Monthly Archives: May 2015
An accomplished composer provides us with this valuable beginner’s guide to Sibelius-style self-publishing in classical music (or any genre that needs a score to be produced).
SoundBytes, May 2015
Introduction by David Baer
We feel privileged to be able to offer a tutorial by an extraordinary composer of opera, symphonic form, chamber music and more. Wang Jie is the real deal – a composer of serious music who actually gets paid to pursue her art.Not many composers can make that claim these days.When I say “serious”, however, I don’t mean somber.There’s great wit to be found in many of her compositions. Rather, I’m talking about composing for the concert hall, composing music that one needs to listen to more than casually.
I had the pleasure of meeting Wang Jie in the summer of 2014 at a conference in San Francisco. I had no idea at the time that this pleasant young woman (ahem … young, certainly, compared to your editor here) had such stature and respect in the world of classical music. So, I was more than delighted when she agreed to write something for the magazine. Please join me in welcoming her to the pages of SoundBytes Magazine in which she will share her considerable expertise regarding Sibelius scoring software.
For those wishing to learn more about Wang Jie, visit her web site here:
You are a budding composer and one morning, instead of channeling pitches and rhythms, the symphonic muses offered you a kettle. Obviously, you rubbed it the wrong way – Wham (!), a Genie popped out and handed you a commission contract from the New York Philharmonic. You celebrated with your pet (good time to find out who your real friends are), and three martinis later you realized: oh shit, now what?
If there is any time in music history that a composer could pull this off without the backing of a legitimate music publishing house, a gang of engravers and editors, printers the size of an elephant, and signing away your copyright, it is now. I can attest to this as a one-woman show running a self-publishing operation from my studio apartment. My royalty checks are double sweet. Sibelius 6.2 is the way I roll.
Since the mid-2000’s, consumer-market music notation software signaled the dawn of sheet music self-publishing. Self-published composers became the new black. They now enjoy active careers at the highest level. A well-known success story is Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon, who remains self-published to this day.
The two programs that dominate the music notation software market are Sibelius and Finale. The Sibelius vs. Finale discussion has ignited hair-rising debate amongst composers and music engravers. Think of it as the Mac and PC of the music publishing world. Both can achieve the highest standard in sheet music production. Put the final print side by side, only professionally trained music engravers can distinguish the cosmetic differences. However, the efforts required to achieve the final result are very different.
When professional engravers talk nerdy, it goes something like this: “Finale, by default does not get a lot of these things right. Multirests are horrible, for example, by default, in that you can do a part and when you print it, everything changes. Their reasoning for this is misguided, but for a novice user, they will end up with unpredictable, confusing results.”
At a time when digital life permeates every fiber of our lives, it’s hardly a stretch to recognize that the technologies we choose reflect our sense of style. We are no longer satisfied with mere functionality. I want to use programs that are in tune with my intuition, are easy to learn, responsive, and heck: even make me feel creative. That’s why Sibelius is my weapon of choice.
A Sibelius style creative process is characterized by a significantly easier learning curve, an interface that is “typing”-friendly, a default setting that offers you immediately good-looking, surprisingly effective results. Since these are some of the most well-designed aspects of the program, I urge all novice composers to take advantage of them from day one.
Sibelius or Finale, bottom-line, once you commit to learn either of them, master it. There are no bad programs, only inept users.
With fire under your feet, let’s get you a quick start on Sibelius style sheet music production.
Get to Know Sibelius by Copying
First, I want you to learn from a rookie mistake I made. I foolishly tried to learn Sibelius 2.0 while composing my first string quartet straight into the newly installed program. Biting off far more than I could chew cost me six weeks in stress-management therapy. For your own sanity, I want you to separate the task of composing from the task of learning the program during your first week with Sibelius.
Try this instead: pick your favorite Bach Fugue and copy it. Next, advance to a Debussy Prelude. It’s never too ambitious to orchestrate one and practice navigating an orchestral score and making parts. Like in dictation classes, try to get to a level of proficiency in which you are not consciously thinking about what muscles must work together to input anything from a four-part Chorale to cross-staff quintuplets to eventually creating avant-garde graphic score.
But how is proficiency achieved?
Learn the Shortcuts – Memorize Them As Much As It Is Humanly Possible
Chances are, when you write your college History paper with Microsoft Word, you are not really thinking about your swift fingers tap-dancing across the keyboard. As I mentioned, Sibelius will shine for you if you simply know how to minimize mouse clicking and instead, “type” the music the same way that you would type the alphabet. To achieve this, you must learn the shortcuts. To really learn the shortcuts, go the extra step beyond the brain and start building muscle memories.
Sibelius 6 Reference > Power Tools > 5.12 Menus and shortcuts
You’ll soon discover that you need a full-size computer keyboard with the numeric pad. Keep your right hand glued to the numeric pad, not the mouse.
Sibelius Reference Is the Bible
I keep up with the latest technology and enjoy my digital books and movies as much as you do. But when it comes to one of the most sophisticated music notation software, you’ve got to have your cake and eat it too. Translation: order the hard copy of Sibelius Reference. I can’t explain the psychology behind it. But getting my hands “dirty”, highlighting, folding corners and abusing it in my physical reality give me the sense that I was training this marvelous technology to assist me anytime, anywhere in my studio. Plus, you will miss a real “lift me up” when nothing seems to work out:
The above is scanned from the out-of-print Sibelius 2 Reference. The digital Reference is an excellent option for searching a specific word:
Shortcuts I Use Everyday (Sorted by Importance)
Miss all the shots you want. Not going to hurt the program.
Esc Stop editing/Select None/Cancel
In other words, get me out of this hyperactivity!
Ctrl/Cmmd s Save
Always followup Esc with a Save. It should be your first Sibelius reflux. Trust me, you don’t want to learn this the hard way.
R Repeat selection
Highlight/select anything, type letter “R” to repeat immediately after. Try it with chords, ostinato, isorhythm, etc.
Sometimes removing notes works better than inputting them. Particularly when working with tuplets. I call this sculpting – just carve away what’s not needed. For example, the passage below are mostly Sextuplet. Create one sextuplet template and type letter R to fill the staff. Then hit “delete” to carve away!
Ctrl/Cmmd+Shift I Re-input pitches
This is possibly the most under-rated shortcut in Sibelius. It frees you from rhythmic values and focuses on pitches. It becomes especially powerful when dealing with more recent music featuring complex rhythm and non-systematic pitch material. The above example was inputted in this order:
1) Tuplet base layer: any pitch (say D), Ctrl/Cmmd 3, D,D,D, Ctrl/Cmmd 5, D,D,D,D,D, Ctrl/Cmmd 6, D,D,D,D,D,select sextuplet, R,R,R,R,R,R,R,R,R,R,R,R, select Piano upper staff bar 225 to 228, Ctrl/Cmmd click to paste in Piano lower staff bar 225)
2) Delete individual notes to show rests.
3) Ctrl/Cmmd+Shift I to input pitch.
Minimal “finger print” solution. A 5-minute-operation, tops.
Ctrl/Cmmd+Shift n Reset Note Spacing
Inputting music is like loading books onto a shelf, the finishing touch is lining up the book collars perfectly. The equivalent of the finishing touch in Sibelius is this powerful shortcut, except it’s all but one easy key stroke. It gives you the Sibelius default note spacing as it is set in House Style>Note Spacing Rule … all of sudden, your score just looks more ordered, a step closer to a professional feel. The aesthetics of note spacing has long been a sour topic among professional engravers, where they begin a long process of fine-tuning by hitting ctrl/cmmd+shift n. All things considered, the Sibelius default note spacing is probably good enough for your first gig.
W Switching between Full Score and Parts
This one can be a lot of fun. Try it with bar 33 of Timpani highlighted in Full Score: it cuts through all the instrument lists and takes you straight to the bar 33 of the Timpani dynamic part. I also set a different desktop image for Full Score and Parts, to maximize the visual reminder of entering Dynamic Parts.
Advanced Editing – a Few Tricks
Presenting your performers with a professional-looking score/part enhances their personal investment in your music. You must present your sheet music with the care and respect you want from them. To achieve that, Sibelius default will no longer be enough.
What is an Atonal score?
A clever transposition tool Sibelius users have enjoyed for 10 years (while Finale 2014 just caught up last year). Without getting into the history of transposing scores evolving out of fashion, it’s a C Score with dynamic parts automatically transposed to various instruments’ native transposition. For example, an Atonal score with no key signature showing will result in a Clarinet in Bb part transposed a Major 2nd higher with no key signature showing, either. For example:
Fine tune note spacing
There will be situations where you must manually enter space values for notes to avoid ugly note spacing, collisions, to distort alignment (aleatoric music), or in the example below, to force alignment. Cmmd/Ctrl+Opt/Alt P to view Property Window > General. Highlight any object to observe the X and Y axiom values: they indicate object’s distance from default position. Obviously, these values can be altered.
Notice the 0-0 value in the Clarinet note (Gray objects are Hidden Objects):
If I highlight the piano chord, you’ll see altered X value in order to force align:
MOLA 2014 Sibelius vs. Finale presentation:
Gear Up for 21st Century Music Publishing
This is not the place to cut corners. Do the research and invest in quality.
Checklist: Mac/PC with Sibelius/Finale installed, High Resolution Display (size matters!), MIDI keyboard (optional), Laser Printer with tabloid capacity, MOLA Guide, Tabloid paper (and a nearby Print Shop with professional stack cutter), ¾ inch Micropore Surgical Tape (lots of them).
My current gear for your reference:
15 inch Macbook Pro (late 2013) with Sibelius 6.2
Since switching to Mac some ten years ago, I have never looked back. But I’ll admit that a PC is equally capable of handling the technical requirement.
The university installed Sibelius 7 on my work computer and after using it for a year, I still haven’t felt the need to upgrade my personal computer. Obviously, if you are buying a Sibelius license, get version 7. (New Sibelius coming out soon.)
23-inch Apple Cinema Display (2006)
My eyes thank the display every time I work on a big score with two-dozen systems. I still scroll up and down for the full score but with the 23 inch, a full page of parts can be examined comfortably. It especially comes in handy with layout edits.
I have written two symphonies with this little thing. It weights nothing so I bring it everywhere. It sits nicely between my display and mac keyboard, taking up little desk space.
Ricoh Aficio AP610N Black and White Laser Printer
Ten years, fifty thousand pages later, this printer only jammed once, only on its second toner, only the most reliable machine I own.
French Construction Whitewash 70 weight Text 11 x 17 (& 10 x 13) for final prints
For acceptable final prints, anything thinner will show through the text, anything thicker will be a hassle to page turn, anything brighter or smoother will decrease readability under stage lighting. Needless to say, save your piggy bank by using the cheapest Staples 20 pound copy paper for draft prints and proof-reading.
Prelude: MOLA Guide. Fugue: Style Guide from certain major music publishing house.
3M Micropore Surgical Tape (1 inch)
For taping parts by hand. Rookie mistake: using Scotch tape. You’ve been warned.
SONAR Platinum is a DAW with powerful new features, instruments, and effects. A new pricing model is also introduced with this new version. Our reviewer takes a look to see how it all stacks up.
by Rob Mitchell, May 2015
Back in our January 2014 issue, I had the pleasure of reviewing Cakewalk’s incredible SONAR X3 Producer. In case you missed that issue, SONAR is a powerful DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) which allows you sequence MIDI tracks along with audio, and has many useful features, instruments and effects. Cakewalk has recently unleashed their latest version of SONAR, which actually ships in three different varieties: Artist, Professional, and Platinum.
The main differences between them are the number of instruments and effect plug-ins, but there are certain other features only included within the Professional and Platinum versions. For example, all three have the Skylight interface, Take lanes and Automation lanes, unlimited tracks and busses, a maximum sample rate of 384 kHz, Rewire 64 support, and Windows 8 Multi-touch support. Surround mixing however, is not included in SONAR Artist. Also, Vocal Sync is a new feature which is only found in the Platinum version of SONAR.
I will not be going over every feature in SONAR Platinum, as that could probably take up this whole issue of SoundBytes. What I will try to do for the most part is just focus on the newer features and improvements included since SONAR X3 was released.
Cakewalk now offers a new way to buy SONAR, and you are able to pay monthly, or just buy it with a no-fuss single payment. They also continue to have an upgrade plan. If you are using an older version of SONAR, they have options available for getting you into the latest version.
If you opt for the monthly payment, SONAR will activate monthly and change over to a demo mode if the monthly payments stop before twelve months are up. If you decide to just pay “up-front” and buy it the regular way you are given a twelve-month membership. The membership will include any new features and fixes that are released for a twelve month period at no additional cost. It is yours to keep after the initial twelve months have passed.
The system requirements for SONAR Platinum are as follows:
A PC with Windows 7 or 8 (32-bit or 64-bit), and a 2.6 GHz Intel or AMD multi-core processor. An Intel i5 or AMD A10 APU or higher is recommended. Four gigabytes of memory, and an internet connection for activation, downloads, and some publishing features.
The download time will take some time, as there is just so much included with the Platinum version. There are nearly six gigabytes of files to download. The install itself is pretty easy, using registration and serial numbers to get it all working correctly.
Getting It Going
SONAR Platinum works in a very similar fashion to SONAR X3. If you are used to that version, and are afraid of upgrading, don’t even worry about it. They just added on to what was already there, so the core functionality is basically the same.
You can still import videos and add your own soundtrack, and the Track Templates are still here to save time when trying to meet deadlines. One very handy feature that was added back in the “X” series was the “Replace Synth” function. This saves a lot of time, as you can just right-click on synth track, click Replace Synth, and it lets you choose a replacement from your other plugins. After you select one, it takes the place of what was there before, but leaves everything else intact, such as other plugins that might be loaded for that track (compressors, reverb, etc.) and the notation will stay there too.
Exporting audio is an easy task with SONAR, and there are many formats from which to choose. When your project is all set, select all the tracks, then click File/Export/Audio. From there, you can leave it at the default, which a WAV file. There are options to change the channel format, sample rate, bit depth, and dithering.
If you need a different format than WAV, just click on its menu and it will drop down giving you many options. From there, you can pick from Broadcast Wave, Windows Media Advance Streaming Type, MP3 (with optional encoder) DSD, AIFF, AU, CAF, FLAC, RAW, SD2, W64, WAV (Microsoft), Soundcloud format, or use the built-in YouTube Publisher.
The Media browser is still here, with its easy drag-and-drop functionality. It also lets you switch between many types of media and plugin types, preview MIDI files and WAV files, and view the synth plugins that you’ve already loaded. Now that we’ve gone over some basics, let’s get to some of the newer features in more detail.
One of the most useful additions to the new SONAR is Mix Recall. This lets you save different versions of a song and easily bring them back up again. The way I used to work was to save many separate versions on my PC, and end up with bunch of files piled up in a project folder. Each one might have something added or removed, the mix and EQ could have been changed on certain versions, or one mix might be setup as monophonic.
With Mix Recall, you can save different “scenes” within a project, and each of them can be named however you want. Some of the menu selections will let you Save the scene, Save as New, Rename, Delete, or even Delete All scenes.
Cakewalk has added a quick way to go back to the previous scene: just click the arrow (it points to the left, like an “Undo”) on the Mix Recall module. To get to any of the others you saved, there is a dropdown menu that shows a list of all the versions you have saved to disk. I tried this out, and it switches between them in a speedy fashion, reloading any of the settings and changes you’ve made.
One very cool feature in the new version of SONAR is a MIDI Enhancement called MIDI Time Stretching. You are now able to click the edge of MIDI clip you’ve loaded (or created from scratch) and then click/drag it to the left or right, which changes its overall timing.
The new Pattern tool lets you “paint” the MIDI notes on to the screen. You just select a part of the MIDI notes you want to use, and then select the paint roller tool to draw them on to a new part of the screen in your project. Just click and drag on to another part of the screen, and it will apply those MIDI notes you selected. If you drag back towards the left while the mouse button is still held down, it will erase the notes you just painted. It’s very easy to use, and I really like this new addition to SONAR.
If you zoom in farther on the MIDI notes while in the Piano Roll view, the notes are now much easier to see. The vertical zoom was improved, which really helps out in this department. It allows you to edit more quickly, with less struggle in seeing where the actual notes are. At the same time, the piano keys on the far left are also enlarged, making them easier to use as well.
Audio Snap is a feature to help get the tracks of audio to line up better. The timing between musicians across many tracks can vary a little (or a lot in some cases), and using this feature of SONAR can improve the synchronization of their tempos.
The Threshold slider will adjust how many of the transients are detected by Audio Snap. As you lower the threshold, you will see additional transient markers appear across the tracks you’ve selected to edit. You can use these to adjust where the transients are in the music, which can help the overall audio in your project, giving it a more tight and cohesive sound.
It can also be used to easily match audio you’ve recorded to pre-made loops, or stretch out the audio and its timing to a much different tempo. This improved version of Audio Snap is only available in the Professional and Platinum versions of SONAR.
Dynamic FX and Sends
SONAR X3 had effect bins and sends for each track. The effect bins allowed you load effects and use FX Chains. You still have that same basic functionality in the latest version of SONAR, but there are a few enhancements I wanted to mention.
In X3, after you have loaded in three effects, it would take up entire visible space of the bin. If you loaded another effect, it would only let you see three of them at any one time. You would have to scroll up or down to see the others that were added to that track. With the latest incarnation of SONAR, you can see all the effects loaded, as it will automatically make room for them as they are added to the bin. Also, you would have to right-click in the bin to bypass the whole bin of effects when using X3. Cakewalk has made this easier, having added an easy to access bypass button in the upper-left of the bin. The effects can be dragged up or down to a different order as well.
Using sends in the new version of SONAR is much easier. When you add a send in X3, you’d see the one you just added. If you add additional sends however, you wouldn’t be able to see the other sends unless you use the dropdown menu and switch to that send. The new SONAR stacks them up, similar to the effects bin, and you can see everything at once.
When you have recorded two takes of vocal, and wish they were more in time with each other, that’s where Vocal Sync can help.
It is very easy use. You can just select an area of the tracks you want to align, and use the Region FX tool to prep it for editing. To get started, you just right-click on an area of one of the selected tracks, select “Region FX” from the menu that appears. After that, pick “Vocal Sync” and select “Create Region FX”. A control will appear that lets you adjust the amount of the sync between the tracks. To use this control, you just play the tracks, adjust the Vocal Sync knob a bit, play it again, and listen to how it sounds. If it still needs help, turn up the control a little more, and hit play again to check it out. When it’s all set, you click the “Render” button.
Vocal Sync is similar to SONAR’s Audio Snap, but it is geared towards vocals, and is much easier to use. If you try it with other types of audio, you may get unpredictable results. If you really need to sync up other types of audio, you’re probably better off just using Audio Snap.
The DSD Import and Export that is now included in SONAR has the ability to output the audio at a very high sample rate. The signal can be stored at 2.8 MHz. That is 64 times higher than a regular compact disc, which uses 44.1 kHz. You’re also able to store it at 5.6 MHz or 11.2 MHz. It also supports DSD64 (2.8 MHz), DSDtwelve8 (5.6 MHz), and the DSD256 format (11.2 MHz).
The new Dynamic Control bar in SONAR will now let you scroll it to the left or right to your liking. It is made up of many different modules that serve various functions. A couple of the new ones that were added are the Custom Module and Mix Recall. I discussed the Mix Recall earlier in this review.
The Custom Module in the Control bar is a great feature: it lets you customize its nine buttons so they will have certain functions that you’d like quick access to. You could assign commands to these buttons to help streamline your workflow. For instance, you can assign “Normalize” to a button, or maybe you are working on complicated song with many time changes. For that, you may want to assign “Insert Meter/Key Change” to a button. To assign a button, just right-click on it and select what you’d like from the menus. The button can also be renamed if you’d like.
SONAR Platinum has so many instruments and effects; you probably won’t need to acquire anything else to add on to it. I have other plugins I’ve bought over the years to compliment what SONAR has bundled in, but when you think about it, how much do you really need? With everything they’ve included, it has a musical production prowess that is easily enough to start your next production.
A few of the included instruments are Addictive Drums 2, Session Drummer 3, Dimension Pro, Rapture, and Z3ta+. SONAR Platinum is a great value, especially if you start adding up what some of these plugins would cost separately. Even if you just consider the price of Addictive Drums 2 (with 3 ADpaks), online shops have it in stock for around $199 USD.
Also, when you look at how many effects that you get in SONAR Platinum versus the Professional version of SONAR, you can’t go wrong. For instance, with the Pro Channel they’ve included six additional modules that the Professional version doesn’t have. Some of these include BREVERB SONAR, a Tape Emulator, a Console Emulator, and the PC4K S-Type Bus Compressor.
SONAR’s Skylight interface is a joy to use, and has been around since SONAR X1. After I checked out some old screenshots I had taken of what SONAR 8.5 looked like (before SONAR X1 was released), I could never go back to it now. Skylight just makes everything super easy to use, is very flexible, and really looks awesome.
Towards the end of writing this review, Cakewalk released “Braintree” bundle. It is full of new features which add on to the existing versions of SONAR, and is free to SONAR subscribers. In this update, you will get a generous collection of new additions, including new impulse responses for REmatrix Solo, “Bark of DOG” for the Pro Channel, and Craig Anderton’s Acoustic Guitar presets for the Pro Channel. You’ll also get the new Hardgroove Steinberger expansion pack for Rapture, and their Bass Loop library, plus many more features and fixes. Some of these new additions are only for the Professional and/or Platinum versions.
As I mentioned before, SONAR has different pricings which vary, and it depends on which version you want. If you decide to go for the monthly payment, buy it for the full price, or upgrade from a previous version, your options are open.
Here are the prices for the three different versions of SONAR.
SONAR Artist has 11 instrument plugins and 27 audio effects, and you can get it for only $9.99 USD a month or buy it for $105 USD.
SONAR Professional has 18 instrument plugins and nearly twice as many mixing and mastering effects. It retails for $19.99 USD a month, or you can buy it for $209 USD.
SONAR Platinum has 57 mixing and mastering effects, and 21 instrument plugins. It retails for $49.99 USD a month, or you can buy it for $525 USD. The Platinum version can be found for $499 on some other retail websites.
To find the upgrade pricing from previous versions, and to get more information on SONAR, you can check out their website here:
Should you master at your home? Of course, if you learn how to mix, arrange, design and advertise your music, it is a time to master another skill: mastering with T-RacksS.
by A. Arsov, May 2015
When I heard that IK Multimedia was offering the T-RackS All in All bundle for a limited time, I couldn’t resist. 31 plug-ins for a bit less than $400 USD. Actually, IK Multimedia are always running some kind of special promotion, so you might have missed this one, but I suggest you subscribe to their newsletter. This has been the second offer for T-RackS in the last few months (actually,in a last minute we got an info about new T-RackS promotion – Save over 60 % with the T-RacksS Grand Slam).
During the regular sale you can choose between three basic bundles of T-RackS along with three additional bundles containing mastering plug-ins that are not essential, but they can make a significant difference, putting mastered material on a whole new and very professional level. All these plug-ins can also be bought through the IK Multimedia T-RackS custom shop. T-RackS Classic is for starters, T-RackS Deluxe is a nice solution if you’re on a very limited budget (costing a bit more than your average virtual synthesizer), and T-RackS Grand is a high end, very professional solution containing numerous plug-ins from other plug-in bundles, including the complete T-RackS Multiband Series, along with a few others.
T-RackS Multiband includes Quad Limiter, Quad Compressor, Quad Image and De-Esser. Along with the sound, one of the main benefits is the real time frequency preview. At every moment you get precise information on which frequencies are affected and by how much. All the plug-ins are very simple to use (I only had problems with the limiter, but that was more to do with my lack of experience than anything to do with the plug-in itself), and as long you don’t try to go extreme with the settings, the plug-ins will easily forgive you your lack of deeper knowledge and experience.
The next bundle is T-RackS Vintage Compressors, offering you some user-friendly software recreations of well-known gems from a past. Two to three knobs – what could go wrong there? Actually nothing. You don’t need to be a compressor guru to achieve great results with Black 76, White 2A or even Model 670. I would use them on every channel if my processor would allow me, but anyway, they can do wonders on just a few main groups or tracks.
T-RackS British Studio Series is a collection containing British Channel, White Channel and Bus Compressor. The first two are a combination of compressor, equalizer and limiter, giving great results by simply tweaking a few of those knobs and fine-tuning some of the included presets. The same goes for Bus Compressor – I started with a preset but then improved on it based on advice that I got from a YouTube video.
Years ago I reviewed T-RackS and complained that it didn’t offer some of the options that its competitors had. Obviously I was not the only one, as IK Multimedia added all sorts of additional plug-ins over the following years, culminating in all the bundles and plug-ins that we’ve just described. I’ve been a bit unfaithful to T-RackS these last two years, but after getting this All in All bundle and spending the first two weeks with it, I decided to switch back. The reason is quite simple. First of all, I’m not a mastering expert, so this review is something of an idiot’s guide. After installing the plug-ins I watched all the video clips for T-RackS I could find on YouTube, combining that knowledge with some of the great presets that are available for each plug-in. After some trial and error I made a bit more of an EDM oriented preset that would serve most of my needs, being a little more than just a good starting point.
If you don’t have all these plug-ins, you can still download the 14-day trial versions. (A good source for using T-RackS in rock music is an article I found on this blog).
I’m aware that a skilled mastering engineer can make a great master with nothing more than a knife and fork. So my opinion about which plug-in, or even which bundle, is best-suited for this purpose is not an opinion of a mastering guru. At this point I’m just trying to find and present you with mastering tools that could give you a better results if you have some knowledge of mixing and remember a tip or two about mastering (the green area where most of us are). It happens that with some basic knowledge I achieved a much more defined, cleaner master that just emphasizes my basic mix without changing the relationship between the instruments. Stereo imaging is also much better, and this difference between my older masters and the new ones is very noticeable on headphones (as they are very good at revealing the mistakes that aren’t so obvious on near-field speakers). The end results sound really professional, beyond my initial hopes and expectations.
So here is my preset that works as a starting point for EDM Dance and some rock production purposes.
You can also listen to my “before and after” results for a Trop House song I made recently.
You Touched Me – raw
You Touched Me – mastered
In the next issue we will have an interview with IK Multimedia mastering project manager, Lorenzo Gerace. As well as providing further explanations, he will comment on my preset and let us know exactly where I missed and where I nailed it. So, the story will continue.
Preset – Why and how
As this preset is made to suit my mixing habits, maybe we could go through some settings explaining why I used a plug-in and how you can adopt it to your needs.
In the first slot of the rack I placed a Linear Phase EQ. I more or less use the well-known, so called “smile curve,” suggested on many forums about mastering. Then I cut out some of the lowest end, add a small hole around 10 KHz and slightly boost the mid bass and high end of the frequency spectrum. I made that mysterious 10 KHz cut because I notice that hi-hats or shakers can be a bit annoying in that area.
If you find that your high end is too aggressive, just decrease the sixth band a decibel or two. Linear Phase EQ is an essential mastering tool. It also has a Mono/Stereo option, so if you want to go a bit deeper, you can even make some low end cuts in the stereo image and boost the high end in a center. I usually use this combination on other mastering equalizer plug-ins, but find it works just fine even in a normal “Left/Right” jointed combination.
The next plug-in I used was White Channel, which I used to tame the bass. I’d say that if your low end is too aggressive don’t try to fix that with Linear Phase EQ, just turn down the black gain knob on the lefthand side of White Channel. Same for the high end – decrease the red gain knob in the top right. The only thing you should watch for is the “input – output”indicators in the bottom right corner, as you can ruin your sound if everything goes too much into the red. White Channel is a recreation of a classic British Channel console. If clear and well-defined punchy sound is analog sound, then this one definitely sounds analog. Black Channel from IK Multimedia is very similar, just with a little more old-fashioned sound coloration. I never worked with the original hardware so I can’t tell you the difference, but compared to my other plug-ins this one makes a significant difference. It puts your low and high end on steroids without making them artificial. If you’ve ever tried to overdo it with normal equalizers then you know what I’m talking about.
On the third rack instance is Vintage Equalizer. On the IK Multimedia website they suggest we try it out, and see how it changes the sound even without additional tweaking. I tried it, switching it off and on, and it ended up staying in my rack. I don’t know how it did it, and I don’t even care. It works. I watched some additional video clips for the EQ 73 and EQ 80 equalizers, finding that they can launch the sound directly to the stars just by boosting the high end, or by increasing the mid range by a decibel or two. I tried this setup with strings and guitars and I definitely couldn’t recreate similar results with any other regular equalizer I have. So these IK equalizers are definitely worth every penny, not just as part of a bundle but even at full price.
Next in the rack is Quad Compressor. I complained in a previous review that I missed such tool in the T-RackS assortment, and year or two ago it arrived in all its beauty. I set attack and release time according to advice on the internet, being careful not to overdo the compression, as if you are not too familiar with multi-band compressors it’s better to leave it as it is. The professionals are always warning us how easy it is to ruin everything with a multi-band compressor. At these settings I just tamed some loudness deviations. At first glance it looks like it doesn’t do anything, but feel free to switch it off and on – it tames the overall sound very nicely.
Quad Image, for me, is the holy grail of mastering tools. It has a more centered low end along with a wider high end – a very simple trick that can make your master shine. Maybe I overdo it a bit, but we live in a such times. Enough is simply not enough.
Master EQ 432. It could be that I’m overdoing it, putting so many equalizers in a rack, but it’s always better to use a few equalizers or even compressors in a row, setting each one to affect just a few decibels, than setting extreme gain on a single one. Secondly, every equalizer in this collection has its own character. I watched some video clips, browsed through a few presets, tweaked a parameter or two and the whole thing sounded better. We’ll see what Lorenzo has to say, but until then, enjoy the sound. Master EQ 432, as the name suggests, is intended for mastering purposes, offering a fairly large palette of frequencies ranked over three bands.
The next one is Bus Compressor that gels all my sounds together, making the whole mix and master more united. It is also an excellent solution as a compressor for a drum rack or any other group of instruments (while totally unbeatable for controlling the group channel for live drums is a Black 76 compressor – just set Drum Comp or Drum Comp 2 preset and enjoy). I try to keep my masters between the -14 to -12 dB value according to the Perceived Loudness indicator shown on the bottom of the T-RackS. So by controlling the threshold on Bus Compressor I tried to compress everything just few decibels, decreasing or increasing the make-up gain to hit the desired perceived loudness. If your value is too low, you can also try to increase general gain on the lefthand side of the Quad Compressor by one to three decibels.
So, that was a walkthrough of my general purpose preset. (Every sane mastering engineer will assure you that such a thing as a “general purpose mastering preset” doesn’t exist, but thankfully we are neither sane nor mastering engineers.)
If you produce just a few songs per year then maybe it’s better to pay a mastering engineer, but if your output is a bit bigger then T-RackS comes in pretty handy. Being a pro musician but a less-than-average mastering engineer, I achieved very professional results with this tool just by watching few video clips, a week of trial and error and a few A/B comparisons with the Magic A/B plug-in from Sample Magic.
T-RackS, with all these extra plug-ins, becomes an unbeatable tool for mastering and mixing purposes. It offers a very clean, well-defined, punchy sound and a full arsenal of plug-ins. Yes, it takes some CPU, but not so much that you can’t use it on your DAW’s output, at least if you have any semi-solid PC or Mac.
For more information visit
by A. Arsov
Berlin Strings 2.0 is not the only choice you have for strings – it just happens to be one of the best ones money can buy.
by Per Lichtman, May 2015
Berlin Strings 2.0 with Expansion A+B from Orchestral Tools is a massive update, free to existing users. SBM is proud to bring you the very first reviews of the Berlin 2.0 series update (which covers the rest of the Berlin range such as Berlin Woodwinds)- and I strongly suggest reading my previous review of the BST 1.0 release because this one will only cover the changes. When I reviewed BST 1.0, I praised the sound quality, detail and how the product fit into a “one articulation-per-track” workflow but thought the library was less effective for rapid sketching and noted how several competing libraries offered more key-switching and CC options for articulation control. With the free 2.0 update, the Berlin series now uses a new interface in Kontakt that aims to address these issues and many others. Orchestral Tools provided SBM access to the 2.0 libraries throughout the very long beta process, so though it’s only officially been out for a short time, I have had a lot of time to get up-to-speed with the new interface. But first, the new sounds.
The New Samples in 2.0
Berlin Strings 2.0 adds two new set of articulations: spiccato exposed for each of the five sections and the fingered legato articulation for the first violins. The spiccato exposed articulation is one of the most agile sounding short articulations in BST, especially for the basses, and the library benefits far more from this simple addition than I would have expected, making it one of the best libraries on the market for short string articulations in an ambient environment. Now the staccato and spiccato and staccato offerings for each section include spiccato, spiccato exposed and staccato at a bare minimum with some sections offering staccato bold and spiccatissimo options as well (not to mention blurred variations of each). The library of course includes many other types of shorts but I wanted to emphasize this particular part since it is so much at the core of a lot of scoring work.
The fingered legato articulation for the first violin offers a less pronounced transition than the normal legato preset. It’s a nice additional color and BST already offers a lot of legato options. As a minor issue, I’ll mention that if Orchestral Tools is going to call the new legato “fingered legato” then the name of the old legato type, “slurred legato” is simply not specific enough to differentiate between the two – depending on who is doing a reading, a slurred legato might very well be performed with fingered legato as opposed to bowed legato. But I can see how that becomes an issue when additional articulations are added after the fact – and it still sounds and plays great. Not to mention the fact that it’s beautifully integrated into the Capsule interface alongside the other articulations, but more on that in a minute.
The Interface Changes
As great as the additional sounds are, the big deal with the 2.0 update is new Capsule interface. While I’ll openly admit that I really liked the color and feel of the old interface, there’s a great deal more power packed into the new one than ever before. Orchestral Tools has added many new powerful options (some of which will be better covered in their Capsule Tutorial YouTube videos than here) but I would like to draw attention to the ones that are most important to me, personally.
Berlin Strings now divides its presets up into three folders for each section: Single Articulation (the same organization system as in 1.0), Multi Articulations (which give does away with the dynamic layer display wheel and gives access to up to twelves articulations in a single preset) and TM (Time Machine). The Time Machine folder looks a lot like the Single Articulations one but presets now have a Time Stretch slider that can speed up or slow down the sound of the preset while leaving the release tail unaffected.
Capsule offers something I’ve never seen in another orchestral ensemble product: the ability to use the recorded interval legato samples with any articulation by simply enabling legato mode with the push of a button. This is big – huge. Do you want to use a legato interval to transition between dynamics presets? Done. Do you want to play a legato line that transitions from legato into a portato? Done. This is really great and makes you wish someone had done it long ago. Major kudos. You select the articulation and push a single button to activate legato transitions. Then you just push the button beneath it to open articulation options and tweak the legato options, including using up to three different transition types depending on the playing speed.
Another great feature is the combination of dynamics matching and auto-gain. Orchestral Tools went through the library to analyze and better balance the dynamics of the different articulations and samples, not only within a given section but also within the orchestra as a whole. Consequently, you can spend way less time worrying about getting dynamics “right” and setting levels. This is an unusual approach (Spitfire Audio is the only major other one I’ve heard talk about anything at all similar) and Orchestral Tools builds on it by offering auto-gain. Auto-gain is a toggle button – when you enable it, dragging one microphone position slider adjust the remaining ones to maintain a constant volume. And you know what? It actually works really well and takes the “more is better because it’s louder” concern out of finding the right balance. Of course if you want to adjust all the faders at once, there’s also a new “chain” mode.
Possibly the biggest addition is articulation switching. This is big – huge – especially because so many of my favorite libraries had some level of it already. When I went back and forth between my different libraries, the two that stuck out as being limited by not having better articulation switching support where Berlin Strings 1.0 and Hollywood Strings, each of which offer so many articulations that the absence was even more keenly felt. In both cases, a limited number of articulation switching presets were offered but often not the ones I wanted and the user had no way to create new ones. With Berlin Strings 2.0, there are more articulation switching options than you can shake a stick at in the new multi-articulation presets. It doesn’t take the VSL approach (more on that later) but you can have twelve articulations key-switched and picked at your discretion from a large pool of options. The multis are divided up into dynamics, longs, octave runs (one each for up and down) and shorts and you can choose which twelve articulation are mapped to the key-switches from any group within that category using a menu that conveniently removes entries for any articulation you’ve already loaded.
The articulation switching goes further by offering both monophonic key-switching (which is mostly what we normally think of as key-switching) and a polyphonic mode I’ll discuss in a moment. Monophonic key-switching operates in a mode where one key-switch is active a time – when you select a new key-switch it becomes active as soon as you release all notes on that channel. This is different from most other interfaces I have tried where the key-switch changes as soon as the next note is pressed, regardless of whether any notes are still sustaining. It took me a minute to figure that out so I mention it in case any users coming from other libraries get confused, too. It’s a fairly simple adjustment when performing – if you avoid overlapping your notes, the monophonic key-switch will behave as expected. If you overlap notes, then the next key-switch becomes active after you release the last note of the phrase.
Polyphonic key-switching has four modes, can switch between them (or between the monophonic and polyphonic modes) using user assignable MIDI CCs. Each of the four modes allows you to select from one to four articulations at once using the same key-switches as in monophonic mode. The first mode is CC Switch: the mode uses a MIDI CC (assignable using the “MI X-Fade/Switch” parameter but set to CC 22 by default) to switch between different articulations. The CC value that’s active when a note starts determines the note that plays, so you don’t need to worry about overlapping notes (unlike Key-switch Mono). There’s velocity switching, which works pretty much like you would expect as long as you remember that it’s switching, not XFading. CC XFade is similar to CC Switch (including the CC # used) but you can dynamically crossfade between articulations – making it possible to XFade between different vibrato levels in Berlin Strings for the first time. CC XFade 2D uses the sort of XY cross-fading pad seen in products like the Prophet VS, Wavestation, Hartmann Neuronn and Camel Audio Chameloen, etc. You can control it visually with a mouse or using CCs. The X-axis is mapped to the same CC as the CC Switch and CC XFade modes, while the Y-axis CC can be reassigned with the parameter named “MI – Y Fade (2D)” and is mapped to CC 23 by default. It is also possible to switch between the four polyphonic key-switch modes using CCs 25 through 28.
To use the polyphonic key-switch modes, you press and hold down the key-switches for the articulations you want to add, and each is stacked in the order the key is pressed. For instance, if I’m in CC Switch and press and hold the key-switch for “immediate sustain romantic” and keep it pressed while I next depress the key-switch for “sustain accented”, then CC values 0-63 map to “immediate sustain romantic” and the top half (64-127) map to “sustain accented.” The values dynamically divide depending on whether have one, two, three or four key-switches selected. It’s possible use the polyphonic key-switch modes in a very powerful way to dynamically construct preset mappings as you play. For instance, you switch to the CC XFade mode at the start of a piece and select just a single short articulation for the first section. Then when your part has a rest, press down a few keys to 3-layer crossfading sustain and use it for the melodic section. When the section ends, just tap a single short articulation key-switch and you’re back to your shorts again. I’ll also note that if you are a power user, the last tab on the left (the one that’s a grid 3×3 squares) is your friend – as are the up and down arrows.
Combining With Other Libraries
Capsule makes it much easier to combine the Berlin series with other libraries than the 1.0 interface, since users can recreate some of the mapping used in several other libraries. I’ll use the example of how I created a legato mapping to work well alongside an EastWest Hollywood Strings 1st Violins “Legato Powerful System” preset to demonstrate the process of emulating even a rather complex preset.
First, Hollywood Strings 1st Violins Legato Powerful System crossfades between three layers of vibrato using CC1: non-vibrato at the bottom, normal vibrato through the middle and molto vibrato at the top. So the first step was loading the Berlin Strings 1st Violins Longs multi-articulation and making sure that I had sustain immediate non-vibrato, sustain immediate romantic vibrato and sustain immediate strong vibrato articulations loaded in different key-switch slots.
Next, I wanted to make sure that each of these articulations had legato transitions enabled. I clicked on the name SUSIW (for the immediate sustain non-vibrato) and clicked the top icon to enable legato transitions. Then I clicked on the icon beneath it to open the articulation specific settings. Here I set all three of the legato speeds to fingered legato. I clicked the back arrow and repeated this step for the other two sustain types. [Note: This gave me the closest sound to the Legato Powerful System preset I was emulating, but if I wanted to emulate a Bow Change Legato Powerful system preset, I would use slow slurred, mid fingered legato and fast fingered legato. HS portamento variations of these presets map portamento to low velocity values, so this cannot be emulated using the speed options at this time.]
Next, I clicked the Mono/Poly KS button to switch to display the four polyphonic key-switch modes and selected CC XFade. I chose CC XFade instead of CC Switch since the mapping I emulated crossfaded the amount of vibrato rather than switching it.
After that, I pressed and held down the key-switch for Sustain Immediate Non-Vibrato, then held down the Sustain Romantic Vibrato and kept both held while I pressed and held the Sustain Strong Vibrato key-switch – then I let go of all the notes. Basically, you just press and hold the key-switches together and Capsule stacks them in the order each note is pressed.
Next, I clicked the Controller Table icon on the left (the one that looks like a 3×3 grid) and navigated from the Dynamics window, past the Multi Articulations window with legato articulation switches to the Multi Articulations window that displayed the “MI X-Fade/Switch” parameter. I selected the MI X-Fade/Switch parameter and set the CC to CC1.
The HS preset I emulated had dynamics mapped to CC11 (expression), but this BST preset originally had dynamics mapped to CC1 – which my preset was now also using for vibrato cross-fading. To fix this I stayed in the Controller Table view and clicked the down arrow twice to get back to the Dynamics window. I clicked on the Dynamic XFade parameter and changed the CC from CC1 to CC11.
The HS preset I emulated was also a niente preset (meaning that the dynamic range goes down to silent). I could have just left things as they were – after all, BST assigned CC11 to Volume 2 by default – but the volume behavior of the two presets was radically different and Capsule has a dedicated niente option. So first I clicked I click on the Instrument Vol. 2 parameter in the Control Table view and set the CC to Off. Then I clicked the wrench icon on the left to bring up the Instrument Settings view. Finally I clicked the Niente button to activate the niente option.
After that, I was able to use the original Hollywood Strings preset and my new Berlin Strings preset using the CC data in the same way – so I saved the preset with a new name for future use. Using these seven parts directions, the presets now functioned so similarly that I could layer them using the exact same MIDI data without tweaking. But I wanted to get them to sound even closer, I could have tweaked the curves for the MI X-Fade/Switch and Dynamic XFade in the controller table to emulate the Hollywood Strings behavior even more closely. And if I wanted to go a step further, I could even use the dynamics slider in the Articulation Settings for each of the sustains to emulate the dynamic range of the Hollywood Strings preset even more closely. In other words, the system is a detail-oriented tweakers delight.
As you can see, the flexibility of the Capsule interface allowed me to emulate the behavior of a powerful Hollywood Strings preset as I saw fit. I would be unable to setup the Hollywood Strings Legato Powerful System preset to natively re-assign the default mapping used in Berlin Strings or anything else – I would have to find workarounds using my DAW, plug-ins or other tools. On the other hand, let’s say that I was collaborating with a composer that used Cinesamples CineStrings CORE instead of Hollywood Strings and he sent me a True Legato violin part. I could quickly take the above preset I just created and make it work with the default MIDI CineStrings CORE mapping for True Legato.
- First, I set the Niente option back to off.
- Then I set Instrument Vol. 2 back to CC 11.
- Then I set Dynamic XFade to CC1.
- Then I set MI X-Fade/Switch to CC2 (breath).
Done in four steps with Capsule. Once again, if I tried to do the same thing with Hollywood Strings, I would need an external solution to handle the re-mapping because PLAY doesn’t offer one at all and PLAY Pro has not been released yet. This is why it’s much easier for me to adapt other libraries to work alongside Hollywood Strings than to adapt Hollywood Strings to work alongside other libraries.
How Does the Interface Stack Up Against The Competition?
As the previous section illustrates so clearly, Capsule offers the sort of flexibility to re-map and customize as the user sees fit that a library like Hollywood Strings cannot match. Berlin’s other competitors range widely in the customizability offered through their interfaces. I can’t comment on LASS since the developers have thus far declined to provide a copy for review. However, the customization situation improves noticeably from Hollywood Strings as we go to 8DIO’s string series for Kontakt: while Adagietto uses a one-articulation-per-preset approach, both the Adagio and Agitato series allow key-switch reassignment and all of them allow you to use MIDI learn on their dynamics knobs and things of that ilk. Still, the customization would be considered fairly basic in comparison to other offerings in general and certainly compared to Capsule in particular. The Kontakt Player libraries Cinematic Strings 2.1 and Cinesamples Cinestrings CORE, each go further by offering quicker to customize interfaces with more options than 8Dio’s offerings. Cinematic Strings 2.1 does a great job of making the most of an octave of key-switch mappings and makes the process very simple and visual. I am also a big of the CineStrings CORE’s rapid reassignment GUI, especially in regards to specifying velocity or CC ranges, let alone its unusual application of the sustain pedal. However, neither of the two offers the level of detail and power to customize that Capsule does. While CineStrings CORE can hold its own in terms of the legato sampling (it has more dynamic layers than BST), there’s simply no denying that the legato programming in BST is a lot more powerful than Cinematic Strings 2.1, let alone the customization options relating to that. In fact it’s clear that Capsule aims to take on the interfaces most specifically designed to handle large numbers of articulations: those from Spitfire Audio and VSL.
Capsule vs. Spitfire Audio’s BML Interface
Out of the three interfaces just mentioned, Spitfire Audio’s current incarnation of their BML GUI is the one that places the greatest premium on simplicity – you never find yourself wading through text the way you sometimes can in the other two. At the same time, Capsule generally offers more powerful tweaking options and more flexible mapping and reassignment
Spitfire’s BML interface is the one that caters most specifically to individual samples issues using a context sensitive COG menu: play a note, click the COG icon and select “tweak last note” and adjust the tuning and volume of the sustain or release tail, or you can opt to omit the round-robin from being played. Click the COG and you can save, load or remove those tweaks. COG remains unique in the interfaces I’ve encountered, and I didn’t see a way to address individual tuning and volume issues using Capsule. Instead it seemed like I would have to rely on the full Kontakt’s native editing if I wanted to do that. As far as omitting round-robins, Capsule’s articulation settings interface shows a grid of the round-robins, highlighting the one currently being played, and omitting or re-enabling a particular one is as simple as clicking the circle. However, while COG addresses round-robins on a per-sample basis, Capsule address them per group. If you omit a round-robin variation on one note in an articulation Capsule, you omit that variation for all the notes in the articulation.
Next let’s look at re-mapping and transposition. BML’s interface makes transposition easy – Capsule does not offer any native transposition options that I encountered. Both libraries make it pretty easy to assign MIDI CCs – BML primarily relies on MIDI learn in conjunction with sliders provided on the main page, while Capsule integrates them natively into the interface but puts them away from the main tab. It should be noted that Capsule offers CC and velocity curve tweaking options that the BML interface does not. Spitfire Audio advocates the use of a standardized UACC mapping scheme which BML supports, but a discussion of the pros and cons of that approach are beyond the scope of this article.
Some Spitfire Audio presets feature the ostinatum sequencer for launching rhythms using an internal sequencer when you play a note. There’s no equivalent to this in Capsule.
While both interfaces do a very good job of managing multiple microphone positions and these are the two major orchestral libraries that seem most concerned with maintaining the original dynamics of the instruments, each has slight advantages. Spitfire’s BML microphone preset system makes it easy to save and load a particular mic blend without affecting other settings (Capsule saves these as part of the general settings preset instead) but the BML interface has no equivalent for Capsule’s powerful auto-gain feature.
In terms of legato programming, customization and flexibility, I definitely give the edge to Capsule’s implementation in BST. It would take too long to tackle every detail, but suffice to say that in their current implementations, Capsule offers more control, more powerful scripting and the ability to add legato intervals to any sustain. I will note that the BML presets are set up for vibrato cross-fading out-of-the-box while BST Capsule offers the ability for users to create their own. Conversely, BML presets often segregate the legatos from the other articulations while Capsule’s more flexible system allows you to mix and match them with other longs, with or without legato.
In the end, both are great interfaces designed with slightly different priorities. Spitfire’s BML interface gets the edge in individual sample adjustments and simplicity, while Capsule gets the edge in overall power and depth.
Capsule vs. Vienna Instruments/Vienna Instruments Pro
In comparison with both VSL’s Instrument and Instrument Pro interfaces, Capsule offers both advantages and disadvantages. VSL’s approach continues to offer access to more articulations at once than any other approach using larger matrices, but it lacks Capsule’s ability to add sampled interval-legato sampled transitions with any articulation. Dragging and dropping articulations in Vienna Instruments is a little easier to navigate than clicking in lists in Capsule’s smaller windows, but Capsule does simplify the process by removing any articulations from the list that you have already used.
Let’s look at round-robins. Both interfaces eschew Spitfire Audio’s sample-specific tools, each handles chords similarly well and use similar interfaces to add or remove round-robins. Vienna Instruments Pro has an edge in terms of offering bettering “humanize” and sequencing options, but Capsule offers an automatic round-robin reset timer that neither Vienna Instruments Pro nor BML has.
Vienna Instruments Pro has a powerful sequencer that’s beyond the scope of this article to discuss. Capsule has no equivalent.
Since VSL’s libraries are offered with a single mic position of centered, close-miked stereo samples, the Vienna Instrument engine has no application for Capsule’s unusual Auto-Gain option. On the other hand, the way that Orchestral Tools analyzed and setup the dynamics of each articulation and instrument makes for a much shorter learning curve in balancing instruments levels. By contrast Vienna Instruments Pro offers per-articulation mixing options (level and panning) that have no equivalent in the multi-articulation Capsule presets.
Overall, there’s no clear winner. These are arguably the two most powerful interfaces for working with an orchestral library that have been designed to date and each has features you just can’t find anywhere else.
Should I Get It?
If you own Berlin Strings 1.0, you should definitely download the 2.0 update – there’s just no excuse not to. If you’re looking into getting Berlin Strings for the first time or have been on the fence, then Berlin Strings 2.0 radically improves both the ease of use for beginners and the overall functionality for power users at once. The customizability means it can pretty much be integrated into any workflow now – though obviously users that prefer a close-miked dry library will still be better served elsewhere. Beginners may still find the learning curve of Cinematic Strings 2.1 or CineStrings CORE a little shorter (especially since there are fewer articulations to learn) but Berlin Strings 2.0 is a lot faster to work with than before. It also has to be said that beginners and experienced users alike will benefit greatly from the way the dynamics have been setup: there’s nothing like being able to throw an array of woodwinds and strings from the same company together having them balance well out of the box without adjusting a single fader.
Long story short, Berlin Strings 2.0 is not the only choice you have for strings – it just happens to be one of the best ones money can buy.
We invite you to meet one of the world’s most talented sound designers, Joseph Hollo, (and to learn what a very nice fellow he truly is) in this interview.
by David Baer, May, 2015
Holló József (pictured right) is a remarkably talented synth sound designer living in Hungary. He anglicized his public name to Joseph Hollo, the name he is more commonly known by in the worldwide electronic music community. We will use the qwerty-friendly version of the name here.
I first came across Joseph’s work when my fellow SoundBytes writer, Dave Townsend, spoke of it in glowing terms on a music forum we both frequent. Those sounds consisted of three libraries for Zebra 2.5 called the Padsheaven series (available here: http://sound.artenuovo.com/ ). I had ignored them because of the “Pad” part of the name … pads I have in profusion. Fortunately, my ignorance was corrected and I discovered what a remarkable talent we had in our midst. To call some of his creations poetry in sound would not be an overstatement.
He followed the Padsheaven libraries with another stunning collection of sounds for Massive. Frustratingly, for me anyway, there is also a library for Spire and another for Serum available. I own neither of those synths or I would certainly would have picked up those two libraries for them as well.
Excellent demos of all Joseph’s sound design work can be found on his Soundcloud page here:
and more YouTube demos are here:
SoundBytes contacted Joseph and he kindly consented to giving us the interview which follows.
SoundBytes: In a just a few words, can you tell us who Joseph Hollo is?
Joseph Hollo: I am happy to be two people in one: an enthusiastic amateur and a cool-headed pro. So, I can have my own battle between the two sides and, luckily, most of the time I can arrive at an acceptable cease fire and get to the final deal.
SB: So please tell us how you first became involved in music. Did you have formal training?
JH: At age eight I got an acoustic guitar from my parents – I had been begging for since my brother’s friend was in our home with his shiny stringed guitar. I was desperately in search of a teacher, since unfortunately nobody could show me even a single chord. So I was picking only melodies for a while.
At age ten my parents decided I should go to a music school, so we went there and I became a clarinet player for the next eight years because the first man we met in the hall of the music school was the clarinet teacher. They said I was too old to begin with piano lessons.
I wasn’t too happy with playing clarinet, but I was keep at it in order to learn music, so that I could eventually get to the conservatory.
In the meantime I always had an amateur rock band with my guitar, finding friends who could play some chords, and playing Rising Sun form the Animals and such.
Then when I was sixteen or seventeen I encountered the organ – the classical one. I was fascinated by the magnificent instrument. It was usually dark and only the keyboard and pedal lamps were on. I felt my whole body was shaking when pressing the bass pedals.
I started the whole thing over, letting the clarinet go and practicing the organ like crazy to get to the conservatory again for organ and composing classes.
Interestingly it went smoothly and was easy compared to the obligatory piano lessons, which were a pain for me (I didn’t like to play scales and technical stuff on the piano, but Bach had written some lovely, easy pieces for beginners so you could enjoy real music while learning the technique). I even quit playing bands for two or three years for the sake of learning the organ.
SB: So when and how did synthesizers enter the picture?
JH: Inevitably, the bands came back to me. Ha ha … I was playing on a gig Saturday night, I played the organ in the church as a cantor Sunday morning, and went back to the road on the afternoon with the band – who needs sleep at age 20?
Synths came along about this time. I had the cheapest little four octave Vermona organ and my guitarist friend, who was engineer as well, built a little one-oscillator Moog Satellite inside my organ.
That was fun, but it was unstable. It needed to warm up for two hours before getting into relatively good tune, but it did have some really thick saw waves for leads.
In fact this synth was my main instrument when our group got to the “pro level” and we made our first LP which became a huge success in Hungary. We sold more than one-and-a-half million copies of that record. The name of the group was R-GO.
[Editor’s note: to see a 90 minute video of R-Go in their heyday and to experience a concert of infectious music that should almost certainly put a smile on your face, there’s a delightful YouTube offering available. In particular, pay attention starting around the 15 minute mark for a song written by Joseph and highlighting his performance. The image to the right is a frame from that concert, showing Joseph in is R-GO “uniform”. Find it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?t=3006&v=wNJuMT6PnBE ]
I had this synth as well as a little Crumar Compact Piano when touring with the group in 1983. Ha ha – all the technicians knew they had to plug it in first to warm up the synth before they started to build the stage.
So I know the feeling of not having a proper instrument – it was simply out of reach. To get a Prophet 5 it was out of question.
About a year later we was playing gigs in Berlin when I wanted to buy a Prophet 600 in the store, so we went there and I tried to like the synth, listening on some quiet headphones. But it was impossible because on the big PA was a shiny new DX7, and those Tubular Bells, Marimbas and E-Pianos just blew my head off. It was expensive and I could not afford to get both, so instead I got the DX and a much cheaper little Korg Poly800 to have some analog pad function.
Our next LP was inevitably full of factory DX presets.
I was lucky to be doing what I liked to do: it was time in the studio, making songs, making records, practicing and going out on the road playing concert tours … and repeating the circle.
I was there with only a sixteen track tape recorder and a mixer, playing all the tracks in real time, mixing the vocals to a stereo master tape, cutting the tape with sax (editing) and re-recording to the multitrack tape to tape, starting manually – hit and miss. I learned the Commodore 64/C-Lab (now is Logic) MIDI Sequencer, Sync track, Atari with Cubase, E-Mu e6400 sampler and so on.
What we have now in PC/DAW plug-ins is a miracle – the only limit is our imagination. All is possible and affordable.
What I learned via classical training is that I can use it to make a nice sequence of chords, but beside that I am totally self-taught with respect to all the pop/rock/dance stuff and all the technical knowledge for arranging, mixing, tweaking instruments too. This why I said I earlier that I am an amateur.
These days if someone is interested in learning something, they can just browse YouTube and find invaluable courses, information about anything.
This is absolutely a great time. And we are blessed these days with all these wonderful, truly great synths like Zebra, Diva, Omnisphere, Spire, Spectral, and Serum. I feel these are really close to the hardware sound and have even much more possibilities.
SB: How did your direction evolve so that you became an accomplished synth sound designer?
JH: After more than twenty gold, platinum and even diamond plates with R-Go, plus many of the famous Hungarian lead singers and other pop groups for whom I was writing, my lust for making songs or records was a bit dampened (in Hungary that time 100,000 sales was gold, 250,000 platinum and 1,000,000 was the diamond. Only two groups got diamond – we were one of them).
I was not satisfied with most of the software synths that time, (around 2000) thin, plastic sounds, poor filters, it was frustrating to get useful sounds out of them.
It was a dream studio in front of me, – what I always wanted – in a simple PC: countless audio and MIDI tracks, mixpult, effects, instruments, samplers with tons of libraries. But there wasn’t any sign of today’s great synths.
I remember browsing tons of presets to find some inspiration ended up in an almost depressed mood.
Also endless possibilities sometimes kill the creativity. I had a period with low interest in studio gear and plugins. Also the whole record business was going down to nonsense.
And then one day I made a wish …
Maybe this is the most important thing I could say to you. When I was teen my biggest dream was: if only I could make a living just by playing music. Strangely, my dream came true in a very short time. And when I had this low mood period, I was also asking myself: what do you really want? So I found my next wish: I set my mind to have some great new, nice and interesting toys to play with – ones that would give me back my lost interest, joy and inspiration.
Very soon I found Zebra (it had been available for a long time, but I didn’t know anything about it – I guess because of the Zebra name I didn’t think it was a serious synth before).
What moved me in Zebra while demoing, was the hardware-like meaty sound. Hey what? Is it real? It’s responding to velocity or Modwheel like a real instrument. I never had any software synth like this before. I felt the aliveness of the synth, but didn’t find presets that perfectly matched my taste. I was sure I could make sounds out of this that I had been missing my whole life: the big Oberheim, Prophet, Fairlight, PPG sounds – the unreachable superstar category. My joy and enthusiasm was already coming back.
So I begin to make presets for myself for a future unspecified project with all the best sounds I could imagine. I was very slow, was also learning the synth on the way, but the sounds were coming one by one. Suddenly I realized that if I make a few more, I would have a nice full-blown 128 preset sound set. So I made it, and that became Padsheaven.
I’ve such an overwhelming warm welcome at the u-he forum on KVR that I realized I had found a new job: I am now a sound designer too.
[Editor’s note: the thread just mentioned can be found at http://www.kvraudio.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=356672&hilit=Padsheaven. Joseph was not exaggerating when he said “warm welcome”]
Now I know I have had my wish come true: I am surrounded by nice, great, shiny and fun tools, full with joy and inspiration. After Padsheaven the Spire was arriving, so I made some factory presets and a sound set also, then Spectral – only factory presets at that time.
Last year Serum was hitting me like a storm. It was too tempting not to make a sound set for it. There was so much talk of it being cold and sterile, so I tried to show it for everyone it can be warm and alive, so it became “Warmed”.
All of these are incredible great synths, and all of them bring some kind of revolution to the scene.
SB: You got started in synths with an FM instrument. Have you had any compulsion to do FM sound design?
JH: No, apart the must-have editing tweaks when we used it in the band. You know: faster or slower attack, release, velocity settings. It was too difficult for a simple musician mind to change the colors or brightness. It didn’t have a filter that you can open or dampen. You had to move output levels and envelopes, and the changes were usually too drastic.
But if your question is regarding the present, then, yes, I am delighted if I can remake some of those iconic FM sounds from the 80s. It’s like a little victory when I get close to the original sound and keyboard response. The Dx7 envelopes were incredible powerful. They were not the usual four-stage ADSR but had 8 stages and key mapping to all 6 operators! So, even with today’s great synths, it is quite a challenge to emulate those sounds – sometimes simply impossible. I guess I have in all my sound sets some of those legendary FM sounds.
SB: So it was Zebra that was the main inspiration for you to create the Padsheaven soundset and to start to work as a sound designer. Is Padsheaven complete, or will we have more to look forward to?
JH: Yes, without Zebra I wouldn’t have started at all to make my own presets. All I was missing I found in Zebra.
I guess Padsheaven is nice as a trilogy, but I am not sure when a new inspiration will strike me again to make new Zebra sounds. I think a single lifetime is too short to explore all what Zebra is capable of. It’s always joyful to come back to it. However, I am waiting more and more impatiently for Zebra 3.
SB: Speaking of Zebra, what kind of relationship do you have with Urs, the man behind u-he? Have you offered suggestions for Zebra3? Have you seen any Zebra3 prototypes or alpha versions?
JH: Urs is really my hero. I feel deep gratitude for creating Zebra for us. I am also very thankful for the u-he forum. It’s an invaluable place to get advices and tips. I was learning almost everything there and by following Howard’s [Howard Scarr, u-he sound designer wizard] tips and insights.
Yes, I am actively taking part of the Zebra 3 discussions. I don’t have any alpha version yet, but Urs was asking me if I would be interested to participate in Zebra 3 factory patches and I quickly said “Yes!”.
SB: What’s on the horizon? Are there other synths you’ve got your eye on?
JH: I am sure I will make a sound set for the new u-he synth, Hive, it’s surprisingly capable of a lot more than what I initially imagined, and the sound is also great. Omnisphere 2 is on the horizon as a big project.
SB: Finally, we would like to ask about your process – how you go about designing a sound. Is there usually a result in mind, or is it a process of serendipity?
JH: I’ve tried both ways. Like everything in life, if I have a clear picture in my head about what I want, it will manifest almost effortlessly, like magic. Without an idea, I can sit there for long time tweaking around, trying this and that, thinking I am working now, thinking I am having fun. Or I just get tired, get a pain in the back and finally deciding the best choice is pushing the delete button.
SB: Any advice to pass on to bidding sound designers who would like to follow in your footsteps?
JH: You must have a strong and clear inner vision about what you want or what you want to become. If you decide where you are going to go, things will come your way to help you. Then take some steps/actions to start and have a great deal of dedication to follow through on things.
I am a total amateur, I didn’t want to be a sound designer, but I had a very strong desire to make these sounds. I am not even all that aware of the techniques/tricks of how a pro designs sounds. But I am willing to tear apart hundreds of presets to learn something new, something of what is needed for my next imagined sound. So I am struggling with techniques but using my ears extensively.
I always like to imagine a keyboard player loading preset of mine and thinking “Wow! This is really what I need to put in my next music or arrangement”. I want all of the sounds alive, with little (or even big) movements, so if a player just holds a chord on the keyboard, it will grow, increase, and unfold into the next step of the music. When still, fully-relaxed sounds are needed, I still am putting in some very slow subtle movements. I really try to avoid stagnant, stationary, boring, dead sounds.
I am also making the presets like standalone instruments by applying supplemental variations via the controllers. So it’s good to learn how to play with them, like a real instrument that you have to practice to play well.
Listen to music where you’ll find the ideas you like best and repeat until you can understand what’s going on. You’ll need this to build up your own preferences, your own taste. In the 70s I listened to Deep Purple and Queen all the time. In the 80s I was crazy about Toto, Foreigner, Saga – mostly rock with strong keyboard emphasis. Conversely, I love Vangelis and Jean M. Jarre. If I had to say just one name, I would say David Foster (songwriter, keyboardist, producer for Earth Wind and Fire, Chicago, Celine Dion and countless singers).
But the most important thing is: I love doing this very much and enjoy all the minutes I can spend on it.
SB: Joseph, we want to thank you for taking the time to talk with us. We wish you much luck in the future and look forward to your upcoming creations.
JH: I want to thank you David, for thinking of me as your subject for an interview and for the chance you gave me to put my thoughts together! Much luck to you too, that’s all we need. 🙂
Is this a tool just for media producers or it could serve as an ultra up-to-date library for modern Chill – Trop House production? A gift from the past for all our future needs?
by A. Arsov May 2015
What has Tropical House got to do with ERA II?
This is a sample library containing sampled medieval instruments aimed mainly at media composers. But as many of you are not media producers, we will try and find out how ERA II could also be useful for producers of pop, dance EDM and rock, seeing as all cinema, advertising, game and other media producers will probably buy this library anyway. The reason is pretty simple: in the world of sample libraries Eduardo Tarilonte has a reputation. He’s the one who killed the spirit of sample pack competitions. In the sound library field, Eduardo is something of a legend, like Tomba was for ski sports, or Schumacher was for Formula 1… Why bother competing when you know who will win? While all other competitors put goggles on at the start of a race, he never takes them off. He wears the goggles all the time – obviously he is some sort of natural born winner.
OK, jokes aside, as soon as I had heard some demo clips of this library I knew this could be a real gem for my new Tropical House songs. Everybody talks about this upcoming genre and most producers jumping on this wagon use a standard set of sounds compiled from the few packs out there for this relatively new scene. But as far as I know, it still counts if your music sounds unique, no matter which genre you are in. This library could be your ticket to originality. A wild bunch of exotic flutes, one of the best atmospheric voices that can be found in the virtual world, and a huge number of bowed and plucked stringed instruments. At first glance it really looks like the perfect tool for all sorts of media compositions – after all, this is the main purpose of this library. But doesn’t all this ring a bell? Flutes, voices, eternal strings? It is somehow destined to be used in Chill-Trop House, other indie pop genres, and especially ballads.
What do we need?
First of all, money. Limited Edition will cost you €399 EUR and regular ERA II €259 EUR. Compared to other libraries, both versions are more than reasonably priced. The other thing you will need is around 23 GB of free space on your hard disk for Limited Edition and 3 GB less for regular ERA II, and at least 4, 6 or even 8 GB of RAM. Engine 2, the host for this library, is bundled in a pack with the sounds.
Limited Edition brings some additional soundscapes along with two additional solo voices (every voice brings a similar quantity and quality of content to some of Eduardo’s previous vocal libraries, like Shevannai and Altus, both in the €159 EUR price range. So for the price of one additional vocal library you get two). Of course, these two libraries are just one side of a coin. The second one is a “hardware” – Limited Edition comes in a special collector’s pack. It is absolutely one of the most impressive packages I’ve ever seen. My whole family went “Wow, wow, wow!” as I pulled things out of the pack like a magician. A big beautiful poster, a USB stick in the shape of a Chess figure, lying inside a small leather purse, and a signed certificate from Eduardo himself with your unique Limited Edition number.
What else do we get?
Lots of versatile groups of instruments. The first that caught my attention were the various wind instruments – very pleasant with unique character. Every wind instrument contains several variations ranked through key-switch notes on the lower part of a keyboard, and bringing blowing mouth sounds along with the basic tone, adding a special, pristine character. For that reason most of the presets sound surprisingly authentic during the fast passages, especially if you try to play trills or those fast, arpeggio-like notes at the start of a phrase that are so significant for wind passages. It is generally known that wind instruments are not so hard to emulate with a sampler, but Eduardo went a step further, adding those small details that really bring these instruments to life. Actually, within every group of instruments in this library there is also a large number of rare instruments, and some of them sound quite different to the modern ones, giving a special color to the whole collection. So, we get a nice colorful versatility – and great playability too, thanks to Eduardo’s programming skills.
The second instrument group that impressed me is the one containing plucked strings. Being a guitar player I was a bit skeptical about any kind of sampled acoustic guitars, as such an instrument can only sound good as long as you’re playing arpeggiated chords, and as soon as you start playing melodies or strummed chords it sounds somehow… wrong. Active played notes in a guitar phrase don’t have the same attack as the singular plucked notes often used in sample libraries, no matter how many layers for one note you sample. Not that Eduardo has invented perpetual motion, but his Baroque guitar and Bass Citole (two of the most appealing presented in this library) sounds so gentle and sweet that they render this attack issue almost insignificant. Playing any of the plucked strings from this library I enjoyed the overall tone without constantly wondering whether it sounded 100% real or not. All in all very useful, and I will definitely use them in my songs as they sound very different from my existing arsenal of guitars. Actually, during the test period alone I had already made two backgrounds for my Trop House songs.
Along with plucked strings we also get a cool collection of bowed strings. I especially like two violas, where one of them offers a very playable articulation with a touching vibrato and unique sounding bow hit at the beginning of the lower notes, making it sound as if it’s being played by a gipsy player, where feeling is much more important than technique. Actually almost all instruments in this library have a special character, distinguishing it from others that offer a similar collection of instruments.
ERA II also brings three brass instruments which are also very playable and could easily be used to make realistic brass lines (if that were the case with most brass libraries then we’d never bother ourselves with brass loops and prerecorded phrases). Brass instruments are usually only playable (meaning that you can play the line in real time without then spending ages programming it) in bigger, specialized brass libraries. As with all other instruments in this library, the brass ones are enhanced with an appropriately implemented reverb, but which could easily be tamed in the Quick Edit window of Engine 2. On the lower part of a keyboard you will find a standard set of articulations accessible through key-switches – staccato, swells and similar articulations that are not so common in these kinds of libraries.
There is also a percussion section covering various medieval percussive instruments and bells, and the Key section, covering three interesting key instruments – Spinet, Organetto and Virginal, the latter being some sort of a Cembalo, sounding very Rock-ish. You can easily imagine it in a modern indie rock song.
Voices of Limited Edition
The next important part of this library are the vocals. There are two voices that only come with the Limited Edition pack, and they are of a quality we’ve come to expect from Eduardo – he has really mastered the art of vocal sampling in the last two years and already made a bunch of vocal libraries. Heroica contains female vocals which come with some highly unique variations, like a trill that triggers automatically on normal notes if played legato. We also get a preset with vocal phrases ranked along the keyboard, which proves very useful as some phrases with fast intro notes could be retriggered for some more EDM Dance effects. Heroica is also a very playable library, sounding natural at fast or slow tempo. The second library is a male one, with the name Bard. It brings a very interesting vocal color, which I found a bit tricky if you try to play fast lines, it somehow not being able to make the transitions from note to note as naturally as with Heroica, but I did find that the transition works very well when using slower, longer notes. Also the phrases are nice, as with Heroica, and are in Spanish (at least I presume they are – there’s no information about that, not even in the very detailed manuals where you can find out anything you want to do with key-switches, articulations and vowels.)
The third voice, part of the regular edition of ERA II, is a Tavern choir – basically a bunch of guys yelling! Well, maybe we should call it “singing” – “hoom” sounds and similar noises and phrases. Actually a very handy way to tame choruses, adding in those pub members as a weird background to the main vocal . Odd but very likeable.
As we mentioned, Limited Edition also brings some extra soundscapes. There are some very atmospheric and unique sounding drones and pads which are a very cool addition – I like them all. But truth be told, we get more than enough of these even with the regular version of ERA II. Actually, under the Sound Design directory in regular ERA II we find three subdirectories: Soundscapes, Whooshes and Mysterious Atmospheres, the latter containing some nice exotic and scary sounding bell drones, while Soundscapes contains more voice/instrument-related drones and pads. I’ve heard a lot of similar stuff from other Eduardo libraries, but have to admit that he gets better and better from library to library and those creepy sounds could really come handy for drops, middle eights or any kind of “in between” moment in all sorts of genres.
What it’s all about
Let’s face it. It is 2015, and every library coming from any of the well known companies or developers costing more than $200 USD should be top notch recorded and offer full, organic and authentic sound. So you could say this is a standard, more or less, proving that this could not be the main reason Eduardo wins all the rewards. Actually, what makes this library so special is very clever programming – the way articulations automatically change according how you play the phrase. OK, it’s an old trick, changing the articulation when notes are played legato, but Eduardo has made this work a bit better than other sample library developers. The quality of this library is not simply in the selection of instruments, but mainly in the special character that all those Medieval instruments have. And this character is not only captured within the instruments’ primary sound, but also the way they’ve been recorded, with all those human artefacts – additional noises that every player makes while playing – and finally some clever programming to make these samples playable. It’s not easy to put all those quirks in the right order to preserve authenticity without loosing playability on a keyboard. It is an old paradox: the cleaner, simpler and more equal the sound, the easier it is to achieve a fluid, almost natural feel while playing; but at the same time it can somehow start to sound less and less natural, and end up becoming somewhat robotic – there is no real life musician that plays like that. Only very skilled sample developers could break this Gordian knot – and that’s where Eduardo shines.
Yes, there is one, but it is not on the Bestservice side, it is a problem with Engine 2, the host made by Yellow Tools and bought by Magix. Loading such big files, as they are in this library, is a bit of a tricky task. Engine 2 shows the main preset window even before finishing loading all the files associated with the preset without letting us know the files have not yet been loaded. So, if it happens that you press a note as soon you see the preset window, thinking that all sounds are already loaded, it can crash Windows.
I have quad-core system with 6 GB of RAM, but it still managed to crash my computer so badly that I spent the next two hours trying to get it back to normal. So, a small window with the message “Dear Mr. Arsov, please don’t touch the keyboard as Engine files are still loading” would have been nice.
Limited or normal?
ERA II Limited Edition gives you additional voices, soundscapes and load of collector’s material. If you can afford it go for it – you won’t regret it. On the other hand, ERA II (normal edition 😉 ) gives you enough quality material that, even if you miss out on the Limited Edition, it still offers excellent value. The versatility, quality and most of all the pristine nature of the sound, mimicking the feel of a real ethno musician, adds such a special character to all of the instruments, giving them something that cannot be found in other libraries containing similar sets of instruments. “Medieval” is just a name, this library is far more than that. It is about bringing “unperfection” to your perfectly arranged material. Unperfection with all the dirt and dust of a real performance that you hear from real players on stage during a performance.
Soundbytes ERA II Limited Edition
We’ve got a special gift for our readers. A MIDI file along with an Engine 2 project containing all necessary presets and an MP3 of a finished song. All three files are originally from Eduardo, so you can learn how to use some of his instruments and voices in this library directly from the maestro himself.
The voice used in this demo is from Limited Edition, so if you only have the regular version of ERA II, then you will only get a guitar part to use in your DAW of choice. (We also added an original Cubase project from Eduardo, so if you have this DAW you can simply load this project instead of importing the MIDI clips and Engine 2 project separately.)
Details and additional info:
ERA II Medieval Legends – Limited Edition € 399 EUR
ERA II Medieval Legends € 259 EUR
And my ERA II demo (wih Requiem choir and percussions from Albion )
Renaxxance is a low-cost, easy-to-use nylon-string guitar (and more) library for Kontakt 4+ that is instant gratification in a box.
by Dave Townsend, May 2015
Renaxxance is a classical nylon-string guitar sample library for Kontakt (full product only, version 4 and above), the latest product offering from Indiginus. Bottom line for the impatient reader: it’s a must-have for the faux-guitarist who doesn’t already have a top-tier nylon-string library.
I dislike the term “no-brainer”, as I personally feel that one’s brain should be engaged at all times. However, at a mere $45 let’s just say this one’s not a particularly tough decision.
Who is Indiginus? It’s the Florida-based enterprise of Tracy and Brenda Collins, an actual for-real mom ‘n pop operation. In case you missed the previous SoundBytes coverage of Indiginus products, here are some links you might want to check out for background:
Solid State Symphony:
Three Great (and Cheap) Kontakt Libraries:
Sample Library Technology with Tracy Collins:
After reading those articles, you will probably come away thinking that we here at SoundBytes are unapologetic Indiginus fans, and you’d be right. We love these libraries because they’re high-quality, useful, and best of all, affordable.
They also stand out in another special way: they invite playing in real time.
Playing in Real Time
I have deeper and more sophisticated sample libraries in my collection. But as much as I like, say, Kirk Hunter Concert Strings, I can’t imagine sitting down at a keyboard and composing with it. Such instruments are versatile and complex building-blocks to be painstakingly engineered into a composition. Indiginus’ Solid State Symphony, on the other hand, makes me want to sit down at the keyboard and jam. In fact, more than once have I used SSS to compose a piece that was later realized with Concert Strings and other industrial-strength orchestral libraries.
Now, Mr. Collins has given us yet another instantly-playable instrument; this time it’s a nylon-string guitar.
The full product name was originally “Renaxxance Epic Nylon-String Guitar”, but that was more Tracy’s wry sense of humor than a desire to further abuse the over-used adjective “Epic”. “Renaxxance Really Cool and Fun to Play Nylon String Guitar” would have been a mouthful, so now it’s called “Renaxxance Exprexxive (sic) Nylon String Guitar”. (At least he didn’t call it “cinematic”, although there are obvious cinematic applications for it).
Epic or not, it’s a real joy to play, right out of the box. When I first got my hands on it, I set my ASIO driver for low-latency real-time playing, started up standalone Kontakt, loaded Renaxxance and hit a chord on my keyboard. I was immediately sucked in and before I knew it an hour had passed while I happily jammed away, completely forgetting that I was supposed to be reviewing the product.
What makes Renaxxance so instantly accessible is the same simple trick used with Solid State Symphony and Delta Blues: velocity-based sampled articulations. Hit a key hard, and you get a natural-sounding slide. Hit it softly and you get a mute. Enable auto-vibrato and with very little effort you’re getting a natural-sounding, believable finger-picked guitar sound with just enough finger noise and release sounds to add authenticity. It’s almost too easy.
Watch Tracy playing Renaxxance live here:
Slides are the Key
Believable slides are essential to making a nylon-string track that’s convincing enough that a listener might not immediately guess it was sampled. Tracy pulls this off in Renaxxance the same way he did in his equally-playable Delta Blues Slide Guitar, by actually sampling each slide separately rather than faking them algorithmically. They sound realistic because they are real recordings of a real human (Mr. Collins) actually playing those slides.
As with Delta Blues, there is also an inherent compromise in sampled articulations, which is that you are restricted to the slides that were sampled. You cannot, for example, specify a long slide over an arbitrary interval. For those you’ll need to be adept with the scroll wheel and PRV editing, just as you would with most guitar libraries.
Renaxxance gives you three types of slides: up-fast, up-slow and down-slow, each of which may be triggered by either velocity or by key-switches. More on slides later.
As much fun as it is to play in real time, the real power of this instrument is revealed after you’ve laid down a MIDI track and start tweaking articulations such as hammer-ons, pull-offs and the judicious application of slides.
Renaxxance’s articulations are called “ornaments”, which Tracy says is in deference to classical guitar terminology. (What’s the difference? Technically, an articulation describes the manner in which notes are created or transitioned, while an ornament is a non-essential flourish to make a melody more interesting. Tracy combines both under one heading and calls them ornaments. It’s no more inaccurate than all the other sample libraries that similarly lump them together and call then “articulations”.)
An example of an ornament (which is really an articulation) is the hammer-on. For those non-guitarists who might not know, a “hammer-on” is an articulation in which a note is initiated entirely by the left hand rather than being plucked with the right hand in the usual manner. In other words, you make a sound by pressing down rapidly and firmly on a fret position. Guitarists use the hammer-on technique because it allows them to play very fast. Of course, “fast” isn’t an issue with keyboardists, who can easily play faster than most guitarists. However, even a keyboard player will still want to use hammer-ons in pursuit of an authentic-sounding performance.
A “pull-off” is similar to a hammer-on in that it’s a left-hand manipulation, but instead of striking the string you pluck the string with your left hand. Like hammer-ons, pull-offs are implemented in Renaxxance as separate samples for a natural-sounding effect.
Most ornaments can be triggered by velocity or by key-switches. For live playing, velocity probably makes the most sense, but for a recorded or programmed MIDI track, you may find that key-switches give you the greatest flexibility and precision with minimal fuss. All velocity and key-switch values are user-definable. Each ornament’s volume is separately adjustable, so they can range from subtle to in your face.
Most of the other ornaments are obvious, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I had to look up “Mordent”. Turns out, it’s what I would have called a trill, although I’m sure a music major would set me straight on the difference. It just means rapidly alternating between a note and an adjacent note. It’s the kind of thing that’s often difficult to pull off authentically with sampled instruments, but in Renaxxance it sounds quite natural. Renaxxance lets you adjust the speed, direction and interval of the mordent.
Here’s a nice walkthrough video showing how to configure key-switch and velocity range assignments, and demonstrates each ornament:
The complete list of ornaments:
- slide up
- slide down
Legato is a monophonic effect, wherein each note transitions smoothly into the next and maintains monophony even when successive notes overlap. Normally used for playing melodies rather than chords, legato mode differs from other ornaments in that it may only be switched on and off by a key-switch.
Legato is always toggled via a key-switch for two reasons. First, velocity-switched legato just makes no sense most of the time. Second, in legato mode mutes, hammer-ons and pull-offs automatically become velocity-triggered: low velocities trigger slides, high velocities trigger hammer-ons or pull-offs.
Rather than having separate on- and off-switches, legato remains in effect for as long as the key-switch is held down. To encompass a phrase for legato, simply insert a note (F#0 by default) slightly ahead of the first note in the phrase, and then stretch the key-switch’s duration out to just past the start of the last note in the phrase.
In the graphic to the right, the first and last notes of the sequence have been excluded from the legato region. Note that the notes in the run are intentionally overlapped. Legato only has meaning when notes overlap.
Auto-Harmony and Chords
Auto-harmony will automatically activate a second note of any interval you like. When I first saw this feature, my initial reaction was…why? I can play two notes at a time all by myself, thanks. But then I watched Tracy demonstrating it, and thought it sounded pretty good, so I gave it a go. All I can say is: try it live; it’s fun.
In addition to the harmony feature, there is also a Chords mode in which a lower octave on the keyboard is dedicated to chords, wherein each note struck plays a full chord. You can define the chords any way you like, including which strings and fret positions to use. For example, you can substitute a default major or minor chord key to play a seventh or ninth chord instead. You can also save and load chord definition sets.
Click the “Chords” button to enable this mode. With Chords mode going, you can essentially play two guitars at once: chords with the left hand and a melody with the right. Then turn on auto-harmony and you’ve got a guitar trio!
Dynamic String Count
There are two buttons, labeled “Dyn Str 1” and “Dyn Str 2”, that turn the dynamic string count option on. What this does is change the number of strings used to play a chord based on velocity. Mode 1 adds more strings the harder you play. Mode 2 does the same thing, except that the strum direction is also reversed for up-strokes at lower velocity levels. This feature enhances the dynamics for parts that have delicate soft chords interspersed with big high-velocity chords.
Note that dynamic string count respects custom-defined partial chords that don’t use all six strings, and will not add strings that you haven’t included in your custom chord definitions.
Slides are paradoxically both Renaxxance’s greatest strength and its most severe limitation. On the one hand they are easy to use and believable, but at the same time they’re fairly inflexible.
Both slide-up and slide-down ornaments are implemented as separate samples. That’s why they sound so good. It also means you can slide full and partial chords, not just single notes. This is something that often doesn’t work well when you’re faking a slide with the pitch wheel, because slide intervals are different for each note in a chord.
For example, here’s an example of something that’s normally impossible with most sampled guitars but that Renaxxance does very nicely: sliding down from a partial D-minor chord to a C-major chord (note the key-switch at the bottom that triggers the slide samples).
Unfortunately, because the slides are sampled this means that they have fixed intervals and speeds. The above example worked for me because the tempo and note duration just happened to work out. If I’d wanted the D-minor chord to start earlier, there’d have been a gap between the end of the down-slide and the next note.
Slides are also asymmetrical: the slide-up is two semitones and ends on a sustained note, while slide-downs’ interval is a fifth and ends abruptly. I found slide-ups very easy to work into a sequence, while slide-downs required more care and sometimes didn’t work at all. Fortunately, it’s the more natural-sounding up-slides that are more important to a nylon-string guitar.
Want a quick ‘n dirty track with slides? Just record a finger-picked MIDI track, then go into your DAW’s PRV and make sure no velocities exceed 89 (the default velocity switch for up-slides is 90). Start experimenting with raising the velocities of individual notes. The ones that work best are usually at points where the melody is ascending. The performance will instantly come alive, even if you only throw slides in for a handful of notes.
Here’s an audio clip where I’ve done just that. The first is the part as recorded live, with all velocities below 90. In the second clip, I’ve increased the velocities of just four notes to above 90. Note that one of the slide-ups is a partial minor chord, something that many sampled guitars can’t manage.
Other Effects and Tweaks
In addition to the ten ornaments listed above, other optional effects and controls include:
- Body resonance
- Release and finger noise volumes
- Round-robin reset time (see below for explanation)
- And one rather unexpected effect: “12STR”
The “12STR” effect approximates a 12-string guitar by adding notes an octave higher to the low strings (up to G2) and unison notes to the high strings. To the best of my knowledge, in the real world there is no such thing as a classical nylon 12-string guitar. But this is the digital age, so why not?
The 12-string effect sounds best with chords and fast-picked melodies. Tracy has panned the top strings apart, which gives a very pleasant spread-out sound for chords and fast melodies, but can result in slow single-note sequences jumping around strangely in the panorama. If this effect is too much for you, I suggest pulling the panning in using an external plugin such as the free Flux:: Stereo Tool [LINK: http://www.fluxhome.com/products/freewares/stereotool-v3].
RR Alt Time
Another unusual control whose purpose is not immediately obvious is a slider labeled “RR Alt time”. Here’s what that’s about.
The instrument automatically alternates between up- and down-strokes as you’d expect for a sampled guitar. However, you also expect that the beginning of each phrase begins with a down-stroke. The “RR Alt time” slider sets the time interval that delineates separate phrases. Slide it all the way to the left and you get all down-strokes all the time; push it all the way to the right and the alternating up and down pattern is enforced until there’s a 3-second gap.
The default position resets the up/down pattern after about a one-second pause, and that works fine most of the time.
Vibrato is also essential to authentic-sounding stringed instruments. Renaxxance features an automatic vibrato that requires zero effort for live playing, with the amount set by the mod wheel.
There is a control to set vibrato depth, but not for other parameters such as speed. However, because this feature is implemented using Kontakt’s built-in modulation features, it can be tweaked if you’re comfortable messing with Kontakt’s innards. Like all of Tracy’s instruments, the internal Kontakt controls and scripting are not hidden as they are for many commercial instruments with custom UIs. Even if you’re a Kontakt novice, it’s quite educational to peek behind the curtain and see how an expert does this stuff.
Renaxxance uses Kontakt’s built-in compressor, but Tracy has applied some clever scripting to turn it into an ultra-simple one-knob effect. The single knob’s values range from “none” to “too much”. I found the default setting just about right for most things, and the “too much” extreme setting significantly raised the noise floor. For delicate solo guitar parts, I prefer to turn the compressor completely off.
The “BODY RES” control brings in Kontakt’s convolution processor and a body-resonance impulse response file made from the very guitar that Tracy sampled. This turns the instrument from a generic nylon-string into a specific nylon-string guitar with a distinct personality.
In practice, the effect is subtle and can be disabled to save CPU cycles if the instrument isn’t featured nor heard in solo. But for solo parts, it does add a bit of realism.
Other Instruments: Harmonic Dance / da Vinci PPM, RenaChords and RenaDrum
Harmonic Dance is a clever instrument that looks like an arpeggiator/sequencer, but it’s actually a pair of echo generators with harmonics samples as the sound source. It can sound a bit like a hammered dulcimer, or you can play low notes for rhythmic beds. You can hear this instrument in the opening for the Renaxxance demo (the first YouTube video seen earlier).
In version 1.2, an enhanced version of Harmonic Dance was added, called da Vinci PPM. This version adds the ability to loop sequences, as well as filter, drive and phaser effects that can radically alter the sound of the instrument.
RenaChords.nki is a chords-only instrument, with separate octaves for up- and down-strokes (left octave is up, right octave is down). It takes a little practice to get the hang of alternating two fingers to emulate alternating strum directions, a skill I haven’t quite mastered, but it’s no problem programming them via the PRV.
Because these chords are created by triggering sequential notes (rather than sampling full chords), strum speed can be adjusted. There is also an optional relationship between velocity and strum speed (which is adjustable as well) so that higher velocities cause faster strums.
Just as the deadline was approaching to wrap up this article, Tracy sent me an email saying “wait! I’ve added two more instruments”. Yikes, it’s hard to keep up with this guy! What he’s done is add two new instruments to the Extra Instruments collection: Ukemandolele.nki and Unkemandolele Chords.nki.
These turn Renaxxance into a kind of hybrid ukulele / mandolin thing, by doing essentially what guitarists do when they want to fake a small instrument: use a capo. These add a virtual capo, along with a body resonance IR from a mandolin, to produce a ukulele-type tone. Everything else works the same as the main instrument, including the “12STR” option. Yes, a twelve-string ukulele. Don’t you just love making music in the digital age?
Lastly, there is one other extra instrument included called RenaDrum. It’s a collection of chromatically-tuned percussive one-shots made by slapping the body of the guitar.
And that’s about it. It’s not a terribly complicated instrument, and that’s a big part of the attraction. It’s instant gratification, a great-sounding instrument right out of the box with minimal effort.
What you’ll need: the full version of Kontakt 4 or 5 and 45 bucks (~42 EUR). Get it here:
Yes, here is yet another piano library. And yes, we can hear you yawning already. But hang on …
by Dave Townsend, May 2015
Are you a collector of piano libraries? Think you’ve got enough of them already? Well, you probably don’t have one quite like this one from Strezov Sampling. We also take a look at an inexpensive offering from Strezov that evokes the tone of your grandmother’s parlor piano.
The Lipp Piano from Strezov Sampling is a $90.00 piano instrument for Kontakt version 4 or 5 (full product only, not compatible with the free player).
Yes, yet another piano library. And yes, I can hear you yawning already. But hang on…
If you’re like me and many other piano players, you’ve already got an armload of piano libraries on your disk drive. But even if you already have a sizeable piano collection, you’ll still want to give this one a listen because chances are you don’t have one quite like the Lipp.
The piano sampled for this library is a concert grand manufactured by Richard Lipp & Sohn. Although not well-known in North America, the name has been around a very long time, since 1831. The company was originally based in Stuttgart, Germany, and prior to 1985 the Lipp pianos were German-made and highly regarded.
Unfortunately, nowadays they’re manufactured in China by Hyundai under a license by an Australian company. These modern instruments have little in common with the old Lipp & Sohn products other than the rented name.
But George Strezov knows his pianos, and he would never waste his time sampling a piano manufactured by a company that also makes excavators and container ships. No, this is one of the good ones, the old ones. Really old – over 100 years. A century of aging does things to a well-made piano that you can’t design in, mostly resulting in a smooth, mellow tone.
If I had to describe the Lipp’s tone in one word, it would be “delicate”. It may not have the deep power of a Steinway or the cut-through-anything brilliance of a Yamaha, but it’s got its own unique, mellow sound that’s quite pleasant. Not for hammering out Jerry Lee Lewis covers, but great for gentle ambiances, ballads and solo piano pieces.
Of course, as you’d expect from a company famous for top-tier orchestral instruments, the samples themselves are flawless: clean, consistent, completely unprocessed and natural-sounding. 16 gigabytes’ worth of ‘em. All recorded with high-end microphones on a sound stage normally used for film, TV and video game scores, as well as Strezov’s famous Storm Choir, Thunder percussion series and orchestral brass libraries.
As you’d expect from such a space, the room ambience sounds great – but it’s only there if you want to hear the room. If you need a dry, up-close and personal sound, you can have that, too.
There are three microphone positions (close, stage and hall) that may be mixed to your liking. The hall mike is highly reverberant while the close mike is bone-dry, so you can dial in just as much (or as little) of that lush acoustical reverberation as you want.
Although many piano libraries offer multiple mikes and a mixer, the Lipp has a nifty feature that I haven’t seen before: mix presets you can morph between using the mod wheel or other MIDI controller. The slider is labeled “wet/dry”, but that makes it sound like it’s just a simple fader when it’s actually cooler than that.
Here’s a little experiment I did, linking the mod wheel to the wet/dry slider. I first recorded a MIDI phrase and then drew in a CC1 (mod wheel) envelope. Then I clicked the “MIDI Learn” button next to the wet/dry slider and played back the clip. This linked the mod wheel to the wet/dry slider so that I could then tweak the morphing crossfade to taste. Alternatively, you can just wiggle the mod wheel on your keyboard after clicking “MIDI Learn” to make the link, and then operate the mod wheel by hand in real time or draw in an envelope.
This sample uses the default morph preset, but you can define your own.
How to represent a piano in the stereo panorama is an important choice when mixing. In an orchestral setting, a case can be made that the piano should be a mono point source, since that’s how the audience hears it. But piano players would rather everyone heard the instrument the way they do from the piano bench: wide, deep and complex.
The Stereo Spread control lets you go to either extreme, or to choose something in between. This is made possible by having used six microphones to record the piano, capturing each of the three positions in full stereo. Turn the knob fully clockwise and you’ll hear the player’s perspective, fully counter-clockwise for an orchestral setting, or somewhere in the middle for an intimate recital.
Also note that each of the three microphone positions has its own pan control, so you can do interesting things such as blending left-panned close mikes with right-panned hall mikes.
A 24 dB per octave low-pass filter with MIDI-learn button, a pedal-noise volume knob, and enable buttons for both round out the simple user interface.
It’s not a complicated instrument, but then there is no reason a piano sample library should be. Ultimately, it’s all about the fundamental tonal quality of the instrument, and this one sounds pretty nice. Hear it here:
The Belarus Piano
As a kid, my grandmother had an ancient upright that they’d dragged all the way out West from Oklahoma when they fled the infamous dustbowl of the 1930’s. Although they’d sold off nearly everything they owned to finance their journey, two precious items remained: my grandfather’s guitar and my grandmother’s piano. She must have been very attached to that piano to load it onto a flatbed rail car and then haul it by horse-drawn wagon to their remote homestead in western Montana.
Growing up I had a great fondness for that old piano. It was boomy and noisy and impossible to tune. But to me, it sounded exactly like a parlor piano was supposed to sound like. And it was that sound of Grandma’s piano that popped into my head as soon as I started played Strezov’s Belarus. I imagine this one might well have a similarly interesting back-story, too.
This piano was Strezov’s first foray into piano sampling. It’s not as deeply sampled as the Lipp, but having been recorded in the same studio with some of the same high-end microphones it’s just as clean and natural-sounding. By natural, I mean flaws and all.
The instrument is an old, generic (the actual manufacturer’s name cannot be written in a Western font) Eastern-European model that might be found in your grandmother’s front room – if you lived in Bulgaria. Even though it had been tuned prior to the sampling session, it still sounds slightly out-of-tune. It’s definitely got what you’d call “character”. What it’s also got is a pleasant round, mellow tone.
There are no audio examples on the website, so here’s a short taste, an improvisation I made with the Belarus that includes the Reverse effect explained below:
There aren’t many controls or tweaks here, just two buttons labeled “RR Mode” and “Reverse”.
The RR Mode button enables a clever pseudo-round-robin mode, wherein round-robin samples are simulated by borrowing neighboring notes. This gives more variability than you’d expect from an instrument that doesn’t actually have any round-robin samples.
The Reverse option is a strange one; as you might imagine, it reverses the samples for an other-worldly effect. Sure, any DAW can reverse a clip, but this is different. We’re talking about playing the melody forward using reversed samples. It’s pretty cool.
And that’s about all there is to say about the Belarus. It’s pretty basic. There’s just one microphone position (close), but there are six velocity layers and every note is separately sampled. Despite its limited options the basic tone is quite nice. Best of all, it’s only 20 bucks. As with the Lipp, you’ll need the full version of Kontakt, version 4 or 5. Get it here [LINK: https://www.strezov-sampling.com/products/view/Belarus.html].
Thunder from Strezov Sampling is a set of multi-sampled ensemble percussion libraries with enough unique characteristics to make them … well … unique. Find out more here.
by Per Litchman, May 2015
Strezov Sampling’s Thunder series is a set of multi-sampled ensemble percussion libraries for the full version of Kontakt 4.2.4 or higher (not Kontakt Player). Each library features between six and fifteen percussionists playing in unison using a variety of orchestral and world percussion instruments. Each preset consists either of many players using the same type of instrument or more often a combination of several instrument types playing at once. Thunder’s combinations are uncommon and I can honestly say that each preset consisted of either a different grouping of instruments or a different number of players on a given instrument – more than any other library I’ve worked with so far. The sound of the ensembles ranges from medium (when a large number of small to medium instruments are combined) to very large (when larger instruments are grouped together). There are no melodic/chromatic presets: the library focuses squarely on un-pitched percussion.
The bundle currently sells for $139 USD and is comprised of three volumes, available for purchase as a bundle or individually at strezov-sampling.com. It takes up roughly 8.8 GB after install: Thunder 1 ($80 USD normally, 1.8 GB after install), Thunder 2 ($80 USD normally, 2.3 GB after install) and Thunder 3 ($110 USD normally, 4.68 GB after install). [Edit: With updates it goes up to about 10.8 GB.]
The developers opted for names that evoke the color of the ensemble, rather than instrument lists. Nonetheless, the manuals for volumes one and two clearly list the instruments used in the PDF. In addition, the GUI for volumes two and three displays the instruments used as well.
Thunder 1 (thirteen ensembles and one master preset)
Click Clackers I
Click Clackers II
Greater Beasts I
Greater Beasts II
Thunder 2 (thirteen ensembles, one master preset and one bonus preset)
Dragon (23 RR)
Iron Maiden (bonus preset – drumkit)
King Kong (22RR, four articulations)
Thunderbolt (27 RR, two articulations)
Thunder 3 (six ensembles and no master preset)
Elder Titan (three articulations)
Mumbai Chase (three articulations)
Urban Warrior (two articulations)
Thunder 1 was recorded with eight percussionists from Sofia Session Orchestra at the Loud-Fi studio in Sofia, Bulgaria and comes with two microphone positions: close and room. The sound is very dry and malleable – even more so than Thunder 2 and 3 – and so I was encouraged to use even more processing than I often do on other libraries: many other libraries will sound far glossier in the both the lows and highs out of the box, but here it sounds very natural to start with and can be made glossy or hyped if you desire. Sure, we are all used to bringing in a little EQ to emphasize the low end or low mids, but here I opted to use the Bass Isolation impulses from Numerical Sound FORTI and SERTI (which I may be biased towards since I consulted on their design). Anyway, when I sent Thunder 1 to two Bass Isolation auxes (one at 65Hz and the other at 130Hz) the deep low end in the recordings really came alive.
Thunder 1 comes with thirteen presets, which I chose to divide into three categories: those that contain one section of instruments (e.g. snares), those that only contain instruments not included in the single section presets, and those that contain such a diverse group of instruments, so that they overlap with either of the previous categories. I know it sounds like I’m making it complicated, but give it a minute – it will make sense.
In the section category we find four presets: Greater Beasts I (eight tuned toms), Greater Beasts II (eight de-tuned toms), Metal Freak (five small anvils) and Pirate Ship (eight snares). Normally you would use either the tuned toms or the de-tuned ones, not both at once, but with that exception, these can all be effectively layered or written as independent parts without re-using the same instruments. I found this to be a great way to get started since it made use of the huge ensemble sizes: using three of them together the way I described resulted in the sound of 21 percussion instruments playing at once. That’s already a huge sound without getting into stacking instruments. I would suggest that you try it.
Since the library emphasizes a natural sound, there are a couple presets which have slight timing differences that I occasionally found distracting. However, this was easily remedied by using the sample offset knob, which I personally mapped to the mod wheel to make it quicker to control.
This volume features the most dynamic layers (ten) and fewest round-robins (eight). The master preset makes it very quick and easy to play live if you choose and the GUI reflects the instrument used for the last note played, as well as color-mapping where each instrument starts and end on the keyboard display.
Thunder 2 (and 3 after it) move the recordings to the Sofia Session Orchestra Hall, with six players. If you read my Rhapsody Orchestral Percussion review, the character of the recordings shares a lot with that library – which makes sense when you notice some of the same performers and recordings engineers appearing in both. Similarly, it uses a three microphone position approach: close, decca, hall. It has notably more ambience than Thunder I but still keeps a lot of the close energy – and Sofia Session Orchestra Hall is a lot smaller and less reverberant than AIR Lyndhurst, for example.
This volume features the fewest dynamic layers (four) and comes with lots of round-robins. The site says ten round-robins are provided per preset, but I listed three in articulations that use 22 to 27. There are so many different presets here that a comprehensive discussion would take a long time. Instead I’ll highlight Dragon (big sound, 23 round-robins), Thunderbolt (27 round-robins and two articulations of natural and processed metal sounds) and Warrior (12 toms played with mallets in unison).
Thunder 3 changes the concept yet again by reducing the number of presets, but including multiple articulations within half of them (something only done in a minority of the Thunder 2 presets). It adds some new features (like a great-sub bass knob for adding low-end and parallel compression) and keeps the miking approach of volume two.
This volume comes in the middle for dynamics layers (seven) and features the most round-robins (thirteen). This is the volume that probably differentiates the colors of each ensemble most strongly – from the snares of Armada, to the large percussion of Elder Titan to the bottles in Mumbai Chase, switching presets results in a very clear shift in timbre.
While there are several competing percussion libraries, the only one I’ve covered that’s specifically geared towards this type of non-traditional ensemble so far is Spitfire Audio’s HZ series. These two libraries are completely different – HZ offers a lot more mics, is recorded in one of the most reverberant spaces out there, as well as being offered at a higher price. Also, the HZ series breaks up the bundle into “solo” performances and ensemble ones. And while Thunder caters both to a “one-per-track” and “all on the keyboard at once” approach, the HZ series casts it lot firmly in the “one-per-track” camp.
The libraries also differ in their emphasis. While both include toms, snares, buckets and some ethnic percussion, Thunder includes tupans (which HZ does not) and HZ includes taikos (which Thunder does not), among several other instrument differences.
I like using both, but they are about as different as they come in their approach and I find it difficult to imagine people buying one to replace the other. Users that want a huge space without additional reverb will gravitate towards HZ and those that want the flexibility to use their percussion in any space they want will gravitate towards Thunder. Both are great libraries.
Is It Right For You?
If you want a Kontakt library to expand your large percussion, or you’re getting a large percussion library for the first time, then the Thunder bundle is a great option with lots of dynamic layers and round-robins. I think is the first time I ever saw a preset with 27 round-robins, let alone multiple articulations for that. The drier sound makes it flexible in a mix and makes it work surprisingly well in pop and more intimate songs when needed (how many times can you say that for a large percussion library?), but be prepared to add additional reverb and EQ and the like for the full-scale epic sound. The recordings are presented in a very natural state, but each successive entry also adds more and more additional processing options. It’s a great value for the money, easy to quickly learn and play, and volumes 1 and 2 do a great job of catering towards live use with their master presets.
How real can fake be? Actually Vocaloids comes closer and closer. But the real point is that it is fun and easy to use. So, join the army of Vocaloid users and sing along with Megurine.
by A. Arsov, May 2015
We have all heard about Vocaloids, watched some video clips and found them funny. I received the newest, fourth generation of Vocaloid and immediately realized that things have changed over the years. For the price of an average VST instrument you get a creative tool that can be very handy for preparing demo material for your vocalist. You could also be making some special sounding background vocals. Or maybe you could use this artificial lady to record a short melodic phrase. Things become even more interesting when you add some effects to your Vocaloid phrase, putting it through a vocoder or heavily re-pitching it to get some unusual robotic phrases for your EDM track. Even a fake human voice sounds far more appealing than a million synthesizers. Just two words, and your instrumental will move up to the next level. Also we shouldn’t forget that there’s a whole Vocaloid culture in Japan. There are plenty of clips on YouTube where you can hear how those ladies sing various well-known songs.
So, what’s new in this fourth generation of Vocaloids? As someone mentioned on a forum: “You can almost understand her.” This is actually big progress. In a previous generation it was very hard to understand anything unless you already knew what she was singing, but for me, the biggest advantage in this latest addition is that you can import MIDI clips into the VST Vocaloid Piapro Studio v.2 editor and then further edit the melody and words. In the past it was a painful process to create anything longer than one sentence with Vocaloid. With such a primitive VST controller you had to manually input all the notes into the editor, outside your DAW, and then you could only control where and when the phrase started. Now you can simply play the whole line with your keyboard, recording it directly into your DAW, drag the MIDI clip inside Piapro Studio, select more notes, type your text and – “one click and five minutes later” – you have your whole vocal track. It’s far, far easier to get useful results than it was with the previous generations. Also, if you have an old Vocaloid library you can import it to and use all of the features of the new version of Piapro Studio.
Piapro Studio v.2
Piapro Studio v.2 is a piano-roll like editor for Vocaloid where you can insert notes with a pencil tool or, as we already explained, just by dragging in a MIDI track from your DAW. Lyrics can be added note by note or, even faster, by selecting a number of notes, inserting text, then simply correcting any phrase transitions.
On the top lefthand side of the Piapro Studio editor window is a place where you can add articulations – variously recorded versions of the Megurine Luka singer – like “hard”, “soft” or some others that are presented in this particular version of Vocaloid, all available in a drop-down menu. In one instance of Piapro Studio you can load up to fifteen different singers (theoretically – it depends on your CPU and RAM capacity). In the bottom lefthand corner we find a whole array of additional controllers for further fine tuning the selected articulation or singer: pan, velocity, breathiness, brightness, clarity, portamento time, pitch band and a few more. Some of these, like brightness and clarity can actually really improve the performance, but I presume your goal won’t be to compile a complete vocal line just with Vocaloid. No matter how hard you try all those controllers can’t do miracles – the whole thing will still sound somewhat robotic and unnatural. However, this can still be a very creative tool just as it is.
Double clicking in the empty space to the right of the selected singer will open a piano-roll editing window, just like one in all major DAWs. Above the piano-roll is a row of basic tools, like pencil, split, mute, rank and selection, along with a drop-down menu for setting snap value – actually everything you already know from your favourite DAW, so no big surprises here. The whole process of inserting notes is quite straightforward: first you should draw or drag notes and then insert lyrics. If you find that some words are phonetically unrecognizable you can try to fix them by dividing the word into vowels using two or more notes for a single word instead of one note. Actually every note could be further edited or fine-tuned with the aforementioned controllers on the lefthand side of Piapro Studio. Press on any controller button and a new lane will open under the piano-roll window where you can draw curves, setting the values for ever note. The whole performance can also be improved by adding vibrato on longer notes, making a vocal line less static and more vivid.
The truth …
I wrote about it in my first Vocaloid review a few years ago, but it won’t hurt if I repeat the story. Almost ten years ago we worked on a Dance project and I was playing around with the first versions of Vocaloid, making a vocal line to present to our vocalist. We all liked the strange voice so somehow this Vocaloid line ended up as an intro to the song. It should have been just another song for the Neurobic album, but obviously the combination of real vocals along with the Vocaloid ones sounded so catchy that our song charted at number two for two months on a big internet radio station from the UK. Not bad for something that just meant to be a joke. After all these years the song still sounds fresh.
What it’s all about
For €159 EUR you get a creative and easy to use tool. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but it’s far from being useless. It adds some kind of spice, and you definitely won’t use it in every song you make, but it can do wonders if you use it creatively. To make the whole thing even better and more appealing, those Crypton fellows also added Studio One Artist Piapro Edition in a Vocaloid pack containing around 200 instruments, allowing you to make a whole song just with the included content.
If you don’t already have a DAW then this could be a good deal for you, as Studio One, even in this reduced version, is still a very good DAW that can proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with some its more well-known brothers.
The only thing I would have liked to see is an option to allow installation of just the English database, as the whole database takes up around 20 GB of space. For that reason I wrote to technical support and got an answer in less than 12 hours (after all, they live in a totally different timezone) letting me know this can be done by selecting “Customize” during installation. ( reducing the content to reasonable 5 GB)If you’ve ever had problems getting technical support from certain companies, I’m glad to inform you that Crypton is not one of them.
To buy or not to buy? It is up to you, but I definitely know why I ordered this one. After all, there are some albums recorded just with Vocaloid software, and if you didn’t know even Mike Oldfield used it for some of his back lines. These half-sampled, half-synthesized beasts are used by both professionals and amateurs around the globe. So count me in, please.