Much has been said about EastWest's ambitious Fab Four virtual instrument/soundbank, due in part to the fact that it focuses on The Beatles, probably the most permeating and influential pop music group ever. But it's also because the 13 GB worth of sounds are themselves so convincing and because of the pedigree of the package's creators and sound sources. Long in the making and finally delivered well past its initial ship date, much has been made about how impressively accurate the sounds are to the original song layers they re-create. My goal, however, was to discover whether Fab Four's sounds could really hold their weight in a more modern-styled production session; sure, they work great for making Beatles-y tracks, but will they work for anything else?
BABY YOU'RE A RICH MAN
For those who haven't seen or heard about Fab Four since its introduction way back at the 2007 Winter NAMM show, this high-profile (and not officially Beatles-endorsed) soundbank focuses on re-creating some of the most classic setups achieved by The Beatles and their producer/engineers, rather than just the instruments themselves. Sparing no expense to find just the right pieces, dedicated project producer Doug Rogers began by gathering and restoring not only the original drums, basses, keyboards and guitars (some of them costing more than $200,000 supplied from private collectors), but also the original period amplifiers (Fender, Vox), rare microphones (Neumann, AKG, Cole, STC), preamps and unique compressors/limiters (Fairchild, EMI modded Altec) and even the same Studer tape machine and EMI Redd tube mixing desk used in making the original songs. To step up the credibility notch even further, Rogers enlisted the help of Ken Scott, the legendary Beatles engineer who worked on “A Hard Day's Night,” “Help” and “Rubber Soul” and was main engineer for Magical Mystery Tour and The Beatles (White Album), among many other amazing credits. Then, to help play the instruments he had gathered, Rogers brought in drummer Danny Seiwell and guitarist Laurence Juber, both longtime members of Paul McCartney and Wings. Once everything was painstakingly sampled and organized, they added a powerful new GUI with a graceful articulation-control solution and a killer implementation of the Beatles' legendary ADT technique (artificial double tracking).
The cumulative result of this labor of love is a virtual instrument that has proved to be sonically true to the original, yet completely 21st-century in usability. Fab Four also includes EastWest's recent 64-bit (and 32-bit-compatible) Play Advanced Sample Engine, which streams from disk very capably with no voice stealing and impressively high polyphony. Using Legato Detection, Play is able to sense smoothly phrased or repetitive playing and respond dynamically, alternating samples or adjusting articulations. For many of the patches, Play uses a small group of MIDI notes as “switches,” making it easy to move between chains of samples on the fly with one hand while playing with the other.
The convolution-based emulations of Abbey Road's many reverbs (both physical and electromechanical), ADSR envelopes, detailed Delay section, incredibly useful Stereo Spread control, Pan, Mono/Stereo settings like L/R Swap and Mono Sum and extensive MIDI input filtering all offer extended flexibility to the patches, some of which are already highly processed. Play can load multiple sounds into its chooser simultaneously for quick switching, and the slick Browser window helps you quickly find the sounds you're after. As a powerful bonus, the awesome built-in Network Control functionality allows you to load instruments on extra computers and control them from the master computer without KVM switching and without needing to purchase extra licenses. And don't forget the truly impressive ADT, which pairs a very short delay with a slightly moving phase shift that I swear makes just about anything sound better (especially guitars).
LONELY HEARTS CLUB MUSIC
You can find exhaustive lists on the gritty details of which pieces of gear were used for Fab Four's presets, but out of the 45 included instruments, are there any that will work for a hip-hop track or for a house remix? It shouldn't be much of a shocker that the answer is a resounding yes. Truly good sounds are usable anywhere, and these are extremely accurate representations of some of the most popular sounds in rock history. Several of them come off so authentic and perfectly processed that they work in nearly any mix without the need for extra processing. Of course, for many modern producers, everything gets processed; fortunately, between the Stereo Spread, delay and ADT, Fab Four can help you with that quickly. Out of the 10 drum patches, three are nearly perfect; for a killer drum 'n' bass acoustic kit, funky breaks kit, downtempo/trip-hop kit or any nondrum-machine kit, check out the stunning Day in the Drums, Strawberry Drums and In the End There Will Be Drums. All three are awesome to play on a keyboard and sound mixed, finished and ready to go. Day in the Drums in particular could be used pretty much anywhere, but I could definitely see all of these patches being a key weapon for any laptop producer. Dub/reggae/reggaeton producers will find these drum kits absolutely essential; I can imagine many an island session with smiling musicians amazed at the instant quality of the drum sounds. And dance producers who use mainly electronic drums can still get a lot of miles out of the Penny Snare and great cymbals like the awesome Fairchild Modulated Cymbals.
Although there are only three bass patches in the collection, they are three pretty amazing sounds that could find their way into many different styles. Bass Tripper is an unrivaled keeper, and it would work brilliantly in hip-hop, breaks, reggae/dub or downtempo/trip-hop mixes, and Come to Bass cries out to be used in disco tracks. With a Little Help From My Bass seems born for heavy dance remixes and makes me want to jam on the Propellerheads “Mission Impossible Theme” remix every time I load it up. The basses sound large and each have five to eight articulation variations that you can play with your right hand while your left hand performs the notes. Once you get the hang of it, this brilliant performance scheme really makes it possible to nail things in one take that might have taken hours to program.
GUITARS GENTLY WEEP
Guitar is really the main focus of Fab Four; in fact, 21 of the 45 patches are guitar sounds. After all, the Beatles were electric guitar pioneers. While there may be fewer guitar solos in dance and pop-styled music these days, guitar layers are still an integral part of music-making in nearly every genre. Because Fab Four re-creates specific layers from specific songs, the patches end up very layer-friendly. Two in particular could find uses in just about any modern pop style. The I'm a Blackbird Guitar is an unbelievably realistic acoustic guitar that is so warm, detailed and malleable that I'd be hard-pressed to get a better basic sound with any live player. Using the Stereo Spread and ADT controls to dial in several layers, you'd never know that they weren't real guitars; it would be no stretch to say that any deep-house or electro-pop producer could use the I'm a Blackbird Guitar extensively. On the other end of the spectrum is the Revostortion Guitar, a re-creation of one of the Beatles' most legendary Abbey Road guitar tones that simply rocks and offers 12 articulation variations for all sorts of possibilities. Again, with some careful Stereo Spread and ADT settings, the sound quickly goes from big to huge — perfect for any kind of modern pop/rock production or heavier electro styles à la the Crystal Method. Other guitar standouts include Here Comes the Guitar (a great acoustic alternative), Pepper Guitar and the cool I'm Only a Backward Guitar — all patches that producers looking for just a few guitar sounds to work into their mixes can use quickly and without sapping too much power.
While the seven keyboard patches might be better suited for retro or lounge styles, and the five miscellaneous patches are barely usable outside of their original setting (except the awesome Screaming Girls patch), creative types can certainly find uses for these impeccably recorded and processed elements. They are great, but not as amazing as the basses and drums, which are truly some of the finest I've ever heard and are consistently usable in many modern genres. That just goes to prove that classic sounds never really go out of style. Fab Four is already a critical success, and laptop producers, remixers and makers of future music could all benefit from working these classic tones into their tunes.
FAB FOUR > $395
Pros: Extremely accurate reproductions of some of the best drum, bass and guitar sounds of all time. Awesome Artificial Double Tracking feature. Play Advanced Sample Engine is powerful, efficient and has a slick GUI.
Cons: Keyboards and miscellaneous patches are somewhat lackluster. No fuzzbox/stompbox effects.