The Spitfire LABS line has returned! Many of our readers probably remember that this was Spitfire Audio’s line of small, experimental libraries which cost $3 each, with the money going to charity. The entire product line disappeared a few months ago, with a promise to bring it back in a new form.

Well, it is back, with the game-changing difference that LABS now uses Spitfire’s own VST plugin, which seems to be a simplified version of the same virtual instrument wrapper that is used in their Hans Zimmer Strings. Previously, the instruments required the full version of Kontakt, which is a major barrier to many budget-conscious producers. Also, the instruments themselves are now completely free, with Spitfire donating a portion of their overall income to charity now.

The Piano

In addition to the LABS plugin, the users currently have access to two free instrument libraries. One is the Soft Piano, which was there before. It’s a softly played felted piano – a sound popularized in recent years by the composer Olafur Arnalds, though these samples were recorded in 2008 in AIR Studios (where a lot of Spitfire’s orchestral libraries are recorded), which means that this particular piano is one of the pioneers of the trend.

Soft Piano’s samples folder weighs in at 398 MB, and offers sustain pedal up and pedal down samples. There don’t appear to be any dynamic layers – it’s just played softly. As a soft, intimate piano the library sounds excellent and very atmospheric. The only thing I could complain about is that the sample starts are trimmed inconsistently, making fast and precise parts sound a little sloppier than the MIDI was actually played. This was a problem in the Kontakt version as well. I know some users edited the Kontakt scripts in order to compensate for the timing issue, but that is no longer possible in the LABS plugin. This will probably drive highly skilled pianist nuts and isn’t good for 90s house piano chords or other things where sounding perfectly quantized is important, either. On the other hand, it is fortunate that this piano is generally not the sound you’d want to use for those kinds of parts anyway. It is a flaw, but most users should be able to live just fine with it.

The Strings

The Strings instrument is new, and it’s a small 14-member ensemble with three articulations: Short, Ensemble and Long. These add up to 664 MB of disk space for the samples folder, which is a lot of strings for free. My guess is that the Ensemble articulation is just the shorts and longs both playing at the same time. Like the piano, the strings have a very contemporary sound with plenty of character – they’re close-miked and recorded in Spitfire’s headquarters, for an intimate and dry sound. There’s no vibrato on the longs, and the shorts are quite aggressive spiccato. It’s definitely not the lush, epic sound of older Hollywood movies. On the contrary, the sound is quite indie, yet not too far from the small studio-recorded string ensembles of many classic pop and rock records. With some tape saturation and vinyl emulation to take off their bright edge, they can even do a decent impression of the strings from a Motown or Frank Sinatra record.

The LABS user interface is clean, although more controls might be added in the future.

The LABS user interface is clean, although more controls might be added in the future.

The dynamics here are controlled by the Expression parameter only, with note velocity having no effect, not even on the shorts. The strings aren’t terribly consistent – some of the long notes have considerably slower attacks than others, and the contrast between the quietest and loudest shorts also varies across notes. That said, they’re still very usable, great-sounding strings.

The LABS Plugin

The plugin itself comes in 32-bit and 64-bit versions for both Windows and Mac. It installs quickly, although the installation requires first registering a user account and installing the Spitfire app for managing all Spitfire libraries. It seems that installing offline, on a computer with no network connection, might not be possible.

At the moment, the available instruments don’t have a lot of controls – just volume, expression (which seems to crossfade dynamic layers in the strings), and reverb. It seems, however, that there could be more controls added later. For example, parameters such as “vibrato” and “tightness” are already defined within the plugin but they don’t seem to have any audible effect on the two currently available instruments. One nice aspect of being developed for the absolutely enormous Hans Zimmer strings is that this plugin is very memory-efficient, probably even more so than Sforzando or Kontakt. The sample data is stored in a proprietary Spitfire format, so you will not be able to load these samples into other samplers.

The Future

Spitfire Audio is promising to release a new LABS expansion library for free once a month. At that rate, it’s almost certain that many of the more popular of the Kontakt LABS instruments will be ported, though hopefully there will be some new ones as well. We’ll keep covering new LABS add-ons in our news section, so stay tuned!

More info: Spitfire Audio LABS ($0)

Spitfire Audio LABS Review


Spitfire Audio's new LABS platform provides high-quality instrument libraries completely free of charge and without the burden of being tied to a proprietary sampler format like Kontakt. With two great-sounding expansions already available and plenty more on the horizon, LABS is a must have for aspiring songwriters and music producers.

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This article was written by two or more BPB staff members.


  1. How did it get such a high rating when it doesn’t even have velocity sensitivity which makes everything you play sound like a cartoon without any dynamics?

  2. It would be nice if they labelled the controls in English rather than nondescript symbols. It needs a user manual!

  3. The new app is clunky and inefficient. LABS is very limited and is nothing more than an advert for their overpriced plugins.
    Free? Someone can hand you a bag of garbage and tell you it’s free.

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