Orchestral Tools Metropolis Ark 1 Review


Orchestral Tools Metropolis Ark 1 is a huge orchestral library in two senses of the word. First, even compressed it takes 70 GB of space. And second, it’s dedicated to huge epic sounds.

It includes strings, brass and orchestral percussion, as well as a piano, male and female choirs, and a band of two guitars, one bass guitar and drums. It runs in Kontakt and the free Kontakt Player.

The Dogs That Didn’t Bark

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this library is that it leaves out anything that isn’t epic. The most standard thing you’d expect to find in an orchestral library and which isn’t here is quiet dynamics. Nothing was sampled playing quietly (well, almost nothing – the drum kit is the only instrument that does include soft velocity layers). Everything sampled here is between mf and fff, and some things are only sampled at fff. For those not familiar with classical dynamics markings, mf is mezzoforte or “pretty loud” and fff is fortisissimo or “very very loud”. Big and loud is what this library is all about.

The second most obvious thing that’s not there is high woodwinds – only bassoons and contrabassoons are representing the woodwind section. So, no flutes, clarinets, oboes or English horns, and certainly no piccolos. Again, this library is all about big and loud, and those instruments are more about warmth and subtlety. The third thing that’s missing is solo instruments – except for the piano and band instruments everything is an ensemble (and there is even a guitar ensemble instrument). Even the contrabassoons and tubas are recorded as ensembles of four – that’s very unusual, as a standard orchestra only has one contrabassoon and one or occasionally two tubas. Another very interesting missing element is that the strings are not divided into first and second violins, violas, celli and basses. Instead, there is an ensemble of high strings, and one of low strings. The highest part of many instruments’ range also gets left out.

The Contents

So, everything that is present here is all about sounding bigger than big. While there are only two woodwind and two string ensembles, brass is a big focus – trumpets, trombones, bass trombones, cimbassi (contrabass trombones with a bent shape and trumpet-like valves) and tubas. Delving deeper, each of the instrument ensembles includes several articulations, from the typical ones such as staccato and sustains to those especially useful for epic music such as crescendos and swells. Some also get special articulations which are not common in classical music, but used more often in soundtracks and trailers, such as blurred spiccato for the high strings, rips for the French horns, and clusters for the trumpets. Instead of regular pizzicato, the strings get a combination of Bartok pizzicato (plucking the strings so they snap hard against the fingerboard) and col legno (playing the strings with the wood rather than the hair of the bow). There’s a sound that’s rarely heard – string players hate col legno because of the risk of damaging our bows, and that’s for quiet parts. In this case, the col legno is recorded at fff dynamics, which seriously had me thinking “how did they get the players to agree to that?” As it turns out, trouble was avoided by asking all the string players to bring their cheapest spare bow that day. In another nod to sanity, the French horns are included as both an epic 9-member section and a smaller 3-member one, which is nice because you can play chords without ending up with the sound of several dozen horns.

The orchestra instruments are organized in “District I” of Ark 1, and they definitely feel like the most important part that’s recorded in the most detail. District II is choirs – high and low choirs with “aah” legato and sustains, staccato and marcato with various Latin syllables used as round robins, and some downright creepy glissandi and FX. The low choir is a male choir, and the high choir is women plus one countertenor. The choirs are sampled singing loudly and sound very powerful, even on the highest notes.

District III is percussion and it contains three instruments. One is a percussion ensemble, which sounds like it contains taiko drums. The hits are usually several percussion instruments being hit together, though – like the strings and brass, big wide ensemble sounds. The second percussion instrument contains even bigger epic percussion hits, which definitely include gongs, cymbals and some very deep drums. The third is a grand piano – this is sampled with two velocity layers, mf and fff, though the morphing between them is excellent and smooth. It definitely feels odd playing a piano on which the softest notes are still pretty hard, but for big loud sounds it’s great and the fact that it’s recorded in the same acoustic space as the rest makes it very easy to get it to blend with the rest of the library.

District IV is the band – two guitars, bass guitar and drums. Much like the rest of Ark 1, the focus here is on sounds used in epic music. The drum kit includes velocity layers from pp (very quiet) to fff, though it’s not really good for quiet or subtle music – the snare sidestick is conspicuously missing, and the hi-hat is either closed or open with no other articulations. There are four toms, however, since those are more useful for epic sounds.

The guitars and bass, on the other hand, are only recorded at fff dynamics, with power chords (in three variations for one of the guitars), sustained single notes, tremolo and muted tremolo. The lowest note available on all is an A, so it seems they were tuned much lower than standard. The guitars are recorded through distorted amplifiers, but a clean direct signal is also included, so they can be used with external amp sims if needed.

Metropolis Ark 1 Multi Rack in NI Kontakt 5.

Metropolis Ark 1 Multi Rack in NI Kontakt 5.

The bass only has short and long notes. As the drum kit is the only one that gets quiet velocity layers, the bass also gets singled out for special treatment – it is recorded dry, with no distant microphones. Instead, it includes a clean direct signal, an overdriven signal and two different amp recordings. Various slide and noise FX are also included in the guitar and bass patches. There are also three different power chord ensemble instruments and a single notes ensemble.

The band is not as detailed as what would be found in dedicated drum and guitar libraries, but it’s actually quite well thought out for the needs of blending with an epic orchestra – the drums get the quieter velocity layers they need, the bass gets the dry recording, and everything is recorded with multiple microphones for a big, wide sound that would be possible to imitate with typical rock-oriented libraries, but it would take some time and a complex setup of multiple mixer channels, amp sims and reverb to get. So, much like the piano, the band samples seem odd at first, but work very well with the rest of the sounds here.

The Sound

It’s amazing how easy it is to sound instantly epic with this library. Just a simple percussion pattern and one note on the cimbassi already sound huge, and building up an enormous sound can be done with just a few instrument layers. As a test of this library, I offered to make an epic intro for a metal band. A simple motif repeated on the trumpets for about a minute and growing gradually louder, some percussion hits, bringing in a few more instruments and more percussion with time is all it took. The only change the band asked for was some string chords, and the high string tremolo decrescendo instrument proved perfect for that. If you work under deadlines, you can be very fast and efficient using this library.

Since just about everything here is an ensemble recorded in stereo, everything sounds big and wide. And since the sounds are recorded loudly, they have more high frequency content than the same instruments would at gentler dynamics. Therefore, just a few notes take up a whole lot of sonic space. Of course, you have to be careful when there are so many instruments available in the bass range. Since there are so many to choose from, it’s easy to make a mess, but following basic arrangement rules about avoiding narrow intervals in the lower register etc. is enough.

There are multiple microphone positions available. Most instruments load with close microphones and the Decca tree (an array of five microphones which results in a nice room sound, on the big side but not extremely distant) enabled by default, but also include more distant AB and surround microphones for a really huge naturally reverberated sound. Some also have spot mics.

I’m not usually a fan of instant gratification, but Metropolis Ark 1 is just plain fun as soon as you start playing with it. It is also good for a lot more than just epic music. Because everything here is recorded loudly and contains more high frequencies than typical “gentler” orchestra samples, these sounds really cut through mixes. Using mainly the close or spot microphone recordings and tweaking the release time to get a dry sound opens up a lot of other uses – I was able to use the trumpets and strings, including the Bartok pizzicato/col legno combination, in a drum and bass track. The big selection of brass makes this a great brass library for a lot of non-classical music. If you’re using brass in a non-classical context (for example the huge low brass sounds which often show up in trap or hip-hop these days), you won’t use low velocity samples or solo instruments anyway. Of course, there aren’t a lot of sounds here which could be used in a subtle R&B ballad. However, for anything that needs big, wide and full sounds, this library is great.

The Engine

Metropolis Ark 1 uses Orchestral Tools’ CAPSULE engine for Kontakt. This means that a lot of the challenges of making samples of an orchestra work have already been solved with their earlier releases. The dynamics can be controlled by either velocity or modwheel, and this is easily switchable. More detailed control of dynamics, round robins etc. is also easily available, and individual velocity layers can also be turned on or off. Especially useful in this case is the ability to control how the quietest sounds behave – no soft velocity layers are actually recorded, but sometimes fading to or from very low levels or complete silence is necessary, and there are “soft low layer” and “niente” switches for this. Sure, it sounds like instruments played loudly with the volume turned down, so it’s not completely realistic, but it is very useful, and for the purposes of sounding epic it works.

All the non-percussion instruments also have multi-articulation versions, which are configurable as well. Although there’s a lot of scripting going on, the engine seems CPU efficient and even having eight instruments loaded at once worked fine on my computer. The only performance issue I ran into was with the guitar ensembles – because they use a lot of voices per note, it sometimes took Kontakt a while to load all of the samples while playing, so some notes dropped out.

The strings and choirs include true legato instruments which seem to have some clever scripting in the background, making the transitions between notes different in fast vs. slow passages. The morphing between velocity layers is always very smooth, even when there are not many layers actually sampled. In general, this is an extremely well scripted engine for orchestral music. A less important but nice feature is that the number of round robins and velocity layers is visible directly from the Kontakt interface – many developers hide this information.

The Verdict

Metropolis Ark 1 (priced at €549) is all about huge. It’s not a universal orchestral library that can do it all. Instead, it has a single minded focus on epic sounds, and does an absolutely excellent job of delivering these sounds, including many which are very difficult to find elsewhere. Even if you don’t need to sound epic all the time, it’s a first class library with a lot of very useful and playable instruments.

Metropolis Ark 1 Review


Metropolis Ark 1 is all about huge. It's not a universal orchestral library that can do it all. Instead, it has a single minded focus on epic sounds, and does an absolutely excellent job of delivering these sounds, including many which are very difficult to find elsewhere.

  • Features
  • Workflow
  • Performance
  • Design
  • Sound
  • Pricing
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This article was written by two or more BPB staff members.

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