Review – Rhapsody Orchestral Percussion

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Rhapsody Orchestral Percussion is a library designed as a one-stop-shop for orchestral percussion.  It works very well for the purpose, but several things about it may prove useful to composers that already own another library.

 

by Per Lichtman, Mar. 2015

 

A Percussive Rhapsody

Impact Soundworks Rhapsody Orchestral Percussion (ROP) is a new orchestral percussion library for owners of Kontakt 5.3 and higher. It’s available in two versions: Full ($199 USD) and Essentials ($89 USD). This review covers the Full version, which uses 44.1 KHz 24-bit samples. The library contains 50 sampled instruments to cover bread and butter orchestral percussion needs (as well as offering some additional hand drums) and over 21GB of sample content, with three microphone positions (close, stage and hall). Depending on the specific patch being loaded, there can be up to ten round-robins and five velocity-mapped dynamic layers. Let’s take a look at how that plays in practice.

 

Make It Easy


First, I must say that the user ROP interface is just full of the sort of usability enhancements that I really appreciate as a reviewer. If you’re playing a patch with multiple instruments, the GUI shows an icon and the name of the instrument played by your last note. You can load and save presets for the patch, instrument or mic settings using a simple menu in the lower left corner of the main GUI. Everything is contained in a single tab and the instrument GUI doesn’t take up too much space.

Additionally, the mapping and organization of the instruments themselves makes the library user friendly and accessible. Sure, you could go into the Single Instruments folder and load instruments one by one – or you could load all fifty instruments in just eight combination patches. I certainly gravitated toward using the combination patches, especially since the GUI made it so easy to tell which instrument I was playing when several similar ones were mapped next to each other.

The eight combination patches mentioned above are Aux Percussion; Cymbals and Gongs; Drums and Ensembles; Hand Drums; Marimba; Timpani; Tubular Bells and Crotales; Xylophone and Glock. In each case, related instruments are placed next to each other on the keyboard making it easy to get to many instruments at once (except the Marimba and Timpani). This approach favors live performance, as opposed to certain other mapping schemes that are more conducive to copying and pasting parts between different instruments. At the same time it means that some of the pitched percussion is transposed on the keyboard, so be prepared to transpose by octaves if you’re mapping a pre-existing part.

I found I really enjoyed the simplicity of the organization, especially in combination with the dynamic layers and round-robins. Constructing a template took much less time than usual, especially in comparison to what I spent on Hollywood Orchestral Percussion or Spitfire Audio’s HZ series. There’s a real “fire it up and forget about it” quality to working with the percussion, even as the interface offers lots of flexibility through the multiple mic options.

 

The Instruments

Drums

  • Bass Drum
  • Gran Cassa
  • Snares (4x)
  • Snare Ensemble
  • Timpani
  • Toms (3x)
  • Tom Ensemble

Cymbals & Gongs

  • Cymbal Scraped
  • Gongs (2x)
  • Piatti
  • Piatti Mute
  • Ride Cymbal
  • Ride Cymbal Stick
  • Tam Tam
  • Viennese Cymbal

Chromatic Percussion

  • Crotales
  • Glockenspiel
  • Marimba
  • Tubular Bells
  • Xylophone

Aux Percussion

  • Castanets
  • Claves
  • Chimes
  • Cowbell
  • Finger Cymbals
  • Guiro
  • Metals
  • Shaker
  • Sleigh Bells
  • Tambourine
  • Temple Blocks
  • Triangle
  • Vibraslap
  • Woodblocks

Hand Drums

  • Bongo High
  • Bongo Low
  • Cajons (2x)
  • Conga High
  • Conga Low
  • Conga Muted
  • Darbukas (2x)
  • Djembes (2x)

 

The hand drums are a real highlight, with both Latin American and African instruments coming to the fore and expanding the library beyond the standard orchestral palette. This might be the first library I load up next time a track I work on calls for Latin percussion.

The un-pitched large percussion works well and is especially friendly for reverb use given both the close-miking options (which have an “open” sound to them rather than a hyped or thin one) and the less reverberant hall. You can either throw on extra verb to make it sound massive, or you can really get up there right next to the percussion and use it as dry and intimate as you want. It’s sort of surprising just how well the large percussion can be made to fit into a smaller mix.

The only things I really missed from other orchestral percussion libraries were the celesta and vibraphone, neither of which is included in ROP. However, I didn’t find it too difficult to re-orchestrate ideas I had for the celesta to the crotales and glockenspiel, and there were times where I could use the marimba and xylophone in place of a vibraphone (though obviously with a different sound.

 

The Sound

I’ve been a fan of Impact Soundworks products in the past, such as when I reviewed Sitar Nation years ago, so it’s interesting to note both the similarities and differences in the sound of Rhapsody Orchestral Percussion as compared to the percussion in Sitar Nation and Groove Bias. First of all, this is their first library that fully combines multi-mic position recording with a hall. The hall itself is rather intimate and warm without overly strong reverberation or long tails, making the library flexible in the mix. The emphasis on a round, warm sound over an edgier or wetter one is something it shares with earlier Impact Soundworks libraries and offered a very different starting point from libraries like Hollywood Orchestral Percussion or Spitfire Audio’s percussion offerings. Since reviewing gives me the opportunity to work with several such libraries, I am happy to say that Rhapsody Orchestral Percussion offers the sort of character that kept me coming back to it, even as I used it alongside competing libraries, depending on the demands of a project. This is one case where the developer seems to have gotten the most important sonic and scripting elements right in their first major orchestral outing.

The library sounds natural and usable out of the box but also works great with additional reverberation. Since a very conservative approach has been taking in regards to processing the recordings, many users will find that the use of additional EQ can really help tailor it to your mix.

The close mic recordings work very well for using many of the instruments in all sorts of mixes well outside the orchestral genres, even in radio friendly mixes and genre since there’s no strong hall imprint on them. Since the close recordings are stereo miked with a full sound in mind they can easily be used in an up-front position in the mix. The library differs from many other multi-mic offerings in the extent to which close mics provide part of the main usable sound: these are not simply spot mics. Many users may find themselves relying on the close mics in whole (or in part) for the bulk of their sound.

 

The Competition

I know many readers may be thinking of Rhapsody Orchestral Percussion in comparison to other libraries, EastWest or Spitfire Audio so let me take a moment discuss the difference in sound. Compared to the Spitfire Audio libraries it’s much drier and more intimate and a comparative chameleon in the mix. ROP has fewer mic positions than Spitfire Audio’s range and users wanting the hugest hall sound out of the box (as opposed to those that prefer to rely on external reverb or prefer a more intimate hall) will find the library is less well-suited to them.

Compared to EastWest & Quantum Leap’s Hollywood Orchestral Percussion, the sound is somewhat more similar in character but still quite different. While ROP was recorded in an intimate hall, HOP was recorded in a large studio and their respective reverberation imprints reflect that. In addition, while HOP offers five microphone positions and ROP offers three, they also differ greatly in the sonic character of each of those positions. There’s a very relaxed and natural quality to the ROP recordings that I don’t really find anywhere else while HOP offers more of a glossy sheen. Both are desirable in different contexts and I found myself enjoying going between the two depending on context.

Suffice to say that ROP holds its own against these other libraries by offering a different sound and a simpler user experience all with high quality recordings.

 

Is ROP Right For You?

Impact Soundworks Rhapsody Orchestral Percussion is the sort of mature, stable product that I would expect from a developer with many orchestral releases under its belt and has been a complete pleasure to use. If you are looking for a bread and butter orchestral library, and especially if you also have use for the Latin and African additions, I would strongly recommend checking out this product. It’s competitively priced, fun, easy to use, flexible in a mix, and has an effortlessness to the recordings that communicates well to the listener.

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