People talk about how Moore’s Law relates to hardware, but consider this: Ten years ago, how much would a software bundle with a DAW, a pair of virtual instruments, and several hundred megabytes of content cost? Well, it wouldn’t have been under $100, which is what we have here.
French virtual instrument maker Arturia has bundled a version of their Analog Factory software with 250 patches optimized for hip-hop, the “session” version of Applied Analog Systems’ Lounge Lizard with four different electric pianos, Ableton Live Lite 8 Arturia Edition, and 1,200 samples and music loops from ModernBeats. The cross-platform package works with Windows XP/Vista/7 and Mac OS X 10.4 (Universal Binary). Let’s look at the individual components.
Analog Factory: This VST/AU/RTAS (Pro Tools 6 and up)/standalone virtual instrument has two main sections, the Preset Manager View (where you browse and choose presets) and the Keyboard View—see Figure 12.
Fig. 12. The Analog Factory Hip-Hop Edition uses the same engine as Analog Factory, but includes hip-hop specific patches.
The Preset Manager offers a browser where you can filter based on various attributes, such as Instrument, Type of sound, and Characteristics. If you find a preset you particularly like, you can check it as a “favorite.” Then, when you click the Favorites button in the upper left, you’ll see a list of all the presets you checked. The only other significant elements are a Reset button, which clears all the browser fields, and a User Presets button.
The Keyboard View contains the various editing controls, as well as a “virtual keyboard” for playing notes if you don’t have a controller handy. The controls are basic: mod wheel and pitch bend, transpose buttons, level, filter cutoff, filter resonance, LFO rate, LFO amount, chorus/FX mix, delay, and amplitude envelope ADSR parameters. But there are also three cool aspects to the editing, starting with the four “key parameter” controls that control strategic parameters different presets. There are also eight snapshots that store a preset’s settings for later recall; you could store up to eight favorite presets, eight variations on a single preset, and the like. Furthermore, all rotary controls, the four sliders, and the eight snapshots can be controlled via MIDI controller messages, thanks to a Learn function.
Analog Factory has had a good reputation for sound quality, and the hip-hop version is no different. While 250 patches may seem a little on the light side, remember that other elements of the bundle take care of drums, percussion, and electric pianos.
Lounge Lizard Session: Lounge Lizard was one of the first modeling-based virtual instruments that made jaws drop, because the electric piano emulation was so spot on. It still is, and although this “lite” version (Figure 13) is limited to three Rhodes-type sounds, a Wurlitzer, tremolo, drive, effect (delay, flanger, chorus, wah, vibrato, auto-wah, etc.), and three reverb options, the sound quality and effectiveness of the modeling remains at a high level.
Fig. 13. Lounge Lizard Session has that iconic electric piano sound in modeled form. Note Ableton Live 8 in the background, and the ModernBeats samples and loops in the browser to the left.
ModernBeats content: In a way the package hinges on this, because hip-hop without drums doesn’t make a lot of sense. But ModernBeats comes through, with human beat box samples, claps, scratches, three drum types (Dre-type drums, additional samples that sound more like the Neptunes, along with Acetone FR1 and Roland TR-808 vintage drum machines), 100 files of drum loops, and 100 files of more “ethnic” loops (all loops run at 97BPM). There’s over about 325MB of content, and the samples are optimized to complement Ableton’s drum rack option.
Ableton Live 8: Of all the DAWs to put in this bundle, Live makes a lot of sense because of its loop-friendly demeanor and how it handles samples. If you’re one of the 14 people who doesn’t know what Ableton Live is, go to the web site and download their demo.
Conclusions: Each element can stand alone by itself, but the big issue here is value—you’re getting a lot for your money. Granted, you’re going to have a hard time taking it out of its hip-hop comfort zone; but then again, the package was never intended to be anything else, and does what it’s supposed to do very well.
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