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Spitfire Audio Abbey Road Orchestra: Low Percussion

Spitfire Audio Abbey Road Orchestra: Low Percussion

Spitfire Audio launch their new flagship series with an intensively‑miked drum collection.

After spending the last 15 years recording a prodigious number of sample libraries at London’s AIR Studios, Spitfire Audio appear to have found a new spiritual home. Two miles due south of AIR lies Abbey Road, legendary haunt of the Beatles and self‑styled “world’s most famous studios”. Spitfire recorded their Abbey Road One: Orchestral Foundations collection here in 2020, subsequently returning to record an ongoing series of themed Film Scoring Selections mini‑libraries. Though the producers profess their undying love for AIR Lyndhurst Hall’s sonorous acoustic, the studio manager may be nervously eyeing the bookings diary.

The latest library to emerge from Spitfire’s new hangout is Abbey Road Orchestra: Low Percussion, a collection of 20 drums recorded in Abbey Road’s Studio 1. Though this enormous space can accommodate a 110‑piece orchestra and 100‑piece choir (ear plugs not provided), ARLP (as we’ll call it) features only one performer: Joby Burgess, veteran of film scores such as Black Panther, Rocketman, Ad Astra and Mission: Impossible. This multi‑faceted percussionist also created the Virtual Marimba Choir, runs his own Powerplant and Pioneers Of Percussion solo projects, is a first‑call session player for alt‑classical recordings and has rocked out with the Who at Wembley Stadium — the word ‘diverse’ comes to mind.

ARLP is the opening salvo in a new flagship series described by Spitfire co‑founder Paul Thomson as “the most detailed and comprehensive project we’ve ever undertaken.” In an echo of the company’s earlier BML series, the library will be issued in modular chunks and will eventually comprise a full orchestra. Thomson explains: “We’re already recording other sections and there’s a fair amount in post production at present. It’s a long and exciting journey we’ve embarked on. Making stuff at this level of detail isn’t fast, but it all locks into the Abbey Road One sound immaculately — same setups, same room, same engineer, same musicians. This project will take a few years to complete however; it’s our most ambitious and complex set of libraries to date!”


The new percussion library sees the company come full circle: their first public release was Spitfire Percussion, an orchestral perc collection performed entirely by Joby Burgess. Despite its age, the library stood the test of time and remains a go‑to item in my personal sample arsenal (you can read my February 2011 review on the SOS website).

While many Spitfire libraries include a full percussion range, ARLP is the first to focus exclusively on large unpitched drums — the emphasis is squarely on the well‑worked ‘cinematic’ genre, comprising powerful orchestral bass drums, taikos, toms and a healthy complement of world drums (see box below for a full list). The real detail lies in the instruments’ timbral variations and dynamic range: a total of 20 drums were played at up to 10 dynamics and 12 round robins with as many as seven beater types, creating 13 ultra‑lifelike, expressive and playable presets.

Adding to the sonic depth, Abbey Road’s Senior Engineer Simon Rhodes recorded the drums from a large number of microphone positions which were subsequently collated and mixed down into 16 signal options (see the ‘Microphone Positions’ box). Each signal has its own mixer channel fader with pan, solo and mute controls, so you can customise and fashion each drum’s sound to your heart’s content.

ARLP is 88.7GB installed and runs exclusively on its own free plug‑in that you can load into your chosen DAW or hosting application (I ran it in Vienna Ensemble Pro 7 with no problems). The dedicated plug‑in doesn’t support multitimbral use, so it’s not possible to open multiple instruments within one instance — however, you can freely switch between and/or layer a single instrument’s various articulations. The plug‑in GUI perpetuates the arty design instigated in Spitfire’s Eric Whitacre Choir in a funereal ‘none more black’ colour scheme. Not exactly cheerful, but I suspect after hearing these drums your mood will brighten.

Bass Drums

A rare gong bass drum, played here with a variety of beaters.A rare gong bass drum, played here with a variety of beaters.With the exception of one gigantic item which we’ll come to shortly, all the drums in this library belong to Joby Burgess — in which case, one has to feel pity for the cab driver hired to take him and his gear to the studio. Setting out the stall for ‘large’ is the percussionist’s 36‑inch Gran Cassa, a two‑headed orchestral bass drum. One loud hit straight out of the box is enough to confirm that this drum would definitely get a thumbs‑up from the thunder gods — big, spacious, booming and voluminous, it evokes images of Thor’s house band doing a soundcheck in the Taj Mahal.

Featuring a 32‑inch head mounted on a shallow open shell, a second orchestral bass drum combines a clean attack with a pronounced resonance, and mirrors most of its bigger brother’s mallet variations. The less familiar Gong Bass Drum also has a single head and packs a tight, hard attack not unlike a rock kick drum.

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