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MOTU Ethno Instrument 2, ($395 MSRP, $374 street, www.motu.com)

September 1, 2010
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EthnoInstrument_nrWhat: AU/VST/MAS/RTAS/standalone virtual instrument with a 21GB library of ethnic sounds and loops. Requires Mac OS X10.4.11 or higher, or Windows XP or higher (including 64-bit operating systems).

Why: People have short attention spans. So if you’re still reading this, consider inserting different flavors into your musical productions (hip-hop’s way ahead of rock in this respect). Or, be ready to score that scene in the next James Bond movie where he’s in some exotic locale.

Packaging: Boxed only, not download. This makes sense, given the size of the library (and the United States ranking 28th in the world for average Internet connection speed).

Installation: Read the PDF on the installation disc, which contradicts the otherwise excellent (and helpful) printed documentation. The required iLok copy protection key is included; note that you can install the library (from three double-layer DVDs) on any hard drive, as long as you create an alias in the default location that points to the actual location.

What’s hot: I loved the original Ethno instrument, so fortunately while the new version just about triples the size of the library, it also contains all original elements so Ethno 1 projects can load into Ethno 2. The only caveat is if you were using the DXi version . . . but you probably weren’t, so why worry? (If you were, check the manual before installing version 2.) There are a ton of new instruments, with an accent on voices, as well as lots o’ loops including some bhangra-esque Indian loops and plenty of taiko drums. Suffice it to say you won’t feel cheated in terms of content.

The effects have been upgraded, with eight modeled filter responses and modeled analog EQ (which can be different for each of the multi-timbral parts), and more CPUfriendly convolution reverb. And the browser has been revamped, offering more search options (instrument, geography, loops only, etc.). It’s also possible to audition presets more easily for faster sound loading.

Keyswitched presets are extensive. These combine particular presets (e.g., a staccato version of an instrument and a legato version) into a single preset, where you can choose the articulation via specific keyboard keys. There’s nothing new here compared to other libraries, but it’s good to see Ethno 2 getting on board with this—as well as with alternate tunings, some of which are available as part of the programs. However, you can also download free Scala alternate tunings (essentially a library of alternate tunings) if you’re into ethnic music and not just ethnic sounds.

One of the biggest changes is more reliable operation. Ethno 2 is based on the UVI engine used in PlugSound Pro, which is quite flexible but also has a bit of a “house of cards” feel. Or at least, did; the latest version is solid, and so is the time-stretching fidelity—and you can even drag loops into your host as audio files, or MIDI triggers for Ethno 2’s sliced loops.

Finally, although this feature was in the first version, it’s worth noting there are individual outputs for multi-timbral parts so you can add all kinds of outboard processing.

Conclusions: Ethno 1 was a fine virtual instrument, so rather than deliver any radical changes, Ethno 2 gives you more—more sounds, loops, presets, reliability, and so on. Of course, if you’re not into ethnic sounds, Ethno 2 is about as useful as guitar picks for saxophones; and the price, while fair, doesn’t exactly make this an impulse buy. But if you’re looking to push the musical envelope with sounds that draw from around the world, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything better than—or even equal to—Ethno 2.


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