.
The Spitfire Symphony Orchestra Professional bundle is available for €1499 through Spitfire Audio’s online shop. Individual volumes range between €539 (SSO Woodwinds Professional), €599 (SSO Brass Professional), and €659 (SSO Strings Professional). Previous owners of any of the core versions of Spitfire Symphony Orchestra will be offered up to 50% off the Professional edition.