Review

BBC Symphony Orchestra

Spitfire Audio

  • We like

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  • We don't like

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Brass

Most instruments only have the one legato type, but there are some with an “Extended Legato” technique, which make for a more nimble articulation with shorts layered in as attacks. While a nice concept, there is room for improvement. The balance between the shorts and the sustains are often not very well matched, and the velocity response is sometimes unpredictable, triggering a louder and faster attack at very velocities while triggering a soft and slow attack at velocities above it.

The solo Horn Ext. Legato tops out too early and the top dynamic frankly just sounds weird. Interestingly, the top dynamic layer used in the ext. legato does not seem to be available in any other technique, and thus has a different timbral quality to the top dynamic found in the Longs or even the Cuivre.

Solo French Horn: Legato sounds like only 2 dynamic layers, but overall feels musical and consistent to play. The “Extended Legato” seems to be using a top dynamic layer with a more nasal tone, that does not appear to be available in any of the other techniques. This strikes me as a bit odd and I wonder if a mistake was made in the selection of samples. Unfortunately, this makes for a rather unmusical instrument as the  brings in the sizzle much too early, assumingly due to the layered short notes (which are not balanced with the sustains very well).

Percussion

No toms.

No rolls in non-pitched percussion.

Vibraphone is very loud and dynamics are controlled by Modwheel. No Rolls for Vibraphone.

The GUI

The interface is consistent with other Spitfire libraries built with their custom player, such as Hans Zimmer Strings, and the LABS range – unquestionably gorgeous, with a sleek, professional aesthetic that I assume we’ll continue to see spilling across into products by other developers, but it is not without some layout choices that “power users” might find questionable.

The interface is clean, ‘spacious’, compartmentalized, and scalable – the latter being something Kontakt users have been requesting for years. Simply drag the lower-right corner of the window to any size between 0.5x and 2.0x the original size. This is a big plus for the visually impaired, or for showing off the interface in front of a group, such as in an educational setting.

The color scheme adapts to the BBCSO edition you are using, from a darker theme for Pro, a grey theme for Core, and a white theme for Discover, with colored highlights varying for each instrument family in the orchestra, such as blue for Woodwinds, and Red for Brass.

The articulation selection menu has useful little info popups for each articulation/instrument. A very nice touch!

As for the “questionable” choices… 

Maybe it’s just me, but when I see a big knob, I look forward to giving it a turn. A knob that size is practically asking for it! So when I click-dragged the center object, only to find out it is in fact NOT a knob, I felt almost dazed and confused. Why make this rather insignificant button look like a gratifyingly easy-to-use knob? Since when did Release tails or Tightness demand more attention than the dynamics of an instrument, especially when those settings are also available on the FX page?

The ‘collapse’ button found in the top right of the interface removes the lower half of the window for a more compact view. This is an excellent idea! Unfortunately, it removes the only half that I care about, leaving me with the superfluous “big knob” and taking away the articulations, microphone mixer, and the more elegantly laid out FX page, all of which would be more useful to me in a compact mode.

I do understand why these choices were made, and ultimately I feel the Spitfire player is more intuitive than Orchestral Tool’s SINE Player, for example, but if I could make ONE request, it would be to expand on the collapsed view feature to give the choice between the upper half, or the lower half. For me, that addition alone would launch all Spitfire-Player libraries up several ranks on the usability index.

Quirks & Niggles

Every library has a number of small lumps, programmatical oversights, or ‘deliberate choices’ that can cause a grumble or two while working, but can usually be worked around without breaking anything. For BBCSO, these include:

  • The extended legato patches have a counter-intuitive velocity system where velocities lower than 10 trigger a sample much louder than if triggered between 10-50.
  • Octave numbering does not follow the same system as Kontakt and Cubase. A “C0” in Cubase or Kontakt would equal a “C-1” in the Spitfire Player, with no option to change.
  • The visual keyboard only has 85 keys, cutting off 3 notes at the bottom
  • Configuring articulations in any way other than default keyswitches is a bit of a chore
  • Tuba legato wildly out of balance with rest of tuba techniques
  • Solo Horn extended legato is not smooth, top dynamic sounds off and comes in too early

Wishlist

  • Duplicating the timpani samples at a different octave for two-handed playing
  • Envelope controls (specifically release) 
  • Combo patches for Percussion, with instruments spread out across the keyboard

Tips & Tricks

Settings Tweaks:

Gain Units, GUI scale, Plug-in default preset, Timed releases for shorts

Thought points:

  • Celli Longs – levels not balanced between notes. At same modwheel (mf/f), lowest C is louder than other notes, Eb above it is far quieter, etc.
  • Keyswitching system is convenient, and yet limited (can’t stack articulations)
  • Good that legatos have spiccato overlays, bad that they are controlled by modwheel
  • Releases are set to 50% by default, even though the natural release volume is 100%. Setting to 100% results in a much more natural performance without as much of the “disappearing note” trick.
  • No pitch bend
  • Some dud round-robin samples (basses pizz low E high dynamic, Basses spiccato low C high dynamic RR1!!)
  • Basses Pizz a bit weak in the lower notes. Swell-y. Inconsistent timings on the shorts.
  • No release control on legatos
  • Strings (celli Con Sord) do not crossfade smoothly. Huge volume discrepancy making it impossible to fade from dyn1 to dyn2 smoothly

Pros –

  • Consistency of articulations across different instruments within the same family
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Cons –

  • Lack of dynamic range
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