Review: Eric Whitacre Choir by Spitfire Audio
Spitfire Audio has been hard at work cranking out new sample libraries on a seemingly monthly basis (i'm having a hard time keeping up!). Their newest release is the Eric Whitacre Choir library, and as you can imagine it is a sample library of a choir in partnership with Eric Whitacre - a Grammy award winning composer and conductor popular for his usage of choirs. The library is an absolutely massive 279 GB for an also massive $599 ($449 during the launch sale). We'll see if the library earns the cost, but its important to keep in mind that this is a carefully crafted niche library with an insane attention to detail - there really isn't anything on the market to compare it to (at least to my knowledge).
The library features a custom VST / AU / AAX instrument instead of their normal Kontakt interface. This has been a trend for Spitfire in the past year, and the interface is heavily borrowed from their Hans Zimmer sample library (and to a degree their free Labs libraries). It features 22 singers covering: six soprano, five alto, five tenor, and six bass. There are 170 techniques in the main instrument, and the second EVO instrument contains 111 evolutions.
Lets make a list of the specs:
279.1 GB of samples (164.6GB after compression)
Dedicated custom plugin instrument
Second plugin for EVO instrument
22 Singers - 170 techniques - 111 evolutions
Recorded at Air Studios
I couldn't find a list of how many velocity layers or round robins are present, but this is probably because it varies too much from technique to technique. Playing around with the library shows that some techniques have 4+ round robins (most have 1), and almost every technique has a pretty deep level of dynamic sampling. For those of you who aren't familiar with these terms: round robins are separate recordings of the same notes and techniques so that if you hit a note twice its not exactly the same, and dynamic sampling is the process of recording various volume levels of the instrument so you get the rich realistic changes of the sound source between volumes. Overall it sounds very realistic.
I also made a video review of this library, check it out:
Eric Whitacre Choir Sounds
To show you the sounds this library is capable of creating, I have created two 'exploring the sounds' videos where I play through the regular and EVO version of the library.
The EVO instrument seems to be more capable of large soundscapes, although I noticed it is a little fiddly if you use the randomization controls. My favorite settings were the simple variations since they worked best for the ambient type of application that I personally would use out of a library like this.
In my review video I play through several of my favorite techniques, aside from showing how the library works and the general core sounds it can make. The microtonal clusters patch gave me shivers, and the major second interval pitch clashes brought a smile to my face. The sounds of this library are simply breathtaking. This is expert sampling at its finest.
Who is the Eric Whitacre Choir library for?
Every sample library has its own target market, and this Spitfire Audio library is no exception. The first clue can be taken from the price: $599 full retail - this is not a cheap library aimed at the masses. Given that Spitfire Audio tends to target the film / TV market of composers, I would be willing to bet they were aiming for the professionals with the Eric Whitacre Choir. They collaborated with a seasoned professional to create it and deeply sampled the choir in a way not found elsewhere on the market.
There might be other choir libraries out there that compete with this, but i'm not aware of them. This means that Spitfire Audio can charge a premium for this and the people who need this library will know it right away. The type of person who will most likely buy this library will view the Eric Whitacre Choir as an investment, because they make money from their music and every sample library is a new potential sound source to make money from.
Many people dislike this notion that a music product can be tailored towards professionals, but in any other industry in the world its widely accepted that not everything has to be an average consumer product! In fact, professional-tailored products tend to drive the industry towards innovation because they can be a much better source of income than bottom-dollar high bang-for-your-buck products.
Eric Whitacre Choir Review
As per usual, i'll break down this library into some metrics that everyone can understand. Since I personally believe that this is a library for professionals, i'm going to leave cost out of the equation and rank it purely on a merit basis. The metrics are:
Sample Quality - How realistic is it? Are the sample high quality?
Versatility - How much can you do with it?
Ease of Use - How easy is it to work with?
Performance - Are there any technical issues, or loading issues?
As usual with Spitfire libraries the samples are top notch, and never have any glitches. They captured the sound of the choir stunningly, and it sounds very realistic. Playing fast phrases only really works if you're using the short techniques, but this is to be expected from any library - you wouldn't use long articulations to play short phrases.
The more detailed articulations in this library are one of the best selling points. There are techniques that soar through beautiful intervals, and dissonant techniques that feature microtonal clusters perfect for that tense movie scene you're scoring. These techniques are only possible through detailed sampling and great conducting, you simply can't recreate them in software. Spitfire has done an absolutely incredible job recording a ton of techniques for you to play with.
Sample Quality: 5/5 Stars
This is the most disappointing part of the library. While it does a great job at recreating a realistic choir, thats really all it does. The EVO instrument helps to a certain degree by allowing you to map different sounds across the keyboard and sculpt some interesting pads, and in addition to this the EVO instrument contains tape saturation, delay, and ADSR controls to further sculpt the sound. I made a video demonstration these features:
Personally I think they could have taken this library to very unique places by incorporating more synthesizer-like controls into the FX tabs: LFO's, filters, filter ADSR, distortion, artificial vibrato etc. Imagine if every realistic Spitfire Audio library also came with an advanced sound design section where you could take the library to never-before-heard territories - kind of like a mini eDNA Earth in every orchestral library. I made sure to contact Spitfire Audio about this feedback and they said they would pass it on to the production team, hopefully they can give this to us in the future!
Versatility: 2/5 Stars
Ease of Use
The custom interface is very easy to use, with very minimal knobs. The main big knob in the center controls parameters like reverb and release, while the two sliders control expression and dynamics. The EVO grid is point and click to map sounds, but you can also choose from the list of randomization options to inject some inspiration. Everything looks good, and works like you'd expect it to work.
Ease of Use: 5/5 Stars
For some reason Spitfire Audio's custom interface are drastically slower to load samples than Kontakt. While i'm sure its very difficult to rapidly load GB's of files into a playable instrument, Spitfire Audio needs to consider hiring a team to figure it out. The perk of the custom interface is that they have much more control over the feel and features they provide to us, but due to the very long loading times when opening the instruments I often skip using their custom interface instruments in favor of their products that use Kontakt. In some cases this literally takes 3-5 minutes to open Eric Whitacre Choir techniques.
However, once the samples are loaded I don't get any performance issues from the library. Everything works as it should, and my computer seems to be able to easily handle multiple instances of the instruments. It seems as if multiple instances of the instruments have a way of communicating and sharing the sample loading, so you don't have to wait for samples to load if you duplicate your track - big brownie points for that.
Performance: 3/5 Stars
Eric Whitacre Choir Conclusion
The Eric Whitacre Choir by Spitfire Audio is a very big library with incredible realism, and I think if you're a professional composer (particularly in film or TV) then you'll want to check this library out. To my knowledge there isn't another choir library on the market that sounds like this one. If you're a hobbyist, or a casual composer, you may want to skip this release due to the high price tag for the lack of versatility you get.
When music is a hobby you usually want to get the best bang-for-your-buck, and purchase big libraries that fill in multiple needs at the same time. The Eric Whitacre Choir only fills one need, but it fills it very well - a realistic choir that sits nicely in a mix. The best way I can summarize the library is this: if you're a professional that needs a great choir library, this is probably the best one to get - if you're a casual composer, its probably not for you.