Review – The Blue Orb Trilogy from CL-Projects
The Blue Orb trilogy of Kontakt instruments, comprised of Triode, Saffron and Neutron excel at leads, bass and pads respectively. We take a close up look at these marvels in this review.
by David Baer, May 2015
I’m starting to believe that there may be an inexhaustible supply of splendid electronica for Kontakt from independent developers. Every time I think I’ve learned who all the significant library originators are, some new offering comes to light from an outfit I’ve never before encountered. And so it is with this installment of Points of Kontakt. CL-Projects recently showed up on my radar and I am thoroughly impressed with their offerings.
In particular, CL-Projects has recently completed a three-instrument suite in which the core instrument is identical in each of the trio, but the sample sets are oriented to lead, bass or pad sounds. We will take a close look these instruments in what follows. Before reading further, however, be aware that these instruments require the full version of Kontakt 5.3.
CL-Projects, Some Background
First a little history, though. CL-Projects is Frank Dierickx, a Belgian musician/hobbyist and a self-taught sound designer. In the early 80s, he got interested in electronic music after hearing music from Jean Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream and he wanted to play that kind of music himself. Saving up to buy his first synthesizers, drum machines and effects processors he recorded his own music, still on cassette tapes at that time. He ever released anything but his music was aired several times on a late night Belgian electronic music radio show.
CL-Projects saw the light in late 2012 with the idea to make sound libraries for Kontakt and patches for hardware and software synthesizers. He became interested in sampling because he wanted to use non-synth sounds like choirs in his compositions. Kontakt was ideal for this purpose. A few years ago, he got interested in creating Kontakt libraries himself, mainly libraries devoted to synthesizer sounds, drawing on his experience in programming synthesizers. Because his first libraries were well-received by friends, he felt encouraged to release his libraries to the public. And that brings us to the Blue Orb trilogy.
Triode is the leads specialist of the group. Because there are such pronounced similarities in the three instruments that comprise the Blue Orb trilogy, if we take a deep dive into one of them, you’ll understand the essentials of the other two. Saffron specializes in Basses and Neutron in pads. Apart from the color of their UI, they actually differ only in underlying sample sets. We look at Triode in detail here.
Before going any further, it should be emphasized that Triode can produce great sounding pads and basses as well as leads. All three instruments can do leads, pads and basses with élan. But the sample sets included in each are different and lend themselves most readily to their advertised specialty.
The Blue Orb moniker is courtesy of … well, a blue orb graphic at the center of each UI. This has the non-essential but charming function of illumination along with the sound produced. On each side of the orb graphic can be found two identical oscillator complexes.
Each oscillator has access to a collection of 30 distinctive sounds, but the two collections are different. In other words, Triode begins with a sample collection of 60 distinctive sounds total, two of which (one from each collection) can be played concurrently, or one of the oscillators can be disabled if only a single sound is desired. A list of the sounds of all three instruments can be found further down in this article.
A standard ADSR amplitude envelope is supplied, nothing that we haven’t seen many times before. The next row of controls allows control over the depth that velocity, aftertouch and mod wheel will affect loudness. Finally, the bottom row has an overall loudness level, pan position and a control to modulate loudness depending upon key position.
Pitch control is found in the same area (click “A” or “P” to navigate). Again we have an ADSR envelope. In the next row the BND control is pitch bend amount. The AFT and MDW controls govern the depth of the LFO, essentially modulating vibrato amount. In the third row, ATP (aftertouch to pitch) can be used to allow some degree of pitch increase as a result of channel pressure. TRP (transpose) and TUN (sub-semitone tuning) allow pitch changes of up to +/- 12 semitones and +/- 50 cents respectively.
In the lower portion of the UI we find the filter section. To begin with, we can select from a low-pass, high-pass or band-pass resonant filter. Working from bottom to top in the array of control knobs, we start with another standard ADSR envelope. Above that are velocity, aftertouch and mod wheel controls with functions identical to their counterparts in the Amp section. In the top row we have CTF and RES for cutoff and resonance and SNS to govern the depth that the filter envelope has on cutoff. Once again, this is standard fare that we’ve seen many times before. That observation is not intended as criticism, by the way. My intent is to convey the fact that most users will hit the ground running upon first encounter with one of the Blue Orb instruments.
Below the filter sections is a global area affecting both oscillators. On the left we have a control to govern polyphonic/monophonic operation, with several flavors of monophonic: On, Legato and Offset. The latter has the sample start position controlled by whether notes are legato or discreet.
Portamento is standard. It can be off or on and the time can be fixed irrespective of note intervals or relative to interval. Portamento can be applied either to all intervals or only to intervals of legato notes.
Unisono can cause up to eight detuned voices to be used. Amount of detuning and stereo spread of voices are controlled by those two knobs.
There are two polyphonic LFOs on board, one for pitch and the other for filter cutoff. The rate is hard-synced to system clock. INT is intensity control. For LFO waves, we have a choice of sine, saw, rectangle or random (but no smoothing control, random gives discreet value changes). Delay does what you’d expect. Finally, the filter LFO rate is hard-wired to the mod wheel – control the LFO speed via the mod wheel, which may lead to conflicts. If you’ve got the filter LFO engaged along with the mod wheel influencing, say, volume, you may be out of luck.
Effects and Arp
The other main page of the UI is given to effects and an arpeggiator. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the effects. What is there can be seen in the UI image above. For the reverb, we have ten programs: two rooms, five halls, one chamber and two programs called “SPACE” and “SPLASH”. All the effects are standard Kontakt internal effects, so they are quite good. There’s really not a lot more that needs be said.
Nearly all the presets have both reverb and delay engaged to some degree. While this is a practice I understand, since it makes the presets sound a bit more robust, it does make it irritating to audition extensive numbers of presets when you’re primarily interested in the character of the sound samples. I don’t mean to single out CL-Projects with this criticism. This is something of which the majority of Kontakt library developers are guilty. As an aside, I’d love to see a Kontakt version 6 feature that allowed all reverb and delay to be globally disengaged for purposes of auditioning a large group of sounds.
I’m not sure why CL-Projects choose to include a compressor as an effect. I would have preferred the screen real estate to be devoted to something I would find a little more useful, such as a three-band EQ rather than the two-band EQ that is present. But this is a very minor quibble.
The arp is as full-featured as you’ll see in a Kontakt instrument. I am not going to go into detail other than to say it’s quite capable as ably demonstrated in some of the factory presets. Those wishing more detailed information on the arp can download the manual from the vendor’s web site for further study.
Saffron and Neutron
Suffice it to say that everything stated above about Triode apply to Saffron and Neutron. Again, the sample sets resident in each support their specialty (leads for Triode, bass for Saffron and pads for Neutron). Other than that, they all work the same, as can be seen in the reduced UI images below.
And now we get to the core of the matter. What do the Blue Orb instruments sound like? In a word, glorious! I was captivated by Triode from the first moments I started auditioning presets. With 60 unique and well-chosen sounds (sample sets, not presets) in each instrument, and with the easy-access amp, pitch and filter controls handy, creating your own sounds is as easy as can be. The adequate suite of effects completes the picture.
The sounds were captured from a variety of hardware instruments. These included a Korg Kronos, a Roland JD-800, a Roland Alpha Juno 2, a Novation Supernova 2 Pro X Platinum and a Dave Smith Instruments Mopho. Sound names, of course, mean nothing, but some readers may find the list below, copied straight from the Blue Orb Trilogy manual of use.
Is Blue Orb Trilogy for You?
You can purchase individual instruments in this suite for $24.50 USD or the entire package for $53.50. The latter option is an unqualified bargain. I cannot recommend anything more highly to someone interested in first-rate Kontakt synth sounds. I can only suggest (and caution) that if you enter these waters warily and purchase just a single instrument and then discover that you really like that instrument, you are almost certainly going to want to go back for the other two as well. So save yourself some money and just pick up the bundle right up front.
There are plenty of good, representative demo tracks available on the CL-Projects web site. So you should be able to judge up-front whether these types of sounds works in what you’re trying to accomplish. But even in the case of buying the instruments individually, each of them are easily worth the individual purchase price. Frankly, in my estimation, the bundle would represent excellent value if it were priced twice what it is. You are getting the equivalent of a first rate soft synth with these libraries, one that would easily command a price in the neighborhood or $100 or more.
I haven’t yet mentioned the presets. Yes, there are a generous quantity of both single and multi presets in all three instruments. But using the presets isn’t the point here, in my opinion. Developing your own sounds is so easy and flat-out fun that to limit your usage to only using the presets is missing out. Nevertheless, if you are a presets-only person, there’s plenty here to love.
CL-Projects appears to be a customer-centric operation – and not just by offering good value for the money. When one of the users complained in a KVR forum about the orb illumination being distracting (not something I found to be the case, I hasten to add), the developer quickly made an alternate version available in which the illumination was turned off. That kind of responsiveness tells me that the customer is in good hands.
My only significant disappointment with the instruments is that there are not more filter options. I’m a big fan of the Kontakt Pro53-modelled filter and there are no doubt legions of Moog-modelled ladder filter devotees. Also, there is no front-panel option to turn on key-tracking for filter cutoff (where the cutoff is always a fixed distance in octaves above the note being played). However, for anyone with modest Kontakt skills (i.e., those who can do rudimentary tweaks after clicking the wrench icon), adding key tracking or changing to a different filter variety is not at all difficult – but see the sidebar below on key tracking filter cutoff for some pointers . Make no mistake – I’m a very happy camper in spite of these missing features. However, if CL-Projects were to contemplate enhancements to Blue Orb, these would be my top suggestions.
But each of the Blue Orb instruments is damned near perfection as they stand right now. These will clearly be in my go-to list of sounds for many years to come. Well done, CL-Projects. Well done, indeed!
For more information or to purchase Blue Orb instruments, go here:
Filter Cutoff Key Tracking in Kontakt – What Was NI Thinking?
If you are adding key tracking modulation to filter for the first time, be ready to wonder if you’ve lost touch with your sanity. You might reasonably expect that a setting of 100% or maybe 50% would get you a one-to-one correspondence between note pitch and cutoff frequency. But no, Kontakt note-number modulation is absolutely brutal. For a one-to-one relationship, the proper setting depends on the filter selected, but the settings are all in the 9.5% to 11.5% range. In my own calibration tests, I arrived at the values listed below for several of the more popular filters:
All of the filters (at least all those listed above) have the same note, middle C, as the pivot point for keyboard tracking.