Review – Morphestra 2 by SampleLogic
Sample Logic’s latest product tries to cover all the bases, and is overflowing with sample content. Our reviewer checks it out in detail.
by Rob Mitchell, May 2016
Sample Logic is the developer behind some very high quality sample-based products. Some of their creations include Gamelan, Cinemorphx, and Arpology. Their latest product is called Morphestra 2, boasting over 5,000 sound presets, and 25+ gigabytes of content. A good deal of that is from two of their previous releases called Morphestra Generations, and the original Morphestra 1.0. As if that wasn’t enough, they’ve also added in 10 additional gigabytes of new sample content.
It uses true orchestral recordings, has a four-core engine with up to eight sound sources, and it lets you morph the sounds in very imaginative and powerful ways. Some of the other sampled material within Morphestra 2 includes loops, warehouse sounds, animals, tools, synths, and drums. Many of these recordings were manipulated, processed, and morphed into what I would describe as sounding “epic” and/or “other-worldly” in nature.
After downloading the mammoth amount of content, I proceeded to install it. For all of this to work on your computer of choice, it requires either the full version of Kontakt 5.5 (or higher), or the free Kontakt Player 5 (or higher). On the PC, it requires Windows 7, 8 or 10 (32/64 bit), an Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD Athlon 64 X2, and at least four gigabytes of RAM. On the Mac, it requires OS X 10.9, 10.10, or 10.11.1, and an Intel Core 2 Duo. 27 gigabytes of free hard drive space is also required for the sample content. You can use it as a standalone product, and is compatible with VST, Audio Units, RTAS, AAX Native or 64-bit AAX, CoreAudio, ASIO, and WASPI. It uses a serial number for its activation, and it all went smoothly for me during the install.
After I had Kontakt Player loaded into my DAW, I proceeded to browse to where the library is located. After it had finished loading (I didn’t time it exactly, but it took a little over a minute to fully load) I was presented with its main display. I do admit that I played around with its controls first, just to see what I could figure out on my own. Soon after that, I started to plow through the manual to get the details. The interface isn’t unfriendly at all; it’s just that there is a large mumber of controls on board to adjust its many settings. You’ll definitely want that manual to get the most out of this one.
I have to say, without even adjusting anything on the screen, I held down one note and was basically listening to what could almost be a soundtrack right off the bat. To hear some of the other instrument presets they’ve included, you use the menu at the top of the display. Clicking the arrows to the left or right of the default preset’s name lets you skim through the other presets one by one. Switching between the presets on my PC took about 2-3 seconds. To the right of the preset’s name are buttons for creating an initialized preset, saving a new preset, or you can load one you have saved previously. Next to these Load/Save buttons is another icon to switch between the Core Views.
Of Soundcores and Soundsources
Before I go further, here’s a short explanation about the sounds: A “soundsource” is a sound they have basically manipulated/produced in certain ways for you, and they can be strings, mallets, waveforms, drums, loops, atmospheric type of sounds, etc. One “soundcore” can use one or two soundsources, so if you use all four soundcores available in Morphestra 2, you will have up to eight different soundsources with which to play.
There are Single Core and Multi Core instrument presets. For the times where you may have loaded a one soundcore preset, but it just happens to have the Multi Core view loaded in the display, you just click the Core View button, and it will switch to the Single Core view. This makes it easier to read since it will stretch out the graphics across screen, as there is less going on within the preset anyway (one core versus four cores). Using the other view, it lets you see all of the separate soundcores, but of course it takes up more space on the screen. It is still easy to read and works well.
In the Multi Core view, each of the soundcores can be switched on and off. If you do happen to turn one of them off, it removes everything in the display for that soundcore, leaving a cosmic/spacey looking background in its place. Across the top of each soundcore that you’ve enabled are buttons to browse for other soundsources, and to load or save its settings. For example, if you load up the soundcore preset named “Call of the Whales” for soundcore one, it will load up the soundsources called “Waterphone 1” in the top slot, and “Panoramic Whale Flutes” in the bottom slot. Each soundsource is really a top notch audio production in and of itself, and within each soundcore, you can morph between the two you’ve loaded in a variety of ways. The sheer number of soundsources in Morphestra 2 is almost overwhelming, but variety is the spice of life. It would take days to go through and listen to all that are included. It’s just an amazing amount of audio resources to choose from. We haven’t even checked out how to modulate the sounds yet, but I will get to that shortly.
For each of the four soundcores, there are a few ways to get some variations on the sounds you have loaded in them. Using the Morph Knob, you’re able to blend between the two soundsources that are in a soundcore. In the upper-left is the Morph Animator button, which allows you to pick a preset to “animate” the blend of the two soundsources. There are 15 presets included to choose from, some of which are stuttered, gated, staggered/erratic, or you can choose from other smoother cycling patterns. The Step Length of the loaded pattern can be adjusted, (relative to the host tempo), and depending on its length, it will increase or decrease the speed of the playback. The animation preset you have loaded in can also be edited. Simply click the paintbrush icon over on the right side of the soundcore, and you can use it to edit the shape of the animation’s pattern. A record button lets you make changes with the Morph Knob (while a key is pressed) and will keep those changes for you.
Within each of the soundcores, you’re able to adjust an ADSR envelope, contour the sound with its built-in filter (low and high-cut settings plus resonance) and change the tuning. The tuning and the two filters each have their own dedicated LFO. The LFOs have rate, strength amount, and fade-in controls, as well as eight waveforms to choose from. Four swappable effects can be used for each soundcore, with a total of 20 effect types on board.
There is a powerful FX Animator which can be used in place of the LFO. It lets you setup a step sequence that can affect the volume, panning, and the filters to your liking. It has up to 128 steps that can be tweaked, but it also has many ready-to-use presets included. In addition, a handy randomizing feature will quickly get you new results on the fly.
In the middle of the four soundcores is a morphing area. This functions like an X/Y pad to smoothly blend between the sounds. You can click and drag the pointer around within the morph area, but there are presets that will do the job for you as well. These range from smoothly navigating from one soundcore to the next, to others which are more drastic jumps, and they can also vary in speed. It has an adjustable retrigger function, three playback speeds, loop on/off (when it’s off, it just plays once) and a randomizing feature.
Besides the effects you can use in each of the four soundcores, Morphestra 2 also has a Master FX section. It is located along the bottom of the main display. There are six slots to load the various effects into, plus an additional X/Y effect. Unlike the others, the X/Y effect can’t be swapped out. There are twenty effects included, and some of these are low and high pass filters, formant and vowel filters, tape saturation, reverb (with fourteen presets), compressor, cabinet (an amp simulator), delay, and a chorus. Each of those effects can be placed in any of the six slots, so they can be in the order you’d like, and they each have their own power button to switch them on or off when needed. When you click on any one of the effects you’ve loaded, it will open to a larger view for that particular effect. From there, you can adjust its controls, and then close it back down when it is all set.
Using the X/Y effect I mentioned earlier, you can set it up to evolve from one type of effect setting to another. Some of the settings you can choose from are high-cut and resonance, low-cut and high-cut, attack and convolve. It will then mix between whichever two effects you have selected from that preset menu. Soundcores can also be individually turned on or off, so they won’t all be affected by the X/Y effect settings.
There is a “Step Animator” that’s included in Morphestra that can accessed by clicking its tab at the bottom of the display. It has an easy to view layout, as nearly everything is on one screen at the same time. Many powerful options for each step are controlled from here, including the step type (play the regular note, stutter/repeat a note, glide, free play, and stutter alternating), stutter speed, velocity, panning, length, arp type (up, down, as played, random, and two chordal modes), transpose, and duration. Some handy features are built-in to make things easier, with four sequence patterns that can be set up (use the 1/2/3/4 buttons at the top of the display), and you’re able to copy/paste from one to the other. Another nice function is the MIDI drag-and-drop. This lets you easily drag the sequence you’ve designed out on to a MIDI track in your DAW.
Other features that were added let you reset velocities to certain preset amounts. The length, arp type, and stutter rate can also be individually reset (if needed) so all the steps will use a preset value. An optional “Easy Draw” function lets you draw in the values for the velocity, duration, and panning. This can really help speed up the whole process of designing your step sequence. A core “Link” mode switches it so each step plays while using the same cores as all the other steps. It can be set to use all the cores, or just any one of the four cores. Changing it to “Alt” mode lets you configure each and every step for when the cores will play. One step could be all the cores, then next could be just the first core, and the next step could be the second core … you get the idea.
Towards the bottom of the display are controls to adjust the swing amount, play mode and speed. The play modes include Latch, Freeze, and Random. “Latch” will play any keys that you have input until new ones are played. “Freeze” will hold the sequence where it is (at the moment in time), and will keep repeating it until you release it by clicking on the button again. “Stutter” will make it so all the notes in the sequence use the stutter/repeating note effect. “Quantize” will add steps to the sequence to get to the next full bar, or you can force the pattern back to the beginning again by using the “Restart” button. To the right side are the settings for the step amount and octave range controls. You are able to use up to 128 steps, and the octave range can be set to +/-3 octaves.
I don’t have the full version of Kontakt, so I wasn’t able to evaluate how well it worked within it. The manual mentions there are some more tricks you can use with the full version, letting you gain access to even more power if needed. For me, the Kontakt Player worked very well, and I had no issues with it. One feature I wanted to mention before closing this review is Morphestra’s built-in randomizing function. Unlike many other synth plugins I’ve tried, this one works very well. You just select what category type you’d like, select from All Categories, Atmospheres, Instrumentals, Loops, or Percussives, and then click the “Random” button to create a new preset. Nearly every time I tried it the results were very good, or they could just be slightly adjusted to fine-tune it until it was just how I wanted it.
How can I sum up Morphestra 2? There is a wealth of very high quality sample content, a slick interface with a large number of controls to manipulate the sounds, and a huge number of presets for most anyone to get started with it. It should definitely be on anyone’s shopping list if they are looking for a composition tool that can work well in nearly any type of music, and it lends itself especially well to soundtrack producers. When Sample Logic first released Morphestra 2, it had an intro price of $399 USD, and now it is at its regular price of $499 USD. If you already have the original Morphestra, there is a crossgrade option available. You can find more information on Sample Logic’s website here: