Review – Three Great (and Cheap) Kontakt Libraries from Indiginus
Three new – and very affordable – Kontakt sample libraries from Indiginus are explored: two acoustic guitars plus a percussion collection. Proof that “cheap” and “good” are not necessarily mutually exclusive!
by Dave Townsend, Nov. 2014
Some Thoughts about Cheap Libraries and If They’re Really Any Good
First of all, I have to apologize to Tracy Collins for calling his libraries “cheap”. Tracy is the Florida-based proprietor of Indiginus. He’s the guy who hand-made these products with the pride of a craftsman, and he wouldn’t want “low-cost” to be the headline. He’d be quick to point out that these are professional-grade instruments that any discriminating composer would happily employ. And he’d be right about that.
But let’s be real. For every well-funded producer with a blank-check budget, there are many thousands of guys like me who have to steal from the household grocery budget to finance their musical software habits. We are the semi-pros and hobbyists, the aspiring songwriters and the independent film composers. There are a lot of us and our numbers are growing.
The good news is that Mr. Collins, despite his multi-decade success in the virtual instrument realm and his uncompromising standards of quality, also happens to be one of us. He gets us.
In the 90’s Tracy was making documentary sound tracks and commercials when he got into sampling out of necessity. His first sample was a set of car keys being struck by a triangle beater, because he had an assignment that called for a “shark tooth” effect. Inexplicably, none of his commercial SFX libraries contained any files named “shark tooth”.
That keychain shark tooth was recorded into an AKAI S-950, which at the time represented the state of the art in sampling: 12 bits, 2 MB of RAM, and a 3.5-inch floppy disk. The sample subsequently played on a television series – about sharks, of course – for two years. More, and more sophisticated, AKAI sample collections followed, eventually culminating in one of the earliest credible acoustic guitar libraries on the market – the original Acoustic Guitar Collection. You can still buy its evolutionary descendant today, for a mere forty bucks. No AKAI sampler needed, just Kontakt.
Forty- and fifty-dollar sample libraries have a perception problem, namely that some consumers presume that inexpensive products can’t be any good. Of course, longtime users of virtual instruments know better; that if you shop around and do your homework, genuine bargains abound. (See the sidebar “A Cheapskates’ Guide to Affordable Kontakt Library Vendors”.)
Now, I don’t want to over-sell this class of sample library. They’re not the gigantic do-all collections, the kind that offer sixteen triangle articulations and five microphone positions on a tuba. Rather, they typically offer a fairly narrow set of features, each library adding one more simple but useful tool to your sonic arsenal.
Lower-priced Kontakt libraries usually have one other thing in common: they require that you have the full version of Kontakt. The reason for this is that library developers are required to pay a stiff fee to Native Instruments in order to make their products compatible with the free Kontakt player. Not having to pass that royalty on to you is a very big part of why these libraries are inexpensive. But it does mean you have to already own the full Kontakt sampler; the free Kontakt Player won’t do.
Indiginus libraries are compatible with Kontakt versions 3.5, 4 and 5. So those of you who (like me) don’t automatically upgrade just because NI tells you to can add to your library collection without having to first send additional cash to Berlin. Kudos to Tracy for maintaining backward compatibility!
Another nice feature of Indiginus products is that these libraries are not locked down so that you can’t tweak them yourself. Not monolithic, not encrypted, scripts are not password-protected and samples are standard wave files. For those who are comfortable messing with Kontakt instruments, or are just curious to see how one is put together, an Indiginus product is an open book for you to study or experiment with. (Just be sure to save any modified instruments separately!)
So let’s have a look at three of the newest libraries from Indiginus: StrumMaker IV, Delta Blues Slide Guitar and Brio Percussion Ensemble. They’re useful, they sound nice and yes, I’ll say it again: they’re cheap.
StrumMaker IV is an acoustic guitar library featuring well-recorded, nice-sounding six- and twelve-string guitars with body resonance convolution to enhance realism. What distinguishes this library from similar offerings is the ease with which you can program strumming patterns and chord progressions. Which is not to say it’s not good for picked sounds, too – it certainly is. But it’s the strumming engine that sets it apart.
As the name suggests, this is the fourth generation of the strum engine, the culmination of six years of improvements with a more flexible and easier-to-use interface than its predecessors. It lets you define up to 12 different strum patterns, and string them into up 24 different sequences, or switch between patterns via key-switches.
The product comes with two Kontakt instruments, one meant for sequenced strumming (StrumMaker IV Acoustic.nki), the other for conventional programming and finger-picking (Acoustic Guitar.nki). Both give you the option of either 6- or 12-string samples, and both can be comfortably played live.
Let’s start with the user interface, which may seem a little strange at first glance but is actually quite ergonomic and easy to use. We’ll break it up into functional sections to make clearer what each of those many knobs and sliders do.
A. Pattern Selector and Latch Button
This section selects which of the twelve strum patterns to play. Click “Edit” to modify the pattern or create a new one (more on that below). “Temp” opens a temporary thirteenth pattern for experimenting.
“Latch” is an on/off toggle. When enabled, the strum pattern keeps playing after the note has released, until another note or pattern is selected or the pattern is turned off via a key-switch. Latch mode is a great way to get familiar with the instrument, experiment with different rhythm patterns or to use as a jam buddy to play along with.
Quick start tip: click on “Latch”, click on one of the pink keys and then cycle through patterns 1-12 via the pattern selector to hear each of the preset patterns. Click “latch” again to stop playback.
Usage Tip: When using latch mode in up-tempo songs, it may be necessary to move your MIDI sequence up in time by a few ticks so that notes occur very slightly ahead of the beat. Most DAWs offer a simple way to do this without having to edit the MIDI track itself. This will not alter the pattern or its synchronization with the host, it just gives Kontakt a few milliseconds’ head start to get things rolling.
B. Note Duration and Steps
The top knob sets the interval between strums: quarter, eighth, whole, dotted eighth or dotted sixteenth. The “Steps” knob selects the number of steps in the sequence, from 1 to 32. Longer sequences can be obtained by chaining multiple strum patterns. Tempo is always synced to the host, as you’d expect.
C. Strum Speed and F. Strum Spd Hits
“Strum speed” refers to how quickly the virtual pick moves across the virtual strings. It has nothing to do with the rate at which the sequence is played or the duration of notes, just how fast the virtual hand moves up or down with each strum. In practice, the difference between fast and slow strum speed is not dramatic, but it does add a little authenticity when slower strums are coupled with slow-moving patterns.
The slider works opposite to what I first expected: you move the slider to the right for slower strums, and to the left for faster, tighter strums.
Tip: If a fast sequence sounds out of sync, try moving the strum speed slider to the right. Very slow strums might not finish quickly enough for the next strum to start in time.
“Strum Spd Hits” is the same thing, but for the manual strums. It’s separate from the sequenced-strums speed setting because the two modes are driven by separate Kontakt scripts. You can therefore throw in manual strums that are slower or faster than the sequenced strums.
D. Swing %
You’ve probably seen this setting on other sequencers and arpeggiators. It adds a bit of variation to the sequencer’s timing to avoid that unnatural robotic effect you get when sequences are perfectly quantized. Leave the slider all the way to the left for 100% quantization, or all the way to the right to simulate a guitarist who’s had a couple beers. I usually keep this somewhere in the middle.
Tip: The swing setting is saved as part of the pattern, so you can have varying swing for each pattern in a multi-pattern chain. Even better, try automating Swing, e.g. make it loose on the verse and tight on the chorus.
E. Guitar and Body
Here you can select either a 6- or 12-string guitar, as well as the type of body resonance to apply via convolution.
Click the red indicator light to toggle body convolution off and on. Turning it off will save some CPU, with a slight tonal change that won’t be noticed unless the guitar is a solo instrument. Chunking away in a rock or country tune alongside electric guitars, piano and drums you probably won’t notice the difference. But if it’s a delicate singer-songwriter ballad, convolution can add a bit of realism to the instrument’s tone.
Quick-start Tip: You can audition different body IRs by selecting them from the dropdown list while a pattern is playing in Latch mode (click the “Latch” button in the center of the Strum Pattern wheel). The default “Steel String 1” works for most anything, but try them all. For example, try the “Mandolin” setting and move the capo up to the 12th fret.
G. Chord Selection
This is where you indicate what chords should sound based on the root note being played. It’s actually pretty intuitive and flexible. For example, if you’re in the key of C major, press C on your keyboard (or Kontakt’s virtual keyboard) and turn the dial to “Maj”. Now, whenever you enter a C into a MIDI sequence or play a C on the keyboard, SM IV will assume you want a C-Major chord.
These settings are global to all patterns, so it isn’t necessary to set them up more than once, even if you’re chaining multiple patterns together.
Of course, you can go beyond basic chords, and even make up your own chords and alternate voicings, even partials. If, for example, you want to play a C-Major most of the time but occasionally play a C-Minor instead, you can either program the chord type via a MIDI CC or assign the minor chord to an unused key, such as C#.
Key-switches can also be assigned to switch chords, allowing up to 144 user-defined chords available for stringing into a strum sequence. Let Tracy tell you the story himself in this video walk-through of the StrumMaker IV engine:
H. Capo Position
The capo knob is pretty self-explanatory. Set the knob to one, and the effect is as if you’d placed a capo on the neck at the first fret. You can move it all the way up to the 12th fret if you want a kind of ukulele effect.
Tip: Unlike a real guitar, a virtual guitar’s capo can be adjusted while playing. Assign a MIDI CC to the capo knob for easy mid-song key changes.
I. Sequencer Chaining
Sequencer chaining occupies the center of the panel. The first value is the number of sequences to chain together, from 1 to 8. The next group of values selects which of the 24 sequences to chain. Drag your mouse up and down to change these values.
J. Note and Number Buttons
Finally, there are two buttons labeled with what you might guess are musical symbols, but they are actually abbreviations for “Note” and “Number”. Click on the button with the quarter-note symbol to display note names for every string and fret on the guitar, which might be helpful for non-guitarists.
What I found even more useful is the other option, selected by clicking the “#” (Number) button. This shows the MIDI note number for every string and fret, which is helpful to PRV programmers.
Editing a Strum Pattern
Click on the “Edit” button in the pattern selector to show the Edit window. This is the meat ‘n potatoes of the instrument. If you’ve ever dealt with a step sequencer before, most of this will be fairly familiar.
A: Step Position
This is just a guide to show you where strums occur in the measure. A row of indicator lights tells you which step you’re hearing as the pattern plays. Note that even though you can click on them and toggle them on and off, they don’t appear to have any function other than showing which step is playing.
B: Velocity Sliders
These set the velocity (volume) for each strum in the sequence. Drag a slider all the way to the bottom for a rest. Note that when you insert a rest, the previous sample plays out to its end. If instead you want the previous note to stop abruptly at the rest, make the next note a Mute, as described below.
C: Strum Direction
This row of toggle buttons determines whether a step triggers an up- or down-stroke. More often than not, you’ll want alternating strokes, because that’s how a guitar player usually does it. But not always; very slow patterns of all down strokes can be effective. Down strokes typically start patterns and follow breaks, but there are no rules.
This set of on/off buttons tells the sequencer when to use palm-mute samples for a step. You can make an entire pattern of mutes if you like, such as the opening rhythm in Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Lookin’ Out My Back Door.
Tip: Mutes are also useful for rests. Normally, if you set a step’s velocity to zero, the preceding chord rings through. If you want the sequence to go silent abruptly at the rest, make the first note in the rest a Mute.
This is a velocity-scaling control. Move it to the left to reduce the difference between loud and soft strums and make the overall pattern quieter. Move it to the right to make the pattern more rhythmically aggressive and louder.
F. Save Pattern
Click here to open a dropdown menu to select one of the 12 preset slots to save your current pattern into.
So, Do You Need StrumMaker IV?
Some of us are just musical packrats who love to add as many sounds as possible to our sonic palettes. If you’re one of those, then you already know the answer to the question – of course you need this!
However, some readers may have reservations about sampled guitars in general. It seems you can’t have a discussion about guitar libraries without somebody declaring they’d never use a “fake guitar”. I can sympathize with that sentiment.
Will any sample library ever replace a real acoustic guitar in a nice-sounding room with good microphones and a competent player? Well, of course not. But if you’re a composer who doesn’t play the guitar, it’s just the ticket for mocking up parts for a session musician to replace later. And even if you can play the real instrument, what if you happen to be working on a laptop in a hotel room at 3:00 AM? Sampled guitars do have their place.
But maybe, like me, you have no problem with “fake” guitars at all, but wonder if a low-cost library can meet your needs.
Frankly, there are bigger, more sophisticated guitar libraries available that feature more of everything: articulations, round-robins, fingering variations, pick positions and effects. So why bother with SM IV? Because for the price of just one of those high-end libraries you could buy all three of the instruments covered in this article, plus Solid State Symphony, and still have enough money left for pizza. And you’d also be up and running in less time than it would take to study the manual for those more complicated products.
Brio Percussion Ensemble
This one’s a set of percussion instruments plus a step-sequencer capable of handling complex rhythms.
Originally named “Brio Latin Percussion”, it’s since been renamed “Brio Percussion Ensemble” The “Latin” part made it sound as though it was limited to a specific genre, but we all know that percussion instruments are never genre-specific. Oh, it surely does do Latin percussion quite well. I pulled up a few rhythm presets and couldn’t help but start playing Black Magic Woman along with them.
But then I started thinking about how handy a percussion sequencer might be, not just for frenetic Latin ensembles but also for generic shakers and tambourines in all types of music. A few mouse clicks and I had a shaker track that would have taken much longer to program by hand via my DAW’s PRV, and more easily tweakable than a canned loop.
There are twenty instruments in the library (the original release had nineteen; bar chimes were recently added in the first update on October 24th).
- Large and small congas (four hit positions, four articulations, four mics)
- Large and small bongos (three hit positions, four articulations, three mics)
- Large and small timbales (two hit positions, two articulations, four mics)
- Djembe (three hit positions, three articulations, four mics)
- Shakers (three types, two or four articulations, two mics)
- Cowbells (three types, two articulations, two mics)
- Claves (three articulations, two mics)
- Tambourine (with and without head, four articulations, two mics)
- Guiro (large and small, three articulations, two mics)
- Castanets (two articulations, two mics)
- Bar chimes (two mics)
The resonant instruments (congas, bongos, timbales and djembe) are tunable with round-robins. Each instrument has at least two microphone options (far stereo and close dynamic), and some have four (adding small- and large-diaphragm condensers).
Instruments are combined into sections within the built-in mixer. For example, all the shakers are grouped together. Each section has reverb and delay sends plus independent pan and volume for each microphone. Mixer settings can be saved as a preset, so once you’ve tweaked your favorite setup it’ll be right there for re-use in subsequent projects. Five factory presets are provided to get you going quickly.
There is only one minor thing that’s not easy to do, and that’s route each section to separate Kontakt outputs – they’re all coming out the primary stereo output. However, I’ve rarely encountered a situation where I needed separate routings, because the built-in mixer lets me do pretty much anything right there within Brio itself. The one exception was when I wanted to add a fancy modulated delay effect to one instrument, but in that case it was easy enough to simply load a separate instance of Brio into Kontakt. RAM usage is light enough that loading multiple instances of Brio will not tax your system.
Of course, like all Indiginus libraries, Kontakt’s intrinsic features aren’t off-limits to you as they are with many commercial libraries. Want to add a Leslie effect or an amp sim to your tambourines? No problem. Just click the wrench icon to open Kontakt’s instrument edit mode and drag in any of Kontakt’s built-in effects.
The sequencer might look daunting at first glance with all those buttons and knobs, but it’s actually quite sensibly laid out. If you’ve ever used a step sequencer before you’ll have no problem figuring it out. The vertical sliders along the bottom set the velocity of each hit for accents, for the currently-selected instrument. Click on one of the instrument names to pull up the sliders for that instrument.
The lower-left corner is where you select the number of steps and the musical duration of each step. That part’s pretty straightforward.
“Latch” tells the sequencer to keep playing the sequence even after the note ends. This is handy for programming, auditioning presets and just jamming along for fun or practice.
“Record” lets you create a sequence by playing along on a keyboard while the existing sequence runs. Latch mode will automatically come on when you click “Record”. Hit one of the black key-switches to select a pattern and to start it playing. Select the instrument you want to program and simply play along. This is a nice way to get natural-sounding patterns quickly, since velocities are recorded along with the notes. Click Latch mode off to stop.
“Step Rec” puts the sequencer in step-record mode. This means the sequencer remembers every note you play and programs the pattern accordingly, like “Record” mode, except that tempo doesn’t matter. Every time you hit a key the sequencer automatically moves forward to the next step. This lets you create a sequence from your keyboard without listening to the whole sequence or being concerned with playing in time.
If you’re the type who likes to roll your own rhythms and don’t want to use the sequencer, or you need to insert some special breaks or one-time patterns, a separate instrument (Brio Ensemble.nki) is provided that’s just a straight-up sample library of one-shots. Each instrument and articulation gets a portion of the keyboard, and graphics light up to show which instrument is activated. This makes programming them easy, whether using the PRV or playing a keyboard.
In both versions, you get choices of microphones, panning and volume, plus reverb and delay sends. Mix presets are provided to get you started, which can be overwritten with your own settings as you discover your own preferences.
Newly added in the October revision, a third panel now provides access to four global effects: filter, bit- and sample-rate-reducer, saturator and stereo width.
Of these, my favorite is the filter, mainly because it can be modulated with an LFO. It’s surprising what that one feature can add to a rhythm sequence! Throw on a modulated filter and turn up the Velocity knob and you’ve instantly got a whole new percussion track, with different instruments fading in and out for a constantly-changing mix. For tambourine tracks, set the cutoff frequency up around 6-7 KHz to give the tambourines the kind of tonal variation that a live player naturally gets as they move off-axis from the microphone.
Second-favorite effect is the one-knob Saturation section, which adds a little bit of grit (or a lot, if you want).
The Stereo module is a Mid/Side balance that works especially well with the stereo-microphone selections, sending the recorded room sound out to the sides for extra spaciousness.
The bitcrusher module, labeled “Vintage Bits”, isn’t one I expected to find useful, as I generally hate bit-reduction effects. But to my surprise, this effect was actually pleasant. Set to 8 bits and 12KHz, it essentially gave me a whole new sonic palette with a sound reminiscent of my old drum machines from the 80’s.
Brio Percussion Ensemble is a nifty all-purpose percussion rhythm machine that you’ll have a lot of fun with, regardless of genre.
Delta Blues Acoustic Slide Guitar
I did not expect to like this instrument as much as I do. Previous experiences with slide guitar libraries had proven somewhat difficult to program and not always convincing. But when I loaded up Delta Blues and started banging on the keyboard, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s just SO much fun to play live!
The UI is so straightforward it almost needs no explanation. The only likely exception might be the “RR” button, whose purpose may not be intuitively obvious. That one simply turns round-robins on or off. Leaving this feature off greatly reduces memory usage when RAM is in short supply, and to my ear doesn’t significantly compromise realism. I wish more sample libraries offered this feature.
As with most Indiginus instruments (Brio being an exception), Delta Blues’ articulations are triggered by velocity ranges and/or key-switches. That means you can set it up such that hitting a key softly gets a mute, hitting it very hard and gives a slide or a harmonic, and medium velocities yield sustained notes. Try each of the presets to get an idea of the possibilities. Velocity switching is what makes DBSG great for live improvisation, but key-switches allow for more precise programmed control.
There are six articulations: sustained notes, mutes, slow and fast up-slides, down-slides and harmonics. Tracy has stated on his support forum that he’s planning to add hammer-ons in a future revision. That’ll be good. Not essential, but good. Check out Tracy’s Delta Blues playing tips video:
Velocity ranges (and relative volumes) of each articulation can be adjusted to fit your own playing style, but I found the defaults worked fine, even for my heavy hands. I was able to record natural-sounding parts that required very little subsequent editing (usually to lower the velocity on a note where I didn’t really want a slide to happen). For one song that was heavy on palm mutes, I turned up the Mute volume so they’d be equal in volume to the sustained notes. Other than those minor tweaks, the presets seemed to be pretty well thought-out.
I was having a blast playing DBSG right away, but what really got me excited was when I turned on the amp sim to electrify this acoustic guitar. Be sure to also enable the automatic vibrato when you do this (or use the Mod Wheel if you don’t care for automatic vibratos). This has become my favorite mode for DBSG – as an electric lead guitar. But be sure to cycle through all 18 included presets to get an idea of the range of sounds that are possible.
My Delta Blues experiments began by taking an existing lead guitar part that I’d previously made using a much more expensive library, and re-routed the MIDI track to DBSG. To my surprise, the new sounds worked pretty well with only a few minor tweaks. I liked it so much that I remixed the song, listened to the new and previous versions side-by-side and decided I liked the DBSG version better.
One minor limitation did bite me, though. I found I was short a couple notes at the high end to complete my track, so I simply stretched the highest samples in Kontakt’s mapping editor. That’s a great thing about Indiginus libraries that bears repeating: they’re not locked down. If you’re a Kontakt enthusiast, you can play with the mappings, add your own samples, even tweak the scripts if you’re that masochistic.
Tracy says he stopped sampling at the 15th fret (G4) simply because even though there were 21 frets on the instrument he just didn’t like the sound of it above that. It’s true, all acoustic guitars start sounding a little thin up at the highest frets. But he also said he’s open to extending the upper range in a future update. In the meantime, my little kludge did the trick just fine.
A note about slides …the slides in Delta Blues Slide Guitar are sampled, not derived algorithmically. There are pros and cons to this approach. The big pro is that slides sound very realistic, with little details such as scrapes and fret noise that you can’t otherwise fake. The tradeoff is that because they’re samples they are fixed in duration, which means you can’t easily create a very long, slow slide without resorting to the pitch bend controller. This limitation is somewhat mitigated by the fact that DBSG does respond well to pitch bends.
Delta Blues Acoustic Slide Guitar will add a distinctive new dimension to your sampled guitar collection. It also works as a general-purpose acoustic guitar, and it’s not limited to Delta Blues or any other genre. Try it on your next Pink Floyd-inspired space rock tune – with an amp sim.
Online Videos for Indiginus Products
StrumMaker IV Walkthrough: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyN6hrZ98XM
More Brio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HO4h2DdGXjo
Bar Chimes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oViSmty4dNA
Delta Blues Slide Guitar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJF0PKUfQp0
Torch Extended Demo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pyy8l3U7PB4
Solid State Symphony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKjRQ4vwe4g
Mountain Dulcimer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ab4htGr-8o
Other Indiginus Products You’ll Want to Check Out
We’re highlighting these three products in particular because they’re just the newest additions to the Indiginus product line. But while you’re visiting the Indiginus website ( http://indiginus.com/ ), be sure to check out the rest of the catalog, too. In particular make sure you check out the best-selling Torch ( http://indiginus.com/torch.html ) electric guitar ($50) and my personal favorite, Solid State Symphony ( http://indiginus.com/solidstatehome.html ) ($40).
Oh, and just in case $40 or $50 isn’t cheap enough for you, there are some useful $5 (yes, five bucks!) libraries ( http://indiginus.com/5dollar.html ) there as well. The Nashville Electric Guitar is a bright and twangy guitar that sounds great clean or distorted. There is also a Metal Electric Guitar, pretty generic but useful if Metal isn’t your main genre and you only need distorted power chords once in a while.
Another $5 goodie I can recommend is the Lap Harp. The sound is a cross between a picked nylon-string guitar played high on the neck and a hammered dulcimer. I like to use this to augment picked acoustic guitar. Try this: clone your acoustic guitar MIDI track, send the cloned track to Lap Harp and pan the two apart. It’s especially complementary to a 12-string guitar.
OK, $5 still not cheap enough? How about a freebie or two, then? My favorite is the rich-sounding Analogue Orchestra Lite, a subset of Solid State Symphony’s synthetic string section. Use it as-is for a mellow electronic pad, or layer it with acoustic string instruments for added depth.
A Cheapskate’s Guide to Affordable Kontakt Library Vendors
As you can probably infer, I’m an Indiginus fan. Useful and cheap, what’s not to like? But luckily for us budget-minded composers, Indiginus isn’t the only company serving our needs, just one of the better ones.
I’ve put together a list of some other library vendors who also pass the Indiginus Test for usefulness, quality and low price. To qualify for inclusion on this list, each vendor had to have a significant number of offerings under $50. Consequently, some of my favorite sample vendors aren’t on it (sorry, Orange Tree Samples, and sorry, Sample Logic you’re both great but don’t meet the criteria…).
The suggested products mentioned are merely my own personal favorites. All require full Kontakt, and most are compatible with Kontakt 4, except as noted.
Analogue Drums ( http://www.analoguedrums.com/ )
Just acoustic drum kits, most at $29 and $39. Check out the unusual Split Sticks kit for just $15, great for lighter genres. Or if you’re after that classic larger-than-life 70’s classic rock sound, give a listen to the Bombastix kit for $29. They also offer one of the best freebie drum kits around, called Big Mono.
Aria Sounds ( http://www.ariasounds.com/ )
Top-notch ultra-realistic orchestral and world instruments, including some unusual ones. Most libraries are £30. Kontakt 5 only. Check out: Aria Solo Cellist, Aria Classical Guitarist (nylon-string classical guitar).
Atom Hub ( http://www.atomhub.net/Libraries.html )
These are Kontakt 5-only libraries, and as such I have not used them myself, since I run Kontakt 4. However, they were recommended to me by someone whose opinions I trust, so I’m including them on the list anyway. There are both percussive and tonal products, many of which are quite unusual, such as “Drumming Fire”, made up of fire ambience – stuff burning. I’d have never thought of turning a fireplace into a percussion instrument! Need the sound of snow? It’s there, too. Most products are €5 to €15, and there are a number of freebies. Check out Barking Buddy!
Audio Thing ( http://www.audiothing.net/instruments/ )
Unusual percussion instruments (e.g. beer bottles), vintage synthesizers and various weird stuff, priced between £5 and £30. Check out the eclectic collection called “Strings” (£12), which combines ukulele, autoharp, Chinese violin and a bass guitar into a single, bizarre and one-of-a-kind instrument.
Bolder Sounds ( http://www.boldersounds.com )
Mostly stringed instruments and percussion. Price range: $20 to $60, several freebies. Check out the $39 hammered dulcimer and $40 crystal glasses.
Cinematique Instruments ( http://www.cinematique-instruments.com/inst_all.php )
Stringed instruments, keyboards, percussion and novelty FX, most ranging from €12 to €38. Check out the €15 Kantele.
Drumdrops ( http://www.drumdrops.com/drum-samples )
As the name implies, Drumdrops sells drum samples, and has since 2000, making it one of the oldest companies on this list. However, Kontakt libraries are a recent addition to the product line, so not surprisingly they’re Kontakt 5-only.
They also sell the same samples as unformatted wave collections so you can build your own kit in any sampler. Check out the Yamaha Kontakt kit for £5, available as single hits for free (!). I created a Kontakt 4 instrument using the multi-velocity Yamaha pack (£7.50), which was time-consuming (399 samples to map) but I ended up with a nice-sounding dry pop/rock drum kit for about 12 bucks U.S.
Drumwerks ( http://www.drumwerks.com )
More drums! Individual instruments for $3 to $5 and full kits $13 to $25. These are collections of wave files, though, not Kontakt libraries. But it’s fairly simple to create a Kontakt .nki from them, or add them to one of your existing Kontakt drum libraries. I have several of their kicks, snares and ride cymbals and use them to augment my other drum libraries. The low-tuned 24” kick is a favorite.
Embertone ( http://www.embertone.com )
Melodic instruments, bells and percussion starting at $20, plus freebies. Outstanding bargains are the Shire Whistle flute and the Sensual Saxophone, just $20 each. The $30 Chapman Trumpet is also popular, although I haven’t used it myself.
Forgotten Keys ( http://www.forgottenkeys.co.uk/ )
Specializes in vintage synthesizers, organs and drum machines, from £2 to £6.50. A personal favorite, for nostalgic reasons, is the Elka string synthesizer. If you’re a fan of classic electronica such as Tangerine Dream, Larry Fast and Jean Micheal-Jarre, you’re sure to like these products.
Frau Blucher Audio ( http://fraublucheraudio.tictail.com/ )
€12 and €16 compact but very nice-sounding drum kits, general-purpose but well-suited to heavier genres. Disclaimer: I’ve only heard the demos and haven’t actually used these myself because they’re for Kontakt 5 only and I use Kontakt 4. But gosh, the audio demos do sound good!
Hideaway Studio ( http://www.hideawaystudio.wordpress.com )
Sampled vintage synthesizers, many of which are rare collector’s items, all at £10 or less, many as little as £1.50. Mostly, but not exclusively, complex evolving pads. Check out the beautiful Orbitone collection (£10, £18 for both I and II) for some classic 70’s-style electronica.
Hollow Sun ( http://hollowsun.com/ )
Sadly, Hollow Sun’s proprietor, Stephen Howell, passed away this year. It was a great loss to the sampling world, because Stephen gave us dozens of unusual but surprisingly musical – and cheap – libraries to play with.
Fortunately for us, his collaborator Mario Kruṧelj (better known by his online persona EvilDragon) is keeping the Hollow Sun site alive for the benefit of Stephen’s family. Mario has hinted about future products, but nothing’s been announced at the time of this writing. However, there are plenty of old offerings there to keep you busy for a long time to come. Check out: Ensemble pad instrument (£10) and Taurus bass pedals (£15).
Lyrical Distortion ( http://www.lyricaldistortion.com/store/ )
Extensive guitar and bass libraries, most at $19. Most are recorded direct, but my personal favorites were recorded through amplifiers: Dirt Bass Amped and Ripper Amped. These amped versions aren’t your all-purpose guitar libraries because they offer just one classic rock sound – but it’s a great sound and instantly useable.
PinkNoise Studio ( http://www.kontaktbanks.com/products.html )
Sampled analog synthesizers such as the legendary Roland D-50 and Virus synths, most €30 or less. Check out DEEPFLIGHT for €22.
Precisionsound [LINK: http://store.precisionsound.net/]
Pianos, organs, analog synths, vocal samples and esoteric world instruments, most $29 to $69 but some at $10. Personal favorite: the rich and bright-sounding Finnish Concert Kantele, similar to a hammered dulcimer. The Owerland Guitar is also very nice for a ready-to-use picked steel-string acoustic guitar.
Rado Records [LINK: http://www.radorec.com/audio-samples]
There are only two sample libraries listed for sale here. One is a drum loop library that I’ve not tried because I almost never use loops. But the other one, well, that one’s a staple in many of my musical creations. It’s called “Epic Battle”, a percussion library made from water jugs (!) and it sounds, well, epic. At €12 it’s a must-have for anyone who can’t afford one of the big cinematic percussion libraries.
Rhythmic Robot Audio ( http://www.rhythmicrobot.com/page0/page59/index.html )
These folks have created a series of very low-cost (£3) mini-libraries called NanoMods that are fun for experimental and electronic styles. They’re essentially waveforms sampled from analog synthesizers with enough tweakable parameters to yield more sonic variation than you might expect from such small libraries. There are currently eight of these little gems, the newest (and my current favorite) being two classic waveforms from (I’m guessing) a Yamaha DX-something.
Sampletekk ( http://www.sampletekk.com )
Sampletekk’s specialty is pianos, but also has a nice harpsichord and organs. Many libraries are $50 or less, with frequent half-price sales and additional discounts for returning customers. Emperor and The Old Lady are two of my go-to pianos, and the Vertikal upright is on my wishlist. There are also some very nice-sounding, bright, cut-through-the-mix Yamahas that are great for rock ‘n roll.
Sound Dust [LINK: http://dulcitone1884.virb.com/sound-dust]
“Strange and beautiful instruments” says the opening page of their website. “Eclectic” comes to mind, too. How about a Dulcitone built in 1884? (What’s that, you ask? Think acoustical great-grand-daddy of a Fender Rhodes.) Most libraries are £15, £20 and £30. Check out the gritty 1959 B3 called “Hammr Growler”, miked through an overdriven Leslie (£30). Not your all-purpose organ, it’s just one classic Hammond tone – but a great one.
SoundIron ( http://soundiron.com/products/ironpack )
This company offers a wide variety of instruments ranging in price from $4 to $249, including some exceptional percussion (check out the Bamboo Stick Ensemble for $39). The Iron Pack series are small libraries that sell for 5 bucks apiece and have had introductory prices as low as $2. Get on their mailing list, because new Iron Packs come out about once a month.
Sampleism ( http://www.sampleism.com )
This is a treasure-trove of mostly small, mostly very inexpensive Kontakt instruments, starting at $2 with the bulk of them in the $20 to $30 price range. Not exclusively Kontakt, though; patch libraries, soundfonts and REX libraries are represented as well. You’ll need the better part of a day to browse this large site. Most of the developers are not full-time businesses, but rather individual engineers and musicians who make samples first for their own use and then generously share them with the world.
Simple Sam Samples ( http://www. simplesamsamples.com/ )
This up-and-coming vendor offers a great saloon honky-tonk piano for 30 bucks, as well as a limited-functionality (fast playing only) but absolutely beautiful-sounding solo violin for $15.
Wavesfactory ( http://www.wavesfactory.com )
A large collection of acoustical instruments and percussion, many at €9.95, and several freebies. If you’re into classic pop/rock, be sure to check out the Hofner bass and Tea Towel Drums, each for €9.95.
Xtant Audio (Xtant Logic, LTD) ( http://xtant-audio.com/store/3/0/0 )
Xtant Audio offers free and cheap Kontakt libraries, impulse response files and video tutorials. Kontakt instruments are mostly percussion, and prices range from €2.95 to €14.95. Check out Enigma I and II, “Curious Percussion” and “More Curious Percussion” – percussion libraries with a built-in sequencer and sounds derived from everyday household objects.