QUICK PICKS: STEINBERG Sounds & Cycles (Mac/Win)

If you use Steinberg Cubase VST and are not acquainted with the ReCycle Export (REX) file format, then you're missing out on a world of powerful production

If you use Steinberg Cubase VST and are not acquainted with the ReCycle Export (REX) file format, then you're missing out on a world of powerful production sounds. REX files are sampled loops, created in Steinberg's ReCycle loop-editing software, that have been beat-mapped; this allows them to be played back at a wide range of tempos with no change in pitch. (For more information on REX files, see the ReCycle review in the December 1999 issue of EM.) Currently, Cubase VST is the only application that reads the REX file format.

Steinberg has begun commissioning and distributing REX loop libraries. Sounds & Cycles, by Sounds Good, is one such library. It consists of six boxed sets: Chemical Big Beats, Cold Fusion Technologic, Drum'N'Bass X-Citer, The Electro Age, Hip Hop-Beats and Treats, and On a Latin Tip. Each sells for $59. This review covers Cold Fusion Technologic and On a Latin Tip, and gives some general notes on the library as a whole.

The Big PackageAll of the boxed sets in Sounds & Cycles are packaged and organized similarly. Each set is made up of four CDs. Discs 1 and 2 hold AIFF, WAV, and Red Book audio files. If you listen to the audio files, be sure to start playback from track 2 because track 1 contains data that will generate a nasty sound in your speakers. Disc 3 has all the REX files, and disc 4 is a Steinberg product demo CD-ROM.

The loops in On a Latin Tip are organized first by instrument and then by tempo. For example, the Bass folder holds five subfolders, each labeled with tempos ranging from 70 to 120 bpm in increments of 10 and containing bass lines with the corresponding tempo. Cold Fusion Technologic is organized first by tempo and then by instrument. Folders are labeled by tempo, from 120 to 150 bpm, in increments of 10. Within each of these folders are subfolders of bass, drum, and melody loops. As with time-stretching and compression techniques, you'll find that REX files are limited as to how much you can change their tempos. Loops with lots of sustained sounds aren't as flexible as loops with mostly staccato sounds, but the results depend largely on the sample itself. In any event, having the files organized by bpm is very convenient.

Whereas the AIFF, WAV, and Red Book audio files are stereo, the REX files are mono, which is standard for this format. The drum and instrument sounds you hear in the loops (such as kick, snare, bass, and synth arpeggios) are separated out as discrete AIFF, WAV, and audio files. These individual samples are great for augmenting your REX compositions because they allow you to program your own fills and breakdowns using the identical sounds heard in the loops themselves.

Key signatures for the tuned-instrument samples (for example, piano, guitar, and synth bass) are documented in the CD booklet. Often, loop libraries don't include this important information, so Steinberg's thoroughness is much appreciated. Sample categories are listed by audio-track number-for instance, tracks 1 and 2, Bass Loops. The samples themselves are not individually named, which makes it hard to tell just how many sounds you get in all; I'd estimate that there are more than 200 sounds on each disc. Everything is in 4/4 time.

In the GrooveIf you want to add a little spice to your productions, On a Latin Tip offers some choice cuts. You can choose from swinging conga patterns, syncopated agogo riffs, cool sax lines, tropical guitar, melodic vibe samples, and smooth bass loops. The Latin jazz piano sounds are particularly nice. The Rhodes piano samples are cool, but unfortunately this category offers fewer files. I found several solid drum and percussion loops that are perfect for building a Latin-flavored percussion bed. The guiro samples are especially distinctive and useful.

Cold Fusion Technologic has some hot beats. The drum and percussion loops are loaded with deep electronic and techno elements. I used them in several of my electronica compositions and moodier dance pieces. I had a difficult time working with the tuned synth loops because of their choppy rhythms and dissonant overtones. However, you can combine a few amusing melody lines with generous doses of delay to create original polyrhythmic, ambient backdrops. Not many bass loops grabbed my attention-most were too busy with too many octave jumps to fit into my productions-but that's just me. If you're into dark minimalism and an underground sound, then these bass loops might be just your cup of tea.

The Big BangThe Sounds & Cycles CDs offer a great bang for the buck considering all the loops, drum hits, riff samples, and audio formats you get for just over half a C-note. If you're a dedicated Cubase VST user, I recommend checking out this library. It gives you all the advantages of REX files without the hassle of having to make them yourself in ReCycle. And even if you don't use Cubase VST, the AIFF, WAV, and Red Book audio files could be useful to any loop fanatic. I look forward to trying out other Sounds & Cycles boxed sets.

Overall EM Rating (1 through 5): 4