For Spitfire Audio, the year 2016 seems to mark a period of renovation and rationalization. After putting their renowned Sable chamber strings range to rest and spectacularly reviving it with Chamber Strings, they proceed in the same fashion with their highly acclaimed BML Brass range. The original British Modular Series Brass range was composed of a total of seven individual products which were condensed and re-programmed into one streamlined volume: Spitfire Audio’s brand-new Symphonic Brass.
The samples were recorded entirely at the famous AIR Studios, London, which is kind of Spitfire Audio’s go-to orchestral recording hall. Again, all of the instruments were sampled “in-situ”, which means “at their position (in the orchestra)”. Therefore, in an orchestral setup, they’re at the correct position right from the beginning without any need for panning.
We were provided with a version of the product for reviewing purposes. Let’s find out, how Symphonic Brass sounds and what it is capable of!
Symphonic Brass combines the following Spitfire Audio brass libraries:
- BML Horns (Solo Horn & Horns a2)
- BML Trumpet Corps (Solo Trumpet & Trumpets a2)
- BML Bones (Tenor Trombones a2 & Bass Trombones a2)
- BML Low Brass (Solo Tuba, Solo Contrabass Trombone, Solo Cimbasso, Cimbasso a2)
- BML Trumpet Phalanx (Trumpets a6)
- BML Bones Phalanx (Trombones a6)
- BML Horns Phalanx (Horns a6)
In addition to those, the developers packed in three completely new instruments – a solo tenor and bass trombone as well as a solo contrabass tuba plus a number of fresh articulations. With these, we come to a total count of 169 deep-sampled articulations!
Similar to Spitfire Audio’s approach with Chamber Strings, for Symphonic Brass they stripped down the original seven mic positions to three essential ones for the sake of usability: Close, Decca Tree and Ambient.
If you’re in need of the four alternative mic positions, you can obtain them at a later date through the purchase of an expansion pack.
Furthermore, there is an elaborate range of cross grade options available for owners of one or more of the original BML brass products which goes up to a free upgrade if you already own all of the former libraries.
DOWNLOAD & INSTALLATION
Like most of the Spitfire Audio products, Symphonic Brass comes as a Kontakt Instrument. After the purchase, Symphonic Brass can be downloaded via Spitfire Audio’s own library manager. The download can take quite a while, since the library weighs in at almost 65 GB. After the download is complete, the library manager will unzip and install the library automatically. You can then add the product to Kontakt’s Library Tab. Symphonic Brass is a licensed Kontakt library following the NKS standard, which means it is fully compatible with hardware from Native Instruments.
After you’ve added the library, you can see all the instruments patches available:
These 16 multi-articulation patches combine the most common articulations for the according instruments like legato, sustain, several short articulations and effects in one patch. The different articulations are then switchable via self-assignable keyswitches.
If you click on the Advanced folder, you’ll find four more sub-folders including individual articulation patches, legato patches, extended techniques and “other patches”. In the Extended techniques folder, for every instrument (section), articulations are bundled into two categories: core techniques and decorative techniques. The latter includes all kinds of effects and special techniques like rips, falls, flutters and so on. In the Other patches folder, you’ll find a bunch of lite and economic patches, that are more suitable for systems with a weaker CPU.
On to the interface itself. When loading up any patch, you’re welcomed by the GUI, Spitfire Audio introduced with Albion ONE. So if you own any of the libraries released since then, you should know your way around pretty quickly. On the main page – or “simple tab” – you’ll find the established Easy Mix slider, various symbols representing the available articulations and three to five sliders for CC control. These include – depending on patch and instrument – Dynamics, Vibrato, Legato Speed, Variation and Expression.
If you head over to the Advanced tab by clicking on the little wrench icon, you’ll find the more elaborate options, which should by now be pretty familiar to you if you already own a more recent Spitfire Audio product. In the Advanced tab, you can meticulously blend and customize your microphone mix as well as operate various control options. Among these are transposition, Velocity mapping to CC, (de-)activation of hall triggers and synchronization of the patch to the host tempo.
Although Symphonic Brass is a streamlined library, it is far from being a lite version! In fact, it is a real mammoth among brass libraries, offering a wealth of different instruments and articulations. Therefore, it took me quite a while to get through all the patches and options. What I can say right off the bat, though: Symphonic Brass sounds very consistent through all the instruments and the sound quality is magnificent. In every patch, you hear the lush sound of London’s AIR Hall, and you can literally feel the instruments stimulate their surroundings. This is especially true for the lower instrument range like trombones, tubas and cimbassi. All of the instruments sound powerful and noble, representing the long history of Britain’s orchestral brass culture, perfectly.
The room sound that Spitfire Audio managed to capture, is really one of the great strengths of this library.
Now, if you’re looking for dryly recorded brass instruments to incorporate into your pop productions, this might not be the right place for you. You probably have guessed that by the name of the library already. Although you’re provided with a close mic position, there’s still quite some room ambience baked into these samples. With good reason! In an orchestral setup, you’d rather use the close mics as a support for the room mics to add some definition and punch. Since the tone of orchestral brass instruments changes quite heavily when mic’ed closely and only unfolds its real beauty in a big room, you’d rarely use these close mic positions on their own.
You could see the patch structure in Symphonic Brass as three-fold. You’ve got the solo patches, which provide you with a very intricate and beautifully natural sound. Combined with the expression and room options, you can go from fragile to noble and anything in between.
Next, there are the a2 (“a due”, two by two) patches which will cover most of your orchestral brass composing needs. These patches produce a rich and vibrant ensemble sound that is very flexible in tone and expression. They may not reach these super high, blaring dynamics some other brass libraries offer, but don’t you worry – Spitfire Audio got you covered with that, too!
Which leads us to the last category, the a6 patches (former “Phalanx“), which features six players of an instrument group rocking away together. These patches just sound ridiculously powerful and majestic, and are just the right fix for all state-of-the-art epic orchestral and trailer music needs. They might not sound as defined as the a2 patches, but who cares? – it’s six freaking trumpets/horns/trombones going like a train! Again, the room tone is half of the magic here. You can nearly feel the high sound pressure vibrating in the recording hall when playing away in high dynamics.
Fitting into these three categories but still worth a closer look, is the lower range of brass instruments – namely Tuba, Cimbasso, Contrabass Trombone and Contrabass Tuba, the latter one being able to make your intestines move. Spitfire Audio managed to record these instruments with much detail, which is not that easy to accomplish in these low ranges. Of course, the performers of the instruments contribute massively to this. The tonal range of the low brass goes from subby, round and meaty (contrabass tuba & tuba) to woody, mean and absolutely gritty (contrabass trombone & cimbassi). Although oftenly overlooked in orchestral mockups, these instruments can deliver a perfect foundation for the higher brass section and add weight to any arrangement when placed nicely below the rest.
Please note, very low sounding instruments like the contrabass tuba require very much air to produce a proper tone. Therefore, you simply can’t play expansive long lines with these kind of instruments, since even the best player’s lung volume won’t suffice for that. This is why you will hear some looping effects when holding out long notes on the contrabass tuba for example.
One thing I’d like to note at the end of this section, is an issue I had with some of the legato patches. Especially the Horns a6 and Trombones a6 legatos featured extraordinary loud release trigger samples. Release triggers are samples, that kick in when you let go of the keys. Usually, these include samples of the instrument’s natural reverb, dying away in the room. Now in this particular case, the release triggers were set to such a high level, that playing smooth legato lines was almost impossible. Each note was followed with a wash of room tone, blurring anything you play.
Now, prior to writing my review, I approached Spitfire Audio with this issue, to see, if it was intended or rather a bug. As it turned out, it was in fact a known issue and Spitfire Audio provided me with a fix only 15 minutes after my request. All I had to do was replace one file and the problem was gone. That’s what I call support!
Let’s put this simple. Symphonic Brass is, to date and to my knowledge, the most complete and deeply sampled orchestral brass library on the market. The meticulously recorded samples are pristine and very consistent throughout the patches. The smart programming of the patches enables both beginners and tech heads to achieve authentic, articulated and powerful brass arrangements. Needless to say, through the integration of the great sounding AIR Hall into the samples, Symphonic Brass blends in perfectly with both Spitfire Audio libraries and orchestral products of other developers.
The introductory price of £399 (approx. $520) is a real bargain compared to what you’d have to cough up, if you wanted to get the whole BML range. Like I mentioned before, if you already own one or more of the original products, there are some very fair cross grading options, too.
I’m not a big fan of this phrase, since you hear it much too often nowadays, but I generously think this library is a game-changer in the orchestral brass sector. Highly recommended!