Review: Spitfire Audio’s Frank Ricotti Marimba

Frank Ricotti Marimba interface. (Credit: Spitfire Audio website)
Frank Ricotti Marimba interface. (Credit: Spitfire Audio website)

CHICAGO, November 15, 2014 – Last year we marveled at Spitfire Audio’s beautiful “Plucked Piano” and luminous “Hg20” packages. Recently we had the opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with the British company in the guise of their new Frank Ricotti Marimba sample package, and it was certainly time well spent.

Mr. Ricotti is a legend on the British studio scene. He’s a jazz percussionist who has recorded with diverse artists ranging from Freddie Mercury to the Pet Shop Boys to Rick Wakeman. At the same time, he also evinces a strong classical formation and performance background. His playing shines right through the sampling process in this package, making Spitfire’s effort in securing such a high profile musician clearly worthwhile.

While Mr. Ricotti’s career skews towards pop and jazz, classical ears will still find these samples to be stylistically acceptable. Hosted in Kontakt (the full version is required), the samples are divided into folders named “FX,” “Individual”, and “Other.”

We begin our discussion with the “Economic” patch from the “other patches” folder, which acts as the de-facto mother patch with keyswitch options for rubber, soft and hard mallets, along with stick hits, stick hits flams, measured tremolos, and bowed notes.

As with many Spitfire products, the interface provides a mixer to balance five microphone options: close, close ribbon, overhead, room, and “esoteric.” Users can create a microphone mix to create the ideal acoustic image, and can even modify the stereo image graphically.

The “economic” patch reveals the full expressive range of this smartly made instrument. The playing here is even, yet expressly human. On a hard tuned instrument like the marimba, Spitfire’s “warts and all” approach to recording samples proves particularly musical and effective.

The instrument is immediately playable at the keyboard, with the “main” setting giving an astounding dynamic range with appropriate color response. Warm, soft color morphs with realistic gradualism into increasingly well-defined and brighter timbres as the instrument grows louder. The effect is not unlike a fine performer using very fine modern mallets capable of such wide gradations of color and timbre.

Our ultimate test-drive of this product came when we created a mock-up of the author’s 2002 marimba work, “Juggernaut.” One instance of the Ricotti Marimba “Economic” patch was inserted per stave in Sibelius 7.5. Velocities were modified in Sibelius, along with a few instances of midi controller C11 to achieve crescendos during rolled chords. We quickly achieved a pleasing and realistic result, as our video below will demonstrate.

Moving on, we see that the individual articulations grouped in the “economic” set can all be found in the “individual patches” folder.

The “FX” folder contains four patches. The first two “dino” patches contain digitally modified versions of the marimba sound whose basic quality consists of a moaning sound, existing somewhere between a zombie and a small dinosaur (whatever that might have sounded like.) A bank of FX toggles, such as chorus and distortion, allow further modification to this sound. While somewhat useless for a new music composer, this is certainly a nice addition to a film or media composer’s sound design palette.

The “FX” folder also contains a beautiful “glisses” patch, featuring ascending and descending glisses along with stick-end glissandi in both variations (the latter are mostly percussive in nature.) It is a useful addition both as an extended technique and a sound design tool.

The “Ostinatum” engine – first developed for the much larger ALBION orchestral package – has been masterfully repurposed for use with the Ricotti Marimba and is included in this package. An evolution of the “arpeggiator” concept, Ostinatum allows users to define a rhythmic loop with varied note length and velocity values.

While incredibly useful in terms of generating repeating patterns, this idea is even more idiomatic in a keyboard percussion instrument. As marimbists will use a variety of patterns in their rapid repeated passages and tremolos, Ostinatum allows for the creation of multiple such patterns that can be saved and triggered with a keyswitch. This is composer-centered programming at its finest.

Finally, the trusty “Punch Cog” makes its way into the Ricotti Marimba as well. For those unfamiliar with Spitfire’s concept here, the Punch Cog allows user to swap out an undesirable sample with a more palatable alternative. It is as if the engineers at Spitfire are saying: “We take chances with our recordings, but here are some options if you think we’ve made a mistake.” If engineering awards for humility could be given, Spitfire would deserve one for the Punch Cog.

The only potentially missing link in this package is its failure to include a true “medium” style mallet, or perhaps a sampling of one of the new multi-timbral mallets now available on the market. Yet given the already impressive dynamic range of this instrument, this is a fault that’s easy to forgive.

Even though Spitfire markets itself towards primarily to the film and media composer community, their instruments can easily prove to be a useful tool in the classical composer’s arsenal. The inclusion of comprehensive “mother” patches with sensibly selected keyswitch sounds, for instance, proves immensely useful for composers who spend most of their time in a notation software environment.

The added effort to assemble such a patch – rather than just throw a large package of disparate, separate patches at the composer as many companies are wont to do – is in such cases much appreciated and deserves the attention of those building their classical home studio orchestras.

The Ricotti Marimba is a successful effort from top to bottom. Priced at £62 (about $US95), it is also an affordable beauty that both classical and entertainment industry composers will want to seriously consider.


Rating: **** (4 out of 4 stars)


For a quick video overview of the product, check out the following clip from Spitfire Audio.

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