Aside from a solid sequencer and a fast computer, one of the most important things in any production arsenal is a good collection of realistic-sounding sampled instruments. To that end, IK Multimedia released the original SampleTank, which included an expansive library of acoustic drums, basses, guitars, synths and a propriety playback system that worked as a virtual instrument plug-in. The latest incarnation of the product, SampleTank 2 XL, builds upon this already solid foundation with a number of new features and inner tweaks.
Like the original, SampleTank 2 XL is a polyphonic, multitimbral sample-workstation that includes multi-effects and a set of proprietary sound banks combined into a plug-in instrument. The plug-in works on multiple sequencers, including Steinberg Cubase, Apple Logic, Digidesign Pro Tools, MOTU Digital Performer and Cakewalk Sonar. The program uses samples as oscillator waveforms in combination with a three-tiered synth engine. The synth engine's proprietary time-stretch component, called STRETCH (which stands for SampleTank Time Resynthesis Technology), allows for control of the tempo, pitch and harmonics of samples and loops, with various parameters that can be synched to MIDI Clock.
This latest SampleTank update includes a host of new features, such as loop sync capabilities, a new instrument browser and a zone feature that allows for sample-accurate editing. The instrument now responds to MIDI program-change info, and every parameter is MIDI-controllable. The program also now imports WAV, AIFF, SDII, Akai and SampleCell sample formats directly into the plug-in. And finally, there is a customizable keyword and sound search function with an integrated sound library database.
SampleTank 2 XL has 32 built-in effects, some of which were taken from the company's AmpliTube and T-Racks plug-ins. You can have as many as five effects per instrument channel, and the effect configurations are saved as part of the instrument patch file. The effects include EQ, compressor, reverb, delays, filters, chorus, phaser, autopan, tremolo, guitar amp and speaker modeling, rotary-speaker simulator, lo-fi, distortion and overdrive. Also present is a time-based effect called Slicer that can be synched to MIDI Clock.
The selection and loading of instruments has been improved in SampleTank 2: The available instruments are displayed at the center of the interface in the Browser window. The scrollable list of instruments has been enlarged to accommodate 16 instruments and to reflect the number of available instruments that you can simultaneously load in a SampleTank 2 module (16 parts). The Browser list of folders and instruments reflects the same folders and instrument organization as the Root folder, the hard-disk folder in which your sounds are located. The Root folder's location is determined in the SampleTank 2 preferences (which you can access and change by clicking on the Prefs button). Folders are indicated with a white triangle. To open a folder and display the list of available instruments, click on the folder title in the list or on the triangle. Closing a folder is as simple as reclicking on its name or on the triangle. To load an instrument, simply double-click on the instrument name, and all of the parameters on the interface will then reflect those of the loaded parts.
The Mix window allows you to load as many as 16 SampleTank instruments per module, with every instrument being loaded into a Part. To select the Part in which you want to load an instrument, simply click on the Part number or in the middle of the Part window. Once a Part is selected, the instrument will be loaded. One or more predefined effects will be displayed in the effects section of the interface. You may also notice that the Macro and Synth-Sampler controls are updated according to the loaded sound. If the Part already contains an instrument, the newly loaded instrument will replace the previous one. (You can undo this operation with the Undo button.) Every Part responds to a corresponding MIDI channel. By clicking on and dragging the channel number of each Part, you can easily select the MIDI channel. You can create layered sounds by assigning more than one Part to a MIDI channel.
Once an instrument is loaded, it can be quickly transposed up or down two octaves, in one-octave increments, by clicking on the Octave button. The Poly/Mono/Legato button switches the current instruments among polyphonic, monophonic and monophonic with legato. You can select the mode by clicking on the button and selecting it in the pop-up menu. Once the pop-up menu is closed, the current setting is displayed on the button. In monophonic with legato mode (Legato), it is possible to control the portamento from 1 ms to 10 seconds.
The Macro controls, which can include as many as four parameters specific to each instrument, allow the user a way to effect the sound in real time. These four parameters — from left to right, A, B, C and D — display different labels according to the instrument that they are associated with. A complete description of the A, B, C, D parameters can be found by clicking on the Library image several times. Inactive knobs (those without a linked parameter) are shaded in gray. You can modify sound parameters immediately after loading the instrument by turning the Macro A, B, C, D knobs accordingly. All Macro parameters can be controlled through MIDI control-change data.
SampleTank 2 allows for full control of its synth engine in the Synth-Sampler section. There, you can control more than 50 parameters, divided into seven sections. The GUI is based on traditional synth architecture with oscillators. It also allows for the option to switch among the three tiers in the sample engine. In the Synth section, you select the synth-engine type: Resampling, Pitch-Shift/Time-Stretch or the proprietary STRETCH algorithm. All of the time and pitch manipulation is controlled in this area. Also included in the Synth-Sampler are two envelopes, three filter types (lowpass, bandpass and highpass with selectable 6, 12 or 24dB/octave slopes) and two LFOs with five selectable waveforms each.
You can edit all instrument parameters in the Synth-Sampler section by simply adjusting the knobs once you've loaded an instrument. Each of the 16 instruments that you can load in SampleTank 2 can have different settings; your modification will be kept when you save the song session you're working with. You can also save these modifications into a preset without overwriting the original. Furthermore, all of the synth parameters can be controlled through MIDI control numbers.
Each SampleTank 2 instrument can be programmed with a max of five effects each, and the effects are displayed in the effects slots. The first effects slot always contains an EQ and a compressor. The other effects slots can contain any of the 32 available effects. To view the list of available effects once you've loaded an instrument, click on the arrow at the right in each of the effects slots. A pop-up menu displaying all of the 32 available DSP effects will appear. The selected effect name will then show in the effects slot. To empty an effects slot, select the No Effect option. To view and change each effect's parameters, click on the desired effect's slot. Only the selected effect will be shown on the interface at any time. The effect knobs are labeled corresponding to the effect's parameters.
To activate an effect, click on its On button to the right; the button is then highlighted, and the effect is active. All active effects are inserted in the instrument chain following a patch order from top to bottom of the effect window. To deactivate an effect, click on the On button again; the button will change back to normal. You can override all effects at once by clicking on the Bypass button. You can also lock certain effects slots, which will prevent them from changing when a new instrument is loaded.
The tempo-related effects in SampleTank 2 can also be synched to the bpm of the host sequencer. In this case, the effect will also present a BPM On/Off switch. When switched on, the effects will be linked to the sequencer tempo (and its measure unit will turn to division of the beat). You can also save multiple or single effects settings and load these settings with the Save Multi, Save and Load buttons. As with the sound parameters, effect parameters can be controlled via MIDI.
SampleTank 2 has a new minikeyboard that not only displays the notes you're playing but also acts as an input device for playing SampleTank instruments. You can play any notes of the seven-octave keyboard by clicking on the note with the mouse. To play chords directly with one click, select which chord you want to play with the Chord button. A pop-up menu will display the most common chords. Selecting one of these will cause the chord to play automatically when you click on any of the notes.
Clicking on the Zone button switches you into Zone mode. The minikeyboard will display how the samples are mapped on the keyboard. If a key shows no color, no sample is associated with that key. To activate a zone, click on it with the minikeyboard or hit the corresponding key on your MIDI keyboard. By doing so, you can change any of the Synth-Sampler parameters just for that zone. (For example, you can change only the attack of a snare sample in a drum kit.) Those settings will be applied only to that specific zone, leaving the others untouched.
STAYING IN TIME
SampleTank 2 allows for synching loops to the host sequencer tempo, or you can sync various loops together. Simply load one of the loops from the library, and click on the Loop Sync button. The loop will automatically be synched with the sequencer tempo when using sequencers that allow this function. To sync various loops together, load each one into separate Parts and click on Sync Loop for each of these Parts. All three synth engines can be used in conjunction with the Loop Sync feature. With Pitch-Shift/Time-Stretch, you can sync loops with independent controls for tempo and pitch. In this mode, the pitch is not affected when the tempo is changed. This is the best engine to use on loops (which generally are constructed from a mix of various elements).
The STRETCH function can also sync loops to provide independent controls on tempo and pitch (and harmonics), and, again, the pitch is not affected when the tempo is changed. STRETCH works best with single instruments; therefore, it can be used when a loop comprises a riff or a phrase made by a single instrument. On unpitched sound sources (like percussion), STRETCH can produce weird and sometimes pretty interesting results. To perform Loop Sync, SampleTank 2 must know the loop's bpm, and it will detect this information from the instrument name or the instrument keywords. The program will first scan all keywords; then, if the bpm information is missing, the name of the sample will be considered as a source for the value. A three-digit number either in the name of the loop itself or in the keywords will be considered the loop's bpm. You can insert the bpm of your own loops by adding a keyword to your instrument.
THE SOUNDS OF SUCCESS
SampleTank 2 XL comes with a rather large library (4.5 GB, to be exact) of sounds and presets that range from the familiar to the strange. The search function is easy to use, and as many as 32 comma-delineated search terms are possible within every search. SampleTank 2 can import WAV, AIFF, SDII, Akai and SampleCell instruments. It also recognizes and supports loop points on imported audio files. The program comes with literally thousands of sounds, and a description of each isn't possible here. But, overall, the sounds are excellent: The acoustic drums are full and convincing; the numerous bass-guitar patches should easily satisfy most users' needs; and the myriad loops, ranging from world-music-inspired bits to dirty drum 'n' bass, will provide plenty of song-crafting fodder.
All in all, SampleTank 2 XL takes what was once an elegant sample-based instrument and turns it into a serious production tool. The ability to map controllers, alter time and synchronize samples will prove helpful with any type of electronic music. These features, combined with a generous and easy-to-search sound library, will allow anyone to turn a simple digital audio workstation into a complete compositional tool.
SAMPLETANK 2 XL > $499
Pros: Significant enhancements to previous version. New time-stretching abilities. Loop synching. Expansive library of sounds.
MAC: G4/667; 512 MB RAM; Mac OS 9.2.2/OS 10.2.8 or later; 4.8 GB hard-disk space; RTAS-, VST-, MAS- (OS 9.2.2 only) or AU-compatible host
PC: Intel-compatible/733; 512 MB RAM; Windows 2000/XP; 4.8 GB hard-disk space; RTAS-, VST- or DX-compatible host