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Spitfire Audio Abbey Road Orchestra: Metal Percussion

Plug-in Instrument By Dave Stewart
Published October 2023

Spitfire Audio Abbey Road Orchestra: Metal Percussion

Rating: **** 4/5 Stars

Spitfire’s flagship ARO series now features a third percussion collection performed by the inexhaustible Joby Burgess. This time the theme is metals, with essentials such as piatti cymbals and tam‑tams making a welcome appearance. Performed with up to 10 dynamic layers and 10 round robins, the samples are presented as 16 discrete mic signals, generating a tidy 136GB of data — in terms of data size, a considerably larger collection than its ARO Low Percussion and High Percussion predecessors. The samples run exclusively on Spitfire’s dedicated VST plug‑in (supplied free with the library).

The handheld piatti clash cymbals come in 21‑, 19‑ and 17‑inch sizes, the smaller pair producing the brightest, most ear‑grabbing splashes. Three suspended cymbals are played with sticks, brushes and felt mallets, the latter offering nicely played crescendo rolls along with looped rolls with mod wheel dynamic control. For more intense crashes, there are 8‑ and 10‑inch splash cymbals, a 24‑inch China cymbal and an alarmingly bright, trashy‑sounding spiral cymbal. Most of the above include bowed samples, a spooky horror film staple.

Two large tam‑tam gongs contribute dramatic booming hits and rolls, while a powerful bash on the 26‑inch wind gong creates instant drama. More iconoclastic noises include the Giant Crasher, a pair of large thundersheets layered together and struck with a hammer to produce a fearful racket — not the kind of thing you’d want to hear when waking up with a hangover. In a similar vein, a 40‑gallon oil drum provides industrial‑strength mallet hits and superball rubs sounding like a cross between a foghorn and a gigantic Arctic marine mammal calling for a mate.

Many of the library’s 58 instruments are capable of adding light, mysterious colours to quiet music. Examples include a superb set of temple bowls, beautiful mark tree glissandi, finger cymbals, wind chimes, Indian bells and a bell tree. A menu of more traditional items includes tambourines, triangles, sleigh bells, a Latin‑flavoured menu of cowbells, agogos, cabassa, guira and the Brazilian Reco Reco, augmented by exotica such as waterphone and a spring coil. Surprisingly, the library’s anvils, brake drums and scaffold pole hits are light and somewhat tuneful, making me wish Spitfire had supplied chromatically mapped versions of their samples.

All in all, it’s an admirably varied and highly dynamic percussion collection created by a top team in a top studio.

The mic positions include close, mid and ambient, two Decca Trees, vintage ribbon and valve mics and two mixes created by engineer Simon Rhodes. As ever, the close mics work well for pop, while the more distant positions capture the mighty, enveloping ambience for which Abbey Road Studio One is famous. All in all, it’s an admirably varied and highly dynamic percussion collection created by a top team in a top studio. My one concern is the price, which I fear will be beyond the reach of the vast majority of SOS readers.