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Spitfire Audio BBC Symphony Orchestra Piano

Plug-in Instrument By Dave Stewart
Published September 2023

Spitfire Audio BBC Symphony Orchestra Piano

Rating: ***** 5/5 Stars

Currently retailing at a cool £156k, the nine‑foot Steinway Model D‑274 grand has long been the instrument of choice for leading concert pianists, composers and recording artists. While those that can afford the real thing are unlikely to be seeking a digital alternative, the rest of us can take heart from the current abundance of high‑quality Steinway D‑274 sample libraries. The latest to cross my desk is Spitfire’s BBCSO Piano, recorded in Maida Vale Studios using the same microphone positions as the main BBCSO library (reviewed in SOS November 2019). I’m pleased to say Maida Vale Studios has now been purchased by Hans Zimmer, who we assume will preserve the building’s recording studio heritage.

BBCSO Piano is available in Professional (35GB) and Core (2.8GB) versions, the former boasting the full complement of 15 mic signals and the latter offering only a single ‘Mix 1’ signal. In all other respects the two products are identical. A smaller version of the piano is also contained in the free BBCSO Discover library, but it’s not separately available. The samples are presented exclusively in Spitfire’s dedicated plug‑in, which runs in your DAW or VST host.

Sampled at six dynamics with four round robins and dedicated pedal up and down performances, the instrument incorporates volume controls for hammer release and pedalling noises — these small sounds undoubtedly add realism, but recording engineers will be glad to be able to turn them off. You can widen or narrow the stereo image of the close mics, and choose between a full 15‑channel signal mixer and a simplified close‑far mic position slider.

The relationship between player, instrument and acoustic space has produced a beautifully balanced set of samples...

For this project Spitfire hired BBCSO full‑time pianist Elizabeth Burley, who is intimately acquainted with the piano and the room it occupies. The relationship between player, instrument and acoustic space has produced a beautifully balanced set of samples with imperceptible transitions between dynamic layers — I was surprised to learn only six were recorded, it feels like considerably more. The piano has an attractively bright, open sound which softens to an intimate murmur when played quietly and scales up to a thunderous crashing when you give it some welly.

This Steinway D supplies a traditional classical sound straight out of the box — the default Mix 1 signal has presence, depth and enough room sound to blend perfectly with the instruments in the full BBCSO library. For a more immediate pop sound, load the close mics and add ambient mics or extra reverb to taste. It goes without saying that Paul Thompson is “really excited” about this instrument (he says that in all his walkthrough videos). However, this time the Spitfire co‑founder’s personal enthusiasm for the instrument is evident. Having spent some time playing this fine sampled piano, I’m beginning to feel the same way.

Professional £149, Core £79.

Professional $189, Core $99.