Review: Output Analog Brass and Winds

An inspiring hybrid approach to virtual wind instruments
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As synthesizer and sample libraries go, brass and woodwinds are counted on as “meat and ’taters” sounds. Output, however, rarely takes the conventional path with its virtual instruments. In the case of Analog Brass and Winds, the developer blends these sampled musical staples with analog synth tones and uses innovative DSP tricks to take them far outside their usual lanes with exceptional results. If you are expecting the usual brass stabs and hits, guess again.

The main page hosts four Macro controls, which can modulate up to six parameters each. The Macro editor on the upper right, and the source selection at the bottom, appear on all pages.

The main page hosts four Macro controls, which can modulate up to six parameters each. The Macro editor on the upper right, and the source selection at the bottom, appear on all pages.

The entire library—comprising more than 15 GB of brass, woodwind, and synth tones—requires Kontakt or Free Kontakt player 5.7.1 (R35) or later. The entire library loads at once from the Kontakt browser, with single patches selected from the left and right arrows on the snapshot section or with a click on the snapshot title. This opens a preset menu and key-word filters so you can select sounds that suit a particular function or mood: Orchestral, Ensemble, Synth, Hybrid, Ambient, and so on.

SLEIGHT OF HORN

To be sure, you will find sounds that appear to fulfill the traditional roles of brass and woodwinds, such as pads, ensembles, swells, and the like, but in almost every case, something unexpected and musical will occur: slowly emerging, pulsating rhythms or harmonics; melodic motifs; abrupt changes in envelopes or timbres. These are not artifacts of the sample itself, but a programmable, complex interplay of gates, filters, arpeggiators, and effects, all of which can be tweaked and synced to your DAW’s tempo.

A patch consists of A and B sample sources, each with its own signal path of effects, and modulation controls. Five tabs divide the instrument into the Main, Edit, FX, Rhythm, and Arp sections per source, in addition to the Global effects section. Parameters can be assigned to the four Macros, on horizontal sliders, for real-time control, Control Change messages, or automation. Each Macro is freely assignable to up to six parameters from a small panel at the top right of the library, which—along with the sample source windows at the bottom—appears in all pages. You can quickly assign new sources from the Source menu or use left and right buttons; there is practically no load time. Without going into deeper edits, you can tune in cents, semitones, or octaves, and some sources can be looped and reversed.

The Edit window lets you set ADSR amplitude and pitch envelopes, with a curve adjustment for the amp’s Attack time. Flutter is a very cool additional LFO that can create trills or—using the fade parameter—emulate human vibrato more realistically than garden-variety LFOs. Clicking on a source’s Advanced tab accesses (among other parameters) its key-map range and color settings, the latter of which changes the timbre by adjusting the sample root-key assignment.

A well-appointed filter section, replete with 11 filter types, resonance and ADSR envelopes, appears under the FX tab and includes Talk, a formant filter, which you can assign to a macro for eerie vocal-like effects. Other effects include reverb, distortion, delay, EQ, and compression. Chorus and phase-shifting are available from a separate, Global window, along with an additional filter section.

OSCILLATIN’ RHYTHM

The instrument’s rhythm chops extend way beyond the simple gating of notes: Volume, panning, filter resonance, distortion, and various distortion parameters can be modulated from a slick library of LFO shapes (see Figure 1). Alternately, you can choose from a generous menu of step-sequencer patterns or use them as templates to design your own. Modulation is bipolar, so by setting filter cutoff and resonance modulation to opposing poles, you can create terrific, squelchy rhythmic sounds.

Fig 1. A view of the Rhythm page in Analog Brass and Winds, with a partial selection of modulation shapes on display.

Fig 1. A view of the Rhythm page in Analog Brass and Winds, with a partial selection of modulation shapes on display.

Likewise, the Arp section hosts a ton of different note patterns that you can freely edit. Pedal is a cool feature that sets your choice of a high or low pedal tone, based on the top or bottom note of the chord you play. Topping it all off is Output’s Flux, which lets users program their own rhythm sequence for modulation.

DIG IN

With Analog Brass and Winds, Output has done a remarkable job of building a streamlined, elegant user interface with richly creative sound design options. The features are logically arrayed, practically encouraging you to dig in and build your own sounds. During the review, I rarely needed to consult the PDF manual. But if you do get in over your head, click on the question mark next to the snapshot icon: A descriptive contextual map listing all of the features is there to help. Precious few software instruments stay out of the way of your muse the way Analog Brass and Winds does.

Overall, the instruments in this collection are eminently playable and full-sounding, and the presets run from delicate and lyrical to fat and ominous. Output seems to top itself with every new release, and Analog Brass and Winds is a virtual instrument you will definitely want to check out.

STRENGTHS
A unique blend of brass, woodwind, and synthetically derived samples. Elegant and logical user interface. Rhythmically intricate modulation and arpeggiation capabilities.

LIMITATIONS
Nothing significant.

$199
output.com

Author of The New Electronic Guitarist (Hal Leonard), Marty Cutler points out that the Tibetan Yak is not native to New York City.