Review – Hollywood Orchestral Percussion by EastWest
Eastwest’s Hollywood Orchestral Percussion is a grade A, great 70GB percussion library that completes EastWest’s Hollywood Series with a bang.
by Per Lichtman, Nov. 2014
First of all, let me not keep you in suspense: this is a grade A, great 70GB percussion library that completes EastWest’s Hollywood Series in the way a whole lot of us wanted. The standards have been maintained for both sound quality/sampling and playability. So if you’re an avid user of the EastWest Hollywood series (or a QLSO users looking for a drier sound), that might be all you need.
For everyone else, EastWest’s Hollywood Orchestral Percussion is the newest Hollywood Series library for the PLAY platform. The sampler is playback only and is included for free when you buy the library – with HOP being officially supported on PLAY versions starting with 4.2.2. The library requires an iLok (an old version 1 iLok is fine, the 2 is not required) and the MSRPs for the full Diamond version are $599 USD download or $698 USD pre-installed on a hard drive. You can buy either one at SoundsOnline.com and there are often extensive sales (17% off at the time of writing) and bundle offers to take advantage of, so expect to often pay less.
HOP targets orchestral percussion, covering most of the instruments you would score for in a symphonic context but going lighter on ethnic percussion and working great with just about any other library I tried as long as you have a reverb that blends well. It doesn’t emphasize the “larger than life ensembles” approach of some Storm Drum entries or Spitfire’s HZ series.
Nonetheless, it has a massive amounts of more low end “boom” options than you would expect and some unusual additions (like the Marching Band Ensemble), and it often offers several different instruments for the same type (cymbals, snares, tambourines, bass drums, etc.) making it easy to layer your own ensembles. It’s definitely capable of creating powerful “epic” percussion once you know how to wield it, but it can do the tiny intimate stuff, too.
So if any of that sounds like you, let’s get into the details.
For this review I was provided with HOP via download and the 70GB download was split into 20 individual ZIP files, each of which downloaded very quickly. The expanded library took up roughly the same amount of space on my hard drive as the download did, so users should plan on keeping 150GB of space free during the install process (before deleting the ZIP files if desired). The instruments are organized into Combo Kits, Cymbals, Drums, Metals and Wood. The Combo Kits are a great starting place and their contents and mapping are clearly laid out in the manual (which you can currently find and read by pressing the “Manual” link at http://www.soundsonline.com/Hollywood-Orchestral-Percussion). The setup program works fine as long as you’re already using PLAY 4 for all your libraries, but users needing to keep PLAY 3 running will have to reboot (the program won’t always prompt you to, but you need to) and reinstall PLAY 3 after they finish installing PLAY 4. I tested using Windows 7 64-bit with PLAY 4.2.2.
The library divides the samples into 5 mic positions: Close, Mic, Main, Surround and Vintage. Surround and Vintage are mutually exclusive so only one can be loaded at a time. The most dramatic difference is often between the Close mic and the others, especially for instruments like the celesta. The Mid, Main and Surround have different colors and placement, but none is super ambient like you’d find in libraries recorded in more reverberant spaces.
The Vintage mic position sounds rather different from the others (as might in part be expected from the use of 1940s RCA44 ribbon). Interestingly, though the Vintage position is switchable with the Surround, it sometimes sounded like it was positioned closer than all but the Close mic. Load up the orchestral chimes to see what I mean. By contrast, for the tam tam instruments it was much further away and the left to right energy was practically reversed compared to the other positions. Basically, this is a position to check out on an instrument by instrument basis.
Be aware that most ribbons (exempting certain uncommon new ones from AEA and Royer, for example) provide a very quiet signal, so the line noise level is higher for this position than the others. This is mainly on consideration on quieter instruments than loud ones, but it’s audible and worth keeping mind. For some instruments, the Vintage position came with the level really cranked up (compared to the other positions) so this became apparent more quickly.
Most instruments load the Main mic position by default. This gives a bit of a sense of the studio, clear stereo placement and a bit of ambience. I would characterize the sound as rather open, without either claustrophobic early reflections and exaggerated bass or much in the way of tail but never feeling sterile. It’s a balanced and pleasing sound that can easily be EQed for greater drama. The celesta is the only instrument I noticed that differed, coming with the close mic loaded in and mixed with the main mic. This is a great sound and can be applied with similar effectiveness to some of the other pitched percussion, like the crotales and glockenspiel.
What’s It Like?
EastWest long-awaited Hollywood Orchestral Percussion (HOP) is a pleasure to use. As a Hollywood Strings user, I figured the first thing I would do would be to load it into an existing composition I wrote and see how the two married together. Well, that was my original plan. What actually happened is that as soon as I loaded the sounds from HOP, I felt compelled to use them to write new material and to jam off of that. I found it difficult at first to pin down exactly what it is that I liked so much about them until it hit me in a single word: effortless. That’s pretty much the word that best describes so many aspects of working with the library for me.
The library is really easy to load and play and the default “main” mic position works very well in a variety of contexts. Honestly, just playing the sounds without a hint of mixing work was a lot of fun and I got lost for hours riffing off of it. Just for the heck of it, I pulled EWQLSO Diamond to see how HOP compared to EastWest’s older library – the improvement was immediately evident. Setting aside for a moment the wildly the differing recording and environments and sonic characters of the two libraries, the more extensive sampling in HOP rapidly becomes evident as you are playing: the additional velocity layers and superior programming really make a difference. Then swinging back around to that sonic difference for a moment: HOP is a much drier library with a great deal more transient clarity and mixing flexibility as a result. But there’ll be more on that later.
The library strikes a wonderful balance in the recordings between color and flexibility, really making the most out of the many positions in terms of the palette of colors available and at the same time working really well when just one is used at a time. It’s interesting just how much more dramatic the timbral differences are between each of the mic positions for HOP than in Hollywood Strings (owing to the nature of the instruments I would infer) and is very much to HOP’s credit. At the same time, users wanting a larger or more epic sound can easily toss on additional reverb to good effect, using any choice of mic positions. The library really sounds great.
There’s a real sense of realism and immediacy to the library: when I was playing the felt timpani hits, for instance, some of my favorite moments where when I could feel and hear the player digging in more on the low C and C# fortissimo hits with a satisfying extra “thwack” at highest velocities that provided extra energy without being at all unmusical. You can make the percussion quite large (a great many instruments are included) but between the recording venue, performances and sampling here there’s everything you need to get very specific, detailed and authentic in your rendering of both modern material and more classical repertoire.
Now for existing users of EastWest’s Hollywood Series that have been waiting for the fully integrated percussion installment in the series, I would say that HOP represents a slam dunk. It maintains the things I liked best about the sound and approach of Hollywood Strings while being much quicker to learn, load and use with significantly lower system requirements. I didn’t even bother to transfer the library from my hard drive to the SSD: it worked fine already.
I’m going to take a slightly different approach to how I talk about the instruments than the manual’s organization (since you can get the basics from that anyway) by looking at how many of the instruments are used (chromatic and pitched vs filling in the low end, for example). A more comprehensive and traditionally organized list can be found in the manual. I won’t go into the “lite” version patches since the system requirements were so low for the core ones that I never had call to use the lite versions in my projects. However, more information on them can also be found in the manual.
The Low End
There is a wealth of percussion that is either explicitly designed to fill the low end (like the bass drums) or can do so as one of its applications (like the concert toms) so here’s my list:
- 32, 36 and 40 inch Bass Drums
- Brake Drum and Anvils (includes 4 anvils – mainly high but some of the notes have a lot of body)
- Concert Toms (6 toms and 2 floor toms)
- Mahler Hammer
- Marching Drum Ensemble
- Tao’s Drum (struck with mallet)
Obviously, the timpani could also be used but it’s pitch specific. Since the library maps the main hit of each of these other instruments (except the Brake Drum and Anvils, as even the Concert Toms have the lowest note mapped here) to the same note, you can route the same MIDI pattern to all of them at once for a huge ensemble sound – and I often did. The sound is really big, even without reverb, but when you throw some reverb onto it – it practically explodes. This is light
For the low percussion, I generally found that the most usable bass came through in the default Main mic position, with the close mic often having appeared to have been targeted to capture the rest of the frequencies of the transient rather than a boom exaggerated by a proximity effect. The Vintage mic, on the other hand, often acted as a good supplemental mic to fill in the bass and mids for these instruments. For the roundest sound I tended to use either just the Main, or the Main and Vintage combo and leave the rest unused for these instruments – but a fuller sound could be achieved by filling with Close and Mid positions. I don’t see most people using the Close and Mid position mics as their primaries here – they are more dramatic for the instruments with less low end.
As mentioned before, the room doesn’t have a lot of reverberation so to make the most out of the low end percussion I would suggest adding additional reverb to taste – as such large percussion often sounds a little out of character without a larger space to fill. Luckily, the recording environment and technique makes this a great option for the library. In addition, you can make the low end much more dramatic by boosting the low-frequencies with EQ.
Cymbals and Tam Tams
There are eleven cymbal crashes (with 3x round-robin) and three tam tams (2x round-robin), ranging from 12 inches to 38 inches. There are also six suspended cymbals (2x round-robin) ranging from 14-22 inches, with one unspecified. The manufacturer and size are specified in the name of each cymbal, while the tam tams have size only.
Field Drums, Snares and Tambourines
There’s a huge variety of snares and field drums on offer: five snares and four field drums. They sound great and I often layered them in dense orchestrations for an ensemble sound. There are also three different tambourines on offer.
Pitched Chromatic Percussion
HOP has a lot of chromatic pitched percussion: celesta, crotales, glockenspiel, marimba, orchestral chimes, timpani, vibraphone and xylophone. Off the top of my head, that excludes rototoms and handbells, and the harp hasn’t shown up either here or in Hollywood Strings (marking the most notable omission from the series). All of the instruments sampled have a lot to offer, especially because of the miking choices.
The celesta had been sampled both in a more staccato fashion and with longer sustain. The longer sustain version was a real highlight for me and can work wonderfully with lush reverbs for some truly evocative cues. As mentioned before, the choice to make the default mic mix settings have a lot of close mic (unlike the other instruments in the library) is a surprisingly good one – it caught me off guard seeing the settings but when I listened to the Main mic alone (the default for other instruments) I understood just how important the Close mic was in this context. This is a truly sweet instrument.
The vibraphone is played differently from the other instruments in that holding down the sustain pedal triggers different sounds than when the pedal is raised. The tails on the orchestral chimes are great, the xylophone and marimba sit right where I want them. Most of the single-hit chromatic instruments patches feature round-robin samples (2x to 4x) for greater variation, except for the celesta, crotales, glockenspiel and orchestral chimes.
For the timpani I suggest loading the KS patch for each set of mallets (hard and felt). These patches allow you to switch between 5 playing techniques instead of dedicating a track to each. Everything I tried sounded great and the low end was never exaggerated (nor the “thwack”) for the instrument – making it easy to place in a mix and to EQ. Note that the timpani has two round-robins each for both the left and right hands on the hits in the full programs.
Filling in the rest, we’ve got sleigh bells, two castanets, claves, finger cymbals, two mark trees (the small suspended chimes you run your fingers across), Pu`ili sticks (a Hawaiian instrument I had previously composed much for), a ratchet, shakers, slapsticks, temple blocks, triangles and woodblocks (both large and small). Seriously, I had difficulty remembering a lot of these because there’s a lot on offer.
For Those Coming From QLSO
If you’ve previously used Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra and want to get an idea of what’s changed, here are a few things to think about. Instruments that were sampled in both libraries have a very different character here – the close mics generally capturing a fuller sound in HOP than they did in QLSO, for instance.
As an example of the differences, let’s look at the Mahler Hammer in each. The Mahler Hammer is a personal favorite in terms of the change in sound, now providing far more definition and body, more hit variations (5 that range from deeper to full cracking sound vs. 3 less varied ones in QLSO). HOP hammer also has more flexible sound that works in a greater variety of mixes. There’s a surprisingly long release recorded for the Mahler Hammer in HOP considering the size of the space – it doesn’t feel truncated at all and is very dramatic. This also an instrument where every single mic position brings something really useful to the sound – you can really alter the character by dialing in or muting each one. The QLSO instrument is far more obviously colored by the sound of the hall – even the close mic selections have a great deal of tail. This make QLSO great if you want the hall sound (with no additional verb or EQ required) but also more difficult to really bring out the “thwack” without the “boom” if you wanted to (aren’t those great technical terms?) or to put in any other environment. I would say nine times out of ten, I would prefer the HOP sound for all the deeper instruments, often applying a lot of reverb.
For the pitched melodic instruments, both HOP and QLSO sound great. There’s a real sweetness to the QLSO Hall (which has generally believed to be Benaroya Hall in Seattle but that has not been officially confirmed) that adds something to instruments like the vibes, meaning that in terms of pure color, HOP and QLSO offer equally desirable but very different options. But on a technical level, the sampling is superior for HOP, with both switchable sustain and staccato samples as well as triggering different samples for repetitions.
In fact, instruments sampled in both quite often had more playing options (such as flams) when they appeared in HOP.
There are a small number of instruments that were included in QLSO that weren’t sampled for HOP, so I’ve included a list.
Cymbals and Gongs
– Larger gongs (QLSO went up to 60″ but HOP maxes at 40”)
– Roto Toms (so there’s no way to play melodic tom lines)
– Taiko Drums (These can be found in the Storm Drum series)
– Artillery Shells
– Bell Tree
– Bowed Crotales (normal is still included)
– Hall Noise
– Steel Plates
– Steinway B
By contrast, HOP includes certain instruments not featured in QLSO, such as the Marching Drum Ensemble and Tao’s drum. Both of those are really great additions that I found myself using on the majority of HOP pieces I composed, so I think it’s a fair trade. Instrument selection varies more from one percussion library to another than for practically another section of the orchestra, so it’s worth taking the time to go through the manual to make sure that your needs are covered or whether you’ll need to supplement.
When using the library I encountered a handful of oddities, all of which EastWest quickly sent responses to.
– In the patch Spectrasound Mark Tree 1 Dbl Length.ewi, MIDI note 60 had artifacts. Within a day of mentioning this, EastWest sent me a beta of the instrument update that fixes the issue, so this should be resolved soon for most users.
– Occasionally PLAY 4.2.2 gives license errors when I open an instrument. It’s not consistent about when this happens or with which instruments, but it pauses the loading process and sometimes required me to load an instrument twice. This is apparently an issue affecting a small number of users, but EastWest is working to resolve it.
– The manual mentions a separate 8 inch. tom patch – however, it’s actually included in the combined concert toms patch, not a patch of its own.
I would say that these are fewer issues than I normally encounter on the first release of such a large library, so that no one gets surprised by them. None significantly impeded my use of the library.
The library has a great, flexible and balanced sound that works well without EQ but can be easily tweaked with EQ or verb. It goes together well with the rest of the Hollywood series and it has lower system requirements, too. It works well with other libraries, has a great deal of variety, modern programming and kept up with me wherever I wanted it to go. Uncommon inclusions like Mahler’s Hammer, the Marching Drum Ensemble and Tao’s Drum are all great additions that serve to expand the library’s low end power quite effectively (and even worked well together with the Storm Drum and HZ line).
I’m really struggling to think of reasons not to recommend it when my experience with the library was so positive. The only big one is that users of Hollywood Strings that hoped they would finally get a harp are left out in the cold. Basically, unless you have an aversion to having to add additional reverb when you want a more epic sound, don’t like iLoks or PLAY… or have less than 70GB of free space on your drive, there’s not really much to fault the library for. I suppose if you are a round-robin junkie then you might want even more round-robins, but I found the current amount was a big improvement over most of my previous libraries.
Basically, whether you’re linking to get your first percussion library, wanting to add more detail to a library geared towards a purely “massive” sound or just supplement your percussion with yet another color, HOP delivers a great sound, lots of options and a great playing experience.