MASTERBITS SOUND CLIPS 12,000 VOL. 1

A price-busting sample-CD collection.Building a library of sample CDs can be a costly proposition. It's not unusual to spend $100 or more for a single
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A price-busting sample-CD collection.

Building a library of sample CDs can be a costly proposition. It's not unusual to spend $100 or more for a single disc of sounds. But there is an alternative. Masterbits - a German company that has been producing sample CDs for a number of years - has released Sound Clips 12,000, vol. 1, a ten-disc CD-ROM library that offers a staggering 12,000 WAV files, yet retails for less than $50. Despite its bargain-basement price, this library is full of great-sounding 16-bit, 44.1 kHz samples, both loops and one-shots, in a variety of musical styles.

Each of the ten discs covers a different sound category or musical genre: techno, house, hip-hop, dance, rock/pop, classical, world/new age, vocals, effects, and multimedia. About three-quarters of the sounds were developed specifically for the collection; the remaining samples were culled from earlier Masterbits offerings.

GETTING AROUNDTo help you navigate this massive array of sounds, Masterbits has thoughtfully bundled a software application called Soundbrowser (developed by another German company, Data Becker) with the discs (see Fig. 1). Although this software is fairly limited in functionality, it makes searching through and auditioning the numerous samples considerably easier.

Unfortunately, Soundbrowser is for Windows only. And although Mac users won't have a problem opening the WAV files, they'll have a hard time searching for samples on the discs, due in large part to the cryptic "8.3" file-naming convention (a remnant of DOS) that Masterbits has adopted for the individual files. The Code Index section of the Masterbits Web site (www.masterbits.com) shows you how to interpret the file names, but it's not a simple or intuitive process.

Soundbrowser is essentially an organizer that enables you to find and audition sound files. It's not limited to the sounds on the discs - it works with any WAV files on any drive in your system - but it's optimized for use with Sound Clips 12,000. Installing and uninstalling it is easy.

One of Soundbrowser's handiest features is its search-engine function, which allows you to search through the library of sounds using three criteria: tempo, style, and instrument. When you find what you're looking for, you can copy it directly into a destination folder of your choice (referred to as a Target folder).

Dedicated Source and Target windows let you select samples from the discs and copy them to your system. For example, in the Source window you select the drive where Sound Clips 12,000 is installed, then click through the hierarchy of folders until you find your desired category. The WAV files appear to the right, and you can drag them either to the Audio Engine for auditioning or to a Target folder for archiving. You could, for instance, set up specific Target folders for each project you work on, so that all the samples you used are together and easily accessible.

When you select a file in the Source or Target windows, the Info window shows the file's vital statistics. These include file length, file name, sample rate, tempo, style, instrument type, and whether it's mono or stereo. While this information is helpful, it isn't always detailed enough to allow you to really home in on a specific sound. For example, the collection has dozens of snare sounds, yet the Info window's Instrument category describes them all as simply "Snare." Additional descriptions, such as "Snare Rim" or "Snare Metallic," would be helpful.

If you want to audition a particular sample, the 4-track Audio Engine makes it really easy to listen to up to four sounds simultaneously. You can drag and drop files from Source or Target folders into tracks for immediate playback. The waveform is displayed in each track's Audio window, and you can start or stop all four tracks globally, mute and adjust the volume of individual tracks, and save or remove files.

The Audio Engine automatically loops any file you place in it (the loops in Sound Clips 12,000 range from 1 to 4 measures). This is very convenient, except when you're dealing with one-shot samples, in which case it can be more of a hindrance than a help. For instance, if you place a snare hit into a track, it will repeat rapidly, making it difficult to get a sense of its sonic character. As a result, I found that using a conventional audio editor was more efficient for auditioning drum and percussion samples.

DANCE TO THE MUSICThe first five discs are oriented toward contemporary, danceable rhythmic styles. They contain grooving, well-programmed drum patterns in various dance-music subgenres, as well as a wide assortment of one-shots. The loops are well trimmed (as are all the collection's loops, which range in tempo from 60 to 170 bpm) and work nicely when imported into a digital audio sequencer. These drum loops are the real strength of Sound Clips 12,000's first five discs.

The Tekkno disc has loads of cool-sounding samples, including percussion effects, vocoded and pitch-shifted vocal effects, arpeggiated "bubbles," and other ear candy for dressing a techno piece. The Hip-Hop CD offers numerous noises, scratches, slides, vinyl sounds, and funky processed Strat lines, in addition to some killer drum loops. The only drawback is that this disc has only 100 bpm loops.

As you might expect, the house and dance samples have a lot of stylistic similarities and feature pulsing synth bass loops, punchy synth chord progressions, and driving, energetic drum patterns. Again, the drum loops are the highlight; the House disc alone has 217.

ROCKIN' OUTThe Rock/Pop CD contains loops at 100, 120, and 140 bpm. I immediately liked the drum loops - they hit hard, sound great, and are appropriately processed with room reverb. They also make excellent groove templates for songwriters. They're practically worth the price of the entire collection. But this category contains much more, including synthesized brass lines and swells, percussion loops, electric guitar loops and one-shots, real sax lines, and some kickin' B-3 lines.

The Vocals disc, which is mostly for rap, soul, and R&B styles, features hundreds of male and female vocal samples for you to fly in or manipulate. Spoken-word, choir, ad-lib, and vocal-effects one-shots round out this disc; the effected vocals are the most intriguing.

The classical disc, Classic, has great-sounding samples, taken from Peter Siedlaczek's Orchestra library (also from Masterbits). This category can't be comprehensively covered on a single CD, but Masterbits has made a valiant effort. The disc contains one-shots of individual instruments, full orchestra, orchestral percussion, string ensemble, and operatic vocals, in addition to a liberal selection of orchestral loops. One weakness is the lack of pitch references for the instrument and orchestral one-shots.

WE ARE THE WORLDThe World/New Age CD holds plenty of percussion, including both one-shot and looped phrases (specific tempos aren't listed for these loops) from Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Far East. A folder of atmospheres has lots of rain and forest ambiences - cliche, yes, but plentiful and well recorded. Some 85 textures are here, many of them gorgeously rich and breathy. More vocals are on this CD, including African sing-song, Moslem chant, and Latin spoken-word samples.

For me, the special-effects and multimedia discs were the most useful. Both are chock-full of effects samples. The Special Sound FX disc includes wonderful 3-D ambiences, outstanding guitar effects, and a good selection of machine samples that can function as rhythmic beds. The QSFX, SynthFX, and Textures folders contain even more cool ambiences and effect sounds.

The Multimedia/Web disc, also laden with sound effects, is organized into categories such as Animals, Traffic, Household, Office, and People. It also provides industrial zaps and hits, production music-style sound tracks, percussion hits, reversed bits, and incidental effects. There's plenty of material here to play with, including more than 200 single drum-sound elements that you can use to assemble kits of all types.

LAST BITSMasterbits' Sound Library 12,000, vol. 1, offers an enormous selection of high-quality samples at an astoundingly low price. It's particularly strong for composing and producing dance music and electronica, but it covers plenty of other styles, too.

Is it a perfect product? No. It has some problems, such as confusing file names, lack of pitch references, and no Mac support for the software. But overall, these are minor quibbles when you remember that you're getting an entire library of samples and loops for only 50 bucks. So whether you're just starting your sound collection or looking to augment what you already have, Sound Library 12,000, vol. 1, offers both quantity and quality.