BBC Symphonic Orchestra with Ardour

Published on February 6th, 2023

Last time I looked at VST libraries was a while ago, when I ended up using the Virtual Playing Orchestra. This library did a fine job at what I wanted to achieve. Back then, I also mentioned some limitations: the fact that better sound samples are provided only for Windows and MacOS systems.

This post here is an update on this statement: after some investigation, I managed to import and use the BBC Symphonic Orchestra plugin (BBCSO) into Ardour (given that this library is initially downloadable for Windows and MacOS) on a Debian 11 system! Happy to understand how to push music production further on Linux systems further, as the BBCSO plugin provides great quality sound samples!

This article will explain how I did this. Hopefully, it will be helpful for you. At this point, I will assume that you’re at least somewhat familiar with a Linux system, as it’ll get (a bit) technical.

Prerequisite: Ardour 7.2

At time of writing, I’m on Debian 11 stable. The Ardour version available for this distro is 6.5. I didn’t manage to install and use BBCSO with Ardour 6.5, as it is out of date for what we want to achieve here.

Upgrading to the latest version of Ardour (7.2) did the trick. So make sure to get at least this version if you want to give this BBCSO plugin a try.

You can download the latest version of Ardour from this page.

Sign up to Spitfire Audio and download their app

I’ve been using the BBCSO “Discover” edition, which is the free version of the library. The SpitfireAudio website says the free version provides 33 instruments which is pretty good for a free library.

First, you will need to open an account on, which is where the BBCSO library is provided. Then you can download the Spitfire Audio app from this page. No Linux version is provided, so download the Windows version of the app (yes, even if you’re on Linux).

Download Wine to run Spitfire Audio

At this point, you will need to download and use Wine.

Wine is a fantastic program that allows to run Windows programs on Linux. This is what we will be using to install and use the Spitfire Audio app.

Go to this page, choose your binary or install from source. You will want to install the Staging branch version of Wine, not the version from the Stable branch. The reason for that is that the other piece of software which is talked about in the next section of this post specifically mentions the use of Wine Staging.

The Wine documentation is pretty good and quite detailed, you should be able to install Wine Staging without any problem.

Once you’ve done so, check your Wine version:

> wine --version
wine-8.0 (Staging)

Then you should be good to install Spitfire Audio, using the Windows client file you downloaded from the Spitfire Audio website:

wine SpitfireAudio-Win-3.4.4.exe

Once you’ve installed it, you’ll be able to run the Spitfire Audio app. From within the application, after login in using your Spitfire account you just created:

  1. Click on “Discover” in the “My Products” section, then download “BBCSO Discover” and “BBCSO Plugin” to download the actual BBCSO plugin.
  2. While you have the app open, you can also download some sound libraries from the LABS plugin, which is different than the BBCSO plugin. The sound libraries accessible via the LABS plugin are also quite interesting, make sure to check them out. To do so, click on the “LABS” menu and download the sound libraries that are available.

After you’re satisfied with the samples you downloaded, you can quit the Spitfire Audio application.

Yabridge setup

Now that you’ve got your BBCSO (and LABS) plugins, we need to use yabridge to be able to use the files related to these plugins (VST files) into Linux.

Follow these instructions to install a recent version of yabridge and then use the yabridgectl utility to make the VST files available on your machine. After adding the yabridge folder to your $PATH, here are the commands I ended up running:

# Referencing VST files initially installed in Wine (through the Spitfire Audio app)
yabridgectl add ~/.wine/drive_c/Program\ Files/VstPlugins
yabridgectl add ~/.wine/drive_c/Program\ Files/Common\ Files/VST3

# Making them available in Linux
yabridgectl sync

# Check that syncing went well
yabridgectl status

If you can see that your VST files are made available in ~/.vst/yabridge and ~/.vst3/yabridge, then you’re done with this section.

Import VST files in Ardour

Almost there! You just need to have Ardour scan these new .vst folders so that it can pick up on the new VST files. To do so:

  1. Open Ardour
  2. Click on Edit > Preferences, then choose the “VST”. under “Plugins”.
  3. In the “VST 2.x” section, click on “Edit”, and add the ~/.vst/yabridge path.
  4. In the “VST 3” section, click on “Edit”, and add the ~/.vst3/yabridge path.
  5. Select the “Plugins” section and click on Scan for Plugins. The BBCSO plugins should be scanned and found.
  6. Back to the main screen, add a new MIDI track, then select one of the two options:
    • LABS: this will open the LABS plugin with the sound libraries you downloaded earlier from the LABS menu.
    • BBC Symphonic Orchestra: this will open the BBCSO plugin that provides libraries with Strings, Woodwinds, Brass and Percussions samples.

Once you’ve added that MIDI track, double-click on the added plugin in the mixer strip to show its UI. Here’s below a screenshot of the LABS plugin:

LABS in Ardour

And here’s a screenshot of the BBCSO plugin:

BBCSO in Ardour

What’s next?

I’m going to give the BBCSO plugin a try with the MIDI files I exported a while ago from MuseScore when I was composing two little pieces of music, and see how they render.

The next big step after that will be to get a MIDI keyboard and really start utilizing what the BBCSO and LABS plugins have to offer. I’m leaning towards getting the AKAI MPK mini mk3. Based on some reviews I read, this seems to be a good MIDI keyboard that’s not too expensive and that came out recently. Also, Ardour 7.2 seems to be supporting this brand and model out-of-the-box so yeah, let’s give this a try!

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