Spitfire Audio Symphonic Strings
Not your ordinary symphony in a box ...
by Russ Loeffler
Spitfire Symphonic Strings (SSS) is the flagship to deliver Spitfire Audio’s impressive library of symphonic strings as a Kontakt instrument. SSS not only consolidates their Mural 1, 2, 3 and Ensembles collections, it's a ‘core’ product with the best and most diverse microphone positions C(lose), T(ree), A(mbient). Expansion packs will follow with #1 Additional Mics & Mixes and #2 ‘Evolutions.’
But why would they decide to remove the previous Mural 1, 2, 3, Ensembles & Evolutions collections from their shelves? Spitfire Audio explains-
“After nearly 4 years of hard graft we’re proud of what we consider to be the definitive selection of Symphonic Strings Samples. However having this broad selection of tools spread across different volumes does make for complications. We also found that without unifying the main body of work, we were unable to take advantage of articulation sharing between the different volumes for greater functionality and ease of use. We also feel if you want to go blockbuster you have to go bold, if you want cinematic you have to go big. So we have decided to take every articulation, dynamic layer, round robin, legato interval and rationalise it into the ultimate encyclopaedic compendium of Symphonic strings sampling to date, recorded in London, with no expense spared. Spitfire Symphonic Strings is the ‘Daddy’.”
And while we're letting them do the talking, here's the Symphonic Strings overview from Spitfire:
60 Star Players, 16 1st Violins, 14 2nd Violins, 12 Violas, 10 Cellos & 8 Basses super deep sampled with over 175 articulations, including 59 shorts, 94 longs, and 5 extraordinary performance legato patches programmed by Andrew Blaney. Recorded with multiple round robins, dynamic layers and presented with 3 essential and versatile microphone positions. In addition to each individual section they also have a comprehensive selection of articulations and techniques presented in an 'ensemble' format designed for sketching and composing with 'out of the box' satisfaction.
- 175 articulations, including 59 shorts, 94 longs, & 45 legatos
- 60 Top London string players
- Recorded in situ (ie: in the positions they occupy in a scoring session)
- Recorded using priceless valve and ribbon mics
- Neve Montserrat Pre-amps into a Neve 88R desk
- Recorded digitally at 96k via 2" Studer tape
- Deep sampled with multiple dynamic layers and round robins
- Diverse and detailed with essential, additional and some totally unique articulations
- Legatos designed by Andrew Blaney
- Individual sections and ensembles
- 3 essential, diverse and most favoured mic positions: C(lose), T(ree), A(mbient)
- Kontakt Player included
- New intuitive GUI with inline help system
This chart summarizes the available sounds and articulations.
What You Need to Know
If you plan to purchase SSS as a download, understand that it is a VERY large file (101.1 GB storage and 202.2 GB required for initial install). It will take several hours (or longer) to download the software. Fortunately, Spitfire Audio has done a great job of allowing you to resume your download if you time out while downloading.
SSS is a Kontakt 5 Player library, accessible from the Kontakt library panel. This will be a plus to those who are familiar with Kontakt and Kontakt compatible plug-ins. Kontakt 5 Player can be downloaded for free. However, you will be limited to “demo” mode. This limits sessions to 15 minutes before you must restart with a new session. An upgrade to full Kontakt 5 eliminates this problem.
There are six articulation controllers available with SSS (dynamics, vibrato, speed, release, tightness, expression). Your keyboard / controller may limit full use of the articulation controls that allow you to achieve subtle nuances and realistic articulations. Although you can produce great music without these controllers, the ability to control dynamics, vibrato, and expression without resorting to the use of a mouse will greatly improve the quality and reality of your performances. Ideally, you will want at least two or three slide controllers or expression wheels.
Spitfire Symphonic Strings is managed in Kontakt 5 as a defined library of sounds. The “basic” sound libraries are (anything but basic):
- Violins 1
- Violins 2
Advanced Techniques include:
- Extended techniques
- Individual articulations
- Legato techniques
- Other patches
- Performance legato
The basses are full and powerful. You can feel the full weight of an orchestra behind you. The celli also have great weight in the lower registers and are very expressive in the upper registers. The violins and violas have beautiful tones from the lower to the upper ranges of the instruments. Violins 1 and Violins 2 are not just additional samples, they are two distinct orchestra sections.
If you do nothing more than use the basic Ensembles library, you will have access to some incredible string samples. The sound quality improves when overlaying or stacking individual instruments. This also allows using different articulations for each instrument, which improves the overall realism of your performances. Moving to the advanced techniques library samples allows you to dig much deeper where the individual articulations have their own patches. More finite control of specialized techniques allows for even more accurate and realistic performances. On the other hand, the “Other” patches deliver some more extreme sounds that are very cool - even though they may not sound like real instruments.
Panel Views and Articulation Controls
If you have an understanding of music theory and classical music notation, the articulation panel / stanza controls will be very intuitive. However, even without formal music training, all you need is a good understanding of how to use sound library plug-ins. With some experimentation, trial and error, and your memory (or good notes), you can work your way through the menus and options to find yourself commanding a string symphony.
There are three main panels that allow you to see various views of an instrument with varying levels of articulation control.
Basic (Simple) Panel:
In this mode, the microphone mix is simplified to “close” and “far.” The articulations are limited to dynamics, Vibrato, Release, and Expression.
This panel provides more articulation controls and more options. However, the most important feature that makes this the “go to” panel view is the microphone mix control section. The level controls for “close,” “tree,” and “ambience” microphones are critical for shaping your overall sound.
This is Albion’s classic ostinatum generator which they claim is “not quite an arpeggiator, not quite a sequencer.” This very popular tool can serve as both, depending how you use it. The results can vary from realistic orchestral patterns to some very cool synthesizer-like effects. Once again, knowing some music theory will help.
There really are no limitations other than the limitations of the sampled instruments. You just need to understand how to use the samples and where they work well. Unrealistic use of polyphonic chords and arpeggios with tremolo and trills will lead to clipped and distorted sounds. There are some very helpful tutorials via Spitfire Audio’s website and YouTube to guide you from basic use to the advanced use of the detailed articulations.
Spitfire Audio has done a great job of consolidating almost a decade of symphonic string samples into one package that will appeal not only professional composers and recording studios, but home studio users as well. The library and controls are laid out in an intuitive and convenient manner. All of the samples from the basic ensemble to the detailed techniques and articulations sound fantastic. The kind of results you can get all comes down to how deep you want to dig into this very comprehensive library of sounds.
SSS Home Page
Russ Loeffler is a contributing editor to Harmony Central who covers trade shows and live events when he is not fine-tuning his guitar chops. He is also a gear head with a passion for good music, great tones, and music that is much easier to listen to than it is to play.