Review – Strezov Sampling Thunder 1 thru 3 Bundle
Thunder from Strezov Sampling is a set of multi-sampled ensemble percussion libraries with enough unique characteristics to make them … well … unique. Find out more here.
by Per Litchman, May 2015
Strezov Sampling’s Thunder series is a set of multi-sampled ensemble percussion libraries for the full version of Kontakt 4.2.4 or higher (not Kontakt Player). Each library features between six and fifteen percussionists playing in unison using a variety of orchestral and world percussion instruments. Each preset consists either of many players using the same type of instrument or more often a combination of several instrument types playing at once. Thunder’s combinations are uncommon and I can honestly say that each preset consisted of either a different grouping of instruments or a different number of players on a given instrument – more than any other library I’ve worked with so far. The sound of the ensembles ranges from medium (when a large number of small to medium instruments are combined) to very large (when larger instruments are grouped together). There are no melodic/chromatic presets: the library focuses squarely on un-pitched percussion.
The bundle currently sells for $139 USD and is comprised of three volumes, available for purchase as a bundle or individually at strezov-sampling.com. It takes up roughly 8.8 GB after install: Thunder 1 ($80 USD normally, 1.8 GB after install), Thunder 2 ($80 USD normally, 2.3 GB after install) and Thunder 3 ($110 USD normally, 4.68 GB after install). [Edit: With updates it goes up to about 10.8 GB.]
The developers opted for names that evoke the color of the ensemble, rather than instrument lists. Nonetheless, the manuals for volumes one and two clearly list the instruments used in the PDF. In addition, the GUI for volumes two and three displays the instruments used as well.
Thunder 1 (thirteen ensembles and one master preset)
Click Clackers I
Click Clackers II
Greater Beasts I
Greater Beasts II
Thunder 2 (thirteen ensembles, one master preset and one bonus preset)
Dragon (23 RR)
Iron Maiden (bonus preset – drumkit)
King Kong (22RR, four articulations)
Thunderbolt (27 RR, two articulations)
Thunder 3 (six ensembles and no master preset)
Elder Titan (three articulations)
Mumbai Chase (three articulations)
Urban Warrior (two articulations)
Thunder 1 was recorded with eight percussionists from Sofia Session Orchestra at the Loud-Fi studio in Sofia, Bulgaria and comes with two microphone positions: close and room. The sound is very dry and malleable – even more so than Thunder 2 and 3 – and so I was encouraged to use even more processing than I often do on other libraries: many other libraries will sound far glossier in the both the lows and highs out of the box, but here it sounds very natural to start with and can be made glossy or hyped if you desire. Sure, we are all used to bringing in a little EQ to emphasize the low end or low mids, but here I opted to use the Bass Isolation impulses from Numerical Sound FORTI and SERTI (which I may be biased towards since I consulted on their design). Anyway, when I sent Thunder 1 to two Bass Isolation auxes (one at 65Hz and the other at 130Hz) the deep low end in the recordings really came alive.
Thunder 1 comes with thirteen presets, which I chose to divide into three categories: those that contain one section of instruments (e.g. snares), those that only contain instruments not included in the single section presets, and those that contain such a diverse group of instruments, so that they overlap with either of the previous categories. I know it sounds like I’m making it complicated, but give it a minute – it will make sense.
In the section category we find four presets: Greater Beasts I (eight tuned toms), Greater Beasts II (eight de-tuned toms), Metal Freak (five small anvils) and Pirate Ship (eight snares). Normally you would use either the tuned toms or the de-tuned ones, not both at once, but with that exception, these can all be effectively layered or written as independent parts without re-using the same instruments. I found this to be a great way to get started since it made use of the huge ensemble sizes: using three of them together the way I described resulted in the sound of 21 percussion instruments playing at once. That’s already a huge sound without getting into stacking instruments. I would suggest that you try it.
Since the library emphasizes a natural sound, there are a couple presets which have slight timing differences that I occasionally found distracting. However, this was easily remedied by using the sample offset knob, which I personally mapped to the mod wheel to make it quicker to control.
This volume features the most dynamic layers (ten) and fewest round-robins (eight). The master preset makes it very quick and easy to play live if you choose and the GUI reflects the instrument used for the last note played, as well as color-mapping where each instrument starts and end on the keyboard display.
Thunder 2 (and 3 after it) move the recordings to the Sofia Session Orchestra Hall, with six players. If you read my Rhapsody Orchestral Percussion review, the character of the recordings shares a lot with that library – which makes sense when you notice some of the same performers and recordings engineers appearing in both. Similarly, it uses a three microphone position approach: close, decca, hall. It has notably more ambience than Thunder I but still keeps a lot of the close energy – and Sofia Session Orchestra Hall is a lot smaller and less reverberant than AIR Lyndhurst, for example.
This volume features the fewest dynamic layers (four) and comes with lots of round-robins. The site says ten round-robins are provided per preset, but I listed three in articulations that use 22 to 27. There are so many different presets here that a comprehensive discussion would take a long time. Instead I’ll highlight Dragon (big sound, 23 round-robins), Thunderbolt (27 round-robins and two articulations of natural and processed metal sounds) and Warrior (12 toms played with mallets in unison).
Thunder 3 changes the concept yet again by reducing the number of presets, but including multiple articulations within half of them (something only done in a minority of the Thunder 2 presets). It adds some new features (like a great-sub bass knob for adding low-end and parallel compression) and keeps the miking approach of volume two.
This volume comes in the middle for dynamics layers (seven) and features the most round-robins (thirteen). This is the volume that probably differentiates the colors of each ensemble most strongly – from the snares of Armada, to the large percussion of Elder Titan to the bottles in Mumbai Chase, switching presets results in a very clear shift in timbre.
While there are several competing percussion libraries, the only one I’ve covered that’s specifically geared towards this type of non-traditional ensemble so far is Spitfire Audio’s HZ series. These two libraries are completely different – HZ offers a lot more mics, is recorded in one of the most reverberant spaces out there, as well as being offered at a higher price. Also, the HZ series breaks up the bundle into “solo” performances and ensemble ones. And while Thunder caters both to a “one-per-track” and “all on the keyboard at once” approach, the HZ series casts it lot firmly in the “one-per-track” camp.
The libraries also differ in their emphasis. While both include toms, snares, buckets and some ethnic percussion, Thunder includes tupans (which HZ does not) and HZ includes taikos (which Thunder does not), among several other instrument differences.
I like using both, but they are about as different as they come in their approach and I find it difficult to imagine people buying one to replace the other. Users that want a huge space without additional reverb will gravitate towards HZ and those that want the flexibility to use their percussion in any space they want will gravitate towards Thunder. Both are great libraries.
Is It Right For You?
If you want a Kontakt library to expand your large percussion, or you’re getting a large percussion library for the first time, then the Thunder bundle is a great option with lots of dynamic layers and round-robins. I think is the first time I ever saw a preset with 27 round-robins, let alone multiple articulations for that. The drier sound makes it flexible in a mix and makes it work surprisingly well in pop and more intimate songs when needed (how many times can you say that for a large percussion library?), but be prepared to add additional reverb and EQ and the like for the full-scale epic sound. The recordings are presented in a very natural state, but each successive entry also adds more and more additional processing options. It’s a great value for the money, easy to quickly learn and play, and volumes 1 and 2 do a great job of catering towards live use with their master presets.