Review – Spitfire Audio Hans Zimmer Percussion – HZ01, HZ02, HZ03
Spitfire Audio’s Hans Zimmer Percussion is a Kontakt Player cinematic percussion collection unlike any other, designed for the largest possible sound with uniquely comprehensive mixing options.
by Per Lichtman, Jan. 2015
Spitfire Audio has collaborated with Hans Zimmer to create the Hans Zimmer Percussion line, cinematic percussion libraries sampled using the same players and recording approach as Hans Zimmer’s scores and personal sample collections. The line is currently comprised of three volumes: HZ01 – London Ensembles (approx. $603 USD), HZ02 – Los Angeles (approx. $301 USD) and HZ03 – London Soloists (approx. $301 USD). Each of the three Kontakt Player libraries is available for download at SpitfireAudio.com. Note that the library runs on either the free Kontakt Player or full Kontakt, starting with version 4.2.4. This review was written using HZ01 version 1.2, HZ02 1.1 and HZ03 1.0 (all current at the time of publication).
Should I Check Out the Library?
Right out of the gate, the library has a lot going for it. First of all, Hans Zimmer is undisputedly one of the most well-known composers in Hollywood, both for his compositions and for his sound, with the huge percussion often being cited as a signature element. This library gets as close to his sound as you can get without hiring him. For HZ01 and HZ03, it’s the same players, the same instruments, the same hall (AIR Lyndhurst), recorded through the same equipment, with the same engineers handling recording, and the option to use mixes by the same mixing engineers – and to top it off, it marries well with the other Spitfire Audio libraries recorded at AIR Lyndhurst through the same gear. For HZ02, you get some of Hans Zimmer’s modular synth percussion to but the star is one of his favorite players (Jason Bonham) recording his drum kit in three different L.A. locations: the 20th Century Fox scoring stage, the Sony Scoring Stage (where Cinesamples libraries are recorded) and a location of Hans Zimmer’s own called “The Cathedral”.
Now, I’ll admit that I was skeptical about that approach since I’m such a fan of AIR Lyndhurst’s sound and how well it married HZ01 and HZ03 to the Spitfire BML range in particular. But boy did HZ02 prove me wrong for having doubted it. The kit sounds very different in each of the three locations (note that there’s a minority of extra hits for some of the locations), lending it surprising flexibility and The Cathedral has a massive sound, even without additional processing that makes it work well alongside HZ01 and HZ03 in a way that I simply had not expected at all.
All three volumes of the library sound fantastic. I cannot find anything negative to say about the sound. Basically, unless you want a drier sound, this library can dish out most of the huge sounds a composer could want.
How Does It Work?
In use, HZ01 and HZ03 function a bit differently compared to HZ02. With HZ01 and HZ03, the biggest sound comes out of the library when you use a lot of tracks: I have 33 in my template HZ01 and HZ03 combined template to get access to each instrument quickly, and I have several cues where they the majority are playing at once. There are some huge percussion instruments that can sound great on their own and this is a library that wants to give you that level of control as opposed to given you lots of pre-fabricated combos that layer even more instruments together for you – the All In One Patches allow you to switch between all the different instruments in the volume, one at a time, but do not map them all next to each other on the keyboard for concurrent performance. Conversely, HZ02 is rock drum kit in large locations (don’t go looking for a dry drum kit here) provided with many different mixing options, and a modular synth, so you’ll just need one or two tracks … or so I thought, until Spitfire Audio provided an update including three Bonus Instruments after I had started my review. The three bonus instruments are Bass Drum, Surdos and Toms.
The library is huge and covers some extended percussion that is difficult to find in other libraries but a large part of the libraries scope comes from the many, many different mix options available. Chances are you’ll know your way around all the instruments long before you know your way around all the mix options for each instrument.
The Instrument Patches
HZ01 uses several larger patches that let you switch between multiple related sounds using the GUI: All in One, Bucket Hits, Exotic Hits, Low Hits, Metal Hits, Taiko Hits and Timpani Hits. You’ll find all of these in the root of whatever mix or mic folder you’ve chosen (more on that in the next section), along with an Individual Patches folder that let you load each patch individually (instead of using a GUI to switch) if you prefer and an “Other Patches” folder where you will find the Punch COG patch versions (also found in other Spitfire Audio libraries) that allow you to modify specific round robin samples at your discretion or omit them from the round robin chain entirely.
HZ02’s star is a single Jason Bonham kit recorded in different locations, so most of the patches are dedicated to that. However, the Bonus Instruments section contains one patch each for Bass Drum, Surdos and Toms (each of which has Close, Tree, Outrigger, St and Sr mics). There’s also the Hans Zimmer modular synth percussion patch (single position, for obvious reasons) that is found in the Hans Zimmer folder.
HZ03 has the most straightforward patch organization: Buckets, Crusher Solo, Darbucket, Darbuka, Dohl, Paper Djun, Snare Solo, Surdo Solo and Tombek. These patches provide a more detailed, individual take on some of the instruments covered in an ensemble fashion in HZ01 (where they were often only available layered with others). This time around there are no sub-folders for individual patches (since the main patches are already individual patches) or for Punch COG versions. There also no stereo mix folders – that makes a certain level of sense since those purchasing HZ03 are most likely looking for more hands-on control anyway.
You can read up on the instruments offered more specifically at SpitfireAudio.com where the manuals for each volume are also hosted, but there are many instruments you may not realize you need until you play them, so don’t just stick to the names you know.
Most of the patches (exempting the timpani, rock kit and a few others) are played entirely using the white keys, and the starting note for the overwhelming majority is the same, making it relatively easy to sequence a part for one percussion instrument and then bring it over to another track. I found this very useful when writing layered parts and quickly organized my template so that the handful of instruments that did not use the same starting note were put elsewhere.
The Mics and Mixes
While Spitfire Audio has a list of additional mixes/mic options that will be available for free to existing users in the future, the HZ libraries are already industry leaders in these respects. I cannot emphasize enough just what a big deal the options are, both from a composer perspective and from my background as a mixing engineer.
Let’s look at HZ01 for starters. The library is divided into several folders: Additional Mics, Artist Elements, Stereo Mixes and Steve Lipson Mix. First of all, let me say that there is no “filler” – every single one of these folders contains extremely high quality audio material and the variety of colors available is unlike any other library I have ever worked with. I simply cannot give enough kudos here. I feel like I’m still discovering new sonic colors even after having used the library for a long time and taking the time to audition every one of them is something I doubt most users will even have time for. This is not a library I foresee people “outgrowing” from a mixing perspective anytime soon.
At the same time, the Steve Lipson Mix and Stereo Mixes folders provide instant gratification and a variety of colors. You get four different stereo mixes from four different people for each of the patches in the percussion ensemble, each of which will emphasize very different parts of the percussion section. There are mixes by Hans Zimmer, Alan Meyerson, Geoff Foster and Steve Lipsom and switching between them can totally change the feel of your composition. You can just pick one up and be ready to go at once without having to deal with mic balancing at all. Three of the mixes are included in the “Stereo Mixes” patch for each instrument, while Steve Lipsom’s is in a separate patch.
On the other hand, I took things a step further by routing a different stereo pair out of Kontakt for each stereo mix on every instrument, and then sent each of those outputs to a different aux in my DAW. Once I had that setup in my template, I could easily switch between the four different mixes for every instrument in my template at once by soloing one aux at a time. Honestly, I was blown away by the four different colors I could get without changing the MIDI data, switching patches or even dealing with individual mics at all. If you can’t find a great starting point in one of these four mixes I’m honestly not sure what you’re looking for. And yet there’s still heaps more detail available in Additional Mics and Artist Elements folders.
The Artist Elements folder is grouped into sub-folders by person: Alan Meryson, Geoff Foster, Hans Zimmer and JXL (Tom Holkenborg, also known as Junkie XL). The mics available vary depending on which person you choose. For Alan Meyerson and Hans Zimmer you get Close, Room and Surround. For Geoff Foster you get Close, Tree, Surround and Outrigger. For JXL you get JXL Close, JXL Room, JXL Full and JXL Air. By contrast, the Additional Mics folder uses one set of patches, all with the same mics: Bottle Mic, Mid Field, Gallery, Overheads, Pair and Piezo Tree. The user is completely spoilt for choice – there wasn’t a single time where I thought “man I wish I had X mic so I could do Y”. Once again, I simply cannot give enough kudos here.
For HZ03, there are no Stereo Mixes or Steve Lipsom Mixes. The Artist Elements include options from Alan Meyerson, Geoff Foster and Hans Zimmer and the mic options remain largely similar to HZ01 (save for the occasional small name differences like Tree vs Room for the same mic).
HZ02 is organized a bit differently. The Artist Elements folder still contains sub-folders for different people (Alan Meyerson, Geoff Foster and Hans Zimmer). The Hans Zimmer folder is actually just for the modular synth percussion patch. The Alan Meyerson and Geoff Foster folders contain three more sub-folders, one for each of the recording locations: Cathedral Drums, Fox Drums and Sony Drums.
The Kickstarter Kits in HZ02 caught me by surprise by emphasizing a different interface as opposed to different content. The interface has a taller aspect ratio than the other patches, with a drum kit graphic in the center that you can click on to select what you want to modify the mapping for. There are lots of tool tips, and most of the normal controls are found in the lower left hand corner. If you want to remap the drums (for instance, to use drum sequences you wrote for another plug-in) this could make it a lot easier. However, since the emphasis of my review was on the sound of the library, I spent less time here than with the other patches.
So Are There Any Downsides?
Before I got my current template configured, there were certainly times where I wished I could switch between different stereo mixes for the whole percussion section at once, though in retrospect I can see how difficult this might be to implement. I know that some users will be disappointed that they can’t just play a patch with a lot of different instruments mapped to different key ranges. I know there are also some that would prefer some pre-fabricated mega hits that layer a lot of sounds. To the last critique I would say that I’m optimistic that the choice to have users layer sounds as they see fit may reduce the glut of tracks using the exact same “mega hit” over and over, helping each user sound a bit more individual. And thanks to the fact that the main hit for most percussion instruments is mapped to the same key range, you can always stack a lot of patches if you want anyway.
More practically, I noticed on the taikos in particular that there were fewer different hits/playing styles than in some other libraries (the now defunct 9Volt Audio’s Taiko 2 sprang to mind). And the size of the library may put it out of the reach of users working on small hard drives. Some users may also be overwhelmed by the sheer scope of the library, since there are so very many possibilities. Honestly, to any such users I would simply suggest that you pick a single Stereo Mix because that makes it a lot easier and also that you take the time to learn one patch at a time. The only real criticism I have is that in some cases the documentation hasn’t kept up with the updates, which made it difficult to find any info on the Bonus Instruments in HZ02, for instance.
Frankly, I’m reaching here – the library really just excels at just about everything I can think of. I’m glad it’s here, use it all the time and wish it had come out years ago so I could have used it on my old cues!
What about the Competition?
There’s hasn’t exactly been a drought of percussion libraries, either cinematic or orchestral and certainly there are many options for either from EastWest, CineSamples and others that feature some of the instruments used in ensembles here. If a user just wanted taikos, for instance, I could think of several other libraries that offer them off the top of my head. But I have not seen any other library the offers the specific combination of percussion instruments employed here and each library is very strongly colored by the sound of its hall, something especially true of percussion instruments. Thus I find it very difficult to suggest any direct competitor to Hans Zimmer Percussion: if you like that particular sound, this is really the place to get it. However, for composers doing orchestral writing in a broader context, I strongly recommend pairing HZ with a broader, more traditional orchestral percussion library, such as Spitfire Audio’s own Percussion Redux, or EastWest’s Hollywood Orchestral Percussion.
If you are looking for the biggest cinematic percussion or just want a Hans Zimmer percussion sound, the Hans Zimmer Percussion line should be the very first stop on your journey. The recording quality, mic and mix options are insanely powerful, able to cater to both detail oriented users and those looking for instant gratification. I have simply never seen any other library go this far in terms of the mics and mixes – it has set the bar very high for all other libraries that follow. If you need a very dry, up-front percussion library, look elsewhere but for that massive sound it’s really the one to beat.