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QUANTUM LEAP Colossus (Mac/Win)

February 1, 2006
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FIG. 1: Based on the popular Native Instruments Kompakt Instrument platform, Quantum Leap Colossus furnishes an enormous sample library with a tremendous variety of instruments.

Quantum Leap Colossus (see Fig. 1) is a virtual instrument that holds a massive 35 GB sample library. It attempts to provide almost every instrument that any arrangement might call for. Colossus even features an enormous General MIDI (GM) sound set. Roughly half of its content is new; the remainder is derived from previous Quantum Leap titles. Overall, the quality of the sounds in this collection is very good. As you'd expect, such a massive sound set allows for generous sample times and nicely filled-in sample maps. Whether the instrument succeeds at its goal may depend on your definition of a workstation.

Extra, Extra Large

Installation was time-consuming (Colossus has eight DVDs of content) but not complicated, capping off with a simple challenge-and-response authorization. Colossus supports VST, Audio Units, RTAS, and DirectX plug-in formats. As a standalone synth, it supports Core Audio in Mac OS X and DirectSound and ASIO in Windows. Minimum PC requirements are Windows XP and a 1 GHz Pentium III or Athlon. Mac users will need Mac OS X 10.2.6 and an 800 MHz G4. Both platforms also need 512 MB of RAM and 35 GB of disk space.

With the ubiquitous Kompakt Instrument as its playback vehicle, Colossus is much more than just a sample-playback device. Kompakt gives you synthesizer sound-design tools, including AHDSR envelope generators for amplitude and the filter, and a third, assignable envelope. In addition to reverb, chorus, delay, and a low-frequency oscillator that you can synchronize to tempo, Colossus has a master filter for additional sound-shaping flexibility. As with most hardware instruments that play samples from ROM, you cannot edit the individual samples that comprise the patch.

Beat a Path

Kompakt Instrument is 8-part multitimbral, and each part has a pull-down menu that allows you to select an instrument from one of 20 groups. The process is a bit clumsy, because the small menu contains nests of submenus that have so many choices that you can easily lose your place while dragging through the list.

First on the menu is the Acoustic Drumkits group, a uniformly terrific set of instruments. Most are culled from the StormDrum collection. Kit sizes run from 65 to 90 MB, furnishing plenty of Velocity-switched samples for expressive dynamics. My favorite among those is Jazz Kit Sticks, which has a hollow, almost tomlike kick and a clangorous snare. Increasing Velocity on the second snare at D2 changes the balance of a rim shot from mostly stick to predominantly snare — very loose and ringy. The Electronic Drumkits group also carries titles from StormDrum, which are processed acoustic instruments rather than standard drum-machine fare.

The Acoustic Guitar Family group contains guitars and other fretted instruments such as mandolin and banjo. The 380 MB 2Guitars is a standout, with a pair of instruments creating a natural-sounding unison effect. Harder keystrokes invoke samples of the instruments sliding in to the target pitch. Fret-sliding noise adds to the realism.

Because I'm a banjo player, you might expect some carping about a sampled replica of my main axe. The banjo in Colossus is not bad; the samples sound warm and plunky and are recorded from a high-quality instrument played with fingerpicks. The amplitude-envelope settings serve most typical playing techniques well, but you'll need to adjust for a shorter release time to keep trills and staccato techniques from ringing. Although the low-pitched fourth string on the banjo is frequently tuned to D (as is the case in this patch), tuning that string down to C is also common. Unfortunately, Colossus has no provision for extending the sample map or even the playing range of the samples. Restricting keymaps to the instrument's natural range is pervasive in the Colossus sound set; that may help beginning musicians who are unfamiliar with orchestration, but Colossus is, after all, a synthesizer, and it shouldn't have those limitations. Then again, other synthesists might disagree.

In most instances, squeaks, buzzes, and other performance artifacts provide a realistic, live feel to instruments. Some sounds, however, suffer from an overemphasis of these musical byproducts. The Classical Guitar patch has fingerboard scrapes, vibrato, and other articulation noises; some of them transpose chromatically with the sample. You might not notice that in a dense arrangement, but it's a dead giveaway during solo moments. The Silvertone and Rickenbacker basses have more cumulative buzz than a coffee plantation, but only if you invoke that buzz with higher-Velocity keystrokes. The Upright Bass EXP2 patch is beautiful and lush, with just enough delayed vibrato to make the strings sing during long sustained notes, and a Velocity-switched slide to the target note — think Sam Jones or Eddie Gomez.

The Rhodes of Colossus

The two main acoustic pianos are quite good. You get two versions of a Fazioli F308 Grand piano: a 3 GB version sampled with plenty of natural ambience, and the equally ambient but slightly brighter 1 GB economy size. Both sound good in exposed settings and are well-suited to classical music and solo piano in general. The 1.5 GB Steinway B is nice, too; it's more versatile, in part, because of the absence of sampled ambience. Thankfully, Kompakt's direct-from-disk streaming works well, but the trade-off is more stress on the CPU. The producers rightfully tout the nicely programmed Rhodes suitcase piano, which really barks with higher Velocities, but be sure to check out the completely glassy and synthetic GS1 EP1.

The Electric Guitar bank has some delightful stuff: samples of a '56 Stratocaster are animated and long. Although the documentation doesn't delineate the sample maps, many of the guitar patches are at least a couple of Velocity layers deep. Digging into some notes brings up a satisfying pop and occasionally a bit of string buzz. Stratocaster samples include bridge and neck pickup groups. Some guitar patches are round-robin setups — a programming trick that allows triggering of alternate samples to avoid static, machine-gun-like repetition. That worked well when playing tremolos. Another favorite is the J Jones Electric Sitar, and the lap-steel patch is great for all-around slide-guitar parts (see Web Clip 1).

The Pop Brass bank has an abundance of trumpet, trombone, and saxophone sounds, with lots of specialized articulations and modulation-activated crossfades. TP Minidamoocha (as its name suggests) offers Cab Calloway — era trumpet played with a plunger that you can modulate into raucous growls (see Web Clip 2).

Most synth pads and basses are excellent, though I didn't care much for the Synth Solo instruments. Stormdrone Mod holds a batch of bizarre, evolving drone sounds that have equal parts organic, analog, and digital origins. The modulation wheel induces pitch and timbral changes. This is great stuff for scoring science-fiction and suspense films. Surprisingly, the oddly named Disk Utilities category holds a few gargantuan-sounding rhythm beds that didn't make it into the StormDrum collection.

The General Dies at Dawn

If you are considering Colossus primarily for General MIDI projects, you should either look elsewhere or prepare yourself for lots of transposing and data remapping. Basic programming criteria such as envelopes, Velocity response, and transposition are rarely consistent with standard GM instruments. Most of the GM sounds are ported over from non-GM banks along with their Velocity-switched articulations. In some cases, MIDI files that were prepared for GM instruments played back with lively new dimensions of expression. But equally as often, unintended up-and-down slides made performances sound downright silly. Some synth tones don't resemble their GM equivalents at all. In certain cases, instruments are mapped an octave higher than the GM spec. Nonetheless, don't ignore the GM bank; it has fine sounds that do not appear in the other banks, such as steel drums and shamisen.

Farfisa and Vox vintage organs are unlooped and stop abruptly at around ten seconds. Furthermore, A2 and Bb2 of the Vox Continental and Combo organs conclude with extra notes, as if the sample were never properly truncated. Unfortunately, the included Kompakt Instrument does not have any user-programmable looping or truncating capabilities.

If you own other EastWest titles, you might understandably balk at the fact that half of the material derives from collections you may already have. Unfortunately, the documentation provides no clues to differentiate between old and new material. Most of the ethnic instruments (including the banjo) derive from Quantum Leap Ra, which reproduces them with more-intricate and expressive sample maps (see my review in the October 2005 issue of EM).

Colossus offers plenty of great-sounding instruments in sufficient variety to compose in a number of idioms. Nevertheless, I don't think that any single collection can completely satisfy every composer's need.


Marty Cutler used to play pedal-steel guitar but now concentrates on banjo and guitar. And thanks to MIDI, he plays almost everything else.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

QUANTUM LEAP
Colossus

soft sample player
$995

OVERALL RATING (1 THROUGH 5): 3

PROS: Scads of great-sounding instruments. Instruments suitable for a wide range of styles. Simple but expressive modulation assignments. Effective disk-streaming scheme.

CONS: Poorly programmed GM bank. Some unlooped and unedited samples in the Vintage Organ section. Half the content drawn from previous collections. Expensive.

EASE OF USE
FEATURES
AUDIO QUALITY
VALUE

MANUFACTURER

Quantum Leap/EastWest (distributor)
www.soundonline.com

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