Orchestral Tools' Abacus collection of children's toy samples
Erik Vlietinck
June 19, 2023

Orchestral Tools' Abacus collection of children's toy samples

MANUFACTURER: Orchestral Tools
PRODUCT: Abacus collection
PRICE: $152.00
WEBSITE: www.orchestraltools.com 

- Works with Orchestral Tools’ SINE Player (Latest version required)
- 63GB of samples (19 GB SINEarc compressed)
- 24-bit/48KHz patches

SINE system requirements:
- Mac: macOS 10.13 or higher, Intel Core i5 or similar, Apple M1 chipset supported, at least 8GB RAM (16 GB+ recommended)
- Windows: Windows 10, Intel Core i5 or similar, at least 8 GB RAM (16 GB+ recommended)
- Formats supported: Standalone, VST, VST3, AU, AAX

Abacus is an Orchestral Tools collection of vintage — including the Victorian era — children’s instruments. Realizing that there was no single collection that brought together these sounds that he often used in his professional work, Richard Harvey, who also created the Andea and Phoenix Orchestra collections, partnered with Orchestral Tools once more to bring his vision of a “children’s orchestra” to life. 

The Abacus collection is well-suited for costume dramas and horror movies, and with a sprinkle of sound effects, for any kind of project that demands sound that ranges from the ethereal to the funny or downright scary.

Abacus brings together the sounds of a wide variety of vintage children’s instruments, many of which are appearing in a sample library for the first time. The collection is divided into six sections: Musical Boxes, Wind Instruments, Tuned Percussion, Plucked Instruments, Toy Pianos and Toy Percussion.

Richard Harvey (pictured) is a prolific composer and multi-instrumentalist who’s collaborated with artists such as Hans Zimmer, Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello and guitarist John Williams. He’s conducted, composed, orchestrated and played on numerous film and television soundtracks, including The Lion King, The Little Prince, The DaVinci Code, Prince Caspian, Disney’s live action Mulan and  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. He is an expert player and collector of unique musical instruments, and has a collection of more than 700 instruments — old and new — from around the world.

As you can see for yourself in the YouTube movie on the Abacus product page, each instrument was captured with Harvey playing the samples in front of the battery of the high-end mics Orchestral Tools is famous for using. The result is that each instrument includes five mixable mic positions, some of which are identical to the ones used in the large orchestra libraries. This means users can seamlessly mix the Abacus samples with a larger, main audio theme for a movie or music project.

The resulting collection is surprising in more than one way. For example, I wasn’t prepared for the rich sounds some of those toys are capable of. Another thing that surprised me is that you can use these for a wide range of project types — not just horror movies with a doll that’s come to life to terrorize a movie audience. Some sounds are delicate enough to perfectly fit scenes with romantic or tear-jerking content. Nature documentaries come to mind as well with some of the more robust sounding toys, all depending on the larger theme, of course.

The verdict

After having tried them out in various configurations/articulations, with and without effects added to them, I was amazed at how easy it was to blend them in with large orchestration libraries, such as the Berlin Orchestra bundle, or with more restrained collections, such as the Salu set. Surprisingly enough, considering these are toy instruments, you can use most samples by themselves as well. With many of those, I wouldn’t hesitate to use them for scenes that demand large, dramatic soundscapes.

Abacus retails for 189 EUR and is available now directly from the Orchestral Tools store. Most instrument sets (percussion, nylon strings, whistles…) are also available by themselves, as with any Orchestral Tools sample collection.

Erik Vlietinck is a regular contributor to Post and can be reach by email at:  erik@thecontentgame.com.