Big Fish Audio Wall of Vinyl 3

Among the biggest challenges in producing hip-hop music are finding fresh new grooves to sample and getting clearance to use those samples. That's where

Among the biggest challenges in producing hip-hop music are finding fresh new grooves to sample and getting clearance to use those samples. That's where sample CDs really come in handy, but the problem with this approach is that the phattest and funkiest material has already been pillaged and plundered more than the Great Pyramid of Giza. The Wall of Vinyl series of sample CDs from Big Fish Audio solves this dilemma by providing a massive selection of excellent hip-hop-oriented samples with absolutely no filler.

Wall of Vinyl 3 (two audio CDs, $99.95) provides more than 140 minutes of loops, hits, lines, riffs, scratches, and stabs for composing your own music, in tempos ranging from 80 to 110 bpm. The material also includes 101 construction kits. Perfect for hip-hop, trip-hop, and R&B, the sounds feature excellent swinging drum loops, funky guitars, punchy horns, furious scratching, trippy effects, and much more. All the content has that gritty, warm, sampled-from-vinyl flavor that makes the Wall of Vinyl series so irresistible.

The construction kits are a good starting point for composing songs, but because most of the samples throughout the discs fit together well, it's much more satisfying to build your own custom kits. The choppy, percussive characteristics of these samples make them a natural match for any sample workstation that provides drum machine-style, pattern-based sequencing. For those who want to keep it real, short-length loops and hits make it easy to load entire kits into the limited RAM capacity of classic Akai MPC or E-mu SP sample workstations.

Although several of the samples are preprocessed with delay, most are recorded dry so you can apply your own effects-processing magic to make your tracks stand out. However, the high recording quality may tempt you to slam these sounds into your sampler without bothering to add EQ, processing, or effects.

Whether you like your hip-hop funky, spooky, sexy, or just plain nasty, Wall of Vinyl 3 will satisfy your base (and bass) desires. But even if hip-hop ain't your thing, this CD is worth the price of admission for its drum loops and breakbeats alone-they're suitable for almost any style of music that relies on sampled loops of live drumming. To come up with a collection of samples this fresh, you'd have to own a huge wall of vinyl and dig through lots of crates.Chris GillOverall Rating (out of 5):5UeberschallHouseworx

Legendary house music producer Mousse T. is best known for his international hits "Horny" and "Sex Bomb" (featuring Tom Jones!), for inventing messy hair-styling products, and as the brother of The A-Team's Mr. T. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating about the last two items, but I pity the fool who doesn't rush out immediately to get his or her hands all over this action-packed collection of hair-raising house music samples.

With more than 77 minutes of goodies, Houseworx (audio CD, $99.95; Akai, $199.95) gives you everything you need to create a whole career's worth of floor fillers-just load the sounds into your sampler and go. Featuring drum loops with several variations, percussion loops, short hits, brass fills, electric and acoustic piano patterns, organ riffs, string flourishes, guitar grooves, bass lines, vibes, synths, effects, male and female vocals, and 217 individual drum and percussion sounds, Houseworx covers just about every imaginable facet of house music.

Wading through such a vast selection of sounds can be overwhelming, but fortunately the collection indexes all the samples for easy access. The accompanying documentation is concise but complete, making it easy to find and audition a desired sound or loop instantly. Most of the loops clock in at 125 bpm for the sake of consistency, and sounds and loops are logically arranged.

The drum loops consist of a nice selection of four-on-the-floor drum machine beats with huge, pounding kicks and tight, snappy snares. Great effort went into making the drums sound absolutely massive-Mr. Mousse didn't merely plug a Roland TR-909 into a mixer and hit Record. Anyone who thinks that house drum patterns offer just a handful of overused cliches should check out the diverse assortment included here for a little attitude adjustment.

The instrument sounds are equally impressive, offering many expressive, lively performances recorded by professional session musicians. The female vocalist manages to make the most of just about every overused house music phrase ("take me higher," "set me free," "can you feel it," and all the other usual suspects) with her gutsy delivery. The female vocals are recorded dry (thankfully), but for some reason the male vocals are all heavily processed with effects, which doesn't leave too many options for customizing these samples.

Anyone who wants to closely examine the elements that make up a house track need look no further than Houseworx. The CD is a great crash course for beginners or the uninitiated, and is also a helpful tool for seasoned producers of house music.-Chris GillOverall Rating (out of 5): 4Big Fish AudioXperts of Techno

Because techno music relies so heavily on pre- or early-MIDI instruments like the Roland TB-303, TR-808, and TR-909, the Korg MS-20, and the Arp 2600-as well as on the inherent quirks and limitations of hooking these instruments together through primitive sync technologies-the concept of a techno sample CD seems a bit misguided. After all, many techno artists like Richie Hawtin and Pacou are so into their classic machines that they eschew the use of computers and frown on the idea of sampling their beloved analog beasts.

But considering that most of the cornerstone instruments of techno now cost about as much as a black-label Armani suit, the Xperts of Techno sample CD (audio, WAV, and Acid formats; $99.95) is a fine alternative for aspiring techno artists whose uninhibited ambitions outstrip their checkbooks. Fans of early Detroit techno (Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Carl Craig) and of the current roster of acts on the Mute label (Hawtin, Luke Slater, Mr. Oizo) who want to emulate their heroes will find plenty of mouthwatering and brain-melting source material within the construction kits, loops, and effects included on this 74-minute disc.

The vast majority of the samples are 1-measure patterns-which makes sense because techno is predominantly pattern-based music. However, the decision to include straight half-note snare, quarter-note bass drum, and 8th- and 16th-note hi-hat patterns seems a little wasteful, because users can easily program these simple patterns into their sequencers. Also, the stripped-down, minimalist nature of techno makes it difficult to use some of the more distinctive melodies and lines without risking the ridicule of sample CD train-spotters, who take great joy in revealing a sound's source. The producers of this CD should have provided single-note hits and chords to give composers more options for creating their own riffs and patterns.

Although the construction kits are all impressive, most users probably won't want to take such an obvious approach and will opt to combine patterns in a more creative manner. Fortunately, this is easy to do, as the tempo of all the loops is either 130, 135, or 140 bpm. This provides plenty of options for layering patterns without the hassles of time-stretching or chopping.

Even the most staunchly conservative techno purists should love the CD's quirky, personality-laden drum loops, which make a great foundation for building tracks. Quite a few of these loops scream "acieed!" and are apt to bring a nostalgic smile to the face of anyone who remembers fondly the days of unlicensed warehouse raves. But many of the patterns fit right in with the current crop of techno as well. Judicious use of distortion, phase shifting, filtering, and lo-fi equalization gives several of the loops highly appealing character and attitude.

Produced by musicians who obviously love and understand the genre, Xperts of Techno is an aptly titled disc that can transform anyone into a techno expert.-Chris GillOverall Rating (out of 5): 4