I've always loved the smooth, open timbres of mallet percussion. The moment I learned Sampleheads was coming out with a CD-ROM of marimba and vibraphone samples, I had to check it out. As soon as it arrived, I ripped open the package, loaded up a bank of sounds, and went a-malleting. But more on that later. Here are the facts.
Mallet artist Dave Samuels plays all of the samples on this collection. Sampleheads makes a point of collaborating with top-notch players, and Samuels is no exception; his resume reads like a who's who of jazz, including Oscar Peterson, Stan Getz, the Yellowjackets, and Spyro Gyra, among others. The CD contains a few sampled phrases, but it mainly features meticulously recorded chromatic multisamples that are intended for Samuels' own use with a sampler and an Alternate Mode MalletKat MIDI controller.
The Dave Samuels Marimba and Vibes CD-ROM is available in Akai S1000, Roland S-700 series, E-mu, SampleCell, and NemeSys' GigaSampler formats ($149.95). It's also available as an audio CD ($99.95). What's more, you can download individual multisamples in E-mu's SoundFont format directly from the Sampleheads Web site, with prices from $9.95 to $19.95 for each SoundFont bank. I reviewed the E-mu CD-ROM.
With MalletsThe disc includes five multisample presets: sustained notes played soft, medium, and hard; dead notes played medium; and two octaves of bass notes. It also includes marimba roll samples between seconds, minor thirds, and major thirds. When appropriate, Sampleheads provides variations with different file sizes; for instance, the hard mallet is available in 20 MB, 16 MB, and 7 MB presets.
Recording a chromatic samples series demands great precision from the musician, and Samuels is clearly up to the task - the samples play cleanly and evenly across the entire range. Samuels' 5-octave, rosewood Yamaha marimba sounds lovely, pure, and sweet. My favorite sound on the disc is a velocity crossfade between soft-mallet and dead-note samples, which are close-miked and intimate. Medium- and hard-mallet samples include natural room ambience, creating more of a live feel; they sound great on a Steve Reich-inspired mallet ensemble that I created.
The vibraphone samples feature four main multisampled presets: two with sustained notes (soft and medium mallets played mezzo forte and forte, respectively) and two with short, dampened notes (mezzo forte soft mallet and forte hard mallet). As with the marimba samples, each of the vibraphone samples is available in several file sizes. The samples sound great, but not one of them utilizes the characteristic tremolo produced by the vibraphone's motorized fans.
Tried and TremulousSampling the instrument with the tremolo effect doesn't work well for several reasons. Most notably, the fans' cyclic effect does not synchronize with different notes on playback. I worked up a reasonable facsimile by routing an LFO to global amplitude and then wondered why Sampleheads hadn't included that workaround. Sampleheads' Jeremy Roberts says a simple LFO-to-amplitude routing doesn't fully re-create an acoustic tremolo's sound, which is certainly true. Additionally, Roberts says, "We're respecting the artist that we sampled. That's not his style; he doesn't generally use the motors."
Nonetheless, I find Dave Samuels Marimba and Vibes to be a focused and well-executed collection. Anyone looking for the highest quality mallet samples does not need to look further.