Review: Spitfire Audio BBC Symphony Orchestra Discover and Core

In a blaze of pomp and circumstance, the BBC Symphony Orchestra returns to Spitfire, as the London sample master picks up its baton and conducts two budget orchestral packages.

Value award

Price Core £399, Discover £49
Contact Spitfire Audio (1) (2)

As the first sample library to feature a revered British symphony orchestra of international repute, this thrilling collaboration between the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Spitfire Audio could be considered the jewel of any orchestral library. Its fully furnished Pro package is now available in two condensed and competitively priced iterations: Core and Discover. In the case of the latter, its price is competitive indeed, in that there isn’t one.

London calling

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The Core and Discover packages are streamlined but in no way skeletal. Both feature all the orchestral sections and boast a full complement of basic instrument sets. To put this into context, the Pro package features 600GB of sample data, while the new Core suite clocks in at 24GB of sample data. Discover, on the other hand, has a mere 200MB. It’s terribly impressive on a technical level that Spitfire is able to squeeze so much into so little space, and especially so given that there’s no apparent loss of quality as a result.

The biggest difference between Pro and Core is the latter’s lack of microphone control. Spitfire has curated a mix derived from the studio at Maida Vale. It relies on mic capture weighted towards the front of the orchestra, the result being an up-front sound akin to that the conductor hears. The strings sound close and crisp but, as you move toward the back of the band, the brass and percussion exhibit greater degrees of sampled reverb.

Spitfire Audio BBC Symphony Orchestra Discover and Core

There’s an additional reverb control but the recorded signal can result in some of the instruments feeling distant. You might think this results in a natural and homogenised performance but, if you want to keep your brass and percussion signal dry, you have to work with the signal available to you.

There’s plenty to get excited about though. Core contains all the gems of the Pro package. The strings sound silky smooth, with the con sordino patching still a standout. There’s something recognisable about the sound of a British string section and Core captures it wonderfully, particularly in its healthy selection of dynamic layering and round-robins, also found in the Pro package.

Core lacks the solo and leader chairs of Pro but the en masse string section is fully represented, with up to 20 articulations per instrument, including legato, longs and shorts, and many of the more esoteric patches that Spitfire has become known for, such as Sul Tasto and Harmonics. Spitfire’s signature interfaces have long since become favourites of many producers worldwide. Core’s slate-grey GUI differs from the stark black interface of Pro. It feels like progress has been made here, with patch selection in Core seeming speedier and tighter.

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With the woodwinds, there are both solo and ensemble recordings of all four woodwind instruments, and there’s even a solo piccolo. There are no further doubling instruments, such as cor anglais or bass clarinet, but having the choice of solo or ensemble formats is surely a boon for all users. Despite being based further back in the orchestral seating, the reverb doesn’t detract from these instruments. Instead, it sounds natural and nicely balanced.

Spitfire Audio BBC Symphony Orchestra Discover and Core

The brass mirrors the woodwinds, with both solo and ensemble patching. It’s here that we find the majestic Horn a4 ensemble patch, whose legato articulation is beautifully punctual and whose dynamic laying rips all the way up to a full fortissimo with no effort at all. Alongside the basic long note and legato patching, there are a further eight articulations, extending from staccato to flutter tongue.

The articulations vary from instrument to instrument. There are no trills in the trombones, for example, largely because they cannot trill in the same way that trumpets and horns do. The staccato brass patches, though, feel a little underpowered when compared to the sfz and maracto patches. The shorter notes also plainly reveal the room reverberation.

The percussion section is well represented too, with timpani, mallet instruments of all flavours, and even a harp and celeste. Being situated at the rear of the orchestra, they can also sound a little distant, particularly given the heavy transients of percussion instruments. But they sound convincing nonetheless.

Spitfire Audio BBC Symphony Orchestra Discover and Core

 

Voyage of discovery

For the junior in the pack, the Discover package is ridiculously comprehensive. To have so much content squeezed into a mere 200MB of sample data, Spitfire’s lossless compression algorithm must be seriously impressive. If used creatively, there’s no reason that Discover’s sounds should be any less convincing than those of Core and Pro. Discover’s visual interface differs from Core, with its beautiful graphic reflecting the layout of the orchestra. Every main orchestral instrument is catered for here, including the piccolo and bass trombone, and there’s also a similarly healthy contingent of tuned and untuned percussion instruments, including the aforementioned harp and celeste.

What the Discover section understandably leaves out is legato patching, dynamic layering, round-robins and solo instrumentation. Its convincing samples feature streamlined articulations, while offering dynamic control and MIDI CC expression. Discover sees the orchestra similarly represented by a single-microphone mix and, while the string patches omit certain articulations, such as con sordino, it does include long notes, spiccato, pizzicato and even tremolo. As a complete unit, it’s extremely impressive.

Equally impressive and innovative is its whole package’s ability to switch between libraries. If you find yourself working with different people, all of whom own different versions of the BBC Symphony Orchestra library, you can quickly and effortlessly switch between them from within the plug-in itself, eliminating any dreaded compatibility issues.

Spitfire Audio BBC Symphony Orchestra Discover and Core

Gamechanger

The most alluring factor with regard to Discover is surely its price. The heaving package costs just £49. If even that’s beyond your means, however, you can apply to get it free. You’ll have to wait 14 days for online delivery but such an offer should be tempting for younger musicians, students and those working to a budget. Spitfire co-founder Christian Henson has described this as a game-changing moment, as it represents a fully fledged orchestral library that literally everyone can afford.

We see Discover living up to its name, with young upstarts using it and, once suitably seduced, making the jump to the Core and Pro packages. All in all, these packages are perfectly pitched and enticingly collated. It’s difficult not to be impressed at all levels.

Do I really need this?

Spitfire Audio BBC Symphony Orchestra Discover and Core

It’s tough to overstate how smart Spitfire has been about this. Core represents many of the best bits from the Pro package but at an attractive price for budding professionals or anyone with more than a passing interest in scoring. The Discover edition opens up a resource that, for many, has simply not been an option financially. We’re sure that in years to come, young customers will not forget Spitfire’s generosity.

Apart from the fact that Discover offers a renowned symphony orchestra in full flight, it’s also comprehensive in spite of its small stature; this thing won’t eat into your hard drive. You can use it with GarageBand or, if you’re a professional working on the move, use Discover while mobile and switch to Core or Pro when you get back to your studio.

MT Verdict

Core – 9/10

Discover – 10/10

+ Astonishing and comprehensive orchestral samples
+ Core is comprehensive in articulation and instrumentation
+ Discover features amazing content for a jaw-dropping price
+ Discover is engaging to use thanks to its colourful interface
+ Switching between libraries means no compatibility issues

– No ensemble patching
– Room reverb is noticeable in the furthermost orchestral sections

Spitfire is offering options aplenty here, in both the complexity of its packages and the prices you pay for each. In all cases, Core and Discover do not disappoint

Key features

  • Full orchestral libraries featuring the BBC Symphony Orchestra
  • Affordable
  • Recorded extensively at BBC Maida Vale Studios in London
  • Single-microphone mix in Core and Discover
  • All sections and main instrumentation included
  • Flexible switching between all Spitfire BBCSO editions
  • Employs Spitfire’s player plug-in (VST2/3, AU, AAX and NKS Ready)
  • Requires 24GB (Core) / 200MB (Discover) of disk space

Alternatives

Orchestral Tools Layers

Orchestral Tools
Layers Free

Another useful free library, Layers offers string, woodwind and brass samples in a chordal format. The resulting content is totally believable, with all the identity and signature dryness of OT’s Teldex Scoring Stage. It’s chordal content means it’s limited but it’s useful nonetheless.

Audio Imperia Nucleus Lite

Audio Imperia
Nucleus: Lite Edition $99

This streamlined edition of Audio Imperia’s impressive Nucleus library is another sound-stage recorded suite. It features all the content you’ll require to get started in scoring, as well as a choir and a sound-design section ideal for soundtrack-style work.

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