Rating: **** 4/5 Stars
The second instalment in Spitfire’s new modular series is a direct continuation of the first. Abbey Road Orchestra: High Percussion picks up the thread of its predecessor, with distinguished percussionist and sole performer Joby Burgess patiently working through a large collection of percussive items in the hallowed acoustic of Abbey Road’s Studio One. This time the drums are smaller and the overall sound palette generally lighter (though still powerful) — if you desperately seek the earth‑shaking rumble of cinematic bass drums and taikos, you’d do well to consider ARO Low Percussion, reviewed in SOS January 2023.
The new High Percussion library is divided into 17 main presets, for which I’m happy to provide a quick overview. This being a symphonic project, it’s no surprise to find a trio of orchestral snare drums: the first, a vintage 15‑inch model, is blessed with a fabulous crisp, beefy tone, which to my ears is perfectly pitched. However, if you want a tighter, high‑pitched delivery the library’s two piccolo snares both pack a punch, with a large field drum also on hand for low, doomy ‘executioner’s drum’ hits.
Moving into contemporary areas, a set of four octobans (a single‑headed drum with a short sustain) and five clattering rototoms introduce ear‑catching semi‑pitched sonorities, while Latin staples bongos, mini‑bongos and congas sound beautifully clean and transparent in the studio’s reverberant acoustic. High and low timbales are also included, but lack the ferocious high‑pitched clang one expects from the instrument. World drums are represented by a single darbuka Arabian hand drum, an African djembe and a miniature Japanese shime‑daiko, the latter’s colourful hits a personal favourite.
Another highlight is the log drum, it’s an ideal timbre for light, bubbling percussion patterns.
Another highlight is the log drum, a hollow hardwood box with six pitched ‘tongues’ — played with rubber mallets, it’s an ideal timbre for light, bubbling percussion patterns. I also loved the pristine ambience of the temple blocks and wood blocks, but struggled to achieve an emotional connection with the plastic bucket hits. The collection is completed by nine so‑called ‘toys’ which provide some essential percussion textures: six pairs of claves, pop‑style shakers, castanets, guiros, caxixi basket shakers, maracas, ratchet, whips and the mighty vibraslap, without which no percussion collection is complete.
As before, instruments are deeply sampled with up to 11 dynamic layers and 16 round robins, including discrete right‑ and left‑hand performances mapped for double‑handed keyboard playing. Played with a variety of beaters, hands and brushes and recorded from 16 positions via a forest of microphones, the articulations comprise single hits, rolls and ‘snare off’ variants. This 98GB collection runs exclusively on the Abbey Road Orchestra plug‑in and maintains the high quality of the first ARO release; however, considering the collection to date still lacks timpani, cymbals, metals and tuned perc, the price tag seems rather high.