Review – Da Capo from Sononkinetic
Da Capo departs from Sonokinetic’s phrase libraries to give you a multisampled orchestral sketchpad that brings you their distinct sound while keeping things simple.
by Per Lichtman, Jan. 2018
Sonokinetic Da Capo (ca. $245 USD from Sonokinetic.net) is an orchestral sketchpad library recorded in the same hall (Zlin Cinematic Orchestral Hall) and with the same unique sonic signature as the roughly half a dozen phrase libraries we’ve reviewed from Sonokinetic. I’ve said it every time I’ve reviewed one of their libraries: both their sound and their visual art style are completely unlike any other developer that we’ve played in this magazine. No matter how many other sample libraries you have, theirs sound a little different. So that’s part of what makes Da Capo so much fun to review – being able to write your own parts with that sound instead of relying on phrases is quite different from our previous reviews.
The Orchestral Forces
First, let’s break down the orchestra used.
52 String Players: 12 first violins, 12 second violins, 10 violas, 10 cellos, 8 basses.
8 Woodwind Players: 3 flutes, 3 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons.
8 Brass Players: 4 horns, 2 trombones, 1 bass trombone, 1 tuba.
Percussion: Timpani, Orchestral Toms and Snares, Grand Casa, Tam Tam & Piatti (cymbals).
In other words, we here a full symphonic string section and full woodwind section, with the brass missing the trumpets and the percussion covering many of the basics (but only accounting for tuned percussion with the timpani). I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss trumpets and I’d have loved to have marimbas, celestas or other pitched percussion, given how well they sounded in Sonokinetic’s phrase libraries. Perhaps they’ll show up in a future library.
Orchestral Sections and Instrument Sections
Da Capo’s documentation talks about the orchestral sections vs. instrument sections. An orchestral section would be the standard four (strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion) while the instrument sections are the sub-sections of each orchestral section that you can enable or disable individually. With a few exceptions (like the timpani or flutes), you don’t get control of just one instrument group so these are mostly different sections playing together – such as the first and second violins, or the bass clarinet with bassoons. This is done to keep things simple and keep the library from getting too big or overwhelming – hence the orchestral sketchpad designation.
In the image above from the Da Capo manual, you can see how the ranges are assigned to instrument sections. That is to say, the strings are divided into four instrument sections (that can be played individually or stacked) and each range uses at least two string sections. There’s also a tutti Bartok pizzicato that loads with any string articulation and is mapped to C#0, D#0, F#0, G#0, A#0. Other than that it’s pretty simple to see what’s going on.
The woodwinds are a little different. While the ranges above describe where the instruments play (with some variation depending on the articulation), four woodwind ranges are listed in the diagram, but there are only three selectable sections in the library. That’s because the ranges listed for “Bass Clarinets + 2 Bassoons” and “2 bassoons + 3 clarinets” are all in the “low woodwinds” section. The mid and high woodwinds are exactly what they look like from the diagram.
For the brass, the four ranges shown are again mapped to three sections. The low brass is the bass trombones+tuba range specified. The mid brass contains both the trombones+bass trombone range and the trombones+horns range. The high brass is purely the four horns since there are no trumpets.
The percussion section isn’t fully specified in the diagram since it contains several unpitched instruments, yet it isn’t accurately specified in the later section in the manual either, so I’ll get specific. It contains non-overlapping ranges in four sections that can nonetheless be enabled or disabled individually: Timpani (specified above); Orchestral Toms (F6-A#6) and Snares (C6-E6), Grand Casa (A0 and B0), Tam Tam & Piatti (A5-A#5).
Miking and GUI
Da Capo has more traditional microphone mixing (yay!) as opposed to blending between two positions at a time, so I don’t have to load multiple instances to use all the microphone positions like I did in some of the Sonokinetic phrase libraries. There are close, decca, wide and balcony and mics as well as a reverb impulse from the space that can be turned on or off and adjusted. Each mic has its own fader.
Each instrument section can be enabled or disabled by clicking on it and there are volume and panning controls. The keyswitches for the current section are show below (and can be clicked on in the GUI as well) while there’s a sldiing scale in the center that lets you choose how you want to control the volume/dynamics for the notes. All the way to the left is completely controlled by velocity and all the way to the right is modwheel, with intermediate positions giving you something in-between. It’s elegant and the GUI is has the usual Sonokinetic flare.
Articulations and Sound
Each non-percussion section has a minimum of two articulations. There’s staccato and sustain in the high woodwinds and low woodwinds, while the mid woodwinds add legato as well. The brass all have at least three (staccato, marcato and sustain) with the French horns section adding a fourth (legato). The strings have five (staccato, marcato, pizzicato, sustain and legato) along with five notes of tutti Bartok pizzicato that are the same whenever you load any other articulations.
The short notes are the standouts. Across the board, the staccatos and marcatos sounded great in every section, with the brass being a particular standout, with a lovely brassy grain to the marcatos I don’t tend to hear in sample libraries. These are some of my favorite marcatos that I’ve ever heard in a sample library. The woodwinds and strings staccatos have a nice fullness, especially when all microphone positions were used and there’s so much energy in those string marcatos.
Room for Improvement
For my tastes, the legatos aren’t as strong as in some competing libraries (usually the sustains sound better without them here) and some of the sustains can sound a little tame at times (like the French horns). The mid woodwinds occasionally would suffer from stuck notes as well. Also, it would have been great to have trumpets and more melodic percussion.
Is It Right For You?
Sonokinetic Da Capo’s big selling point as an orchestral sketch pad is its unique sound and relative simplicity. You can access every articulation in the library in one patch if you want, or split it up down to sections/combinations of sections. It doesn’t take excessive hard drive space or RAM and the price reflects that. Also, the hall is full of character but not overly cavernous. If you’re looking for a library with granular control, look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for an orchestral sketchpad or want the sound of great orchestra for use in more of a keyboard style (for instance live) then this is a great library that feels highly organic and unique.