Review: Spitfire Audio Studio Brass Professional
If you’re in the market for something big and brassy, it doesn’t get much more substantial than Spitfire’s latest collection – a vast library with professional brass credentials.
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The brass section is often cited as one of the trickier orchestral elements to capture and reproduce, but thanks to huge advances in technology over the last 10 years or so, things have become a great deal more convincing. We’ve previously seen this from Spitfire’s own Symphonic Brass package; outstanding as this release was, its relatively large acoustic is not for everyone. This is the issue that Spitfire is addressing here, with the latest in its Studio product line.
Studio Brass is recorded and produced at AIR Studio One, and comes hot on the heels of the company’s first string-based Studio One release. Unlike some of the more American-styled brass libraries, Studio Brass offers more excitement with sonic colour – something which differs from the entirely dry soundstage palette heard in previous libraries. For the most part, this sounds great, but as brass volume increases with dynamic performance, there can be a slight sense of raspiness as the excessive volume bounces around the room. This is far more exaggerated in isolation, but within the confines of a mixed track, it can help the brass to stand out.
Studio Brass is more comprehensive than many other libraries. The usual mainstream brass suspects are all here, and in most cases, in various forms; solo versions of instruments nestle alongside ‘.2’ (two players in unison) versions, which even extends to the bass trombone, where orchestral convention normally only includes a single player.
The horn section is also represented in a ‘.4’ format (four players in unison) which sounds beautifully epic and, despite the room, not at all bright and overblown at the fullest dynamic. It’s also pretty immediate, which can often be an issue for horns in larger spaces, given that their bells face in a reverse direction when they play.
It’s beyond this basic construct where this library starts to show its teeth, with slightly more unusual brass instruments for this context. The piccolo trumpet is a case in point, being pitched a full octave above the more usual B♭ trumpet, and offering both an extended high register and a shrillness which is very useful.
As I peruse the included articulations, I become aware of a few inconsistencies; the staccato sounds superb and allows me to do a great facsimile of the piccolo part from Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, but the tenuto articulation seems to vary greatly in length from one register to the next. This becomes an issue when key-switching within a phrase, as notes start to run into each other, giving a sense of polyphony from a single trumpet.
Other brass curios are offered in the shape of contrabass trombone, cimbasso, bass trumpet and euphonium. The three former instruments here have become the darlings of the cinematic action sequence, while the sonority of the euphonium is something that can often be overlooked. Predominantly a brass-band instrument, euphs are often heard with plentiful amounts of vibrato, which make them highly stylised. This is not the case here – although thanks to the extensive real-time control, the vibrato can be subtle at the upper end of the vibrato scale and non-existent at the lower end of the spectrum.
One area that Spitfire could never be accused of skimping on is the vastness of choice which comes with this suite. There’s a wealth of articulation and instrumental colour available across the board, from all the usual short to long articulations and muted sample capture. There are also plenty of rips, falls and flutters.
The most common articulations and colours are offered from the initial patches. Delving deeper into the Kontakt library structure, you’ll find core techniques and decorative palettes, alongside more RAM limitation-friendly eco patches. It’s comprehensive, and in many ways demonstrates a coming-of-age for brass, as I feel that the breadth of options is on a par with the scope you’d normally find with string packages.
The one area I feel is inconsistent is the legato patching, which I’d always consider the hardest of sounds to get right. It does vary from instrument to instrument, and undoubtedly some fare better than others. There are often swells at the beginning of each note trigger, a good example being the Solo Tenor Trombone; yet move to the a .2 incarnation of legato and it’s improved.
This could be due to the nature of the intimate sample capture and the dryness of acoustic: it leaves the programming nowhere to hide, and as such, these things become far more obvious when isolated.
It might also explain why the legato patches, in the larger scale of the more reverberant Symphonic Brass, are so successful, particularly given that I’m presuming the source material is produced by many of the same players.
It’s important to mention that Spitfire enlisted the help of Simon Rhodes again for this package, who delivers a full six mic signals for personal balancing, alongside a highly usable set of stereo mixes. I’ve always found these have served my workflow really well in the past, while helping with minimal RAM loading.
Final intake of air
If I were to say that this package is very typically Spitfire, many existing users of its products will know exactly what I mean. It’s comprehensive, sounds bright, exciting and dry, while offering the user a really great set of sounds, which are comprehensive in ensemble, articulation and patching. Whether you want this sound over other packages is really the main question. It has a liveliness and sparkle which is unique and different, while keeping a British sonic identity.
Do I really need this?
There a couple of major points that make this package stand out; firstly, it offers a very broad spectrum of brass instruments, some of which are a bit off the beaten track, with some proving more useful than others. The AIR Studio One acoustic is dry, but quite bright, and lends itself well to more commercial usage, where the opulence of the Lyndhurst Hall acoustic is just too much. As a result, it can sound a little bright and piercing, but it still sounds very British, where other libraries might sound more Hollywood.
That’s not to say that it won’t sit well in a filmic setting and British Brass players do have a great reputation. It’s also worth mentioning that the Professional version has a little brother, simply called Studio Brass, which offers all the main enticements at a lower price.
- Educational discount available
- Studio-based brass library
- Recorded at Air Studio One, with players in place
- Sample capture from 17 different instruments or combinations
- Contains a myriad of articulation and extended techniques
- NI Kontakt Library compliant (Kontakt Player)
- NKS compatible, for use with NI hardware
- Extensive selection of microphones and placements
- 113GB of disk space required (226GB during installation)
CINEMATIC STUDIO SERIES
This fine collection of brass samples has become an enormous hit with media composers and producers alike. It offers a comprehensive set of samples, drawn from the more basic and conventional palette of brass instruments, combined with one of the most elegant user interfaces available in cinematic software.
Another celebrated package which offers the drier acoustic of a soundstage as a backdrop for a healthy crop of brass samples. Hollywood Brass is predictably American, with a certain brightness of timbre, while technically it is reliant on EastWest’s own Play plug-in, which in itself has undergone huge improvements over the last few years.
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