High-end romplers offer immediate access to
just about any instrumental sound you can think of,
often spanning music history and world cultures.
Their immediacy and timbral range make them ideal
for many musical tasks, whether you’re performing
onstage or recording in the studio. Despite the
availability of so many other methods of synthesis,
from analog and FM to physical modeling and
granular synthesis, sample playback remains the
IK Multimedia’s SampleTank is one of the most
successful virtual romplers. But it has been 13 years
since its launch, and half a decade since the last
major update, so when rumors surfaced of SampleTank 3 (ST3), users expected big things.
And ST3 does not disappoint: New features include
a redesigned GUI and plenty of new content,
including more than 2,500 loops, 2,000 MIDI files,
and 4,000 new instruments. The entire sound library
has been updated to reflect current sampling technology,
with higher sampling rates, more layers, and
many more multisamples than in previous versions.
ST3 is a 16-part multitimbral sample player that
runs either standalone or as an AAX, AU, or VST
plug-in, in Windows or Mac OS X. One difference
between the plug-in and standalone version is the
latter has an extra tab in Settings to specify the
MIDI In source and audio interface parameters as
high as 96kHz. You can specify any one source as
your MIDI input or configure ST3 to accept control
signals from all MIDI sources. Also, the standalone
version has a handy meter for monitoring
ST3’s CPU usage, which is impressively light.
To install ST3, first, you must download IK
Multimedia’s Authorization Manager, install it,
run it, and enter your authorization code. Once authorized,
download and install ST3, which starts
out with no included content. You’ll find links for
the content in your user area on IK Multimedia’s
website, where you’ll download more than 33 GB
in eight ZIP files—more than six times as much as
SampleTank 2.5. Once your download is complete,
decompress all eight parts, one at a time, to any location
you like. The next time you open ST3, it will
automatically find the content and build a database.
ONCE AROUND THE BLOCK
|Fig. 1. SampleTank 3’s Play page
gives you easy access to the
browser and all 16 Parts in its
Unlike SampleTank 2.5, which crammed all its
controls onto a smaller GUI, ST3 has three main
pages: Play, Mix, and Edit. You’ll probably spend
most of your time on the Play page, which provides
access to all 16 Parts and a browser for selecting Instruments,
Multis, and MIDI Patterns (see Figure
1). As someone who felt the text in the previous
version was too small, I appreciate that the Play
page’s Parts section is twice as large, and the GUI is better organized. I wouldn’t mind if the GUI were
even larger, but it’s a big improvement. My only
real complaint is that the dark-gray on darker-gray
scroll bars can be hard to find.
Each Part in the Play page has a slot for a single
Instrument along with its MIDI channel assignment,
volume and pan sliders, and an LED-style
level display. An Instrument could be a 12-string
guitar, a drum kit, a vocal ensemble, sound effects,
or even a groove construction kit, for example. To
layer Parts, simply assign them to the same MIDI
channel. In addition to Instruments, buttons let
you load Multis and Patterns, as well as open a
page that enhances live performance.
|Fig. 2. The Mix page resembles a mixing
console, allowing many users to work with
Parts in a familiar studio environment.
The Mix page resembles a DAW’s mixing console
with separate channels for each Part. Each
track has four effects sends and slots for five insert
effects, as well as all the other controls you’d expect
from a channel strip—lever fader, pan slider, mute
and solo buttons, etc. Accessing insert and master
effects on the Mix page is particularly easy, and
you can save a channel’s effects chain as a group.
You can also scroll sideways to make changes to
the four effects return channels (with five inserts
each; see Figure 2). Most of the Mix page’s parameters
are also available on the Play page, but the
Mix page makes working in the standalone version
of ST3 more like working in a DAW, which is especially
handy in live performance.
|Fig. 3. The Edit page is where you get
down to the details of customizing
individual Parts and Instruments.
The Edit page resembles a synthesizer’s front
panel and furnishes controls for Instrument parameters—
filters, LFOs, envelope generators, and
the like—and settings for each Part (see Figure
3). You can instantly switch between the 16 Parts
using buttons on the right side of the page to access
controls for every Instrument that’s currently
loaded. In the Edit page’s Part section, you can
specify details that are not Instrument-specific for
each Part, including maximum polyphony, transposition,
panning, volume, and note and Velocity
range. You can create splits by limiting a Part’s note
range and Velocity range, and you can create layers
by assigning Parts to the same MIDI channel.
The row below that is the Sample section,
where you can adjust parameters such as tuning
and pitch-bend range or choose one of ST3’s
three playback engines. Next to the Filter section
are knobs that govern how much note Velocity affects
parameters, such as amplitude, filter cutoff
or resonance, and LFO depth. Two more sections
control LFO, envelope, and keyboard parameters.
All three pages have Instrument-specific Macro
and FX buttons to access quick edit parameters in
the lower section. Clicking on Macro reveals whatever
eight controls are best suited for editing the
selected Instrument. Clicking on FX reveals five
buttons and a pop-up menu for selecting the Instrument’s
insert effects and controls for editing
their parameters. At the bottom of all three pages
are buttons to assign hardware controllers to MIDI
CCs, start and stop loop and pattern playback, etc.
In the Play window, the browser provides a list
of 22 instrument categories organized into folders,
much as in previous versions. Clicking on a
category’s adjacent triangle opens the folder and
reveals a list of subcategories. Within each subcategory
are two or more individual Instruments. For
example, the Organ category contains Tonewheel,
Electronic, Pipe, and ST2 XL subcategories, and
the Electronic subcategory contains Combo Organs
1, 2, 3, and 4.
When you click on the Search button and type
in a keyword, ST3 helps you locate a sound quickly
by displaying only Instruments tagged with that
keyword. Clicking on an Instrument’s Info button
displays a 3-D drawing of the instrument that was
sampled, along with a brief description, information
about how much memory it consumes, a list
of the parameters you can access using the Macro
knobs, and other pertinent data.
Clicking the Multi button lets you browse Multis
(called Combis in previous versions) exactly
like you browse Instruments. A Multi may contain
as many as 16 Instruments and all their associated
parameters, Patterns, and effects. If you’re an old
hand at SampleTank, you can import your Combis
completely intact to the newer Multi format.
|Fig. 4. In the Play page’s Live screen, you
can set up all the sounds you’ll need for
your songs and organize them into Set
One of the most useful new features in ST3 is
the Live screen, which helps you organize groups
of sounds for quick access—especially convenient
in live performance—but ST3 goes beyond similar
features in other multitimbral instruments (see
Figure 4). Start by naming a Song and optionally
assigning it a MIDI program change. Within each
Song, you can specify a number of Multis that have
whatever Instruments you’ll need for that Song.
During a performance, you can send one program
change to load a Song, one for the verse, another
for the chorus, and so on, or simply click on
the Song or Multi in your display. Because loading
a Song loads all the Multis it contains, switching
from one Multi to another is instantaneous. You
can create as many as 64 Songs, each containing up
to 16 Multis, and save them as a Set List. Set Lists
will appear in the browser, much like Instruments,
Multis, or Patterns.
NOW I’M DOWN IN IT
All of the controls you normally associate with
a synthesizer are on the Edit page, including the
filter, envelopes, LFOs, and so on. You can select
from ten filter types in the Filter section. I especially
liked that, for more than half the types, four
buttons let you choose the filter slope (from 1- to
4-pole) independently of the type. An Overdrive
knob adds distortion to all filter types except the
three standard VCF types.
The VCF lowpass, highpass, and bandpass
types are the same filters that were on the previous
SampleTank. Three new ones emulate the
Moog ladder filter. The formant filter replaces
the Frequency knob with Morph, which shifts the
frequency of the formant band, and the Res knob
changes the bandwidth.
Another new filter type is the phaser. It’s not
the same as the effects section’s older phaser
model and occurs at a different point in the signal chain. The phaser filter has fewer parameters than
the phaser effect, and instead of four filter slopes,
it lets you select from one to four stages. Another
difference is that envelopes and LFOs can modulate
filter parameters, but not effects parameters,
resulting in some dramatic phase-shifting effects.
A pair of LFOs gives you a respectable number of
parameters to tweak. In addition to the usual rate,
depth, and waveform, you can dial in the phase, fadein
rate, and destination—pitch, filter cutoff, amplitude,
or pan. Either LFO will begin its wave at the
zero point at the beginning of a note, but one can be
free-running if you prefer. I was disappointed that
ST3 has no more LFOs than the previous version.
I was also surprised that ST3 has only two envelope
generators, but I suppose the GUI limits the
number of controls that fit on the Edit page. Both
are AHDSR generators, with a hold segment between
the attack and initial decay. The first envelope
is dedicated to shaping amplitude; assign the
second to modulate the filter, pitch, or both.
Although ST3 is a sample player and not a synth,
comparisons to synthesizers are inevitable because
it’s so similar to traditional romplers. Because of
that, I wish it had more extensive user-programmable
modulation capabilities. Other than the two envelope
generators and two LFOs, ST3’s only modulation
source is keyboard Velocity. Velocity can modulate
amplitude, filter cutoff, and pitch, as well as LFO
depth and envelope sustain. Fortunately, you can
assign MIDI CCs to control any Instrument’s eight
Macro parameters, which allows you to modulate
them with external sources such as Aftertouch or
an expression pedal.
In addition to the five effects inserts per Part,
the master channel has five effects slots. ST3 expands
the number of available effects from 33 to
55 by adding new effects borrowed from IK Multimedia’s
AmpliTube and T-RackS. New effects include
amp models, new EQs and compressors, and
Like SampleTank 2.5, ST3 boasts three playback
engines: resampling, pitch shift/time stretch (PS/TS), and note and phrase stretch. Resampling is IK
Multimedia’s term for standard sample playback,
the technique most ST3 Instruments use. In the factory
content, all the loops use the stretch engines, as
do the solo voices and some of the pianos. You can
modify any of the Instruments, sometimes radically,
by switching their playback engine.
PS/TS lets you transpose a sample’s pitch or
change its length independently while maintaining
the original’s formant structure. It works best
when you are editing loops containing chords or
multiple instruments. Note Stretch and Phrase
Stretch perform similar operations, but they also
allow you to alter a monophonic sound’s formants,
too. However, the manual is a bit sketchy on how
to use the Stretch controls.
CHECK OUT THE LIBRARY
Some sounds are mono and others are stereo, and
the sampling rate appears to vary considerably,
sometimes within a single Instrument. In addition
to new Instruments, ST3 includes all of the content
from version 2.5 XL.
The selection of sounds that come with ST3
includes lots of drums, ethnic percussion, basses,
guitars, and pianos, as well as orchestral instruments
and others used in most styles of music. The
sampled synthesizers are particularly good, but
the real standout is the collection of vocal samples.
Realistic pop solo voices, ensembles, and the gospel
choir go beyond what you might expect in a
bread-and-butter rompler. Acoustic sound effects
are limited to a single Instrument that maps them
across the keyboard, though you also get a few Instruments
containing electronic sound effects.
Multi-articulation Instruments are Instruments
that use keyswitching, Velocity, or the mod
wheel to toggle between multisampled articulations,
called Elements. For example, you can instantly
switch a violin from legato to staccato to
pizzicato. Keyswitches are indicated graphically
by the color of keys on the onscreen keyboard. On
the Edit page, the Element/Articulation menu lets
you select which Element you’re editing at any
Loop Instruments are recordings of instrumental
performances mapped across several notes on
the keyboard, indicated by gray keys that turn red
when you trigger the loops by pressing their associated
keys. Most are drum and percussion loops. A
loop’s file name indicates its original tempo. Loops
automatically match the tempo of your current
project unless you indicate otherwise.
In addition to the huge amount of included
content, ST3 can import Instruments and Combis
(which are converted to Multis) from earlier SampleTank-
compatible products such as Miroslav
Philharmonik, Sonik Synth 2, or SampleTron, including
sound libraries from Sonic Reality’s Xpansion
Tank series and other third parties. It can also
import mono or stereo user samples in 16- or 24-
bit WAV or AIFF formats. If the samples have loop
markers, ST3 will retain the loops.
|Fig. 5. SampleTank 3 comes with a large
collection of short MIDI files called
Patterns. You can assign as many as 128
Patterns to each Part and trigger them
from your MIDI keyboard.
ST3 also comes with a large library of short
MIDI sequences called Patterns, which you start
or stop by playing single notes on your keyboard or
by pressing the Play button in the GUI’s right-hand
corner. In the browser, Patterns are organized into
categories in much the same way as Instruments
(see Figure 5). Pattern categories are organized
by the name of the most appropriate instrument
(such as Piano or Synth Bass), and subcategories
are organized by the type or style (such as Chord
Riff 01 or Smooth Blues 02) and the original tempo.
Double-clicking on a Pattern loads it into the
currently selected slot, which automatically assigns
it to a MIDI Note. The first Pattern you select
will be assigned to C0, the next one to C#0,
and so on. You can also assign a Pattern to any key
you choose by clicking and dragging it to the onscreen
keyboard. You can transpose Patterns, scale
their Velocities up or down, and more. Create your
own Pattern by recording a MIDI file with just one
track, copying it to ST3’s Pattern folder, and rescanning
Unlike with Instruments, which you can assign
to Parts only one at a time, you can assign a maximum
of 128 Patterns to each Part—one for each
MIDI Note. That means each of the 16 Parts can
play as many as 128 preset Patterns you trigger by
simply pressing its associated key. It’s also possible
to create a complete multi-Instrument groove by
playing a single Pattern for each of the Parts simultaneously.
In the standalone version of ST3, Patterns
play at the master tempo, which you can change at
any time. In the plug-in, Patterns sync to the host
application’s tempo unless you indicate otherwise.
Even with so many Patterns to explore, though, I
still found myself wishing for an arpeggiator.
TANKS FOR EVERYTHING
With superior functionality, better effects, a much-improved
user interface, and more than six times
the sample content of version 2.5 XL, SampleTank
3 is light-years ahead of its predecessor. I liked it
the first time I used it, and I liked it even more after
getting to know it better. The selection of sounds
is outstanding, and the sound quality of most is a
noticeable improvement. Although it took years to
see an update, IK Multimedia is to be applauded
for its accomplishment.
If you’ve ever been a SampleTank user, then
you’re going to enjoy exploring all its enhancements,
and your music will be all the better for it.
And if you play romplers but you’ve never given
software a chance, SampleTank 3 may be just what
Lots of audio loops
and MIDI files. Easy-to-navigate GUI.
Excellent effects and
effects routing options.
No arpeggiator. Can be
hard to find scroll bars.
Former senior editor Geary Yelton has been reviewing software for Electronic Musician since 1986.