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electronic MUSICIAN

ULTIMATE SOUND BANK

By Doug Eisengrein | April 1, 2006

Ultimate Sound Bank packs plenty of software instruments and loops for GarageBand in its BoomBox series of DVD-ROMs.

Ultimate Sound Bank's SonicBoomBox ($99) and EthnicBoomBox ($99) furnish software instruments for Apple GarageBand and loop libraries in Apple Loops format. Each DVD-ROM contains the installer, a Documents folder, and a Loops folder. Along with a PDF manual in English, French, and Japanese, handy indexes of all the instruments and loops are also provided. SonicBoomBox contains 2.56 GB of loops and 223 instruments, and EthnicBoomBox contains 2.69 GB of loops and 105 instruments.

I tested the software instruments in GarageBand 2.0.2 on a 1.33 GHz Apple iBook G4. I used Ableton Live 5 on a 2.4 GHz Intel Celeron — based laptop to browse the loops straight from DVD. Installation of both packages on the Mac was easy; good documentation is included but wasn't necessary. After running the installer, you open GarageBand and drag the Loops folder into its Browser.

Around the World

Software instruments are divided by category into subfolders. SonicBoomBox categorizes instruments as Bass, Drums, Ethnic & Co, Guitar, Keyboards, Percussions, and Synthetic Sounds. EthnicBoomBox's categories are Africa, Asia-India, Balkanish, Latin Bass, Middle East, Occidental-Celtic, Spanish Guitars, and Xtra Percussions. Both collections share a graphical user interface that closely resembles that of Ultimate Sound Bank's Plugsound series of instrument plug-ins. It features synthlike controls such as ADSR envelopes, four Velocity curves, and a choice of four resonant filter types. You can customize each instrument and save user presets, and you can even create new instruments.

All of SonicBoomBox's instruments sound uniformly good (see Web Clips 1 through 10). Some of the highlights are in the Bass, Ethnic & Co, and Drums categories. Acoustic, electric, and synth basses are available; the acoustics have a nice, natural pluck to them, and the synths feature some tummy-rumbling subs. The Ethnic & Co folder contains a few first-rate stringed instruments, including banjos, a rich classical harp, and some interesting Dobros, tzouras, and bouzoukis. Among the drums is an outstanding variety of MIDI-mapped kits covering jazz, rock, electro, and beyond.

My favorite instrument categories in EthnicBoomBox are Asia-India, Middle East, and Xtra Percussions. Asia-India supplies some very good sitars, as well as lamelofon, shakuhachi, and Japanese and Malaysian percussion. Along with some nice Arabic violins, the Middle East folder includes saz, bouzoukis, and ouds. Xtra Percussions covers such oddities as kachichi, cajon, flexitone, and an excellent berimbau. All of them provide multisamples with Velocity layers that enhance their musicality.

Loads of Loops

SonicBoomBox's loops cover the electronic-music gamut (see Web Clips 11 through 14). They're divided into folders with names such as Big Beat, Funk-Groove, and Hard Techno. Each contains plenty of subfolders that reflect the collection's diversity. Some highlights include Vocal Phrases, Brass, Sound FX, and Turntable Loops. The Vocals Phrases tend toward the soulful diva-esque, and there are some interesting talkbox snippets, too. Brass encompasses musical genres from funk to big band, with trombones, sax, trumpets, and more. Sound FX offers a terrific selection of cinematic textures covering aquatic sounds, guns, ambience, and subways. Turntable Loops, which were apparently sampled from rare funk and soul recordings, are gems for their old-school hip-hop flavor.

EthnicBoomBox's loop folders are Africa-South Africa, Asia, Balkanish, European-Celtic, Indonesian-Gamelan, Latin-Cuba-Brazil, Mediterranean-Mahgreb, Spanish-Gipsy, and Xtra Percussions (see Web Clips 15 through 17). Each is a treasure chest of world instrumentation, percussion, vocals, and ambient sounds. Within the Indonesian folder alone are subfolders such as Ambiances, Indian Flutes, Papang, Pungi, Ravanhata, and Sitar. There are too many highlights to adequately describe here; simply put, EthnicBoomBox adeptly traverses the globe.

Overall, all the loops are well recorded and seamlessly looped. Many are dry, whereas some have effects artfully applied. The loops in both collections are well grouped, though unfortunately, many categories have only one selection in a given style. Like their instrument counterparts, the loops' naming scheme is succinct and descriptive; parent folder names are included.

My one criticism is the loops' lack of key or original tempo notation in their names, though tempos are notated in GarageBand's Browser. Knowing keys at a glance can be essential when matching musical loops from different directories. Although many programs do a fine job of time-stretching, keeping loops near their original tempo still produces the best possible sound. I highly recommend the SonicBoomBox and EthnicBoomBox collections, especially to GarageBand users. The instruments and their shared user interface are excellent, and the loops are tight. And if you prefer orchestral sounds, ClassicalBoomBox ($99) is also available. Each DVD is an excellent value.


Value (1 through 5): 4
Ultimate Sound Bank
www.ultimatesoundbank.com

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