Best Service took an uncommon approach when creating the nine-CD Xsample sound library: instead of cramming hundreds of samples into the available space,
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Best Service took an uncommon approach when creating the nine-CD Xsample sound library: instead of cramming hundreds of samples into the available space,

Best Service took an uncommon approach when creating the nine-CD Xsample sound library: instead of cramming hundreds of samples into the available space, it concentrated on a few dozen instruments sampled extensively. The results are on the whole sonically outstanding, although some glaring gaps in the content may leave you scratching your head.

The Xsample library (available in Akai-compatible, E-mu EOS, and Giga-Sampler formats) is a set of nine audio discs; each one contains well over 500 MB of samples (see the table "The Xsample Sound Library"). Some discs contain only three or four instruments; obviously, a lot of sample memory was devoted to capturing the numerous long multisamples and variety of articulations. Many instruments have individual programs for several velocities (forte, mezzopiano, and so forth)-sometimes as many as four levels-in addition to larger programs that Velocity-switch between the layers.

Practically all of Xsample's instruments are available in both stereo and mono, and some programs include appropriate chorused versions. A few instruments (the Rhodes, for instance) have variations resampled at a lower rate to conserve memory. The Akai and E-mu versions of Xsample contain additional programs that use only four samples per octave (at full sample frequency), reducing the memory requirement by roughly one third. I reviewed Xsample on an Akai S6000 with 128 MB of memory.

SOUNDS LIKE . . .Some of the instruments in this collection are absolutely stellar. Most of the samples were recorded without much room ambience, but despite being dry, they don't sound claustrophobic or constrained.

The Rhodes Mark I 88 on disc 1 is among the finest electric piano samples available. The four-layer, Velocity-switched program is 64 MB on the Akai; the E-mu and NemeSys GigaSampler versions are 81 MB and 218 MB, respectively. If you like the sound of this particular Rhodes, you'll love the realistic multisample, regardless of your sampler format.

The bass flute on disc 2 also sounds incredible and is a rare find in sample libraries. The glockenspiel is exceptional as well, with just the right balance of top end and low frequencies, sounding bright yet natural. Other standouts include the oboe, contrabassoon, celesta, harp, Wurlitzer electric piano, most of the percussion, and the entire collection of solo brass.

COLOR MY WORLDThere's a good-sounding electric bass on disc 1. However, because the programs are all derived from a single instrument, this particular bass sound has a lack of tonal variation.

The instrument selection isn't complete enough to serve as a basic library of traditional sounds. Rather, the charm of this collection is in the sounds of the specific instruments themselves. For example, the collection routinely omits common articulations and groupings-no regular flutes, clarinets, timpani, or ensemble samples of strings, woodwinds, and brass are to be heard. Some of the instruments on Xsample are welcome but unusual, like the oboe d'amore, psalter, 8-string guitar, clavichord, and jaw harp. Considering that there are well over 4.5 GB of samples in the Xsample library, I would like to see a few more bread- and-butter instruments.

Despite the large amount of memory allotted to them, some instruments suffer in their most common incarnations. The forte vibraphone, marimba, and xylophone samples sound splatty and really stand out from the mezzoforte samples in Velocity-switched programs. This makes it difficult to create musically fluid passages. On the other hand, the solo woodwinds concentrate a bit too much on specialty sounds like clacks, slaps, and multiphonics.

Apart from some special-effects sounds, only highly stylized articulations like pizzicato, spiccato, and col legno are available for the solo strings. Xsample lacks the standard legato tones necessary for most melodic and harmonic work. Of course, you could mix these sounds with common ones from other libraries, but you might lose the continuity between timbres.

Maybe it was Best Service's intention to complement the resources found in more traditional libraries. If that's the case, I would like to see it release another nine-disc set that fills in the holes of the sometimes brilliant Xsample library. The recording quality is uniformly superb; the sound designers obviously know how to sample instruments quite well. I only question some of their instrument and articulation choices.

WHAT'S ON THE PROGRAMFor the Akai version of Xsample, the S2000 format was chosen so that the samples would work with every Akai sampler. To maximize compatibility with all models, Best Service kept Xsample's programming to a minimum. I did notice some inconsistency in the assignment of the modulation wheel and pitch-bend controllers throughout the library, but nothing too problematic.

I would like more programming added to the samples. Much can be done with filtering and envelopes to expand the sonic palette into more adventurous territory. Instead, Xsample simply presents an instrument and its articulation in a raw and naked form.

The documentation provides good information, but the layout makes it difficult to decipher until you've memorized the naming conventions. After learning the coding scheme, you can better determine which programs are stereo or mono, chorused, resampled, and so on, as well as the number of Velocity layers provided.

Xsample proves that sampled instruments are capable of great expressiveness when you devote large amounts of memory to them. This library is all about exploring the depths of specific instruments, and here it largely succeeds. If you like the instruments provided, you'll love the quality of the samples found on these discs.

Producer and composer Rob Shirak is the music director for Burt Bacharach. He has also worked with Dionne Warwick, Elvis Costello, LeAnn Rimes, Stevie Wonder, Mikaila, Luther Vandross, and a host of other artists.